With apologies to The McLaughlin Group, the correct answer is Rich Harden. Although he wasn't acquired in a blockbuster trade before the deadline like all of those other big names, the 21-year-old right-hander has been exactly what the A's needed since calling him up from Class AAA two weeks ago.
Oakland is 4-0 in his starts, including Tuesday's 7-2 victory against Detroit. Harden actually was subpar in that start, allowing two earned runs in six innings. In his previous three major league starts, he had allowed a total of two earned runs in 21 innings.
Adding him to the Big Three of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder gives Oakland an embarrassment of pitching riches. But this isn't your typical Bash Brothers A's. This club has struggled offensively, ranking 11th in the AL in runs scored and on-base percentage (.324), which is supposed to be the staple of this Billy Beane-built club. That is the main reason why they trail the Mariners by four games in the West and the Red Sox by a half-game in the wild-card race, and why they felt they had to trade for Guillen.
Can Harden keep up this ungodly pace? Well, two of his impressive wins have come against the two worst offenses in the AL (Cleveland and Detroit), and he has potential starts coming up against top-tier lineups like Boston, Texas and Toronto. But he isn't exactly coming out of nowhere. Harden's minor league track record is nothing short of amazing, with 395 strikeouts and 15 home runs allowed in 328 2/3 innings. So expect more of the same from the top midseason pickup in baseball.
Are the Mariners still blinded by the light?
Seattle's offense has been Jekyll & Hyde all season, leading the league in hitting on the road while slumping at home. Safeco Field is not a kind hitter's park in the first place, but the Mariners also complained about the glare coming from the hitting background beyond center field.
During their last road trip, however, the club painted over the background to make it as dark as possible. The immediate results are encouraging. The M's scored in double-digits four times during the just-completed 12-game homestand. They were hitting .259 before the new backdrop, .283 since. John Olerud had hit four home runs at home all year before belting another four during the homestand.
Fans of sabermetrics are no doubt delighting in the struggles of the player who defied their plate-discipline doctrine so successfully. Soriano at the plate is like Homer Simpson hovering over his dinner plate -- they both love everything they see. But Soriano is in the middle of the first prolonged slump of his career, looking unsure of himself at-bat and in the field.
His numbers would look pedestrian if not for a scorching April in which he hit .371 with nine home runs. Since then, he's batting .249 with 15 home runs and a strikeout-to-walk ratio that looks like an SEC homecoming score (70-16). It just goes to show that, no matter how much natural talent a player has, the major leagues are all about making adjustments. Big league pitchers have adjusted to Soriano; now it's his turn to figure them out again.
How is the Mets' "rebuilding" project going?
Reluctantly, the Mets torched their failing, veteran-laden lineup in favor of letting the kids play this season. Surprisingly, the kids are alright. Ty Wigginton has tailed off after a hot start, but Jason Phillips (.323 BA, .861 OPS) has been a revelation, Jose Reyes has raised his average to .287 and Jeff Duncan (.372 OBP) has shown that he is a legit prospect. If you are a Mets fan looking for a silver lining to this season, these four rookies are it. Unfortunately, the front office might not see things the same way when it goes shopping for pricey "proven veterans" again in the offseason.
Is Jack McKeon the NL Manager of the Year?
In a runaway. As much as Trader Jack has been maligned for his age (72), you can't argue with the results. The Marlins are 45-29 since McKeon took over for uber-failure Jeff Torborg on May 11, vaulting themselves into the thick of the wild-card race. If McKeon does win the award, it will be his second in his past three seasons as a skipper (Reds, 1999).