The Monday Takeaway
On June 17th, the Royals beat the Tigers by a final of 11-4 to take their ninth straight game and leapfrog Detroit atop the American League Central. It was the first time Kansas City had held the division that late in the season since 2003, and they beat Detroit again the next night to build a 1 1/2 game lead.
Kansas City’s moment in first place was short-lived, as Detroit reclaimed the division lead a few nights later and had seemingly run away with the AL Central crown over the next month. By July 21st, Kansas City had dropped to third in the Central, 1 1/2 behind Cleveland for second place and eight games off the division lead.
But less than a month later, we’re back to where we started; Kansas City is back in first place after Monday’s victory over the Athletics extended their most recent winning streak to eight games, while Detroit’s reputedly foolproof super-rotation may have taken its second hit in as many days.
After Detroit’s bullpen was exhausted by 12 innings worked on Sunday’s against the Blue Jays, it was critical for Justin Verlander to eat up innings Monday against the Pirates. Instead, Detroit’s worst nightmare came to fruition as the Pirates torched Verlander in the first inning and then watched him exit the game immediately after with shoulder soreness.
Looking at Verlander’s fastball velocity, you might not have guessed that his shoulder was bothering him:
Alas, he walked two of the first four Pirates to come to bat and ended up leaving a handful of hittable pitches over the middle of the plate. Among those pitches was a first-pitch slider that Starling Marte, who cleared the bases with a triple down the left field line to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 advantage.
Playing in a National League ballpark, the Tigers trotted out the frightening corner infield combination of Victor Martinez at first base and Miguel Cabrera at the hot corner. That came back to bite them when the next batter, Travis Snider, hit a groundball that went under the glove of Martinez and scored Marte. Verlander proceeded to allow a pair of singles as the early deficit widened to 5-1.
With Verlander set to undergo an MRI on his shoulder later today, the Tigers will cross their fingers and hope that they don’t lose their second starting pitcher to the disabled list this week. On Sunday, Anibal Sanchez was placed on the disabled list with a pectoral strain and is expected to miss three to four weeks.
With Verlander unable to spare the bullpen, Brad Ausmus turned to Justin Miller, Ian Krol and Kevin Whelan—who were all called up from the minors prior to last night’s game—to eat up some innings. Krol spun two scoreless innings of relief, but the Pirates only added to the damage against Miller and Whelan. Miller took over for Verlander and proceeded to give up a dinger to Travis Snider in the second inning, part of a three-run frame that gave Pittsburgh a seven-run advantage.
The Tigers clawed back with a three-run fifth inning and a two-spot in the eighth, but the Pirates answered both times with the long ball. Russell Martin and Ike Davis went back-to-back off Whelan in the sixth and Snider added his second dinger of the night off Phil Coke in the eighth.
Shortly before Justin Wilson recorded the final out of Pittsburgh’s 11-6 win, Alcides Escobar had singled home Lorenzo Cain in Kansas City to give the Royals a 3-2 lead over the A’s. Sonny Gray tossed seven solid frames for Oakland, but an unearned run that crossed the plate in the first inning proved to be the difference between Gray and Yordano Ventura, who allowed a pair of runs over six innings.
Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis bridged the gap between Ventura and Greg Holland with perfect frames, but the Kansas City closer worked himself into trouble in the ninth. Josh Donaldson collected a leadoff single against Holland and moved into scoring position after a wild pitch, and Brandon Moss followed with a five-pitch walk.
That brought Derek Norris to the plate, but Holland was able to induce a chopper to Mike Moustakas, who stepped on third base and threw to first to record the first two outs of the inning. With the Kauffman Stadium crowd on its feet chanting “Let’s go Royals,” Holland stranded Moss on second base by getting Stephen Vogt to fly out to center field, where Jarrod Dyson caught the final out of the game and celebrated Kansas City’s ascension to first place in the Central with an emphatic standing backflip.
Quick Hits from Monday
We’ve come to learn that Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t hit a ton of cheap home runs. Jay Bruce brought back what would have been a rare wall scraper off the bat of Stanton with a leaping catch at the wall in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game. Because of Bruce, Stanton had to settle for just one long ball in that game.
Stanton made sure that no one would be able to deny him a home run Monday night, as the Miami slugger took Shelby Miller very deep in each of his first two at bats for his 30th and 31st home runs of the season.
In the first inning, St. Louis played its infield in against Stanton with a runner at third and one out in a scoreless game. The infield alignment didn’t make much of a difference for the Cardinals, as Stanton drove a mistake pitch from Miller into the right field bullpen.
Next time up, Stanton absolutely crushed a hanging curveball from Miller for a 470-foot moonshot that put the Marlins up 3-0.
Stanton’s tape-measure shot marked the 13th multi-home run game of his career and was his seventh longball of at least 450 feet this season. Not only is that more 450-foot homers than any other team this season, but no other player has belted more than two such blasts this season.
With the incredible displays of power that Stanton regularly exhibits in Miami, it’s easy to forget how skilled a defender he is in right field. Entering last night, Stanton trailed only Jason Heyward in Fielding Runs Above Average among major-league right fielders, and he made a pivotal over-the-shoulder diving catch in right field to rob Kolten Wong of a leadoff extra-base hit in the fifth with…
The Defensive Play of the Day
At the end of the night, it turned out that an embarrassing blunder that is sure to end up on all future blooper reels wouldn’t come back to haunt the Orioles in their 11-3 blowout of the Yankees. As for a major injury scare to one of their key players, that’s yet to be determined.
With Chase Headley at first base and Carlos Beltran at second in a 1-1 game in the second inning, Headley took off for second. Caleb Joseph fired a strike down to second and Headley turned back for first and was caught in a rundown. Jonathan Schoop ran Headley back to first before tossing the ball to Steve Pearce, who ran Headley back toward second base. It was at this point that Pearce had Beltran hung up between third and home.
Instead of running at Beltran and forcing him to break one way or the other, Pearce made the mistake of throwing behind Beltran, who broke for home. Manny Machado was forced to make a quick throw, and despite trying to create a throwing lane for himself, he needed to make a near-perfect throw to his glove side to nail Beltran.
Instead, Machado’s throw ended up hitting Beltran in the helmet and skipped to the fence. While Headley was on his way to third base, Norris recovered the ball. As for why Norris felt the need to make a quick flip here to Joseph—who was limping—with Headley just making it to third? It’s still not clear.
The ball skipped past Joseph up the third base line and Headley came racing home to score when Norris was subsequently unable to catch the throw back to the plate. To watch the bizarre play unfold in its entirety:
In the bottom of the third, Manny Machado got jammed and hit a broken-bat grounder to third base, but immediately collapsed and grabbed at his right knee as Baltimore fans held their collective breath. Machado had X-rays done on his knee—which is worth noting is not the same knee that was operated on after last season’s gruesome injury—after the game and no ligament damage was revealed, but the Orioles third baseman will get a full diagnosis after undergoing an MRI later today.
Davis’ home run gave Baltimore a 4-3 lead, which they extended after hanging a pair of crooked numbers on New York’s bullpen. Adam Warren relieved Capuano in the seventh and gave up a three-spot that was capped by Nelson Cruz’s 31st tater of the season. Chase Whitley didn’t have any better luck the next inning, as the Yankees right-hander surrendered four runs before departing the game down 11-3.
Coupled with Seattle’s 11-1 drubbing of Toronto behind Felix Hernandez’ MLB-record 16th straight seven-inning, two-or-less run start, Baltimore’s lead atop the American League East is now up to six games over the Blue Jays with the Yankees seven games out in third place.
Second-guessing Tampa Bay’s return for David Price at the trade deadline was a popular stance to take when the deadline’s biggest prize netted the Rays cost-controlled major league talent rather than a high-profile top prospect. While it may be unrealistic to expect Drew Smyly to fill Price’s shoes, losing a staff ace may sting a little less for Rays fans after their newest addition to the pitching staff tossed more than seven innings of shutout ball in Arlington last night.
Early in the game, the Rangers were unable to manage much hard contact against Smyly, who was able to command his fastball and work in both his cutter and curveball. Through six innings, Smyly had allowed just a bunt single to Daniel Robertston and a pair of free passes to Adrian Beltre. The Texas third baseman tallied his team’s second hit of the night in the seventh, but was unable to come around to score with Smyly striking out the other three Rangers that came to bat in the frame.
Fatigue seemed to catch up to Smyly the next inning with his pitch count reaching the century mark at the start of the eighth. After Rougned Odor doubled with one out, Smyly issued his third walk of the game and uncorked two wild pitches, which led Joe Maddon to give him the hook after a career-high 7 and 2/3 innings of work. The southpaw finished with nine punchouts, which was the second-highest single-game total of his career. Kirby Yates came in to relieve Smyly and loaded the bases with a walk to Elvis Andrus, but Joel Peralta bailed out both Smyly and Yates by inducing a Jim Adducit inning-ending groundout. Grant Balfour pitched a scoreless inning of relief in the ninth to put the finishing touches on Tampa Bay’s 7-0 win.
Bonus Fan Defensive Play of the Day
Mark Reynolds broke a scoreless tie in the second inning against the Cubs with a no-doubt mammoth shot that looked like it would soar out of Wrigley Field. Except this Cubs fan reached over the railing at the back of the left field bleachers. Better yet, he was able to keep his souvenir while pleasing the rest of the crowd; he swapped the home run ball with a ball he had brought to the stadium and threw it back on to the field.
What to Watch on Tuesday
After enjoying brief stints in the majors in May, Robbie Ray and Rafael Montero have each spent the last two months down on the farm waiting for their next opportunity to get the call back up to their respective big league club. Each young hurler will get another chance Tuesday with rotation staples on both the Tigers and Mets out of commission.
When Anibal Sanchez went on the disabled list in May with a finger laceration, the Tigers called upon Ray to make his major league debut. Ray—the centerpiece of this offseason’s Doug Fister trade—made two solid outings and a relief appearance before a seven-run shellacking at the hands of the Rangers sent him back to Triple-A. Back in Toledo, Ray walked over four and a half batters per nine while batters tallied a .287/.370/.442 clip against him in just over 67 innings. Sanchez’s latest ailment could open up between 4-6 turns in the rotation that the Tigers hope Ray can fill, but the 22-year-old will need to yield better results than he did during his latest minor league stint if he wants to keep that temporary spot in the rotation. His first test will come on the road in Pittsburgh tonight, where he’ll be opposite Edinson Volquez (7:05 p.m. EST).
The Mets turned to Rafael Montero in early May after moving Jenrry Mejia from the rotation to the bullpen, but Montero’s time in the rotation was short-lived. Montero had a stellar six-inning outing against the Diamondbacks in which he fanned 10 and limited the Snakes to just two hits, but his other three starts consisted of a run-of-the-mill debut against the Yankees and another two starts in which the preseason No. 4 prospect in the system failed to make it through five innings. After being sent back down to the minors, Montero was sidelined for nearly a month with a strained left oblique, but has made four starts since making his return to Las Vegas in mid-July. Montero’s latest outing was perhaps the finest of his young professional career, as he tossed eight innings of one-hit ball and struck out 11 Sacramento River Cats. That was enough for the Mets to give him a second crack at the majors for Tuesday’s start against Doug Fister and the Nationals, as Montero will step in for Jacob deGrom, who was recently placed on the disabled list with rotator cuff tendinitis. (7:10 p.m. EST).
From the start of tonight’s slate of games to the wee hours of the night that supply the West Coast matchups, those in search of elite pitching should be covered with a trio of rotation aces taking the hill Tuesday night. Marlins fans are familiar with the filthy breaking ball of their fallen ace, Jose Fernandez, but they’ll quickly become accustomed to another elite offering tonight: Adam Wainwright’s curveball. The Cardinals ace will try to slow down Giancarlo Stanton’s hot bat, while Jared Cosart will toe the rubber for Miami in his second start with his new club (7:10 p.m. EST). An hour later, you’ll want to start switching back and forth between watching Wainwright and Jon Lester, as Oakland’s newly acquired ace will take on the Royals in what will likely be the Kansas City debut of Josh Willingham (8:10 p.m. EST). Those who stay up late will be treated to Chris Sale taking on the Giants, who return home to AT&T Park on the heels of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Royals (10:15 p.m. EST).