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July 23, 2015

What You Need to Know

July 23, 2015

by Steven Jacobson

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The Wednesday Takeaway
The Mets have had an up-and-down July after a terrible June. They had put together some good games entering Wednesday's series finale against the NL East-leading Nationals, winning six of their previous 10 games. Their playoff odds had risen from 25 percent in the beginning of July to 39 percent after Tuesday's win against the Nationals.

It looked like they would get another to take two of three from Washington as New York entered the eighth inning with a 3-1 lead. It wasn't pretty on Noah Syndergaard's part, as the big right-hander allowed 10 baserunners in five innings but escaped with just one run. Kirk Nieuwenhuis—who really wants to stay on the Mets this time, as he has a 1.107 OPS since returning to the team on July 6th, mostly on the back of his three-homer game earlier this month—drove in a pair of runs with a double. Kevin Plawecki drove in Nieuwenhuis with a single.

That was all the sixth-worst offense in baseball by TAv would get. But with set-up man Bobby Parnell—who had only allowed one run in 12 1/3 innings—on the mound, it looked as if that would be enough.

Parnell has looked much different from the flamethrower he was before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013. Parnell now throws his fastball around 93 mph, much lower than the 96 he once averaged. Furthermore, he relies on a two-seam fastball primarily, throwing it 55 percent of the time this season. That had worked for the former closer up until Wednesday night, as he had found ways to get outs despite a low strikeout rate.

On Wednesday, Parnell found a little extra gas, throwing his four-seamer around 95 mph and reaching as high as 97. However, neither his four-seamer nor his two-seamer had the same movement on them that they usually do, and his curveball had more movement than usual. As a result, the Nationals smacked around Parnell's hard stuff and laid off his curveball, as he threw the pitch by Plawecki for one very important wild pitch that set up a Michael Taylor two-run double. Danny Espinosa had the go-ahead single to give the Nationals the lead in their eventual 4-3 victory, leaving three games between the Mets and Nationals in the standings.

Quick Hits from Wednesday
Eric Hosmer ended a homerless streak that had lasted over a month with a shot in the fourth inning against Charlie Morton for his first home run since June 19th. Since that game, Hosmer had been hitting at a .294 clip, but it was a rather empty batting average as he wasn't walking or collecting extra-base hits very much. That home run tied the game at one, where it would remain until the bottom of the seventh.

Edinson Volquez, one head of the Royals two-headed low-opponents-BABIP monster (.281, and .274 over the last two seasons) pitched well against his former team, allowing just a Neil Walker sacrifice fly in the third inning to be the only run he allowed. Volquez, whose command has gone from terrible in his early years to spotty in recent ones, walked just one and pounded the zone over 7 2/3 innings, scattering eight hits and striking out eight. That was only the third time Volquez has struck out that many batters in 2015, as the hard-throwing righty has never been a huge strikeout pitcher. Instead, he's benefitted this season from the Royals' defense, which is ranked first by UZR, as they've made plays like these behind him.

Knotted at one in the bottom of the seventh, Jarrod Dyson employed a safety squeeze that was confirmed to have scored Omar Infante after a replay review:

Mike Moustakas followed that with a three-run home run to give the Royals their commanding 5-1 lead. In this matchup of former longtime laughingstock teams from the previous two decades, the AL Central likely division winning-bound Royals took two of three from the Wild Card-leading Pirates.

***

With a 5-2 win over the Twins, the Angels have tied their best 20-game stretch in franchise history, going 17-3 since Jerry Dipoto was forced out and replaced by Bill Stoneman on July 1st. The Angels' playoff odds stood at 52 percent on that day and dipped to under 45 percent after that night's loss. Three weeks later, they stand at 87 percent. Stone-sanity is officially underway.

Mike Trout's table-setters Johnny Giavotella and Kole Calhoun drove the offense, each collecting three hits. Calhoun has been on fire in the July heat, slashing .339/.368/.689 with seven home runs over the Angels' 20-game run. Calhoun's exit velocity has increased about 3.5 mph—from under 87 mph to over 90 mph—and most of that contact has come in the form of increased harder contact at the expense of reduced softer contact instead of medium, according to Baseball Info Solutions' quality-of-contact percentages. Curiously, Calhoun's line-drive percentage has dropped 14 percent and has been replaced with a near-corresponding increase in fly balls. Calhoun's long-ball production has been driven by this increase in fly balls and a 30 percent HR/FB ratio. He's also pulled the ball much more, going from 37 percent through the end of June to 56 percent in July.

The Angels' also got some solid defense from Daniel Robertson, who was filling in for DH Mike Trout in center field:

Robertson, with 1.5 FRAA this season, hasn't been too shabby in the outfield. He did have to leave the game due to shoulder stiffness associated with that catch, and is day-to-day, according to Mike Scioscia.

Huston Street finished out the game with the 300th save of his career, becoming the second-youngest pitcher to reach that mark. We all know that saves are a pretty meaningless statistic, but still, he's been around for 11 years now and he's still only 31. Trevor Hoffman didn't become the Padres' closer until 26, and Mariano didn't become the Yankees closer until 27. Street's had a productive decade, and he isn't showing any signs of slowing down. He's lost a bit on his fastball, as it's dipped below 90 mph this season, but he's kept his strikeout rate up by increasing the use of his changeup.

***

The Orioles may have matched the Yankees in home runs, but New York squeaked out a 4-3 win. Home runs by the Yankees' aging middle-of-the-order stalwarts of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez provided three of the Yankees four runs, with this bomb by A-Rod proving to be the decisive run:

Brett Gardner also had an RBI single in the first inning.

Ivan Nova pitched another good game, and he has a 3.42 ERA since returning from Tommy John surgery. His DRA is a little more lackluster at 4.14, but he gave the Yankees six innings of two-run ball on Wednesday, with his sole blemish being a two-run home run allowed to Ryan Flaherty. Unlike Parnell, Nova has appeared to be much the same pitcher he was before going under the knife, as he has similar command, a groundball rate still hovering around 50 percent, and a largely unchanged repertoire:

2013

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2015

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The Yankees trotted out Chasen Shreve, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller to finish off the game, each sporting ERAs under two. They form the top of baseball's third-best bullpen by DRA. Miller did allow a home run to Chris Davis, but the Yankees had scored enough to ensure the victory to put themselves 5.5 games ahead of second-place Toronto and 6 games ahead third-and-fourth-place Tampa Bay and Baltimore in baseball's most tightly-packed division.

Defensive Play of the Day

Sure, Chris Coghlan may not be known for his defense this season, as his -1.7 FRAA will confirm, but that sure wasn't the case last night:

What to Watch For

When the last game of the I-70 series was rained out on June 15, both the Cardinals and the Royals were first in their respective decisions. But tomorrow's makeup finale will feature baseball's two best teams by wins and losses. The 57-36 Royals will send out their other and more prodigious perpetually low-BABIP possessing pitcher Chris Young (3.03 ERA, 3.25 DRA) while John Lackey will pitch for the 60-34 Cardinals. Both teams are cruising to the central divisions, with leads of at least six games over their closest rivals. Tune in for this rematch of the 1985 World Series that could be a preview of this year's Fall Classic thirty years later. (8:05 PM ET)

In another possible playoff matchup, the Nationals will head to PNC Park to face the Pirates. Neither team has been great recently, as the Pirates have gone 4-6 in their last ten and the Nationals have gone 5-5. The Nationals will send out Doug Fister, who hasn't been great with a 4.30 ERA and an even worse DRA at 6.00. Francisco Liriano, with his 2.98 ERA, has been shortchanged this season according to DRA as it pegs him at 2.68. (7:05 PM ET)

Zack Greinke may be getting all the attention, but Clayton Kershaw is working on a scoreless run of his own with twenty consecutive shutout innings. Whether or not those streaks hold, it's going to be a pretty painful opening to the four-game for the Mets, as they get Kershaw tonight and Greinke on Friday. The Mets and their not-so-vaunted offense will try to stop Los Angeles's two stars from extending history. (7:10 PM ET)

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