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August 24, 2012

What You Need to Know

Friday, August 24

by Daniel Rathman

The Thursday Takeaway
Kevin Goldstein called it “a one-game playoff for most disappointing team of the year.” Sam Miller and Ben Kabak of River Avenue Blues called it a microcosm of the increasingly disappointing 2012 versions of both of the teams involved. Peter Gammons called it “the future of cricket.” It was Thursday’s series finale between the Angels and the Red Sox.

Boston surged to a 6-0 lead over Anaheim, with Dustin Pedroia’s three-run shot breaking things open in the second inning. For most teams, that might have been the ballgame. But, as Boston Globe beat writer Pete Abraham presciently tweeted, the 2012 Red Sox are not most teams.

The Angels turned the game on a dime with an eight-run top of the third, chasing Boston starter Franklin Morales, then sending long man Clayton Mortensen to the showers four batters later. The Red Sox needed three pitchers to record nine outs—and we’re talking about the first nine outs of the game, not the high-leverage last.

With both starters out of the game by the sixth inning, it was BLOLpen against BLOLpen. And the results were as predictable as they were preposterous.

The Red Sox pulled ahead, 9-8, in the bottom of the sixth. The Angels tied it in the top of the seventh, but after “Sweet Caroline” blared through the Fenway speakers, the home team added two more, and “good times never seemed so good.” Well, at least until Alfredo Aceves made everyone once again believe they never would.

Aceves is a fickle reliever. When he’s on, he can be dominant; when he’s off, he melts down worse than a nuclear reactor. The 29-year-old has been charged with 32 earned runs this season, and nearly half of them (14) have come in just three of his 58 appearances. Five of those 32 came tonight, spread over one-plus innings, the 10th more disastrous than the ninth.

Vernon Wells’ one-out solo home run—which replays revealed was actually in play—only narrowed the margin to 11-10, but it was as ominous as a Wells homer could be. Three singles and a walk later, the Halos led, 12-11. But their closer, Ernesto Frieri—untouchable in May and June—fared no better, immediately serving up a game-tying home run to Cody Ross.

The 12-12 tie was short-lived, too, as Kendrys Morales led off the top of the 10th with a big fly of his own. It was the first time Aceves had surrendered two homers in an outing this season, and Erick Aybar promptly chased him with a single. Craig Breslow, who probably should have started the inning considering that Aceves threw more than 30 pitches in the ninth, then allowed a double to Wells to put the visitors up, 14-12.

And this time, Frieri bent but did not break. Boston rallied to make it 14-13, but with Pedroia representing the tying run on first, Adrian Gonzalez struck out on three pitches, sealing his team’s twisted fate.

The Red Sox joined the Nationals as the two teams to lose twice this season despite scoring 10 or more runs, and that was merely the tip of the iceberg. That seemingly meaningless 10th-inning run snapped a 170-game winning streak in games where they had scored at least 13 times. When the Red Sox last lost such a contest, manager Bobby Valentine was five games into his major-league career—as a player. Not since May 31, 1970, had a Boston opponent allowed 13 runs and lived to tell the tale.

For the Red Sox, who have lost four straight and now sit just a game ahead of the Royals at 59-66, if this is not rock bottom, the pit may be bottomless.

For the Angels, who picked up a three-game sweep and climbed to within 2 ½ games of the second wild-card spot, a win is a win is a win is a win. Of course, considering that it was just their fourth victory in the face of a 13-run barrage in franchise history, they’ll need a new recipe in Detroit and beyond.

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • The Yankees are on their way to Cleveland, and CC Sabathia will be activated to start tonight’s series opener against his former team. Sabathia—out since Aug. 8 with soreness in his left elbow—pitched six shutout innings in a win over the Blue Jays after his previous stint on the disabled list, and he draws an easy assignment in Cleveland, as the Tribe ranks 26th in the league with a 662 team OPS versus left-handed pitching. The 32-year-old southpaw will take on 26-year-old Corey Kluber, who has logged a bloated 6.27 ERA in his first four major-league starts (Friday, 7:05 p.m. ET).
  • After the aforementioned wild contest at Fenway Park, the Angels are getting ready to take on the Tigers in what could be a pivotal series for both teams’ playoff hopes. Torii Hunter went 3-for-6 in the series finale in Boston, and he could be in line for similar results tonight, as he has authored a 6-for-12 line with two doubles and a home run in his previous matchups with Detroit starter Rick Porcello. On the other side of the ball, the Angels need Zack Greinke to find his groove post haste, and—after seeing plenty of the Tigers during his days with the Royals—the righty owns a 2.84 ERA in 22 starts against them. Prince Fielder went 0-for-4 with a walk in yesterday’s win over the Blue Jays, but he has reached base in nearly half his plate appearances this month. Tonight’s game will mark the first meeting between the former Milwaukee teammates (Friday, 7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Jaime Garcia was dominant in his return to the Cardinals rotation, tossing eight shutout innings and fanning a career-high 10 in the 19-inning loss to the Pirates. He’ll face a tougher challenge on Saturday: a date with the Reds at Great American Ball Park. The sinkerballer has done an outstanding job of keeping the ball in the yard this season, allowing only two homers in 74 1/3 innings of work, but that skill will be tested at Cincinnati’s bandbox, where he owns a 4.50 ERA in four career starts. Dusty Baker will counter with Mike Leake in the middle match, as the Reds try to pad their seven-game lead in the National League Central (Saturday, 4:05 p.m. ET).
  • Nate Eovaldi, the centerpiece of the package the Dodgers sent to the Marlins for Hanley Ramirez, will get the ball from Ozzie Guillen in game one of a three-game set at his old home in Chavez Ravine (Friday, 10:10 p.m. ET). The 22-year-old righty did not face the Dodgers on their recent swing through Miami, and his 3.75 ERA in five starts since the trade masks a disappointing 13-to-16 K/BB. Of course, Eovaldi against Chad Billingsley is merely the undercard when it comes to pitching matchups in this series—the main event takes place on Saturday night, when Josh Johnson is set to toe the rubber against Clayton Kershaw (Saturday, 9:10 p.m. ET).
  • And if Johnson-versus-Kershaw is not the duel of the weekend, that might come on Sunday afternoon, when Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals finish their series with Cliff Lee and the Phillies. Strasburg struggled in his most recent start against Philadelphia, coughing up six runs in four innings in an 8-0 loss at Nationals Park, but since then, he’s won four straight. Conversely, Lee stymied the Nats for seven scoreless frames on July 31, but the Phillies have won each of his last three starts, and he has compiled 32-to-1 K/BB over his last four. Be sure to have Danny Espinosa in your fantasy lineup for this one, as he’s 7-for-13 with three home runs lifetime against Lee (Sunday, 1:35 p.m. ET).
  • It’s too little, too late, but David Ortiz is expected to return to the Red Sox lineup tonight, perhaps bringing some stability to the top of Bobby Valentine’s batting order, which has resembled a game of musical chairs in recent days, especially after Carl Crawford returned to the disabled list to undergo Tommy John surgery. Big Papi has gone 4-for-21 with a home run, four walks, and seven strikeouts in his past meetings with tonight’s Royals starter, Bruce Chen (7:10 p.m. ET). Meanwhile, Felix Doubront—who has missed the last two weeks with a knee contusion—will be back to start game three. The 24-year-old southpaw seemed to be running on fumes earlier this month, allowing nine runs in 9 1/3 innings to the Twins and Indians, so the two-week break might have been just what the doctor ordered to get him back on track (Sunday, 1:35 p.m. ET).
  • Jose Bautista rounds out the weekend of returns in the American League East, and John Farrell’s lineup will look a whole lot more formidable in Baltimore than it has the past few weeks. Blue Jays not named Edwin Encarnacion have combined for just 11 home runs this month, and Bautista whacked two in a rehab game for Double-A New Hampshire last night. His return is bad news for Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, who has served up a pair of gopher balls to Bautista in nine at-bats and will have to change his approach to escape the powerful outfielder's wrath in the series finale (Sunday, 1:35 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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