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MINNESOTA'S SECRET WEAPON
From June 8 through Sunday the Twins had played themselves into the thick of the AL wild-card race with a franchise-record 32-8 run. Now they are the club other teams would fear most in a postseason series because of their dominating lefties, Francisco (Franchise) Liriano (12-2, 1.96 ERA and Johan Santana (12-5, 3.11 ERA). But there's more: Righthander Matt Garza (left), 22, who was drafted out of Fresno State only last year and began this season in Class A, is tearing up Triple A. On July 25 he was throwing 97 mph in the ninth inning of a 126-pitch shutout, and his overall ERA this year was 2.33. "He's legit," says an AL scout. "He's got a great, live arm and can help them now." Minnesota may not be able to resist promoting Garza, even if it means deploying him to the bullpen, where Liriano and Santana got their first big league opportunities.
DEBUNKING THE DEADLINE SAVIOR MYTH
At the trading deadline every year, clubs make noise about finding that key starting pitcher who will help them in October, and every year it just doesn't happen. Over the last 10 seasons, not one pitcher who was acquired in the week leading up to the July 31 deadline has won a postseason start. And over the past five years, only three pitchers traded between July 24 and July 31 have even started a postseason game: Albie Lopez (2001 Diamondbacks), Sidney Ponson ('03 Giants) and Shawn Chacon (right, '05 Yankees). Playoff-caliber starting pitchers just don't get on the market. The last starters to be traded near the deadline and win a postseason game were all in 1995: David Cone ( Yankees), Ken Hill ( Indians) and David Wells (Reds). As for hitters who were traded in the week before the deadline over the past five seasons, only four have hit a playoff home run: Scott Rolen ('02 Cardinals), Kenny Lofton ('02 Giants), Aaron Boone ('03 Yankees) and Geoff Blum ('05 White Sox).
? Barry Bonds no longer looks like his former dominating self, and his diminished skills are most apparent against lefthanders. Bonds ended July in a 1-for-15 slide against lefties, and for the season he was hitting .190 against them.
?The Astros continue to waste greatness. Since the start of 2005, Roger Clemens (left) had allowed two or fewer earned runs in 35 of 40 starts. But Houston was 16-19 in those 35 games, with Clemens going 13-4.
?Righthander Rick Bauer, 29, released by the Orioles last year, will get an increased role in the Rangers' bullpen after Texas sent Francisco Cordero to Milwaukee as part of the Carlos Lee trade last Friday. He's earned it--at week's end Bauer had not allowed a home run in 180 at bats against him this year.
WHY HAS THE ERA OF THE WHITE SOX ROTATION JUMPED FROM 3.75 in 2005 TO 4.74 THIS YEAR? Strikeout rate is the most stable indicator of pitching performance from season to season and has the highest predictive influence on ERA. After averaging 5.78 strikeouts per nine innings last year, Chicago's starters had a rate of 5.34 at week's end this season. Though the rotation was strong in other categories--second in the majors in fewest walks per nine innings (2.33), for example--returning to the postseason will be a difficult task for the White Sox unless that strikeout rate improves. And that's not likely to happen because this is a tired rotation. Starters Mark Buehrle (236 2/3, most in the AL), Freddy Garcia (228), Jon Garland (221) and Jose Contreras (204 2/3) were among the top 17 pitchers in the league in regular-season innings pitched last year, and then they combined to throw another 92 1/3 innings in the playoffs. Furthermore, Garcia and newcomer Javier Vazquez pitched high-stress innings in the World Baseball Classic this spring. In other words, this staff may be doomed by its own success.