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August 26, 2014

What You Need to Know

August 26, 2014

by Chris Mosch

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The Monday Takeaway
Over the weekend, the Cubs' pitching staff held Baltimore’s potent lineup to just four runs, as the American League East leaders dropped all three games of their series to the club occupying the National League Central cellar.

The Orioles' bats busted out of that rut in a big way on Monday night against the Rays, chasing Jake Odorizzi from the game in the fifth with a brigade of long balls.

The Orioles entered the home half of the third inning trailing 1-0 after the Rays pushed across an unearned run against Chris Tillman. Jonathan Schoop singled off Odorizzi to lead things off for Baltimore. The Tampa Bay starter promptly fell behind 2-0 to the next batter, Nick Markakis. The 24-year-old hurler quickly wished for his next pitch back:

Markakis drilled Odorizzi’s center-cut fastball into the seats out in right-center field to give the home nine the 2-1 lead. Steve Pearce was up next for the Orioles and Odorizzi fell behind in the count again. Once again, Odorizzi missed his target and left a heater down the middle of the plate. Like his teammate moments earlier, Pearce crushed Odorizzi’s mistake:

Odorozzi may have been kicking himself for his pair of poorly placed pitches, but little did he know the Orioles were far from done.

Baltimore led off the fifth inning with a trio of base knocks that extended the lead to 4-1 and brought up Delmon Young with a pair of runners in scoring position. Young had already been a headache at the plate for Odorizzi, working a six-pitch walk in his first trip to the plate and fouling off six straight pitches before collecting a single to cap off an 11-pitch at bat in the third inning. Working a count has never been one of Young’s strengths, but he was back at it again in his third at bat, fouling off three pitches before taking Odorizzi deep on the eighth toss for a three-run blast. Young put the finishing touches on his standout night in the sixth, reaching base for the fourth time with an opposite-field double.

Odorizzi’s night came to an end moments later when J.J. Hardy launched Baltimore’s fourth tater of the night. This was no ordinary home run for the Orioles' shortstop. Since the start of the 2012 season, Hardy had hit just one opposite-field homer, a wall-scraper last September in Yankee Stadium. That long ball is represented by the lone blue dot on the right of the following graph via ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, which shows the landing spot of Hardy’s 25 home runs last season.

Hardy’s eighth dinger of the season was enough to knock Odorizzi out of the game with four home runs surrendered, the most by a Rays pitcher in a single start since June 2, 2011, when Jack Cust, Carlos Peguero (twice), and Justin Smoak joined forces to tag James Shields for a quartet of long balls.

In came Kirby Yates, who fell behind to Chris Davis, leading to an elevated 2-0 fastball from the Tampa Bay reliever that Davis walloped 426 feet for Baltimore’s third consecutive home run.

Baltimore’s fifth home run of the night pushed the score to 9-1, a lead they preserved behind seven innings of three-hit ball from Tillman and a pair of scoreless frames from Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. However, the Orioles weren’t done putting on a show for the Camden Yards crowd. While his teammates were busy depositing pitches into the stands, Adam Jones ended up with the night’s most memorable moment when he brought back a potential Evan Longoria home run in the sixth inning and proceeded to gun down Matt Joyce, who had inexplicably tried to tag up for second base down eight runs. An easy choice for ...

The Defensive Play of the Day

Quick Hits from Monday
Everything was going smoothly for Clay Buchholz through eight innings against the Blue Jays on Monday night. One start removed from a six-run shellacking at the hands of the Angels, the Boston right-hander needed just 89 pitches to pilot the first eight frames, through which Toronto was only able to manage a pair of singles and a walk. A pair of long balls by Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia in the fifth backed Buchholz with a 3-0 lead heading into the ninth.

Buchholz retired Munenori Kawasaki to start the inning and then induced a chopper to the right of second base by Jose Reyes. Brock Holt—who was shaded up the middle at shortstop—and Dustin Pedroia converged on the ball and ended up colliding as Holt took an elbow to the side of the head. Holt had a better shot than Pedroia to get the out, but with Reyes running, even a perfect play by Boston’s spark plug would have resulted in a close play at first. Melky Cabrera followed with a single of his own moments later and Buchholz walked Jose Bautista on four pitches to load the bases. That was it for Buchholz’s quest for his second career shutout, as John Farrell brought out the hook after 103 pitches.

In came Koji Uehara, who was making his first appearance since his five-run disaster last Friday against the Mariners. The closer induced a chopper to second on his first pitch to Adam Lind, which would have spelled a game-ending double play if not for a hard slide by Bautista that disrupted Holt just enough to prevent him from completing the pivot. Moments later, Edwin Encarnacion roped a hanging splitter by Uehara off the wall in left-center for a game-tying double.

But it turned out that Toronto’s comeback effort would be for naught.

Dioner Navarro flew out to end Toronto’s rally, and with Casey Janssen unavailable after pitching consecutive games, Toronto turned to Aaron Sanchez to pitch the top of the 10th. With one out, Holt started Boston’s rally by beating out a chopper deep into the hole at shortstop. Holt swiped second base shortly after as Pedroia struck out for the second out of the inning. To that point, Sanchez had thrown only fastballs, and the young fireballer started off Yoenis Cespedes with three more heaters to run the count to 1-2. Looking for another punchout, Sanchez broke off his first curveball of the night, but the rookie hung the offering and Cespedes delivered:

Holt—who had swiped another bag with Cesepedes up—scored from third to give the Red Sox the 4-3 lead. Craig Breslow worked around a one-out walk to Danny Valencia in the bottom of the 10th to notch his first save since 2010 and snap Boston’s eight-game skid.

***

Since the All-Star break, A.J. Burnett has had a rough go on the mound for the Phillies. The veteran right-hander was thrashed by the Braves for six runs in five innings in his first start after the break, which he followed with eight shutout frames against the Giants. The Mets lit up Burnett for seven runs on July 28th and then he failed to make it out of the second inning against Washington his next time out. Burnett sandwiched a four-run start between five-run outings against the Mets and Mariners, which brought him to Monday’s start against the Nationals.

Unlike his previous starts (over which he had walked 4.3 batters per nine), Burnett was able to pound the strike zone with his fastball and then baited the Nationals into chasing his curveballs out of the zone. Burnett tallied nine swing-and-misses with his breaking pitch, which led to a season-best 12 punchouts over seven innings.

One of the three hits Burnett gave up was a solo shot off the bat of Anthony Rendon in the sixth, which cut Philadelphia’s 2-0 advantage in half. Tanner Roark served up a solo blast to Cody Asche in the fifth, one of his five hits allowed over six innings of work. Roark handed the ball over to Jerry Blevins, who Carlos Ruiz took deep for his fourth long ball of the season in the seventh. Wilson Ramos got in on the gopher ball action with a solo tater in the ninth off Jonathan Papelbon that made it a one-run game, but the Philadelphia closer managed to hold on to shut the door on the 3-2 win.

***

After Ken Rosenthal reported earlier on Monday that Scott Feldman had cleared waivers and could be traded to any team, the Houston right-hander worked seven quality innings against the Athletics, giving up three runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out five. Unfortunately for Feldman, that wasn’t enough to keep pace with his counterpart, Jeff Samardzija, a pitcher who is extremely familiar with hearing his name circulating on the trade market.

Samardzija dominated the Astros over eight innings, reaching double-digit strikeouts in a start for the first time since donning the Oakland green and gold. He issued just one free pass versus his 10 punchouts and limited Houston to six hits. The one blemish on the right-hander’s final line was Chris Carter’s 31st blast of the season, a two-run shot that cut Oakland’s lead to one run.

The A’s put to rest any potential comeback by hanging a five spot on the Houston bullpen in the ninth. Tony Sipp walked the first four batters in the frame and Jose Veras watched the three he inherited (plus one more) around to score after serving up a pair of hits in relief of the 31-year-old left-hander. Eric O’Flaherty tossed a scoreless inning in the bottom of the ninth to put the finishing touches on the 8-2 win.

***

Meanwhile, out in Anaheim, the Marlins were busy pounding away at Wade LeBlanc, who was making his first start for the Angels in the wake of Garrett Richards’ season-ending injury. Three singles and a pair of walks (including Giancarlo Stanton’s league-leading 23rd intentional pass) led to three runs in the third inning. A one-out double by Marcell Ozuna followed by back-to-back singles knocked LeBlanc out of the game the next inning with the Halos down 4-0. Stanton widened the gap even further two batters later with his 150th career home run, a laser off Cory Rasmus:

Coupled with Oakland’s win in Houston, Miami’s drubbing dropped the Angels into a tie with the A’s atop the American League West. LeBlanc was far from impressive in his first audition for a permanent spot as Anaheim’s fifth starter, which should only intensify speculation about whether the Angels will complete a trade for either Bartolo Colon or Scott Feldman during the coming week.

Bonus Defensive Play of the Day
Travis Snider’s outstanding diving grab becomes even more impressive when you consider the concentration required to avoid Neil Walker, who had been running out into shallow right field in an attempt to make the play.

Unfortunately for Snider, his club was already down 3-1 at that point. After getting six shutout frames from Francisco Liriano, the Pirates watched their 1-0 lead disintegrate in the seventh at the hands of Jared Hughes, who allowed three runs on three hits and a pair of walks before being pulled from the game. The only two outs that Hughes managed to record were on a pickoff and a sacrifice bunt.

Andrew McCutchen bobbled the game-tying hit to center, which led to a pair of runners advancing 90 feet and was ultimately responsible for the third run, which was unearned. The Pirates' center fielder atoned for his misplay with a solo home run off Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth, but it was too little too late for Pittsburgh, which dropped the series opener between the division foes by a 3-2 final.

What to Watch on Tuesday
Daniel Rathman noted in yesterday’s WYNTK that Michael Pineda took the mound on Monday in search of extending his record of the most starts with two or fewer runs and five or fewer hits to start one’s career in pinstripes. Pineda did just that against the Royals, tossing 6 1/3 innings of five-hit, one-run ball to send the Yankees to their fifth straight win, the longest winning streak in the majors. The Bronx Bombers weren’t able to pick up any ground on the Orioles in the American League East, but they did pull to within 2 1/2 games of Seattle for the second wild card and two games behind the Tigers, against whom they’ll start a three-game set on Tuesday. Brandon McCarthy will take the hill for New York on the heels of a complete game shutout against the Astros, while the Tigers will counter with Rick Porcello, fresh off a complete game shutout of his own (7:08 p.m. EST).

When Jason Hammel and Dallas Keuchel locked horns at the end of July, the Astros jumped all over Oakland’s right-hander early, touching him up with a six-run first inning and chasing him in the fifth after pushing across another pair of runs. Meanwhile, Keuchel was on his way to twirling his fourth complete game this season as the Astros disposed of the A’s by a final of 8-1. The two hurlers will face off again Tuesday at Minute Maid Park—the site of that July 30 matchup—with Hammel looking to atone for that disastrous outing along with his three-inning, five-run clunker against Atlanta last time out (8:10 pm. EST).

An inconsistent first three months of the season left Jorge De La Rosa with an ERA barely south of five while walking nearly four batters per nine. Since the start of July, the 33-year-old southpaw has harnessed his control while incorporating his changeup more often, which has spawned much better results. Over his last nine starts, De La Rosa owns a 3.20 ERA, has walked just 1.98 batters per nine, and has lasted at least six innings in each start, an accomplishment he’d been able to boast in only nine of his previous 17 starts. After utilizing his changeup at a modest rate during the first half of the season, De La Rosa has gone back to serving batters with a heavy diet over the past two months. That trend came to a head during his last start against the Royals when he went to his off-speed offering a season-high 42 percent of the time during an eight-inning gem. De La Rosa will look to follow that performance up in San Francisco on Tuesday, where Bruce Bochy will turn to his ace, Madison Bumgarner, who generated a single-game career-best 19 swing-and-misses with his fastball last time out against the Cubs (10:15 p.m. EST).

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

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