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August 19, 2014

What You Need to Know

August 19, 2014

by Chris Mosch

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The Monday Takeaway
Late-inning drama was the theme of Washington’s sweep of Pittsburgh over the weekend, as the National League East leaders took a trio of one-run games, with the final two coming in walk-off fashion. The Nationals made it three in a row Monday night as Adam LaRoche delivered the decisive blow to the Diamondbacks in a contest that saw several late rallies.

Arizona took advantage of an uncharacteristic leadoff walk issued by Jordan Zimmermann in the fifth inning to get on the board first. Mark Trumbo worked a seven-pitch free pass and moved up to second base after a Miguel Montero single. Trumbo would come around to score later in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Jake Lamb.

In the bottom of the frame, the first three players the Nationals sent to bat all put solid wood on the ball, yet the home nine were unable to sustain a rally due to a baserunning blunder and fantastic glove work. Leading off the inning was Bryce Harper, who laced a 2-1 breaking ball from Vidal Nuno into right field for a single. Harper took an aggressive turn around first base as David Peralta came up charging, and it appeared that the young Washington phenom thought that Peralta was going to throw behind him to first. Instead, Peralta pump faked to first and Harper broke for second. Peralta made the throw to second base and Harper was forced to scramble back to first, where he was easily erased for the first out of the inning.

Two pitches later, Wilson Ramos lined a single to center. Asdrubal Cabrera was up next, and his efforts to keep the rally going were thwarted by ...

The Defensive Play of the Day

Didi Gregorius was as fully extended into the 5.5 hole as possible and coupled his outstanding diving snag with an absolute bullet to first base to retire Cabrera for the second out. Zimmermann struck out shortly after to end the inning.

After a two-run blast by Ramos in the seventh inning gave Washington a 2-1 lead, Zimmermann came out for an eighth inning of work. The 28-year-old righty had been cruising along by relying heavily on his fastball (he finished the night throwing 87 percent heaters) and he had only allowed a pair of singles and a walk outside of his small blip in the fifth inning. However, it was once again a leadoff walk that came back to bite Zimmermann in the eighth, as he walked Lamb on five pitches to start the frame. Next up, Gregorius brought an end to Zimmermann’s night:

Zimmermann’s teammates quickly got him off the hook for the “L” in the bottom of the frame, as Denard Span jump-started a one-out rally against Brad Ziegler with an opposite-field double. Anthony Rendon followed with a line drive past a diving Jordan Pacheco at first base for a game-tying triple. The Nationals' third baseman came home to score later in the inning on a Jayson Werth sacrifice fly to give his club a 4-3 lead heading to the ninth.

With Rafael Soriano unavailable after pitching four of the previous five days, Matt Williams turned to Tyler Clippard to slam the door for the win. The right-handed reliever started off David Peralta with a curveball over the heart of the plate for strike one. Clippard’s second offering was a changeup high that Peralta also let pass by for a called strike. After getting away with two off-speed pitches over the plate, Clippard wasn’t so lucky on 0-2, as Peralta launched his middle-in splitter off the facing of the second deck to give us bonus baseball in D.C.

While Oliver Perez and Matt Stites each tossed flawless innings of relief for the Diamondbacks, Washington’s bullpen weaved its way in and out of jams in extras. In the 10th, Drew Storen retired the first two batters, then served up a double to Ender Inciarte. Storen walked Aaron Hill on four pitches as Inciarte swiped third, but the former first-round pick was able to get Peralta to ground out to squash the rally.

Craig Stammen ran into trouble right out of the gate in the 11th, as two singles sandwiched around a walk left the Snakes with the bases loaded and nobody out. Stammen got Lamb to chase at a pair of sliders below the knees, including strike three, and then crushed Gregorious’ hopes of playing hero for a second time with a three-pitch strikeout. Cliff Pennington grounded out on the first pitch he saw to keep the game knotted up heading into the bottom of the inning.

Given the task of retiring the middle of Washington’s order was Will Harris, who had been recalled from Triple-A Reno earlier in the day. Harris got Rendon to fly out to center and then fanned Werth, but was forced to watch the home team walk off for its seventh straight victory after leaving a 3-1 curveball over the middle of the plate to Laroche:

Quick Hits from Monday
With Washington catching fire and holding a six-game lead in the National League East, Atlanta’s best shot at a playoff berth appears to be in the wild card race, where they entered Monday’s series tied with Pittsburgh one and a half games out of the second wild card spot at 64-60. Last night, they jumped out to an early lead against the Buccos and never looked back.

Throughout his career, Jason Heyward has feasted on right-handed fastballs down in the zone, particularly ones on the inside third of the plate. Vance Worley apparently didn’t get that memo and Heyward crushed a 1-1 heater down and in from the former Twin for a leadoff home run.

Andrelton Simmons, hitting in the no. 2 hole for the first time in nearly a month, went back-to-back moments later:

It was the first time the Braves had gone back-to-back to open a game since Nate McLouth and Martin Prado did it in 2011, and they weren’t about to take their foot off the gas. Freddie Freeman drew a six-pitch walk and Justin Upton and Chris Johnson each singled to load the bases with no outs. Worley proceeded to strike out Tommy La Stella for the first out of the inning, but Gerald Laird followed with a two-run single to double Atlanta’s early lead.

The nightmare continued for Pittsburgh two batters later with the bases loaded when Neil Walker threw away a potential inning-ending double play that Josh Harrison had started with a great stab up the middle. Not only did Walker’s off-line throw bring home the runner from third, but it skipped past a stumbling Pedro Alvarez—making his first career start at first base—resulting in Laird scoring from second to push Atlanta’s first-inning tally to six runs.

The Pirates cut Atlanta’s lead in half over the next four innings, as Ervin Santana’s issue with the gopher ball—reaching back to his days as an Angel—reared its ugly head. Starling Marte blasted an opposite-field solo home run in the second and Walker yanked a solo shot of his own the next inning. In the process, the Pirates' second baseman became the 24th player to hit a ball that ended up in the Allegheny River. Santana served up yet another solo shot the next inning when Marte took the Atlanta righty deep for a second time to make it a 6-3 game. Russell Martin flew out to the right-field warning track shortly after.

Marte continued his standout night at the dish with a leadoff double in the sixth. The Pirates outfielder would advance to third base when Emilio Bonifacio misplayed a Travis Snider fly ball in center that was ruled a double. However, the Pirates were unable to capitalize on the scoring chance. Brent Morel struck out on three pitches for the first out of the inning, which brought up Ike Davis, pinch-hitting for the pitcher. Fredi Gonzalez went to southpaw Luis Avilan to face Davis, who hit a hard liner to third base that was snagged by Chris Johnson and tossed over to second base to double up Snider and end the inning.

Avilan and David Hale combined to keep Pittsburgh off the board in the seventh and Atlanta tacked on a superfluous insurance run in the eighth inning. James Russell tossed a pair of perfect innings to close out the 7-3 win.


Cincinnati’s free-fall continued Monday night despite a strong night at the plate from Jay Bruce and another rough outing by St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal.

The Reds entered the matchup against their division rivals losers in seven of their past nine games, and they found themselves in an early 3-0 hole. However, Cardinals starter Justin Masterson served up back-to-back doubles in the fifth and plunked Mike Leake before Bruce connected for a three-run blast that gave the Reds a 4-3 lead.

Leake allowed the Redbirds to even the score up in the seventh and St. Louis reclaimed the lead in the eighth with an A.J. Pierzynski RBI single off Jumbo Diaz. That brought in Rosenthal to secure the win for the Cardinals. The hard-throwing closer had given up runs in each of his last two outings and needed Seth Maness to clean up the bases loaded mess he created during Sunday’s game against the Padres. Rosenthal’s first misstep on Monday was a one-out walk to Billy Hamilton, who promptly swiped second base and advanced to third on a throwing error by A.J. Pierzynski. On the very next pitch, Bruce plated Hamilton from third with a double past a diving Matt Adams.

Manny Parra pitched a scoreless ninth inning to send the game to extras and retired Kolten Wong in the 10th before handing the ball off to Logan Ondrusek. The 6-foot-8 right-hander immediately served up a single to Matt Holliday, who moved up to third base on a single to right by Adams. That set the stage for Jhonny Peralta to put the series opener in the books:


Javier Baez’s elite power was on display again yesterday and this time it was at the expense of the Mets. The 21-year-old slugger deposited a fastball from Jenrry Mejia into the second deck of Citi Field in the ninth inning to extend Chicago’s lead over the Mets to 4-1.

Anthony Rizzo broke a 1-1 tie the previous inning with a dinger of his own off Buddy Carlyle, and the Cubs were able to earn the series split with the Amazin's behind seven innings of one-run ball from Kyle Hendricks.

Bonus Defensive Play of the Day
With his team nursing a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh, Nick Markakis made an unreal leaping grab at the wall to rob Conor Gillaspie of at least a game-tying extra-base hit and possibly a go-ahead home run.

Markakis capped off a five-run inning by Baltimore the very next inning with a two-run blast off Matt Lindstrom, which secured the win for Bud Norris, who outdueled Chris Sale with seven stellar innings of work. Norris faced the minimum through six frames before the White Sox got to him for a pair of runs in the seventh, and the right-hander finished the night with five strikeouts without issuing a single free pass.

What to Watch on Tuesday
On paper, the pitching matchup of the night is set to take place at Tropicana Field, where a pair of hurlers coming off season-best strikeout performances will square off. Max Scherzer punched out at least 14 batters for the third time in his career last week when he carved up the Pirates over the course of eight scoreless innings, while Chris Archer is fresh off a career-best 12 punchouts against the Rangers. In addition to being on the heels of dominating outings, each pitcher tossed at least eight innings of stellar work in their respective starts during last month’s series between the two clubs in Detroit. If their recent outings are any indication of what’s in store for Tuesday, we should be in for a treat (7:10 p.m. EST).

When Alfredo Simon outperformed his peripherals for most of the first half, it was natural to expect the 33-year-old’s performance on the hill to crash back to Earth. That’s exactly what has happened over the past month, as Simon has managed an ugly 17:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio during his last six starts while opposing hitters have raked to the tune of an .842 OPS. The right-hander has watched his ERA balloon over half a run over that span and will take the hill for the Reds on Tuesday opposite John Lackey for the club’s middle match in St. Louis (8:15 p.m. EST).

The last time Scott Kazmir took the hill against the Mets, at the end of June, the left-hander had his worst outing of the season. The first round pick of the 2002 draft lasted just three inning at Citi Field against the team that drafted him and was whacked for seven runs on eight hits, including a trio of taters by Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, and Travis d’Arnaud. Kazmir will try to avenge that beating Tuesday night as the Athletics look to snap out of their recent funk against a club that has failed to tally more than four hits in any one of their last five games. The visitors will counter with Dillon Gee, who has surrendered eight long balls in just over 42 innings since returning from a two-month injury hiatus in early July (10:05 p.m. EST).

Chris Mosch is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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