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Closing Time: Johan Santana, the hittable ace

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Johan Santana's(notes) 14 scoreless innings last week coaxed a lot of gamers off the ledge, but the New York ace took a step back at Houston on Friday night, laboring through a very mediocre 105 pitches (6.2 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 3 K). It's only the second time in his career he's allowed a dozen hits in a game, and fantasy owners have to be concerned about his diminishing strikeout numbers (a mere 34 whiffs over his last 10 starts). Slugging Mike Hampton(notes) dug in against Santana, ripping a homer and raising his average to .312. Let's have plenty of Santana theories (sore knee? pitch-tipping?) and opinions flowing in the comments, we'll get through this together.

Not even the surging Philadelphia offense and cozy Citizens Bank Park could stop the Joel Pineiro(notes) express Friday night; Pineiro threw six innings of hellacious sinkers and watched the hosts beat down the grass (4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K) en route to his ninth victory. It's not difficult to explain Pineiro's mad run this year (2.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIP); he's inducing ground balls about 61 percent of the time, he doesn't walk anyone, and everything stays in the park (just three homers allowed). I realize it's hard for 5x5 veterans to accept pitch-to-contact success, especially when it comes from a journeyman like Pineiro, but we're too deep into the season to ignore the data in front of us. In the next batch of my starting pitcher rankings, Pineiro will receive a much-overdue double-digit ranking. (Kudos to colleague Brad Evans, who's been ahead of the Pineiro story all year.)

The Cardinals had 15 hits on the night and the new kids did much of the damage; Julio Lugo(notes) went 2-for-5 with a homer out of the leadoff spot, and Matt Holliday(notes) had four hits and a steal from the cleanup position, right behind Mr. Pujols. The surging Ryan Ludwick(notes) also had a tasty line (5-1-2-1) from the fifth position, and keep in mind he's been on every pitch for a solid month now (.354, 24 RBIs).

Miguel Montero(notes) is surely long-gone in any respectable two-catcher league, but there might be time to get in on the post-hype fun if you're in a format that requires just one backstop. Montero rapped out two more hits Friday and is on a silly 25-for-67 run this month (along with a .687 slugging percentage and five homers); let's not forget that he was considered a future star just a couple of years ago. Chris Snyder(notes) (back) might be less than a week away but that doesn't really matter; A.J. Hinch has said in so many words that Montero has taken control of the position. Even if your roster doesn't need a catcher right now, you have to consider finding room for Montero as a blocking play.

Mat Latos(notes) was solid if not spectacular in his second major league turn, picking up a victory at Washington (5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 B, 5 K). Cristian Guzman(notes) and Ryan Zimmerman(notes) both homered against the kid, but otherwise it was a clean 94-pitch performance. "I was working down in the zone … just going after hitters," Latos explained. "Last time, I felt too much adrenaline – trying to punch everything up a notch." Latos gets his toughest assignment to date next week, a start at hitter-friendly Cincinnati.

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It's hard to figure where Jonathan Papelbon(notes) is right now; while there's nothing wrong with a 1.71 ERA and 25 saves in 27 chances (including one Friday against Baltimore), he's been doing a high-wire act for most of the year (1.31 WHIP, 19 walks). Papelbon allowed three of four men to reach against the Orioles before his best stuff came out - he blew away Luke Scott(notes) and Melvin Mora(notes) with high-90s cheese to end the game. Papelbon's stats are considerably better with runners on base this year as opposed to with the bases empty, so perhaps this is merely a concentration issue.

Carlos Guillen(notes) (shoulder) returned to the Tigers lineup Friday and had an eventful doubleheader, going 3-for-7 with a homer, but I'm not bothering to add him in any mixed formats. He's still not healthy enough to play the field or bat right-handed, and Detroit's roster is deep enough for Guillen to be rested regularly. I've always admired this guy's batting stroke and baseball IQ, but he's been a high-maintenance player for several years now and that's ultimately why I'm staying away.

Make it two straight dominant turns for Joba Chamberlain(notes), not that anyone deserves a medal when they shut down the Oakland offense (7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K). Chamberlain kept the ball in the park (no homers) for the first time in six starts, pitching coach Dave Eiland thinks Joba's recent success might be tied to a speedier tempo. Chamberlain will get a good test down in Tampa next week.

Injury Blog: Adrian Beltre(notes) (shoulder) is making excellent progress and thinks he might be able to return in early August. … Kevin Slowey(notes) (wrist) has hit a setback and won't make his scheduled rehab turn this weekend. … With Ted Lilly(notes) (shoulder) likely bound for the DL, the Cubs will push up the rotation and have Rich Harden(notes) work Sunday. As for Ryan Dempster(notes) (toe), it looks like he'll return Tuesday against the Astros. … A sore knee kept Freddy Sanchez(notes) out of Friday's lineup. … Get some chicken soup for Salty - Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes) is day-to-day with the flu. … Matt Lindstrom(notes) (elbow) is headed for a rehab assignment and could return in early August but will a closing gig be waiting? Leo Nunez(notes) has converted six straight chances, including a 1-2-3 inning against the Dodgers Friday, and Fredi Gonzalez doesn't plan to throw Lindstrom right back into the fire. "I think maybe the first couple of times we won't use [Lindstrom] in the ninth," Gonzalez told the Miami Herald.

Speed Round: Matt Garza(notes) and Roy Halladay(notes) pitched to a 2-2 draw through nine super innings, but Garza scored a win when his mates rallied against the slumping Scott Downs(notes) in the tenth. Tampa's underrated J.P. Howell(notes) closed it out from there, whiffing two of three men and grabbing save No. 11. … Keeping up with the Joneses: Chipper went 3-for-4 with a homer at Milwaukee, while Garrett had two hits and another homer at Arizona (roll the tape). … Zack Greinke(notes) has just two wins in his last 10 starts, mostly because his mates aren't supporting him very well. He allowed just one run to the Rangers over seven innings Friday and struck out 10, but the Royals took a bagel and managed just five hits against Scott Feldman(notes) and C.J. Wilson(notes). The sneaky-valuable Feldman (3.59, 1.14) is normally a six-inning guy, but he worked eight frames for the first time all year. … Matt Cain(notes) mowed down the Rockies over seven super innings (3 H, 1 R), then bit his nails in the ninth while Brian Wilson(notes) worked out of trouble (two baserunners). Fred Lewis(notes) might be working his way back into San Francisco's plans; he went 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs. Still, the outfield becomes crowded again when Aaron Rowand(notes) (forearm) returns this weekend.

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