September 16, 2013
What You Need to Know
The A's Sweep Away Texas
The Weekend Takeaway
Scheduled starter Jarrod Parker, unbeaten since May 22, was scratched with an illness. Tommy Milone, who entered with a 4.96 ERA in 14 road outings, and whom the Rangers thumped for six runs in 3 2/3 innings on August 2, took his place. Yoenis Cespedes, who opened the series with a three-run first-inning homer on Friday, was sidelined by a shoulder ailment. Nate Freiman, a much less powerful hitter, took his place as the DH.
But on the heels of a 1-0 Athletics victory on Saturday, in which Bartolo Colon outdueled Yu Darvish, Sunday brought more of the same. The Rangers had chances in the middle match, yet they stranded eight and went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, as Colon and Grant Balfour kept an early 1-0 edge intact. They had even more opportunities in the finale, but left 10 on base and went 1-for-10 with RISP. A.J. Pierzynski’s first-inning RBI single did not even match the two-run blast by Josh Donaldson in the top half of the frame. And the A’s, who got long balls from Chris Young in the third and Josh Reddick in the ninth, had four more runs in the tank.
The pitching staff, aided by Milone, became the first group in franchise history to hold the Rangers homerless in a series at Texas’ current home yard. And in tandem with the Pirates—who swept the Rangers in Arlington before the A’s came to town—they dealt the Rangers their first-ever winless homestand of six or more games.
Bob Melvin credited Milone for limiting Texas to one run in five innings despite making his first start since August 27 on short notice. Milone said the last-minute assignment worked to his advantage. In any event, he did plenty to help the A’s cap off a 5-1 road trip with their fifth straight win and to send the Rangers tumbling to their sixth consecutive defeat. The top two teams in the American League West are going in opposite directions, and now that Ron Washington’s club has failed in its bid to reverse both of their courses, it’s going to need to complete its own U-turn and hope for help from the Angels and Twins.
The A’s, who are 16-4 in their last 20, welcome those two sub-.500 crews to the O.co Coliseum this week during their last homestand of the regular season, a seven-gamer, which begins with their magic number down to eight. The Rangers head to Tampa Bay for four and Kansas City for three, a tough slate that could endanger their wild card hopes if the bats stay as dormant as they were on Saturday and Sunday.
The Rangers and Rays begin their showdown at Tropicana Field dead even at 81-67. The Indians, at 81-68, play the 79-71 Royals, and either Central club could turn up the heat with a strong showing in that series. The Orioles, 2 ½ back at 79-70, and the Yankees, three shy at 79-71, are both off on Monday, as Baltimore prepares to visit Boston and New York crosses the border for a date with the Blue Jays.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
Pence was hot enough coming into the four-game set at Chavez Ravine. He had a .400/.490/.800 triple-slash line through 49 September plate appearances, including four doubles and four homers, and he went 4-for-5 while driving in six of the Giants’ eight runs in a loss to the Rockies last Tuesday. But he turned things up a notch to help Bruce Bochy’s squad take three of four from the Dodgers, preventing Don Mattingly’s bunch from sealing up the National League West title in front of its home fans.
The 30-year-old Pence went 1-for-5 with a big fly in the opener, accounting for one of the Giants’ two runs in a 3-2 defeat. He went 2-for-4 with another long ball in Friday’s game two, contributing that solo shot to a 4-2 victory. On Saturday, when the Giants set a Dodger Stadium visitors’ record by plating 19 runs in a laugher, Pence turned in another tater and led the way with seven RBI, the most by a Giant since Marco Scutaro logged that many on August 8, 2012. And as if that weren’t sufficient, Pence blasted two more homers off of Edinson Volquez in Sunday’s finale.
Four games. Eight hits. Five homers. Twelve RBI. Add all of that up, and Pence—who has stepped onto the field in all 150 of San Francisco’s games this season—now owns 25 home runs for the year with 12 games left to go. No Giant besides Barry Bonds has topped 26 since Jeff Kent had 37 in 2002. And no Giant had subjected the Dodgers to five or more in a single series since Don Mueller, who did it at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1951.
For a franchise that has struggled to find sources of power since moving into AT&T Park, whatever price tag Pence’s representatives at Beverly Hills Sports Council set will be difficult to reject. Negotiations are expected to ramp up when assistant general manager Bobby Evans returns from his trip to the Dominican Republic.
Most catchers don’t go close to a month without missing a game. In fact, most get a day off every week. But Wilson Ramos isn’t most catchers. The Nationals backstop has been in the squat for each of the team’s last 23 contests, a season-high for all major-league catchers, and he’s performing as well as ever with no end to the grueling stretch in sight.
Ramos spent two weeks on the disabled list with a hamstring strain in April and missed 44 games after aggravating that injury in mid-May, so the 26-year-old might be fresher at this late stage of the season than many of his foes and fellow catchers. He became a true everyday player when the Nationals shipped Kurt Suzuki back to the Athletics on August 23, the day after his marathon stretch began. And during these 23 games, he has hit .261 with seven home runs.
Sunday’s series finale versus the Phillies was Ramos’ best outing of the season. He steered Jordan Zimmermann through seven innings of two-run ball and provided the right-hander with ample support. So much support, in fact, that manager Davey Johnson was able to give him a break in the late innings of Washington’s 11-2 win.
Ramos drove in the Nats’ first run of the afternoon on a single in the bottom of the second, tacked on another amid a three-run rally in the bottom of the fourth, collected RBI no. 3 on a solo shot to center field leading off the sixth, and upped his total for the day to five with a two-run knock in the seventh. By that point, the Nationals were up 10-2, and Johnson decided that Ramos had done his share. Jeff Kobernus entered as a pinch-runner, and Jhonatan Solano, who has played sparingly because of Ramos’ durability, put down the signs the rest of the way.
The right-handed-hitting Ramos, who came over from the Twins in the Matt Capps deal struck on July 29, 2010, now owns the club’s single-season homer record for catchers and has chipped in two wins to the Nationals’ cause this year. Most impressively, he has done all of that in just 68 games, offering merely a taste of what he might offer were he to stay healthy for a full season.
The Nationals have gone 17-6 to this point in Ramos’ ongoing streak, crawling to within 4 ½ games (four in the loss column) of the Reds, who still enjoy a firm grasp on the second wild card spot. With Cincinnati heading to Houston to take on the Astros early this week, Ramos and the Nats, who are welcoming Atlanta to D.C., will need to sustain this late-season push to keep their long-shot hopes alive.
What to Watch for on Monday