Reinvention and regression

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The following are recaps on area athletes who played Major League Baseball during the recently concluded 2011 season.

ESTRADA, CREW

COME UP SHORT

With the Milwaukee Brewers' postseason run expiring two wins shy of a World Series berth, Glendale Community College alum Marco Estrada fell just short of becoming the second local athlete to appear in the Fall Classic in as many seasons after fellow former Vaquero Freddy Sanchez helped the San Francisco Giants win it all in 2010.

Whether as an occasional starting pitcher or go-to right arm out of the bullpen that could throw multiple innings, Estrada was a serviceable piece of the Brewers' National League Central Division champion club (96-66), which went on to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Division Series, 3-2, before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, 4-2.

Estrada went 4-8 with a 4.08 earned-run average in the regular season, during which he made 43 total appearances, including seven starts. But by the time the postseason rolled around, he was firmly entrenched in the Brewers' bullpen.

Estrada pitched well in his two NLDS appearances, although they came during the two games the Brewers lost at Arizona, 8-1, on Oct. 4 and 10-6 on Oct. 5. Estrada tossed a total of two scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out five. Milwaukee would go on to close out the series with a dramatic walk-off 3-2 win in 10 innings on Oct. 7 to reach the LCS for the first time since 1982, when the Brewers were in the American League.

In the NLCS, Estrada wasn't nearly as effective, allowing two earned runs on three hits in two innings of a 12-3 loss to St. Louis on Oct. 10 that evened the series at 1 before allowing another two runs on a hit and two walks in one inning of a 7-1 loss on Oct. 14 that gave the Cardinals a commanding 3-2 series lead. St. Louis would go on to close out the series with a 12-6 win two days later before beating the Texas Rangers in seven games in the World Series.

Estrada's best stretch of the season came during a string of three consecutive starts he made from Aug. 13 to Aug. 23. Estrada beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 1-0, on Aug. 13, allowing no runs on just one hit over five innings, then lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-1, on Aug. 18 after allowing just one run in five innings in a duel with eventual National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. Estrada then bounced back to beat the Pirates again on Aug. 23, 11-4, with a strong seven-inning, two-run, two-hit performance that tied for his longest outing of the season.

SANCHEZ', GIANTS'

DEFENSE FALTERS

With a near identical lineup to the one that captured the franchise's first World Series title in 56 years last season, the Giants looked to recapture the magic of the 2010 season of destiny.

With one of the most meager run-scoring offense in the majors (29th out of 30 teams), the pitching-strong Giants' title defense never made it into the postseason, as the Arizona Diamondbacks won the National League West by eight games and second-place San Francisco (86-76) was never more than a distant contender for the wild card down the stretch.

Sanchez' season was over much earlier, however, as the former Burbank High and Glendale college standout dislocated his right shoulder in a 3-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on June 10 in an injury that proved to be season-ending. The loss of their starting second baseman was one of several serious injuries that hampered the Giants' title defense, as star catcher Buster Posey had already been lost for the year in a collision at the plate.

Sanchez, who had surgery on the shoulder on Aug. 1, is expected to be healthy in time for 2012 Spring Training, according to a report on the Giants' official website on Thursday.

In 60 games of the 2011 season, Sanchez, a former National League batting titlist, batted .289 with three home runs, 24 runs batted in, 21 runs scored and 15 doubles.

MCCARTHY MAKES

GRADE WITH A's

In his first season in an Oakland Athletics uniform, right-handed starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy quietly put together the finest season of his six-year Major League career, although his exploits occurred mostly out of the spotlight with the small market A's (74-88), who were out of the American League West race early in the season en route to finishing a distant third.

For the first time in his pro career, the Glendale native, who previously played for the Chicago White Sox and Rangers, secured a season ERA under 4.00, finishing with a 9-9 record, a 3.32 ERA and 123 strikeouts, all career bests.

McCarthy, injury-prone throughout most of his career, also managed to stay healthy for most of the 2011 season. Despite missing the last week of May and all of June with a shoulder injury, McCarthy still started a career-high 25 games and logged a career-high 170 2/3 innings.

The A's could rely on McCarthy do go deep in games — he went eight innings or more eight times — and he finished the season on a particularly torrid streak with six consecutive quality starts from Aug. 23 to Sept. 21, a span which included his lone complete game of the year, a three-hit shutout of the Seattle Mariners at home on Sept. 3.

BELL GOES BACK

AND FORTH AGAIN

While not without some promising moments on the big-league stage, much of Crescenta Valley graduate Trevor Bell's young professional career has been punctuated by trips up and down between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. The right-handed relief pitcher's 2011 season was a classic example of the yo-yo pattern his professional development has followed, as he began the season in the minor leagues, ended it in the majors and went up and down three times in between.

Although he made his 2009 Major League debut with the Angels as a starting pitcher and started a handful of games for Salt Lake in 2011, Bell was used exclusively in relief, both short and long, by the Angels this season. He finished with a big league stat line of 1-1 with a 3.41 ERA in 34 1/3 innings over 19 appearances. After getting called back up in September, Bell would have been eligible to appear in the postseason, but the Angels (86-76) ended up finishing second in the American League West behind the Rangers.

INJURY HOLDS

SLATEN BACK

Like Bell, Glendale college alum Doug Slaten played a good portion of his 2011 season in the minor leagues. Slaten's stint, however, came all in one chunk, as the Washington Nationals' left-handed specialist spent three months with four different clubs working his way back to the big leagues from a case of left elbow ulnar neuritis.

Prior to being placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 4, Slaten had posted a solid 2.19 ERA with an 0-1 record and two holds in 12 1/3 innings pitched after beginning the season with a streak of 14 appearances without a run allowed.

Slaten rejoined the Nationals (80-81), who finished third in the National League East, on Sept. 4, but wasn't as dependable down the stretch, as he allowed five runs in four innings of work to finish the year 0-2 with a 4.41 ERA and 13 strikeouts to nine walks.

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