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August 14, 2013

What You Need to Know

Extra Innings Everywhere

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
Anyone who’s a fan of free baseball—and hey, who isn’t?—got a week’s worth of it on Tuesday night.

As the clock neared midnight in the Eastern time zone, three games—White Sox vs. Tigers, Pirates vs. Cardinals, and Orioles vs. Diamondbacks—were knotted at three runs apiece, all either in extra innings already or on the cusp. And that’s not to mention the three 10-plus-frame contests that took place earlier in the evening, when the Red Sox edged the Blue Jays, the Reds downed the Cubs, and the Marlins outlasted the Royals in the 1-0 aftermath of a Jose Fernandez-Bruce Chen duel.

Here is more on the troika of 3-3 showdowns, two of which were decided in 11 innings and one of which dragged on into the night, first getting weird, and then getting #weird, before finally coming to an end in the 13th, five minutes shy of the five-hour mark.

First stop: U.S. Cellular Field, where a two-run triple by former Tiger Avisail Garcia, which effectively became a three-run inside-the-parker on a throwing error by Omar Infante, put Max Scherzer in line for his second defeat of the season and ultimately resulted in his first no-decision since May 31. Scherzer might well have suffered that setback were it not for a fielding flub by Alexei Ramirez, who committed a career-high three errors, the second of which led to the Tigers’ third run on an eighth-inning single by Brayan Pena.

Garcia, who was at least partially responsible for all three of Chicago’s regulation runs, also scored the winning one in the 11th. He drew a walk off Jeremy Bonderman, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jeff Keppinger, advanced to third on a grounder to first by Jordan Danks, and touched the plate on a single by Alejandro De Aza.

So ended a four-hour-and-14-minute battle between the American League’s worst extra-inning teams. Only the White Sox, at 7-13, have dropped more games in the 10th inning or beyond than the Tigers, who on Tuesday fell to 5-11. Jim Leyland’s club is now 69-49 overall, but 64-38 in games decided in the ninth inning or sooner.

Next stop: Chase Field, where Paul Goldschmidt put the Diamondbacks—who faced the prospect of losing more ground to the runaway Dodgers in the National League West—on his back.

Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez outgunned his D-backs counterpart, Randall Delgado, over seven innings, Gonzalez allowing two runs and Delgado yielding three. Unfortunately for visiting closer Jim Johnson, Goldschmidt proved a less-than-gracious host. He smacked the fifth consecutive two-seam fastball he saw into the left-center field stands to even the score and serve Johnson his eighth blown save of the year.

Goldschmidt wasn’t done. Leading off the bottom of the 11th, he had the pleasure of staring down a left-handed pitcher, T.J. McFarland, who had served up only one gopher ball to the 149 righty swingers he had faced in his rookie year. Arizona’s first baseman, the 150th, drilled the second, an opposite-field liner, on the first pitch he saw.

It was Goldschmidt’s second walk-off blast in five days and his third of the season, and it also marked the second straight night that the Diamondbacks had walked off on the Orioles with a big fly. Adam Eaton, the ninth-inning hero on Monday night, went 0-for-5 with a couple of strikeouts on Tuesday, but Goldschmidt, batting right behind him, picked him up in the Diamondbacks’ league-best 11th extra-inning win of the year.

The third and final stop on this extra-inning tour: Busch Stadium, where the Pirates and Cardinals needed 14 innings to settle the opening game of a series in which St. Louis can earn a tie atop the National League Central with a sweep. The Buccos got to Adam Wainwright early on a two-run blast by Andrew McCutchen and a solo shot by Jordy Mercer, but they were felled by shoddy defense in the late innings.

Mark Melancon, perfect in five save attempts since taking over for the injured Jason Grilli, would have been an out away from his eighth save of the season had Starling Marte squeezed Daniel Descalso’s can of corn to left. Alas, the ball clanked off of Marte’s glove, Descalso scampered into second, and three batters later, a single by Allen Craig tied the game. Carlos Beltran, who walked ahead of Craig’s at-bat, was hosed at third on a 9-3-5 relay from right fielder Josh Harrison, denying Matt Holliday a chance to walk the Cardinals off in the ninth.

That was the weird part. Now, on to the #weird.

St. Louis’ adventures with Holliday and the cleanup spot were only just beginning. The left fielder walked leading off the bottom of the 10th, but sprained his ankle and had to be replaced by pinch-runner (and pitcher) Joe Kelly after advancing to second on an error. Kelly moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, but Pete Kozma and Descalso failed to deliver the winning run, and it was on to the 11th.

Another inning, another runner on third with fewer than two outs for the Cardinals. This time it was Matt Carpenter, who singled leading off the inning, jogged to second on a wild pitch, and sprinted to third on what might have been a productive ground ball to second by Beltran, had Holliday still occupied the spot behind Craig. But Craig was intentionally walked, and relief pitcher Seth Maness, best known for his ability to coax twin killings, was given a taste of his own medicine by Jeanmar Gomez. That took the two teams to the 12th—and, since that inning proved uneventful, the 13th.

Then Maness got his revenge. McCutchen led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. He moved to third on an infield single by Pedro Alvarez, but could not score on the subsequent worm killer off the bat of Russell Martin, as Kozma, with the infield in, made a diving play in time to throw the catcher out at first. Maness gave Clint Barmes a free pass, setting the stage for his wizardry. Two pitches later, he delivered, inducing a 5-3 double-play ball from Josh Harrison.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Maness would bat again, this time following a couple of intentional walks that loaded the bases in tandem with Matt Carpenter’s two-out double. He could not make two outs with one swing this time, so instead he took strike three from Gomez. And it was on to the 14th.

Finally, the weirdness—and the #weirdness—came to an end. Jon Jay singled to center and stole second, then scored on a single by Adron Chambers as Marte’s throw home was a hair too late. It was only the second extra-inning victory for the Cardinals this season, the lowest tally in the senior circuit, and it brought them to within two games of the Pirates, as close as they have been since August 6.

Tuesday’s Matchup in Review
When Hyun-jin Ryu first met Marlon Byrd on April 25, the veteran outfielder went 1-for-3 with a base hit on a curveball and a double-play ball on a low four-seamer. The result on Tuesday was the same, except that the hit was a single instead of a double, and the other out Byrd recorded was a grounder instead of a fly ball.

As I wrote in yesterday’s preview, Ryu’s changeup has produced a sharp reverse split in his first stateside season, and when he is able to spot that off-speed offering and place his fastball in the knee-high part of the zone, he can be a ground-ball machine. Ryu worked backward in Byrd’s first trip to the box, planting curveballs and changeups on or just off the outside edge before coming in to coax the 5-4-3 twin killing.

Hindsight is 20/20, but given Ryu’s success with the changeup and occasional trouble with the curveball, his decision to go with the bender with an 0-2 count in the fourth inning was a curious one. It deviated his from typical approach to right-handed hitters—which calls for two-strike changeups 28 percent of the time and curveballs at about one-third of that rate—and could not have drawn from any lessons learned in Byrd’s first plate appearance, because Byrd swung through one changeup and fouled off another after taking a first-pitch hook near the same spot as the one that he lined to right field for a single.

The price Ryu paid was hardly a steep one—the inning ended with Byrd stranded on second base three batters later—but it might alter the 26-year-old lefty’s two-strike pitch selection should the two cross paths again. Byrd finished the evening 1-for-4, and Ryu collected his 12th win of the season with seven innings of five-hit, one-run work in the 4-2 Dodgers victory, their 39th in 47 games.

Matchup of the Day
Curtis Granderson has a rather well defined approach when he steps into the box against a right-handed pitcher:

If the first pitch is a curveball, he is almost certainly not going to swing at it. Granderson has seen 361 first-pitch curveballs from righties since 2007, and he has put only one of them (a double off of Kevin Slowey on August 19, 2011) into play.

Jered Weaver appears to be mindful of that history whenever Granderson digs in to face him. The two have squared off 27 times, and Weaver has started 12 of those meetings with his curve, a 44.4 percent rate that exceeds his overall first-pitch-bender clip by 17 percentage points. The 30-year-old likes the idea of stealing a strike against a hitter who is averse to first-pitch breaking balls, and that might seem particularly important when the Yankees’ center fielder is in the box, because their track record tilts the hitter’s way. As you’ll see at the end of this section, however, Granderson has actually done considerable damage to Weaver in spite of the righty’s ability to earn a one-strike advantage.

In 27 career plate appearances versus Weaver, Granderson has gone 9-for-25 with five solo home runs, all of them on fastballs or changeups. That long-ball tally is the second highest notched by any hitter against Weaver, trailing only the six homers swatted by Granderson’s teammate, Alex Rodriguez.

Granderson went yard in his first-ever meeting with Weaver, on a middle-away fastball, and in his most recent, on a center-cut changeup. Pitchers who wish to avoid his power, a good idea at Yankee Stadium given his affinity for peppering the short porch, are best served by tying him up with hard stuff inside or burying curveballs down and away:

Weaver, as you can see on the first plot on the afore-linked matchup page, has generally chosen the latter approach, but it is not entirely foolproof. Miss a touch high or a bit inside, and instead of finding a cold spot in Granderson’s swing, you’re liable to see it break into one of his power alleys. Fortunately for pitchers like Weaver, Granderson is unwilling to offer at curveballs in early counts.

Hence, even though Weaver has thrown Granderson curveballs 24 percent of the time, only two of their 27 head-to-head plate appearances have ended on one of them. Most of those curves were the first or second pitches in longer at-bats that ended on something else. In those that ended with a hook, Granderson went 1-for-2 with a single and a fly out. Far more often, Granderson is content to take strike one and wait for a mistake, as he did before authoring his big fly on July 15 of last year.

Weaver is likely to employ the curveball-first approach again when the two lock horns tonight. But as their matchup history indicates, if he doesn’t do a better job of hitting his spots after that, the 0-1 advantages those curves earn him won’t make much of a difference (7:05 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Ervin Santana failed to finish five innings for the first time this season in his most recent outing, a 3 2/3-frame clunker versus the Red Sox in which he was charged with six runs. The 29-year-old’s ERA rose from 2.97 to 3.25 that day, its highest point since July 11, when he coughed up eight runs to the Yankees; those two shellings represent his only non-quality starts since the end of May. Santana bounced back from the loss to New York with 7 1/3 shutout innings against the Tigers, and he’ll try to do the same this evening when he draws the Marlins in the series finale at Kauffman Stadium. Miami manager Mike Redmond will counter with Jacob Turner, who will look to do some bouncing back of his own after serving up three homers in a loss to the Braves his last time out (2:10 p.m. ET).

  • Since returning from the disabled list on July 2, David Price has allowed no more than one run in six of his eight assignments, including each of his last four. On top of that, he has worked at least nine innings in four of those eight trips to the mound, and no fewer than seven in all of them. The secret behind the 27-year-old’s efficiency: pinpoint control. Price has not issued a walk in six of those eight starts, and he walked only one in the other two. As a result, his ERA has plummeted from 5.24 to 3.17 during that span, nearly matching his career mark of 3.16 and trending toward the 2.56 ERA with which he finished the 2012 season. Up next on Price’s docket is his first career meeting with the Mariners, who will send Aaron Harang to the Tropicana Field mound and hope that he can trim down his 6.94 ERA in seven starts away from Safeco Field (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • Dillon Gee has enjoyed pitching in front of the friendly fans at Citi Field this year, but road outings have been his undoing. He has served up 14 gopher balls in 69 2/3 innings away from Queens en route to a 5.43 ERA, a far cry from his 2.21 effort at home. Tonight, Gee, who has recorded a 1.88 ERA since the All-Star break despite striking out on 12 batters in 28 2/3 innings, must navigate the power-packed Dodgers lineup in Chavez Ravine. None of the players on Don Mattingly’s roster have ever gone deep against Gee, and the right-hander has cruised to a 2.42 ERA over his last eight outings, but all of that could change if he doesn’t rein in his mistakes in the series finale (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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