June 17, 2013
What You Need to Know
Blanks Shoots Padres to Top
The Weekend Takeaway
Bud Black’s squad carried that winning record into an off day, which the Friars spent waiting for the Dodgers to arrive at Petco Park, and then suffered a 4-2 setback in extra innings that dropped their record to 3-3. The fleeting 48 hours that the Padres spent at 3-2, between their victory on April 6, 2011, and their defeat on April 8, would be the last that they would enjoy with a winning record for more than two calendar years.
But all of that changed this weekend, when the Padres welcomed the Diamondbacks to San Diego for a three-game series, which Black’s crew entered with a 32-34 ledger and a three-game winning streak under its belts. The Padres proceeded to hold Kirk Gibson’s lineup to just six runs over the course of the series while plating 12 of their own, enough to bring the brooms to the yard for the second time in a week and the fourth time this season. More importantly, the three victories brought San Diego’s record to 35-34, halting a stretch of .500-or-below performance that spanned exactly 800 days.
The pivotal win on Sunday afternoon came on the left shoulder of Clayton Richard and the thump in the bats of Will Venable and Kyle Blanks. Richard attacked the potent Diamondbacks offense, throwing first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 28 batters he faced, and scattered seven hits over eight innings, notching only one strikeout but inducing 16 ground balls along the way. Huston Street, who returned from the disabled list to pick up his 12th save of the season on Saturday, notched his 13th in the finale, retiring the ninth-inning side with 12 strikes in 14 pitches.
Venable’s solo shot in the bottom of third inning avenged a run-scoring single by Ian Kennedy in the top half of the frame, and Richard took care of the rest, holding the line until Blanks dug in with two on and two away in the last of the eighth. The big man took a big swing at a backed-up slider from David Hernandez and produced a big fly off the Western Metal Supply Co. building that led directly to the Padres’ big, 4-1 win.
The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Blanks, once projected to become the first baseman of the future in San Diego, showcased his power by slugging 10 home runs in a 54-game cameo in 2009. But Blanks’ stock quickly dimmed due to injuries and his inability to settle into a groove when healthy. Blanks underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 and an operation to repair his shoulder labrum last year, and he logged only 92 big-league plate appearances from 2010 through 2012.
Now, he’s back—and with seven long balls in 45 games, Blanks has climbed through the window that opened when Yonder Alonso was placed on the disabled list with a fractured wrist in early June. The 26-year-old Blanks is no longer as highly regarded as Alonso, who was part of the trade package that lured the Padres into sending Mat Latos to Cincinnati, but if he keeps hitting, Black will find it difficult to take him out of the everyday order even after Alonso returns.
And the Padres, still in fourth place but only two games out of first in the crowded West race, may need all the hitting help they can get to stay afloat. Black’s team won the battle on Sunday, but it may have lost the war, as Everth Cabrera—the leader of the team’s recent charge—suffered a hamstring strain on a stolen-base attempt negated by a Chase Headley foul ball. Cabrera, who had three hits on Sunday to raise his triple-slash line to .305/.382/.418, ranks atop the majors with 31 stolen bases and has been one of the top sparkplugs in the circuit. Combine that with strong defense at shortstop, and you’ve got a player worth nearly three wins in less than half a season.
With Alonso still on the shelf, Cameron Maybin back on the disabled list with ligament damage in his knee, Jedd Gyorko nursing a groin strain, and Carlos Quentin’s shoulder on the verge of forcing him to join them, the Padres can scarcely afford to lose Cabrera.
To that, the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, and Rockies say: “Welcome to our world.”
Arizona is without Adam Eaton, Aaron Hill, Brandon McCarthy, and J.J. Putz, and its hopes of getting a midseason rotation boost from Daniel Hudson were dashed when the right-hander re-tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The Giants’ lineup has been a hodgepodge in the absence of Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Pablo Sandoval, and Ryan Vogelsong is not expected to return until late July. The Rockies lost Troy Tulowitzki to a broken rib last week. And the Dodgers have enough walking-wounded players to fill a hospital ward.
In a division so ravaged by injuries, depth and doctors could make all the difference. And after six straight wins, the Padres’ odds of pulling off a stunner are now just a smidge worse than the preseason-favorite Dodgers’ chances of returning to the top.
Matchup of the Day
Skeptics will point to Wood’s peripherals, which indicate that he has been blessed with good fortune and that the excellent baseline performance is a mirage. Wood’s .214 BABIP will surely tick up, and his reliance on fly-ball outs is likely to bite him eventually, considering that he has served up only six homers in 85 innings so far. Much of that logic is sound, but Wood has also shown the ability to miss barrels often enough to remain effective.
Opponents are hitting line drives 19.1 percent of the time this season, compared to 21.8 percent in 2012, and they are popping up 13.9 percent of the balls they put in play, a healthy increase from the 8.6 percent clip he induced last year, when his BABIP was also a suspiciously low .244. A good deal of that barrel-missing improvement has come versus righties, who in 2012 hit .241/.316/.463 with a .254 BABIP, but are off to a .202/.262/.316 start this year with a .222 average on balls in play.
Wood has approached opposite-handed hitters a bit differently this year than he did a year ago, swapping some changeups for sliders. One motivation behind the shift is evident in Wood’s batted-ball data from 2012:
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Right-handed hitters squared up the changeup more often than they did any of Wood’s other offerings, and the slider fared much better in comparison, especially with regard to line-drive and pop-up rates. The dataset for this year comprises a rather small sample, but both pitches have contributed to the improvement in Wood’s batted-ball profile over the first two months. Sustaining that improvement will be the key to Wood’s attempt to continue defying the peripherals that suggest imminent regression.
He’ll be dealt a formidable challenge in tonight’s game against the Cardinals, whose lineup is loaded with right-handed bats, many of whom have gotten the better of Wood in their past encounters. Matt Holliday is 6-for-20 with two home runs. Yadier Molina is 5-for-17 with a pair of big flies. Carlos Beltran is 3-for-9 with a long ball. And Allen Craig, whose matchup page is linked above, is 5-for-13 and has also left the yard twice, including a solo shot on May 7 of this year.
The good news for Wood is that in that game, his most recent meeting with Mike Matheny’s lineup, Craig’s homer was the only run that the Cardinals pushed across. He tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, allowing five hits and two walks, and striking out eight. Wood’s pitch selection in that win reflected the decrease in changeup usage and the uptick in sliders, and considering the result, he seems likely to take a similar plan to the hill tonight (7:05 p.m. ET).
What to Watch for on Monday