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June 17, 2014

What You Need to Know

The Royals Roll On

by Daniel Rathman

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The Monday Takeaway
Donnie Joseph allowed six runs yesterday. Donnie Joseph is a Royals reliever. Ergo, the Royals must have lost their series opener to the Tigers.

Until Monday, that logic was foolproof. Since the Royals entered the American League as an expansion club in 1969, 79 relievers sporting the royal blue had coughed up a half-dozen or more tallies in an outing. Each time that happened, the Royals suffered a defeat.

Not so last night at Comerica Park, however. Not so, because the Royals tagged Justin Verlander with seven total runs in the fifth and sixth innings.

Verlander and Jason Vargas battled to a scoreless draw through four frames in game one of four at Comerica Park, but in the fifth, the hosts’ right-hander came unglued. Alcides Escobar sparked a one-out rally with a double, Norichika Aoki followed with a single, and Omar Infante singled Escobar home. An infield hit by Eric Hosmer loaded the bases for Billy Butler, who promptly cleared them with a double over the head of center fielder Austin Jackson. Rajai Davis cut Butler down at the plate on Salvador Perez’s two-out single, but the damage had been done.

It was 4-2 Royals—and the visitors were just getting warmed up.

They got going off the bat in the top of the sixth, this time with a double by Lorenzo Cain. Mike Moustakas bunted Cain over to third, but he was retired at home on a fielder’s choice by Escobar. On the bright side, Escobar wound up at second on the play, and he subsequently stole third. Aoki drew a walk, and then Infante dealt Verlander his second three-run blow in as many innings.

Seven-two Royals. And while Verlander was done, the visitors weren’t. They’d tack on their third straight crooked number, a four-spot in the seventh, with the help of two Tigers errors.

When Joseph took the hill, it was 11-2 Kansas City. J.D. Martinez’s grand slam, which capped the Tigers’ six-run last of the ninth, was too little, too late.

By then, Verlander’s ERA had shot up to 4.98 and the Royals were well on their way to their eighth straight win. When the sides meet again this evening, they’ll do so with first place in the Central on the line.

Quick Hits from Monday
In the last century, only nine Red Sox have logged a seven-inning start in which they allowed no more than one hit within their first 30 career games. The ninth member of that club, Rubby De La Rosa, received his membership card last night.

Making his 29th major-league appearance and his 15th for Boston, De La Rosa stymied the visiting Twins over seven scoreless frames. He permitted only one hit—a single—while compiling three walks and three strikeouts.

De La Rosa’s command was far from pristine on Monday night, a fact to which the plethora of pitches two feet out of the strike zone can attest. But his arsenal—which features a mid-90s fastball that can sniff triple digits and a changeup and slider that he threw for strikes about 75 percent of the time—was electric enough to compensate when he fell behind in the count.

That happened often in the opener at Fenway Park, as De La Rosa started only 10 of the 23 batters he faced with a strike. Falling into hitters’ counts generally comes back to bite a pitcher, and it almost cost the righty in the top of the third.

Sam Fuld worked a one-out walk and stole second. Then, De La Rosa fell behind in the count 2-0 against Danny Santana. Unwilling to give up on the Twins leadoff man, De La Rosa challenged him with a 95-mph heater right down Main Street, and Santana wasn’t fooled:

The rope to center was the only knock by either side with a runner in scoring position; the Red Sox, who went 0-for-7 in those spots, scored their only run on a fifth-inning sacrifice fly by A.J. Pierzynski. But Santana hit the ball so hard that Fuld, who runs well, initially got a stop sign from third-base coach Joe Vavra. Meanwhile, Santana, who expected Jackie Bradley Jr.’s throw to go through to the plate, got caught in a rundown when first baseman Mike Napoli raced over to cut it off. Seconds later, Fuld bolted for the plate, ended up in a pickle himself, and was retired 8-3-5-2.

That bit of iffy baserunning was all the help De La Rosa needed to lock down the Twins over the rest of his outing. He retired the side in order in each of the next four innings before giving way to Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop, and Koji Uehara, who completed the 1-0 win.

According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, De La Rosa became the first Red Sox hurler to join the aforementioned club since Jon Lester baffled the Royals on July 18, 2006. They’re the only two who’ve gained admission since 1968.

***

If you clicked the link to the box score, you’d have found that Jonathan Papelbon saved the 1-0 win over the Royals on Lester’s behalf. He couldn't do it for the Phillies last night.

With an 8.6 percent walk rate that was exactly double his 4.3 percent pace last year coming into the appearance, Papelbon was bound to see his 1.37 ERA move toward his 2.99 FRA at some point. He had yet to allow a home run in 2014, and his .243 BABIP was more than 50 points lower than the .296 mark with which he finished the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. The right-hander’s spotless HR:FB ratio remains intact, but his BABIP crept upward in his second blown save of the year.

Singles by Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, and Andrelton Simmons—whose knock brought home Upton with the equalizer—spoiled seven scoreless innings from Cole Hamels and wasted Ryan Howard’s second-inning solo shot. It was the fourth straight start in which Hamels departed with at least seven innings to his name and no more than one earned run on his line. And it was the second time in those four that the Phillies failed to grant their ace southpaw a win.

Fortunately for the Phils, Braves reliever David Hale has a knack for giving up five runs in the 13th inning. The right-hander has now done precisely that in two consecutive relief appearances over a span of three days.

The visitors’ rally, aided by a Freddie Freeman error and capped by a two-run triple from Reid Brignac, was more than enough to put away the Braves in the 6-1 decision.

***

In yesterday’s Effectively Wild podcast, Ben Lindbergh put Giancarlo Stanton on his All-MLB.TV team—his squad of players that he’d “drop everything to watch on MLB.TV.” In the first inning of Monday’s opener between the Cubs and Marlins, Stanton showed why each of his at-bats commands attention:

Sorry, Galileo—gravity seems not to apply to balls that come off of Stanton’s bat. The right fielder’s rocket into the right-field stands gave the Fish an early 2-0 lead.

The Marlins stayed ahead until Starlin Castro roped a three-run big fly in the top of the sixth. That put the Cubs up 4-3, but their edge was short-lived, too, because Marcell Ozuna tripled leading off the home half of the inning and scored on a sacrifice fly by Adeiny Hechavarria.

That was all for both squads until the 13th, when—with a runner at first and two away—Cubs skipper Rick Renteria needed a pinch-hitter for his pitcher. With his bench wearing thin, Renteria called on another pitcher—one with two home runs and an .800 OPS in 33 plate appearances this year. Travis Wood did not disappoint.

The left-hander’s double scored Junior Lake with the game-winning run, as Wood became the second pitcher to deliver extra-inning heroics off the bench in 2014:

The 4-3 Cubs victory was the Marlins’ sixth defeat in eight games. Mike Redmond’s squad was 20-16 when Jose Fernandez last toed the rubber, back on May 9. It’s 15-18 since he went down for the year.

The Defensive Play of the Day
The aforementioned double wasn’t Lorenzo Cain’s only sixth-inning contribution on Monday. He also took an extra-base knock away from J.D. Martinez:

BONUS: The Defensive Misplay of the Day
Charlie Blackmon tried to field a Dee Gordon double. Then he tried to field a Dee Gordon triple. And then, Dee Gordon raced all the way around the bases for a Little League inside-the-park home run.

Hat-tip to Chad Moriyama for the above GIF.

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • Andrew McCutchen didn’t have two hits yesterday—mostly because the Pirates had the day off. The center fielder had exactly two hits on each of the previous eight days, including a total of five doubles and four home runs. The last player before McCutchen to have precisely two hits in eight straight games was Kevin Youkilis, who did it from May 21-29, 2007. Jose Valentin did it in 2000. But to find the last player to do it in nine consecutive contests, you’d have to go back to Tony Perez in August of 1973. McCutchen has a long way to go to reach Perez’s 11-game streak, but he’ll try to make it nine in tonight’s battle with Johnny Cueto (7:05 p.m. ET).

  • Yordano Ventura will introduce himself to the first-place Tigers this evening, in game two of four between the top two clubs in the American League Central. He’ll do so in a matchup with fellow flame-thrower Max Scherzer, who blanked the Royals for eight innings on April 2. The 23-year-old Ventura has struggled to miss bats since the middle of May, striking out three or fewer batters in each of his last four starts amid a minor elbow ailment that cost him one assignment. He held the Cardinals to two runs on June 5 and the Indians to one on June 11, but the right-hander will likely need to be sharper to keep the Tigers at bay tonight (7:08 p.m. ET).

Opponent

Innings

K:BB

HR

ERA

A’s

53 1/3

61-to-29 (2.10)

8

(1.35 HR/9)

4.73

(4.49 FIP)

All Others

433

538-to-167 (3.22)

37

(0.77 HR/9)

2.93

(2.98 FIP)

The Rangers ace has a chance to begin bringing Oakland in line with his other opponents this evening in the middle match at the O.co Coliseum. He’s scheduled to face left-hander Tommy Milone, who has struggled in seven career starts against Texas, posting a 4.97 ERA and serving up six homers in 38 innings on the hill (10:05 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

Related Content:  Kansas City Royals

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