MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Aces at a premium in Junior Circuit races

As AL clubs become more bullpen dependent, importance of No. 1-type starters increases

Aces at a premium in Junior Circuit races

In the days leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline, there were four potential No. 1 starters dealt -- and they all went to American League teams: David Price to the Blue Jays, Johnny Cueto to the Royals, Scott Kazmir to the Astros and Cole Hamels to the Rangers.

The moves underscore how the AL has become a bullpen-dependent league, but the front offices know in the postseason a rotation ace makes a difference. The five AL teams that would have advanced to the postseason if the season ended on Friday went into Saturday with four of the five lowest bullpen ERAs in the Junior Circuit: the Royals (2.34), Astros (2.67), Blue Jays (3.18) and Yankees (3.24). The fifth potential postseason team, the Angels, ranked eighth among AL bullpens with a 3.52 ERA. The Orioles, third on the list with a 2.89 ERA, were a half-game behind the Halos in the battle for the second Wild Card. The Rangers, also a half-game back of the Angels, ranked 14th with a 4.45 ERA.

The Astros (3.72) and Angels (3.79) were ranked third and fourth in the AL with regards to rotation ERA, while the Jays were fifth at 4.08, Royals 10th at 4.25 and the Yankees 11th at 4.27. The Orioles were 12th at 4.32 and Rangers 13th at 4.37.

In the National League, the five teams that would have qualified for the postseason after Friday had the five lowest rotation ERAs in the Senior Circuit: the Cardinals (2.83), Dodgers (3.24), Mets (3.32), Pirates (3.53) and Cubs (3.57). The Nationals, who are trailing the Mets by five in the NL East, ranked sixth at 3.84, while the Giants, 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West, were seventh at 3.88.

Among individuals, Shelby Miller of Atlanta (5-10, 2.50) was the only pitcher (not including the since-traded Cueto) from an NL team other than the seven in the postseason hunt who ranked among the 15-lowest ERAs for a qualifying starter.

Six of the 15 lowest ERAs among AL starters belonged to pitchers not on contenders -- and two of the nine pitchers with contenders were July trade acquisitions: Price, who ranks third at 2.40, and Kazmir, who ranks fourth at 2.43. Cueto, who has split the season between the NL and AL, doesn't qualify for the AL leaders, but his combined 2.70 ERA would rank fifth among AL starters.

POWER PITCHING

Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner hit his fifth home run of the season on Friday night, which is tied for 22nd for home runs in a season by a player who appeared in at least 50 percent of his games as a pitcher, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Bumgarner has 11 career home runs, tied for 45th among players who made at least 50 percent of their appearances as a pitcher.

Bumgarner's two-run smash

Wes Ferrell holds the records for pitchers in home runs during a season (nine in 1931) and career (38, although one came as a pinch-hitter).

Bumgarner has two of the top four single-season home run totals by a pitcher since 1974 according to Stats Inc., which has the breakdown for at-bats in a game as a pitcher only. Mike Hampton tops that list with seven for the Rockies in 2001, followed by Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs with six in '06 and Bumgarner with five this season. Bumgarner hit four in '14, tied for fourth with Zambrano with the Cubs in '08 and '09, Yovani Gallardo with the Brewers in '10 and Micah Owings with the D-backs in '07.

Zambrano is the career leader since 1974 with 24. Hampton is second with 16, while Don Robinson is third with 13. Gallardo and Bob Forsch are tied for fourth with 12, and Bumgarner and Larry Christensen are tied for sixth with 11.

HEAVY LOAD

Astros pitcher Mike Fiers threw 134 pitches in his no-hitter against the Dodgers on Friday night, the highest pitch count in the big leagues since the Giants' Tim Lincecum threw 148 pitches in his no-hitter on July 13, 2013, against the Padres, according to Stats, Inc.

Must C: Fiers tosses no-hitter

The previous high this season was 129 pitches by Marco Estrada of the Blue Jays against the Rays on June 24, and Cole Hamels when he was with the Phillies in his no-hitter against the Cubs on July 25. Cueto, now with the Royals, has three of the top 10 pitch counts this season. With the Reds, he threw 125 pitches against the Brewers on April 22, 123 pitches against the White Sox on May 19, and 122 pitches against the Nationals on July 7.

Chris Sale of the White Sox has the highest average pitch count per start at 108.2, followed by Price at 106.8 pitches per start.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

• Twenty-six years ago this Monday, then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti handed down the lifetime suspension against all-time hit leader Pete Rose.

• Thirty years ago this Tuesday, Dwight Gooden of the Mets became the youngest 20-game winner in Major League history. At the age of 20 years, nine months and nine days, Gooden was a month younger than Bob Feller when he won his 20th game in 1939.

• Fifty years ago on Saturday, Juan Marichal of the Giants, upset because he felt Dodgers catcher John Roseboro's return throws to the pitcher were too close to his head, attacked Roseboro with his bat. Marichal was suspended eight days and fined $1,750.

QUICKLY

• Royals home attendance was up a Major League-leading 10,011 per game, going into the weekend. The Mariners ranked second with an increase of 5,123. The Phillies had the biggest decline at 5,535.

• The Blue Jays went into Saturday with a Major League-leading 54 wins while score five or more runs. The Rockies led the Majors with 22 losses in games in which they had scored five runs, according to notes guru Bill Arnold.

• The Yankees went into the weekend leading the Majors by having been successful on 72.73 of their replay challenges. The Rays ranked 30th with a 30 percent success rate.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.