The Monday Takeaway
Some nights, the takeaway writes itself. Monday night was one of those nights.
In the nation’s capital, where the Braves were looking to chip away at the Nationals’ five-game lead, the expected duel between Tim Hudson and Jordan Zimmermann did not materialize. Each starter was charged with four earned runs, and both were pulled before the seventh inning, but the bullpens maintained the 4-4 tie through nine—and 10, and 11, and 12.
In the 13th, with his All-Star closer, Craig Kimbrel, still warming the bullpen bench, Fredi Gonzalez stuck with Cristhian Martinez, and the Nationals infield-singled him into submission. Ian Desmond reached on one to second. Danny Espinosa’s sacrifice-bunt attempt failed, as the Braves erased Desmond at second base. But Kurt Suzuki reached on another infield single to third. And pinch-hitter Chad Tracy delivered the deathblow: a hot shot to second—initially ruled an error—that Dan Uggla could not dig out of his glove.
The result: A 5-4 Nationals victory that padded their cushion in the East, which now stands at six games with 40 left to play.
In Los Angeles, where the Giants entered a half-game behind the first-place Dodgers, the anticipated duel between Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw topped virtually everyone’s lofty expectations. Both pitchers went eight innings, neither walked a batter, and each struck out 10. The last time that happened in the Live Ball Era: never, as Julian Levine of Giants Nirvana pointed out on Twitter.
The Giants, who fell victim to a complete-game shutout in their last meeting with Kershaw and had been blanked in their past two games against the Dodgers, manufactured a first-inning run on a double by Angel Pagan, a sacrifice bunt by Marco Scutaro, and a sacrifice fly by Pablo Sandoval. A two-out rally in the sixth inning, capped by Sandoval’s RBI single, provided an insurance run that proved crucial when Hanley Ramirez took Sergio Romo deep in the ninth. Ramirez’s homer was only the Dodgers’ fifth hit of the game, and two of those were singles by Kershaw.
Bumgarner’s four-hit effort dropped his ERA for the season to 2.83, the best in the Giants rotation, and tops among National League lefties. His strikeout-to-walk ratio for the season now stands at 160-to-32 (an even 5.00), bested only by Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton, who will lock horns with Tim Lincecum and try to flip the half-game margin back to the Dodgers tonight (10:10 p.m. ET).
What to Watch for on Tuesday
- Stephen Strasburg’s season may be winding down, but he still has plenty of time to make an impact, beginning with tonight’s matchup with the Braves. The Nationals’ six-game edge marks their largest National League East lead of the season, and another win or two in this series could put Atlanta firmly in the rearview mirror. Washington is 2-1 in Strasburg’s three starts versus the Braves this season, but the hard-throwing righty has not completed the sixth inning in any of them, posting a 4.87 ERA that stands in stark contrast to his 2.43 ERA against everyone else. Atlanta will counter with Paul Maholm, who has yet to battle the Nationals this year (7:05 p.m. ET).
- The Blue Jays’ head trainer, Mike Poulis, has been a busy man in recent weeks, and injuries to key players like Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie have predictably hindered Toronto’s offense. After ranking 12th in the majors with a 753 team OPS in July, the Jays have compiled a league-low 605 OPS in August, 33 points worse than that of the 29th-ranked Astros. Fortunately, Lawrie, who has been on the disabled list with a strained oblique since Aug. 4, is expected to be in the lineup for tonight’s series opener against the Tigers. The 22-year-old third baseman has endured a sophomore slump after dazzling during his 2011 debut, but he should provide a significant upgrade over Omar Vizquel, and as importantly, move Yunel Escobar’s .327 slugging percentage out of the cleanup spot (7:05 p.m. ET).
- Speaking of long-awaited returns, Jhoulys Chacin—who has been out since early May with inflammation in his right shoulder—is back with the Rockies and set to take the mound at Citi Field tonight. The 24-year-old righty was knocked around to the tune of a 7.30 ERA in five starts before he hit the shelf, but if he can rein in his walk rate, Chacin has the potential to be an important part of the Rockies’ future. He will take on Chris Young in game two of a four-game set against the Mets (7:10 p.m. ET).
- Staying on the subject of returning starters, the Athletics—who lost their series opener to the Twins, 7-2—will welcome Brett Anderson back to their rotation in game two. The 24-year-old southpaw has been out since June 5, 2011, after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but he logged an 18-to-5 K/BB during his six-start rehab assignment and will now be asked to write his own chapter in Oakland’s storybook season. Anderson won’t be the only one making his 2012 A’s debut on Tuesday, either: Billy Beane finally nabbed Stephen Drew from the Diamondbacks last night, and the shortstop should arrive in time to be in Bob Melvin’s starting lineup against Twins starter Cole De Vries (10:05 p.m. ET).
- Two Hernandezes—Roberto and Felix—will go toe-to-toe at Safeco Field in the second game of the series between the Indians and the Mariners. Roberto served up 10 hits and was charged with eight runs (five earned) in his 2012 debut at Angel Stadium, while Felix tossed the first perfect game in Mariners history in his most recent outing against the Rays. Roberto went 2-3 with a 3.10 ERA in seven starts versus the Mariners during the Fausto Carmona era, while Felix owns a 5-4 ledger and a 3.08 ERA in 12 career meetings with the Tribe. Look out for Jack Hannahan, who has somehow authored an 8-for-18 line with two homers in his past encounters with Felix and may pose an unexpected threat to the 26-year-old northpaw’s bid to join Johnny Vander Meer in the history books (10:10 p.m. ET).