The rub on Jason Kubel, acquired this season from the Minnesota Twins, is that he strikes out a lot — a disease that has plagued sluggers who work the left side of the field for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Remember traded-away D-backs third baseman Mark Reynolds, who on and off led the majors in striking out. This season, left-fielder Kubel has struck out 116 times, which has put him among the top 10 whiffers in the big leagues.

But Kubel does something else well, too: Like Reynolds before him, he puts the ball in the seats. Kubel leads the team with 25 home runs, which lands him in the top 10 sluggers in the National League. In late July, the stoic slugger hit three home runs in a single game against the Houston Astros, which meant that he led the NL in runs batted in at the time. In a game against the surprisingly good Pittsburgh Pirates, Kubel hit two two-run homers. When he delivers, he delivers big. Power hitters have a tendency to strike out too much, dating back to Babe Ruth. The question is, how much value do they add to their teams despite that? If Kubel helps power the Snakes into the postseason, nobody will care that he walks dejectedly from the plate to the dugout frequently.

When trade talks began about Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton this season, we hoped the team would send him packing. You know, get something/someone valuable in return for him, unlike local teams traditionally haven't done here with floundering "superstars." (Does the name Amar'e Stoudemire come to mind?) But, of course, the D-backs held on to their former top draft choice. And he has performed better, but not to the point of becoming the perennial All-Star power hitter they've paid through the nose for — he signed a six-year, $51.25 million contract two years ago. When he came to the majors in 2009, he had a .300 average. He's never achieved that since, batting .273, .289, and so far this season .272. But what's disappointing for this long-ball hitter by trade are his home run and runs-batted-in totals in 2012. He hit 31 home runs last season, with 88 RBI, and seemed finally to be living up to his heralded potential. This year he's hit nine homers and has a measly (for a slugger) 45 RBI. He's letting Jason Kubel-come-lately in the Snakes' lineup eclipse him. Naturally, Upton's got the huge contract that comes with major talent, but he hasn't played like an $8.54-million-a-year man this summer.

Well, eccentric is a mild description of the antics that Trevor Bauer displayed during his brief sojourn with the Diamondbacks before getting plopped back in the minors this season. His teammates were mostly mum about the highly touted rookie pitcher, except that the eyebrows of a few were raised to hairline level. The disdain reached a crescendo when Bauer shook off veteran catcher Miguel Montero calls (All-Star pitchers defer to catchers of Montero's expertise), which resulted in Bauer's and the D-backs' getting bombed. Bauer's stubborn, and his weird ways have paid off for him during a stellar minor league stint: Last summer in the minors, he struck out a mind-blowing 43 batters in 26 innings. At the bottom of it, Bauer insists on throwing what he considers his best pitches at all times, rather than pitching around troublesome hitters, the conventional MO for big league hurlers. Problems being: MLB hitters eventually figure out pitches, no matter how good they are, and blast them — which is why every pitch isn't aimed for the strike zone.

We knew Bauer would get his comeuppance when we saw his strange warm-up routine, which includes stepping behind the pitcher's mound and throwing the ball as hard as he can at the backstop, with the catcher often jumping out of the way to save himself. Bauer's the kind of kid that hitters want to show up and that teammates want to see fall in freakin' line! Question is, can the free-spirited 21-year-old do that and still have the stuff that brought him this far? Maybe a compromise can be reached when the D-backs give him another shot at the bigs, because he sure is fun to watch.

Andre Ethier grew up near what is now Chase Field and was a huge Diamondbacks fan (he went on to play at ASU under legendary Coach Pat Murphy) — which makes it all the more ironic that he and his Dodgers have been such a bane to our boys of summer. Especially this year. The Dodgers keep getting better, and the D-backs keep staying mediocre — even though several experts predicted that they would be in the World Series this year. Part of the reason the Dodgers are rising now after a big slump is that outfielders Ethier and Matt Kemp have returned to the lineup from injuries. Ethier has come back from a left oblique muscle strain. This season, he hasn't matched his 2011 performance of a Gold Glove award and hitting in 23 straight games, breaking former Dodgers and Yankees manager Joe Torre's record as a player. But the intense Ethier has added spice to the Dodgers' powerful lineup in his cleanup role. In his abbreviated season, he leads current Dodgers in hitting with a .285 batting average (lifetime in the majors .290) and in runs batted in (65) — with 11 home runs. If the Dodgers make it to the World Series, the half-Mexican-American Phoenix native (he spends winters at his Chandler ranch) will be a major reason why.

What Jared Dudley does for the Phoenix Suns doesn't show up on the stat sheet. Dudley will never be a Hall of Famer, but he's essential to Coach Alvin Gentry's squad if it has any hope of pulling itself up by its sneaker strings to mediocrity this season. To say the Suns are in a rebuilding mode is like saying New Orleans was in a rebuilding mode after Hurricane Katrina. With the recent departures of Steve Nash and Grant Hill, we've barely heard of most of the roster. But the smiley Dudley is back for his third full season, having come over in a trade from the Charlotte Bobcats with Jason Richardson. Though Dudley was considered just the other guy in the trade, his on-court hustle off the bench made him vital to the Suns' offensive plan, and Richardson was traded away. And it's not that he's only a tenacious defender; Dudley can score and rebound. He just can't jump very high for a guy who's 6-feet-7; he rarely dunks. (He was a fat kid who slimmed down and made it to the millionaire world of NBA millionaires — the guy's an inspiration to us all.) Last season, J-Dud averaged 13 points and five rebounds a game in an average of just 31 minutes of playing time. The forward's an upbeat journeyman who'll be a locker-room leader this season with that host of young players. And he's a lock to be one of a couple of bright spots we'll enjoy watching as the Suns predictably blow.

We know the kid can play! In fact, when the Phoenix Suns traded him to the Houston Rockets in 2011, he was supposed to be the successor to ball-handling wizard Steve Nash. The trade boggled the mind because, while a little streaky at first, Dragic turned in some performances that made even perennial All-Star point guard Nash envious. We'll never forget his literally taking the team on his skinny shoulders in game three of the 2010 Western Conference semifinals. The lightning-fast Slovenian scored 23 of his 26 points in the final period to lead the Suns to a 110-96 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. In what then-teammate Grant Hill called the best fourth-quarter performance he'd ever witnessed in a playoff game, Dragic's scoring burst included five of five three-pointers to bring Phoenix back from an 18-point deficit. But the main thing we love are his passing skills. He learned from the master, Nash, and it showed last season with the Rockets, where he averaged 5.3 assists per game. The good news is, he's back in Phoenix, where he will anchor a mostly underwhelming Suns lineup.

HeatSync Labs

Into 3D printing, radio, gaming, augmented humanity, pomo fiber arts, musical tech, or just making and inventing in general? HeatSync is a community-supported space where folks of those bents can play, demo, craft, swap ideas, knuckle down on projects, hack, gossip, or just observe. Along with the power of multiple brains, visiting HeatSync Labs gives you an opportunity to use equipment — like lasers, welders, oscilloscopes, and the Cupcake printer — that can be tough for individuals to purchase and maintain. Check out the online discussion boards and events calendar for details, and plan some face time. See a video of HeatSync Labs.

When video-gaming goes from casual hobby to serious business, diehard gamers look for every advantage to take down their virtual enemies. Enter Evil Controllers. The online gaming distributor caters to a worldwide customer base of xBox and PlayStation enthusiasts by building custom video game controllers that meet the button, thumbstick, and trigger requirements of individual players.

Evil genius Adam Coe founded the Tempe company at age 19 in the Mark Zuckerberg fashion of building and distributing controllers from his dorm room at the University of Arizona. As demand for a once-nonexistent market multiplied, Coe abandoned his academic distractions to pursue his business efforts full time, with the help of his mom and older brother. Four years later, the words "evil controllers" might as well be considered a cheat code, as far as disadvantaged gamers are concerned.

Delivering one-of-a-kind products through an online platform that puts their competitors to shame, Evil Controllers lets customers construct their designs from scratch using the website's Controller Creator. Finished dream devices can even be shared on social networks so friends and family know exactly what to get you for the holidays. It's just one of the many features Evil Controllers offers to stay ahead of the game in the business world.

This is also one of the few companies that delves into the market of accessible controllers. Working alongside the Able Gamers Foundation, Adam Coe connects individually with disabled gamers to develop the right controller for each one's range of motion. Turns out, Evil Controllers is not so evil after all. See a slideshow here.

The Secret Service was less than thrilled, but how do you keep POTUS from playing with a big air-powered PVC gun at the White House Science Fair? At the February event, President Obama found 14-year-old Joe Hudy's extreme marshmallow cannon, which fires relatively harmless s'more stuffing up to 176 feet, as fascinating as we do. The Phoenix teen is no one-trick pony; he holds two editors' choice awards from Maker Faire and has launched a small business selling one of his other inventions, a kit to make a 3x3x3 LED Cube Arduino Shield. Your computer makes it light up, and that's all we know. We might stick with the candy gun.

Wildlife World Zoo

Of all the animals that might look out of place in the cactus-ridden sauna of the Sonoran Desert, penguins arguably rank first. Fragile-looking, flightless waterbirds in the land of rattlesnakes, dust storms, and a heat wave that begins each spring and stretches to fall — it's just plain wrong. The first time we saw the collection of black-footed penguins at World Wildlife Zoo, it was in May — on Mother's Day, to be precise. A small waddle of the birds gathered in the only patch of shade in their rocky pen, which was about eight square feet and shrinking as the sun went higher. It was clear that the birds would soon have to make a choice between swimming in their cold pool, going inside to their air-conditioned apartment, or roasting in the sun like roadkill. Sad.

But let's face it, few zoo animals look entirely comfortable in their tiny, artificial cages. It's best not to dwell on the matter and just enjoy the experience of seeing such exotic animals. In fact, the exhibit is a relatively spacious housing and play area for the birds, which incidentally come from South Africa, not Antarctica. No bars surround the viewing area, allowing for an up-close and personal look at the these amazing, flipper-flapping critters. The World Wildlife Zoo has many awesome animals, but to desert dwellers like us, seeing live penguins is like a frosty treat.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of