The Tuesday Takeaway
If the Angels and Dodgers narrowly miss the postseason, they will look back on Tuesday’s defeats with the utmost regret. Each of the Southern California contenders lost by a run in a game that it badly needed to win.
The Dodgers went first behind Clayton Kershaw—who was scratched from Sunday’s series finale against the Giants with a sore hip—but they might as well have put 76-year-old Sandy Koufax on the mound. After all, you can’t win if you don’t score.
Facing Ian Kennedy, Brad Ziegler, and David Hernandez, the Los Angeles offense went 5-for-30 with no walks and eight strikeouts in the 1-0 loss. The top five hitters in Mattingly’s order combined for a 2-for-18 performance. And because the eighth-place hitter, A.J. Ellis, grounded into two double plays, Kirk Gibson’s pitching staff faced only three batters over the minimum.
If this was the Dodgers’ first feckless effort with Kershaw on the mound, it might have been forgivable. But they are just 5-4 in the 24-year-old lefty’s last nine starts, all of them quality outings, and 1-4 in the most recent five. On Aug. 20, Madison Bumgarner stymied Los Angeles in a duel for the ages. On Aug. 30 and last night, Ian Kennedy outdueled Kershaw, tossing 13 2/3 innings of shutout ball. And perhaps worst of all, on Sept. 4, Eric Stults—whom the Dodgers sold to the Hiroshima Carp in March, 2010—matched Kershaw step-for-step, enabling the Padres to win a battle of attrition with three runs in the 13th. Each time, Kershaw allowed no more than two runs. And each time, his effort went unrewarded.
But all of those wasted Kershaw outings may not rival the Angels’ inability to cash in when it mattered most last night. Down 6-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Halos were on the verge of defeat, but A’s closer Grant Balfour administered CPR. A walk to Chris Iannetta and another to Mike Trout brought the middle of the order up with the tying run at the plate and nobody out.
Torii Hunter singled to make it 6-4, putting a struggling Balfour on the ropes and sending the A’s bullpen into a frenzy. Albert Pujols singled to make it 6-5, leaving Los Angeles Times beat writer Mike DiGiovanna to wonder if this might be his signature moment. The tying run was 90 feet away, and Peter Bourjos, one of the fastest players on the roster, represented the winning run at first.
But this was not Pujols’ signature night—it was Jerry Blevins’. The lanky lefty came in and promptly fanned Kendrys Morales for the first out of the inning. Runners at the corners, one out, Howie Kendrick up; time for a squeeze, right? Nope. Time for a game-ending, 5-4-3 double play, capping Blevins’ second career save, the epitome of what a save should be.
Few managers have as many tricks up their sleeve as Mike Scioscia, who can play small ball with the best of them. He gave himself a wealth of options with Bourjos at first. A steal. A hit-and-run. A squeeze. Yet instead of playing for the tie, Scioscia saw the A’s on life support and went for the jugular. Had Morales or Kendrick doubled and Bourjos come all the way around from first, the skipper’s aggressiveness would have been celebrated. But now, after their failures, both Scioscia and the Angels are left with more questions than answers.
Both of those losses may prove insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and neither is debilitating with 20 games left to play. The Dodgers are still just one game back in the National League wild-card race, and they host the second-place Cardinals for four this weekend. The Angels face a more precarious scenario, sitting 2 ½ out on the American League side and needing the Tigers to push ahead of the White Sox—whom they host next weekend—to gain more control over their own destiny. Still, they were red-hot coming into this series and have the talent to regain that momentum at any time.
Then again, both teams dug themselves into these holes. And if Tuesday’s games don’t sound the alarm, they may not wake up in time to dig themselves out.
What to Watch for on Wednesday
- The Padres, of all teams, have been rather unkind to Kyle Lohse throughout his career, saddling the sinkerballer with a 5.24 ERA and seven home runs in 44 2/3 innings over eight starts. Fortunately for Lohse, most of that damage was done by players no longer in San Diego, and only Will Venable—who is 4-for-5 with two doubles in their past meetings—can claim any sort of ownage of the 33-year-old righty. Lohse has not suffered a loss against a National League opponent since the Astros nipped him on May 4; he has escaped with a no-decision in all seven of the Cardinals’ defeats over the last four-plus months, mostly because he gave up more than three runs in only one of them. Manager Mike Matheny will look for another quality effort from Lohse as St. Louis tries to avoid what would be a costly sweep at the hands of the Padres, who have quietly won 15 of their last 20 and will go with Clayton Richard tonight (6:35 p.m. ET).
- Stephen Strasburg was supposed to get the ball in tonight’s series finale between the Mets and Nationals, but he was prematurely shut down, and John Lannan will take the hill instead. No one is happier about that development than Jason Bay, who hasn’t gotten a hit in more than a week, but who owns a 4-for-9 line with a double, a home run, and two walks versus the 27-year-old lefty. Lannan won both of his big-league starts this season, back on July 21 and Aug. 3, but his 7-to-7 K:BB ratio left a lot to be desired. He also logged a middling 4.30 ERA and 86-to-50 K:BB in 24 starts for Triple-A Syracuse despite wearing a big-league game face. Terry Collins and the Mets will counter with rookie Matt Harvey (7:10 p.m. ET).
- The Tigers finally got off the schneid on Tuesday, scoring more than two runs for the first time in five games and thereby snapping a four-game skid to climb back within two games of the White Sox. With only two head-to-head matchups between the American League Central rivals remaining, Jim Leyland’s team could turn up the heat on Robin Ventura’s squad by at least earning a split. That’s because, once this series is over, the Tigers will play 13 of their last 16 games against the Indians, Royals, and Twins. Max Scherzer and Gavin Floyd are set to tangle in the most important game of their teams’ seasons to date (8:10 p.m. ET).
- A.J. Griffin has been charged with precisely one earned run in each of his past two starts, and the rookie right-hander has not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his first 10 major-league outings, joining Joe Kelly as one of two first-years to accomplish that feat this season. Tonight, manager Bob Melvin entrusts the northpaw with the biggest assignment of his young career: a duel with Ervin Santana and a chance to clinch a crucial series win with a third straight victory at Angel Stadium. Griffin may get help from an unlikely source—Cliff Pennington, who is 11-for-23 with three doubles versus Santana, his second-highest hit total off any pitcher, trailing only Felix Hernandez, who has somehow coughed up 13 (10:05 p.m. ET).
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