The Thursday Takeaway
Somehow, some way, somewhere, someday, someone was going to plate an earned run against Aroldis Chapman. But if I had told you that it would be the Pirates—and not just any Pirates, but the two Pirates with the lowest batting averages in that day’s Pirates starting lineup—you might have questioned my sanity.
The Reds’ relief ace came into last night’s game with a flawless 0.00 ERA in 29 innings. He had allowed only one extra-base hit—a triple by Jose Reyes—all season, and the only blemish on his line was an unearned run scored by the Mets on May 17. Manager Dusty Baker called on his undefeated, 24-year-old flame-thrower in the top of the 10th inning, after Pittsburgh closer Joel Hanrahan served up a game-tying solo shot by Ryan Ludwick in the bottom of the ninth.
For the first six pitches, all fastballs ranging from 96 to 99 mph, everything seemed in order. With the count at 2-2, Clint Barmes was all set up to be Chapman’s 53rd strikeout victim of the season. But then, the .191-hitting shortstop drove a slider into the left-center field gap for a double, the second extra-base hit off Chapman this year.
No worries. Barmes was still 180 feet away from scoring, and opponents were 0-for-21 against Chapman with runners in scoring position in 2012. The toothpick eternally placed in Baker’s mouth barely moved.
Three more fastballs, all between 98 and 100 mph, put Michael McKenry—who was 0-for-8 with RISP on the year—in a 1-2 hole. But then, the .193-hitting catcher smacked a 99-mph heater into the right-center field gap for a double, sending Barmes home on the third extra-base hit off Chapman this year.
Let’s recap: The Pirates scored the first earned run allowed by Chapman this year on the second and third extra-base hits allowed by Chapman this year, the first hit with a runner in scoring position allowed by Chapman this year, and the first hit with a runner in scoring position authored by McKenry this year. Did I mention that this was the Pirates—the same Pirates who came into the game dead last in the league with a .232 TAv?
Chapman quickly restored normalcy by fanning two of the next three batters he faced. But by accomplishing what for two months seemed impossible in its 5-4 win, Clint Hurdle’s team won the series in Cincinnati and moved back to within two games of first-place in the NL Central.
What to Watch for This Weekend
- Mike Trout was red-hot during the Angels last homestand, going 15-for-37 (.405) with three doubles, two triples, and a home run, while striking out only three times in nine games. Now the 20-year-old will take his impressive tools to the thin air and wide alleyways of Coors Field, which have effectively turned his counterpart, Dexter Fowler, into Josh Hamilton this season, helping the 26-year-old log a .354/.461/.708 triple slash in Denver. The three-game duel between two of the best young center fielders in the league begins tonight (8:40 p.m. ET).
- There may not be a fiercer three-headed rotation monster than the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann, and the Red Sox will have to contend with each member of the trio this weekend. Gonzalez, who goes Saturday afternoon (4:05 p.m. ET) and will be making his first interleague start of the season, struggled at Fenway Park during his time with the Athletics, allowing six home runs in 28 innings on his way to a 5.79 ERA. He’ll face off against Daisuke Matsuzaka, who returns to the majors exactly 365 days after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
- The lone intraleague series of the weekend pits the Padres against the Brewers at Miller Park. Andrew Cashner—who has fanned 29 batters but also issued 16 walks in 26 innings as a reliever—will move from the bullpen to the rotation for San Diego to make his second major-league start and first since being exported by the Cubs in the Anthony Rizzo deal this past winter. His opponent in Saturday’s matinee (4:10 p.m. ET), rookie Michael Fiers, will be making his third career trip to a big-league mound. Fiers’ K/BB ratio to date is a decidedly more impressive 11-to-1.
- Wondering how tough it is to be a Phillies fan right now? Well, to put things in perspective, no other team is currently riding a losing streak longer than three games, and Charlie Manuel’s bunch has dropped six in a row, capping off a disheartening 1-6 stretch at Citizens Bank Park. Now, the Phils will travel to Camden Yards to take on the Orioles, who continue to tread water atop the AL East standings. Cliff Lee—still searching for his first win of the season despite having posted a 2.92 ERA in nine starts—will be on the bump in Sunday’s series finale (1:35 p.m. ET). He’ll look to follow in the footsteps of Ryan Dempster, who got off the schneid in his 10th start of the season on Tuesday.
- The Rangers will get their first crack at the Giants since the 2010 World Series this weekend, but they won’t find many familiar faces in the other dugout. Though most of Ron Washington’s roster from two years ago remains intact, Buster Posey is the only member of Bruce Bochy’s everyday lineup to have played regularly during that Fall Classic, and two of San Francisco’s scheduled starters—Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong—were either left off the playoff roster or not yet in the organization at the time. Tim Lincecum, who pitched and won Games One and Five, goes on Sunday (1:05 p.m. ET) against Alexi Ogando, who struck out six in 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.