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May 13, 2014

What You Need to Know

Other Than Jose Fernandez, How Was the Play?

by Daniel Rathman

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The Monday Takeaway
With two away in the top of the ninth inning of game one of four between the Cubs and Cardinals, Mike Matheny put infielder Daniel Descalso on the mound. By then, the Cubs had scored 17 runs on 20 hits. The game was long over.

How’d it get to that point—the point when even the Best Fans in Baseball began leaving Busch Stadium in droves?

Chicago’s first five batters teamed up to hit for the cycle, capped by Mike Olt’s first-pitch blast:

That completed a four-run first inning. And the visitors, led by six RBI from Junior Lake, never looked back in the 17-5 rout.

The last time the Cubs put 17 on the board, Charlie Morton turned in an all-timer of a pitching line for the Pirates. Only 26 of his 49 deliveries went for strikes. Monday’s opener in St. Louis wasn’t like that.

Tyler Lyons had no trouble finding the zone:

Fifty of the left-hander’s 69 pitches were strikes, and even two of the 19 balls that he threw were within the boundary. In fact, if anything, the 26-year-old spent too much of the evening around the hitting area.

The Cubs sent 23 men to the plate in the four innings Lyons worked, for an average of three pitches per plate appearance. Entering play on Monday, the most aggressive hitter in baseball by that metric, the White Sox’ Alexei Ramirez, was averaging 3.09 pitches for every time he stepped into the box. Rick Renteria’s lineup collectively had the South Siders’ shortstop beat.

All but one of the six players who toed the rubber for the home team last night saw at least two-thirds of their offerings go for strikes. The lone exception was Descalso, who fell behind 1-0 before inducing an inning-ending fly out. Unfortunately for the Redbirds, only 12 of the 127 strikes were of the swing-and-miss variety. Twenty of them wound up as Cubs hits.

Which explains how the visitors plated 17 runs while drawing only one walk. That’s not easy to do: Until Monday, only 12 teams had done it since at least 1914, according to the Baseball-Reference Play Index. The Cubs hadn’t done it in a century or more. No club had done it since June 2006, when the White Sox dropped 20 on 24 hits, also at the Cardinals’ expense.

Randy Choate, who was called upon in the ninth with the score at 11-5, wore an even heavier collar than Lyons did, despite throwing first-pitch strikes to eight of the nine batters he faced. The Cubs tattooed the side-winding southpaw for seven hits in just two-thirds of an inning before Descalso came to the rescue.

Strikes are good, but as the adage goes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The Cardinals learned that the hard way on Monday night.

Quick Hits from Monday
Mariano Rivera had retired. His replacement in the ninth inning, David Robertson, had spent part of the first month on the disabled list. And yet, come stretch time in the Bronx last night, the Yankees were 16-0 on the year when leading after seven innings.

The Mets scored twice in the top half of the seventh, but they still trailed, 7-6. So, did the Yankees improve to 17-0 when ahead with six outs to go? Nope.

Chris Young halted the Bombers’ streak with a two-run homer off of Preston Claiborne, which put the finishing touches on a three-run rally that gave their crosstown rivals the lead. It was the Mets’ fifth long ball of the game, including a two-run shot by Curtis Granderson in the right fielder’s first return to Yankee Stadium since he moved to Queens in the offseason.

Eric Young Jr. also did yardwork in the 9-7 win, a much less common occurrence. It was his first tater since August 2, 2013, and only his second with the Mets. Young also stole a base in the game, marking the first time in his career that he’d helped fantasy owners in both of those counting categories in the same contest. The switch-hitter now owns a .373 on-base percentage over his past 28 games and has succeeded on 15 of his last 16 steal attempts. In other words, he’s been everything the Reds want Billy Hamilton to be.

***

In the other dugout, age caught up with the Yankees on Monday, as Hiroki Kuroda’s struggles continued, Mark Teixeira could barely run the bases, Carlos Beltran left with an injury, and Ichiro Suzuki was unavailable. Shawn Kelley, who’s only 30, did his best to fit in by sitting out with back soreness.

Kelley’s ailment cost the Yankees in the late innings, when manager Joe Girardi had to rely on Alfredo Aceves, Matt Thornton, and Claiborne to bridge the gap to Robertson. None of the three escaped the Mets’ comeback unscathed.

Getting length from starters hasn’t been one of the Yankees’ strong suits this season, and on Monday, Kuroda’s six innings of four-run ball weren’t enough. Girardi’s starters have completed the seventh only nine times in 37 games to date and only twice in the last 17.

Eventually, leaning on a revamped, shorthanded bullpen to protect late leads was going to catch up to the Yankees. On Monday—with the Mets riding a four-game Subway Series winning streak into the opener—it finally did.

***

Between April 11 and May 4, Jim Johnson quietly enjoyed a nice little run. He made eight appearances, logged 10 1/3 innings, allowed only seven hits, and compiled a 9-to-2 K:BB ratio. It seemed that the embattled first-year A’s reliever was slowly rounding into his pre-trade Orioles form.

Then May 6 came around, and Johnson was charged with four runs. None of them was earned, but he coughed up two hits and two walks while recording only two outs. A scoreless appearance in the second game of a doubleheader on May 7 was a step in the right direction. Since that day, though, Johnson has taken two steps back.

He gave up the only run the Nationals scored while on mop-up duty in the ninth inning of Sunday’s matinee. And on Monday, when manager Bob Melvin handed Johnson the ball with an inherited runner aboard and a 5-2 lead in the ninth—a chance to earn his first save since April 6—he left a mess for Sean Doolittle to clean up.

Jesse Chavez worked eight-plus innings, and despite Jose Abreu’s solo shot to begin the ninth, the A’s looked poised to down the White Sox while barely touching their bullpen. All of that changed when Fernando Abad walked Adam Dunn and Johnson served up a double to Dayan Viciedo and an RBI knock to Alexei Ramirez. Doolittle allowed a second run to score on a sacrifice fly before ending the game with a pair of punchouts.

Seventeen appearances into his A’s career, Johnson’s FIP is more than a run lower than his 4.96 ERA. Despite a 12.7 percent walk rate that’s more than double his 6.2 percent clip from last year, the right-hander’s peripherals suggest that he’ll pitch better soon. Unfortunately, his $10 million salary notwithstanding, Johnson hasn’t bought himself much of a leash in high-leverage spots. His second try at the closer role might be over less than a week after it began.

***

Just another moonshot and bat flip from Yasiel Puig:

The Dodgers right fielder has now gone deep in three of his last four games, raising his OPS to .961, the highest it’s been all season. His three-run bomb in the fourth inning gave the home nine a 4-3 edge, which might not have stood up without a dose of Henry Rodriguez’s patented wildness.

Remember the Takeaway, in which we learned that it’s tough to give up 17 runs without walking at least two batters? Well, it’s even tougher to give up only two runs while walking four and allowing two hits in the same inning.

Rodriguez pulled it off in the last of the fifth. He walked Matt Kemp, gave up a single to Andre Ethier, and then watched Ethier get caught stealing second. Justin Turner lined out, but with just one more out to go, Rodriguez decided to make things interesting again. He served up a two-bagger to Drew Butera, then walked three in a row, the first of which was the opposing pitcher, Dan Haren. Manager Mike Redmond had seen enough, and fortunately for Rodriguez, Brad Hand coaxed an inning-ending grounder from Hanley Ramirez.

So, just how rare was Rodriguez’s erratic yet not-entirely-disastrous relief outing, which paved the way for the Dodgers’ 6-5 win?

The Play Index tells us that seven pitchers have logged the same outs, hits, runs, and walks numbers, but not all seven did so in one inning. Zach Duke, the most recent pitcher with the same line, spread his free passes across two frames on June 2, 2013. Reggie Harris, who fit the criteria 16 years before Duke did, also failed to wrap everything into one inning. Some three years before that, Domingo Jean cheated, too.

Finally, rewinding all the way to June 28, 1987, we find a pitcher who satisfied all of the benchmarks, was on the mound to begin the first inning in which he appeared, and was removed with only two outs to his name. That would be Eric Bell. The only difference is that Bell started that game for the Orioles and was gone long before it was decided.

Turning back the clock to 1962, exactly 25 years to the day of Bell’s mess, Bennie Daniels managed to give up a pair of knocks and walk four while notching only one out. But Daniels, too, was the starter that day.

Now we’re in the World War II era, with only two more qualifying outings to examine. On July 7, 1944, Ace Adams came up short in the same way Duke, Harris, and Jean did. And, on June 21, 1924, Sam Gray distinguished himself from Rodriguez just as Bell and Daniels did; he was the Philadelphia Athletics’ starter.

All of which leads to this finding: Henry Rodriguez is the first reliever in at least 100 years to squeeze four-plus walks and two-plus hits into the same, incomplete inning, have that be the only inning in which he worked, and be charged with no more than two runs.

***

In far less lighthearted Marlins news, Jose Fernandez underwent an MRI on his right elbow yesterday and was diagnosed with a ligament sprain. The rest of his 2014 season is in doubt.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Popups near the left-side dugout are supposed to be handled by the catcher or third baseman. But don’t tell that to Bud Norris, who saw that his batterymate, Steve Clevenger, was slow to react and decided to catch this one himself:

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • It’s been a while since Cliff Lee last faced the Angels. At the time (September 30, 2010), the southpaw was wearing a Rangers uniform and was on his way to winning a pennant. The only holdovers from the Halos’ lineup that day are Howie Kendrick, who batted second, and Erick Aybar, who pinch-hit. Everyone else who appeared in that game for Mike Scioscia has either left the Angels for another club or retired.

    Hector Santiago, who would’ve been due to go for the Angels, lost his rotation job late last week, after a 2 1/3-inning mess that raised his ERA to 5.19. Scioscia’s squad was 0-7 behind the 26-year-old lefty, so it can’t possibly do worse with his replacement, Matt Shoemaker, who gets the ball in the Angels’ second-ever visit to Citizens Bank Park and their first since 2008 (7:05 p.m. ET).

  • Keeping the ball in the yard has never been one of Marco Estrada’s strong suits, but the right-hander has taken his gopher-ball woes to a new level this year. Through seven starts and 43 1/3 innings, Estrada has been taken deep a league-high nine times, including twice in each of his last three starts. Despite that, though, he’s sporting a solid 3.53 ERA, largely on the strength of a .227 opponents’ BABIP and an 84.3 percent strand rate. Estrada held the Pirates to just one run—a solo shot by Neil Walker—in six innings on April 20, even though his counterpart, Gerrit Cole, went 2-for-2. Those two will square off again in the series opener at Miller Park (8:10 p.m. ET).

  • Giants fans were just about ready to call for Ryan Vogelsong’s head when a 1 1/3-inning disaster at Coors Field on April 21 sent his ERA soaring to 7.71. Since then, though, the 36-year-old has resembled the pitcher who resurrected his career with the Giants in 2012, delivering three straight wins while holding opponents to no more than one run each time. The middle start in that trio was a six-inning, one-run effort at Turner Field, on which Vogelsong will try to build in game two of four between the Braves and Giants at AT&T Park. He’ll take on Mike Minor, who’ll be hoping to shake off a clunker versus the Cardinals, in which he lasted only 4 1/3 innings and was knocked around for a career-high 11 hits (10:15 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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