The Weekend Takeaway
At the end of play last weekend, the Athletics held a four-game lead over the Angels in the American League West. That was the third-largest gap between first- and second-place teams in any division. If you’d had to pick one of the six to be tied one week later, you probably would’ve looked elsewhere.
But the A’s went on a tough road trip, first to Kansas City, where they couldn’t solve the Royals’ arms, then to Atlanta, where they continued to scuffle at the plate. With the exception of an 11-3 blowout win on Tuesday, Bob Melvin’s offense didn’t exceed three runs in any game on the trek.
The Braves, just a game over .500 at 61-60 when the A’s arrived in Atlanta, had no such difficulty getting to four.
Jason Hammel’s misadventures in green and gold continued in Friday’s opener, in which he lasted only three-plus innings and served up a home run trifecta. Justin Upton went first, followed by Evan Gattis in the second inning, and Freddie Freeman in the third:
The last of those blasts was a three-runner, which buried the A’s in a ditch they couldn’t climb out of. Phil Gosselin’s first career homer dug them deeper in the bottom of the sixth. Not long after Oakland lost 7-2, Anaheim downed Texas, 5-4, led by a three-run homer by Kole Calhoun.
Sonny Gray did better than Hammel, but not by much; he battled through 5 1/3 innings without his best stuff, but was charged with four runs before giving way to Dan Otero. The A’s supplied the yardwork at Turner Field on Saturday, with a sixth-inning, two-run homer by Stephen Vogt and a ninth-inning solo jack by John Jaso, but those only brought the visitors to within one run. They didn’t have any left in the tank and fell 4-3.
That opened the door for the Halos to pick up another game to square the division. And square it they did by pounding Colby Lewis for five runs on 10 hits in six innings. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Lewis became the 15th starter in the last century to allow 10 hits and record 10 strikeouts in six or fewer innings. He also became the first to do so without issuing a walk since Scott Sanderson on June 5, 1987. But Lewis’ historical feat didn’t do much good for the Rangers—or the A’s, for that matter—as the Angels held on to win 5-4.
Mike Scioscia’s club came thisclose to putting the A’s, who were scheduled to play on Sunday Night Baseball on the ropes in the finale, but after suffering consecutive one-run defeats, the Rangers got their revenge. The Angels led 2-1 heading into the last of the ninth, with Huston Street, flawless since coming over from the Padres, ready to close out the sweep.
The Rangers had other plans, such as four straight singles, the last of them a deep fly ball by ex-A’s infielder Adam Rosales …
… that walked them off with a 3-2 win.
But could the A’s take advantage with Jon Lester, their marquee deadline acquisition, on the hill? Nope.
Lester continued the weekend trend of doing better than the starter who went before him, but that still meant giving up four runs, which the A’s—still stuck on three—couldn't overcome. Justin Upton and Chris Johnson each homered for the Braves, and the latter’s seventh-inning blast gave Atlanta a much-needed insurance run. Nate Freiman authored the first multi-homer game of his career, but his teammates didn’t do enough to spare Lester the loss.
Winning three straight over the A’s didn’t do much to help Fredi Gonzalez’s team because the Nationals have won six straight. It did, however, keep the Braves afloat in the wild card picture, where they now trail by 1 1/2 games, and open the door for the Angels.
Atlanta now faces a critical showdown with the Pirates, who are also 64-60, but come into the set at PNC Park having dropped five in a row. The A’s, losers of seven of their last eight, have a three-game home battle with the Angels looming this weekend.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
The Twins were nice enough to send Josh Willingham to the Royals on August 11th, granting the scuffling outfielder a change of scenery and a chance to partake in a playoff race. Here’s how he rewarded them:
Willingham’s bases-clearing double was the biggest blow in a five-spot that turned an early 2-0 Twins lead into a 5-2 hole. Alcides Escobar’s two-run triple accounted for the rest of the scoring in the pivotal top of the fourth.
And the shortstop had the foresight to tack on an insurance run with an eighth-inning RBI single. That proved critical, because the Twins—then down 6-3—pushed across two runs against closer Greg Holland in the ninth.
The tying run never reached base, and Holland eventually slammed the door on the 6-5 win. Kansas City took the series with a 12-6 romp on Sunday.
Marcus Stroman has enjoyed a terrific rookie season for the Blue Jays, but his effort on Friday was one to forget.
Handed a 1-0 lead on an RBI single by Adam Lind in the top of the first inning, the Duke product did almost nothing right in the bottom half. Just in the first three batters, he allowed two hits, hit a batter, and committed a balk. The second hit, a single by Jose Abreu, tied the game and moved Alexei Ramirez, the batter Stroman beaned, over to third.
Adam Dunn grounded out to score Ramirez and advance Abreu to second. Then Dayan Viciedo singled home Abreu, Conor Gillaspie doubled home Viciedo, and—after Tyler Flowers struck out looking—Jordan Danks doubled in Gillaspie. You can view the whole rally here:
Stroman might be wise to stay away from the video. It shows him becoming the first Blue Jays starter to give up five earned runs without escaping the opening frame since Todd Redmond on September 29, 2013.
The bad news for the Jays is that Redmond would appear in this game, too. After Chad Jenkins turned in 2 2/3 innings of one-run rescue work, and Melky Cabrera cranked a two-run shot as part of a three-spot in the top of the second, manager John Gibbons gave Redmond the ball hoping for more length and for the right-hander to keep Toronto in the game.
He did neither.
The South Siders singled Redmond to death in the bottom of the fifth, collecting six consecutive one-base knocks before profiting from a wild pitch. Dustin McGowan picked up the slack and spared Redmond further grief, but the score was now 11-4, and the visitors would not recover.
In addition to being the second-most-recent Jays starter to be thumped for five runs in less than an inning, Redmond is now the third reliever in franchise history to give up five tallies while recording two or fewer outs without allowing an extra-base hit. Jesse Carlson did it in 2009 and Kelvim Escobar became the first back in 2003.
The White Sox went on to win 11-5.
It’s tough to lose to the Padres when their starter allows five runs. Since the start of the 2011 season, San Diego is just 14-111 under such adverse circumstances.
So when rookie right-hander Jesse Hahn gave up five runs in 5 2/3 innings in Saturday’s middle match, the Cardinals had to be feeling pretty good about their chances to come out on top. St. Louis starter Shelby Miller wasn’t much better than Hahn, with four runs in six innings on his line when he called it a night, but he left with a lead, and history suggested that the Redbirds would prevail.
The fifth run of the game for Mike Matheny’s club came on a fifth-inning triple by Matt Adams. It was the last run they’d score. The Padres, however, were not finished.
Kevin Siegrist, who came on in relief of Miller for the top of the seventh, fanned Yangervis Solarte to begin his appearance. Then Abraham Almonte bunted for a hit, Seth Smith singled to move Almonte to second, and Yasmani Grandal worked a walk to load the bases.
That set the stage for Jedd Gyorko to make history:
He drilled a fastball from Siegrist over the left-field wall for a grand slam that put the Padres ahead 8-5. Not a bad way to set your franchise’s career home run record for players at your position:
With his grand slam in the 7th inning, @JGyorko05 now has 31 career home runs, a new Padres franchise record for home runs by a 2nd baseman!
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) August 17, 2014
That’s less impressive than it sounded on first blush, when you consider the number and remember that the Padres have been around for 45 years, but setting a tater record is never a bad thing for a hitter.
Seth Smith added a superfluous insurance run in the eighth, and the Padres went on to win 9-5.
If it’s any consolation to the Cardinals, one of their players set a record, too. Jon Jay was hit by two pitches on Friday night and twice more by Hahn on Saturday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he’s the first Redbird since at least 1914 to pick up four baseball-size bruises over two games. The last major league player to do it was Craig Biggio in 2000.
Both starters in the Astros-Red Sox game on Saturday fared even more poorly than Hahn and Miller. Brad Peacock was out after 4 1/3 innings of six-run work. Rubby De La Rosa gave up six runs, too, and he didn’t even work into the fifth.
David Ortiz had it in for Peacock and the Astros all night long. He hammered an 0-2 mistake to dead center in the third inning and yanked a payoff pitch around the pole in the fifth:
One batter after Ortiz’s second big fly, Peacock was done. And the trouble for the Astros was that while the Red Sox got 2 1/3 innings of clean relief from Alex Wilson, Houston's Josh Fields and Kevin Chapman couldn’t keep pace.
Yoenis Cespedes reached on a two-base error by Jonathan Singleton right before Bo Porter made the call for Fields. Cespedes proceeded to steal third on Fields’ watch. Two walks, a single, and a sacrifice fly later, the home nine were finished flipping a 6-3 deficit into a 7-6 lead.
The visitors never caught up, in large part because Ortiz had it in for Chapman, too. Big Papi tacked a two-run double onto his pair of long balls to increase his RBI total for the night to six. He’d driven in a half-dozen on several previous occasions, but he’d never done so in this fashion:
This is the first time David Ortiz has had 3 different multi-RBI hits in a game.
— Jon Shestakofsky (@Shesta_Sox) August 17, 2014
Cespedes singled home another run to make it 10-6 in the eighth before Jason Castro answered with a solo shot in the ninth. That barely made a dent in the deficit, but it might’ve rattled Koji Uehara, who typically pitches with surgical precision.
Two batters after the homer, Uehara plunked Jake Marisnick to bring the tying run to the plate. He got a ground ball to secure the 10-7 win, but the HBP was notable nonetheless. Marisnick is just the second major-league batter Uehara has hit since coming to the United States, a 343 2/3-inning body of work. Howie Kendrick is the only other big leaguer who can claim to have worn a Uehara pitch.
The story at Comerica Park on Saturday afternoon was supposed to be home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo. The 49-year-old arbiter was calling balls and strikes for the first time after celebrating the 15th anniversary of his big-league debut, and he was blessed with the thrill of having the best view in the stadium of the highly anticipated duel between Felix Hernandez and David Price.
Randazzo’s work behind the plate on Saturday was so noteworthy that if you went to his Wikipedia page at the right time, you would’ve seen this:
Oh. Maybe the 15th birthday of Randazzo’s career wasn’t the main storyline. Maybe it was Hernandez seeking his 17th consecutive seven-plus-inning, two-or-fewer-run outing. Or perhaps it was Price making his Detroit debut.
In either case, Randazzo’s ball-strike verdicts weren’t as bad as the Wikipedia vandal made them seem.
His outside corner to left-handed batters was a touch inconsistent, and he missed a few should’ve-been strikes, but all in all, Brooks Baseball’s PITCHf/x chart tells you that it could have been a whole lot worse.
Worse like, say, his decision to grant Miguel Cabrera time with two strikes and Hernandez already midway through his windup to deliver the next pitch. That rattled the right-hander a bit and stretched what might have been a quick inning into a 21-pitch struggle.
Randazzo’s most egregious ball-strike error came in the bottom of the second and, unfortunately for the Mariners, it came at a big moment in the frame. With a runner at first and one out, Alex Avila was facing a 1-2 count. J.D. Martinez ran with the pitch. Here’s what happened:
Hernandez planted a fastball a smidge above the knees on the inner third, but didn’t get the call. Whether Randazzo was distracted by Mike Zunino popping out of his crouch to throw or just didn’t feel the pitch was good enough to warrant a punchout, he determined that it was ball two.
That led directly to this. Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon came out to voice his displeasure, and Randazzo sent him packing. As video highlights of manager-umpire arguments go, this one is special, because the insults hurled each way are audible.
After McClendon was gone, Eugenio Suarez gave the Tigers the lead with an RBI fielder’s choice. The Mariners tied the game on a Robinson Cano groundout in the fourth, but the Tigers countered with a Nick Castellanos home run.
With the Mariners still trailing 2-1 after the top of the sixth and Hernandez at 92 pitches and dealing with a sore hip following a comebacker off the bat of Ian Kinsler, bench coach Trent Jewett made the call to the bullpen for Brandon Maurer. That call snapped Hernandez’s unparalleled streak at 16 games.
Maurer got through the sixth unscathed, but trouble was afoot in the seventh. Cabrera doubled with one out, and after the M’s intentionally walked Victor Martinez, they were punished on RBI singles by J.D. Martinez and Castellanos. That made it 4-1, and Seattle would only get one more the rest of the way.
Round one of Hernandez vs. Price went to the lefty, who scattered three hits and three walks over eight innings, permitting only one run and striking out seven. Randazzo may not have had his best strike zone or been on his best behavior, but it’s a stretch to say that he alone spoiled the afternoon.
The umpire’s Wikipedia page has been restored to its previous state. So, too, was the Mariners’ half-game lead over the Tigers for the second wild card spot, after Seattle took Sunday’s series finale, 8-1.
There are bad ways and dreadful ways to lose the first game of a doubleheader. The path the Reds chose on Sunday fell on the rightmost extreme of that scale.
Cincinnati led 7-5 at Coors Field at the start of the ninth inning, and it even had the foresight to tack on two runs in the top half of the frame, cognizant of the late-game adventures a launching pad can spur.
Aroldis Chapman took the mound with no feel for anything, overthrowing numerous fastballs and sliders and leaving others well upstairs. He faced four batters and walked all of them, the first time any reliever has done that since Miguel Asencio on April 6th, 2002.
J.J. Hoover took over and nearly, nearly saved the day. He got Wilin Rosario to hit a sacrifice fly, which brought the Rockies to within two runs at 9-7. Then, Charlie Blackmon lined out to right, leaving runners at first and second with two outs. All Hoover had to do was retire Drew Stubbs.
But he left a breaking ball up …
… and Stubbs gave it a ride into the left-center field seats. That was a three-run walk-off shot that hung Hoover with his ninth loss of the year and left the Reds to brush themselves off, pick themselves up, and get ready for the nightcap.
The good news for the Reds is that they raced ahead early in game two with a run in the first and padded their lead with a three-spot in the sixth. The bad news is that they couldn’t contain Michael Cuddyer.
He kicked off his evening with a two-out triple in the first but was stranded aboard, and he struck out in the third, with the Rockies still down 1-0. Brandon Barnes went yard to put the Rox on the board in the fifth, and an inning later, Cuddyer rejoined the party with a solo shot of his own.
The Reds got that run back in the top of the seventh, but after the seventh-inning stretch, the home lineup mounted a rally. Three straight singles—one of them by Cuddyer—and a Ramon Santiago throwing error later, the game was tied at 5-5.
It would only get worse for the Reds, and Cuddyer was partly responsible for their demise in the eighth.
That was the second of back-to-back two-run doubles turned in by Corey Dickerson and Cuddyer, which put the Rockies up 9-5. Stubbs, who entered as a pinch-hitter in the latter half of the twin bill, tacked on an RBI single to make it 10-5. The Reds went down without a whimper in the ninth.
ESPN’s Mark Simon termed the two defeats “Mets-ian,” and noted that they felt like the final nail in the 2014 Reds' coffin. With 4 1/2 games and five teams now separating Bryan Price’s club from the second senior-circuit wild card berth, Cincinnati’s uphill climb got a whole lot steeper on Sunday.
The Brewers had a lead against Clayton Kershaw when he pitched at Miller Park on August 10th, but they ended up losing that game, 5-1. Given a second chance to halt the left-hander’s winning ways on Saturday, they finished the job.
Kershaw was excellent, for the most part, in an 11-strikeout complete game in Chavez Ravine. But he made two mistakes, one to Ryan Braun
and one to Carlos Gomez.
And with Yovani Gallardo turning in one of his most impressive outings of the season—an eight-inning, one-run showcase that featured 12 ground-ball outs—those two long balls were enough to deal Kershaw his first loss since May 28th.
The win over Kershaw followed a comeback victory on Friday in which the Brewers patiently watched Zack Greinke run up his pitch count to 99 in five innings by issuing five walks. They didn’t score off Greinke, but they saved plenty of scoring for Jamey Wright, who coughed up five runs in the eighth inning. That rally sparked Milwaukee to a 6-3 win.
All that stood between the Brewers and a statement road sweep of another first-place team was Dan Haren, whose struggles continued on Sunday afternoon. Haren lasted only three innings, giving up six runs (three earned), two of them on a Jonathan Lucroy homer, before hitting the showers.
Wily Peralta, steady as usual, navigated six shutout frames before handing it over to the bullpen. And while Marco Estrada suffered a two-run hiccup in the eighth, by then the visitors were up 7-0. Jeremy Jeffress wrapped up the 7-2 victory in the ninth.
The Defensive Play of the Weekend
The Pirates wound up losing, 6-5, in 11 innings on Sunday, but they have Starling Marte to thank for giving them a chance in extras:
What to Watch on Monday
Only eight games are on the docket today, but for those of us who cherish day baseball, the Cubs and Mets are going to provide it. There’s nothing quite like a couple of Bartolo Colon at-bats to brighten the start of the workweek, and he’ll take them this afternoon with Kyle Hendricks toeing the rubber for the visitors. For all of Colon’s antics at the plate, though, he’s been dynamite on the hill of late, holding opponents to two or fewer runs in four of his last five outings and completing at least seven innings in each of those quality starts. On the other hand, the Mets have won only one of Colon’s last five assignments at Citi Field (12:10 p.m. ET).
A few hours after the conclusion of the lone matinee, Jordan Zimmermann welcomes the Diamondbacks to Nationals Park, where Kirk Gibson’s lineup will need to be ready to hit. The 28-year-old right-hander has issued a grand total of two walks since the end of June. That’s not a misprint and Zimmermann hasn’t spent any time on the disabled list during that span, either. He owns a 39:2 K:BB ratio over his seven most recent starts, and if you drop the first one in the batch, it’s 34-to-1 since July 11th. The Diamondbacks touched Zimmermann up for five runs on 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings when he faced them at Chase Field, so he’ll be out for revenge while dueling Vidal Nuno (7:05 p.m. ET).
The good news for the Twins is that Trevor May’s second career start can hardly go worse than his first one did, and perhaps all the 24-year-old needs is a supportive home crowd. Pitching in Oakland in his major league debut on August 9th, the right-hander saw 15 batters and walked seven of them; he was gone after just two innings with four runs on his line. May got a relief assignment on August 12th in Houston, though that didn’t go much better: He only walked two in 2 1/3 innings that time, but the Astros still slapped him with three runs. The Phillies’ fourth-round pick in the 2008 draft, May will hope that the third time is the charm, as he takes on Jason Vargas and the Royals. Vargas saw the A’s twice earlier this month and didn’t walk anyone in either of them, earning a three-hit shutout his last time out (8:10 p.m. ET).
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