June 27, 2014
What You Need to Know
The Killer Cs
The Thursday Takeaway
The Phillies squandered opportunity after opportunity to send the Citizens Bank crowd home happy during extra innings on Thursday night. But after a slew of remarkable defensive plays by Cody Asche and a 14th-inning stretch, Chase Utley finished off the Marlins in walk-off fashion.
Cole Hamels took the hill for the Phillies and fired seven strong innings, with his only blemishes coming in the form of solo home runs. The southpaw fanned seven and issued no walks while notching 10 swings-and-misses with his changeup for the second straight game.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia opened up the scoring in the second inning by crushing a 3-1 fastball from Hamels into the left-field bleachers to give the Fish a 1-0 lead. The next inning, Hamels tried to put away Giancarlo Stanton with a 3-2 changeup, but the Miami slugger wasn’t fooled.
Stanton’s laser was his National League-leading 21st blast of season and gave the Marlins a 2-0 advantage. The Phillies pushed across a run against Tom Koehler in the bottom of the fourth, and then did so again in the fifth. Marcel Ozuna put the Marlins back up in the seventh with the club’s third solo dinger off Hamels, but Miami first baseman, Jeff Baker, allowed the Phillies to even up the score in the bottom of the inning on a botched grounder that would have been the third out.
Hamels delivered a solid performance, but he was also aided by a pair of fine plays behind him; Ben Revere laid out on a sinking liner to rob Marcell Ozuna of a base knock in the second inning, and Utley made a nice diving snag to his left in the third. Asche got in on the action in the eighth inning with a barehanded play to take away a potential Jake Marisnick bunt single for the second out of the frame. That play proved to be crucial, as the next three Marlins reached base before Ozuna struck out with the bases loaded to keep the score knotted at 3-3.
Miami relievers spent the first three innings of bonus baseball weaving their way in and out of jams. In the 10th inning, A.J. Ramos allowed the first two runners to reach base and eventually worked himself into a bases loaded situation with two outs. He induced a groundout by Asche to send the game to the 11th.
Ramos came back out for a second inning of work and immediately plunked Carlos Ruiz. Two outs later, the Texas Tech University product issued just the eighth walk that Ben Revere has drawn this season, which gave the Phillies another prime scoring opportunity. Ramos was lifted in favor of Chris Hatcher, who got Jimmy Rollins to pop up weakly to shortstop.
The Marlins looked to start a rally of their own against rookie left-hander Mario Hollands in the top of the 12th, but Asche took away a double down the third base line by Saltalamacchia with…
The Defensive Play of the Day
Donovan Solano singled to right field two pitches later, so Asche’s defensive prowess likely erased another potential run off the board. It wouldn’t be the last time in the game that a great snag by the Philadelphia third baseman would save a run.
The Phillies mounted a two-out rally in the 12th against Hatcher with back-to-back singles by Marlon Byrd and Asche. But Philadelphia fans let out yet another groan when Ruiz grounded out to second.
With Justin De Fratus on in his second inning of relief, the 26-year-old reliever retired Casey McGehee and Hatcher to start the 14th. Garrett Jones lined a one-hopper off the left field wall for a double, and the Phillies decided mid-plate appearance to intentionally walk the next batter, Saltalamacchia. Up next was Donovan Solano, who yanked a screamer that seemed like a sure bet for extra bases. Luckily for Philadelphia, Asche has hops.
Rollins reached on an infield single to lead off the bottom of the inning and Hatcher worked Utley into an 0-2 hole. Salty set up low and away for his third fastball of the at bat, but Hatcher left the offering over the heart of the plate, and Utley took him yard for his third career walk-off blast.
Quick Hits from Thursday
Earlier this month, Nelson Cruz attempted to steal home against Oakland when the American League West leaders deployed a full shift with Chris Davis at the plate. A quick move home by Fernando Abad and poor execution by Cruz (he could have gotten a sizably larger lead considering, the closest fielder was playing up the middle), resulted in Cruz being out by about 10 feet.
A similar situation presented itself in the fourth inning of Thursday’s game between the Pirates and Mets, but this time the team up to bat came away with a run. With two away, Ike Davis was on first base and Andrew McCutchen was at third base. The Mets had the following infield alignment to defend Pedro Alvarez:
“David Wright is playing way off by second base … So McCutchen can get way far away. One thing for sure… Ike can walk to second base. They can’t throw down. There’s no way they can throw to second base. So Ike can just go ahead and walk down to second and get himself into scoring position … If Ike breaks and they throw the ball, it’s a run. If they want to trade a run for the end of the inning, they can do that.”
Prior to the first pitch from Daisuke Matsuzaka, McCutchen tried to relay Walk’s scenario to Davis over at first.
After firing a called strike one, Matsuzaka threw a pickoff attempt over to first base, and sure enough, Davis took off for second. McCutchen was able to get nearly halfway down the line before Lucas Duda threw to second base. By the time the Mets had tagged Davis out in the ensuing rundown, McCutchen had scored easily.
McCutchen’s run gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead, and at the time, New York’s willingness to trade a run for an out (or its obliviousness to the situation) seemed like it could be the deciding factor in the game. But Gregory Polanco ensured an inning later that the game wouldn’t need to be decided by a single run. With a pair of runners in scoring position and a 3-2 count, Matsuzaka shook off a changeup from catcher Travis d’Arnaud. Instead, he hung a slider, and Polanco took it for a ride.
Vance Worley was excellent for his third straight start with the Buccos and needed just 100 pitches to spin seven frames of one-run ball. The Mets tacked on a run against Tony Watson in the eighth inning to cut the lead to 5-2, but Mark Melancon sent the Amazin’s down in order in the ninth to shut the door on the win.
After the Tigers dropped the first three games of their four-game set against the Royals last week, the reigning American League Central champs were 1 1/2 games behind Kansas City and had won just nine of their previous 29 games. Any talk of Detroit’s demise can be put to rest, however, as the Tigers took their seventh straight game on Thursday behind Rick Porcello’s first career shutout.
Just over a month ago, the Rangers roughed up Porcello to the tune of eight runs (seven earned) on 12 hits and a pair of dingers. This time around, the 2007 first-round pick twirled nine innings of three-hit ball by generating groundballs aplenty. Porcello hasn’t induced as many ground balls as in previous years, but he got Texas to hit 16 worm-killers on Thursday, including three double plays—two of which were off the bat of Elvis Andrus. The Detroit right-hander didn’t display exceptional command and handed out three free passes, but the Rangers were only able to manage three singles off Porcello and struck out six times.
Miguel Cabrera went 4-for-5, including an RBI double to the warning track, and led a 12-hit attack by the Tigers that chased Nick Martinez in the third inning. When Porcello got Shin-Soo Choo to ground out for the final out on his 115th pitch of the night, his teammates had already put six runs on the board to finish off the three-game sweep in Arlington. Detroit will head to Houston for a three-game weekend series with the Astros before clashing with the Athletics at home next week.
A pair of doubles from Mike Trout, a three-hit day by Albert Pujols, and seven strong innings from Jered Weaver should spell an easy Angels win. However, a win by the Halos wouldn’t be complete without their bullpen making things interesting, which was certainly the case during Thursday’s matinee.
Kole Calhoun opened the home half of the first with a single to center and after stealing second, came home on an Albert Pujols single through the left side to put the Halos on the board. Pujols came around to score later in the inning on an RBI ground-rule double by Erick Aybar, which in reality was a two-out popup that Pedro Florimon lost in the sun.
The Angels used back-to-back doubles by Mike Trout and Pujols, followed by a Josh Hamilton RBI single, to extend the lead to 4-0 in the third inning. That was more than enough of a cushion for Jered Weaver, who tossed seven innings of one-run ball. Ron Gardenhire penciled seven batters hitting from the left side into his lineup card on Thursday, and Weaver subdued the Minnesota order with a steady diet of curveballs.
Weaver delivered 106 pitches and broke off 31 of them for curveballs—22 for strikes and eight of the swing-and-miss variety. The eight swing-and-misses were the second-most that Weaver has generated in a single start with Uncle Charlie. On August 11, 2010, he got the Royals to come up empty 10 times on the hook in an eight-inning, 11 strikeout gem.
As he did in that game four years ago, Weaver was able to get batters to chase at curveballs low and out of the zone on Thursday. He broke off a handful of curveballs below the knees, and got the Twins to come up empty five times (and a sixth time on a pitch at the very bottom of the zone).
The Twins were able to string together a trio of singles in the sixth inning to muster their lone run against Weaver, but they gave back a pair an inning later when Trout ripped a two-run double down the left field line over a leaping Eduardo Escobar.
Armed with a 6-1 lead, Ernesto Frieri began the ninth inning by striking out Chris Parmalee, but he surrendered a single to Escobar and walked pinch-hitter Jorge Polanco—who had been called up from High-A earlier in the day—on four pitches. After a groundout moved the runners up 90 feet, Frieri issued another walk to load the bases, which was enough for Mike Scioscia to yank him in favor of Joe Smith. The first batter Smith faced was Joe Mauer, who cleared the bases.
Smith got the next batter, Kendrys Morales, who represented the tying run, to wave at a slider outside of the strike zone for strike three to finish off the three-game sweep. The win was the Angels’ sixth straight and pulled them to 3 1/2 games behind idle Oakland in the American League West.
In the Angels-Twins game from earlier, you saw Pedro Florimon lose a routine pop up in the sun—a fairly common occurrence during day games. On the North Side of Chicago, heavy fog rolled in over Wrigley Field for the start of Thursday’s night game between the Cubs and Nationals. And sure enough, Denard Span had absolutely no idea where this fly ball by Luis Valbuena went.
With the Nationals already down 3-1 in the sixth, Doug Fister bailed out Span by stranding Valbuena at third, but Span decided to atone for his miscue the next inning with a game-tying base knock. Unfortunately for Span, he rounded too far around second base after the double, and Anthony Rizzo threw behind him to erase the possible go-ahead run.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Cubs went ahead for good when Justin Ruggiano laced a 2-1 meatball from Craig Stammen down the line for a two-run double. Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon combined for back-to-back scoreless frames to preserve the 5-3 win.
In early April, Billy Hamilton displayed the upper limits of his speed by scoring on a sacrifice fly that was caught about 20 feet behind second base. The Cincinnati center fielder tested those boundaries again on Thursday against San Francisco second baseman Joe Panik, who was drifting backwards when he caught Devin Mesoraco’s pop up. Not this time, Billy.
It turned out that the Reds wouldn’t need that run, as Mike Leake turned in a career-best performance. The Arizona State product used 16 swing-and-misses to fan a career-high 12 batters over eight innings. Leake used his entire repertoire to carve up San Francisco’s bats, generating six swing-and-misses coming with his cutter, notching four by way of his slider and the spreading the remaining six out among his fastball, changeup and curveball.
Prior to last night’s game, Leake had never recorded more than eight strikeouts in a single game, but he became the first Reds pitcher since Jose Rijo in 1990 to punch out a dozen against the Giants.
Bonus Defensive Play of the Day
With Josh Beckett and Adam Wainwright in the midst of a West Coast pitching duel, Matt Kemp fired a perfect throw to nail Allen Craig out at home and keep the game scoreless in the seventh inning.
The play was reviewed for a potential violation of rule 7.13, but the call was upheld and set the stage for Justin Turner’s pinch-hit go-ahead single in the eighth. Wainwright ended up the tough-luck loser, scattering five hits across eight innings and striking out seven, while Beckett fired seven shutout frames for the home team.
What to Watch for This Weekend
- The last time Kevin Gausman toed the rubber for the Orioles, he spun six shutout innings against the Rays—his third straight outing of at least six innings with one or fewer runs and no more than five hits. The Baltimore top prospect was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk after that start to make room for an extra reliever, but he’ll get the call for the first game of Friday’s twin bill against the same Tampa Bay squad. Gausman was able to get the Rays to chase plenty of splitters low and off the plate his last time out. The Rays will counter with Alex Colome, who will make his second start of the season (1:05 p.m. ET).
- If you plan on staying in on Friday night, you’ll want to stay up late for an enticing pitching duel out by the Bay. With a healthy roster for the first time this season, the Reds have made a charge up the National League Central standings and are winners of 10 of their last 14 games, including the first game of their four-game set with the Giants last night. Cincinnati will send Johnny Cueto to the hill tonight opposite Madison Bumgarner, who tossed eight innings of three-hit ball against the Reds earlier this month (10:15 p.m. ET).
- We haven’t seen Gerrit Cole take the bump for the Pirates since the first week of June, as the UCLA product hit the disabled list over three weeks ago with right shoulder fatigue. Cole tossed two successful simulated games during the past week—one around 60 pitches and another six-inning, 84-pitch outing—and will return on Saturday to take on the Mets. With Cole out and Francisco Liriano on the shelf with a strained left oblique, the Pirates have been without their regular cast of rotation arms during the month of June. They’ll look to build on the return of their young hurler and end the night two games above .500 for the first time since early April (4:05 p.m. ET).
- With the Yankees hovering around .500 and the Red Sox eight games out of first place in the American League East, this weekend’s set in the Bronx is a far cry the premier rivalry series we’ve come to expect from the two squads. However, Saturday’s game is shaping up to be a five-star pitching affair, as the Yankees will send Masahiro Tanaka to the mound opposite Boston’s Jon Lester. The Boston southpaw has returned to his 2009-2010 form this season with a career-low walk rate and a strikeout rate just a tad less than those seasons. Lester has been able to miss more bats on pitches in the strike zone this season, as his zone contact is over two percentage points lower than it was in 2013. Between Lester’s return to stardom and Tanaka’s ascent to it, this game tops the list of pitching matchups to watch this weekend (7:15 p.m. ET).
- When it comes to hit-or-miss performances, Kyle Gibson’s starts this season have been about as close as it gets. The Minnesota right-hander has limited opponents to one run or less in nine of his 15 starts, but has five starts in which he’s given up at least five runs and another four-run outing. Gibson’s latest start was a seven-run clunker against the Angels that lasted just two innings—the third time he’s failed to make it to the fourth inning this season. Gibson will look to rebound in Arlington this Sunday opposite Colby Lewis. Which Gibson we’ll get is anybody’s guess (3:05 p.m. ET).
Chris Mosch is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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