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August 13, 2014

What You Need to Know

August 13, 2014

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
The Nationals dropped two of three to the Braves over the weekend, shrinking their division lead to 3 1/2 games. A visit to Citi Field was just what the doctor ordered to stop any potential skid in its tracks.

With eight straight wins at the ballpark in Queens and 23 in their past 27 games there, the Nats have been guests of honor in the Mets home. Terry Collins’ club was a friendly host again on Tuesday, going down with only an eighth-inning whimper on a night when the visitors lit up the New York sky.

Rookie Mets starter Rafael Montero got through the first inning unscathed, but Bryce Harper denied him a second goose egg with an opposite-field blast in the next frame:

Those were the only runs that Doug Fister, who turned in seven shutout innings, and Ross Detwiler, who allowed one run in two frames of mop-up work, would need to secure the victory. But first, there was a 25-minute rain delay. And then, a few frames later, there were a lot more fireworks.

Anthony Rendon padded the 2-0 lead with a solo shot leading off the sixth. Adam LaRoche followed with a walk. And Ian Desmond chased Montero with a two-run tater into the left-field corner.

The Nats weren’t done. After Harper flied out and Wilson Ramos singled, rookie Michael Taylor—who collected his first major-league hit on a second-inning single—showcased the pop that earned him his call to The Show:

With that two-run oppo taco, the rout was on.

On a night when the sides combined to go 0-for-17 with runners in scoring position, homers were the name of the game. The Mets got on the board with a sacrifice fly by Eric Campbell, but they would’ve needed seven of those to match the visitors’ blasts.

Fister, who now boasts a 2.34 ERA and has served up only one long ball in his last five outings, didn’t give the home nine many chances to fire back. And with the Dodgers’ 4-2 win over the Braves, the Nationals’ division lead grew to five games, the largest it’s been all season.

***

Meanwhile, the Tigers, who shipped Fister to the Nats last offseason for what many deemed an insufficient haul, could’ve used an effort like the one the right-hander delivered for his new team. Instead, they got five-plus rocky innings from Robbie Ray, the apple of Dave Dombrowski’s eye in the aforementioned return.

The 22-year-old Ray was doubled to death at PNC Park. He squandered an early 1-0 edge by permitting three two-baggers in a four-batter span. Russell Martin got one to begin the bottom of the second. Then, after Starling Marte flied out, Gaby Sanchez tied the game and replaced Martin in scoring position for Travis Snider, who placed a fly ball perfectly in between Ezequiel Carrera and Rajai Davis to put the Pirates on top.

That was all for the second, but the Bucs were right back at it in the third. Josh Harrison doubled and stole third, and Jordy Mercer brought him home with a single to make it 3-1. Two innings after the Tigers halved the deficit on a solo homer by Alex Avila, the Pirates tacked on an insurance run with—you guessed it—another double, this one off the bat of Ike Davis.

Justin Wilson, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon took care of the rest, son. Their fine relief capped the 4-2 win for Pittsburgh, which gained a game on the Brewers, who were shut out by the Cubs. Milwaukee’s lead in the Central is down to 1 ½ games.

Quick Hits from Tuesday
The Tigers had a 1 1/2-game Central lead four days ago. They had a seven-game lead on July 24. But when play began on Tuesday, the Royals were in first place.

The Tigers’ loss kept them there. Jon Lester and the A’s kept them from pulling away.

Ned Yost’s offense may not be the most powerful or prolific, but his hitters do one thing exceptionally well: They make contact more than any other lineup in the league. When the Royals took the field on Tuesday, they’d struck out just 690 times as a team this season, the lowest total in the league. By a mile. The Athletics, the next-hardest team to fan or catch looking, had racked up 810.

The Royals’ aggressive approach and ability to fight pitches off or put them into play makes it especially difficult for a starting pitcher to pad his punchout total against them. Before yesterday’s game, only two hurlers had managed to compile nine strikeouts versus Kansas City this year: Corey Kluber, who’s done it thrice, and Collin McHugh, who did it on May 27.

McHugh lasted seven innings in that game. Kluber finished at least eight in each of his three and twice got through nine. Lester, who now boasts three wins over the Royals since July 20, a span over which all other pitchers are 3-12, fanned nine in just six frames on the bump.

The southpaw was far from perfect: He allowed six hits—three of them doubles—and issued two walks. But on a night when the A’s pounded Jeremy Guthrie and long man Bruce Chen, Lester didn’t need to be.

Derek Norris, batting fifth for Bob Melvin, went 0-for-5 with a hat trick. Eric Sogard went 1-for-5 in the nine hole. All seven of Oakland’s other starters took multiple hits back to the team hotel.

Two of Josh Donaldson’s three knocks were big flies, both of them at Chen’s expense:

Those were superfluous. Brandon Moss’s four were not.

The left fielder drove in a run with a double in the first and added another with a single in the third. With a runner on first and one away in the fifth inning, he beat the shift with a bunt single that proved fruitful when Stephen Vogt singled home John Jaso, who’d moved to second on the play.

That made it 6-0. Lester and the bullpen took it from there in the 11-3 romp, with extra help from Donaldson’s yardwork, the cherry on top of a four-spot in the eighth.

***

The A’s win put the onus on the Angels to avoid falling 4 ½ games back in the West. Mike Scioscia’s club was dormant for five-and-a-half innings, after which it trailed 2-0.

Some say home runs are rally killers. Kole Calhoun’s sixth-inning dinger was a rally starter. So much so that Calhoun would bat again in the inning and smack an RBI single.

Mike Trout followed the long ball with a strikeout. Seven of the next eight Angels batters reached base. Calhoun was the only one who didn’t score, in part because Trout followed his single by whiffing again.

That’s right, folks: The Angels batted around and scored seven times in an inning in which Mike Trout struck out twice.

The center fielder joined Norris in the hat trick saloon. But just as Norris watched the A’s drop 11 on the Royals, Trout saw his teammates collect six hits in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. No sorrows to drink away.

Except for poor Antonio Bastardo, who bore the brunt of the damage. The lefty was charged with five runs (four earned) on four hits and a walk while recording only one out. It’s the third time this season that Bastardo has been thumped for four-plus tallies and the fifth outing in which he’s been saddled with at least three. Twenty of the 26 earned runs on his line for the season have come in just five of his 52 appearances.

C.J. Wilson shook of a rough stretch to log 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball before handing it over to Jason Grilli and Fernando Salas. The latter struck out three over two perfect frames to finish off the 7-2 win.

***

In other American League West news, now’s not a good time to mess with Chris Carter.

The right-handed slugger had 26 homers to his name in 2014, 13 of them since July 4. He was batting .322/.383/.722 over a 30-game span that began with the Independence Day fireworks.

That was before he cranked two more into the seats…

…or, more accurately, into the same fan’s hands. Carter’s yardwork led the way in the 10-4 Astros win over the Twins.

***

In exchange for losing Lester, the Red Sox gained Yoenis Cespedes. In return for parting with John Lackey, they got Joe Kelly (and Allen Craig). Those two won’t help John Farrell’s squad to defend its World Series championship, but they’re still providing plenty of entertainment to the team’s disillusioned fans.

Kelly struggled early in Tuesday’s date with the Reds in Cincinnati. He walked two of the first three batters he faced, then gave up two singles, and before the ex-Cardinal knew it, he was down 2-0.

The right-hander would soon settle in on the bump, but before that, he’d have a little fun in the box and on the basepaths. Kelly singled off of Mat Latos to kick off the third and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brock Holt. Leadoff men moving pitchers over is a novel idea. So’s this.

With the count 3-0 on no. 2 hitter Dustin Pedroia, Latos forgot all about Kelly at second base. Or, he just didn’t think that a pitcher with a grand total of zero steals in his professional career would bother to try. In either case, he was wrong. Kelly did try—and as Pedroia took ball four, he took third without a throw. He became the first American League pitcher to swipe a bag since Kenny Rogers in 2002 and the first Red Sox pitcher to do it since Bill Landis in 1969.

Latos atoned for the boner by coaxing a popup from David Ortiz and a harmless line drive from Yoenis Cespedes.

In the eighth inning, with the Reds up 2-1, Jonathan Broxton gave Cespedes a little chin music. Bad idea. The next pitch was a challenge fastball. And this swing by Boston’s new left fielder was anything but harmless:

Cespedes’ second go-ahead eighth-inning homer in as many games put the Red Sox on top 3-2. Tommy Layne, Edward Mujica, and Koji Uehara held the line the rest of the way.

***

#Shrimp, anyone?

Cesar Ramos had an order ready for the fans who lingered at Globe Life Park in Arlington long enough to watch him grant Adam Rosales a walkoff walk in the 14th inning.

That’s a fitting conclusion to a sloppy contest in which the teams made three errors apiece. Nick Martinez—yes, starting pitcher Nick Martinez—touched the plate with the winning run after entering as a pinch-runner for Geovany Soto. The catcher reached base with one away on the last of the fielding miscues, a rare blunder by Evan Longoria.

The Defensive Play of the Day

The glovework in that one wasn’t all bad, though. Otherwise, the game might’ve been over much sooner.

With the go-ahead run in scoring position in the last of the eighth, Leonys Martin sent a fly ball deep to center field.

pastedGraphic.png

Desmond Jennings, who was positioned a step to the left of dead-center, is already a couple of steps into his route, but he still has a long, long way to go to reach the would-be landing spot denoted by the red dot.

That’ll do.

What to Watch on Wednesday
Trevor Bauer was drafted third overall (2011) and developed by the Diamondbacks before falling out of favor with the organization. Now in his second major league stint with the Indians, the right-hander will finally have a chance to make his original employer regret selling low on him in a three-team trade struck with the Tribe and the Reds on December 11, 2012. Bauer is set to toe the rubber at Progressive Field in a matchup with Vidal Nuno, whom the D’backs snagged from the Yankees in exchange for Brandon McCarthy last month. The 23-year-old UCLA product will take the mound looking to shake off a 3 1/3-inning, five-run clunker at the hands of the new-look Yanks on August 8. He gets the nod in the first game of a true doubleheader against rookie Andrew Chafin, who’ll become the 10th Diamondback to debut in 2014 (4:05 p.m. ET, TBD).

A year and two months ago, Buck Farmer was finishing his collegiate career at Georgia Tech. The fifth-round pick began his 2014 campaign with West Michigan in the Midwest League. He earned a promotion to Double-A late last month and debuted for Erie on August 1. Now, less than two weeks after his first professional start above Low-A, the 23-year-old Farmer is joining the Tigers rotation, tasked with quieting the Pirates at Comerica Park. He’s scheduled to face Vance Worley in the third game of the four-game series (7:08 p.m. ET).

Minutes later, former Indians right-hander Justin Masterson will tackle his third assignment in a Cardinals uniform: a date with the Marlins in Miami. Masterson was charged with five runs in each of his first two starts with St. Louis, but while he lasted six innings versus the Brewers in his debut, the Orioles sent him to the showers with nobody out in the third last week. The 29-year-old has developed an odd propensity for allowing exactly five earned runs, having done so in each of his last three starts, four of his last five, five of his last seven, and 10 of his 21 on the year. Fortunately for Masterson, the only starter the Marlins have slapped with precisely five earned runs since June 28 is ex-Astro Jarred Cosart, whom they acquired at the deadline. Nate Eovaldi gets the ball for the home team (7:10 p.m. ET).

At the end of play on May 11, Chris Archer was toting a 5.16 ERA and had served up homers in back-to-back starts. Since then, he’s allowed opponents to go yard only thrice in 92 1/3 innings, en route to a 2.44 ERA that’s lowered his mark for the season to 3.33. The 25-year-old will try to sustain his stinginess with the gopher ball in the unfriendly confines of Globe Life Park, where he’ll meet Miles Mikolas and the Rangers this evening. A converted reliever, Mikolas has posted a 6.57 ERA while filling a hole in Ron Washington’s injury-ravaged rotation, but he’s limited foes to two or fewer runs in three of his last four assignments (8:05 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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