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September 1, 2015

What You Need to Know

September 1, 2015

by Daniel Rathman

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The Monday Takeaway
Shelby Miller woke up yesterday thinking he would start today. Then he got word from manager Fredi Gonzalez that Mike Foltynewicz had fallen ill and was going to be scratched because of flu-like symptoms. Miller, on regular rest anyway, agreed to take the rookie's place.

In so doing, the right-hander might have been hoping to drum up a little good karma for himself, karma that, ideally, would manifest itself in the form of run support. Miller had compiled a 3.24 ERA in his previous 18 starts, but the Braves had gone just 3-15 behind him, and the ex-Cardinal had no wins to show for his fine work on the mound. You'd be hard-pressed to find better evidence that win-loss records belong in the dustbin than his 0-10 record since May 23rd.

Starters had gone 18 outings without being credited with a "W" before, but the list of those who'd done it with an ERA below 3.24 is short. In fact, per the Play Index, it contains only one entry: Rube Schauer, who compiled a 2.98 ERA from April 20, 1915 to July 28, 1917, a span of 19 starts for the New York Giants and Philadelphia A's, without personally tasting victory.

Miller surely had no desire to match Schauer's drought, and with Chris Narveson—yes, that Chris Narveson, and yes, he's still alive, and yes, against all odds, he's back pitching in the majors—toeing the rubber for Miami, there was reason to believe he might not. Then, in the second inning, he hung a curveball to Cole Gillespie,

who gave it a ride. The good news for Miller is that there was just about no one on hand at Turner Field to witness the home run; the bad news is that it counted all the same. And it meant that the Braves, who'd scored just 14 total runs in his last 13 starts, would need to plate a pair to deliver a victory to their ace.

Narveson, the proud owner of a 7.04 ERA coming into the game, was in no mood to let them. He tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings before departing with a blister on his left hand. Miller finished seven without permitting any further damage, but Kyle Barraclough and Bryan Morris held the line through the home half of that frame. Gonzalez let Miller come out for his warmup tosses before the eighth, but that was to recognize him for turning in a valiant effort on short notice.

Miller departed. The fans applauded. And as Matt Marksberry took over, Miller's winless streak ticked up to 19.

Things got no better for the Braves with Miller watching from the dugout, either on the mound—where Marksberry and Peter Moylan gave up three more runs—or at the plate, where they went quietly in the last two frames. They went down in defeat, 4-0.

So now the Braves are 3-16 with Miller as their starter since May 23rd, and they've granted him two or fewer runs of support on 14 of those 19 occasions. Two would've sufficed yesterday, at least for Miller to leave with a lead, but they couldn't even muster that, not even while facing a pitcher who lugged a 7.04 ERA to the mound.

The latest loss puts Miller three win-less outings shy of the club record held by Carl Morton, who went 22 starts but spread them across two seasons, beginning in September 1975. Miller is the first Brave to lose 11 straight within one season since Manny Salvo, of the then-Boston Braves, in 1941.

Quick Hits from Monday
Jackie Bradley Jr., now an everyday player for the Red Sox, carried a .329/.409/.711 line into the last day of August, then went 3-for-3 and hosed a runner at the plate with the bases loaded:

Mookie Betts showed off his inner-third power alley with his 13th homer of the year:

David Ortiz said old men can play this game, too, with the 495th tater of his career:

And all that was barely enough for the Red Sox to cling to a 4-3 victory over the Yankees, largely because the state of their bullpen is such that Jean Machi is now the closer. He gave up a hit and walked three, throwing just 15 of 33 pitches for strikes, and even that awful percentage was inflated by the generosity of plate umpire Vic Carapazza.

Everyone in attendance at Fenway Park held their breath as Didi Gregorius' bases-loaded, two-out fly ball—a no-doubt grand slam in the Bronx—landed safely in Rusney Castillo's glove on the warning track to preserve the narrow win for Boston.

***

The Cubs led the Reds 5-3 at the end of five innings yesterday. That's when Kyle Hendricks departed. And after that, everything went terribly wrong. Justin Grimm came on and struggled from the get-go. Two batters into his appearance, after an Ivan De Jesus walk and a Eugenio Suarez home run,

the game was tied. Two batters after that, a Tucker Barnhart single and a pinch-hit homer by Adam Duvall in his first at-bat for the Reds,

Cincinnati had flipped a two-run deficit into a two-run lead.

Things would get worse in the ninth, and weird, too, in the sense that Aroldis Chapman would have to bat after putting out an eighth-inning fire. Travis Wood got two outs, but while doing so, he also issued three walks, putting James Russell in a bind with Suarez coming to the dish. Russell got a ground ball but Starlin Castro

booted it, making it 8-5 Reds. Barnhart singled in a pair. And, as if that weren't enough, Chapman hit a grounder to short, Addison Russell fielded it and threw to second for the force but …

… oops. Charge another E4 to Castro and turn the scoreboard to 13-5 Reds.

The Cubs got one back off Chapman on Russell's solo shot, but the deficit was seven bridges too far with the flamethrowing lefty on the hill.

***

David Price was very good last night. He wasn't perfect, not by any stretch, but on most nights, seven innings, six hits, three runs, one walk, and nine strikeouts will get the job done with the Blue Jays' lineup by your side at the Rogers Centre.

But last night wasn't most nights. Price was up against Danny Salazar, and the Indians' righty was up to the task of outdueling Toronto's new ace.

Trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, the Tribe mounted a one-out threat when Carlos Santana worked a walk and scored the tying run on a double by Ryan Raburn. That Raburn got to third on the throw home was less important because Price bounced back to strike out Yan Gomes. Then, with two away, Jerry Sands sent a bleeder through the left side of the infield to hand Salazar a 3-2 edge.

Needing a shutdown inning to stay in line for the victory over Price, Salazar unleashed the nastiness at Russell Martin

and Kevin Pillar

and then got a grounder to end his night at 103 pitches. Salazar's line: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10 K. That'll do anywhere, but especially against that offense, in that ballpark.

The Blue Jays threatened against closer Cody Allen, picking up three hits and a walk in his 1 1/3 innings on the mound, but Allen held on to secure the 4-2 win.

***

By the time the Giants and Dodgers finished off the first game of their critical three-tilt showdown at Chavez Ravine, the calendar had flipped to September and outfield reinforcements were en route to both clubhouses. San Francisco obtained Alejandro De Aza from the Red Sox; Los Angeles got Justin Ruggiano from the Mariners; and both would've come in handy had they been available to their new managers.

Alas, they weren't, so Bruce Bochy and Don Mattingly worked with what they had, the latter burning through his bench quickly and then needing Clayton Kershaw to pinch-hit and reliever Chris Hatcher to bunt. The Dodgers stranded Jose Peraza at third with one out in the ninth, striking out twice in a row, and the Giants left runners at second and third in the 10th. Kershaw grounded out when presented with Carl Crawford at second and two down in the 11th, and Hatcher left three aboard following a couple of intentional walks in the 13th.

Running out of pitchers, Bochy went to erratic rookie Mike Broadway for the last of the 14th and promptly watched him give up a walk and two singles, loading the bases for Adrian Gonzalez. That pressed Bochy into further action—namely, a double switch, with Justin Maxwell replacing Marlon Byrd to give the Giants a superior throwing arm in right, and Yusmeiro Petit inheriting the jam of all jams from Broadway. Gonzalez took care of business and rendered all that strategery moot on the very first pitch he saw:

As for how we got to that point …

Brett Anderson induced five ground-ball outs in the first two innings, as he is wont to do, but he got in trouble in the third, when the worm-killers he coaxed stopped doing him good. Gregor Blanco led off with an infield single, and after Jake Peavy bunted into a force at second, a walk by Norichika Aoki and a single by Matt Duffy loaded the bases for Brandon Belt. The first baseman singled home one run, and two batters after that, Byrd singled in two on a ground ball with eyes:

Aside from his bunting, Peavy was solid through five on the mound, before Bruce Bochy got greedy and tried to steer him through the sixth. Seeing the veteran righty for the third time, the Dodgers' lefties started licking their chops. First, Gonzalez took him deep, knotting the score with his 25th blast of the year:

Then, Andre Ethier put the home nine on top with a solo shot that sailed high and barely cleared the wall:

In the eighth, Byrd bailed out his new skipper with a game-tying double, his 14th RBI in his last five games, this one at Juan Nicasio's expense:

That 4-4 draw prevailed until aforementioned heroics from Gonzalez, followed by Kiké Hernandez—yes, the same Kiké Hernandez who was placed on the DL with a hamstring injury before the game—running onto the field in costume:

Dodgers win at 12:40 a.m. Kiké Hernandez just ran on the field in a banana hoodie.
— Alex Pavlovic (@AlexPavlovic) September 1, 2015

After that dose of #weirdbaseball, the Dodgers now enjoy a 4½-game lead in the West with two more left in this series. The Giants could still climb to within 2½, but doing so would mean answering the tallest of order: toppling Zack Greinke and Kershaw in succession.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Chris Archer doesn't leave many two-strike sliders up around the belt, but when he does, Kevin Kiermaier is there to bail him out:

Kiermaier would later leave the game with an ankle sprain, but three of his teammates proceeded to bash pitches over the fences and out of the reach of the Orioles' outfielders. Evan Longoria and Tim Beckham launched solo shots, and Asdrubal Cabrera smacked a two-runner to drive Tampa Bay's winning effort at the plate.

Archer, meanwhile, buoyed by Kiermaier's opening gem, wound up with six scoreless frames. He allowed four hits and walked three while striking out six, lowering his ERA to 2.78 before handing it over to the bullpen. The Rays went on to win 6-3.

What to Watch on Tuesday
Doubleheaders at Coors Field are always fun for everyone, except, perhaps, for the managers sorting out their pitching plans. The Diamondbacks and Rockies have the benefit of expanded rosters, and if they choose to add a few extra relievers to their bullpens, don't be surprised to see some long box scores this afternoon.

It'll be Patrick Corbin and Yohan Flande in the matinee, with the latter desperately seeking ways to keep the ball in the yard. Flande has served up eight long balls in his last 22 2/3 innings on the hill, five of them away from the mile-high air of Coors Field. As for Corbin, he's coming off what might be his most impressive effort of the year to date, a six-inning, one-run, seven-strikeout home outing against the Cardinals in which he resembled his pre-surgery form (3:10 p.m. ET).

Rubby De La Rosa and Kyle Kendrick will lock horns in the nightcap (8:40 p.m. ET).

***

The Pirates were off yesterday, so Andrew McCutchen didn't have a chance to pad his credentials for NL Player of the Month. Then again, he might've been okay resting his case.

McCutchen went 32-for-92 (.348) with seven doubles, a triple, and five homers in 117 trips to the plate, trailing only the Reds' Joey Votto in OPS for the month. There's no shortage of worthy candidates for the August accolades, with the options almost as compelling as the pitching side, where Jake Arrieta's no-hitter is likely to push him past Madison Bumgarner. Votto, McCutchen, and Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp are just a few of those with a claim to the award.

While that gets sorted out, McCutchen will go to bat in support of Gerrit Cole in the series opener between the Pirates and Brewers. Milwaukee starter Jimmy Nelson has been excellent when facing Pittsburgh this season, logging a 1.85 ERA over four starts in which he's held Clint Hurdle's lineup to 17 hits in 24 1/3 innings, walking eight while striking out 27. He has a much less impressive 4.16 ERA and 109-to-52 K:BB ratio against everyone else (8:10 p.m. ET).

***

Speaking of Bumgarner, his August looked like this: 37 2/3 IP, 23 H, 6 R, 4 BB, 53 K.

If you rewind a month, you'll find that Zack Greinke's July looked like this: 38 IP, 17 H, 4 R, 5 BB, 34 K.

Tonight, as we kick off September, the Dodgers' ace hosts the Giants' top dog in the middle match between the top two teams in the NL West. San Francisco took a 9-3 head-to-head record into the penultimate rivalry series of the season, having gone 3-0 in games started by Bumgarner, but the Giants have been fortunate to avoid the senior circuit's ERA leader aside from an April 29th meeting in which Greinke topped Ryan Vogelsong. They'll have to go through the 31-year-old right-hander to gain ground in the race this time around (10:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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