Scorching Nationals Finally Reach NL-Best Potential in 10-Game Win Streak

In the immediate aftermath of Thursday evening's team-record-tying 10th straight victory, it's apparent that the Washington Nationals are finally living up to their potential and putting the rest of the National League, if not all of baseball, on notice. Better yet, they've been doing it lately in dramatic—and eerily similar—fashion.

The Nationals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 1-0 when third baseman Jordan Pacheco's throw skipped past first baseman Mark Trumbo and into the camera well next to Washington's dugout, allowing leadoff hitter Denard Span to score the deciding run.

The final play at Nationals Park looked like this:

The drama? Well, aside from the scoreless eight-and-a-half innings, Thursday's win was the Nationals' second consecutive of the walk-off variety and—get this—their fifth in six games.

The eerie similarity? For the second straight day, the game ended with reliever Evan Marshall on the mound for Arizona and Anthony Rendon hitting a ball toward third base to plate the winning run.

On Wednesday, Rendon—out of the starting lineup for the first time since June 10—came up as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth and knocked the game-winning RBI single to score Bryce Harper.

Keep an eye out for the similarities in the highlight of that walk-off:

"We just feel confident," Span said via Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, "that somehow, someway, we’re going to find a way to inch off a victory."

With the win, the Nationals are now a season-high 20 games above .500 at 73-53. Not only that, but they also have the best record in the Senior Circuit, and it's starting to feel like this club isn't going to give up that throne any time soon. Especially after how things played out last season.

The 2013 campaign was an outright disappointment, as Washington fell behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East very early and didn't really hit its stride until mid-August, by which point it was far too late. To wit, exactly a year ago, on Aug. 21, the Nats, who finished just 86-76 amid sky-high expectations, were 15.0 games behind Atlanta.

This year? It's the Braves who entered Thursday seven games back.

Still, as utility man Kevin Frandsen told Bill Ladson of MLB.com after Wednesday's walk-off:

It's the middle of August. We have to continue to play good baseball. The Braves are not going to give in. The Marlins are not going to give in. People are sleeping on other teams, you can't do that. We have to keep playing good baseball, continue to hit the baseball the way we do, pitch the ball, catch the ball and do all that.

The Nationals certainly have been doing "all that" over the past 10 games. In fact, they've been doing a lot of that for most of the season.

They have a 3.03 team ERA, the second-lowest overall and best in the NL. That's been achieved through both the rotation and the bullpen.

With the explosive Stephen Strasburg (3.41 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, NL-best 198 strikeouts), steady Jordan Zimmermann (2.97, 1.15), underrated Doug Fister (2.20, 1.05), unheralded Tanner Roark (2.80, 1.09) and lone lefty Gio Gonzalez, Washington's rotation is among the best and deepest in baseball.

The relief corps features two of the best setup men in the business in Tyler Clippard (1.95) and Drew Storen (1.54) in front of closer Rafael Soriano (2.49, 29 SV).

As if proving the prowess of the pitching staff, Gonzalez, who has been inconsistent since returning from a midseason stint on the disabled list, fired seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts Thursday. The effort lowered his ERA to 3.83 and his WHIP to 1.31.

Meanwhile, the offense has also been firing on all cylinders, especially since the All-Star break.

Led by Span (.388 average since the break), Rendon (MLB-best 88 runs), Ian Desmond (team highs of 20 homers and 77 RBI), Jayson Werth (.283/.375/.434) and Adam LaRoche (team-topping .838 OPS), Washington checks in with the second-most runs scored in the sport (144) over the second half so far.

And that's without much in the way of production from Harper, as the 21-year-old is still trying to get himself going after missing a chunk of the year with a torn thumb ligament. He does, though, sport a .375 on-base percentage since the break. If he and Ryan Zimmerman, who remains on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, can find their form down the stretch, Washington will be even better.

Not that they aren't already the best in the NL.

The Milwaukee Brewers have been in first in the NL Central for all but three days this season, but they're up there with the Kansas City Royals as the two most surprising division leaders. Claiming they are better than the Nationals is taking things a bit too far.

And all of the sudden, the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers are looking less vaunted and more vulnerable. The big names are there and performing, but a few of them are battling injuries: shortstop Hanley Ramirez is on the DL with a strained oblique; lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu is on the shelf with a glut strain; and right-hander Zack Greinke is having his start pushed back due to elbow soreness, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

The Nationals' luck, on the other hand, appears to be turning—finally—as Kilgore writes:

The 2014 Nationals have been a dominant team all season long. It took the magic of the past 10 days for their record to reflect it, for their luck to catch up to their NL-best, plus-102 run differential. The Nationals...have won twice in extra innings and seven games by one run over their winning streak. Before it, they had gone 5-8 and 13-18 in such coin-flip contests. A prolonged run of success was probably inevitable. It didn’t have to be such a giddily fun ride.

The way things are shaping up now—not to mention, the way they're playing lately—the Nationals are making good on all those expectations. They're just doing it a year later than expected.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Aug. 21 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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4 Prospects Cincinnati Reds Will Promote in September

September is quickly approaching, and given the Cincinnati Reds' current situation, it can't get here quickly enough.

The Reds have dug themselves quite a hole in recent weeks. If they are going to get back into contention, they are going to need their stars to catch fire in a hurry. Otherwise, the final month could be a time for minor leaguers to get some unexpected playing time.

Southpaw David Holmberg is up in the majors right now, so he isn't on this list. However, if he gets sent down between now and the end of the month, expect him to be recalled.

With how banged up Cincinnati has been this year, most of the team's September call-ups have already made an appearance in the majors this season.

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Josh Hamilton Is Gunned Down at the Plate by Yoenis Cespedes’ Strong Throw

When the Boston Red Sox traded for Yoenis Cespedes, they were looking for an improvement in their hitting and fielding, and plays like this are exactly what they hoped for. 

As Josh Hamilton of the Anaheim Angels was waved home coming from second, Cespedes wound up and unleashed the cannon of an arm we've seen already this season to throw him out at home.

[MLB]

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Twins’ Brian Dozier Records Franchise’s First 20-20 Season by a Second Baseman

After swiping second base in the first inning of Wednesday's loss to the Cleveland Indians, Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins became the first second baseman in franchise history to reach 20 home runs and 20 steals in a season, per MLB Stat of the Day.

Prior to the 2014 campaign, Dozier had not eclipsed 20 in either category in a single year but came relatively close in 2013, when he recorded 18 four-baggers and 14 stolen bases over 147 games. Wednesday's swipe marked the 43rd of his career, while the 27-year-old also owns 44 long balls spread across two-plus seasons.

Per Complete Baseball Encyclopedia (via GammonsDaily.com), Dozier is just the sixth player in Senators/Twins history to have logged a 20-20 season. The most recent player to accomplish the feat was outfielder Torii Hunter, who did so in both the 2002 and 2004 seasons.

Dozier is also the seventh different second baseman in American League history with a 20-20 year, recording the 12th such season since 1997. Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox most recently met the criteria in 2011, while Ian Kinsler (2007, 2009 and 2011) and Alfonso Soriano (2002, 2003 and 2005) have each accomplished it on three occasions.

Following Thursday's action, Dozier leads the Twins in homers, steals and total hits (110). His 68 walks also pace the squad, helping him post a .332 on-base percentage despite a meager .231 batting average.

Looking ahead to 2015, Dozier will attempt to join Alfonso Soriano as the only second baseman in AL history to record back-to-back 20-20 seasons.

 

All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise specified.

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Gordon Beckham to Angels: Latest Trade Details, Comments and Reaction

Locked in a tight battle with the Oakland Athletics atop the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels have made a move to acquire second baseman Gordon Beckham from the Chicago White Sox. 

The Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin has the news:

Beckham was at the center of trade rumors as the July 31 deadline came and went, but talks of his eventual departure from Chicago only continued to stir. Still, he took it all in stride. 

“I’m doing the best I can, playing as hard as I can,’’ Beckham told the Chicago Sun-Times' Daryl Van Schouwen. “For me, it’s in God’s hands. So I’ll just try to have fun and be passionate about the game.’’

The former top-10 pick was hitting just .221/.263/.336 with seven home runs and 36 RBI in 101 games. Of course, the Halos aren't looking for a game-changer at this point, just the addition of a utility man who could potentially provide a small boost in September. 

Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register explained what the 27-year-old's role will look like in L.A.:

It's an interesting move. Although Beckham has been frustratingly inconsistent for much of the season (70 strikeouts to just 19 walks), he has continued to ravage left-handed hitting. In 107 plate appearances, he is hitting a robust .309/.349/.454.

That's a steep upgrade over switch-hitting shortstop Erick Aybar, whose splits against lefties sit at just .226/.257/.323. However, there's also defensive acumen you have to take into account. 

As Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal noted, Beckham has next to no experience in between second and third:

After news broke Thursday that ace Garrett Richards will miss the remainder of the season, the Angels were in search of a positive addition. 

While this clearly doesn't quell the concerns around the starting rotation, it's a nice gamble that could pay dividends while L.A. attempts to hold off Oakland down the stretch.

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Bryce Harper Uses Yasiel Puig’s Bat During Game

With Bryce Harper's talent and Yasiel Puig's bat, magical things should happen at the plate.

For whatever reason, Harper was spotted using a bat with Puig's name on it during Thursday's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He started out 1-for-2 at the plate.

The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore gave a couple of possible reasons as to why Harper was using the bat.


If Harper hits a home run with the bat, we will be on the lookout for a bat flip.

[Twitter]

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Brewers’ Hank the Ballpark Pup Meets His Namesake, Hank Aaron

Hank the Ballpark Pup has been through quite a bit this year since he wandered into the Milwaukee Brewers' spring training complex. Months later, he has finally met the man he was named after, Hank Aaron.

The baseball legend was in town for a charity event this week, which made it the perfect time for him to meet the pup for the first time.

Aaron slugged 420 of his 755 career home runs while playing for Milwaukee (both the Braves and the Brewers), so that might explain why the pup is named after the Hall of Famer.

[Milwaukee Brewers, h/t USA Today's FTW]

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Toronto Blue Jays Want Creighton Bluejays to Alter New Logo

Fans were excited when the Creighton Bluejays unveiled their new logo, but not everyone felt the same way.

According to Matt Norlander of CBS Sports, the Toronto Blue Jays are fighting the logo change, arguing that Creighton's design is too similar to theirs:

It's been more than 10 months since Creighton unveiled its new look for its new league. By moving from the Missouri Valley to the Big East, the school had a rebranding overhaul take place last fall. But the Toronto Blue Jays have decided this new-look logo cannot be. The Blue Jays are fighting the existence of this Creighton logo on the grounds that it's too similar to their own, which has been part of Toronto's baseball appeal for decades.

The Blue Jays filed the complete notice of opposition on Aug. 11; it can be seen in its entirety here.   

SportsNet provides a look at the two logos side by side:

As Alicia Jessop of Forbes notes, Toronto is concerned about the "damage" that could result from this situation as it relates to both logos:

According to Steven Pivovar of the Omaha World-HeraldMongoose Graphics of Denver, Colorado, designed Creighton's new logos. Associate athletic director Mark Burgers explained the reasoning behind the school's choice last year:

We engaged a few different design firms. It was exciting to see the different looks that people gave us. It was all the way across the board, from being very historical to very futuristic. We felt like this one was a good balance of both.

SportsLogos.net users rated the Big East school's design as the best new logo of the year in sports. The Bluejays certainly got a lot of attention last season—something the Toronto-based franchise certainly noticed—as Doug McDermott led the basketball team to a 27-8 record in its first year in the conference.

Depending on how the issue is settled, Creighton could end up being forced to come up with another logo in the near future.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Follow TheRobGoldberg on Twitter

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Tigers’ Rick Porcello Becomes 4th Active Pitcher with 75 Wins Before Age of 26

Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello earned his 75th career victory with Wednesday's complete-game shutout of the Tampa Bay Rays, becoming just the fourth active pitcher to reach the 75-win plateau before turning 26 years old, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Porcello, who won't turn 26 until Dec. 27, joins aces Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw and CC Sabathia on the exclusive list. While he's a solid pitcher in the midst of a career-best season, Porcello doesn't stack up to any of those three, each of whom has won at least one Cy Young Award.

The 25-year-old righty became a full-time member of the Detroit rotation at the beginning of the 2009 season when he was only 20 years old. He has since started at least 27 games in each campaign, assuming he makes three more starts this year.

While most phenoms either flame out or turn into stars, Porcello has settled somewhere in between. He owns a career 4.28 ERA and 4.02 FIP, with a 5.45 K/9 and 2.21 BB/9. He pitches to contact and benefits in the wins column from a strong offensive supporting cast, but he's also shown signs of improvement.

Porcello will almost certainly lower his ERA for a fourth consecutive season, as his 3.10 mark is far ahead of last year's 4.32. Advanced metrics show modest year-to-year improvement, though it's a bit concerning that the right-hander has lost last season's gains in strikeouts.

Still, the overall picture is of a strong mid-rotation pitcher, one who got an early start on his career. Though he doesn't figure to contend for Cy Young Awards, Porcello could end up with a surprisingly high spot on the all-time wins list when all is said and done. It certainly helps that he plays for the Tigers, a team with plenty of pop in the lineup.

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Telephoto MegaFon Loudspeaker Lets You “Yell” at One Person Only

Telephoto MegaFon

So near, yet so far. You might be able to see the person you want to talk to, but the din of the outside world won’t allow him to hear your voice. That and the fact that what you want to keep your message private makes yelling out of the question. Addressing this first world problem is Fuji Xerox.

After a lot of detailed R&D, they’ve created the Telephoto Megafon which is basically a targeted megaphone of sorts. The 3D-printed gadget will let the user “speak” to someone far away by simply pointing the Megafon towards that person.

The Telephoto Megafon is still in the prototype stage. Wouldn’t it be awesome if it were actually released commercially?

VIA [ Damn Geeky ]

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Facial Fitness Pao: Exercise Your Face By… Flopping It Up and Down?

cossin_745

 

Japan is known for many things. Futuristic gadgets, capsule hotels, sumo wrestlers, and yes, their vast range of facial exercises that are as bizarre as they come. The latest of these is the Facial Fitness Pao, which looks a lot like a toy helicopter’s main rotor blades, only it’s noticeably less stiff.

It also has a mouthpiece in the middle, which you’re supposed to pop into your mouth before bouncing your head like a madman to exercise your facial muscles. Can it actually sculpt your facial muscles, as it promises to? Let us know if you decide to fork $135 over to try it out.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Incredible Things ]

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Red Sox’s David Ortiz Ties Team Record with 8th 30-Homer Season

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz hit his 30th home run of the year in Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Angels, matching Ted Williams' franchise record of eight seasons with 30 or more homers, per Lee Sinins of Complete Baseball Encyclopedia.

Ortiz, whose 403 home runs for the Red Sox rank third on the franchise list to Williams' 521 and Carl Yastrzemski's 452, went deep off Angels relief pitcher Cory Rasmus in the third inning of Wednesday's eventual 7-3 loss.

The long ball was Ortiz's fourth in his last five games, as he's been unstoppable over the last week. After registering a hit in each of his four at-bats Wednesday, the veteran DH has 14 hits—including six for extra bases—in his last 26 at-bats. Having also drawn six walks over that period, Ortiz owns a .625 on-base percentage in his last seven games.

With Wednesday's homer, the 38-year-old Ortiz became the oldest player to hit 30 in a season since 2004, when both Steve Finley (39) and Barry Bonds (40) accomplished the feat, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Though his .263/.355/.523 slash line is down a bit from last season's .309/.395/.564, Ortiz is on pace to hit 39 homers, which would mark his best total since he set a franchise record with 54 in 2006.

Signed with the Red Sox through 2015, Ortiz will take aim at a record-setting ninth 30-homer campaign next year.

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Qalo Ring: An Alternative to Typical Wedding Bands

Qalo Ring

 

Compared to men, women are more particular when it comes to jewelry. How many times have you heard one of your guy friends say that they’ve lost, misplaced, or banged up their rings so badly because he forgot to take it off while mountain climbing? The solution isn’t to buy a spare ring or wear it around your neck; no, it comes in the form of the Qalo Ring.

It’s a simple band that dudes can wear on their ring fingers without having to worry about possible wear and tear. Made from thick silicone, the rings are comfortable yet durable enough for active lifestyles. The best part? It’s only $20, so you don’t have to worry about breaking the bank if you ever need to buy a replacement.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Cool Material ]

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Deal Of The Day: 70% Off On VPN Unlimited Premium Plan

VPN

 

The Internet provides a wealth of information at your fingertips. It’s also unfortunately a huge security risk because of the many threats that lurk on the WWW, including unscrupulous hackers and data thieves who are just waiting for you to make one wrong swipe. Ease your fears and deal with these threats by getting VPN.

VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network, lets you surf websites and access data on the internet without compromising your information since the outgoing data is encrypted. The VPN Unlimited Premium Plan provides you with this and more: secure WiFi connection, prevention of data interception, and the option to choose the server from any country you want. At $19 for three years, it’s a steal.

70% Off On VPN Unlimited Premium Plan ]

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Cold Hard Fact for Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fact: The San Francisco Giants became the first team since 1986 to have a protest upheld by MLB after a tarp malfunction during their Tuesday game vs. the Chicago Cubs forced it to be called early.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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Young Washington Nationals Fan Takes Foul Ball to Head While Falling onto Field

So many things went wrong for this poor kid, all at the same time.

A young Nationals fan found himself bruised and covered in dirt after a series of unfortunate events at Nationals Park on Wednesday night.

It all began in the bottom of the sixth when Bryce Harper pieced a low foul ball over the right field line. The child—wearing a Harper shirt and a fashionable popcorn bucket on his head—leaned over the wall to snag a souvenir and instead took the ball flush in the face.

The headshot sent Bucket Boy flopping onto the field in a graceless heap. To his credit, he did not cry. He picked up his bucket, metabolized another serving of early-life trauma and retreated into the stands.

To recap, this young man went from shiny and optimistic to battered and bucketless in a matter of two seconds.

I wish I could dredge a moral out of this mess. I want to say that we can all learn a lesson from Bucket Boy's misfortune, but I’m not sure there is one to be had. If anything, this is a case study in fate's cruel whimsy. A kid puts a bucket on his head, tries to catch a foul ball and eats a Rawlings sandwich for his troubles.

Stay strong, young man. This is just how life goes. Some days you're the ball; some days you're the bucket.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

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Simple, Repetitive, Calming: Personal Zen Provides Some Much-Needed Stress Relief

Personal Zen App

When life gives you lemons, pull out your phone, fire up Personal Zen, and start playing. It’s an app that aims to reduce its players’ stress levels by having them to perform simple, repetitive actions that’ll take their mind off of their problems and hopefully relieve them of the stress that life often brings.

When we get anxious or stressed, we pay too much attention to the negatives and have less ability to see the positives in life. These habits of attention reduce our ability to cope effectively with stress and can create a vicious cycle of anxiety. Personal Zen helps to short-circuit these habits and frees you up to develop a more flexible and positive focus.

Personal Zen App1

 

The best part? It’s available for free. Ready to get rid of your stress? Download the app on iTunes here.

VIA [ Laughing Squid ]

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3 Prospects the Oakland A’s Will Promote in September

Rosters expand September 1, and although any minor leaguer who gets called up to the Oakland A's likely won't see too much playing time, certain guys may still have an impact.

Typically, rebuilding teams use September to see what the kids can do. Oakland, however, is smack in the middle of a playoff hunt. With the current 25-man roster as is, the team's call-ups ideally will be pinch hitters and runners, late-inning defensive replacements and depth.

With such a heated battle for the AL West crown taking place, the A's can't afford to lose a starter to injury without a viable replacement.

So who might we see brought up to Oakland in September?

 

Billy Burns

In 2004, the Boston Red Sox faced elimination from the playoffs at the hands of their biggest rival, the New York Yankees. Little-used speedster Dave Roberts entered the game late to pinch run in the ninth inning, his team down by one. Roberts then stole second and later scored, tying the game.

It's one of the most memorable steals in recent history. A game-changer.

Billy Burns has game-changing speed. His stolen-base total of 53 is fifth most in all of minor league baseball and most in Double-A.

Before the season started, both A's manager Bob Melvin and Mark Harris—Burns' former hitting coach in the Washington Nationals organization—raved about Burns to MLB.com's Jane Lee.

"Billy gets to full speed as fast as anyone I've ever seen," said Harris. With Burns' speed, Harris said it might almost be "stupid to not take advantage of what he does best."

The A's certainly have the pitching to keep games close. So if the offense struggles in tight games down the stretch, there may be no better person to have on the roster than Burns, who can come in as a late-inning pinch runner, steal a base or two and change the game's momentum.

 

Arnold Leon

The Athletics can't seem to have enough pitching this season. So it wouldn't be a surprise at all if, come September 1, the A's call up a pitcher or two.

Tommy Milone and Dan Straily are gone. Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin are out for the year. Jason Hammel is struggling. But the A's still have a ton of depth at starting pitching, including Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz. They might even call up Josh Lindblom.

Or maybe it will be prospect Arnold Leon who gets promoted.

Leon is 10-6 with a 5.27 ERA and a 1.578 WHIP in Triple-A Sacramento (it's worth noting his FIP is a full point lower at 4.22). Not great numbers in the minors this year, but his major league numbers are much better. In five opportunities, including one start, he has not lost one game, earned one save and owns a 2.13 ERA.

Griffin and Straily both made late debuts for Oakland, and both pitchers thrived. Perhaps Leon can be next in that line.

Note: Pomeranz and Lindblom may be more likely to receive a call-up; however, here they are not being considered prospects.

 

Shane Peterson

First baseman and outfielder Shane Peterson may be asking, "What's a guy got to do to earn a call-up around here?"

Peterson's .316 average leads the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. Likewise, he leads the team in runs scored, hits, doubles, triples, RBI, touched bases and walks. He's second in home runs (with Nate Freiman now on the big league squad) and stolen bases, too.

He had a short stint in Oakland earlier in the year in which he garnered one hit, one walk, one run and one RBI. But at this point, why not bring him up for depth and pinch hitting?

Peterson has earned his call-up.

 

All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com and MiLB.com.

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Billy Hamilton Saves Runs with Diving Catch, Throws to 1st for Double Play

The Cincinnati Reds' Billy Hamilton made the switch from shortstop to center field just last season, and thanks to his blazing speed and strong arm, it has been a smooth transition.

Hamilton has made a pretty strong case for a Gold Glove this season. When you see the play that the rookie made in the first inning Wednesday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, you will be a believer.

With runners on first and second and just one out, St. Louis first baseman Matt Adams hit a ball to deep right-center field. It wasn't clear as to whether Hamilton or Reds right fielder Jay Bruce would be able to catch the ball, but the speedster made a nice diving catch to keep the Cardinals off the board. Not only that, but Hamilton's quick throw back to first base was on the money and doubled off Jon Jay.

Given how mightily the Reds are struggling right now, it was a big play by Hamilton to keep the game scoreless.

St. Louis ended up winning the game, 7-3.

[MLB.com]

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