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July 22, 2014

What You Need to Know

Boston Gives 'Em A Little Thumpin' Thumpin'

by Daniel Rathman

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The Monday Takeaway
On Sunday, the Red Sox hung a career-worst nine hits and six runs on Royals starter Yordano Ventura. On Monday, they treated Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison with similar disregard. But while Boston’s assault on Kansas City pitching ended when Ventura hit the showers, the Sox had no such mercy on Toronto’s mop-up man.

Stephen Drew dealt the biggest blow to Hutchison, a three-run blast in the top of the third inning that padded a 2-0 lead to 5-0. The shortstop had five RBI in his first 30 games of the year; he had four on Monday night.

A single by Xander Bogaerts and a double by Jackie Bradley Jr. ended Hutchison’s night after just 2 2/3 innings. Brad Mills stranded Bradley by coaxing a fly ball from Christian Vazquez. He also struck out the side in the fourth. The only problem is, he also served up a double to Brock Holt and this two-run bomb by David Ortiz:

And striking out Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava consecutively to wrap up the top of the fourth was just about the last good thing Mills would do.

He began the fifth by walking Drew. Then Bogaerts singled. Then Bradley doubled again. Does that look familiar? So might this, which happened four batters later:

Ortiz’s first homer of the game tied him with Carl Yastrzemski on the all-time dinger list with 452. That second one pushed him past Yaz, and it pushed the Red Sox’ lead to 13-1. The next batter, Mike Napoli, made it 14-1:

If you’re counting at home, that was the visitors’ fourth long ball of the night, the first time they’ve done that much yardwork in a single game this season. The Royals and Tigers are the only American League clubs that have yet to accomplish the feat.

Napoli’s tater sent John Gibbons to the mound to pull the plug on Mills. Fortunately for the Jays, Rob Rasmussen and Todd Redmond denied us the entertainment of a position player pitching held the Red Sox scoreless the rest of the way.

But by then, the series opener was long out of the home club’s reach, and the Jays couldn’t solve John Lackey. The right-hander cruised through seven innings of two-hit ball on just 76 pitches, before John Farrell opted to give him a break and use Felix Doubront and Craig Breslow to finish it up.

With the exception of Dustin Pedroia, who earned the ignominious distinction of going 0-for-4 in the first five innings of a romp, every Red Sox starter collected at least one hit. Eight of Boston’s 18 knocks went for extra bases. And the visitors went 7-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

David Ortiz vowed to reporters before the game that his bat was “about to get hotter than Jamaica in the middle of August.” It turns out, he meant the entire team was.

The Red Sox have now won five in a row—a positive spurt that might pump the brakes on general manager Ben Cherington’s trade discussions. Time is running out for the front office to finalize its deadline plans, but the decision to buy or sell is getting harder by the day.

Quick Hits from Monday
The scouts who flocked to Citizens Bank Park on Monday didn't come there for singles night. But that’s what they got.

Cliff Lee, Ryan Vogelsong, and Giants long reliever George Kontos were singled to death in the first five innings. The Phillies and Giants tallied 19 one-base knocks and none for more bags than that, as the hosts put four runs on the scoreboard and the visitors three.

The trouble for Lee is that while the Giants bullpen permitted nothing but singles the rest of the way, their offense had more thump in store. After Michael Morse made it 20 straight singles when he led off the sixth, Adam Duvall, fresh up from Triple-A to supplant the concussed Brandon Belt, snapped the streak.

Duvall’s two-run homer flipped a one-run Phillies lead into a one-run deficit for Lee, as the Giants pulled ahead, 5-4. Moments later, Lee gave up a double to pinch-hitter Joaquin Arias, the utility man’s second extra-base hit in 128 plate appearances this year. Hunter Pence singled home Arias, making it 6-4 Giants, a gap the Phillies would not bridge.

The news wasn’t all bad for the Phillies, though, because Lee wasn’t the only trade chip on display:

Antonio Bastardo threw 13 pitches in the seventh inning, all of them for strikes—an excellent sign for scouts who might’ve come to the yard expecting an erratic southpaw, considering that the 28-year-old had issued 24 walks in 42 2/3 innings coming into the appearance.

Pence added an insurance run with an RBI triple off of Jeff Manship in the eighth, and the Giants took the first of four games in Philadelphia by a final score of 7-4.

***

Jeremy Guthrie had what you might call an eventful first inning in yesterday’s series opener at U.S. Cellular Field.

After the Royals put up a quick goose egg versus Chris Sale in the top half of the frame, Guthrie gave up two hits, hit two batters, and watched third baseman Danny Valencia commit a fielding error. The White Sox scored two runs, both of them on Adam Dunn’s single, and Guthrie coaxed a double play ball and an inning-ending grounder to limit the damage.

Stuffing all of that into one frame is perhaps worthy of a footnote but generally unremarkable. What earned the inning a write-up is that Guthrie packed all of that madness into 16 pitches.

Seven White Sox came to bat, and they averaged 2.29 pitches per plate appearance. Take out Jose Abreu’s five-pitch trip, and the other six saw a combined 11 offerings, or fewer than two each. Part of that was on Guthrie: He plunked Alexei Ramirez with a 2-0 pitch and Conor Gillaspie with the first one he saw. The rest was on Dayan Viciedo, who rolled a 2-0 changeup into the aforementioned twin killing, and Alejandro De Aza, who tapped a first-pitch cambio right back to Guthrie to cap the inning.

Squandering an opportunity to bury the Royals early might’ve come back to haunt the White Sox, except they had Chris Sale on the mound, and three runs (they’d add one more in the sixth) were plenty for their ace. Sale scattered seven hits and a walk over seven innings, limiting the Royals to just one run while striking out eight to lower his ERA to 2.03. He’s now just 0.01 runs behind Felix Hernandez for the best mark among qualifying American League starters.

The 3-1 loss, coupled with the Tigers’ 4-3 edging of the Diamondbacks, left the Royals eight games back in the Central. Now on a four-game skid, Ned Yost’s squad has ceded 8 ½ games in the division standings since June 18 and 4 ½ since July 7.

***

Orioles not named Adam Jones went 4-for-28 on Monday with a double, no walks, 13 strikeouts, and a caught stealing. That’s bad news for Baltimore, right?

Nope—because Orioles named Adam Jones went 2-for-4 with a pair of two-run jacks.

Angels starter Matt Shoemaker fell behind in the count, 2-0, to Jones with a runner on first and one away in the top of the first. Catcher Hank Conger wanted a low-and-away fastball to steal a strike. Instead, Shoemaker grooved one right down Main Street, and Jones sent it a mile to left field, over the bullpen and into the stands:

The Halos bailed Shoemaker out of that mistake with a run in the bottom of the first and another in the last of the fourth. But with a runner on second and two away in the top of the sixth, the right-hander missed another outside-corner target, this time with a knee-high breaking ball that caught too much of the dish, and Jones made him pay again:

This time, the Angels would not recover. Bud Norris got the O’s through 6 2/3 innings, and Brian Matusz, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton put the finishing touches on the 4-2 decision.

If it’s any consolation for Shoemaker, he became the first starting pitcher in franchise history to last fewer than six innings despite striking out 10 batters and not issuing a walk, and only the 12th pitcher to do so for any major-league team in the last century. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, the most recent had been Roy Oswalt, on June 20, 2013.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Andrelton Simmons is incredible. This was incredible even for Andrelton Simmons:

That gem helped Julio Teheran navigate seven innings of one-run ball versus the Marlins, though the right-hander did much of the work himself, racking up 11 strikeouts along the way. However, the Braves offense managed only one run against Miami starter Tom Koehler, and rookie Shae Simmons coughed up two runs in the 10th to seal the 3-1 defeat.

What to Watch on Tuesday
The Braves have a major Minor problem: Their 26-year-old no. 2 starter has been getting battered for more than a month, a seven-start span over which he’s allowed 58 hits—eight of them homers—in 39 1/3 innings. Mike Minor hasn’t had much trouble missing bats, a fact to which his 39 strikeouts during that stretch can attest, but he’s had all sorts of trouble missing barrels, as evidenced by the eye-popping 39 percent line-drive rate hitters have assembled against him since June 10.


Minor’s cutter has been turning opponents into pre-WWII Ted Williams, and his fastball hasn’t done much better. He’ll look to locate better in a cushy matchup with a Marlins club that’s posted an aggregate .667 OPS away from Miami this season (7:10 p.m. ET).

***

Here’s a trivia question you probably can’t answer: Who is the last right-handed pitcher to get Michael Brantley to whiff on a four-seam fastball in the strike zone?

You probably can’t answer that question, because…

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…it hasn’t happened in more than two months. Since May 17, Brantley has compiled as many home runs in at-bats that ended with a righty’s four-seamer as he has strikeouts. You’ll find his most recent swing-and-miss at the 1:13 mark in the video embedded below:

You now know that the pitcher was Sonny Gray, in the sixth inning on May 16. And the 95-mph heater that did it could scarcely have been placed in a more perfect spot:

All of which is to say that Twins rookie Yohan Pino, who barely reaches 90 on the radar gun, has his work cut out for him when Brantley steps into the box tonight. The Indians will counter with Danny Salazar, who last toed a major league rubber the day before Brantley last whiffed on a righty’s gas (8:10 p.m. ET).

***

The good news for the Orioles is that Miguel Gonzalez has worked at least eight innings and allowed no more than two runs in each of his past two starts. The bad news is that he’s developed a rather acute gopher-ball problem, having served up a pair of them in three of his last five trips to the bump. Gonzalez’s hard stuff has somehow been even worse than Minor’s, as opponents are slugging .730 against his fastball and .917 versus his sinker since the beginning of June—and yes, just to be sure, those are slugging percentages, not OPSs. The 30-year-old will aim to keep the ball in the park in tonight’s meeting with Hector Santiago and the Halos (10:05 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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