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August 17, 2015

What You Need to Know

August 17, 2015

by Steven Jacobson

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The Weekend Takeaway
Although Ivan Nova spent much of Friday night on the losing end due to a three-run second inning against the Blue Jays' meat of the order, he ended up pitching a game as good as, if not better than, that of his opponent, David Price. After Price had outdueled him the previous Saturday, Nova came back stronger, relying on his sinker for 74 of his 105 pitches, a much higher proportion than the usual 42 percent rate at which he usually selects the pitch. It paid off, as Nova was able to generate 14 ground outs against a team that is fifth in baseball in fly-ball rate.

Price labored, allowing eight hits through seven innings, but managed to escape each jam, often ending innings with a runner or two on base with a strikeout or a ground out. Price featured his changeup heavily throughout the game, a midseason adjustment to make the pitch his most frequently used. Although it didn't generate the usual 20 percent whiff rate it usually does, he was still able to strike out six batters along the way.

Price finally faltered, however, in the eighth inning, when, after inducing a fly out from Alex Rodriguez, he gave up three straight hits, including a ground-rule double to Chase Headley that drove in only the second Yankees run against the Blue Jays in the past 35 innings. John Gibbons called on Aaron Sanchez to face righty Chris Young, but Joe Girardi sent up switch-hitting Carlos Beltran, who did this:

That gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead. They were able to hold it, thanks to this:

The final slider of that 12-pitch at-bat ended the Blue Jays' 11-game winning streak and put the Yankees back into first place, bumping their odds of winning the division by 8.5 percent in the process.

On Saturday, Masahiro Tanaka, who had gone six innings in each of his previous three starts, went the distance for the first time since June 28, 2014, needing 112 pitches to finish his one-run masterpiece. You could tell Tanaka was feeling good, as his velocity was up by about a mile per hour from its usual average. His confidence in his splitter showed, as it featured an extra inch of both horizontal and vertical movement, helping generate a whiff rate of 18 percent on the pitch. Tanaka's sole blemish was loading the bases in the fifth inning, when he walked Ryan Goins, gave up a single to Ben Revere, and walked Troy Tulowitzki to experiencing the death sentence of facing Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion with no outs and the bases loaded. However, Tanaka was able to escape by allowing just a sacrifice fly to Donaldson, as he struck out Bautista and got Encarnacion to pop out.

In support of Tanaka was Beltran, who came through with another home run in the first inning. Beltran has reached base 19 times in 44 PA with four homers in August. Mark Teixeira, who had been banging 42 percent of his August batted balls into the ground to start the month 8-for-44, hit a home run in the sixth inning and a single in the eighth inning. Jacoby Ellsbury added an RBI single in the top of the ninth to give the Yankees a three-run cushion.

Greg Bird nearly had a spectacular and very 21st-century first big-league hit, but it would not be so:

However, it later came in the eighth inning.

That win put the Yankees a game and a half above the Blue Jays and their odds of winning the division at 59 percent.

However, the Yankees would not be able to complete the sweep on Sunday, as they made another rookie, Luis Severino, a hard-luck loser. Severino has pitched three solid games, giving up one, two, and three earned runs while pitching five, six, and six innings, respectively. However, he hasn't gotten much run support and the Yankees have lost all three of those games.

Severino, however, may have been at his best on Sunday, as the 21-year-old struck out nine batters in those six innings. Those three runs may never have been given up if not for Beltran losing a Tulowitzki fly ball in the sun, which drove in a run and was followed by a Bautista home run that was all the scoring the Blue Jays would do for the game.

Meanwhile, Drew Hutchison—who has a 5.06 ERA and a 5.45 DRA, but a 12-2 record—shut down the Yankees, giving up just a home run to Jacoby Ellsbury in 6 2/3 innings as the Blue Jays won 3-1. The Yankees are still up by half a game in the division, but the two teams' odds of winning the division are nearly tied.

Quick Hits from the Weekend
In 12 games in August, the Mets, had gone 10-2 and, aided by a 4-9 month by the Nationals, increased their odds of winning the division to 82 percent. However, they would face their toughest challenge, the Pirates, this past weekend, and its safe to say they fell flat.

The Bucs swept the Queens Quailers. New York's offense and bullpen each failed to deliver, while the starters, unsurprisingly, did their jobs, pitching decent games all weekend. Bartolo Colon had one of his best games of the year on Friday, pitching seven innings while giving up just one run on five hits and seven strikeouts. All the Mets could do, however, was match that with one run of their own.

The game would remain tied through nine, helped by this defensive play from Pedro Alvarez:

However, the tie would break in the top of the 10th, when Bobby Parnell failed to get an out, allowing three hits and two runs to give the Pirates the lead. The Mets scored one in the bottom of the tenth, but that was not enough to prevent the 3-2 loss.

They would go into extra innings once more on Saturday. Jon Niese and Charlie Morton matched each other by each giving up three runs. The game would stay there, thanks to this play, which is, just because it's classic Cespedes, your Defensive Play of the Weekend:

However, it would be for naught, as the culprit would be Sean Gilmartin, who has pitched well for New York this season but left the ball over the plate, a death sentence for the soft-tossing lefty:

The Mets couldn't muster anything in the bottom of the inning and fell 5-3.

On Sunday, after Matt Harvey battled through six innings to allow only one run despite giving up eight baserunners, the Mets could only muster one run—a home run by Travis d'Arnaud—and the bullpen fell apart as the team lost 8-1. Bobby Parnell added insult to injury by allowing four runs, helped by a throwing error of his own, while Eric O'Flaherty and Carlos Torres didn't do much better.

The Mets are still safe, as their chances of winning the division are still 81 percent after the Giants swept the Nationals over four games to drop Washington under .500. Still, it's not encouraging for Mets fans to see the team drop so many close games to a potential playoff foe at home, especially since it was their bullpen, which is ranked sixth in baseball by DRA, was the cog to falter.

***

After the Angels pulled out a close one on Thursday against an also surprisingly poor Royals bullpen, Kansas City buckled down to take the next three from the Angels to put Los Angeles a game and a half behind the Orioles for the second Wild Card spot after the Orioles took the first three games of their four-game set against the Athletics. BP's playoff odds now give the Orioles a greater chance of winning the Wild Card than the Angels.

A Rangers sweep of the Rays put them a game behind Baltimore. Every team except for the Red Sox and Athletics is within six games of a playoff spot right now, and even the Athletics, at the very bottom, are just 10½ out despite having lost their last six games in a row.

It sure is a crazy world we're living in:

That's what happens in 18-2 games.

Also, after Saturday's 22-10 romp of the Mariners at the hands of the Red Sox, Felix Hernandez has given up 29 percent of his runs this season in 2 2/3 of the 153 innings he's pitched.

What to Watch on Monday
The Orioles will try to further entrench their Wild Card lead as they finish their four-game series against the A's. Sonny Gray, who was scratched from his last start, will pitch for Oakland. Gray has been fantastic all season, possessing one of baseball's best DRAs at 2.03, and in his past three starts he's pitched complete games against two top-10 offenses by TAv, the Dodgers and the Astros. Chris Tillman, who was excellent in July but roughed up in his only start so far in August, will oppose him. (7:05 PM ET)

This is crunch time for the Rays, who, despite having suffered a sweep at the hands of the Rangers, still have a slight chance (16 percent) of making the playoffs. Erasmo Ramirez, who has been stingy since joining the rotation, possessing a 2.57 ERA (but on a .233 BABIP), will pitch against Scott Kazmir, who also looks better than he's actually been, as his 2.12 ERA has been helped by a .253 BABIP. (8:10 PM)

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