• The Mets have to feel great about themselves this morning, completing a three-game shutout sweep of the Phillies and doing so without Johan Santana(notes) ever taking the mound. Mike Pelfrey(notes) did the honors Thursday (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 5 K) and I'm not sure what to make of the start; while his fastball looked as live as I've seen all year, he was also bailed out by three timely double plays.
The New York offense didn't light up the scoreboard against Cole Hamels(notes) (6.1 IP, 3 R), but there are reasons for the Mets to be optimistic about their lineup. Jose Reyes is on a 14-for-32 binge, lifting his average to .249, Jason Bay(notes) has a zesty 1.026 OPS at home, and Angel Pagan(notes) has been a handy find in center field, hitting .296 with eight steals in 11 attempts.
Pagan's been especially effective in May (.330, 15 runs, nine walks against 10 strikeouts) and his emergence is essential for the Mets right now as the Carlos Beltran(notes) timetable seems to be pushed back weekly. GM Omar Minaya admitted on Thursday that it's unlikely we'll see Beltran back with the club before the All-Star break. Pagan's current ownership level in Yahoo! leagues is a modest 10 percent; that number needs to be doubled, if not tripled, in short order. Show an open mind for the Angel of Queens.
• The Twins looked like a bad matchup for Javier Vazquez(notes) on paper (all those good left-handed bats) and that's how it played out on the field; Minnesota knocked Vazquez around for eight hits and five runs over 5.2 innings. Vazquez gets a break next week with Baltimore on the schedule, albeit he'll have to toil in Yankee Stadium.
Target Field hasn't been homer-friendly for the Twins through two months, but Jason Kubel(notes) got things working Thursday, clocking two homers and adding an RBI double. "It hasn't been flying here," Kubel admitted after the game. "But if you pull the ball, it can get out. So maybe that's the key."
• The Brewers bullpen had it going in Thursday's 10-inning victory over Houston; the final four Milwaukee pitchers worked scoreless innings. Okay, you don't throw a parade for stopping the hapless Astros offense, but it was a step forward. Zach Braddock(notes), Todd Coffey(notes) and Carlos Villanueva(notes) each worked their inning while the Brewers were trailing by a run; Villanueva struck out the side in the ninth, working around a couple of hits.
Milwaukee tied the game in the bottom of the ninth (capitalizing on a rare 2010 misstep from Matt Lindstrom(notes)), then handed the ball to John Axford(notes) for the tenth (perfect inning, two strikeouts). Lindstrom, inexplicably asked to work a second inning, walked in the winning run in the bottom of the tenth.
The Brewers never had a save situation in the game, so don't read too much into Trevor Hoffman(notes) not pitching; he'll probably see the ninth inning on the weekend if there's a lead to protect. That said, if Hoffman were pitching well this year, he probably would have come into this game in the top of the tenth; that's routine work for a home-team closer – pitching in a tie game once the save is no longer possible.
• I'm a Theo Epstein believer to the point of being an apologist at times, but the big-ticket items in Boston's 2010 rotation aren't making him look good. John Lackey(notes) is off to a rough start with the Red Sox, you know all about my Josh Beckett skepticism by now, and then there's Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes), perhaps the most maddening pitcher in the American League. When Dice-K is scheduled to pitch, NESN should cancel all programming for the night. It's that ugly.
Matsuzaka flirted with a no-hitter in Philadelphia last weekend but that was written off as a fluke by most of us; Thursday, we got back to the old Matsuzaka. He walked eight Royals and was gone before the end of the fifth. If you can't trust Dice-K against the Royals, where can you trust him? "Obviously, he was struggling with his command and his release point," Jason Varitek said after the loss. "At different times, he was able to throw through me, and at other times, his arm would drag or his arm would be in front. I don't know what the answer is, but I know he'll do the work to try to figure it out."
You can sign up for the Dice-K mechanics fix if you want, but I'm not going along for the ride. Mixed league, AL-only league, it doesn't matter, I have zero faith in this guy. I know you might be temped by next week's schedule (Oakland, Baltimore), but I don't suggest you let him anywhere near your ERA and WHIP.
• Mark Reynolds(notes) is dealing with a sore thigh, something that's been an off-and-on problem for him over the last month. "It bothers me when I swing and run," Reynolds conceded Thursday. His power hasn't been affected too much, but it doesn't look like the 2009 stealing bonanza is going to repeat. There's a roto lesson tied into this; when a slugger posts a surprising stolen-base season, you probably don't want to chase those bags at the table the following year.
• Johnny Cueto(notes) continues to roll over the weak NL Central; Thursday he threw six dominant innings at the Pirates (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K). At times you'll see Cueto nibble too much when a game is close, but when the Reds are able to score for him early, he seems to relax and trust his stuff more. He's on a 5-0 binge over his last six starts, posting a 1.85 ERA and 40 strikeouts (against eight walks) over 39 innings. He'll work at St. Louis next week, and possibly Washington on the weekend if the Reds want to keep him on normal rest.
Kings of Pain: Carlos Zambrano(notes) made a surprise visit to the hospital Thursday, dealing with abdominal pain; thankfully, it wasn't an appendix problem. Zambrano's setback is good news for Tom Gorzelanny(notes) – he'll get more chances to fight for his rotation spot while Zambrano transitions back to starting. … Nelson Cruz(notes) had an MRI on his hamstring Thursday and might need to go back on the disabled list. … Curtis Granderson(notes) (hamstring) will probably come off the disabled list and play Friday against the Indians. … Brett Anderson(notes) (elbow) is still tentatively scheduled to pitch Saturday at Detroit. He did some throwing Thursday with no setbacks reported. I'm not a fan of starting pitchers right off the DL; unless you're desperate for weekend innings, put Anderson in the scouting queue for at least one turn. … Andre Ethier(notes) (thumb) is ready for a rehab assignment and might be with the Dodgers next week. … Brad Lidge(notes) (elbow) had a clean bullpen session Thursday, which sets him up to start a rehab assignment on the weekend. The Phillies don't have to rush anything with Lidge, given how well Jose Contreras(notes) has pitched this season, but there's talk of Lidge possibly returning Monday. … Strikeout tease Bud Norris(notes) (biceps) won't be able to start Saturday at Cincinnati. Brian Moehler(notes) gets the call instead; be ready with your Cincinnati hitters. … Luke Scott(notes) (shoulder) was able to take batting practice and hopes to make it back Friday. … Rod Barajas(notes) is dealing with a sore wrist but Jerry Manuel says it's not a major deal. Barajas quietly leads all MLB catchers in home runs and RBIs. … Brian McCann(notes) (quad) didn't get the start in rainy Florida. … J.A. Happ(notes) (forearm) threw 50 pitches Thursday and didn't have a setback. … Aramis Ramirez(notes) (thumb) might be in the mix this weekend.
Speed Round: The Baltimore bullpen fritted away a three-run lead Thursday, with Mark Hendrickson(notes) imploding in the eighth. Will Ohman(notes) was being saved for the ninth and didn't get into action. … Ricky Nolasco(notes) dodged the raindrops and the home-run ball against Atlanta but nonetheless it was another frustrating turn for him (4 IP, 8 H, 3 R). He's got a 4.65 ERA despite a manageable 1.24 WHIP; you start to wonder if he fits the profile of an every-year peripheral tease. … The White Sox offense remains a mess, and Jeff Niemann(notes) was happy to take advantage (8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 5 K). He should get a better test at Toronto next week. … The Cardinals finally busted out some offense, putting up 15 hits and eight runs at San Diego. Albert Pujols(notes) hit his ninth homer of the year, and Brendan Ryan(notes) had a rare offensive night, finally climbing over the Mendoza. … The Rockies took their hacks against Dan Haren(notes), hammering four homers and coasting to an easy victory. I'd love to see what Seth Smith(notes) could do in a full season of playing time. Carlos Gonzalez(notes), Ryan Spilborghs(notes) and Troy Tulowitzki(notes) also left the yard, while Jason Hammel(notes) struck out eight over 5.1 interesting but effective innings (7 H, 2 R, 2 BB). … The Dodgers and Cubs played a beat-the-traffic special at Wrigley, with Ted Lilly(notes) outdueling John Ely(notes). The ridiculously-nasty Carlos Marmol(notes) closed up shop, striking out three of the four men he faced. … Spend some look-ahead time with your lineup today, amigos – you might not have time to tweak things over the holiday. … It's been a rough year for Chicago baseball but don't cry for the Second City sports fan; a parade is coming soon. Blackhawks in 6.