Player of the week: Javier Vazquez

Left for dead heading into the trading deadline, the Chicago White Sox have showed signs of life lately, thanks in large part to the efforts of the right-hander. Over his last two starts, Vazquez has tossed back-to-back complete-game gems, helping lead Chicago to victories over the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles. In the two outings, Vazquez surrendered just four earned runs, struck out 15 and didn’t allow a walk. With the wins — which came in his third and fourth straight quality starts — Vazquez improved to 6-5 with a 3.65 ERA. In his final start before the break, he retired the first eight Twins — this on the heels of retiring the final 16 Orioles.

BASEBALL STORYLINES

Alex Rodriguez may be putting up MVP-type numbers, but the New York Yankees have been dismal, making his stats seem a little hollow. The same can’t be said for Detroit star Magglio Ordonez, who has been the driving force for the Tigers this season. Ordonez leads the AL with a .367 batting average, has ripped an amazing 35 doubles and has driven in 70 runs, plus his team is 18 games over .500, making him the most deserving AL MVP candidate. In the NL, small-market Milwaukee has raised eyebrows with its first-place play and no Brewer has been more responsible for the surge than Prince Fielder. The son of Cecil Fielder has already smashed 29 home runs and 70 RBIs, putting him on pace for season totals of 59 homers and 161 — better power numbers than last year’s NL MVP, Ryan Howard, put up.

The NL boasts a bevy of worthy Cy Young candidates, including San Diego teammates Chris Young and Jake Peavy, but Los Angeles Dodgers star Brad Penny has been the most consistent starter in the majors this season. The All-Star is 10-1 and a 2.39 ERA, while striking out 82 batters against just 34 walks. The hitter-friendly AL doesn’t have the same depth of quality pitchers, but the A’s Dan Haren has been great all season, giving him an edge over the fast-charging Johan Santana of Minnesota as the first-half Cy Young winner. Despite dropping his first two decisions, Haren has rebounded to post a 10-3 mark with a 2.30 ERA — a mark that is nearly half a run better than second place in the AL.

As for Rookie of the Year, Houston’s Hunter Pence is the runaway winner in the NL. The 24-year-old center fielder is leading the NL with a .342 batting average to go along with 11 homers, six triples and 42 RBIs. In the AL, Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has overcome a slow start to become the league’s top rookie. Pedroia is hitting .318 with a .400 on-base percentage and 21 doubles.

— Will Reisman

KEY SERIES

ROCKIES at BREWERS (Today-Sunday): The Brewers have been the toast of baseball this season with their surprising play, but they will get a stern test from All-Star Matt Holliday and the Rockies, who made headlines in recent weeks by becoming the first team to sweep two New York squads since 1956.

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