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July 23, 2012

What You Need to Know

Monday, July 23

by Daniel Rathman

The Weekend Takeaway
Miguel Cabrera put the cherry on top of a thrilling weekend with his 300th career home run, which came in the third inning of Sunday’s 6-4 Tigers win over the White Sox and was his second blast of the game. But while that milestone was the highlight of the past three days, they were also replete with minutiae.

The first of those oddities came in that same game, after Phil Humber—the victim of Cabrera’s wrath—yielded to Hector Santiago. The rookie left-hander tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings, giving his bullpen mates a break and keeping the White Sox alive, but he did so by going down a path that no other relief pitcher had ever beaten before. When Santiago was pulled in the seventh inning, he had logged the following line: 3 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 4 K. That made him the first reliever to go at least three hitless and scoreless innings while issuing at least four walks and recording at least four strikeouts since Radhames Liz did it for the Orioles on Sept. 26, 2007. But while the aforementioned criteria have been met 27 times, none of those pitchers worked exactly 3 1/3 innings with a 4-to-4 K/BB.

The Tigers might have struggled to turn Santiago’s walks into runs, but the Pirates had no such trouble in their 5-1 victory against the Marlins on Saturday. Carlos Zambrano plunked Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes back-to-back to start the bottom of the fourth inning, before a throwing error by John Buck enabled the Pirates to get all the benefits of a sacrifice bunt without the actual sacrifice. A walk, a sacrifice fly, and then three more walks helped Pittsburgh push four runs across without notching a hit in the inning, making the Pirates the first team to do that since 1998.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, the A’s swept the Yankees with four consecutive one-run victories, which no team had ever done to the Bombers before. More impressively, Oakland accomplished that feat despite starting three rookie pitchers: A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone, and Jarrod Parker. The A’s are now 8-1 since the All-Star break and have won 14 of their last 16 games.

While the A’s are the hottest team in baseball, Jason Kubel is the hottest single hitter. The first-year Diamondback whacked three home runs in Saturday’s game, then added another big fly and a triple in yesterday’s 8-2 win over the Astros. He is now up to .300/.372/.585 on the season, and leads the league with 11 homers this month. Seventeen of Kubel’s 21 home runs have come since June 5.

Speaking of home runs, judging by the third inning of Saturday’s middle match between the Giants and the Phillies, Citizens Bank Park can turn anyone into a slugger. With Matt Cain and Cole Hamels on the mound, it was fair to expect a pitchers’ duel; instead, the fans in attendance and those fortunate enough to have the game on their FOX affiliate got a home-run showcase. Cain stunned Hamels with this shot in the top of the frame, but—not to be outdone—the lefty got him back in the home half of the inning. It was the first time both pitchers had gone deep in the same inning since 1990.

Later on Saturday, the Cardinals—looking to shed a post-break funk that saw them score only 19 total runs in seven games—were held scoreless for the first six innings of the second game of their series with the Cubs. Of course, lineups like Mike Matheny’s don’t stay silent for long, and St. Louis exploded for seven doubles and a triple in the bottom of the seventh, plating 12 runs and tying a franchise record that has stood since the early years of the Branch Rickey era.

But perhaps we should have seen all of this coming, considering that the weekend began with one of season’s wackiest games—Friday’s series opener between the Braves and the Nationals. Down 9-0 after five innings, the Braves scored four each in the sixth and eighth, then took the lead with two in the ninth. The Nationals refused to go quietly, though, as Danny Espinosa tied the game with a solo home run, the first extra-base hit Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel had allowed to a left-handed batter this season. Two innings later, the Braves captured an 11-10 win behind an infield single, a throwing error by one of the best defensive third basemen in the league, a passed ball, and a popup that dropped into no man’s land off the bat of the newest member of their roster, shortstop Paul Janish.

Best of all, on the heels of that madness, if the season ended today, the A’s, Orioles, and Pirates would all have at least a partial claim to a playoff spot.  

What to Watch for on Monday

  • Randy Wolf, who gets the ball for the Brewers in game one of their series at Citizens Bank Park, is 3-2 with a 3.98 ERA against the team that drafted him in the second round in 1997 and was his home for nearly seven full seasons. He has held Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, who are fresh off the disabled list and looking to revive the last-place Phillies, to a combined 5-for-31 in their previous encounters, but Juan Pierre (14-for-34) and Placido Polanco (8-for-16 with a home run) have had their way with the 35-year-old lefty. Charlie Manuel will counter with Roy Halladay, as the clock ticks on general manager Ruben Amaro’s decision to buy or sell at the deadline (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • After taking two of three from the Rays and three of four from the White Sox coming out of the All-Star break, the Red Sox could not fend off the Blue Jays this past weekend, and they will now be challenged with a road trip to Arlington. On the bright side, Adrian Gonzalez appears to be finding his long-lost power stroke, smacking three home runs in his past six games after notching just one in his previous 29. The 30-year-old first baseman made his major-league debut with the Rangers in 2004, and since then, he has amassed a .324/.395/.662 triple slash against Texas pitching (8:05 p.m. ET).
  • Exactly 15 days after being placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow, Chad Billingsley will be activated to start the Dodgers’ series opener against the Cardinals. The 27-year-old is 1-3 with a 4.63 ERA in nine career appearances versus St. Louis (eight starts), and his biggest challenge, not surprisingly, has been retiring Matt Holliday. The left fielder is 8-for-25 with three homers and 10 walks in his prior meetings with Billingsley, good for a .320/.514/.720 triple slash. Holliday has also been virtually unstoppable since May 1, posting a .362 average and 12 homers over the past two-and-a-half months (8:15 p.m. ET).
  • Could the change of scenery from Kansas City to Colorado cure whatever is ailing Jonathan Sanchez? The lefty will make his Rockies debut tonight at Chase Field, where he logged a 4.85 ERA in nine appearances (six starts) while with the Giants. Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson may have a tough time choosing between his catchers, but he faces a win-win decision: Miguel Montero is 4-for-10 against Sanchez with two home runs, while Henry Blanco is 4-for-8 with three big flies. Whoever gets the assignment will put down the signs for Ian Kennedy, who fanned 12 Rockies in six scoreless innings on June 5 (9:40 p.m. ET).
  • Ryan Vogelsong has been with the Giants for more than a season and a half, but he has not yet faced the Padres. He most recently pitched against San Diego on June 2, 2006, and is just 0-2 with a 9.28 ERA in 10 career appearances (two starts) versus the Friars. Vogelsong has pitched at least six innings in each of his 17 starts this season, and he enters today’s duel with Clayton Richard with a 1.43 ERA in 63 innings at AT&T Park (10:15 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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