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August 20, 2014

What You Need to Know

August 20, 2014

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
As the adage goes, baseball is a game of second chances. Usually.

It was true for Chris Carter with two on, one out, and the Astros and Yankees tied in the ninth. With a red-hot hitter at the plate with a 3-0 count, manager Bo Porter decided it was a good time to give the green light ...

... and the big man rewarded his skipper with his 30th home run of the year. The three-run shot off David Robertson was the game-winner, as Chad Qualls silenced the Yankees in the ninth.

Carter struck out in his other four at-bats on Tuesday, once with the Astros trailing 2-1 and two runners on in the fifth. But nothing washes away a golden sombrero like a clutch dinger.

According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, the 28-year-old became the 73rd player in the last century to go exactly 1-for-5 with a home run and four punchouts. He’s the first to do so as his team’s designated hitter since David Justice did it for the Yankees against the Red Sox on April 22, 2001. Like Carter, Justice saved his only productive swing of the day for the biggest moment: His long ball was a walk-off solo shot against Derek Lowe in the 10th inning. Both goat-to-hero stories took place in the Bronx.

Carter’s blast was the first authored against Robertson since June 1st, a span of 28 appearances. It was Carter’s league-high ninth this month.


Right behind Carter on the August leaderboard sits this man ...

... Giancarlo Stanton, who also benefited from a second chance on Tuesday. Stanton didn’t bless us with one of his patented missiles or moonshots, but he did supply the walk-off single that lifted the Marlins to a 4-3, 10-inning win over the Rangers.

It’s a good thing Stanton had an opportunity to win the game because, like Carter, he had a sin to atone for. With the Marlins up 3-1 in the top of the seventh, Rougned Odor hit a deep fly ball to right field for a double. It became a whole lot more than that because Stanton misread the carom, then kicked the ball away from himself as the speedy Odor raced around the diamond for a Little League home run.

The replay linked above omits the most embarrassing part of the play for the National League MVP hopeful. Thankfully, there were beat writers at Marlins Park to document it.

In between the bobble and the recovery to throw the ball back toward the infield, Stanton went splat on the outfield grass. It was funny for a while. But come the last of the 10th, the 24-year-old slugger got the last laugh.


A.J. Ramos was so rattled by Stanton’s misplay that he walked J.P. Arencibia, who’d drawn a whopping eight bases on balls in 163 plate appearances preceding his pinch-hit appearance in the seventh. After a single, a sacrifice bunt, and a strikeout, Ramos intentionally walked Adrian Beltre to load the bases. Mike Redmond had seen enough, so he yanked Ramos in favor of Mike Dunn, who promptly walked pinch-hitter Daniel Robertson to tie the game. It was the second blown save of the year for Dunn.

I told you all of that to remind you of this: The Marlins have won 63 games this year, and Dunn has been the winning pitcher in 10 of them. That’s good for a tie with Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg, and Justin Verlander.

The polar opposite of Dunn is Reds right-hander J.J. Hoover. After Tuesday’s 5-4 heartbreaker at Busch Stadium, Hoover has now been slapped with 10 of Cincinnati’s 65 defeats.

Part of Hoover’s misfortune stems from his past as a minor-league starter. Sixty-one of his 129 minors appearances came out of the rotation. The Pittsburgh native didn’t become a full-time reliever until late in 2011.

For managers who adhere to the “thou shalt not use your closer in the ninth inning of a tied road game” commandment, of which Bryan Price is one, Hoover’s résumé makes him an attractive option in the ninth inning of such contests, with bonus baseball likely on tap. Six of Hoover’s nine losses before Tuesday had come in the ninth inning or later. He suffered three extra-inning "L"s in a span of six appearances between July 10th and 28th, then went three weeks without taking a defeat before the Rockies got him in the ninth of the first game of a doubleheader on Sunday.

Hoover took Monday off as Logan Ondrusek bore the brunt of an extra-inning gut punch, but that only delayed the seemingly inevitable by 24 hours. For Tuesday’s loss—the Reds’ seventh in an awful eight-game stretch—Hoover has no one but himself to blame.

If there’s one thing you can’t do in the bottom half of an extra inning with the game tied, it’s give the opposition free baserunners. Unfortunately for the Reds, Hoover was in a giving mood. He was, to put it mildly, all over the place:

After getting Kolten Wong to line out to end the bottom of the eighth, Hoover returned to the hill and threw strike one to Matt Holliday. Then he walked him on four straight pitches that missed the zone by at least a foot. Matt Adams chose not to wait around, swinging at what would have been ball one, but getting plenty of wood on it for a single that moved Holliday to third. The next batter, Jhonny Peralta, swung at the first two pitches and fouled them both off, but four of the next five were easy takes.

The walk to Peralta, which loaded the bases, might not have been intentional, but it also wasn’t disastrous. Hoover’s first pitch to Jon Jay, on the other hand, was about as disastrous as they come. Jay wore the 95 mph heater way inside, leaving the 27-year-old with his 10th loss of the year.

By this point, Hoover should know that there are no second chances when you’re pitching with your back against the wall.

Quick Hits from Tuesday
While Hoover is no stranger to walk-off losses, the Nationals are well acquainted with walk-off wins. They enjoyed three straight on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. But on Tuesday, with their winning streak at seven, Matt Williams’ bunch sapped the drama out early.

Down 1-0 in the last of the third, the Washington offense came alive, buoyed by a fielding error by Didi Gregorius. They went single, steal, error, single, walk, single, single, before Kirk Gibson mercifully spared his starter, Chase Anderson, further grief.

Well, sort of. Reliever Eury De La Rosa would go on to strike out the side. But before that, he allowed all three inherited runners to score on a bases-clearing double by deadline acquisition Asdrubal Cabrera.

That two-bagger capped a six-spot the visitors could not overcome. Stephen Strasburg—who logged eight frames and gave up only David Peralta’s first-inning homer—and Jerry Blevins kept the Diamondbacks off the board the rest of the way. With the 8-1 defeat, the Nats kept the pressure on the suddenly surging Braves ...


... who, for all their recent success, can’t seem to regain any lost ground in the National League East. Atlanta fell a season-high six games back on August 14th, but since then, it had won four straight. And Fredi Gonzalez’s club made it five on Tuesday to at least keep pace with the Nats and keep climbing up the wild card table.

The Braves battered Francisco Liriano early and often. He struck out two in a scoreless first, then failed to post a zero in any of his subsequent frames.

Opposing starter Aaron Harang was the culprit in the second inning, when he turned in an RBI single. Justin Upton did the honors in the third with a much louder swing of the bat, a three-run homer, to be precise. Jason Heyward drove in a run with a single in the fourth. And in the fifth, the Braves scored five times on four singles, two walks, and a fielding error by Jordy Mercer that got the rally started.

Brandon Cumpton relieved Liriano four out-less batters into the fifth, and while he couldn’t stem the tide, he did the yeoman’s work of eating the 15 outs the southpaw left on the table in the 11-3 rout.

While the Braves have won five in a row, the Bucs have now dropped seven straight and are two back in the hunt for the second wild card.


Two back, in part, because of a tarp malfunction at the series opener between the Giants and Cubs.

The home nine led 2-0 in the middle of the fifth, with both runs coming on an Anthony Rizzo bomb in the bottom of the first. Then the rain came and the grounds crew tried to cover up the infield.

Most of the dirt was protected, but as the gang tried to extend it over the left side of the infield, the water on the tarp made it too heavy to move. They’d have to take it off and put it back on again; by that point, the field was soaked. The rain stopped soon after, but the Wrigley Field horn would remain a marsh well into the night.

Finally, at 1:16 a.m. Central Time, more than six hours after Tsuyoshi Wada’s first pitch, the game was called. There is precedent for a team wrapping up a win early with the help of a grounds crew error—in fact, it happened just a few weeks ago, when the Rangers succumbed to the Yankees and their overburdened tarp.

The Giants may not like it, but after four-and-a-half innings and four-and-a-half hours of waiting, they’re now four-and-a-half games behind the Dodgers in the National League West.


Jered Weaver hung a breaking ball. Brock Holt thought he’d whacked it out of the yard. Kole Calhoun thought otherwise and delivered ...

The Defensive Play of the Day

Had Calhoun not brought that one back, the Red Sox would have taken a 4-0 lead. That’s important, because the Angels would only score four runs the rest of the way, and sans the right fielder’s heroics, that likely would have spelled defeat.

Instead, despite a shaky effort from Jered Weaver, who needed 109 pitches to record 16 outs and allowed seven hits and four walks along the way, the Halos were able to stay in the game until the late innings. The Red Sox equaled the Angels’ third-inning three-spot with a run each in the first, fifth, and sixth. After that point, the contest stayed tied 3-3 until the top of the ninth.

Boston manager John Farrell entrusted Koji Uehara with preserving the draw, and the right-hander seemed poised to do so after retiring the first two batters he faced. The Angels’ odds of scoring were made even longer by Brennan Boesch’s presence in the on-deck circle; Boesch was 0-for-17 since April 25th when he dug in with the bases empty and two away.

But Boesch snapped out of that funk with a ground-rule double, and four pitches later, Chris Iannetta clanked a two-bagger off the Green Monster to give the Angels the lead. Huston Street rebounded from a blown save on Sunday to post a goose egg in the last of the ninth, striking out Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli to strand Yoenis Cespedes in scoring position.

The A’s beat the Mets later in the evening, so the Angels remain a half-game up in the American League West. The Mariners, who won 5-2 in Philadelphia behind eight shutout innings of 11-strikeout ball from Hisashi Iwakuma, trail Anaheim by 6 1/2.


It’s only fitting that we end the recap portion of this post with another second chance.

Jim Johnson’s time with the A’s was an abject disaster, but the Tigers scooped him up on a minor-league deal and brought him back to the majors last week. The right-hander’s first outing in a Tigers uniform—two-thirds of an inning, three runs (one earned) in mop-up duty—wasn’t much better than his days in green and gold.

In the 10th inning on Tuesday, though, Johnson did the job.

It wasn’t easy. The former Oriole walked Evan Longoria to begin the inning and watched him advance into scoring position on Sean Rodriguez’s sacrifice bunt. But Johnson couldn’t have been more pleased to be gifted that out, and the bunt also freed up first base for an intentional walk to Vince Belnome, ahead of the light-hitting Jose Molina, whom Johnson struck out looking.

Grant Balfour, the man Johnson was supposed to supplant in the ninth inning for the A’s, wasn’t so fortunate.

A rough season got rougher for the raging Australian. Ian Kinsler tripled to start the top of the 11th. Then Balfour walked Torii Hunter unintentionally and Miguel Cabrera on purpose. That strategy unraveled when Balfour proceeded to walk Victor Martinez, too.

Joe Maddon pulled Balfour at that juncture, but Jeff Beliveau was wild, too. He bounced a curveball off the plate and past Molina, and Hunter came home with the eventual winning run. Beliveau walked Don Kelly and gave up a sacrifice fly by Bryan Holaday, too, but that wouldn’t matter, because the Rays only scored once against Joe Nathan in the bottom half of the frame.

And so, long after Max Scherzer—seven innings, four runs—and Chris Archer—5 2/3 innings, four runs (one earned)—were done, the Tigers prevailed, 8-6.

What to Watch on Wednesday
The Mariners helped the Tigers take the David Price plunge on July 31st and leaned instead on homegrown left-hander James Paxton to bolster their rotation for the stretch run. So far, that plan has worked out well enough for Seattle, which has gotten three straight two-or-fewer-run efforts from the University of Kentucky product, the last two of which have stretched through six innings. After holding the Tigers to a run on five hits in a six-frame win last Friday, Paxton will look to keep on rolling at Citizens Bank Park this afternoon, facing a tough matchup with Cole Hamels (1:05 p.m. ET).

Fans in attendance at PNC Park tonight will get to welcome back Gerrit Cole, who’s been on the disabled list with a lat strain since the Fourth of July. The 23-year-old right-hander’s return might be just the jolt Clint Hurdle’s club needs to snap out of its recent skid and trudge back up the National League Central and wild card standings. Cole hit the shelf with a middling 3.78 ERA and matching 3.72 FIP, but the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder still has front-line upside if his body is right. He’ll attempt to prove that he’s back to full strength with the surging Braves in town. Alex Wood gets the ball for Atlanta (7:05 p.m. ET).

Danny Duffy is chiefly a fastball pitcher, and with good reason: The lefty can dial it up to the mid-90s, an attribute that few southpaws can match. Opponents are batting just .185 in 271 at-bats culminating with a Duffy four-seamer this year.

That fact comes from the above Brooks Baseball table; the last two rows in it are also rather intriguing. Duffy has thrown 346 breaking pitches this year, and 81 of them have ended up as terminal pitches. Not a single one of those 81 has gone for an extra-base hit.

Like virtually all pitchers, Duffy has hung a curve here and a slider there, but he’s generally thrown the spinners down and away to same-side hitters and at the back feet of righties. That’s not an easy location to handle, which is why Duffy’s foes haven’t put many authoritative swings on his breaking stuff.

Even with Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki out of the Rockies lineup, tonight’s assignment at Coors Field, where curveballs tend to be less effective, will challenge one of the strengths the 24-year-old has ridden to a 2.60 ERA through 19 starts. He’s due to square off with Jorge De La Rosa (8:40 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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