Ah, the dog days of August. Woof…


1. Sweltering Days in the AL East

One last summer ice cream break, anyone, before the stretch run cranks up to an inferno? Look out, while Baltimore (4-6 in its last 10 games into Tuesday) apparently is tempted by the Blue Moon and Cherry Vanilla double-scoop cones, Boston is gearing up for last licks.

The Red Sox face a brutal final part of their schedule, playing 30 of their last 46 games on the road. But so far, Mookie Betts and Co. are up for the challenge: Boston won 10 of 12 games into Wednesday to grab a share of first place in the division for the first time since July 21.

Since July 3, Boston’s 28-17 record is third-best in the majors, behind the Chicago Cubs (28-16) and Toronto Blue Jays (27-15). The Sox are 10-3 against AL East opponents during July and August (including 6-1 on the road), and best of all, ace David Price is beginning to find his groove.

Price, over his past 10 starts, owns a 2.86 ERA and has averaged seven innings per. His ERA post-All-Star break is down more than a run a game, to 3.21 from 4.34.

It’s all trending in the right direction, finally, for Price and the Red Sox, and just in time. Already, so much else is going so well for the Sox: Betts, for instance, is shifting early AL MVP talk away from Houston’s Jose Altuve. Check out the company he’s keeping, per Baseball-Reference.com:

And if you missed the sensational catch Boston left fielder Andrew Benintendi made in Tampa Bay on Monday night to rob Steven Souza Jr. of a homer, it’s a must-see:

As for Boston’s stacked-up road games, its 33-27 record away from Fenway Park is the second-best road record in the AL, behind Toronto’s 34-28. The Red Sox are close enough to Toronto to sniff Josh Donaldson’s cologne. Maybe manager John Farrell and his Toronto counterpart, John Gibbons, can discuss.

Temperatures (and emotions) are up, and sometimes the dog days can downright smell. Donaldson and Gibbons got into it the other day when the reigning AL MVP slammed his equipment in the dugout following an at-bat and Gibbons reprimanded him.

What could have turned out ugly, though, became amusing.

“Gibby asked me what kind of cologne I was wearing,” Donaldson quipped, per the Associated Press‘ Mike Fitzpatrick (via the National Post).

Both men quickly moved past it, which is what winning teams do. As opposed to, say, ahem, Donaldson’s old team in Oakland (see item No. 2).

Meanwhile, Baltimore just needs to keep getting the ball to closer Zach Britton, who now is 38-for-38 in save opportunities. He hasn’t surrendered a run since April, and into Tuesday he had allowed just three hits over his past 15 appearances.

Britton’s sinker is as devastating a pitch as there is in the game right now; just like with Mariano Rivera’s cutter, rival hitters know what’s coming and they still have no chance. Research by STATS LLC reveals that Britton’s current saves streak is the longest by a left-handed pitcher to start a season in MLB history. Furthermore, according to ESPN Stats and Info, Britton’s 43 consecutive appearances without surrendering an earned run is the longest such streak since earned runs became an official statistic.

So all manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Dave Wallace must do(!) is find enough pitching to cover the first eight innings every night. Especially given that Orioles hitters routinely treat opposing pitchers with the disdain so many have for the end of summer (Mark Trumbo’s last seven consecutive hits into Tuesday were home runs, for crying out loud).

Speaking of which, before he finally got a break on Saturday night, Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop, according to STATS LLC, was the last player in the majors this year to play in every single inning and every single out of his team’s games this summer.

Which, of course, brings us right back to where we started: One Schoop or two on your cone? C’mon, summer’s dwindling!


2. Good Thing They Weren’t Shopping for School Shoes

An embarrassing season turned downright humiliating in Oakland when third baseman Danny Valencia went all country breakfast on Billy Butler, scrambling the designated hitter’s eggs with one punch. Butler landed on the seven-day concussion disabled list and both men were fined.

The dispute was over shoes, according to Oakland beat reporter Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle: A shoe company representative was meeting with Valencia in the clubhouse before batting practice on Friday when the rep asked about a different, off-brand pair of cleats in Valencia’s locker. When Valencia said he only uses them for batting practice, according to Slusser’s sources, Butler piped up and said that wasn’t true, that Valencia uses them in games.

So Valencia confronted Butler after the rep left, and maybe you would, too, given that typical shoe endorsement deals can be worth between $10,000 and $20,000 or more. As tempers flared, Butler reportedly told Valencia, “I can say whatever I want and your bitch ass isn’t going to do anything about it.”

Aside from snagging the quote of the year, Slusser noted that the two have always had an edgy, boisterous relationship dating back to when they were teammates in Kansas City.

Though inflammatory, the incident is just another pile in the ongoing mess in Oakland. The A’s long since have been an also-ran this summer at 53-72 into Tuesday’s games. Poor chemistry inside the Oakland clubhouse is a poorly kept secret around the game, and one source close to the club tells B/R that this summer’s Athletics are stocked with some of the most selfish players he’s ever seen.


3. It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Humidity

Atlanta called up uber-prospect Dansby Swanson last week, and not a moment too soon: Had the Braves waited any longer, the poor kid might have melted into a puddle, just like that witch in The Wizard of Oz.

Kidding, of course, but only sort of. One of Swanson’s biggest issues this summer at Double-A Mississippi, seriously, was trying to keep weight on. During a visit with him there a couple of weeks ago, Swanson told me he had lost 10 pounds in the Mississippi humidity and could not stop losing weight.

Not that he had much to lose: He’s listed at 6’1”, 190 pounds. He was dutifully setting his alarm clock following night games daily at 9 a.m., waking up to eat and then going back to sleep. Still, the weight kept melting off.

It was a charming reminder that life in the minor leagues, no matter what level the prospect, is vastly different from life in the bigs. Say this for Swanson now that he’s with the Braves: At least his biggest challenge now won’t be counting carbohydrates and grams of protein.


4. Summer School 101 for the Diamondbacks

Here’s a vote for Arizona as the most disappointing team in the game in 2016.

We all know how much was expected of the Diamondbacks after they handed Zack Greinke the keys to the state ($206.5 million over six years) and gave Atlanta a gold mine in exchange for starter Shelby Miller (Swanson, solid pitching prospect Aaron Blair and defensive whiz outfielder Ender Inciarte).

Then when the Diamondbacks went an MLB-best 24-8 this spring, expectations were ratcheted up even higher.

Yet, amid swirling rumors that Arizona owner Ken Kendrick is seriously considering major changes, from general manager Dave Stewart to president of baseball operations Tony La Russa to field manager Chip Hale, here’s also a vote that that’s the worst thing the Diamondbacks can do.

As USA Today’s Bob Nightengale pointed out the other day, if Arizona does make a change, it will be the seventh GM the club has employed in the past 11 years. Granted, two of those GMs were interim (Jerry Dipoto and Bob Gebhard). Still, the point remains the same: If you run a shop with a revolving door to the office making key baseball decisions, you only increase the difficulty of winning.

At some point, continuity is important in this game. Kansas City didn’t win a World Series last year by impatiently pulling the trap door from under GM Dayton Moore two years into his tenure. Instead, the Royals gave him enough time to implement a plan. So, too, with Texas and Jon Daniels, Detroit and Dave Dombrowski, the Chicago Cubs with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, Pittsburgh with Neal Huntington and the Milwaukee Brewers with Doug Melvin (before he hung up his GM cell phone last year to step into an advisory role with the Crew).

Even Stewart’s predecessor, Kevin Towers, didn’t make all the wrong moves: Kendrick and Co. should be sending him expensive bottles of wine every Christmas as thanks for signing Paul Goldschmidt to a five-year, $32 million deal in March 2013. There is no contract more club-friendly for a superstar in this game than that one. It’s so weighted in Arizona’s favor that it’s embarrassing.

La Russa, Stewart and Hale all deserve another year to make things right. But there is no question things are ominous in the desert, especially for Hale. When midseason rumors popped up that he may be fired and replaced with Phil Nevin, manager of Arizona’s Triple-A affiliate in Reno, there were two days of silence before Stewart finally backed him.

That’s not good.


5. Just Throw the Damn Ball

Feel free to write your local political representatives, petition MLB or telephone your favorite local sports radio show to demand that these guys begin to work more quickly:

Why? Don’t take it from me. Take it from a Hall of Famer:

Amen, amen.

Here is one big reason why:

And, fielders absolutely despise playing behind a pitcher who makes them stand out in the field for all of those extra minutes.

Can you blame them?


6. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Dodgers-Giants: They’re playing in Dodger Stadium this week, the first three of nine head-to-head games left. Will San Francisco’s free fall continue? Well, Madison Bumgarner is here, but Clayton Kershaw isn’t.

2. Farewell, Olympics: Ryan Lochte, the Yasiel Puig of swimming.

3. Chicken-scented sunblock: Seriously. As a Kentucky Fried Chicken gimmick. Somewhere, you just know Hall of Famer Wade Boggs is all lathered up.

4. Tim Tebow: Showcase for MLB clubs set for Tuesday. Hut, hut!

5. Stephen Strasburg: Nationals ace lands on disabled list with a sore right elbow, a screaming reminder of why he was smart to take the seven-year, $175 million deal rather than step into free agency this winter and take quizzes regarding his durability.


7. Tuck This in the Back of Your Mind

Cleveland in October? Hmm, maybe Tyler Naquin, Mike Napoli, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are the secret weapons:


8. Chatter

** MLB continues to move through its investigation into trade-deadline accusations surrounding medical disclosures and now is looking at San Diego’s trade of Drew Pomeranz to Boston, sources tell B/R. Pomeranz has not missed a start this season so there is some mystery as to what Boston’s gripe is. Yet Red Sox owner John Henry confirmed that MLB is investigating charges that the Padres might not have disclosed all necessary medical information. The Padres and Marlins already agreed to rescind part of their deal from last month, and Colin Rea was returned to San Diego (and now will undergo Tommy John ligament transfer surgery). Tampa Bay complained that minor league shortstop Lucius Fox, 19, had a bone bruise in his left foot when San Francisco traded him for starter Matt Moore, but the Rays and Giants resolved that issue without compensation. Among other things, MLB is reviewing whether to standardize certain protocols in the exchange of medical information before a trade is consummated.

** The Yankees’ youth movement continues to move in the right direction: Catcher Gary Sanchez this week became the first player in Yankees history (and one of only seven major leaguers in the modern era) to slam at least eight homers in his first 19 career games. He also became one of only five players in Yankees history to produce at least 15 RBI in his first 19 games, joining Hideki Matsui (19), Joe DiMaggio (17), Mickey Mantle (16) and George Selkirk (15).

** Clearly, the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez eagerly anticipates facing Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey as much as a five-year-old looks forward to a visit from the tooth fairy: After homering against Bailey again Monday, Gonzalez now is 11-for-25 (.440) against the Reds starter with six homers in his career.

** Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s advice to Jason Heyward upon the outfielder’s return following four days off over the weekend as a mental break to try to snap out of a season-long slump: “Just go play. Go play. I want to see a smile on his face. I’d rather he cut back on his workload. He can’t work any harder.” Heyward homered Monday night in San Diego in his first game back.

** Before landing on the disabled list this week, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg had surrendered 19 runs in his last 11.2 innings pitched, and his ERA has swelled from 2.63 to 3.59.

** Biggest hope this week is that the whispers going around the game that Doc Gooden is not doing well in his battle against drug dependency are exaggerated. But Darryl Strawberry confiding that he is worried for his friend, and then Gooden telling the New York Post‘s Joseph Staszewski that he’s done with Strawberry as a friend, are not painting a good picture.

** Surest thing this winter: That right-hander James Shields (5-15, 5.98) will not exercise the opt-out clause in his current deal, in which he’s still owed $42 million over the next two seasons, plus a $2 million buyout or $16 million club option (riiiight) for 2019.

** Loved the line from Giants pitcher Jake Peavy last week upon his demotion from the rotation to the bullpen. Was he angry? “I’m too grateful to be hateful,” Peavy quipped to reporters, per the Marin Independent Journal‘s Paul Liberatore, on Grateful Dead appreciation night at AT&T Park.

** Summer reading before you run out of time: Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball and the Secret Society That Shocked Depression-Era Detroit by Tom Stanton. Intriguing look at mid-1930s Detroit, when the Tigers, managed by Mickey Cochrane, were winning and a secret group called the Black Legion was running amok terrorizing people they believed were communists—as well as Jews, blacks and Catholics.

** Summer reading II: Shop Around: Growing Up With Motown in a Sinatra Household by Bruce Jenkins, the longtime sports columnist from the San Francisco Chronicle. Only this small paperback isn’t about sports, it is about growing up with music in the house of a father who was a composer and arranger who worked closely with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash and others. Great stuff.


9. “Bring Me a Burger, Some Cheesecake and, Ouch, a Splint! Room 1201”

Turns out, not only is room service expensive, it’s dangerous.

The Dodgers were without outfielder Josh Reddick on Monday after he injured a finger holding the door open for room service.

“I’m at rock bottom,” he moaned, per the Los Angeles Times’ Andy McCullough.


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Quick, before summer fades away for good, make sure to squeeze every bit out of it…

“Wrote a note said be back in a minute 

“Bought a boat and I sailed off in it 

“Dont think anybody gonna miss me anyway

“Mind on a permanent vacation 

“The ocean is my only medication 

“Wishing my condition aint ever gonna go away

“’Cause now Im knee deep in the water somewhere 

“Got the blue sky breeze blowing wind through my hair 

“Only worry in the world is the tide gonna reach my chair 

“Sunrise theres a fire in the sky

“Never been so happy 

“Never felt so high 

“And I think I might have found me my own kind of paradise”


Zac Brown Band (feat. Jimmy Buffett), Knee Deep


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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