The Tuesday Takeaway
Saddled with a six-game losing streak, during which their closer, Jim Johnson, had blown as many saves as he did over all of last season, the Orioles badly needed a jolt last night. Baltimore’s playoff odds had plummeted by 17.3 percentage points over its skid, which dropped the Orioles’ record to 23-21 and left them five games behind the first-place Yankees.
So, on Tuesday night, Buck Showalter’s team did what it did down the stretch in 2012, when a 48-29 surge after the All-Star break brought the American League wild card to Baltimore. It got significant contributions from unexpected players—players that Dan Duquette and his staff unearthed from the scrap heap in the preceding months.
The two solo home runs that helped the O’s to erase a pair of one-run Yankee leads? Those came off the bat of Chris Dickerson, who spent the previous two years in the Yankees organization, most of them with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and signed a minor-league pact with the Orioles in January.
The seven innings of two-run ball that ensured those two big flies would be all the runs the Orioles would need to send the game to extra innings? Those came from the right arm of Miguel Gonzalez—fresh off the disabled list after nursing a blister on his thumb—a minor-league signee in March 2012, who earned his way into a full-time rotation job last summer.
The 10th-inning solo homer that walked the Orioles off with the victory, dealing a win to Johnson, who needed only eight pitches to finish the top half of the frame? That was authored by Nate McLouth, who has emerged as a surprisingly capable leadoff man, hitting .282/.366/.444 this season after joining the Orioles on a minor-league hitch last June and working his way back up to the majors.
Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters went a combined 2-for-19. And the Orioles still managed to halt their tumble down the standings, climbing back to within four games of the Yankees and improving their ledger to 24-21 with a win that Dickerson himself said they “really needed.”
The rubber match of the series, in which Jason Hammel will square off with Hiroki Kuroda—whose splitter was highlighted by Ben Lindbergh in yesterday’s Overthinking It—should draw plenty of attention (7:05 p.m. ET). But the real show could come on Thursday night, when the Orioles travel up to Toronto to open a four-game set with the Blue Jays. That’s because top prospect Kevin Gausman is expected to be promoted for the assignment, taking the place of Jair Jurrjens, much like Machado got the call when Buck Showalter’s squad needed reinforcements last August.
Though the Orioles are still given only a 1-in-8 shot of returning to the postseason, according to the updated PECOTA odds, Duquette and Showalter have proven that they will not leave any stones unturned. That approach worked wonders in 2012. And, notwithstanding the just-snapped six-game hiccup, Dickerson’s hot bat and Gausman’s 49-to-5 K:BB for Double-A Bowie are among the reasons to believe that it could work again.
Matchup of the Day
With nine starts in the books, Mets right-hander Matt Harvey is giving no indication that he plans to stop dominating opponents anytime soon. If anything, the 24-year-old right-hander is honing his craft as the season wears on. Over his past three trips to the mound, Harvey has struck out 22 batters while issuing only two walks, and he has yet to allow more than three runs in an outing this year.
This afternoon, Harvey will duel Reds righty Mat Latos, who also remains undefeated to this point in the season. One of the many keys to Harvey’s success has been his ability to shut down left-handed batters, something he has done better than all but one other major-league starter. Through 123 plate appearances, lefties have compiled a collective .124/.172/.186 triple-slash line against Harvey—who, just for the sake of emphasis, is a right-handed pitcher. The only full-time starter to hold lefties to a lower OPS is the Braves’ Paul Maholm, a southpaw, against whom they are batting .115/.206/.131.
The Reds lineup will provide a formidable challenge, even for Harvey, with leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo, first baseman Joey Votto, and right fielder Jay Bruce leading the charge from the left side. Choo, who spent last year with the Indians, and Votto, who was on the disabled list after undergoing knee surgery when the Mets visited Great American Ball Park last August, have never faced Harvey. Bruce has, and so he gets the nod in today’s matchup.
Making the fifth start of his big-league career, Harvey was unfettered by the bandbox that is Cincinnati’s home yard, and he turned in 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball to outgun Homer Bailey in an 8-4 Mets victory. Bruce went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles that day, one each off of Harvey and reliever Frank Francisco. In his other two trips to the plate, both of which came against the University of North Carolina product, Bruce struck out.
Armed with a five-pitch arsenal that includes two fastballs (four-seam, sinker) and the full complement of off-speed and breaking offerings, Harvey has dominated lefties this season largely on the strength of his heater and changeup. Both pitches have induced whiffs on roughly one-third of the swings that opposing lefties have taken against them, according to the data on Harvey’s Brooks Baseball card.
Unlike many of his fellow lefty sluggers, though, Bruce has shown the ability to adjust to the soft stuff, even when enemy righties have located it well in the lower third of the zone. Harvey fanned Bruce in each of their first two head-to-head showdowns—pounding the outside corner before dropping a curve in the dirt in the first, and blowing him away with challenge fastballs in the second—but in the third, Bruce smacked a knee-high changeup for a first-pitch double.
The 26-year-old Bruce got off to a slow start this year, amassing only eight extra-base hits and a 651 OPS during the month of April, but he has since rediscovered his power stroke after beating the ball into the ground during the first few weeks. Bruce has already struck out 18 times in May, but the Reds won’t mind the whiffs if he maintains a .338/.352/.721 triple-slash line to go with them, as he did over 68 at-bats entering Tuesday night’s game. Bruce has collected multiple hits in six of his last eight contests, and over that span, he has drilled six doubles and four home runs, raising his OPS for the season from 665 to 807.
Harvey, of course, is well-equipped to halt Bruce’s surge. The right fielder has proven vulnerable, over his big-league career, to fastballs inside and off-speed chase pitches down and away. With only three encounters from which to draw conclusions and make adjustments, the one that gets a step ahead of the other could prevail this afternoon (1:10 p.m. ET).
What to Watch for on Wednesday
- After impressing the Pirates with a 23-to-1 K:BB for Triple-A Indianapolis, Francisco Liriano, who inked a minor-league deal during the offseason, was promoted earlier this month. The erratic lefty has been almost equally impressive in his first two big-league assignments for Pittsburgh, fanning 16 batters in 11 innings while amassing a 1.64 ERA. Tonight, he’ll look to maintain his positive first impression in a matchup with Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs. The 29-year-old Liriano needed at least 90 pitches to record 16 and 17 outs, respectively, in his outings against the Mets and Brewers, so improving his efficiency is a logical next step (7:05 p.m. ET).
- I wrote in Monday’s WYNTK about the Indians’ penchant for tattooing Cy Young Award winners so far this season, and in this evening’s series finale versus the Tigers, they’ll face a decorated hurler for the ninth time this year. Justin Verlander, who coughed up four runs (three earned) to the Tribe on May 11, is among the Cy Young owners that Terry Francona’s offense has saddled with a 1-7 ledger and an 8.21 ERA. The 30-year-old right-hander suffered the worst outing of his career at Rangers Ballpark last week, yielding eight runs over only 2 2/3 innings, and bouncing back at Progressive Field won’t be easy. The Indians will counter with Ubaldo Jimenez, who has notched at least eight strikeouts in each of his last three starts, flashing signs of a return to his long-lost peak form (7:05 p.m. ET).
- When Jaime Garcia was forced to go on the disabled list with a shoulder strain, the Cardinals had multiple options from which to choose his replacement. At least for now, they’ve settled on left-hander Tyler Lyons, a much-less-heralded prospect than 2012 first-rounder Michael Wacha, but a polished pitcher with the command to hold his own. The 25-year-old Lyons brings a 38-to-9 K:BB with him from Triple-A Memphis, where he was equally solid last year. A 10th-round pick out of Oklahoma State University in 2010, Lyons will make his big-league debut against the Padres and right-hander Burch Smith, who attended cross-state rival Oklahoma. Four homers allowed in just 6 1/3 innings of work have bloated Smith’s ERA to 15.63 in the early days of his major-league career, but he struck out eight Nationals while issuing only one walk on May 17 (10:10 p.m. ET).