May 26, 2015
What You Need to Know
Your Meats and the Royals' Pitching Go Up in Flames
The Monday Takeaway
After the Royals came up empty in the top of the first, the first pitch of Jeremy Guthrie’s holiday afternoon was a ball to Brett Gardner. The next became a double. And pitch no. 3 wasn’t coming back:
Chase Headley’s two-run homer dug the Royals a 2–0 ditch, and for the next inning-plus, Guthrie would keep on digging.
Alex Rodriguez put the right-hander back in the stretch with a single, and a wild pitch sent A-Rod to second. He’d have gotten there in short order anyway, because Mark Teixeira then worked a walk, setting the table for this three-run blast off the bat of Brian McCann:
The catcher made it 5–0 Yankees, and they weren’t through with Guthrie. In fact, they weren’t even halfway there.
Just when the 36-year-old appeared to straighten himself out with back-to-back outs, he plunked Didi Gregorius with a pitch, then allowed a single to rookie Slade Heathcott. That put two aboard for Brett Gardner, who gladly supplied the Bombers’ third bomb of the opening frame:
Unsatisfied with an 8–0 lead, the Yankees plopped two more baserunners onto Guthrie’s line on a single by Headley and an A-Rod walk. Mark Teixeira struck out to give the Royals starter a short reprieve ...
... but the Yanks were right back at it in the top of the second. McCann drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on a single by Garrett Jones, and joined Jones in advancing an extra base on an error by right fielder Paolo Orlando. As it turned out, that miscue was meaningless. McCann and Jones would’ve scored from anywhere on the home team’s fourth jack of the day:
Stephen Drew sent Guthrie to the showers and Royals fans everywhere to their family cookouts. It was 11–0, which meant there was nothing else to see here.
A select few might’ve paused on their way to lunch to fire up the Baseball-Reference Play Index for a glance at the historic awfulness of their starter’s all-too-memorable Memorial Day performance. Those who did could have discovered that Guthrie became the seventh starter in the last century—and the second Royal, after Luke Hudson in 2006—to give up 11 runs while recording three or fewer outs. None of Guthrie’s six predecessors in that department mixed four gopherballs into their plight, but 10 pitchers since 1914 have managed to serve up four or more dingers in an inning or less of work. The most recent one, the Rays’ Travis Harper in 2005, also did it against the Yankees, in one of the worst relief appearances in major-league history.
It was of little consolation to the Royals, but Brandon Finnegan, who relieved Guthrie, was excellent in three hitless, scoreless innings of work. That spared manager Ned Yost the need to burn through his vaunted bullpen in a game that got late early, but any hopes of a Kansas City comeback were stymied by Nathan Eovaldi, who held the guests to a run over seven innings.
The Royals’ lone tally came in the top of the fifth, when Alcides Escobar doubled and scored on a single by Jarrod Dyson. Why, exactly, Dyson chose to take off for second down 10 runs against a pitcher few dare to test is anyone’s guess, but McCann nabbed him, and that was that.
Thus, Guthrie and Holland’s afternoon to forget became a Memorial Day to remember for Heathcott. He’ll have plenty of chances to reminisce about it with left-hander Jacob Lindgren, who put the finishing touches on the 14–1 rout with a two-scoreless-inning major-league debut.
Quick Hits from Monday
Bartolo Colon has seen sharper days on the mound, days when walks were out of the question for his opponents. He handed out a couple of them Monday, en route to a textbook, six-inning, three-run quality start.
In the fifth inning of said start, Colon issued a walk to Severino Gonzalez, the Phillies’ pitcher and the first of Colon’s counterparts to earn a base on balls since Nick Tropeano did it last year. But perhaps the 42-year-old Colon had a deal worked out with Gonzalez, a fellow right-hander 20 years his junior: I’ll give you a rare walk, you give me an even-rarer hit:
After reaching first on that single to left, Colon moved to second on a hit by Curtis Granderson. The next batter, Juan Lagares launched a liner to deep center, deep enough for just about any runner to tag and go to third. Deep enough, even for big Bartolo
to advance 90 feet standing up. Seeing the Mets square up his starter sent Phillies skipper Ryne Sandberg to the hill, signaling for left-hander Elvis Araujo to face Lucas Duda. Araujo then gave his team just what the doctor ordered: a double-play ball from Duda that ended the inning and stopped Colon’s memorable chug around the bases 90 feet shy of home.
But while Araujo denied Colon the pleasure of breaking the 3–3 tie, he couldn’t prevent Daniel Murphy from touching home with the eventual winning run. Murphy began the bottom of the sixth with a single that ended Araujo’s day, and Justin De Fratus came on for the Phils and promptly walked Michael Cuddyer. Then he fell behind Wilmer Flores, 3–1, and his challenge fastball was no challenge at all:
Coming off consecutive quality starts, Joe Kelly was brimming with confidence when he ascended the Target Field bump. But the hard-throwing right-hander ran headlong into a Twins lineup that’s proven incredibly adept at stringing hits together this month.
Paul Molitor’s club entered Memorial Day with 111 runs in May, good for fourth in the majors, even though its 22 homers ranked 14th. Already up 1–0 in the last of the second, the Twins went single-double-single to tack two more runs onto their early lead. Along the way, they exposed Kelly’s fastball-dependent arsenal and the recurring ineptitude of Boston’s new left fielder:
The GIF above shows Eduardo Nunez’s two-bagger, the middle knock in the no-out rally, which—given competent outfielding—probably would’ve put runners at second and third for Eddie Rosario. Instead, third-base coach Gene Glynn was so confident in Hanley Ramirez’s poor defensive work that he sent Eduardo Escobar home on a ball that kicked off the side wall in medium-deep left. As Ramirez cautiously played the carom, he saw Escobar motoring home and fired there, airmailing the cutoff man and gifting Nunez third base.
Meanwhile, Aaron Hicks delivered the Twins’ fourth straight hit of the inning, moving Rosario to third, wherefrom he scored on a ground out by Torii Hunter. Kelly proceeded to work himself back into trouble by walking Joe Mauer. With a full count on the next batter, Trevor Plouffe, Kelly eschewed his favored high-90s heat and went with a flat, poorly located, 87 mph slider. Plouffe wasn’t fooled:
He gladly deposited the mistake into the left-field seats, a message to Red Sox fans that they should turn off the tube and join Royals supporters at their cookouts.
The Twins wouldn’t score again, but the seven-run cushion was plenty for Ricky Nolasco and their bullpen. Nolasco coughed up a pair in the third, then held the 7–2 line until there were two away in the eighth. Aaron Thompson and Blaine Boyer did the rest.
Khris Davis’ holiday afternoon got off to a splendid start when the outfielder drilled a 3–2 pitch from Tim Lincecum into the second deck in right field. But Davis was so excited about his opposite-field homer that he nearly erased it by missing home plate:
It took a lengthy adjudication process—which began with a visit from Giants manager Bruce Bochy, continued with the umpires conferring, proceeded from there with an appeal at home plate, and ended with a successful challenge by the Brewers—to determine that Davis did, in fact, nick the edge of the dish with his foot.
The Brewers would go yard twice more at Lincecum’s expense, quadrupling his big-fly allowance for the 2015 season, which stood at one when he ascended the Miller Park mound. Davis’ second blast of the day was much less eventful,
and after he broke a 1–1 tie, Ryan Braun added this monster shot:
But that 474-footer didn’t put enough distance between the hosts and the visitors. Not even close.
The Brewers’ three-run lead was out the window six batters into the top of the sixth. San Francisco chased Kyle Lohse from the game with three singles and a walk, after which Jeremy Jeffress had a short and extremely unproductive stay on the hill. The right-hander gave up three straight hits, including this Matt Duffy single that Carlos Gomez compounded by fumbling the ball:
More “impressively," Jeffress did that while chucking just five pitches. Per the Play Index, that makes him the first hurler since 1988—the first year Stats LLC tracked pitch counts—to be charged with at least three runs and at least three hits while throwing no more than five pitches and no more than three strikes.
And the Giants weren’t finished when Jeffress departed with the Brewers down 6–4. Will Smith took over and saw Norichika Aoki, who homered off Lohse earlier in the game, steal second, opening first base for a Joe Panik walk. Smith responded by punching out Angel Pagan, but the next batter, Hunter Pence, doubled home a pair.
The 8–4 tally held the rest of the way.
The A’s leaky bullpen and porous defense were driving factors behind their league-worst 16-30 start. On Monday, Jesse Hahn mitigated one of those issues and overcame the other.
Hahn was brilliant in the series opener versus the Tigers, permitting just four singles and a walk while coaxing three twin-killings. He struck out five and got 15 groundball outs in the complete-game shutout, the first of his career.
With Hahn carving up the Tigers lineup, his manager, Bob Melvin, had no reason to fret about his late-inning-relief plans. Hahn threw 112 pitches in the gem, and he exceeded 15 in just one frame, a 19-pitch seventh in which ex-Athletic Yoenis Cespedes drew Detroit’s lone walk.
A day off for the bullpen? Check. Now, about that defense ...
The A’s came into Monday’s game leading the league with 46 errors, captained in that endeavor by Marcus Semien, who committed his 17th of the year yesterday. Third baseman Max Muncy chipped in two more, pushing Oakland’s 2015 total to a whopping 49.
A lesser pitcher might’ve crumbled under that sort adversity. Hahn relished it.
When Cespedes reached on a Muncy error to start the second, Hahn responded by getting Tyler Collins to hit into a double play. In the fifth, with Collins aboard after a leadoff single, Semien made an error that put two men on with nobody out in a 0–0 contest. But again, Hahn responded by getting James McCann to make two outs with one swing. And when Ian Kinsler reached on Maxwell’s second blunder of the day, this one with two down in the sixth, Hahn got J.D. Martinez to fly out to end the threat.
That set the stage for the only scoring effort by either side, a four-spot for the home team in the last of the sixth. Semien atoned for his error with a leadoff infield single, and Muncy for his with an RBI double amid the rally. Billy Butler (infield single—yes, really), Mark Canha (sacrifice fly), and Sam Fuld (double) did the rest of the heavy lifting.
And that was plenty for Hahn, whose excellence under defensive adversity is beyond that accomplished by any pitcher in nearly a decade. According to the Play Index, the previous starter to toss a complete-game shutout while seeing three batters reach on errors made behind him was John Smoltz, who blanked the Marlins on June 21, 2005.
In other shutout news, Drew Hutchison was even more efficient than Hahn on Monday. With two double plays and zero errors from the Blue Jays defense, the right-hander delivered a Maddux, taking care of the visiting White Sox on just 96 pitches.
At the risk of unduly stealing credit from Hutchison and his outstanding pitch-framing catcher, Russell Martin, it’s fair to say home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher was generous with the boundaries yesterday:
Hutchison and Martin took full advantage, as the right-hander missed the called zone just 26 times while facing two more than the minimum. Credit Hutchison for pacing himself and bringing his best velocity to the table in the ninth:
The Defensive Play of the Day
What to Watch on Tuesday
Unfortunately, the running game is just about the only element that Tillman’s had under control so far this year. He enters this assignment with a 6.10 ERA, the product of a dismal 29-to-22 K:BB ratio in 41 1/3 innings, over which he’s also been tagged for 11 doubles and six home runs. Tillman’s 5.19 DRA suggests that rotten luck is partly responsible for his demise, but the 27-year-old can’t lay the blame for his surging walk rate, up from 7.6 percent last year to 12.0 percent in 2015, at anyone’s feet but his own.
Indeed, Tillman’s theft-prevention prowess might be the only thing preventing those bases on balls from biting him even more severely than they already have. The Astros, who rank among the top 10 offenses in the majors at drawing walks, won’t do much to help Tillman avoid them, so if he doesn’t shore up his control, stolen-base situations could be plentiful. Tune in to see if Jose Altuve and Co. can become the first club to slip one past Tillman this year, as they go to bat in support of Scott Feldman (7:05 p.m. ET).
Knuckleballers are a fickle breed, one for which analyzing trends can be a fool’s errand, but it’s difficult to deny that R.A. Dickey has taken a step backward over the first month-and-a-half of the season. Now on the wrong side of 40, Dickey has served up 11 long balls in just 59 innings, including two in each of his last three starts. He showed signs of promise in his most recent outing, a complete-game win over the Angels, but a few too many of his knucklers still fluttered high and over the plate, leaving him with four extra-base knocks alongside his season-high seven strikeouts.
Tonight, Dickey will try to dodge a dubious feat: According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, he’s one two–gopher ball outing away from becoming the first starting pitcher since 2011 (Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis) to log four such starts in succession. The White Sox, who were tied for last in the majors with 26 team homers when they woke up on Memorial Day, will have to snap out of their funk to make Dickey a member of that club (7:07 p.m. ET).
Teheran sliced and diced the Brewers for seven-innings of one-run ball on May 21st, needing just 83 pitches to punch out a season-high eight. He’s issued just one walk in each of his last two outings, seemingly addressing some early-season control woes, and kept Milwaukee in the park to hold his gopher ball tally at nine through 50 2/3 innings. Both totals remain a bit bloated, at least by the 24-year-old Colombian’s lofty standards, however, and his 5.49 DRA suggests that Teheran has actually been quite fortunate to take a 3.91 ERA into this assignment in L.A.
Kershaw, conversely, has a tough-luck 4.32 ERA that eclipses his 3.65 DRA, though even that falls far short of Cy Young Award–caliber performance. The left-hander’s biggest mistake in San Francisco last Thursday was serving up a get-me-over fastball to opposing starter Madison Bumgarner, who gladly clubbed it over the left-field fence. Now, Kershaw will take on the Braves looking to snap a string of four consecutive starts with three or more earned runs allowed, the third such stretch of the southpaw’s career and the first since 2012. He’s never given up three-plus earned runs in five straight major league games (10:10 p.m. ET).