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April 30, 2013

What You Need to Know

Let's Play Two (Or More)!

by Daniel Rathman

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The Monday Takeaway

Only two players in the Live Ball Era have managed to pick up a golden sombrero and smack two home runs in the same game. Evan Longoria did it on August 4, 2009, when his second blast walked the Rays off with a 13-inning victory over the Red Sox. Last night, Brandon Moss joined Longoria in the history books, putting an end to a 19-inning marathon by sending the 597th pitch of the evening morning into the right-field stands.

Moss’ home run, which capped the longest game in the history of both franchises involved, brought a pyrrhic victory to the Athletics and a painful defeat to the Angels, who lost for the fifth time in six games. It dealt a win to Jerry Blevins and a loss to Barry Enright, the eighth pitchers used by each club. And it helped the Athletics to prolong a streak that their four-run rally in the eighth inning had gravely threatened.

The A’s entered last night’s series opener with 20 consecutive wins against the Angels in contests where Oakland plated at least four runs. With the score at 7-2 coming into the last of the eighth, the game was in danger but the streak was not. A furious comeback changed all of that, though, and by the time Yoenis Cespedes evened the tally with a long single in the ninth, four Angels relievers had combined to blow their five-run lead.

Oakland’s ninth-inning resurgence and extra-inning triumph was its second in as many days, but while Sunday’s 9-8 win over the Orioles was nearly costless, Monday’s 10-8 victory came at a steep price. Coco Crisp left the game in the 14th inning with a strained left hamstring, and Chris Young—who slid over from right field to replace him—suffered a leg injury two innings later. The Angels’ starting center fielder, Peter Bourjos, also departed with a hamstring strain, and third baseman Luis Jimenez hurt his shin. But if you thought the teams combining to lose three center fielders was weird, this game had another thing coming.

The A’s scratched scheduled starter Brett Anderson from Monday’s assignment over the weekend and promoted right-hander Dan Straily from Triple-A Sacramento to fill in. Anderson was battling a minor ankle ailment, and with the calendar still in April, Melvin and general manager Billy Beane wanted to give him a few extra days of rest in hopes that it would fully heal. Little did they know that, by the end the game, Anderson would record more outs than Straily did.

Had Anderson’s ankle injury not cropped up again as he dodged a J.B. Shuck single in the top of the 18th, the lefty would likely have completed his sixth inning of work and joined Angels long man Jerome Williams in earning a “quality start” out of the bullpen. Alas, it was not to be. But in lieu of that weirdness, the fans who lingered at the Coliseum and stayed tuned on television were treated to the sight of Blevins in the batter’s box minutes later.

Shuck, who came on to replace Bourjos when the latter headed for the trainer’s table in the 11th, nearly accounted for the game-winning run in the top of the 15th. Anderson permitted a single to Mark Trumbo and a double to Brendan Harris, and then intentionally walked Chris Iannetta to set up a force play at the plate. Andrew Romine obliged with that plan, but Shuck proceeded to draw a bases-loaded walk—which, by the way, may have come on one ball and three strikes, all four of which were judged to be outside of the strike zone by home-plate umpire Kerwin Danley.

The winning RBI being collected by an injury replacement off of a pitcher who entered a game from which he had been scratched would have been weird enough for most games. But not for this one.

The last of the 15th began with a missed-catch error by Albert Pujols, as the two-time Gold Glover simply dropped a throw from second baseman Howie Kendrick that, in the words of A’s color man Ray Fosse, “he has caught thousands of times.” Derek Norris then drew a walk to advance Donaldson to second, but Chris Young hit into a double play, leaving the game on its last legs. Adam Rosales resuscitated it with a single up the middle that scored Norris. He moved to second on the throw home and advanced to third on a passed ball by Iannetta—which, incidentally, should have been strike three to Nate Freiman. Fortunately, Freiman flied out to keep the game going and save Danley the trouble of explaining how a pitch that traveled right down Broadway might have missed the plate.

Neither side threatened in the 16th, 17th, or 18th, and that’s how the game advanced to the bottom of the 19th, when a leadoff walk by Seth Smith proved to be the least of Enright’s concerns. Moss did this, and Fosse—whose name was chanted minutes before early-morning delirium swept across the Coliseum stands—could only offer a “thank you very much.”

The win was Oakland’s 12th straight against American League West opponents, while the loss dropped the Angels’ road record to a league-worst 3-10. Now seven games behind the division-leading Rangers, the Halos will try to halt their skid behind Garrett Richards in game two. The A’s, meanwhile, will need an efficient outing from Jarrod Parker, who has finished the sixth inning only once this year (10:05 p.m. ET).

Matchup of the Day
After losing each of their ace left-hander’s last four starts to end 2012, the Red Sox are 5-0 behind Jon Lester this year, and the 29-year-old himself is at the core of that turnaround. Lester, whose 4.82 ERA last year was the worst of his career, has seemingly stemmed the tide in the early going, and his string of 2.27 ERA work includes a seven-inning blanking of the Blue Jays on April 7.

But Jose Bautista, who needed a few days off to nurse a mild ankle sprain earlier this month, was out of the lineup when these two teams tangled at the Rogers Centre. The 32-year-old has drilled three home runs in the Jays’ last five games, and although his batting average (.192) sits below the Mendoza line because of a bloated strikeout rate (20 in 73 at-bats), Bautista’s return makes for a much more formidable assignment than a lineup that, on April 7, was also without Brett Lawrie.

Interestingly, Bautista has had more career plate appearances against Lester (52) than against any other pitcher; in fact, his second-highest tally is against David Price, with whom he has matched wits only 38 times. In those 52 trips to the box, Bautista has gone 10-for-45 with two doubles, four home runs, five walks, and 11 strikeouts. His .222/.288/.533 triple-slash line may look pedestrian, but Bautista is a threat to pop one over the fence on any pitch.  

Given the volume of showdowns between Bautista and Lester, it should come as no surprise that the plot on the afore-linked matchup page shows virtually every type of pitch that Lester throws in virtually every location he could throw it. However, a couple of general patterns are discernible: Lester has leaned heavily on cutters inside and changeups down and away, and Bautista has predictably pounced on middle-of-the-zone mistakes. Lester’s location preferences against Bautista are no different than his general targets against opposite-handed batters (cutter, changeup), and they aren’t likely to suddenly change.

Thus, the results of their meetings this evening are likely to depend on Lester’s execution, which waned last June 27, when he coughed up a homer and a double, the latter on a changeup that painted the outer edge but stayed up in the zone. If Lester can work the knees with his off-speed stuff and pound Bautista inside with his cutter, he should escape unscathed. If he can’t, his impressive run of long-ball stinginess—which has seen Lester serve up only one homer so far this season—may come to an end at Bautista’s hands tonight (7:07 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • The whims of Major League Baseball’s scheduling system have recently left Yu Darvish seeing the same familiar faces over and over again. The second-year right-hander has taken on either the Angels or the Mariners in seven of his last eight regular-season assignments, including each of the last four.

    Tonight, though, he’ll get a chance to exorcise his demons against the White Sox, who touched him up for six runs (five earned) in 6 1/3 innings last July 27. Kevin Youkilis, who smacked a two-run homer in that game, is no longer with the Pale Hose, but Darvish will need to contend with an awakening Adam Dunn, who has raised his OPS by nearly 200 points (to 579 from 397) over his last five games. Robin Ventura is set to counter with Jose Quintana in the opener (8:05 p.m. ET).
  • James Shields is off to a fine start with the Royals, carrying a 3.09 ERA and a 32-to-9 K:BB through five outings, but after not issuing a single walk in his first two trips to the mound, Shields has doled out three in each of his last three. The 31-year-old northpaw has not given up three bases on balls in four consecutive starts since May 28-June 14, 2011, and in order to avoid doing so now, he’ll need to rein in the free passes while taking on his former team, the Rays. Since Shields spent the first six-plus years of his big-league career in Tampa Bay, he doesn’t have much of a track record against the hitters in Joe Maddon’s lineup. He has, however, gotten the better of first-year Ray Kelly Johnson, who is 2-for-14 with eight strikeouts in their past encounters. The visiting Rays will send Alex Cobb to the mound to oppose their former ace (8:10 p.m. ET).
  • Madison Bumgarner struggled each time he took the hill versus the Diamondbacks last year, permitting 13 runs (12 earned) on 22 hits in 16 1/3 innings over three starts. But the 23-year-old lefty shut down Kirk Gibson’s new-look lineup in his most recent outing on April 24, allowing only one run in 7 1/3 innings while recording seven strikeouts. The Diamondbacks went on to win that game in extra innings, but they will likely need to provide more support for Trevor Cahill tonight than they did for Ian Kennedy the last time they faced Bumgarner, who owns a 1.87 ERA and 34-to-8 K:BB on the season. With Justin Upton (8-for-14) in Atlanta and Aaron Hill (4-for-10, two homers) on the disabled list, their best bet may be Paul Goldschmidt, who has gone 3-for-9 with a big fly against Bumgarner in their past encounters (9:40 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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