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September 12, 2014

What You Need to Know

September 12, 2014

by Chris Mosch

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The Thursday Takeaway

For most of last night’s game between the Yankees and Rays, all eyes were on Alex Cobb, who was in search of the second no-hitter in the organization’s history. By the end of the night, however, the tone of the game had shifted and the game’s hero ended up being an outfielder who was DFA’d barely a month ago.

Cobb didn’t miss many bats during his no-hit bid, but he did an outstanding job keeping the ball low in the zone and hitting his targets. He consistently painted the black with his fastball and kept the Yankees' hitters off-balance with his split-change and knuckle-curve. The result was very little hard contact by the Bronx Bombers.

Cobb zone

The only thing keeping Cobb from being perfect through six innings was a dropped fly ball by Kevin Kiermaier in the third inning, while the closest thing to a base hit by the Yankees was saved by Yunel Escobar, who—playing to the right of second base in the shift—ranged to his left on a hard hit ball up the middle and made a great jump throw to retire Mark Teixeira.

Cobb entered the seventh inning with just 76 pitches under his belt, but after retiring Derek Jeter on the first pitch of the frame, he walked Brian McCann on four pitches. Two more balls to Mark Teixeira coaxed a trip to the mound by pitching coach Jim Hickey, but Cobb ended up walking the Yankees' first baseman on six pitches. Cobb battled back to strike out Chase Headley for the second out and got Ichiro Suzuki to pop up to keep the no-hitter intact through seven innings.

The no-hit bid extended after Stephen Drew fouled out to begin the eighth, but Chris Young, who was released by the Mets last month, ended the quest for history with a double into the right-center gap.

With Cobb at 102 pitches, Joe Maddon lifted his staff ace in favor of Brad Boxberger. The reliever entered with a 4-0 lead, as Yunel Escobar had provided the offense with his first career two-homer game, but that lead was quickly halved when Martin Prado took Boxberger deep with his sixth tater since donning pinstripes.

Jake McGee came in to close out the ninth for the Rays, but he drilled the first batter he faced, Headley, with a 97 mph fastball to the chin. Headley would remain on the ground for several minutes before walking off the field under his own power, but he exited the game in favor of a pinch-runner. Next up was Suzuki, who doubled to left and represented the tying run. McGee fanned Zelous Wheeler for the first out of the inning, which set the stage for Young to send the Bombers home walk-off winners. The Mets' castoff joined Dave Kingman as the second player to hit a home run for both the Amazin’s and Yankees in the same season.

Quick Hits from Thursday

A horrific scene in Milwaukee escalated into a messy situation after Giancarlo Stanton was hit flush on the side of the face by a Mike Fiers fastball in the fifth inning of a 4-0 game. Stanton was bleeding from the mouth after being struck by the pitch and remained on the ground for nearly 10 minutes. Fiers was visibly upset and distraught at what had unfolded and watched along with a hushed Miller Park crowd—which included Stanton’s father—as the Marlins' superstar was placed on a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance.

Things got bizarre in the aftermath of the injury, as home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg had ruled that Stanton offered at the pitch, so pinch-hitter Reed Johnson assumed Stanton’s count of 0-2. The first pitch after the long delay got away from Fiers again and hit Johnson on the hand. Johnson had started to swing before being hit and first-base umpire D.J. Reyburn ruled that the Marlins hitter had gone around for strike three. Casey McGehee, who was in the on-deck circle, was irate, screaming expletives at Kellogg while both dugouts emptied and congregated in front of the mound. Amid the scuffle, McGehee and Miami manager Mike Redmond both got in the face of Kellogg and were ejected from the game.

Things could have escalated even further when Anthony DeSclafani plunked Carlos Gomez with a first-pitch fastball the next inning, but the Milwaukee outfielder kept his cool, understanding the retaliation was coming, and simply trotted down to first base. DeSclafani, making his ninth major-league appearance, was immediately ejected.

The Brewers went on to win the game by a 4-2 final, but Stanton’s injury is a devastating blow that runs deeper than just a single loss for the Marlins. It was reported after the game that Stanton suffered multiple facial fractures, dental damage and a facial laceration that required stitches. We can only hope that the bright young outfielder makes a full recovery and returns from this injury the same player he was before.

A key point that shouldn’t be lost among all the emotion is that Fiers was noticeably distraught by the events that unfolded and appeared sincerely apologetic during his post-game interview with the media, holding back tears while answering questions.

***

The beanball war that ensued between the Marlins and Brewers highlighted an unfortunate theme that permeated the league last night.

As mentioned earlier, Chase Headley took a fastball to the jaw in the Bronx, but in Flushing, Bartolo Colon plunked two Nationals batters immediately following home runs. In the first inning, Ian Desmond took a Colon fastball to the thigh during the at-bat after Adam LaRoche launched a two-run blast off the right-field foul pole. In the fourth, Anthony Rendon capped Washington’s six-run onslaught against Colon with his own two-run homer. The next pitch from Colon drilled Jayson Werth on the arm and the Mets hurler was immediately ejected. Daniel Murphy was forced to leave the game in the eighth inning after being hit by Matt Thornton in the forearm, but the hit-by-pitch didn’t appear to be intentional, as it brought the tying run to the plate in a 6-2 game.

After being hit by a pitch in the first inning of Wednesday’s game, Mike Trout was plunked two more times by Rangers starter Nick Martinez last night. From the dugout, Mike Scioscia appeared increasingly upset after each hit by pitch, and Joe Smith retaliated in the ninth inning by hitting Tomas Telis.

After Andrew McCutchen ripped a double in the sixth inning of a one-run game against the Phillies, the Pittsburgh outfielder made a celebrating gesture towards his own dugout. At the time, it didn’t seem like much, but Ryan Howard did appear to have a chat with McCutchen about it shortly after.

The next time up, McCutchen got a fastball high and tight from Philadelphia reliever Luis Garcia.

Whether that pitch was intended to send a message to McCutchen isn’t completely clear, but he gestured towards the Phillies' dugout between innings and didn’t appear to appreciate the proximity of Garcia’s pitch to his head.

***

Injuries have plagued Cincinnati’s season, but the club’s lost 2014 campaign didn’t stop them from playing spoiler this week against their divisional rivals, the Cardinals. Prior to this week’s four-game set, St. Louis had won all four series between the two clubs this season, including a three-game sweep last month. After dropping the opener on Monday, the Reds bounced back to win games two and three and had their ace, Johnny Cueto, on the hill Thursday with the opportunity to finish off the series win over the NL Central leaders.

The Cardinals didn’t get many opportunities to score against Cueto during the matinee outing, but on the rare occasion that they did, the right-hander buckled down to work out of trouble. Cueto started the game working in and out of a jam, as he walked Matt Carpenter on five pitches to lead off the first and plunked Jon Jay moments later. However, he fanned Matt Holliday with a 1-2 cutter below the knees and got Matt Adams looking on a perfectly placed front-door two-seamer for the second out. Jhonny Peralta grounded into a force out to end the inning.

In the third inning, St. Louis had runners at first and second with no outs, but they failed to cash in for a second time. Jon Jay hit into a 4-6-3 twin killing, which moved a runner over to third, but Todd Frazier helped out Cueto with a slick diving stop at first base to keep the Redbirds off the board.

Adams led off the fourth with a single, which was the last hit St. Louis would tally during the game. Cueto erased Adams in the fourth by inducing another double play, and retired the final 14 batters he faced. That streak didn’t come without some more help behind Cueto, however, as Jay Bruce kept the hurler’s final line pristine with The Defensive Play of the Day in the seventh inning:

However, when Cueto walked off the mound for the final time in the top of the eighth, he was still in the midst of a tie ballgame. Through seven innings, Lance Lynn had matched the goose eggs Cueto posted on the scoreboard. The St. Louis right-hander allowed a leadoff single by Billy Hamilton in the first and a bunt single in the second, but had otherwise kept the Reds off the bases. Lynn’s streak of 14 straight batters retired came to an end with a leadoff walk to Brandon Phillips in the eighth, and the Reds second baseman went first-to-third shortly after on a single up the middle by Bruce.

Next up was Ramon Santiago, who laced a line drive to shallow center. Jon Jay got a bead on the ball, which was hit shallow enough to keep Phillips at third (or would have at least given Jay a great shot at gunning him down if he did decide to tag up). However, the sinking liner glanced off Jay’s glove and the center fielder had to settle for the force out at second base as Phillips came racing home to score.

That was all the offense Cincinnati could muster in the inning, as Zack Cozart lined out to shortstop and Skip Schumaker flied out to end the inning. Aroldis Chapman slammed the door in the ninth to clinch the win, while the Cardinals’ division lead is down to 2 1/2 games after Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win against the Phillies.

***

With Oakland in a major rut, the last thing the scuffling squad needed was to take their hacks against an effective Chris Sale. The lanky White Sox southpaw was his dominant self during yesterday’s matinee, limiting the A’s to just two hits and a pair of walks while fanning nine over eight shutout innings of work. Sale challenged Oakland with fastballs and changeups over the heart of the plate, but the A’s were unable to manage much hard contact.

Sale zone

For the most part, Oakland was able to lay off Sale’s sweeping sliders outside of the strike zone, but they came up empty on several occasions against his changeup. Sale threw 20 of his 31 off-speed offerings for strikes, including seven of the swing-and-miss variety. At one point, Sale retired 17 straight batters, and the A’s were unable to get a runner into scoring position until the eighth inning.

That was the best scoring opportunity for the A’s, as Jed Lowrie led off with a single (he recorded both of Oakland’s hits) and pinch-runner Billy Burns advanced to second with two outs in the inning on an Alberto Callaspo walk. However, Coco Crisp grounded out on Sale’s 110th and final pitch of the day to squash the threat.

Felix Hernandez has the upper hand over Sale when it comes to regular season hardware due to a nearly 50-inning advantage, but the Chicago hurler has arguably been the best American League pitcher this season on a per-game basis. Thursday’s outing dipped Sale’s ERA below 2.00, and he trails only Clayton Kershaw in FIP and strikeout rate this season.

The silver lining for Oakland was that Scott Kazmir was nearly as effective on the mound. The left-hander has struggled down the stretch, but rebounded for what was easily his best outing since the All-Star break. Similar to Sale, Kazmir attacked the strike zone and generated lots of weak contact, striking out seven and scattering four hits over eight innings. However, pitching opposite Sale, Kazmir couldn’t afford a misstep if he wanted to keep the A’s in the game. This hanging curveball to Marcus Semien in the sixth inning turned out to be the difference in the ballgame:

Sam Fuld singled off Jake Petricka to lead off the ninth, but was quickly erased when Semien and Carlos Sanchez slickly converted a Josh Donaldson grounder up the middle into a twin killing. The White Sox closer, throwing noticeably harder since his paternity leave last weekend, walked the next batter, former South Sider Adam Dunn, but rang up Derek Norris to complete the 1-0 victory and the series win.

***

The Indians are doing their best to hang around in the American League Central picture down the stretch, as they used a pair of superb pitching performances and a big day at the plate from Carlos Santana to down the Twins in both ends of Thursday’s doubleheader.

Game one featured Corey Kluber on the mound for the home nine against Minnesota’s Kyle Gibson. The Twins drew first blood in the top of the first with an RBI single off the bat of Kennys Vargas. In the last of the first, Cleveland’s first baseman responded in emphatic fashion:

Gibson left his 2-0 fastball up at the belt to Santana, who cranked a 442-foot blast into the second deck to put the Indians on top. Yan Gomes continued the yardwork the next inning by crushing a hanging slider from Gibson for a solo shot. The floodgates really started to open up in the third for Gibson, as Cleveland started off the frame by stringing together a trio of singles. After Santana popped out, Jason Kipnis drew a walk to load the bases for Gomes, who broke the game open with a two-run double off the left-center wall. Cleveland extended the lead to 7-1 later in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Lonnie Chisenhall.

That was it for Gibson, whose campaign continues to be defined by his hit-or-miss outings. In 13 of Gibson’s 28 starts this season, he’s allowed one or fewer runs, but those excellent outings have been offset by the 11 starts that have ended with the opposing team tallying five or more. After Thursday’s shellacking, the 26-year-old’s ERA ballooned to 4.58.

The six-run cushion was more than enough for Kluber, who scattered eight hits while striking out seven and walking zero over 8 1/3 innings of work. The right-hander pounded the strike zone with 83 of his 110 offerings resulting in a strike. His quest for a second straight complete game came to a halt in the ninth when the Twins tallied three singles and pushed across their second run of the game.

That ninth-inning tally turned out to be the last run the Twins would score on the day, as the Indians staff turned in a shutout in game two behind seven superb frames from T.J. House. The Twins managed just four singles off the Cleveland southpaw and didn’t fare any better against Bryan Shaw or Cody Allen.

Supplying the offense in the second game was Santana, who followed up his moonshot earlier in the day with a solo shot down the right-field line off Ricky Nolasco to open the scoring. Santana added an RBI single in the eighth to give the Indians a 2-0 lead, the eventual score by which they took the second half of the twin bill. In addition to his outstanding day at the plate, Santana made a pair of slick defensive plays behind Kluber in game one, diving to his left to take away a Kurt Suzuki base hit in the second inning, and making an impressive pick on a hot shot off the Jordan Schafer in the sixth.

With Detroit idle and Kansas City losing to the Red Sox, the Indians gained ground on both teams after Thursday’s sweep and now sit four games back of the first-place Royals and are 3 1/2 behind the Tigers in the chase for the second wild card spot.

***

Last night was a stark reminder of how dominating Francisco Liriano can be when he’s on point. The Phillies came up empty time and time again against Liriano, who punched out a season-high 12 batters over eight scoreless frames in Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win.

Liriano zone

Liriano attacked the Phillies with sliders and changeups below the knees, finishing the game with a season-best 25 swing-and-misses, 15 with the slider and nine with the changeup. The 25 swing-and-misses tied Liriano for the third-highest total in a start by a pitcher this season, with only Corey Kluber, Tim Lincecum, and Jose Fernandez accumulating more in one start.

***

When it comes to baseball oddities, it should come as little surprise that Hunter Pence was responsible for the weirdest play from last night’s docket. With two outs and runners at the corners in the first, Arizona’s Randall Delgado threw Pence a 0-2 slider than ended up nearly a foot outside the strike zone. Pence, who was clearly fooled by the pitch, literally threw his bat at the offering ...

Pence stupid hit

... and hit a grounder up the middle that hit the second-base bag and ricocheted behind second baseman Chris Owings for an RBI single. Take a look for yourself.

The Giants tallied two more runs off Delgado and three off reliever Matt Stites in the sixth inning, which was enough to back Jake Peavy’s strong outing. The 13-year veteran tossed 5 2/3 frames of one-run ball, striking out eight and walking zero, while the San Francisco bullpen limited the Snakes to just one more run en route to finishing up a three-game sweep.

What to Watch this Weekend

Friday

In seven starts since Carlos Carrasco has returned to the Cleveland starting rotation, the once highly regarded pitching prospect, has pitched like the best starter in baseball, allowing just three runs with a 42:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 38 2/3 innings. The 27-year-old struggled last year for the Indians after returning from Tommy John surgery and was relegated to the bullpen after just four subpar starts in April. Carrasco posted a sterling 2.30 ERA, .561 opponents’ OPS, and 14 percent swinging strike rate in 43 innings out of Cleveland’s ‘pen, and the club decided to give him another shot in the rotation in early August. Since transitioning back to the rotation, Carrasco has relied more heavily on his secondary pitches, attacking right-handed hitters with his slider over 40 percent of the time while utilizing his changeup over one-fifth of the time against left-handers. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Carrasco’s dominating stretch has been that he’s not only maintained the increased velocity he gained when he moved to the bullpen in late April, but he’s actually dialed it up even further since moving back to the rotation. The right-hander will try to keep Cleveland’s slim playoff hopes alive in Friday’s series opener against the Tigers, who will counter with David Price (7:08 p.m. EST).

Saturday

Two pivotal divisional series take place out west over the weekend, and if you stay up late on Saturday night, you’ll be rewarded with a pair of excellent pitching matchups with playoff implications. The Dodgers enter the weekend just two games up on the Giants in the National League West and will head to the Bay Area for a three-game set starting Friday. The middle match of the series pits Zack Greinke against Tim Hudson (9:05 p.m. EST), which should only whet your appetite for Sunday’s duel between Clayton Kershaw and the red-hot Yusmeiro Petit.

After dropping three of four to the White Sox, Oakland has plummeted in the standings and has nearly reached rock bottom. A month ago, the A’s were considered by most to be the best team in baseball, but with just over two weeks in the regular season, they’re simply trying to hold on to a playoff spot. Oakland will head to Seattle this weekend just 1 1/2 games better than their division foes and will draw Felix Hernandez for Saturday’s game (9:10 p.m. EST). Bob Melvin will counter with Sonny Gray and for the first time in nearly three weeks, he’ll also have his closer, Sean Doolittle, at his disposal. The hard-throwing left-hander is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Friday after being on the shelf with a strained intercostal muscle.

Sunday

Jordan Zimmermann has always leaned heavily on his four-seam fastball, but the Washington hurler has taken his reliance on the offering to new levels during recent starts. The 28-year-old has used his heater over 60 percent of the time in each of his first five seasons in the big leagues, and utilized it at a 67 percent clip through the end of the July, but he’s gone to the fastball nearly three-quarters of the time since the start of August. Taking his fastball usage to Cingrani-esque levels has come at the expense of Zimmermann’s slider, which he’s used just 16.8 percent of the time since the start of August. The Mets—who boast a fastball-heavy hurler themselves with Bartolo Colon—will take their hacks against Zimmermann in Sunday’s series finale. Terry Collins will counter with Jon Niese, whose last start against the Nationals ended in a six-run clunker (1:10 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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