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August 28, 2013

What You Need to Know

August's Surprising Power Performances

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
When the calendar flipped to August, Shane Victorino had five home runs and 29 RBI on the season. When he woke up yesterday morning, he had nine big flies and 41 runs driven in. When he went to bed, he had 11 and 48.

Victorino was no stranger to double-digit homer totals during his heyday with the Phillies, slugging 18 in 2010 and 17 in 2011, but his power output dropped to 11 in 2012, and it lagged badly for the first four months of this year. Now, he has equaled last year’s tally and appears poised to add to it over the remaining five weeks.

As the Red Sox romped over the Orioles 13-2, Victorino led the charge by sending home more than half of their runs. He delivered the second multi-homer game of his career (and his first since July 12, 2008) and collected a career-high seven RBI, adding a double to his pair of long balls to finish 3-for-3 with a walk. Victorino also scored in each of the four times he reached base, including the two occasions on which he plated himself.

Put all of that together and, per the Baseball-Reference Play Index, you have the 10th occasion since 1916 on which a Red Sox player has amassed two or more homers, four or more runs, and seven or more RBI in the same game. Before Victorino, the most recent player to do so in a Boston uniform was Dwight Evans, on August 13, 1988. And two of those 10 instances (Walt Dropo and Bobby Doerr) took place on one day in 1950, when the Red Sox dropped 29 runs on the St. Louis Browns and starting pitcher Chuck Stobbs went 2-for-3 with four walks. (In case you’re wondering, that is indeed the only time in the Play Index era that a pitcher has picked up at least one hit and drawn four bases on balls in the same game.)

Now batting .292/.346/.446, Victorino is rewarding general manager Ben Cherington’s three-year, $39 million investment—an investment that some questioned when the right fielder put pen to paper on December 4. But the 32-year-old switch-hitter is hardly the only player enjoying an unlikely power surge this month.

The list of players who cranked seven or more homers in August of 2012 was rather predictable: it contained 20 names, from Chase Headley and Giancarlo Stanton, who each had 10, to 13 players who had seven, the most surprising of which may have been Kendrys Morales and Hanley Ramirez. And given their production in 2013 neither of those is all that surprising in hindsight.

By the end of play on Tuesday, 14 players had produced at least six homers this month. Miguel Cabrera led the way with 11; no surprise there. Chris Davis and Justin Upton each had eight; no surprise there. Evan Longoria and Paul Goldschmidt each had seven; no surprise there. Alfonso Soriano had nine, Justin Morneau had seven, and Chris Carter and Mark Trumbo had six. Those names might have been a bit unexpected, but that’s nothing compared to the rest of the bunch.

Victorino is in the remaining group—and he might be its most predictable member. Two others, Will Venable (7) and Jedd Gyorko (8), hail from the Padres, who rank 22nd in the majors in home runs as a team. Venable had 12 homers at the start of August, and Gyorko has doubled his total from eight to 16.

Darin Ruf, who earned a September call-up last season about six weeks after the trade that sent Victorino from the Phillies to the Dodgers, has hit nine this month to bring his major-league-career total to 14. Fellow rookie Khris Davis, who has ridden the shuttle from Triple-A Nashville to Milwaukee a couple of times, has tacked a half-dozen on to his pre-August total of two.

But when it comes to stunning power outbursts, Donnie Murphy takes the cake. The Cubs infielder, whose journey, spanning parts of seven seasons, has taken him through Kansas City, Oakland, Miami, and now Chicago, owned 18 big-league homers before his latest taste of The Show. Since August 6, he has added eight more in just 83 plate appearances, including four in a four-game stretch that culminated in a game-tying blast with two outs in the ninth inning and Stephen Strasburg on the hill on August 22.

Quick Hits from Tuesday
Eleven Yankees (including Vernon Wells) have manned the hot corner this year, but only five (including Francisco Cervelli and Mark Reynolds; more on that later) have been asked to handle the keystone. Robinson Cano has appeared at second in all 132 of their games, providing some semblance of stability in a season of turmoil.

That semblance was nearly snatched away early yesterday evening, when J.A. Happ—who drilled Curtis Granderson on the wrist during spring training and knocked the center fielder out for the better part of the first half—missed inside with a fastball and nailed Cano in his left hand. After a couple of hours of breath-holding, Cano’s x-rays came back negative and the second baseman was listed as day-to-day with a bruise.

Minutes later, his backup, Eduardo Nunez, saw his 2013 season flash before his eyes. Nunez stepped awkwardly while jogging toward a ball in the field and twisted his ankle, crumpling to the ground. He stayed in the game briefly but was then replaced by Lyle Overbay, who remained in the game at first base. That move forced Reynolds to play second base for the first time since 2007.

And after a nerve-wracking night, the Yankees, who downed the Blue Jays behind Andy Pettitte, wound up gaining a game on the Indians, Orioles, and Rays, all of whom ceded a game to the Red Sox and Athletics in the crowded junior-circuit postseason races.

***

Pitching has been the Pirates’ calling card throughout the first four-fifths of the season. A significant and sustained regression from one of their key starters now threatens to derail their hopes of upsetting the Cardinals and Reds to capture the National League Central.

The Pirates entered play on Tuesday atop the team ERA leaderboard at 3.19, but that mark climbed in their 7-6 loss to the Brewers, mostly because Jeff Locke’s once smooth-sailing ship continued to take on water. Locke was charged with five runs in 4 2/3 innings of work, over which he permitted eight hits and two walks, and his ERA for the season rose to 3.22, the highest it has been since April 23. The 25-year-old southpaw hasn’t logged a quality start since July 26. He hasn’t completed six innings in any outing during that span, let alone held an opponent to three or fewer runs while doing so, and his collective ERA for those six games is north of 8.00.

Fortunately for Clint Hurdle’s club, the bats have picked up the slack behind Locke, helping Pittsburgh to a 3-3 record despite its pitcher’s rut. But the Pirates are now 1½ games behind the Cardinals for the first time since July 28, and they’ll need more from Locke to keep up down the stretch.

***

Tuesday’s middle match versus the Rockies was the 132nd game of the Giants’ season, and not once in the first 131 contests did any two of Bruce Bochy’s hitters combine for back-to-back home runs. Finally, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval took care of that in the first inning, at the expense of rookie right-hander Chad Bettis, who had to crane his neck to watch the first of the two blasts.

Pence’s home run—which traveled so far that broadcaster Duane Kuiper pointed out that it could have bought a burger on its way out of the park—cleared the left-field bleachers at Coors Field and measured 476 feet, making it the longest long ball hit in the majors this year.

Defensive Play(s) of the Night
It's a leather-flashing deathmatch between two West division shortstops.

The Diamondbacks' Didi Gregorius turned in what might be the most impressive popup catch of the year, ranging deep into left-center field before making an acrobatic catch.

Earlier in the evening, the Mariners' Brendan Ryan fielded a ball that crossed the infield dirt well to the right of the second-base bag, sliding, turning, and gunning the ball to first to retire A.J. Pierzynski (with an assist from Justin Smoak).

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Hiroki Kuroda, seven runs? What?! If that’s what you thought on August 23, when the Rays went deep four times against the seemingly unflappable right-hander, who hadn’t given up a long ball since June 29, you weren’t alone. The last time Kuroda had been charged with that many runs was on July 6, 2012, and the last time he was saddled with seven earned tallies was nearly two months before that, on May 16 of last year. Two straight clunkers, the first an 11-hit shelling at the hands of the Red Sox on August 17, have shot Kuroda’s ERA up from 2.33 to 2.71. He’ll try to right the ship by grounding the Blue Jays this evening (7:07 p.m. ET).

  • It might be unfair to judge Daisuke Matsuzaka solely on his Mets debut, considering that it came in a brutal matchup with Cabrera and the Tigers, but to earn some trust, he’ll have to fare significantly better in tonight’s battle with the Phillies. Cabrera and Torii Hunter each went yard off of Matsuzaka on August 23, when he allowed five runs in as many innings, though the 32-year-old chucked three zeros onto the Citi Field scoreboard after Detroit’s four-spot in the top of the second. Cole Hamels, who has logged six consecutive quality starts but received only one win for his efforts, gets the ball for the visitors (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • Adam Wainwright, who notched four complete games in the first three months of the season, logged his first since the end of June in his last time out, a six-hit, one-run win over the Braves. After a brief hiccup—by his standards—earlier this month, during which he issued five walks in the course of 14 innings over two starts, the right-hander has fanned 20 and walked only one in his most recent pair. Next up: a duel with fellow righty Homer Bailey, who has served up 10 homers in 59 innings since he no-hit the Giants on July 2 (8:15 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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