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May 6, 2013
What You Need to Know
The Hot Starters
The Weekend Takeaway
The Cardinals: Road Warriors
While the early frequent-flyer-mile load means a whole lot of home dates to come, the Cardinals will play 10 of their remaining 13 games versus the Reds at Great American Ball Park, where Dusty Baker’s team is 12-4. And the Redbirds aren’t done traveling yet; they’re making a two-game jaunt up to Wrigley Field, sandwiched between off days today and on Thursday, before returning to St. Louis for a 10-game homestand. The key to their early success: A league-best 2.21 rotation ERA, which Jaime Garcia fortified with eight innings of one-run ball on Sunday afternoon.
The Rangers: Rotation Question Marks? What Rotation Question Marks?
In fact, as recently as April 19, Dallas Morning News beat writer Evan Grant pointed to “a real crisis” in the rotation, spurred by a spate of injuries and general manager Jon Daniels’ unwillingness to splurge in free agency over the winter. Since that radio interview, the Rangers are 10-5, and they have limited opponents to three or fewer runs in 10 of those 15 contests.
A relatively soft schedule, which featured three games against the Astros, three more against the Twins, and seven against the Mariners, has helped the patchwork rotation to hold down the fort in place of the injured Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, and Martin Perez, but the pitchers themselves deserve ample credit. Rookies Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch have fared well, Alexi Ogando has made a fairly smooth transition back from the bullpen, and Derek Holland is cruising to the tune of a 2.58 FIP. And that doesn’t even include Yu Darvish, who fanned 14 Red Sox on Sunday to notch his fourth double-digit-punchout effort of the young season, and has the 300 mark, untouched since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling stormed past it in 2002, well within his grasp.
The Red Sox: American League East Favorites?
As Doug Thorburn wrote last week, first-year manager John Farrell may deserve a significant share of the credit for Boston’s rapid turnaround, in which Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have played a pivotal role. But surprising contributions from players like Daniel Nava, who worked his way into significant time when Jackie Bradley fell into a 3-for-31 rut to begin his big-league career, have also been critical. Nava, who previously derived much of his value from plate discipline, is off to a .286/.385/.505 start, and that coupled with David Ortiz’s (.440/.473/.840) torrid return from the disabled list two weeks ago has compensated for the nondescript starts of Jacoby Ellsbury (.279/.329/.390), Dustin Pedroia (.294/.396/.345), and free-agent additions Shane Victorino (.278/.348/.304) and Stephen Drew (.182/.286/.303).
With the Blue Jays foundering, the Rays underperforming expectations, and the Yankees still waiting for their disabled list to thin, the Red Sox were handed a golden opportunity to sprint to a hot start and hope that it proves sustainable when the going gets tougher. This past weekend’s sweep notwithstanding, it’s fair to consider part one of that mission accomplished.
Matchup of the Day
Votto, who locked horns often with Maholm during the latter’s National League Central days with the Pirates, can claim only three hits in 22 at-bats off of the lefty, and only one of them (a double) went for extra bases. Maholm has issued three bases on balls to Votto, but he has also struck him out six times, and the 2010 National League MVP is hitless in their last seven head-to-head encounters, dating back to May 25, 2010.
The 30-year-old Maholm has been dealt a loss in each of his last three outings, but on the whole, he is off to a fine start in his first full year in Atlanta, sporting a 3.08 ERA and a 32-to-13 K:BB through 38 innings. Maholm employs a deep arsenal, often using as many as six pitches, and he typically shows four of them to opposing lefties: a fastball, a sinker, a slider, and a curveball, according to his Brooks Baseball card. As you can see on the afore-linked matchup page, all three of Votto’s hits against Maholm have come on the hard stuff, twice on the first pitch and once on the third. And that data may be at the core of a recent change in Maholm’s approach.
In addition to holding Votto hitless the last seven times he has faced him, Maholm has collected four of his strikeouts in their six most recent meetings, with an April 21, 2012 walk representing the only blemish on the record. Maholm has started five of those seven showdowns, including each of the last four, with a breaking ball, and he has also introduced a cutter into the equation, throwing two of the three that Votto has seen to earn this strikeout later in that April 21, 2012 contest.
Apart from Votto’s few successes, the motivation behind Maholm’s pitch selection lies in the chart below, from Votto’s hitter profile:
If there’s a weakness in Votto’s offensive game, it’s spinning offerings that break low and away, both in the zone and beyond its boundaries. Unfortunately for Votto, those also happen to be locations that Maholm loves to target with his curve and slider against like-handed batters.
If Maholm struggles to find the zone and Votto is able to keep the bat on his shoulder in early counts, the first baseman could work his way into hitter-friendly situations. That would force Maholm to challenge Votto’s strength by turning to the fastball or sinker, which the lefty has done on 71 percent of the occasions when left-handed hitters have jumped ahead in the count this year. Otherwise, it’s Votto who will need to make the adjustment to take Maholm out of the exclusive septet of pitchers that have so far dodged his wrath.
What to Watch for on Monday