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August 29, 2012

What You Need to Know

Wednesday, August 29

by Daniel Rathman

The Tuesday Takeaway
Most days, it’s good to be a starting pitcher armed with a fastball that can touch triple digits on command. Yesterday was not one of those days.

First, Stephen Strasburg took the mound in Miami to face the Marlins, a team he had already silenced thrice this season, delivering identical six-inning, zero-run efforts each time. In fact, Strasburg had thrown 27 consecutive scoreless frames against the Fish dating back to 2011, and he ranked second only to teammate Jordan Zimmermann with a 2.45 ERA in 13 road starts.

Justin Ruggiano took care of the shutout streak in the bottom of the first inning, and it was all downhill from there for Strasburg, who suffered his first loss since July 31 and his first setback away from Nationals Park since June 30. The 24-year-old righty’s ERA ballooned from 2.85 to 3.05, and the 77-51 Nats’ skid grew to five games in the 9-0 rout, enabling the 74-56 Braves to creep back into the National League East race.

Meanwhile, the Tigers, still jockeying for position in the American League Central and wild-card standings, had to feel good about their chances after plating three first-inning runs against Royals starter Luis Mendoza and sending Justin Verlander to the mound to protect that early lead. The Royals had not scored more than three runs off of Verlander since April 5, 2010, and the 29-year-old flamethrower carried a 14-2 ledger and a 2.36 ERA in 21 career tries versus Kansas City into the outing. In all of those previous encounters, the Royals had never collected more than eight hits.

They broke that record with one out in the second inning on Tuesday, and had 12 by the time Jim Leyland fetched his battered starter in the sixth, something the skipper hadn’t done in more than two years. It started innocently enough—Verlander fanned Jarrod Dyson, then caught Alcides Escobar looking. But nine of the next 11 Royals either singled or doubled, as Ned Yost’s team matched Detroit’s first-inning three spot before racing ahead with four more in the second. Verlander ultimately wriggled out of that jam and stuck around for 3 2/3 more innings, but Kansas City padded its lead in his final frame, saddling him with a career-high eight earned runs.

Thus, even though the Tigers gave their ace six runs to work with, Verlander, whose ERA climbed from 2.50 to 2.80, only narrowly escaped with his fourth consecutive no-decision. And that was little consolation to the team, which fell, 9-8, and failed to take advantage of the White Sox’ 6-0 loss to the Orioles, staying two games behind in the division. Things were even worse on the wild-card front, as Baltimore and Oakland—which have both won four in a row and are tied at 71-57—padded their leads over the 69-59 Tigers to two games as well. Detroit still has a three-in-four chance of reaching the postseason, but if its plans go awry in September, this game, and this call, won’t soon be forgotten.

Both teams will try even their series on Wednesday, as the Nationals hope Ross Detwiler can play stopper in Miami (7:10 p.m. ET), while the Tigers ask the same of former Marlin Anibal Sanchez in Kansas City (8:10 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • On Tuesday, Steve Pearce became the first Yankee to bat cleanup in his team debut since Glenallen Hill on July 24, 2000, and despite going 0-for-2 with a walk versus Ricky Romero, he may be right back there again in today’s matinee matchup with his former Astros teammate, J.A. Happ. With Mark Teixeira nursing a strained calf, Alex Rodriguez still on the disabled list, and Andruw Jones mired in a funk, Joe Girardi is looking for someone to pick up the slack against left-handed pitching—which just happens to be top skill on the 29-year-old Pearce’s big-league résumé. He’ll try to back CC Sabathia, who tossed 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball to defeat the Indians in his return from the disabled list on Aug. 24, in the rubber match (1:05 p.m. ET).
  • Mat Latos and the Reds hosted Jason Kubel and the Diamondbacks on July 18, and the veteran outfielder proved an ungrateful guest, taking Latos deep twice in a 7-1 Arizona victory at Great American Ball Park. In seven starts since then, though, Latos has compiled a 2.66 ERA—and that’s despite getting shelled by the Cardinals for seven runs in five innings in his most recent start. Tonight, it’s Kubel’s turn to welcome Latos to Chase Field, where the first-year Diamondback has logged a .293/.374/.631 triple slash and 18 home runs. The desert has been equally kind to Latos, as the 24-year-old righty amassed a 1.42 ERA and a 24-to-6 K:BB in three starts there during his two-plus seasons with the Padres (3:40 p.m. ET).
  • After moving to the bullpen two weeks ago, rookie Joe Kelly returns to the Cardinals rotation to start the series finale against the Pirates. The right-hander allowed only two runs over 8 2/3 innings in his pair of relief outings, and he owns a 3.26 ERA and a 55-to-26 K:BB through 14 major-league appearances, the first 12 of which were starts.  Kelly tossed 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the Cardinals’ 19-inning loss to the Pirates on Aug. 19, when fellow starter-turned-reliever Wandy Rodriguez—who will get the ball for Pittsburgh tonight—picked up the win (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Ian Kinsler’s bat sputtered throughout the first half of the season, but the second baseman has come on of late, and his fourth-inning homer was the difference in the Rangers 1-0 victory over the Rays last night. Over his last 10 games, Kinsler has gone 13-for-40 (.325 average) with three doubles, a triple, and two home runs. Even more impressively, he has walked seven times and struck out only twice during that surge, paving the way for the Rangers to win nine of their last 11 games. Now up to .269/.340/.438 on the season, Kinsler will try to stay hot against Alex Cobb in the series finale, as the Rangers go the sweep behind Matt Harrison (7:05 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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