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May 7, 2013

What You Need to Know

Raking in the Gold

by Daniel Rathman

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The Monday Takeaway
Giants play-by-play broadcaster Duane Kuiper has a number of go-to expressions, one of which is “ownage is ownage,” used when a hitter with an extensive track record of success against a pitcher tacks another knock onto his résumé. In many cases, small-sample matchup data is littered with erratic hot streaks and cold spells, and ownage can be fleeting. But try telling that to Chris Capuano, who experienced it full-bore in Monday’s series opener versus the Diamondbacks, before hitting the showers three batters into the fifth inning.

Capuano—who strained his calf in his first start of the season back on April 17 and was making his first appearance since coming off of the disabled list—had a chance last night to impress manager Don Mattingly and begin building a case for a long-term spot in what eventually will once again be a crowded Dodgers rotation. Unfortunately, his nemesis, lefty-masher Paul Goldschmidt, was in the number-three hole of the opposing lineup.

Goldschmidt entered Monday’s game 9-for-12 against Capuano with three doubles and two home runs, a string of success rivaled only by his 9-for-17 line versus Giants righty Tim Lincecum, whom he has taken deep five times.  The 34-year-old southpaw had tried every which way to retire the 25-year-old first baseman, varying his first pitches and sequences, working in and away, up and down, and failed virtually every time. Goldschmidt fanned twice in his first four meetings with Capuano, but in nine plate appearances since then, he had been retired only once.

Then, Monday came—and, well, you can make that 12, raise Goldschmidt’s overall line to 12-for-15, and add another round-tripper to his collection of six extra-base hits off of Capuano. Cody Ross followed that two-run shot with a blast of his own, chasing Capuano from the game with six runs (five earned) across and only 12 outs recorded. Goldschmidt’s other hits, a two-out single in the first and a leadoff single in the third, proved harmless. But that was little consolation to Capuano, who, in the eyes of visiting manager Kirk Gibson, was at a loss even before Goldschmidt thumped a dead-center fastball 415 feet—the textbook definition of “ownage is ownage.”

As Capuano’s frustration grew on the mound, his teammates’ struggles continued at the plate, where the Dodgers went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, bringing their team average in those situations down to .216, the second-worst clip in the National League. Carl Crawford smacked his club-best fifth home run in the game, but while the left fielder’s pop has been a pleasant surprise, the outage that has swept across the rest of the roster, on which the next-highest total is three (Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier), has been a recipe for disaster when combined with the RISP woes. Hanley Ramirez’s short-lived return to health, which ended with a strained hamstring over the weekend, was merely a tease, and the question mark at shortstop, now in the hands of Dee Gordon, looms as large as ever.

The 9-2 defeat was Los Angeles’ fifth in a row, and it dropped Mattingly’s squad into the division cellar for the first time since August 21, 2011. The Dodgers, who withstood a six-game skid in the middle of April, are no longer the National League West favorites, and their odds of reaching the postseason, down by some 20 percent over the past week, are no longer above even.

The good news is that, with the Dodgers’ on-base percentage (.334) still firmly in the top third of the league, the runs will come once their RISP performance evens out. Moreover, reinforcements, from Zack Greinke to Ramirez, are on the mend. The bad news is that, with the Nationals and Cardinals visiting later this month and a trip to Turner Field booked for next weekend, plenty of challenges lie on the horizon. And, as PECOTA indicates, if the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Rockies all linger in the race, the Dodgers can’t afford to fall much further behind.

Matchup of the Day
With eight home runs in his first 29 games, Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler has his sights set on a breakout campaign. But the 27-year-old, whose triple-slash line is a robust .295/.403/.581 overall and .283/.353/.565 away from Coors Field, won’t be thrilled to see former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda back in Denver, as the veteran northpaw has gotten the better of him in their past encounters.

Kuroda, who is scheduled to get the game-one start for the Yankees, has been as reliable as ever this year, balancing out an uptick in walks (from 5.7 percent to 7.5 percent) by striking out a career-high 20.6 percent of the batters that he has faced. A low-ball pitcher with a 49.6 percent career ground-ball clip, which has hiked up to 52.3 percent since the beginning of last season, Kuroda didn’t fare particularly well at Coors Field during his time with the Dodgers, posting a 6.85 ERA over four starts. But home runs were not the culprit, as he allowed only two of them in 22 1/3 innings.

Against Kuroda, Fowler is just 4-for-19 lifetime with a triple, no walks, and two strikeouts, which comes out to a .211/.211/.316 triple-slash line for the switch-hitter, who will bat from the left side tonight. As you can see on the afore-linked matchup page, Kuroda has typically used his fastball and sinker to open his showdowns with Fowler, more so than he has against other lefties, but his splitter is an even more critical pitch.

The data on Kuroda’s Brooks Baseball card suggest that left-handed hitters that fall behind in the count against him must account for the splitter at all times, because the righty loves to use it as his put-away offering. It has been as effective as ever this year, inducing whiffs on 44.64 percent of the swings taken against it, up from his career clip of 37.26 percent. The splitter is relatively dangerous to use when Fowler is in the box, because the Atlanta native feasts on pitches in the lower third of the zone, but he has a soft spot in the low-and-away corner that Kuroda could look to exploit.

Both of Kuroda’s strikeouts versus Fowler have come on sliders, one in the zone and one darting toward the hitter’s back foot, and in each case, it was set up with hard stuff either up or in the outer portion of the zone. If Kuroda is to sustain his ownage on Fowler, that tandem—heaters at the letters, spin at the shins—might be his ideal recipe.

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • The Astros have already hosted the Athletics, Mariners, and Rangers, and tonight, the Angels will make their first non-interleague trip to Minute Maid Park. The home team will welcome the Halos with Jordan Lyles on the mound, as the 22-year-old tries to build on a strong effort in his 2013 debut, in which he held the Tigers to two runs over five innings. Lyles is tasked with stalling the Astros’ six-game losing streak, and he’ll tackle that challenge against a scuffling Angels squad that is nine games under .500 for the first time since Mike Trout was resting up for his freshman year of high school. Mike Scioscia will send C.J. Wilson to the hill to oppose Lyles. Wilson permitted only one run over six frames versus the Astros on April 14, the start of the Halos’ four-game winning streak with him on the mound (8:10 p.m. ET).
  • Looking for a jolt when a strained hamstring forced Giancarlo Stanton onto the disabled list, the Marlins aggressively promoted 10th-ranked prospect Marcell Ozuna just 10 games into his first stint at Double-A. The 22-year-old packs considerable power, but since the most pertinent questions about his big-league future concerned the hit tool, his robust contact rate in the early going is even more encouraging. Ozuna entered Monday’s game with 11 hits in 23 at-bats, five of them for extra bases, and he has struck out only thrice in 25 plate appearances. With Stanton likely to miss another month, Ozuna has plenty of time to audition for a chance to stay in the majors when the regular right fielder returns. He’ll try to stay hot in game two of three at Petco Park, where the Padres are set to counter with Eric Stults (10:10 p.m. ET).
  • The two-year, $15.5 million contract to which the Diamondbacks signed Brandon McCarthy this past winter was supposed to be a bargain, but it hasn’t worked out that way so far. McCarthy, whose 3.1 percent walk rate is the third-lowest in the league to date, has been knocked around to the tune of 53 hits in 33 2/3 innings, and though his .387 BABIP might scream “bad luck,” his inability to miss barrels is becoming a significant concern. Opponents have notched a 26.6 percent line-drive rate off the righty while popping up only 3.9 percent of the time, and those two factors are as responsible for his bloated BABIP as undue misfortune. McCarthy will strive for better in-the-zone command in tonight’s matchup with the Dodgers, in which he will square off with another winless northpaw, Josh Beckett (10:10 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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