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September 16, 2013

What You Need to Know

The A's Sweep Away Texas

by Daniel Rathman

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The Weekend Takeaway
With a chance to complete a decisive sweep and pad a commanding lead in the American League West, the Athletics gave the Rangers a fighting chance.

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
Hunter Pence and the Giants kicked off talks about a new contract earlier this month, according to Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. The right fielder spent the weekend in Los Angeles giving his agent some extra leverage.

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.

Defensive Play(s) of the Weekend
Throwing, running, leaping, catching—Carlos Gomez, who has now robbed five home runs this year, delivered the whole package on Sunday:

What to Watch for on Monday

  • A fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft, Sam Dyson has five major-league appearances under his belt, but all of them—two with the Blue Jays in 2012 and three with the Marlins this year—have been in relief. The University of South Carolina product underwent one elbow surgery, an ulnar nerve transposition, in 2007, and another, the more common Tommy John procedure, a few years later. Despite missing the entire 2011 season to recover from the latter surgery, he was the first player from the 2010 draft class to reach the majors. Now, the 25-year-old must prove that he belongs. And he’ll make his first start in The Show at Citizens Bank Park, where he’ll be matched up with Cliff Lee this evening. The 35-year-old Lee has amassed 19 strikeouts in 16 innings over his last two starts, bringing his ERA down to 2.97, the lowest it has been since the All-Star break (7:05 p.m. ET).

  • With eight seasons and 188 big-league starts to his name, Matt Garza has toed the rubber against 27 of the 30 teams, including 14 of the 15 American League clubs. The only junior-circuit team he has never faced are the Rays, who employed the right-hander from 2008 through 2010. That will change this evening, when Garza leads the Rangers into Tampa Bay for a four-game series, returning to Tropicana Field, where he amassed a 3.21 ERA over 47 starts during his three-year stint under Joe Maddon. The 29-year-old Garza has been erratic in 10 starts since coming to the Rangers from the Cubs, posting a 63-to-17 K:BB ratio through 66 2/3 innings, but pairing it with a 4.46 ERA, the product of 10 home runs allowed during that span. He has held his opponents to fewer than three runs only twice in those 10 assignments. Alex Cobb, who has compiled a 3.22 ERA in six starts since he was activated from the disabled list on August 15, gets the ball for the Rays (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • As I mentioned in the Takeaway, opportunity knocks for Cleveland and Kansas City, because one of Texas or Tampa Bay is guaranteed to lose on each of the next four days. The Royals took two of three from the Tribe at Progressive Field, and James Shields helped them to one of those wins by tossing eight innings of two-run work in which he allowed only four hits, walked one, and struck out seven. Scott Kazmir was much less effective that day—he coughed up four runs (three earned) on nine knocks in as many innings—and Alex Gordon started things off with a home run. Gordon, who blasted his 20th of the year off of Max Scherzer on Sunday and is batting .349 over an active 10-game hitting streak, will try to stay hot at Kauffman Stadium this week (8:10 p.m. ET).

  • The Dodgers gave first-year import Hyun-jin Ryu 12 days to nurse a stiff back before sending him to the mound on September 11, but the left-hander looked rusty, coughing up 10 hits the Diamondbacks while notching only one strikeout in 6 1/3 innings, his poorest whiff output of the season. Following a rough pitching weekend versus the Giants, the Dodgers could use a bounce-back effort from Ryu, who, with a trip to Chase Field on tap, has a chance to immediately avenge last week’s defeat. He’ll need to be careful with Paul Goldschmidt, who came away with four hits the last time they locked horns and is 6-for-11 with a couple of doubles in his first 12 encounters with the Korean lefty. Trevor Cahill gets the ball for Arizona. (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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