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August 5, 2014

What You Need to Know

August 5, 2014

by Chris Mosch

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The Monday TakeawayPablo Sandoval came through in big spots for the Giants on more than one occasion during a Monday matinee against the Mets that was highlighted by one-upmanship from the clubs' center fielders.

Daniel Murphy opened the scoring in the first inning with a two-run blast off Tim Hudson, who—as Daniel Rathman mentioned in yesterday’s WYNTK—was making his first start at Citi Field since last year’s gruesome ankle injury.

The Mets looked to build on that lead in the second inning as Juan Lagares jump-started the offense with a one-out single. Moments later, Ruben Tejada laced a single of his own to center and an aggressive Lagares tried going first-to-third. Since coming into the league, Lagares has been among the league leaders in outfield assists, and playing a fairly shallow center field has allowed him to limit opposing baserunners' option of taking the extra base. This time however, it was Gregor Blanco who gave Lagares a taste of his own medicine.

The Mets failed to score and allowed the Giants to pull even the next inning when Sandoval ripped a two-run double to the right-center gap off Dillon Gee.

The Mets pushed a run across in the fifth inning to take a 3-2 lead, which they held until the Giants rallied against Jeurys Familia in the seventh. Familia let a 2-1 slider to Hunter Pence catch too much of the plate, and the outfielder lifted the pitch to the warning track in left-center field. Miscommunication between Lagares and Chris Young led to a near collision as they leaped into the wall, with the ball ultimately bouncing off Young’s glove and allowing Pence to hustle into third for a leadoff triple.

Next up was Blanco, who drew a walk. The tying run scored shortly thereafter when when Familia spiked a 97 mph fastball in front of the plate. It also allowed Blanco to move into scoring position. Two batters later, Sandoval came through again, this time with a single up the middle. Blanco—representing the go-ahead run—was thinking home all the way, but Lagares returned the favor by nailing him at the plate with a perfect strike from shallow center field.

With the Mets still in a jam, Terry Collins turned to left-hander Josh Edgin to face Brandon Belt, who promptly grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. The score remained knotted heading into the ninth, when Collins went with his closer, Jenrry Mejia.

The right-hander retired the first two batters he faced, but surrendered a single to Blanco, who promptly stole second. Buster Posey’s fourth walk of the day set the stage once again for Sandoval. This time, the Panda made sure to keep his go-ahead base knock away from Lagares.

Sandoval’s flare down the left-field line bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double and gave the Giants a 4-3 lead. Santiago Casilla sent the Mets down in order in the bottom of the ninth to secure San Francisco’s four-game series win in Queens.

Quick Hits from Monday
With the Freeway series opener between the Dodgers and Angels pitting Zack Greinke against Garrett Richards, the margin of error should have been extremely thin. Greinke has been one of the National League’s best starting pitchers this season and was fresh off a 13-strikeout, eight-inning shutout performance against the Braves, while Richards has emerged as the ace of the Angels’ staff. While Richards held up to his end of the bargain, Greinke and the Dodgers got off to a sloppy start, digging themselves into a deep hole from the get-go.

Carl Crawford nearly made a nice sliding catch on Kole Calhoun’s single to lead off the game, but made an ill-advised dive on Mike Trout’s sinking liner moments later. The ball rolled to the outfield wall and Trout would have had an easy triple if not for missing first base. Instead, he settled for a double. It proved to be irrelevant when Albert Pujols followed by drilling a double to the gap in left-center to plate Trout.

The Dodgers were able to nab Pujols at home on a fielder’s choice later in the inning, and a fairly easy two-out ground ball by Howie Kendrick appeared to spell the end of the scoring for the Angels. However, Hanley Ramirez threw the ball away, allowing the Angels to double their lead to 4-0 by the end of the frame.

Greinke would settle in after his rough opening inning and retire 12 of the next 13 batters (with the one batter reaching on an error). His one other misstep came in the top of the sixth, when he hung a 3-2 changeup to Josh Hamilton, who parked it in the right-center bleachers.

Hamilton’s home run pushed the Angels’ lead to five runs, which proved to be an insurmountable deficit for the Dodgers on a night when Richards was absolutely dealing. The University of Oklahoma product used 122 pitches to go the distance in his first career shutout, striking out nine and limiting the Dodgers to just five hits. Richards dialed up his fastball to a single-game season high of 98.2 mph and worked off the heater with his filthy slider, which generated 10 swing-and-misses.

***

The A’s squandered bases-loaded opportunity after based-loaded opportunity during last night’s extra-inning affair against the Rays, but Derek Norris was finally able to cash in against a former teammate, as Oakland maintained their one-game lead over the Angels in the American League West.

Alex Cobb was unable to find the strike zone in the early going, walking the bases loaded with one out in the first inning, but he worked his way out of the jam by inducing Brandon Moss to pop up to shallow right field and Josh Reddick to ground out.

Evan Longoria put the Rays on the board in the top of the second with a solo home run off Jeff Samardzija, but the A’s were unable to respond in the bottom of the frame despite Cobb loading the bases again. Oakland put together a single, another walk, and a hit batsman to load the bases with two outs, but Josh Donaldson grounded out as the A’s were once again unable to take advantage of Cobb’s inefficiency.

Oakland would finally strike in the third inning, as Jed Lowrie doubled home Reddick to even the score. Tampa Bay reclaimed the lead with a run in the fifth inning when Desmond Jennings singled home Kevin Kiermaier—who had collected a two-out triple—but Oakland knotted the score once again behind a trio of singles off Cobb in the sixth. Oakland had the chance to push ahead in the seventh inning when Joel Peralta loaded the bases with two outs for Sam Fuld, but Brad Boxberger came in to relieve and the A’s once against stranded the bases loaded as Fuld went down swinging.

In the top of the ninth, it was Sean Doolittle’s turn to work his way out of a jam after a leadoff single and a fielding error by Lowrie put runners at the corners with one out. Brandon Guyer—pinch-hitting for Jose Molina—laid down a squeeze to push the go-ahead run across, but Doolittle handled the bunt and flipped the ball to Norris, who tagged out Sean Rodriguez to keep the game tied. Doolittle fanned Kiermaier moments later to end the scoring threat.

The game would head to extra innings and Grant Balfour came in to pitch the bottom of the 10th for the Rays. The former Oakland closer came in to face his old teammates and was greeted favorably by the O.Co Coliseum faithful.

However, Fuld started a one-out rally with a single to center and promptly swiped second base. John Jaso and Donaldson each worked seven-pitch walks to load the bases with one away. The Rays brought in Ben Zobrist from left field to implement a five-man infield against Brandon Moss, but the pull-happy slugger mooted the alignment by striking out. At that point, the A’s had left 18 men on base, including the aforementioned three bases-loaded opportunities that had led to zero runs. Given a fourth opportunity, Norris made sure the A’s ended the night walk-off winners.

***

It was going to be difficult for Corey Kluber to top a near–perfect game and an 85-pitch complete-game shutout. The Indians ace may not have turned in quite as dominating a performance as either one of his previous two starts, but he silenced Cincinnati’s bats in the opener of the Ohio Cup and got help in the form of dingers from two of Cleveland’s breakout hitters.

Jason Kipnis led off the bottom of the first against Alfredo Simon with a double and came around to score later in the frame to give the Indians an early 1-0 advantage. In the fourth, Simon ceded back-to-back singles to Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana to start the frame. His first pitch to Lonnie Chisenhall was a fastball over the heart of the plate, which the third baseman deposited over the center-field wall to give the Indians a 4-0 lead.

It turns out Kluber is human: He allowed his first run in over 25 innings last night. Even that lone run crossed the plate after he had left the game, however. His formula of pounding the strike zone with his two-seamer and getting swing-and-misses with his cutter and slider kept the Reds off the board through the first seven innings, but he was lifted after allowing a pair of singles to Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco. Nick Hagadone relieved Kluber and promptly served up a double to Brayan Pena, which drove home Bruce and made it a 5-1 game.

Any hope of a Cincinnati comeback was squashed the next inning when Yan Gomes took Carlos Contreras deep for his 15th blast of the season, capping an emphatic 7-1 win by the Indians.

The Defensive Play of the DayEzequiel Carrera's first start of the season in center field for the Tigers was highlighted by an over-the-shoulder diving catch at the warning track that would have made Jim Edmonds proud.

What to Watch for Tuesday 
Over the past five and a half seasons, David Price and the New York Yankees have become very accustomed to each other. Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner, and Mark Teixeira are the few remaining hitters that Price is familiar seeing in pinstripes, but those three and the rest of the revamped Bombers lineup will attempt to play spoiler in Price's debut with the Tigers. After triumphing over Max Scherzer last night, the Yankees will draw a former Cy Young award winner for the second consecutive night (with a third looming on Wednesday in Justin Verlander).

Joe Girardi will counter with Hiroki Kuroda, who is the only member of his Opening Day rotation who hasn't landed on the disabled list (7:05 p.m. EST).



***

The rematch of last year's World Series commences tonight in St. Louis as the Cardinals and Red Sox square off for the opener of a series that will pit a handful of players against their former teammates. Allen Craig and Joe Kelly each called Busch Stadium home since making their big-league debuts, but they'll be in the visitor's dugout as members of the Red Sox for the first time tonight. John Lackey and A.J. Pierzynski will also be in the opposing dugout of the organization that employed them less than a month ago, with Pierzynski having extra incentive after being smeared by anonymous members of the clubhouse through the media immediately after he was designated for assignment last month. The defending champions will send Rubby De La Rosa to the mound for Tuesday's matchup, while Mike Matheny turns to Lance Lynn to silence Boston's new-look lineup (8:15 p.m. EST).

***

A few hours after Price makes his Tigers debut, Drew Smyly—the centerpiece of the deal that convinced Tampa Bay to part with their prized ace—will toe the rubber as a member of the Rays for the first time out west against the A's. Taking the hill for Oakland is their own midseason acquisition, Jason Hammel, who will try to bounce back from a brutal eight-run shellacking at the hands of the Astros (10:05 p.m. EST).

Chris Mosch is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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