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April 17, 2013

What You Need to Know

Terrible Twin Bill

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
What happens when two teams play a baseball game 30 minutes after the conclusion of another baseball game, in which neither starter recorded a sixth-inning out? What if both of those games are played in freezing conditions, just hours after snow was cleared off the playing surface, and with temperatures dropping rapidly as the nightcap wears on? Oh, and just for good measure, what if, after burning through their bullpens in the matinee, both managers are forced to turn to their relief corps in the fifth inning of game two?

What happens is a four-hour-and-19-minute-long mess, in which the teams combine for 17 runs, 25 hits, and five errors. Thirteen pitchers are asked to throw 391 total pitches. The winning team’s star All-Star left fielder calls it “the best worst night ever.” The home team’s mascot pulls double duty after assisting the grounds crew. And one of the visiting team’s beat writers begins to lose his mind while wondering why viewers are still tuned in to a game they are not being paid to watch. 

The Rockies eventually prevailed, 9-8, to complete a twin bill sweep—after winning the opener, 8-4—as Jordan Pacheco rolled a walk-off single through the right side to complete a two-out rally off of Greg Burke. Burke, by the way, was the last pitcher used by manager Terry Collins in the matinee, too. By ending the game before it could reach the 11th inning and beyond, Pacheco prevented it from meeting Kevin Goldstein’s official #weirdbaseball criteria. Then again, as midnight neared in Denver, no one at Coors Field was in the mood for ice cream, and the weirdness had long since commenced.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, with an 8-2 lead beginning to slip away from Josh Edgin, Collins turned to quadragenarian right-hander LaTroy Hawkins, who logged a five-pitch strikeout in the seventh inning of game one. Hawkins entered with one out and the bases loaded—and he promptly unloaded them, by coughing up a sacrifice fly to Chris Nelson and a two-run double to Yorvit Torrealba. Suddenly, the scoreboard read “8-6,” and if you smelled that meltdown coming before it struck, you weren’t alone.

Three frames later, a brutal throwing error by shortstop Ruben Tejada—understandable only in light of the playing conditions, and perhaps unforgivable nonetheless—completed the Rockies’ comeback. A 10th-inning miscue by David Wright helped to fuel the rally off of Burke, but the official scorer later changed his ruling to a single for Michael Cuddyer, thereby keeping the third baseman’s 68-game errorless streak intact.

When the teams finally retired for the night, the Rockies had improved to 10-4, surging into first place in the National League West, a perch they last held alone on May 17, 2011. It was “the best worst night” for Walt Weiss’ squad, but “not very much fun” for Terry Collins’.

The Mets could take solace in only one fact: It could have been worse. Their PR man wanted them to play three.

Matchup of the Day
Matt Wieters entered yesterday’s game against the Rays with only one hit in his last four contests and no extra-base hits since Opening Day, when he went 2-for-3 with a double and a home run. All of that changed in the second inning, though, when he finished off a 10-pitch battle with Rays starter Roberto Hernandez by sending a 92 mph sinker into the right-center field stands. The 1-for-3 showing gave Wieters’ OPS a 75-point boost, to 679 from 604, and the switch-hitting backstop will strive to shoot past the 700 mark tonight.

When the home team comes to bat in the bottom of the first inning, Wieters will be one of the few Orioles thrilled to see Matt Moore on the mound for Tampa Bay. The 23-year-old southpaw has steadily rounded into form after a rough first half in 2012, but while Moore held both the Indians and Rangers scoreless in his first two starts of 2013, he handed out eight walks in 11 1/3 innings along the way. And if Moore is truly on the verge of emerging as a major-league ace, then he will need to prove it to the Orioles’ catcher.

The American League East counterparts have locked horns 11 times, and the first chapter has featured Wieters, Wieters, and more Wieters. The former Georgia Tech standout has reached base in eight of those 11 trips to the box, five times via hit and thrice via walk. In fact, since the three occasions on which Moore retired Wieters were all strikeouts, every ball that Wieters has put into play has resulted in a hit. His OPS against Moore (2.102) is more than 700 points higher than the next-best mark (Jesus Montero, 1.267) among hitters that have faced the lefty at least 10 times, and he is the only big-leaguer that can boast two home runs off of Moore, who allowed 18 of them in 177 1/3 innings last year.

Both of those long balls came on first-pitch, fastballs: a letter-high challenge on September 14, 2011, and a thigh-high heater on the inner half on June 3, 2012. The four-seamer also produced two of Moore’s three punchouts against Wieters, so he would be unwise to eschew it entirely. But if the mid-90s gas is to have its intended effect, Moore must either pitch backward to set the stage or vary his spots, as he did in this August 3, 2012, at-bat, when he went down and away, and then climbed the ladder to send Wieters back to the dugout on three pitches.

The plot above, from Wieters’ hitter profile, illustrates the driving force behind his success against left-handed pitching (.324 career TAv), which—despite his switch-hitting abilities—has far exceeded his results against northpaws (.246). Wieters simply doesn’t have many holes in his right-handed swing, so pitchers that rely on their hard stuff must find a way to either slow down his bat or tempt him to chase.

Moore, based on the aforementioned 2.102 OPS against, has learned the perils of throwing ill-placed four-seamers to Wieters firsthand. Tonight, we’ll find out if he has devised a new approach to turn the tide (7:05 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • The Braves flexed their middle-of-the-order muscle in the eighth inning of last night’s game, inflicting nearly a season’s worth of home-run damage to the Royals’ flame-throwing set-up man, Kelvin Herrera, to improve to 12-1. Jason Heyward, who came into the series with only one extra-base hit on the season, delivered a double on Monday and kicked off the three-homer outburst against Herrera, slowly creeping his triple-slash line up to .116/.283/.279. The task of putting the awakening giant back to sleep now falls on the right shoulder of Wade Davis, who bounced back from a rough debut to hold the Twins scoreless over five frames seven days ago. Mike Minor, meanwhile, will try to extend the Braves’ league-best winning streak to 11 when he takes the bump in the first game on the Wednesday slate (12:10 p.m. ET).
  • Shelby Miller dominated the Brewers in his second outing of the season, permitting only one hit—a single by Norichika Aoki leading off the game—over seven shutout innings. The 22-year-old righty is 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA to date and has made manager Mike Matheny look wise for choosing him over Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal this spring. Counting a six-inning blanking of the Reds on October 3, 2012, Miller has allowed just one hit in two of his first three big-league starts. He’ll try to keep on rolling in the series finale versus A.J. Burnett and the Pirates, assuming that the rain stays away from PNC Park, where a third-inning downpour washed away a 4-2 Pittsburgh lead on Tuesday (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • The Brewers emphatically overcame Ryan Braun’s first career golden sombrero on Tuesday night, plating 10 runs even as their number-three hitter went home with an 0-for-5 collar and four strikeouts. Braun, who has been playing through a nagging neck ailment, is now 1-for-17 with 10 strikeouts over his last four games, though the lone hit was a two-run homer off of the Cardinals’ Trevor Rosenthal. He is 1-for-2 with a big fly and a strikeout in his two career plate appearances against Ryan Vogelsong, who is set to tangle with Kyle Lohse in game two at Miller Park (8:10 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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