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July 30, 2015

What You Need to Know

July 30, 2015

by Steven Jacobson

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The Wednesday Takeaway
This was Francisco Liriano's third time facing the team with which he made his major-league debut. The results were mixed. One, in 2012, was the best game he pitched in his brief stint for the White Sox, as he went seven innings while giving up one hit and two runs and striking out nine. The other, in May of this season, was his worst start of 2015: two innings, seven runs.

Liriano, who possesses a 2.76 DRA this season, survived past the second inning with only one run allowed but would not live up to that September 2012 game as he allowed two more to score on singles by Aaron Hicks and Miguel Sano to give the Twins a 3-1 lead.

Hicks had been terrible when he went on the disabled list in mid-June, but he's been great since coming off of it earlier this month. The center fielder had an OPS of .594 pre-injury, but it’s been .964 post-injury. Interestingly, Hicks hasn't been hitting more line drives. In fact, he's been hitting far fewer, and instead has driven his fly ball percentage from 19 to 43. He has also increased his average exit velocity by nearly 2 mph, walked more, and struck out less.

It looked like Liriano would be bested by his former team once again when Andrew McCutchen backed his pitcher up with a two-run homer. Then the top of the sixth happened.

First, it was a wild pitch that brought Pedro Alvarez home. After a sacrifice fly by Starling Marte, McCutchen hit this three-run thing that was his second four-base event of the day:

Welp, that was ugly and delightful at the same time.

Jung-ho Kang also came through with a solid game, collecting three hits in five at-bats. After a terrible June in which he had just a .596 OPS, he rebounded in July, as he entered Wednesday with a .355/.430/.553 line for the month. While it's partially fueled by a .424 BABIP, his profile looks eerily similar to Hicks': fewer strikeouts (although fewer walks), fewer line drives, more fly balls, and a 2 mph increase in average exit velocity.

And Aramis Ramirez collected a hit for Pittsburgh for the first time since July 20, 2003, though to be fair he only had 20 PA for the team in that span.

Quick Hits from Tuesday
Jon Lester followed up solid starts against the Braves and Phillies by picking on another lowly team, the Rockies, that he once shut down to clinch the 2007 World Series. Lester lasted eight innings, his longest start of the season, and struck out 14 batters while allowing five hits and two runs.

Dexter Fowler and Anthony Rizzo provided the Cubs' offense in the 3-2 win, hitting home runs in the first and third innings, respectively. Rizzo has struggled in June, batting .212/.343/.306, although he has still walked a decent 11 percent of the time. Rizzo's problem isn't exit velocity; he's hitting the ball around 89 mph, exactly where he's been the whole season. It could be a minor drop in line-drive percentage and a modest increase in groundball percentage, but it's mostly bad luck, as his BABIP is sub-.240. Rizzo's career BABIP is low at .284, but it's not that low. That's a way to overcome your BABIP issues; just blast the ball out of the park.

***

After stumbling into the month, the Giants have taken this opportunity to beat up on some lowly teams, going 13-2 against clubs that currently have third-order winning percentages of .351 (Phillies), .500 (Diamondbacks), .424 (Padres), and .437 (Brewers). They also faced the A’s in there, who have a third-order winning percentage of .557, but two one-run games were played so you can imagine what happened there.

By TAv, the Giants have the best offense in baseball at .279, but Mike Fiers was able to shut San Francisco down for six innings. Jake Peavy did the same to Milwaukee. The Giants, however, took care of business after the seventh-inning stretch, piecing together a Hunter Pence single, a Brandon Crawford sacrifice fly, an Ehire Adrianza single, and a Gregor Blanco sacrifice fly to bring home five runs against Fiers, Will Smith, and Jonathan Broxton.

The Brewers couldn’t answer with any runs, but that didn’t stop Gerardo Parra from staying in a Milwaukee uniform and continuing to hit. He extended his hitting streak to 12 games to bring his season’s batting average up to .326 to go along with a .367 on-base percentage and .517 slugging average. There have only been two games in July in which Parra has received a plate appearance and not gotten a hit. His season-long BABIP-fueled ecstasy (.370) has gone into overdrive this month, as it’s reached .463. Of course, this could be the last time we see Parra as a Brewer as he could be Parra Parra Gone to another team very soon.

***

Usually a strikeout machine, Lance McCullers found other ways to pitch the Astros back into first place in a seven-inning, one-run performance against the Angels, inducing a season-high 13 groundballs on the night. That was just fine for Houston, which boasts the league’s fifth-best defensive efficiency.

The 21-year-old rookie outpitched the veteran Garrett Richards, who was coming off strong performances in his last two starts. Richards didn’t come out with his best stuff, as his velocity was down about a mile per hour from its usual 96. Mike Scioscia added after the game that Richards’ command wasn’t sharp, which might have been due to the extra movement present on some of his pitches. McCullers, on the other hand, was sharp, featuring a curveball with nearly two extra inches of movement and a changeup with a little more downward action to induce groundball after groundball from Anaheim batters.

It was a well-balanced attack from the Astros, whose entire starting lineup reached base at some point or another. They also backed up McCullers in the field with plays like these:

***

Troy Tulowitzki kicked off his career north of the border with a bang:

Tulo collected three hits in his first game in Toronto, backing up R.A. Dickey’s great start on the way to an 8-2 victory over the Jays.

***

Defensive Play of the Day
Kevin Kiermaier never ceases to amaze:

As long as Kiermaier isn't attacked by any more elastic stretching bands, it'll be fun to see how much FRAA he can compile.

What to Watch on Thursday
The Angels and the Astros will finish the final game of their last series until mid-September. The Astros have passed the Angels in the standings and in the Playoff Odds report, with over a 50 percent chance of winning the division. Scott Kazmir (2.24 ERA, 3.22 DRA) will make his second start since being shipped to Houston while Matt Shoemaker (4.55 ERA, 5.41 DRA) will take the hill for the Angels. (8:10 PM ET)

It was hard to watch Wilmer Flores in last night’s Mets game, but nice to know, for the young shortstop, that he gets to stay in New York. However, it could be the Padres’ turn to pull (or not pull) some players off the field today, as Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and others could be gone at some point. (12:10 PM ET)

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