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July 10, 2013

What You Need to Know

Chicago Firepower

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
The White Sox entered last night’s matchup with Justin Verlander with a .237 team TAv, the second-worst mark in baseball. Only the Marlins, at .231, had been less potent at the plate as a group, and Mike Redmond’s bunch did not have the benefit of a designated hitter. Among junior-circuit clubs, the Yankees, 11 points ahead of the White Sox at .248, were the next-worst squad.

The American League’s least productive lineup, one with only two starters toting on-base percentages higher than .310, is not supposed to collect 23 hits in a game against Verlander. But on Tuesday, the White Sox did.

Even the most productive hitter in the league is not supposed to collect four hits off of Verlander in the same game, much less to tie an American League record with six base knocks in a nine-inning contest that Verlander started for the opposing team. But on Tuesday, Alex Rios did both.

If the internet did not exist, box scores, statistics, and standings were not circulated, and scouting reports were unavailable, the Tigers would have known nothing about the White Sox heading into the opener of the first series between the teams this season. They might have left Comerica Park down on their hopes of securing a second consecutive division title after watching the team with which they jockeyed for much of 2012 slap 12 hits off Verlander and plate six runs against the bullpen. But the Tigers were in first place, the White Sox 14 games behind them in the cellar, and none of those information sources could have foretold the shelling that took place in Detroit on Tuesday night.

Rios picked up the visitors’ first hit with a single to right in the opening frame. He raised both his hit total and the team’s to two with a triple in the top of the third. Between that two-out three-bagger and Rios’ next knock, a single in the fifth inning, only Dayan Viciedo and Alexei Ramirez added to the White Sox’ tally. With five-ninths of its offensive innings in the books, Chicago had five hits and no runs. Apart from a dearth of high-90s readings on the radar gun, this was a typical Verlander start.

Except that in the ensuing four frames, the White Sox scored 11 times on 18 hits.

Five of the runs and seven of the hits were charged to Verlander, who was pulled four out-less batters into the eighth inning after throwing his 112th pitch of the night: a 92-mph fastball that Conor Gillaspie turned around for a single. Gillaspie also made the third out of the top half of the eighth, a frame in which the White Sox sent 13 batters to the plate. Between his plate appearances, the visitors tacked on five runs to the two that scored on a homer by Adam Dunn off of Verlander earlier in the inning. Six hits, all of them singles, in a seven-batter span, brought home three superfluous insurance runs in the top of the ninth.

Verlander left with a dozen knocks on his line for just the third time in his career and the first this season. The White Sox combined for more hits than any team had collected in any game, regardless of the number of innings played, in nearly two years. And Rios made all sorts of history, from the unique four-hit feat against Verlander to the six-hit outburst that gave him ample opportunities to utilize his speed.

Down in the dumps with a lethargic offense, a four-game losing streak, and the third-worst record in the league, the White Sox needed a jolt. The Coffee, Alabama, native supplied it in the 11-4 win—in his words, “the most fun [they’ve] had in quite a while.”

Tuesday’s Matchup in Review
Cole Hamels sported a 4.58 ERA when the month of June came to a close, but since the calendar flipped to July, he has allowed only three runs (two earned) in 15 innings. The 29-year-old lefty twirled eight innings of one-run ball versus the Nationals last night, giving up six hits, walking one, and striking out four in the 4-2 Phillies win. The lone run scored on a solo shot by Jayson Werth in the top of the second.

As expected, Hamels’ meetings with Ian Desmond were brief—and, as had previously been the case, most of them went the pitcher’s way. Desmond went 1-for-4 with an eighth-inning single; he flied out once and grounded out twice. One of the two grounders was a 4-6-3 double play that put the kibosh on a possible first-inning rally, coming on the heels of a leadoff single by the newest member of the Nationals, Scott Hairston.

Hamels coaxed both the twin killing and the sixth-inning slow roller to short with cutters under the hands. Desmond’s single came on a grooved, 1-0 fastball, and it followed another knock from Hairston and preceded a walk drawn by Bryce Harper. Unfortunately for the Nats, Hamels clamped down on their hopes of coming back by fanning Ryan Zimmerman and inducing a harmless fly ball from Werth to erase the bases-loaded jam.

Desmond, who was 5-for-28 against Hamels coming into the game, is now 6-for-32. And Hamels remains the only big-league lefty who has faced the shortstop at least 20 times and held him to a sub-.700 OPS.

Matchup of the Day
Today’s matchup features a pitcher looking to sustain his recent success in limiting opponents’ extra-base hits and a hitter who has seemingly regained his power stroke. Eric Hosmer and Ivan Nova have locked horns only five times in their young careers, and the first baseman has gone 2-for-5 with a double and a home run in those meetings. It is up to the right-hander to cool his hot bat.

Nova, who allowed a whopping 87 extra-base hits in 170 1/3 innings of work last year, posted a 6.48 ERA in three-plus April starts before departing two innings into his fourth with elbow inflammation. He spent a month on the disabled list, made two relief appearances in May—including a five-frame appearances highlighted by an immaculate inning—then went down to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and finally earned his way back in late June. Nova’s most recent outing, a complete-game victory over the Orioles in which he allowed two runs and fanned 11, was the most impressive of his 68 career starts.

Once a four-pitch hurler with a standard fastball, curveball, slider, changeup mix, Nova has effectively eschewed the latter two offerings, using them only as show-me pitches to keep hitters guessing. His curveball is significantly more effective, and it was his primary weapon against Buck Showalter’s lineup on July 5.

The power hook induced 10 swings and misses in 33 tries, far more than his fastball and sinker, even though the hard stuff sat in the mid 90s and touched 97 mph. Expect him to lean on it again tonight, particularly against the Royals’ best bats.

One of those middle-of-the-order hitters is Hosmer, who—after a prolonged power outage—has hit .319/.360/.558 since the beginning of June. The 23-year-old has slugged eight homers over that 150-plate-appearance span, to go with seven doubles and a triple. He’s also walked 10 times since June 1 against only 15 strikeouts.

Hosmer’s home run off of Nova came on a center-cut fastball on May 12, 2011; it was the second big fly of his major-league career, and it came on the first major-league pitch that Nova threw him. Three months later, on August 16, he added a double on a hanging slider, the fifth pitch of an at-bat in which Nova alternated his breaking pitches: slider, curve, slider, curve, slider. But that was a different Nova, a pitcher who employed a deeper arsenal instead of honing in on the two or three offerings that were producing the best results. Hosmer is likely to see a two-pitch, fastball-curveball mix tonight.

Based on the above data from Hosmer’s Brooks Baseball hitter card, that could give Nova the edge. The first baseman’s recent surge has come largely on the strength of his fastball and changeup hitting. He has never handled curves and sliders well, hitting .214 on the former and .187 on the latter in his big-league career, and although the results have improved over the past month and change, Nova’s strengths on the mound appear to match Hosmer’s weaknesses in the box.

Of course, Hosmer has proven over the past five weeks—and in his handful of encounters with Nova—that he can punish location mistakes. If Nova reverts to his mistake-prone 2012 form, he is likely to pay the price (7:05 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Wednesday
Do you like watching some of the league’s best young pitchers hone their craft? If so, today’s your lucky day.

  • Kick things off with Jacob Turner, who takes the bump as the Marlins wrap up their three-game series with the Braves. Turner, in his first full season in the Marlins organization after coming over in the Anibal Sanchez/Omar Infante deal last summer, has amassed a 2.30 ERA over seven starts. However, the sustainability of that mark rests largely on his success in keeping the ball in the yard: Turner has served up only one home run over 47 innings. With power threats up and down the order, the Braves will challenge the 22-year-old while looking to provide support for Paul Maholm (12:40 p.m. ET).
  • Johnny Hellweg’s first three big-league appearances have been, well, hellish—and the right-hander has not been entirely responsible for his own demise. His doozy of a line: 6 1/3 innings, 15 hits, 16 runs (nine earned), eight walks, and two strikeouts. He was charged seven runs, but only three earned runs, in his most recent outing, a 3 2/3-inning loss to the Mets, in which he walked five and fanned none. Many think that the towering righty’s spotty command will eventually corner him into a late-inning bullpen role, and the results so far are exhibits A, B, and C. He’ll try to avoid supplying exhibit D in this afternoon’s matchup with Mike Leake and the Reds (2:10 p.m. ET).
  • If Hellweg fizzles or is undone by the Brewers’ defense yet again, the intrigue will return some 90 minutes later when Zack Wheeler takes on the organization that drafted him. Wheeler, who was traded by the Giants to the Mets in exchange for Carlos Beltran in 2011, will be toeing a major-league rubber for the fifth time, as he tries to rein in his walks and miss a few more bats. The 23-year-old right-hander’s K:BB stands at 16-to-13 through 21 innings, but a scuffling San Francisco lineup might be just what the doctor ordered. Wheeler will lock horns with Matt Cain, who—after five straight quality starts—slipped back into his dismal early-season form with a 2 1/3-inning, eight-run disaster against the Dodgers his last time out (3:45 p.m. ET).
  • Shelby Miller’s ERA was not going to stay below 2.00 forever, but in the course of a half-dozen starts, it has climbed by nearly a run, from 1.82 to 2.80. The hard-throwing righty seemed to right the ship in his most recent assignment, holding the Angels to two runs in six innings of work to wash down the bitter taste of a 1 2/3-inning beating in Oakland. Now he’ll try to keep things rolling in a duel with fellow 22-year-old Jordan Lyles, who was born nine days later in 1990. After rough stints in 2011 and 2012, Lyles, a sandwich-round pick in 2008, appears to have turned the corner and could establish himself as a rotation fixture in Houston for years to come (8:15 p.m. ET).
  • Finally, finish off your evening with a National League West battle between left-handers Hyun-jin Ryu and Tyler Skaggs. A demotion to Triple-A that followed consecutive five-run duds in June served Skaggs well, as he returned on July 5 and blanked the Rockies for eight innings. The Southern California native, who came to the Diamondbacks in the swap that shipped Dan Haren to Anaheim, could secure a long-term spot in Kirk Gibson’s rotation by delivering a few worthy encores to that gem. Ryu, meanwhile, has been everything that the Dodgers could have hoped for in his first stateside campaign, and he enters tonight’s game riding a string of eight consecutive quality starts. The Korean import’s ERA stands at 2.82, down from 3.71 at the beginning of May, and he has not permitted more than three runs in a start since May 5 (9:40 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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