The Rays' bullpen, so dominant last year, had another disaster last night. Tonight, Jeremy Hellickson will try to curb Chris Davis' penchant for power.
The Thursday Takeaway
Performance variations from season to season are common in baseball—given the extent to which batted-ball luck and other uncontrollable factors can impact the game—and they can seem especially glaring during the late-spring months, when sample sizes are still small and a few bad apples can turn a sweet stat line sour.
Matt Cain, who allowed 21 home runs in 219 1/3 innings in 2012, has already watched 13 balls sail over an outfield fence in 56 1/3 frames this year. Jay Bruce, who authored 34 bombs in 155 games last year, has just three to his name through his first 40 games of 2013. The Indians, whose 705 team OPS last year was 22nd in the majors, now sit atop the leaderboard with a 791 clip to date. But few turnarounds, positive or negative, can rival the complete 180 executed by the Rays bullpen, which last year was one of the most reliable and dominant units in the league.
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Tampa Bay is holding its breath after David Price left yesterday's game with an injury. Tonight, Yu Darvish will attempt to make Omar Infante whiff at the dish.
The Wednesday Takeaway
The traditional rules of pitching depth aren’t supposed to apply to the Tampa Bay Rays, the story goes. If one of the young homegrown arms goes down to injury or if one ceases to be affordable, you just order another part from the factory in Durham, N.C., and repeat as necessary.
Last night, Jean Segura continued to impress in Milwaukee. Tonight, David Price will lock horns with Mike Napoli and the Red Sox.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Another day, another clip for the highlight reel from Jean Segura—or, so it seems these days in Milwaukee, where the young shortstop is routinely stealing the show.
The Brewers are 16-21, and their extra-inning loss to the Pirates on Tuesday was their eighth defeat in 10 games. With the Cardinals already 8 ½ games up in the National League Central, the Brew Crew’s long odds are growing longer with every loss, and the team’s front office is eagerly looking ahead to future years.
Aaron Hicks finally flashed some of his potential last night. Tonight, Bartolo Colon will look to halt Ian Kinsler and the Rangers.
The Monday Takeaway
When the Twins decided to break camp with Aaron Hicks as their everyday center fielder, prospect fiends, including Jason Parks, cautioned that the 23-year-old might not yet be ready for the challenges he would soon face. Parks, who ranked Hicks as the organization’s third-best prospect, praised his tools and on-base skills, but wrote, “a stop in Triple-A would be beneficial.”
Hicks earned the Opening Day gig by going 27-for-73 (.370/.407/.644) in Grapefruit League play, where he showed off both his power (11 extra-base hits, four home runs) and speed (3-for-3 on stolen-base tries). Both tools earned a 6 grade from Parks, to go with Hicks’ excellent arm, but big-league pitchers immediately exposed his unpolished approach, leaving the 2008 first-rounder with scant opportunities to display them.
As this weekend demonstrated, the Blue Jays can't get by on power alone. Tonight, the Dodgers will pin their hopes on Josh Beckett as they face Bryce Harper and the Nationals.
Well, my Little League coach was right: You can’t win games just trying to hit home runs. The Blue Jays did rout the Red Sox Sunday with five bombs, including two from Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion’s league-leading 11th, and now lead the majors with 51 long balls in 39 games. But despite the power, Toronto sits 24th in baseball with just 3.74 runs per game, and has only three regulars with an OBP over .340.
Obviously, Jose Reyes’ injury has derailed the Blue Jay offense on every level—although his replacement, Munenori Kawasaki, is one of those three regulars getting on base—but the team has been working under the “swing hard in case you hit it” philosophy for years, dating back to the JP Ricciardi era. (For some reason, I always associate it with Aaron Hill.) In fact, going back to 2006, the Blue Jays have failed to rank higher in the AL in runs scored than they did in homers. Ricciardi took office in Toronto prior to the 2002 season, so this trend began about when his draft classes really started to impact the major-league level.
Yesterday, Scott Kazmir and the Indians turned back the clock in their victory over the A's. Tonight, Pablo Sandoval will probably not try to be patient while facing Tim Hudson.
The Thursday Takeaway Scott Kazmir is hitting the mid-90s with his fastball. The Indians are among the American League’s leaders in home runs. Mark Reynolds, who has hit more long balls than any other player in the junior circuit, is batting over .275. What is this, 2007?
No, a quick check of the calendar confirms that it is, in fact, May 2013. And no, the radar gun at Progressive Field wasn't deceiving the fans in attendance or those watching the Indians’ 9-2 victory over the Athletics on television. Kazmir, two-year hiatus and all, really was touching 96 mph with his fastball on Thursday afternoon. And the visiting A’s, like many of the teams the 29-year-old lefty faced during his heyday in Tampa Bay, could do nothing with it.
Yesterday, King Felix put on a show against the Pirates. Tonight, Cody Ross is set to do battle with Cole Hamels.
The Wednesday Takeaway
Remember when the Mariners gave Felix Hernandez a record-setting seven-year, $175 million extension this past offseason, and then news of a possible elbow injury surfaced, and then Hernandez’s first Safeco Field start since the payday briefly stirred concerns that the annual 230-plus inning workloads were finally taking their toll? The right-hander’s fastball may no longer touch the mid- to high 90s, as it did during his first few major-league seasons, but his last five starts have left no doubt that King Felix is still King Felix.
In yesterday’s matinee at PNC Park, the 27-year-old Hernandez stymied the Pirates over eight innings of work, keeping pace with A.J. Burnett until Jesus Montero’s solo shot gave the Mariners a decisive 2-1 lead. Hernandez’s fastball only averaged a tick over 91 mph, but his secondary offerings baffled the Pirates from beginning to end, as 26 of his 33 changeups, curveballs, and sliders went for strikes. With virtually everything working, Hernandez needed only 97 pitches to record 24 outs, before Tom Wilhelmsen cleaned up the ninth inning to earn his ninth save.
Last night, Craig Kimbrel blew his third save in five tries. Tonight, Matt Moore will try to contain Rajai Davis at the dish and on the basepaths.
The Tuesday Takeaway
The Braves had a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. The Reds had the bottom of their order coming up. And Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was set to unleash one of the league’s most dominant short-burst pitchers, Craig Kimbrel.
That’s an automatic win for the Braves, and a tough loss for the Reds, who halved a two-run deficit in the bottom of the eighth against Eric O’Flaherty, right? For two batters, it sure seemed that way. Kimbrel, who fanned a remarkable 50.2 percent of the hitters that he faced last year, subjected Jack Hannahan and Corky Miller to that cruel fate, and he needed only eight pitches to do it.
Last night, Paul Goldschmidt proved he still owns Chris Capuano. Tonight, Hiroki Kuroda will try to continue his good fortunes against Dexter Fowler.
The Monday Takeaway
Giants play-by-play broadcaster Duane Kuiper has a number of go-to expressions, one of which is “ownage is ownage,” used when a hitter with an extensive track record of success against a pitcher tacks another knock onto his résumé. In many cases, small-sample matchup data is littered with erratic hot streaks and cold spells, and ownage can be fleeting. But try telling that to Chris Capuano, who experienced it full-bore in Monday’s series opener versus the Diamondbacks, before hitting the showers three batters into the fifth inning.
Capuano—who strained his calf in his first start of the season back on April 17 and was making his first appearance since coming off of the disabled list—had a chance last night to impress manager Don Mattingly and begin building a case for a long-term spot in what eventually will once again be a crowded Dodgers rotation. Unfortunately, his nemesis, lefty-masher Paul Goldschmidt, was in the number-three hole of the opposing lineup.
Three teams have broken the 20-win plateau so far this season. Tonight, Joey Votto will try to change his fortunes against Paul Maholm.
The Weekend Takeaway
Last Thursday, the Red Sox became the first major-league team to notch 20 wins, and over the weekend, the Cardinals and Rangers joined them by sweeping the Brewers and the aforementioned Sox, respectively. Each of those squads has taken a different path to the league’s top win total through 31 games—the Tigers and Royals, who are both riding four-game surges, still could win their 20th before losing their 12th, because of rainouts and off days earlier in the year—and today’s Takeaway is a quick look back at their ascents to first place.
The Cardinals: Road Warriors
Faced with 19 away games in their first batch of 31, the Cardinals haven’t been daunted by the task of racking up victories in front of hostile crowds. Since a season-opening series loss at Chase Field, Matheny’s team has won or split each of the road sets that it has completed, including sweeps at Nationals Park on April 22-24 and at Miller Park this past weekend. Perhaps as compensation for their early travel schedule, the Cardinals were fortunate to play their first six games against the Reds at Busch Stadium, and they won four of them, accounting for much of the 2 ½-game gap that currently separates the National League Central’s top two teams.
Last night, Jake Westbrook pulled another Houdini act. Tonight, David Ortiz is set to tango with Texas' Derek Holland.
The Jake Westbrook bubble will not burst. The Cardinals righty once again clogged the bases but kept his opponents mostly off the scoreboard last night, surrendering one run on six hits with three walks as his ERA ballooned to 1.07. Westbrook has all but ditched the cutter this season and essentially become a two-pitch pitcher, attacking both lefties and righties with a sinker/changeup arsenal that hasn’t kept runners off base but has gotten the job done.
He has walked 17 in 33.2 IP. He has just 18 strikeouts so far, marking his lowest K rate since his first big league season. And when I said, “two-pitch pitcher,” that really only applies to lefties; righties know that sinker is coming and still can’t make solid contact. (Although Westbrook did an excellent job of surprising the Brewers’ righties with the curveball the second time through the order.) Can this continue?
Clay Buchholz continued dealing last night. Tonight, Jake Peavy will try to keep Adrian Beltre in check.
The Wednesday Takeaway
Earlier this week, mechanics guru Doug Thorburnpraised the positive impact that first-year manager John Farrell has had on the Red Sox’ pitching staff, which set a franchise record and led the majors with 255 strikeouts during the month of April. Last night, in a 10-1 victory over the Blue Jays, Clay Buchholz ensured that the group’s resurgence would carry over into May.
Buchholz, who worked at least seven innings and allowed no more than two runs in each of his five April outings, tacked a sixth quality effort onto that total with seven shutout frames at the Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays managed only three hits, all singles, and two walks off of the 28-year-old right-hander, who improved to 6-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.01. Buchholz’s 47 strikeouts through 44 innings rank fourth in the majors, trailing only Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez, and A.J. Burnett.