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September 15, 2015

What You Need to Know

September 15, 2015

by Ian Frazer

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The Monday Takeaways
Twice on Monday night the Astros had the lead, with a chance to extend their advantage in the AL West over the Rangers, and twice the Rangers hit timely, downright cinematic home runs to take the lead. The Arlingtonians marched to an eventual 5-3 win.

The scoring in the game was back and forth the entire way. Jose Altuve opened things up with a solo home run off Cole Hamels in the first. Rougned Odor doubled Prince Fielder home in the second. George Springer drove Jake Marisnick home on a fielder's choice in the fifth, with Marisnick very narrowly beating the throw from first baseman Mitch Moreland. Moreland was of little fault in that exchange—it would have been a close play in any situation, and Marisnick moves well—but he got himself out of the nonexistent doghouse in the bottom of the sixth. After fouling off a first-pitch fastball from Scott Kazmir, he took another swing at the same pitch and put it into the left-field bleachers to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.

The Astros again scored on a hard-hit ball Moreland couldn't handle, this one a sharp single by Colby Rasmus in the seventh, to tie the game at 3-3. The Rangers had another lefty to take care of business, though:

With that win, the Rangers are half a game back of the Astros in the division. If somebody has a particular bone to pick with PECOTA or projection systems in general, this is the division and these are the teams to single out.

They're also the poster children for picking on the act of predicting baseball in general. My preseason picks were done in a highly unscientific manner, but I picked the Astros and Rangers to finish fourth and fifth, respectively, in the division, and I was not at all alone in making those projections. Pictured below is the average of the places BP staffers and interns picked for AL West teams.

***

The Yankees-Rays matchup at Tropicana Field last night had it all: Strong pitching! Late-game offensive heroics! Defensive thrills! (Which I will withhold describing so as not to spoil later segments of this feature.)

I'll start with Erasmo Ramirez, who had not gone more than three innings in a start before giving up a hit until his outing tonight. The inconsistent yet tantalizing Ramirez certainly showed out on Monday: 7 2/3 innings and one hit, which came to the first batter Ramirez faced in the eighth inning.

Poor Richie Shaffer. Could he have made that play? Yeah, probably, if he'd positioned his glove maybe an inch to the right, or an inch higher, or tried to backhand the ball. He didn't, though, and Beltran had a hit. Ramirez would exit the game with two outs in the eighth.

And wouldn't you know it, the Rays finally gave themselves a lead in the next inning! Logan Forsythe doubled to left to drive Mikie Mahtook home, and Tampa Bay had a one-run cushion for Brad Boxberger to sit on in the ninth. Of course, it wouldn't be enough. Dustin Ackley singled to lead off the inning, though he was erased when Jacoby Ellsbury grounded into a double play. But Brett Gardner walked, so the inning, and the Yankees, stayed alive. Cue Alex Rodriguez.

Sorry, guys. Not even the almighty Kevin Kiermaier could save that one.

Out with the old Yankees, and in with the new. After Boxberger intentionally walked Brian McCann, Slade Heathcott put a good enough poke on a pitch to get it over the left-field wall.

Andrew Miller got the save and the Yankees got the win, meaning they are now three games behind the Blue Jays in the AL East. Those two teams are scheduled to face off on September 21st, which will be either a load of fun or sadly anticlimactic.

***

Here's something I didn't mention when talking about the Rangers: They are chasing the Astros to take the lead in the AL West and remove themselves from the possibility of having to play a one-game playoff, but they are also trying to run away from the Twins in the Wild Card standings.

I remember something kind of curious when I moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota just less than two weeks ago. I was sitting in the hotel bar with my mom and a future colleague, and one of the colleague's friends shouted to him that the Twins had lost. To me, that fact couldn't have been of less import, because the AL Central had ceased to be a race a month before. I assumed that the Twins, who had survived early on only by outshooting their PECOTA projection by a wide, wide margin, had sunk into one of the many lakes left in Minnesota by the Quaternary Glaciation.

Well, the Twins are still winning more games than their statistics say they should. Their third-order winning percentage, as of Monday night, is the worst in the division. But their actual winning percentage (whatever that is) is the second best in the division, and they are just a game away from a spot in the Wild Card!

What the heck, man. And this is with Phil Hughes being no good! The Twins won on Monday, 7-1 against the Tigers, and did it in the least convincing way possible for a 7-1 win in which they got 13 hits to the opposing team's eight. Three of those 13 hits went for extra bases and two of them—an RBI double by Trevor Plouffe and a solo home run by Eduardo Escobar—drove runs home.

Tyler Duffey had a fairly un-Twins night on the mound, striking out seven in 6 1/3 innings of work. In Duffey's last start, he struck out eight in 6 2/3 innings. I swear that I'm not just perpetuating the stereotype about the Twins not striking anybody out. They don't! The Twins have struck out 901 batters, which is by quite a large margin the lowest total of any major league team. The Rangers are right above Minnesota, with 958.

Defensive Play of the Night

Mikie Mahtook, baby! I can tell you that being a college baseball fan is an exceedingly useless trait most of the time. Only a precious few people will talk about it with you and job opportunities for covering the national scene are incredibly scarce: I personally know almost everybody who has such a position.

But I'll tell you one thing it let me do: Spell Mikie Mahtook's name! Because I remember Mikie Mahtook playing at Louisiana State, but "Mikie" is a spelling I would never, ever, ever guess had I heard Mr. Mahtook's name out loud before writing it down. But because I had seen it written before, I could cut out the step of looking at the video description before writing this blurb! Being a college baseball fan saved me literally three seconds of time—see what it can do for you!

What to Watch on Tuesday
The Pirates' hotness/the Cardinals' sudden mediocrity has made the NL Central surprisingly interesting, and today's Cubs-Pirates doubleheader has the potential to do the same for the NL Wild Card race. Of course, there is much less at stake in this circumstance: home-field advantage for a single game, rather than the chance to have your season come down to five games rather than one. But something is indeed at stake, and that's more than you can demand from most games at this point in the season.

The first game, scheduled for 1:35 ET, is a makeup of a game originally scheduled for August 8th. The second game will start at 7:05 ET. The Cubs will send Jason Hammel for the first and Jon Lester for the second; the Pirates will use Gerrit Cole and J.A. Happ, respectively. With the Cubs four games behind the Pirates in the division/Wild Card race, they can potentially make up two games. With a Cardinals loss—they play the Brewers, with Carlos Martinez starting—the Pirates could make up 1½ games of their 2½-game deficit and put the Best Fans in Baseball in full panic mode.

Today could be a very interesting day in the NL Central. But what day isn't?

***

Brett Anderson throws tonight for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Anderson is having probably the best season of his seven-season career, with a 3.36 ERA in 158 innings. He's struck out 104 batters and walked 44. He has a slightly insane 2.91 GO/AO rate. (Seriously, is he throwing balls of cement?)

Anderson also just ended a somewhat noteworthy streak. From August 15th to 31st, Anderson made four starts, and in each one of those starts he gave up three runs. He went six, six, 6 2/3, and five innings in those starts, and decision-wise went 2-1.

That three-runs-given up streak Brett Anderson was on was the second-longest streak of that variety of this season. The longest belongs to Martin Perez of the Rangers, who gave up three runs in five straight games, from August 8th to September 4th. The longest streak of giving up three runs in a start of all time is six games, shared by seven pitchers: Damian Moss, Aaron Sele, Luis Leal, Roger Erickson, Ray Herbert, Don Larsen, and Duke Maas. I recognize a few of those names for various reasons, but those reasons are not related to them being Hall of Famers. Brett Anderson and Martin Perez should be thankful their streaks didn't go longer, then! Check out Anderson tonight to see if he can get back on a streak that's like Joe DiMaggio's, but way, way, way less impressive.

***

I covered the Astros and the Rangers earlier and, well, they're playing again tonight, because that's usually what happens in Major League Baseball. With their win last night, the Rangers moved a half game back of the Astros for first place in the A.L. West. Tonight at 8:05, Collin McHugh faces Derek Holland. This is the only game happening where a division lead lies in the balance.

An interesting fact about Collin McHugh: His bio on mlb.com says he's from "Napierville, Ill." As far as I can tell, that is a typo, because Naperville is a very large suburb of Chicago located in DuPage County, and Napierville is a nonexistent city. Well, not really, because Napierville is a town in Quebec. But Collin McHugh is not French Canadian, so I think this is just a typo. Let's see how far my Internet influence reaches and if this typo is fixed by today!

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