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July 24, 2014

What You Need to Know

July 24, 2014

by Chris Mosch and Daniel Rathman

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The Wednesday Takeaway
When Bartolo Colon made his major league debut for the Indians in 1997, Taijuan Walker was a few months away from turning five years old and had probably not yet been enrolled in kindergarten. Fast-forward 17 years and Colon is now pitching for his seventh organization and Walker is looking to tap into his massive potential in his first full season with the Mariners. Walker is expected to make his mark on the league in the not-so-distant future, but Wednesday’s rubber match between the Mets and Mariners was Colon’s time to shine.

The Mets spotted Colon an early 1–0 lead and he quickly went to work against Seattle, pounding the strike zone with his low-90s fastball and getting the Mariners to chase an occasional slider. Not a single Seattle batter was able to reach base during the first two times through the order, with Kyle Seager, Corey Hart, Jesus Sucre, and Logan Morrison all falling victim via strikeout.

Colon needed just 73 pitches to get through the first six frames. Just nine outs away from perfection, he began the seventh inning by getting former Mets outfielder Endy Chavez to pop out to third base. Colon promptly fanned James Jones, which brought up Robinson Cano. With the count 2–2 against the Seattle second sacker, Anthony Recker wanted Colon to fire the next offering low and away.

Instead, Colon left the offering up at the belt and Cano lined an opposite-field single to break up the perfect game bid.

Kyle Seager grounded out on the next pitch to end the seventh, but Seattle would cut into Colon’s 3–0 lead the next inning. Corey Hart led off the frame by working an eight-pitch walk. Two batters later, Dustin Ackley singled to bring the tying run to the dish. Brad Miller missed out on evening the score by just a matter of feet, but he settled for a two-run double off the top of the wall that knocked Colon out of the game.

In to pitch for New York was Jeurys Familia, who got Willie Bloomquist to hit a soft grounder up the middle. Ruben Tejada had left the game in the fifth inning after being plunked by a 94 mph fastball from Walker that left an indentation on his helmet. Replacing Tejada at shortstop was Eric Campbell, who had played just one inning at the position prior to Wednesday. Campbell looked uncomfortable attacking the grounder and it appeared that Bloomquist beat the throw by a split second (an extra split second that Tejada would have likely shaved off). However, Terry Collins challenged the play and it was quickly overturned.

Famila was no longer faced with runners at the corners and one out, but he still had to escape his two-out jam with the tying run at third. That problem was solved when the New York setup man got Endy Chavez to strike out swinging.

Jenrry Mejia allowed the tying run to reach second base in the ninth inning, but worked his way out of his own jam to shut the door on the Mariners. A save opportunity in a game between the Mets and Mariners provides entertainment in the form of a closer celebration. This time, it was Mejia’s emphatic celebration that triumphed over Fernando Rodney’s bow-and-arrow.

Quick Hits from Wednesday
David Ortiz has been a nightmare for Blue Jays pitchers the past two days, hitting a pair of dingers in Monday’s series opener and then taking Dustin McGowan deep on Tuesday.

In his first trip to the plate last night, Boston’s slugger drilled an R.A. Dickey knuckleball that nearly landed in the upper deck.

Papi’s home run gave the Red Sox an early 3–0 advantage and made him the all-time leader in home runs by a visitor at Rogers Centre.

The Blue Jays responded with three runs of their own against Clay Buchholz in the home half of the first, keyed by RBI two-baggers from Jose Bautista and Josh Thole. Boston regained the lead with a run in the fifth, but allowed the Jays to push ahead in the sixth. Thole started the rally by working a one-out walk and crossed the plate moments later when Ryan Goins split the right fielder and center fielder for his first career triple. Buchholz fanned Anthony Gose and looked like he’d escape the inning with the game even at four apiece, but when Jose Reyes hit a fairly easy chopper to Xander Bogaerts at third base, the Boston rookie bounced the throw and Mike Napoli was unable to pick it, allowing Goins to score the go-ahead run.

After seeing six innings of knuckleballs from Dickey, the Red Sox had to quickly adjust to a near–triple digit fastball along with a plus-plus curveball from a talented hurler making his major league debut. The Blue Jays called up Aaron Sanchez on Tuesday with the hope of injecting a spark into a bullpen that sports the third worst Fair Run Average in baseball.

Toronto didn’t have a problem throwing the 22-year-old flamethrower immediately into the fire, as his first task as a big leaguer was to preserve a one-run lead with Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz and Mike Napoli due up. Sanchez pumped his fastball up to 99 mph and sent the heart of Boston’s lineup down in order, inducing fly outs by all three batters.

Jose Bautista added extra cushion with a solo blast in the home half of the seventh, and Sanchez came out for his second inning of work. The Barstow, California native proceeded to rack up a pair of strikeouts in the frame, with his first career punchout sealed by a backdoor hook that froze Daniel Nava.

The Angels and Tigers have each paid premiums to bolster their respective bullpens during the past week, but with Sanchez, Toronto is hoping to get a quality in-house alternative to the trade market. Last night offered a glimpse of the impact Sanchez could provide.

In the ninth inning, Sanchez turned the ball over to Casey Janssen, who retired the Red Sox in order to give the Jays a 2–1 series advantage heading into tomorrow’s series finale.

* * *

Alex Cobb put together his best pitching line of the season last night against the Cardinals, scattering five hits over seven innings while striking out 10 and handing out zero walks. While there’s little doubt that Cobb left St. Louis batters baffled and unable to manage much offense, there should probably be an asterisk next to the night’s gaudy strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Cobb’s night was near its end when Jon Jay stepped in with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Tampa Bay’s right-hander had already accrued nine strikeouts and his pitch total reached the century mark when he dug Jay into a 1–2 hole. The next pitch was a fastball that missed inside for ball two. Cobb bounced his next offering—a changeup—in the dirt for ball three. The payoff pitch to Jay was a fastball off the plate for ball four. Except home plate umpire Dan Bellino and practically everybody on the Cardinals forgot what the count was.

Jon Jay didn’t take his base. Bellino didn’t tell Jay that he could take his base. And nobody in the St. Louis dugout—manager Mike Matheny included—caught the mistake. Neither of the broadcast crews picked up on what had happened.

If Cobb did realize what had transpired, he played it extremely cool. He calmly took Molina’s throw back, quickly agreed to his battery-mate’s first sign, and got Jay to foul the next pitch off to keep the count at ... 4–2?. The 26-year-old hurler capped off the bizarre at-bat with a fastball on the inside corner that Jay watched pass by for strike three.

Not only did Cobb enjoy a terrific night on the mound, he also helped his own cause with his first major league hit, an RBI double in the second inning that got the Rays on the board. A scary moment occurred during Cobb’s next trip to the plate when Lance Lynn drilled his pitching elbow with a 92 mph fastball. Cobb's performance didn’t skip a beat.

When Cobb later exited the game with a 2–0 lead, his bullpen followed suit in keeping the Redbirds off the board. (Tampa Bay would add an insurance run in the ninth.) Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee each tossed a perfect frame and combined to strike out five of the six batters they faced to clinch the two-game series sweep.

* * *

Runs were tough to come by at U.S. Cellular Field during Wednesday’s matinee, as James Shields and Jose Quintana each tossed seven stellar innings in an American League Central clash. Each pitcher allowed a single run to cross the plate in the first inning, but neither the Royals nor the White Sox were able to push across another run until the final frame.

Chicago finished the day with six hits and a walk against Shields, as the 32-year-old struck out seven and allowed just one ball to leave the infield during his final five innings of work.

The Royals had plenty of opportunities to mount a rally, but the White Sox infield turned a trio of double plays behind Quintana, who turned in his fifth start this season of at least seven innings while giving up one run or fewer. When Quintana was lifted in favor of Ronald Belisario, Kansas City loaded the bases, but Raul Ibanez ended that rally with a harmless popup to second base.

Mike Moustakas led off the top of the ninth with a single and moved up 90 feet moments later on an Alcides Escobar sacrifice bunt. Next up was Norichika Aoki, who blooped a single into center field. Patrolling center was Adam Eaton, who one-hopped a throw right on the money and appeared to have Moose gunned out at the plate. Instead, Moustakas’ knee jarred the ball out of the glove of Tyler Flowers to give the Royals the 2–1 lead.

Greg Holland tossed a perfect ninth inning to shut the door on the series win for the Royals, who climbed back to .500 and 2 1/2 games behind Seattle in the race for the second American League wild card spot.

* * *

Jason Heyward was running on contact from third base with his club up by four runs in the eighth inning. When Chris Johnson hit a hard chopper to shortstop, Heyward quickly realized that Adeiny Hechavarria’s throw would easily beat him home, so he turned back to third and a rundown ensued. Somehow, he ended up avoiding Casey McGehee’s tag while staying in the basepaths and made it back safe.

* * *

On Wednesday night, Yoenis Cespedes blasted his first home runs since defending his derby crown last week in Minnesota. Cespedes belted his first dinger of the night to straightaway center on a slider low and away from Brad Peacock in the second inning. Peacock hung a curveball to Cespedes during his next trip to the plate, and the Oakland slugger hit a moonshot that cleared the left field fence and put the A’s up by a score of 7–0.

Unfortunately for Cespedes, his night came to a premature end in the fifth inning when he left with a right thumb sprain, the result of being jammed by a Jake Buchanan fastball.

The Astros came storming back with five runs in the eighth inning, four off Jim Johnson and another coming at the expense of Dan Otero. However, Luke Gregerson was able to bail the A’s out of the eighth and Sean Doolittle tossed a clean ninth inning to earn the save.

* * *

After Tuesday’s 14-inning affair, the Giants and Phillies appeared to be on their way to more bonus baseball Wednesday night. Madison Bumgarner and A.J. Burnett traded eight scoreless innings, with the San Francisco southpaw needing 93 pitches to complete his outing compared to Burnett’s 131 offerings. Burnett gave way to Jonathan Papelbon, who hit Michael Morse and walked a pair of batters (one intentional) to load the bases for Hunter Pence. The former Phillies outfielder cleared the bases with a flare down the right field line and made it all the way to third base after an error on the throw home.

Philadelphia was able to push a run across against Santiago Casilla in the bottom of the frame, but the Giants ultimately took their third game in a row from the Phillies. San Francisco will bring their brooms in search of the four-game sweep on Thursday with Tim Hudson going opposite Cole Hamels.

Defensive Play of the Day
With Zach Cozart day-to-day with a finger injury and Joey Votto still on the shelf, Ramon Santiago and Brayan Pena teamed up to rob Khris Davis of a base hit in Milwaukee. The Brewers ending up prevailing over the Reds behind a pair of Mark Reynolds dingers to complete the three-game sweep of their division foes. —Chris Mosch

What to Watch on Thursday
The table below contains two triple-slash lines assembled over a comparable sample of plate appearances:

Line A 147 .089 .095 .096
Line B 131 .079 .099 .110

Line A is Bartolo Colon. Line B is the aggregate triple-slash line for major league hitters facing Corey Kluber’s slider this year.

How bad has Kluber’s breaking ball made the league look? Roughly this bad:

It’s up to the Royals to improve on that body of work tonight (8:10 p.m. ET).

* * *

Matt Garza has been awfully stingy with the long ball since the beginning of June—only one hitter, Adam LaRoche, has taken him deep in his last nine starts—but that didn’t help the first-year Brewer when he took on the Nationals for the second time during that stretch. Bad luck, spotty command, and a quick hook from manager Ron Roenicke conspired to send the right-hander to the showers with only one out to his name, the only time in 211 career starts that Garza has failed to finish the first inning. The 30-year-old will try to bounce back with the Mets in town for a four-tilt series. He’ll take on Dillon Gee in the opener (8:10 p.m. ET).

* * *

The toughest 20-game stretch on the Angels’ 2014 schedule continues when the Tigers come to Anaheim to kick off a four-game set this evening. Game one between the Central leaders and the second-place club in the West boasts the best on-paper pitching matchup of the evening, pitting Max Scherzer against Garrett Richards.

Scherzer, the defending junior circuit Cy Young Award winner, has taken some lumps this year, including a 5 2/3-inning dud versus the Indians his last time out, in which he walked four and served up two home runs.

Meanwhile, Richards has emerged as the hottest hurler in the American League, holding opponents to one run or fewer in seven of his last nine starts. The 26-year-old Oklahoma product has been tough to hit—permitting just 91 hits in 131 1/3 innings—and even tougher to drive, with only four home runs authored at his expense to date. Richards fired seven shutout innings in each of his first two career starts against the Tigers, but tonight will mark his first look at the Brad Ausmus–led club this year (10:05 p.m. ET). —Daniel Rathman

Chris Mosch is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Chris's other articles. You can contact Chris by clicking here
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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