- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
CINCINNATI -- As manager Dusty Baker chatted in his office a few hours before "Sunday Night Baseball," the Reds were 39 days from the last time they had registered back-to-back wins. And Baker talked about waiting for his team to get on the kind of roll that hasn't happened yet this year -- a roll that seems inevitable, given the fact that Cincinnati has essentially the same core of young players that won the NL Central last year.
Joey Votto, the reigning NL MVP, is still here, and so are Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce and the strong catching duo of Ryan Hanigan and Ramon Hernandez. Aroldis Chapman has been throwing strikes, and Dontrelle Willis looks completely different than he did with the Tigers, slimmed down and joyful again. The Reds are hopeful that Edinson Volquez has gotten angry in a good way in the aftermath of his demotion to the minors, and will soon come back refocused; no one has ever doubted his ability.
And presumably the Reds will add help before the trade deadline, like other teams. While Baker talked, his phone rang: It was Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty, who had just finished watching the ceremonies in Cooperstown. Baker answered and told Jocketty that he'd call him back after the reporters left the room, and maybe their subsequent conversation was about a starting pitcher or a reliever or the kind of middle-of-the-order hitter they've sought.
But if the Reds are going to find a solution, a big part of it will inevitably be center fielder Drew Stubbs. Somebody posed an interesting question on Twitter the other day: Of all the players in Major League Baseball, who would be the best decathletes? In other words, who would be the guy who could best run, jump, throw through all those events? And the first two names that jumped to mind, for me, were Stubbs and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Stubbs is one because he's a package of remarkable physical talent. On Saturday he made a ridiculous throw home, and in the first inning Sunday he reached after his grounder was fumbled by Braves third baseman Martin Prado and Stubbs outran the throw to first. Then, in the bottom of the ninth inning, Stubbs had the strength to club the very first pitch over the right-field wall -- to the opposite field -- for a game-ending home run.
On the walk back to the hotel after the game, ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian mentioned that he once had a conversation with Stubbs about how the ballplayer had run hurdles as a teenager.
By the way, the Reds have won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-June and, despite all their problems and frustrations and weaknesses, are just three games out of first place. The NL Central is wide open.
• The Mariners' losing streak is getting pretty ugly, at 15 games, and Seattle will be playing in Yankee Stadium this week. The feeling among the Mariners' coaches, and for catcher Miguel Olivo, is that Michael Pineda was tipping his pitches. But he may be hitting the wall, too: In his first 15 starts, he was 7-4 with a 2.45 ERA and a .199 opponents batting average. He'd allowed just 0.7 home runs per 9 IP. In his last five starts, he's 1-3 with a 7.71 ERA, a .248 average against and 1.6 HR/9.
Eric Wedge shaved his facial hair in an effort to change his luck.
• The Hall of Fame may reduce the wait for induction to three years, writes Kevin Kernan. This would be a very, very, very smart way for the Hall to bridge the gap as the PED guys begin to saturate the list of eligible candidates.
4. Neal Huntington is thinking clearly as the deadline approaches, writes Ron Cook. The Pirates are frustrated by the high prices, writes Bill Brink. The Pirates have talked about Hunter Pence, Carlos Pena and Carlos Beltran, writes Rob Biertempfel.
6. The Astros are weighing all their options, writes Brian McTaggart.
8. The rumor mill around the Cubs has quieted, writes Dave van Dyck.
10. The Rangers are waiting for the right deal.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. Ozzie Guillen is giving the thumbs-down to promoting a prospect.
Dings and dents
1. Alex Rodriguez's rehab is on track.
3. Roy Halladay's dominance continued. From ESPN Stats & Information, how Halladay won:
• Halladay labored through the first five innings, throwing 91 pitches while allowing eight baserunners and three runs (two earned). In his last three innings, Halladay threw just 25 pitches and didn't allow a baserunner.
• In his last three innings, Halladay was able to get ahead of hitters more effectively. He threw 64 percent first-pitch strikes through the first five innings but increased that to 78 percent from the sixth on. Halladay doubled his cutter use and decreased his two-seam fastball and changeup use on the first pitch over the last three innings, keeping Padres hitters off balance.
• Eleven of the first 25 batters he faced swung at the first pitch -- getting two hits -- while only one of the final nine batters he faced swung at pitch one.
• The Phillies are now 39-15 in games that Roy Halladay has started.
FROM ELIAS: The Phillies' .722 win percentage behind Halladay is tied for the best team win percentage in a pitcher's starts since 1900:
Roy Halladay (PHI) .722
Nick Maddox (PIT) .722
Russ Meyer (BKN) .718
Lefty Grove (PHA) .713
4. Oakland lost again to the Yankees.
• In three career starts against the Brewers, Bumgarner has a 1.27 ERA and 18 strikeouts to just four walks in 21 1/3 innings. In each of those three starts, Bumgarner has attacked Brewers hitters, particularly righties, inside. On Sunday, 32 of his 81 pitches (39.5 pct) to righties were inside, his fifth-highest percentage this season and 12th in his 40 career regular season starts; his other two starts against the Brewers rank first and sixth. Righties were just 1 for 9 Sunday, including three strikeouts, in at-bats ending on an inside pitch.
• Bumgarner relied on his slider more often than usual Sunday, and wasn't afraid to come inside with it. He threw the pitch 39 percent of the time, his second highest in a start this season. Bumgarner threw more sliders than fastballs inside to righties, and hitters were 0 for 4 in at-bats ending in a slider inside.
Bumgarner may have perfect command by the time he's 25.
6. John Buck came out of the bullpen to get a big hit. Emilio Bonifacio has been on a serious tear: From ESPN Stats & Info: Bonifacio has sparked the Marlins offense, as he leads the majors with 21 runs, a .489 on-base percentage, and 14 stolen bases in July. The Marlins are 13-8 in July, averaging 5.1 runs per game. Prior to this month, Bonifacio sported a .331 on-base percentage with only 8 stolen bases.
9. The Cardinals lost three leads, and lost.
11. The Braves were on the other end of the Stubbs walkoff, as Carroll Rogers writes.
13. The Cubs have three straight wins, and counting.
14. A lot pop-up in the sun took down the Brewers, writes Tom Haudricourt.
18. The Twins missed an opportunity.
19. On a hot day, the Rangers were cooled off.
The Patience Index
• A rival evaluator on Anthony Rizzo, the highly regarded prospect who was sent to the minors by Padres last week after struggling: "My concern(for SD) is that he is Hee-Seop Choi. Any fastball that starts with a '9' is a problem for him."
• The Brewers have lost a lot of outs on the bases.
• The biggest shock of the Hall of Fame day for me was that Pat Gillick -- who I got a chance to cover when I was with the Baltimore Sun in 1996 -- got through his speech without breaking down. Pat is a very emotional guy, and he must've steeled himself.
• Bert Blyleven was remembered as the master of the hotfoot. Blyleven entered the Hall with humor and grace, writes Jim Souhan.
And today will be better than yesterday. But yesterday was pretty good, in Cooperstown.