• James Shields(notes) looked like one of the bargains of the season through seven weeks, but he's come undone over his last three turns. The White Sox started the trend with a seven-run attack on Shields three turns ago; the Rangers pushed 10 hits and six runs (three earned) on Shields last week; and then on Friday the wheels completely came off for the Tampa Bay right-hander against Florida.
The Marlins offense is not an intimidating matchup – Florida is 13th in the majors in runs scored – but the Fish were locked in against Shields on this night. Florida rocked Shields for nine hits and 10 runs, they coaxed three walks, and they pushed his ERA up to 4.55. "It's probably the worst outing of my career," Shields conceded. "It's unacceptable the way I'm pitching right now."
I'm still prepared to use Shields at Atlanta next week, and then he's looking at either a rematch with the Marlins or a home start against San Diego. There doesn't appear to be a physical problem here, he's just dealing with a slump and probably having some trouble sequencing his pitches (h/t, Jason Collette). Sounds like a buy-low window just opened for us.
The top of the Florida order gave Shields the most trouble. Chris Coghlan(notes) reached base six times (four hits, two walks) and continues to mark his territory well; he certainly got hot at the right time. And Gaby Sanchez(notes) roped a couple of home runs from the No. 2 slot; he's got a zesty .361/.400/.694 line in June and is currently unowned in 94 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• It's time to put David Aardsma(notes) on the closer watch list. He blew a save at San Diego on Friday, allowing two runs in the bottom of the ninth; his only outs came on a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly, and his control deserted him, most notably when he plunked Chase Headley(notes) in the middle of the frame. Aardsma has been been a mess over his last five appearances (3.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 3 BB, and perhaps most telling, 0 K). Brandon League(notes) and Shawn Kelley(notes) are the two speculation plays of interest here; Kelley has the better strikeout rate (26 whiffs in 24 innings) while League thus far has the better control and WHIP (1.21). Both set-up men are there for the taking, available in over 99 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• Jaime Garcia(notes) wasn't exactly dominant at Arizona on Friday but he was good enough to score his sixth victory (5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 4 K). I've given him a lofty rank and projection for the next four months, but I suppose I'm lower than a lot of others are on this pitcher. Garcia has a modest 23 strikeouts against 18 walks over his last five turns, and while he's got an outstanding ground-ball rate, it's unrealistic to expect his HR/FB rate to stay around four percent all season.
The Cardinals haven't set any kind of an innings cap on Garcia to this point – Tony La Russa made it clear there was nothing in play a few weeks ago – but it's possible they could revisit that idea later in the year, depending on how Garcia holds up through the season. Bottom line, I can't see how anyone isn't impressed with this kid – but I'm more tempted to see this as a sell high player than as a hold commodity. (That doesn't mean dump him at all costs, or sell at a cushy price; just see what the market looks like.)
• The monster run for Alex Rios(notes) continues (4-3-4-2 at Wrigley, homer, steal). He's going to show up as a key player on a lot of championship teams; you're getting first-round value from outside the Top 100 here; Rios ended the spring with an ADP in the 123 range for mixed leagues. The White Sox received a lot of flak when they took on Rios' contract late in the 2009 season, but they're getting the last laugh.
• R.A. Dickey(notes) is a hard player to get a handle on; he's in the midst of a nifty run (four straight wins, 2.78 ERA, 24 strikeouts against 10 walks) but the knuckleball is the most erratic pitch around and on the days where it doesn't knuckle, you're essentially throwing batting practice. For the mixed-league crowd, I'd consider him as a potential streamer when you need an extra start but I would not dedicate a roster spot to him unless your league owns most of the fourth and fifth starters throughout the majors. My heart will root for this story, but my head won't get behind it yet.
• A lot of pundits expected Brennan Boesch(notes) to get exposed when he passed around the league a second or third time but that hasn't been the case so far; he clocked his eighth homer of the season Friday and he's driven in 30 runs over 39 games. June has actually been his best month to date (.389/.463/.833) and he's also added four walks in 10 games, a notable improvement from his early patience trends. We all know Boesch has no chance to keep his current .343 average, but his power is real and he's probably this year's version of Garrett Jones(notes) (modest pedigree and profile, surprising production, market distrust, profit potential). The Detroit lineup plays along nicely; Magglio Ordonez(notes) and Miguel Cabrera(notes) ensure that Boesch will see plenty of run-producing opportunities.
• May we all age as gracefully as Andy Pettitte(notes) is in New York. The estimable lefty has chopped almost two runs off his 2009 ERA and he's won eight of nine decisions, the latest coming Friday against Houston (7.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K). He's been lights-out on the road (1.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), far better than expected at home (2.84 ERA despite the park's tendencies) and one of the best profit arms of the season.
That said, if you're looking to shoot holes in this start, there is some data for you: Pettitte's got a .256 BABIP and a 82.1 strand rate, unsustainable numbers, and he's got a modest 6.16 K/9 rate. If I walked into a draft room this weekend, starting from scratch, I'd still bid on Pettitte using the 2009 stats, not the 2010 numbers, as my baseline.
• It took forever for the Indians to give Carlos Santana(notes) the call but when they finally committed they didn't mess around; Santana was given the No. 3 slot in the batting order for his debut, while catcher Lou Marson(notes) was shipped to the minors to clear the runway. Santana had a pedestrian debut – 0-for-3, one walk, one run scored – but his minor league record speaks for itself.
The Indians have been a plucky group of late, winning three in a row including Friday's triumph over Washington. The criminally underowned Austin Kearns(notes) paced the Cleveland offense, clubbing a couple of homers, while Chris Perez(notes) earned a working-man's save, recording the final five outs.
• In the previous edition of Closing Time we discussed the split personality of the Texas offense – mashers at home, crashers on the road – and the Rangers played to type Friday at Milwaukee, managing just seven hits and two runs against the unheralded Chris Narveson(notes) and Kameron Loe(notes).
• Jon Rauch(notes) is having an outstanding year, no two ways about it: he's converted 16-of-18 save opportunities, he's got a 2.52 ERA and 20 strikeouts against just three walks over 25 innings, and he's been sharper in the ninth inning than anyone had a right to expect. But when Mitch Williams on Friday called Rauch his American League MVP, it gave me just cause to immediately change the channel. There's a lot to like about MLB Network, but they made some curious hiring decisions with respect to the former players that they're relying on as analysts.
• Just when I'm ready to trust Chad Billingsley(notes) again, he throws a clunker my way – nine hits and seven runs against the Angels. Joel Pineiro(notes) cruised on the other side (CG, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K). Robb Quinlan(notes) went 0-for-5 as the Halo's first baseman; look for the Angels to aggressively look for a first sacker when trading season heats up.
Injury Blog: Alex Rodriguez(notes) has a sore hip and won't return until Tuesday at the earliest, according to Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse. At least the Yankees have an off day on Monday. … Dallas Braden(notes) is dealing with a sore forearm and he'll have his next start delayed by a couple of days. He'll still get the Cubs at Wrigley, but now it's a Thursday afternoon turn, not a Tuesday night assignment. … Nelson Cruz(notes) (hamstring) is at least a week away from starting his minor-league rehab work. Let's hope he can be back with the Rangers when they open a homestead a week from Monday. … Dustin Pedroia(notes) had an MRI on his knee prior to Friday's game and everything came back okay, so it looks like he's good to go. The Red Sox decided to lift him a few innings early on Friday night; they were routing the Phillies, making it an easy call. . … Colby Rasmus(notes) (calf) was back at it Friday, going 0-for-4 in the desert. … Everth Cabrera(notes) (hamstring) might be able to start a rehab assignment early next week. … Doug Fister(notes) (shoulder) is expected to be back in Seattle's rotation on June 22. I'd wait a start or two before even considering him in a mixer. … Edgar Renteria(notes) (hamstring) might be ready to return to the Giants early next week, just to mess up the San Francisco infield. … Carlos Beltran(notes) (knee) finally got some center field time on Friday, manning the position in an extended spring training game. . … Mark Lowe(notes) needs back surgery and is done for the season. … Jeff Mathis(notes) (wrist) had a minor setback in his rehab assignment this week, though he might be with the Angels next week anyway. Mike Napoli(notes) has been an offensive stud while Mathis has been hurt. … Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) (ribs) will be shut down completely over the next two weeks and NECN.com beat writer Sean McAdam says Ellsbury might not return until after the All-Star break. I don't know about you, but this is one guy I'd sell at a significant discount; I'm not hopeful that he'll run a bunch whenever he's able to return.
Speed Round: If you're looking to see Stephen Strasburg(notes) this weekend and you're not a subscriber to MLB.TV or MLB Extra Innings, good news: TBS has shifted its schedule and will be carrying the Washington-Cleveland game on Sunday. … Carlos Gonzalez(notes) wasn't given a lot of chances against left-handed pitching prior to 2010, but he's making good progress with southpaws this year (albeit it's still a very small sample). He homered against Ricky Romero(notes) on Friday and now is at .348/.386/.455 versus lefties this season. … A sparkling homestead pushed Julio Borbon's(notes) average up to .277, though he's just 8-for-14 on the basepaths. He went 1-for-3 in Milwaukee on Friday, and was nabbed attempting to steal. … Carlos Quentin(notes) didn't start against the Cubs but he did hit a home run as a pinch-hitter. He's only got seven hits in June, but three of them have left the park.
Carlos Pena(notes) is one of those notorious streak hitters and he's on a white-hot run at the moment: he's clubbed six homers in his last 20 at-bats, and he collected four runs and three hits Friday. He's still under .200 for the year, but there's nothing wrong with the power stroke here. … Austin Jackson(notes) is in a 2-for-31 slump (with nine strikeouts), dropping his average to .306. He's still a fun ballplayer to watch and to own, but he's more likely to hit .280 or .290 than he is .300-plus. … Nyjer Morgan(notes) is dangerously close to becoming a coin flip on the bases; he's now 12-for-22 on steal attempts. And his .258/.323/.345 batting line leaves a lot to be desired as well. … Tim Lincecum(notes) looked back in form against the A's, working eight sharp innings (7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K) and throwing 74 of 109 pitches for strikes. … There are plenty of universal stars who didn't get pub in this Feel-Good Friday Edition (if I wrote up every player, the piece would never end); feel free to celebrate Ubaldo Jimenez(notes), Francisco Liriano(notes) and anyone named Carlos in the comments.