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July 11, 2014

What You Need to Know

Alcantara Can Stay

by Daniel Rathman

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The Thursday Takeaway
With a .227 career True Average, Darwin Barney is no Wally Pipp. And Arismendy Alcantara—despite being billed as a “future first-division player” on the BP Top 50—probably won’t enjoy the legendary career of Lou Gehrig. But after seeing Alcantara’s four-hit afternoon, Barney ought to be a bit concerned that a few days on paternity leave might cost him his job.

The 22-year-old Alcantara’s career began ominously: He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Wednesday and went down swinging in the first inning of Thursday’s series finale, in which he batted second and played second for manager Rick Renteria. From that point on, though, Alcantara was unstoppable.

Up with runners at second and third and one away in the top of the third, Alcantara got the Cubs on the board with a sacrifice fly to cut the Reds’ lead to 3-1. In the fifth inning, with Cincinnati leading 4-1, Alcantara doubled home a pair to turn the finale into a one-run game. In the top of the eighth, he picked up an infield single and scored the equalizer on a base hit by Starlin Castro.

That ensured bonus baseball for the fans at Great American Ball Park. And Alcantara would do most of the work in overtime, as well.

He made a bid to send the Cubs to victory with a one-out triple in the top of the 10th, but the visitors squandered that scoring chance when Castro struck out and Justin Ruggiano popped out. Two innings later, Alcantara—who legged out his second infield single of the day with one out—crossed the plate with the eventual winning run.

The first four-hit, two-extra-base-knock effort by a Cubs second baseman since 2010 is documented here. Castro moved Alcantara up to second with an infield single of his own, before Luis Valbuena gave the visitors their first lead of the game with a two-run triple:

Valbuena’s bid for an inside-the-park home run was thwarted by the Reds defense, but Blake Parker made the 6-4 edge hold up with a scoreless bottom of the 12th. It was the Cubs’ first victory since the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics, snapping a streak of six defeats and ending a grueling 11-game road trip on a high note.

After the game, the Cubs optioned starter Kyle Hendricks, who allowed four runs in six innings, to Triple-A Iowa, electing to keep Alcantara on the major league roster despite Barney’s imminent return. The toolsy switch-hitter isn’t in The Show to ride the pine, so the decision at least reflects a desire to give Alcantara an extended opportunity, and it might signal that he’s already shown enough to stick for good.

What seemed on Thursday to be a two-day call-up now looks a whole lot more intriguing. Alcantara’s Wrigley Field debut on Friday afternoon, when the Cubs kick off a three-game home series with the Braves, will give the Chicago faithful who’ve patiently awaited the fruits of their club’s rebuilding process a taste of what’s to come.

Quick Hits from Thursday
If the Royals, Cardinals, and Rockies—with the benefit of playing at Coors Field—couldn’t score a run against Clayton Kershaw, it was fair to wonder last night if the Padres, the worst-hitting club in the majors, would stand a prayer of halting the southpaw’s unblemished run.

For five innings, it appeared that they wouldn’t.

Kershaw retired the first six Friars he faced in order, then stranded Alexi Amarista on second after a one-out single in the third. He fanned two in a perfect fourth, then worked around a two-out walk in the fifth. The top of the sixth began with two more punchouts, putting Kershaw on the verge of a 42nd consecutive goose egg.

Enter Chase Headley:

Ahead in the count 1-2, Kershaw wanted to bury a slider inside to Headley, toward the back foot of the switch-hitter batting right-handed.

Headley doesn’t often do much damage against left-handed breaking balls spun into that part of the hitting area. But when a southpaw makes a mistake out over the plate, Headley has the pop to punish it—as Kershaw found out the hard way on Thursday night.

Hitters who fall behind Kershaw 1-2 are typically doomed. They entered last night batting .137/.186/.188 with 12 homers in 1,604 plate appearances over the left-hander’s career. But rare as it might be, a mistake is a mistake, even when it comes out of the hand of the best starting pitcher in the league.

Fortunately for Kershaw, the Dodgers offense had scraped across a run against the crafty Odrisamer Despaigne in the fourth. Mere minutes after Headley’s long ball, Los Angeles would give its ace the lead thanks in part to one of four San Diego errors.

Hanley Ramirez singled leading off the last of the sixth. He took second on a stolen base and ran over to third when catcher Yasmani Grandal threw the ball away. A sacrifice fly by Adrian Gonzalez put the Dodgers back on top 2-1.

Kershaw promptly began a new scoreless streak to make that margin hold up. Grandal, who singled in the seventh, was the only Padre who reached base from that point on, as Kershaw notched his third complete game of the season. He induced 22 whiffs, 10 of them with much sharper sliders than the one that failed him with Headley in the box.

After briefly slipping into a tie in the National League West on Wednesday, the Dodgers watched the Giants fall 6-1 to the Athletics before Kershaw took the hill. His three-hitter put Don Mattingly’s squad back alone in first place.

***

When it comes to Sox bullpens, the White one had been shaky and the Red one just fine. So after Jon Lester chucked seven scoreless innings and racked up 12 punchouts, and Jose Quintana allowed three runs in seven frames, Boston seemed poised to cruise to victory in the series finale at Fenway Park.

Not so fast.

That two-run blast by Conor Gillaspie, hooked around the Pesky Pole in right field, served Red Sox closer Koji Uehara his second blown save of the season. Unfortunately for the White Sox, it also meant that their leaky relief corps would need to do extra work.

Daniel Webb, who tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Quintana, and Eric Surkamp, who finished off the BoSox in the ninth, were done for the day. After Andrew Miller held the ChiSox off the board in the top of the 10th, Robin Ventura crossed his fingers and handed the ball to Ronald Belisario, who’d allowed at least one run in three of his last four appearances.

The big righty wasn’t up to the task.

He walked pinch-hitter Daniel Nava to begin the frame and watched him advance to second on a sacrifice bunt by Mookie Betts. Belisario walked Stephen Drew to avoid facing a left-handed batter, an idea that proved moot when Red Sox manager John Farrell tabbed his second pinch-hitter of the inning, Mike Carp:

Carp’s single delivered the home nine a 4-3 walkoff win, its second in as many days. In fact, each of Boston’s last three victories has come in the final at-bat. The Red Sox haven’t won a game in any other fashion this month.

***

Sometimes, a pitcher just doesn’t have it. Exhibit A, Colby Lewis:

Five of those 13 hits went for extra-bases. Josh Hamilton doubled twice at Lewis’s expense. Kole Calhoun collected a double and a triple. And Mike Trout authored his 21st home run:

The Rangers countered the Halos’ opening four-spot with two runs in the bottom of the first. But by the middle of the third, thanks in part to Trout’s three-run bomb, they were staring at an insurmountable 13-2 hole.

Mike Scioscia’s club went on to take the opener, 15-6. Ron Washington has now watched his ace, Yu Darvish, cough up six runs in as many innings, and his no. 2 starter, Lewis, suffer a historic beating. As the injury-riddled Rangers stumble into the All-Star break with the worst record in the baseball, the skipper can only pray that the makeshift rear of his rotation (more on that in the What to Watch segment) will fare better this weekend.

***

Thursday wasn’t a good day for ulnar collateral ligaments. Masahiro Tanaka was diagnosed with a partial tear of the one in his right elbow, which might cost him the rest of his first stateside season. Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina learned that they’d need surgery to repair torn UCLs in their (left and right, respectively) thumbs.

To add insult to injury, all three of their teams lost on Thursday. The Reds fell to Alcantara and the Cubs. And that might have been the least frustrating defeat of the three.

The Yankees fell 9-3 to the Indians after pitching a shutout through the seventh-inning stretch. That’s not a misprint: The Tribe chucked up a four and a five onto the Progressive Field scoreboard in their last two times at bat.

Rookie catcher Roberto Perez earned a footnote in the replay history books, when—with the Indians already ahead 4-3 in the last of the eighth—he thumped a wall-scraper deep to left off reliever Jim Miller:

Initially ruled a double, the deep fly became a big fly when the umpires took another look and determined that it was a home run. Thus, Perez became the first player since the expansion of replay to earn his first career long ball upon further review.

Carlos Santana went yard later in the eighth, leaving Miller with a 20.25 ERA and the Yankees in the Indians’ wake.

As for the Cardinals—they became the second team ever to allow Edinson Volquez to pitch a complete game.

Until Thursday, the only nine-inning-out on Volquez’s career log was a one-hitter over the Astros on July 19, 2012. That ought not to be a big surprise, considering the right-hander’s control woes, but he’s found the zone more frequently over the past two years, and he did so often enough to flummox Mike Matheny’s lineup.

The Redbirds had little trouble solving Volquez’s sinker, going 5-for-13 when they put it into play, but his changeup was their Kryptonite all night long. Volquez pulled the string 23 times, 20 of them for strikes, and four of those of the swing-and-miss variety. His knuckle curve drew three whiffs in 26 tries.

St. Louis immediately felt the absence of Yadier Molina, as sparingly used backup catcher Tony Cruz went 0-for-3 at the plate, was charged with a passed ball, and allowed Andrew McCutchen to steal two bases. Molina had allowed just 18 steals in 81 games, and he’d thrown out 17 runners in the process.

The 9-1 Pirates romp, led by their own backstop, Russell Martin—who went 3-for-4 with a home run—brought Pittsburgh back into the thick of a rapidly tightening National League Central race. With the Brewers (more on them in a moment) sliding and the Cardinals and Reds suffering significant injury blows on Thursday, the Bucs, now 3 ½ games out, could be poised to pounce.

***

Amazingly, the Indians weren’t the only team that managed to turn a rough blanking into a blowout win by scoring nine runs after “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on Thursday. The Phillies did it, too.

Matt Garza carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, when Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley notched back-to-back singles to break it up. On the bright side, the righty stranded both of them to keep the Brewers’ 1-0 lead intact.

Not for long.

All hell broke loose against Garza and relievers Will Smith and Brandon Kintzler, who combined to cough up seven runs in the top of the eighth. Ground-rule doubles by Ryan Howard and Cody Asche keyed that long rally, and Howard wasn’t done clubbing baseballs in the late innings. He tacked on a two-run homer off Wei-Chung Wang in the ninth to complete the nine-run outburst over the last two frames.

That completed the Phillies’ ascent from a 1-0 hole to cloud nine. And it sent the Brew Crew tumbling to its fifth straight defeat.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Adam Eaton has great range in center field, so he didn’t need to slide to make this catch. He slid to avoid a collision with right fielder Moises Sierra:

Bonus: The Weird Defensive Play of the Day
Have you ever seen a force out from the third baseman to the center fielder covering second? Now you have:

Bonus: Fan of the Day
Juan Lagares stepped to the plate for the Mets in the eighth inning with the tying runs aboard. He popped out to first baseman Freddie Freeman in foul territory. And a Mets supporter seated in the vicinity lost it.

What to Watch This Weekend

Friday

  • Pop quiz: Can you name the five current members of the Rangers rotation? Yu Darvish is the easy one, but he pitched on Wednesday. Colby Lewis is two, but he pitched on Tuesday and won’t go this weekend, either. Up third…

    Friday’s starter is a second-year righty who has been around since mid May, holding his own to the tune of a 4.29 ERA through nine starts. A 14th-round pick by the Rangers in 2010, he’ll be on the hill in game two of four against the Angels, a tall task against Anaheim’s de facto ace, Garrett Richards. Answer no. 3: Nick Tepesch (8:05 p.m. ET).
  • With six wins in their last nine games, the Cardinals are moving up the standings, and tonight, they’ll welcome Joe Kelly back from the disabled list for a much-needed boost to a rotation beset by injuries (albeit not as badly as the Rangers’). The 26-year-old was rocking a 0.59 ERA in 15 1/3 innings when a hamstring injury knocked him out for nearly three months. Kelly will do his best to stave off regression as the Cardinals visit the first-place Brewers, who are scheduled to counter with Yovani Gallardo in the opener (8:10 p.m. ET).

Saturday

  • Ron Washington’s fourth starter was acquired from the Pirates during the offseason in exchange for first baseman Chris McGuiness. The right-hander is the only player in major league history with his first name, and he’s made two starts for Texas to date. A product of Nova Southeastern University, the 25-year-old debuted with the Padres in 2012. Answer no. 4: Miles Mikolas, who’s due to duel Jered Weaver in game three (7:15 p.m. ET).

  • The Nationals and Phillies are set to roll with their aces in the middle match of the weekend series at Citizens Bank Park. Stephen Strasburg has bounced back from a 4 2/3-inning, seven-run clunker to end the month of June by logging a pair of strong seven-inning starts to begin July. The National League leader with 140 strikeouts will take on Cole Hamels, who’ll be pitching at home for just the second time in his last six starts. When the southpaw last toed the rubber in Philadelphia, he served up three home runs to the Marlins; Hamels hasn’t allowed any gopher balls in his other seven outings dating back to the beginning of June (7:15 p.m. ET).

  • David Price came within an out of notching his second complete game of the season on July 6, but while he needed a little help to finish off the Tigers, the left-hander nonetheless extended his streak of seven-plus-inning starts to nine. As the Rays front office sorts out whether it can still contend in 2014, Price is either aiding Tampa Bay’s cause on the field or boosting general manager Andrew Friedman’s price tag in trade talks. Next up for the 28-year-old: a home date with the Blue Jays. The Rays have won each of Price’s last six assignments versus Toronto and are 16-2 in his career meetings with the Canadian club. Drew Hutchison gets the ball for the visitors (4:10 p.m. ET).

Sunday

  • Bryce Harper has scuffled since coming off the disabled list, but perhaps Sunday’s showdown with Kyle Kendrick is just what he needs to get going. Harper might be pleased to see the right-hander on the hill: He’s 9-for-23 lifetime against Kendrick with three doubles, a triple, a home run, three walks, and only one strikeout—all of which adds up to a 1.201 OPS. Harper will go to bat in support of Tanner Roark, who was torched for seven runs in four innings when he pitched in Philadelphia on May 3 (1:35 p.m. ET).

  • Texas’ no. 5 starter was claimed off waivers from the Pirates in late May after missing most of the 2013 campaign while recovering from elbow surgery. He made the second start of his big-league career earlier this week, allowing three runs in four innings to the Astros. Drafted in the 21st round in 2009 out of Ole Miss, the right-hander compiled impressive K:BB ratios during his trek through the minor leagues, with his career clip sitting at 434-to-103 (4.21). Answer no. 5: Phil Irwin, who’ll wrap up the pre-All-Star break slate for the Rangers in a matchup with Tyler Skaggs (3:05 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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