Data: 7-4, 3.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
Malfunction: Oswalt put together a nice performance on Friday night — seven innings of three hit ball — but it's still been a tough year for Roy. He spent much of the year with an ERA uncharacteristically above 4.00; then he had a 2.27 ERA in July and promptly missed two weeks with a lower back strain. He's given up 11 earned in 11 innings since then. He turns 32 in 8 days, and assuming he finishes the season with an ERA above 3.54, it will be the fourth straight year that his ERA has risen.
Diagnosis: Oswalt has been a remarkably consistent, effective and often dominant pitcher over his career, but he's not the pitcher he once was. Last year, his ERA was a half-run higher than at his 2005-2006 peak; this year, it's a half-run higher than last year. So why is he giving up more runs? His fastball's about as fast as ever, averaging around 93, but he's been throwing it less, relying more on his slider than ever before. His control has been generally solid: his strikeout and walk numbers are right around his career rates. The one thing that's really increased over the last couple years has been his homers allowed. Despite spending his entire career in the notorious bandbox of Minute Maid Park, last year was the first year he'd ever given up as many as 20 home runs, and this year he could set a new career high.
Reboot Directions: The Astros aren't a very good team. Considering their terrible run differential — they've given up 81 more runs than they've scored — it's remarkable that they've managed to hang near .500. Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez(notes) form a pretty good 1-2, but their other starting pitching has been awful, including the again-injured Mike Hampton(notes). They may be hoping for Oswalt to be more than what he is at this point. Nothing is slipping too far in his underlying numbers, but he's getting older, he's got a ton of miles on that reliable arm, and you always have to worry about what happens to the arm of a barely six-foot guy who generates enough torque to throw a ball in the upper 90s. Stay the course, Roy, but don't try to be a hero.
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Data: .289/.352/.589, 27 HR, 78 RBI
Malfunction: His eye-popping (and for some, eyebrow-raising) numbers from the first half have slightly come back to earth. As Rotowire notes, "Since returning from the disabled list on July 11, Ibanez is batting .239 (28-for-117) with five homers and 19 RBI." Obviously, he's still hitting like a champ, but he's not quite punishing the ball like he was before. He's five for his last 37, and the Phillies sat him on Thursday in favor of Ben Francisco(notes). Is it time to get worried that the 37-year old is finally acting his age?
Diagnosis: Charlie Manuel says that Ibanez's bat speed has declined: "All of a sudden, he's having to rush to catch up [to the ball] ... He's been behind. He's been late." Ibanez has struck out 35 times in 31 games in July and August — with multiple K's in six of his last eight ballgames — after punching out just 49 times in the previous 62. Meanwhile, after starting the year by homering more frequently than ever before in his career, his power stroke has left him too: he hit 22 HRs in his first 62 games, but has only hit one in the entire month of August. It's not like the Phillies need his offense — they'll likely win the division in a walk, especially thanks to Cliff Lee(notes) — but it just goes to show that, generally speaking, what goes up must come down.
Reboot Directions: Despite his five-week "malaise", Ibanez is still having by far the best season of his career. He's never finished a season with an OPS over .900 and he is still almost certain to do. He already has the second-most homers of his career; his career high is only 33, so he's not far from a personal best in that department. Slumps happen and injuries happen, especially to older players, and more off days could well be in the offing. He's still a decade younger than Jamie Moyer(notes), but his numbers as a premier power outfielder are numbered — though it remains to be seen whether they're numbered in months, or years.
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Data: 2-5, 8.20 ERA, 1.76 WHIP
Malfunction: Adam Eaton's main problem is that he's not a very good pitcher. He has never put up an ERA under 5.00 since leaving San Diego. Over his last 378.2 innings, from 2006-2009, he has an ERA of 6.18. And then — I swear — he got picked up by the Colorado Rockies, who assigned him to AAA. Seriously, why does this guy still have a job?
Diagnosis: He got released by the Orioles after giving up seven earned runs in back-to-back starts in May. He actually did nice work down on the farm in AAA Colorado Springs, a 2.67 ERA in 67.1 innings. He came out of the bullpen for mop-up and long relief after getting called up a week and a half ago, and gave up two runs in four innings over two appearances. That's an ERA of 4.50, which is bad, but also far lower than Eaton's used to. Will it hold? Are you kidding? He's a homer-prone pitcher with declining fastball velocity in one of the best hitting parks in the league. This will not end well.
Reboot Directions: The Rockies are in the heat of the wild card chase, and they'd love Eaton to give them something, anything — a bit of Aaron Small(notes) or Shawn Chacon(notes) magic would be nice, but if they can't get that, then at least they'll hope that he doesn't singlehandedly lose too many games down the stretch. But the best way to handle Eaton's right arm is to stay away from it. A guy with an ERA over 8.00 is not a guy you want to answer the bullpen phone in any situation.
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B.J. Upton(notes), Tampa Bay Rays It's almost time to declare this a lost season. His power numbers are similar to his disappointing 2008, but his walks and batting average are way down while his strikeouts are up. He's tinkered with his swing mechanics and says he's feeling better at the plate, with two homers in his last three games. We'll see.
Nick Blackburn(notes), Minnesota Twins Blackburn was in the middle of his breakout season until he got mugged by reality. After a complete game victory over the Tigers on July 5, his ERA stood at 2.94; since then, he's given up 33 earned in 32.2 innings, and his ERA has climbed more than a run. He's always been on thin ice because he doesn't strike people out and it looks like he's finally starting to pay the piper.
Hank Blalock(notes), Texas Rangers Blalock is one frustrating player. He was great in 2003-04, below average in 05-06, good but hurt in 07-08, and has been healthy but mediocre this year, with good power numbers but a simply atrocious .278 OBP. He's never walked a ton, but what little plate discipline he once had has gone out the window this year, as his BB/K stands at an unacceptable 18-91. Who's he taking batting lessons from, Ruben Sierra(notes)?