Player of the week: Johan Santana

Santana’s slow start to the season had some critics doubting his chances of defending his 2006 AL Cy Young Award, but with two dominant performances last week, he proved why he is still the most feared pitcher in the American League. In 15 innings of work, Santana allowed a single run, struck out nine and gave up just nine hits in the Minnesota Twins’ victories over the Florida Marlins and the New York Mets. Santana’s impressive week was highlighted by a 9-0 shutout against the Mets on June 19 in which he struck out one without walking anyone. With the two wins, Santana improved to 8-6 and lowered his ERA to 2.83 — fifth-best in the AL.

BASEBALL STORYLINES

For every team looking to gear up for the second half of the season by picking up a key player in a pivotal trade, there isanother foundering squad seeking to dump high-priced stars as baseball’s also-rans throw up the white flag. With the July 31 trading deadline looming, no team epitomizes a season of lost hopes more than the AL Central-trailing Chicago White Sox, who have marketed their prized left-hander, Mark Buehrle, to various suitors. Of course, the White Sox publicly say they want to sign Buehrle, who is 5-4 with a 3.33 ERA to go along with a no-hitter this year, to a multiyear extension and don’t want to trade him. However, the beleaguered Sox are still rumored to be interested in casting away a number of key cogs, including Jermaine Dye, Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras.

All-Star voting came to a close Thursday with really only one starting spot up for grabs. While Giants slugger Barry Bonds will have to wait to see if he is picked as a reserve for the July 10 game in his home park, the American League outfield was the only position unsettled. Thanks to a late surge, Detroit’s Magglio Ordonez was second entering the final days of fan voting, with Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki third and Boston’s Manny Ramirez on the outside looking in.

Best known for his trademark overgrown mustache and his workmanlike attitude, Rod Beck was a fan favorite at every stop of his four-team, 13-year major-league career. Tragically, Beck, who left the Giants as their all-time saves leader in 1997 with 199 (a mark since passed by Robb Nen), was found dead in his Arizona home Saturday at the age of 38. The fiery reliever was known to offer plenty of friendly advice to teammates during his career, but recently he had battled through tough times, including a stint in rehab in 2004 to address his alcoholism. Officials were still investigating the cause of death for Beck, who earned the nickname Shooter because of his love of country music.

— Will Reisman

KEY SERIES

PADRES AT DODGERS (today-Sunday): The last time these two NL West rivals met, the Padres took care of the Dodgers in a convincing three-game sweep in San Diego. The Dodgers will look to return the favor this weekend in Los Angeles, with first place likely on the line. L.A.’s Brad Penny and the Padres’ Jake Peavy square off Saturday.

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