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June 9, 2014

What You Need to Know

Weekend Wrap-Up, 6/9

by Daniel Rathman

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The Weekend Takeaway
By the bottom of the eighth inning of Sunday’s series finale, the Athletics and Orioles had seen just about enough of each other. With the A’s up 10-0 in the rubber match at Camden Yards, Fernando Abad threw at Manny Machado twice, and the second straight tight one led Machado to chuck his bat toward third baseman Alberto Callaspo:

The benches cleared, and while tempers cooled quickly, the fallout from the incident is still pending. Here’s how the sides wound up, figuratively, at each other’s throats.

Friday’s series opener was one of the most entertaining contests of the first two months of the regular season. The A’s led early, the O’s raced ahead in the middle innings, and the A’s came back in the top of the eighth to force extras, when the action only intensified.

We begin in the third inning, with Machado on second, two away, and Adam Jones in the box. Jones chopped to third baseman Josh Donaldson, who chose to tag Machado on his way to third instead of attempting a long throw to gun down a speedy runner. Machado stopped in a bid to dodge the tag, then hopped to the left of the baseline, onto the infield grass, where Donaldson gave him a bit of a nudge instead of a touch with the glove:

Machado wasn’t fond of his fellow third baseman’s perceived aggression, and he threw down his helmet as he tumbled to the grass. The two exchanged words, face-to-face, the benches cleared, but in the end, the score seemed to have been settled. Or not…

With nobody on and two away in the top of the sixth, Wei-Yin Chen had a prime opportunity to get a hint of revenge on Donaldson in support of his teammate. The 1-1 pitch played a little chin music, but if there was any doubt about Chen’s intent, the payoff pitch likely erased it:

The extracurriculars in Friday’s game ended there, but the baseball grew more compelling after the ninth.


Both teams squandered chances to score in the top of the 10th, with the Orioles wasting a golden opportunity. The A’s had a runner on third with two out, but Donaldson walked and Yoenis Cespedes struck out. The O’s had runners at first and second with one out and went 1-for-1 at the plate from that point until the end of the frame. And they didn’t score, either.

How’d that happen?

Jones singled into right field off of Abad, and smelling a chance to walk off, third-base coach Bobby Dickerson waved Nick Markakis around third.

But Brandon Moss, whose grand slam led the way to Sunday’s romp, fired a one-hop throw to catcher Derek Norris, who applied the tag a split-second before Markakis touched the plate. The Orioles challenged that Markakis had beaten the bang-bang play, to no avail.

Abad was hardly out of the woods, though. Now the Orioles had Nelson Cruz at third and Jones at first with two down and Chris Davis due to bat. You might recall from three paragraphs ago that Jones was the last Oriole to log an official at-bat in the 10th. Here’s why.

With Davis in the box, the A’s used an overshift defense:

That alignment put Donaldson a few steps behind where a shortstop would typically play in a double-play setup. Shortstop Jed Lowrie was on the right-field side of the keystone, and second baseman Nick Punto was in shallow right. As a result, Cruz could take just about as big a lead from third base as he wanted. He was about one-fourth of the way down the line when Abad came set.

With the count at 2-2 on Davis, Cruz couldn't resist the temptation to test Abad and Norris by attempting a straight steal of home. The slugger isn’t the fleetest of foot, but because Abad is a southpaw, Cruz also had the power of spontaneity on his side; the lefty wouldn't be able to see him take off. Unfortunately, Norris could—and he alerted Abad quickly enough for the pitcher to throw home in time for the catcher to tag Cruz out.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter wasn’t thrilled…

…but he gave Cruz the benefit of the doubt on his decision-making, at least when talking to the media. “Saw it, felt it, went for it, didn’t work out. We’d be talking the other way,” Showalter said.

It was the last chance the Orioles would get, though, because the A’s pulled ahead in the top of the 11th. John Jaso doubled to get things going, and while Evan Meek notched a critical strikeout of Brandon Moss, a fielding error by J.J. Hardy proved pivotal. The next batter, pinch-hitter Stephen Vogt, singled home Jaso, and that was all Sean Doolittle would need to slam the door on the 4-3 win.

The Orioles averted a sweep by taking Saturday’s middle match 6-3, as Kevin Gausman picked up his first win as a big-league starter. The right-hander delivered seven innings of one-run ball, in which the only tally scored on a homer by Coco Crisp. Baltimore’s lineup knocked Sonny Gray around for a season-high five runs, three of them on homers by Jones and David Lough, and that was more than enough for Gausman.

With no benches-clearing incidents on Saturday, it seemed that Friday’s incident was in the rearview mirror for both clubs. But it might’ve been rekindled in the sixth inning, when Machado hit Norris with a couple of backswings and forced the catcher to leave the game. Beat writer John Hickey called the contact between bat and helmet “unintentional,” but Norris and the A’s were peeved that Machado didn’t apologize. That may have prompted Abad to go well inside two innings later.

We’ll soon learn what sort of consequences the league has in store for Abad and Machado. The sides have a five-week cooling-off period before they meet again, this time in Oakland, on the Friday after the All-Star break.

Quick Hits from the Weekend
Marcus Stroman held the Cardinals to one run in six innings. Brett Lawrie slugged a go-ahead home run in the bottom of the fifth that held up as the decisive blow in the 3-1 Blue Jays win. But the man of the hour in game one of three between the clubs at the Rogers Centre was Jose Bautista, whose Friday night was eventful—in good ways and bad.

It began on a high note, when, with runners at second and third and only one out in the top of the first, Allen Craig singled to right field. The knock threatened to put the Cardinals ahead 2-0, but while Matt Carpenter scored on the play, Bautista gunned down Matt Holliday at the plate. Yadier Molina proceeded to ground out, and what might have become a prolonged rally was thwarted with only one run on the scoreboard—the only one that Stroman would ultimately allow.

In the last of the third, Bautista delivered the equalizer, a solo blast off Lance Lynn:

What might’ve been a 2-0 deficit was instead a 1-1 tie, thanks largely to Bautista’s efforts. Lawrie went yard two innings later, and rather than tying the game, that bomb gave the home nine the lead.

But baseball has a way of humbling those who get too high. In the bottom of the sixth, the Jays had the bases loaded with nobody out and Bautista coming to bat. He jumped ahead in the count, 2-0, against Seth Maness, and suddenly things were looking quite bleak for the Redbirds. Bautista rocketed the next offering to the right side of the infield, sending second-base umpire Manny Gonzalez to the turf.

Unfortunately for the right fielder and his squad, it landed in the glove of Daniel Descalso, and the runners at first and second froze too late. Descalso flipped to short for out no. 2, and the relay to first beat Melky Cabrera to complete the 4-6-3 triple play.

That wasn’t all for Bautista, though. He’d soon become embroiled in one of the more entertaining replay reviews of the first two-plus months.

With one away and nobody on in the top of the ninth, Tony Cruz popped a foul fly toward the stands in medium-deep right. It was right over the railing, so Bautista had a play on the ball. But a fan in the front row apparently valued the souvenir more than a victory by the home team:

First-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth initially ruled that there was no interference by the fan, which left an apoplectic Bautista walking toward the infield complaining about the call. Replay took care of that, sending Cruz back to the dugout and bringing the Jays to within one out of victory. Casey Janssen got Carpenter to fly out to end it.

An outfield assist at the plate. A home run. A triple-play ball. A noncatch-turned-catch by replay. All in a night’s work for Jose Bautista.

The Cardinals won Saturday’s middle match and Sunday’s rubber game by identical 5-0 margins, on the backs of Shelby Miller and Jaime Garcia.

***

Nationals starters Jordan Zimmermann and Tanner Roark took full advantage of the club’s visit to Petco Park.

Roark tossed eight innings of shutout ball on Friday, over which he whiffed 11 without walking a batter. In doing so, the righty became the third Nationals or Expos starter ever to meet all three criteria, joining Jeff Fassero and John Patterson, according to the Baseball-Reference Play Index.

On Sunday, Zimmermann made that foursome a quintet with a two-hit shutout that featured a dozen punchouts. The Nats scored once in the first, twice in the second, and thrice in the third—and only the first-inning run was necessary for Zimmermann to secure his fifth win of the season and the team’s fifth in six games.

The 28-year-old’s fastball was simply too hot for the Padres to handle. He lit up the radar gun at an average of 94.1 mph and a high near 96, and the Friars came up empty on 14 of 39 swings. Of the 13 occasions on which San Diego batters put the four-seamer into play, only two went for hits.

Zimmermann needed 10 or fewer pitches to retire the side in four of his nine innings, a fact made more impressive by the strikeout total he compiled along the way. The combination of dominance and efficiency produced one of the best outings in franchise history:

***

Before Sunday, only nine pitchers in the last century had struck out at least 15 batters in seven innings of work. Four of the most recent five hadn’t been rewarded with a win.

Felix Hernandez joined the club on Sunday in game three of four between the Mariners and Rays, and he became the fourth member to earn his card without allowing a run. But, just like the last pitcher to log 21 outs, fan 15, and hold his foe scoreless—Jake Peavy on April 25, 2007—Hernandez wound up with a no-decision.

Unfortunately for King Felix, the Mariners couldn’t get anything going against Chris Archer, even though the Rays starter recorded only two strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. The visitors kept hitting the ball into the defense, and when they loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, James Jones hit into a 1-2 fielder’s choice and Robinson Cano lined out to end the threat.

The Mariners put runners in scoring position with one out in the seventh and with two away in the eighth, but on both occasions, they failed to drive them in. Yoervis Medina relieved Hernandez to begin the bottom of the eighth, cementing the no-decision.

Minutes later, the Mariners’ bats came alive.

Grant Balfour struck out Dustin Ackley and Cole Gillespie to start the top of the ninth, but five runs would come across—on two triples, a double, a single, and two walks—before he coaxed a ground ball from Mike Zunino. The rally shot Balfour’s ERA up to 6.46 and gave Seattle a 5-0 victory that ensured Hernandez’ dominant effort wouldn't go to waste.

***

Brad Ausmus in in his first year as a major-league manager. At the rate the Tigers bullpen is going, the former catcher might age 10 years before the season is out.

General manager Dave Dombrowski invested a combined $22.5 million in Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain this offseason in an effort to shore up the back end of his relief staff. Nathan, whose deal is worth $20 million over two years, allowed two runs on four hits to the Red Sox on Saturday, when the Tigers held on to win 8-6. That mess marked the third outing out of Nathan’s last four in which the veteran closer had been charged with at least two runs, and with the 39-year-old having worked on consecutive days, Ausmus opted to give last night’s save opportunity to Chamberlain.

The 28-year-old had pitched well before Sunday, with a 2.39 ERA and 30-to-7 K:BB ratio in his first 26 1/3 innings with Detroit. But with his former rivals, the Red Sox, at Comerica Park in a nationally televised series finale, the right-hander couldn’t protect the Tigers’ 3-2 lead.

Brock Holt singled to kick off the inning, and after Chamberlain fanned Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia drew a walk. That brought David Ortiz to the plate.

Three pitches later, Ortiz got a hanging breaking ball from Chamberlain and walloped it deep into the right-field stands to put the Red Sox up 5-3. Koji Uehara retired the Tigers in order, and that was it for Sunday Night Baseball.

Following Chamberlain’s clunker, Ausmus’ pitchers have now been shelled for 46 runs in 51 1/3 ninth innings. With a 3 ½-game cushion in the American League Central, the Tigers have some time to find an anchor for their relief corps. But Sunday’s meltdown opened the door for doubt about whether the solution is already on the roster.

The Defensive Plays of the Weekend
One from the infield, one from the outfield.

Outfield first. Here’s Dexter Fowler showing off his range:

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Now the infield. The Brewers won 1-0 on Sunday. They couldn’t have done it without this ninth-inning play by Jean Segura:

What to Watch for on Monday

  • As fifth starters go, you could do worse than Vidal Nuno, a 26-year-old second-year pitcher who was pressed into rotation duty by injuries. But Nuno, who has done a fine job of throwing strikes—he’s walked one or zero batters in each of his last four starts—has a problem: gopher balls. He’s served up 10 homers in 52 1/3 innings, a 1.72 HR/9 pace that tops all American League pitchers who’ve logged 50-plus frames.

    Here’s some good news, though: The Royals don’t hit many homers. They’re dead last in the majors with 28 so far this season. Something will have to give when Nuno and the Yankees face off with Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium for tonight’s series-concluding date with Jason Vargas (8:10 p.m. ET).

  • Coors Field might not be the preferred venue for a starter looking to shake off a clunker, but it’s where Gavin Floyd will be asked to toe the rubber on the heels of a five-inning, 10-hit, five-run dud versus the Mariners on June 3. Floyd’s comeback story was off to a dandy start before last week, when he was sporting a 2.37 ERA through five outings in his new uniform. Sharper command will be the key if the 31-year-old hopes to dodge the wrath of the mile-high ballpark after finding the heart of the zone a few times too many in the loss to Seattle (8:40 p.m. ET).

  • Two red-hot pitchers are scheduled to square off in the series opener between the Nationals and Giants. Stephen Strasburg, who goes for the visitors, is rocking a 1.99 ERA since April 25, an eight-start stretch over which he has logged a 59-to-9 K:BB ratio in 54 1/3 innings while permitting only three taters. But Ryan Vogelsong enters the matchup with an almost equally strong eight-start résumé, which includes a 2.05 ERA, 49-to-15 K:BB, and just two big flies allowed in 52 2/3 innings. The Giants are 7-1 behind the right-hander during the ongoing surge, but they’ll face a tall task in their bid to make it eight of nine (10:15 p.m. ET).

Thanks to Nick Wheatley-Schaller for making the embedded GIFs.

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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