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The Monday Takeaway

Shutouts ruled the day in the early-evening slate. With five of them to discuss, this section will read more like …

Quick Hits from Monday

… and the first one comes out of Atlanta. The Braves haven’t been strangers to the concept of getting blanked this month. In fact, it’s as though their offense thought the calendar flipped straight from August to November.

With the Braves already eliminated from contention but the Pirates still very much alive, Pittsburgh starter Francisco Liriano was nice enough to hand the home team four walks and a wild pitch in six innings. Atlanta was nice enough to waste them.

Fredi Gonzalez’s lineup went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, left eight on base, and had a man caught stealing. Its futility was benign until the top of the sixth, when Andrew McCutchen added this bullet point to his MVP résumé:

McCutchen’s homer gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead, and after Liriano was finished, Jared Hughes, John Holdzkom, and Mark Melancon had no trouble wrapping up Pittsburgh’s third straight 1-0 affair.

Clint Hurdle’s club has won two of the three, and if the season ended today, the Bucs would host the Giants in the wild-card playoff. Meanwhile, the Braves have now been blanked seven times in their last 21 games.

***

A White Sox starter named Chris kept the Tigers off the board for 7 2/3 innings on Monday. Gotta be Sale, right? Nope. It’s Chris Bassitt.

The rookie right-hander pounded the zone, notching 72 strikes in 103 tries. When his battery-mate, Tyler Flowers, went yard in the second inning, the Tigers were doomed.

Bassitt only punched out three, but he also issued only one walk. Victor Martinez, who went 2-for-2 with that base on balls and a hit-by-pitch, was the only Detroit batter with a clue against the 25-year-old, who distributed his other outs evenly with 10 on the ground and nine through the air.

Thus, the former Akron Zip led the White Sox to a two-zip win.

***

The Royals’ night began with a spirited but ultimately insufficient rally in the game suspended since August 31st. They trailed 4-2 in the last of the 10th, but a single by Mike Moustakas, a stolen base by Terrance Gore, and a single by Norichika Aoki brought Kansas City to within a run. Jarrod Dyson ran for Aoki and stole second, putting the tying tally 180 feet away. Alas, Omar Infante popped out, and all that hard work was for naught.

But the news wasn’t all bad for the Royals. They got Danny Duffy back from the shelf after a 15-day rest to nurse a sore rotator cuff, and the left-hander looked as good as new in shutting out the Indians for six innings in the regularly scheduled contest.

Duffy threw 60 of 96 pitches for strikes, scattering six hits and two walks while striking out five. He got all the support he needed on a first-inning RBI single by Eric Hosmer, but Alcides Escobar tacked on one more in the fifth, just for good measure.

Manager Ned Yost opted to go with Brandon Finnegan in the seventh, in lieu of Kelvin Herrera, who’d normally tackle that task, and the 17th overall pick in June’s draft did not disappoint. Finnegan gave up a double but fanned a pair, putting the game in the secure hands of Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

Each of them turned in a hitless frame with one strikeout apiece. The setup man’s K was historic—as Kansas City Star beat writer Andy McCullough pointed out, it gave the right-hander the franchise record for single-season punchouts by a reliever.

More importantly for the Royals, the late-inning crew locked down the 2-0 win. Coupled with the Tigers’ loss, there was no harm done by dropping the suspended game. The Royals are one game back in the Central with six left to play.

***

Over in the Bronx, as the Yankees kicked off the final home series of Derek Jeter’s career, Michael Pineda stole the show with 7 1/3 one-hit innings. The big righty walked one and whiffed eight, chucking 106 pitches before manager Joe Girardi went to the bullpen.

By then, the Yankees were up 4-0 with a lot of the damage coming off Jeter’s bat. First, though, rookie Jose Pirela, batting ninth as the designated hitter, did his part with an RBI triple:

Jeter added to the excitement of Pirela’s first career hit by plating him with a productive grounder. Two innings later, the captain made much louder contact:

That made it 4-0, and with Pineda carving up the O’s, the Yankees were cruising. Chase Headley padded the lead to 5-0 with a solo shot in the eighth.

Girardi called upon not one, not two, but three relievers for the challenge of mopping up the easy win. Shawn Kelley, who’d breezed through the eighth, fanned Jonathan Schoop to start the ninth. Girardi replaced him with Rich Hill, who logged a walk and a strikeout. The tying run wasn't even in the hole yet. But Girardi still called for David Phelps, much to the chagrin of the restless Bronx crowd.

Phelps didn’t keep them too much longer, getting Adam Jones to fly out to finish it off.

***

Perhaps the least surprising clean sheet kept on Monday came from Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, who flummoxed the Cubs for seven innings. He permitted only three hits and a walk, and struck out eight to lower his ERA to 2.38.

Wainwright also had more help than his fellow gem-throwers—seven runs, to be exact, plus one more after he hit the showers. The Cards scored four times in a five-hit fourth and thrice in a two-hit, two-walk fifth. Matt Adams and Jon Jay, batting sixth and seventh in the order, combined to drive in five of St. Louis’ eight runs.

Sam Freeman and Randy Choate gobbled up the remaining six outs, and that was all she wrote at Wrigley Field.

***

Now, a couple of Quick Hits from the opposite end of the spectrum.

North of the border, in Toronto, the Mariners handed James Paxton a one-run lead right off the bat. Considering that the rookie was rocking a 2.06 ERA through 11 starts, they had reason to believe that it might hold up for a while.

Nope.

Paxton got one out, but then things quickly spiraled out of control. Single, walk, wild pitch, walk, triple

single, and just like that, it was 4-1 Toronto.

Two more hits and a walk nearly made it 5-1 in the second, but Chris Denorfia gunned down Jose Bautista at the plate. No worries for the Blue Jays, though. They’d make it not five, not six, not seven, not eight, but 9-1 in the third.

That frame began double, walk, sac bunt—a gift from John Gibbons, apparently—popout, which doesn’t seem so bad. Then: walk, infield single, bases-loaded walk. And that would do it for Paxton, who watched from the dugout as catcher Jesus Sucre allowed a passed ball that brought one inherited runner home and Brandon Maurer gave up a single that plated the other two.

Close the book on Paxton at 2 2/3 innings, seven hits, nine runs (eight earned), six walks, and one strikeout. Just how bad is that? Only two other pitchers in Mariners history had been torched for nine runs and handed out six free passes without completing the third inning. The good news for Paxton is that one of them was Randy Johnson, who did it in 1994. (The other was Gil Meche in 2006.)

The bad news for the Mariners is that Paxton’s wildness left them buried in an eight-run hole. And just as they started to climb out of it, the Jays made it 13-2 on homers by Jose Bautista and Kevin Pillar. Seattle would score once each in the eighth and ninth, but it never stood a chance in the 14-4 romp.

***

Worse still for the M’s is that the Royals won, and the A’s would soon become the beneficiaries of an outing that some might argue was even worse than Paxton’s.

Much like Paxton, C.J. Wilson took the mound with a run in the bag, and much like Paxton, it only took him a few minutes to squander it. Unlike Paxton, though, Wilson didn’t make it out of the first inning.

His pitch chart looked like this:

If you counted up all those little squares, you’d get 35 pitches and 12 strikes. That’s a 34 percent strike rate. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, the last starting pitcher before Wilson to throw at least 35 pitches and have less than 35 percent of them go for strikes was Ryan Dempster, way back in 2001.

After Coco Crisp singled and Sam Fuld hit into a fielder’s choice, Wilson walked three straight A’s to force home the tying run. Two batters later, he walked another, and Oakland was on top. Then Geovany Soto singled home a pair, and Mike Scioscia had seen enough.

On came Mike Morin, who did his job. He got a groundball to third. Trouble is, David Freese threw it away, and the three-base error brought two more Athletics across the plate.

That 6-1 margin held until the last of the seventh, when Steven Vogt drove in a pair to give the A’s back-to-back eight-run outbursts for the first time since late July. The Angels finally countered in the eighth, on a three-run jack by Albert Pujols, but that was too little, too late in the 8-4 Oakland win.

With it, the A’s stayed a game up on the Royals in the race to host the wild-card game, while the Mariners fell to two games back of second place. The Blue Jays, who are six games out, could be officially eliminated today, and the Yankees (four back) and Indians (3 1/2 back) are on their last legs.

***

Finally, one last Quick Hit that has nothing to do with great or terrible pitching.

This one goes to Yasiel Puig, for this throw—The Defensive Play of the Day—to hose Brandon Belt at the plate and preserve a 2-2 tie in the 11th inning of the series opener between the Giants and Dodgers:

Puig reached on an error by Brandon Crawford to begin the bottom of the 11th, but got no further as the game continued deep into the Los Angeles night.

And the Dodgers’ center fielder could not save them in the 13th, when the Giants rallied off of extra-inning long man Kevin Correia. A one-out single by Belt and a two-out intentional walk to Brandon Crawford put two on with two away for pinch-hitter Andrew Susac. The rookie delivered a single to left, and since Carl Crawford is no Puig when it comes to arm talent, Belt came around to score.

Up next was Gregor Blanco, who yanked a double down the right-field line. Susac, with catcher speed, was all set to stop at third on the play, after Crawford scored. But Blanco never looked for a “stop” sign from third-base coach Tim Flannery and kept on running. By the time he saw it, he was halfway to third and slipped as he tried to change direction. Instead of coaxing the Giants into an out on the basepaths, though, Dee Gordon—who’d already had a rough defensive night with a couple of errors—made the worst possible decision: He threw softly to second, allowing Susac to bolt home with an insurance run.

That set the stage for rookie Hunter Strickland to show off his high-90s gas en route to his first major-league save. With the West-division gap now at 3 1/2 games, the Dodgers can still clinch before the Giants leave town, but they’ll have to win both remaining games in the series to do it.

The Defensive Play of the Day Runner-Up

As if things couldn’t get any worse for the Mariners on Monday, Dalton Pompey did this:

What to Watch on Tuesday

Electric stuff won’t be in short supply at Progressive Field this evening, the setting for a duel between Yordano Ventura and Danny Salazar. Save for an unearned run here and there, Ventura would be working on a streak of 10 consecutive quality starts, impressive consistency for a 23-year-old rookie making important starts down the stretch. Salazar, who’s a year older than his Royals counterpart, has pitched much better after an early-season demotion. Despite a September 8th hiccup versus the Angels, he boasts a 2.74 ERA over his last seven starts to go with a 43-to-9 K:BB ratio in 42 2/3 innings. The Indians essentially must win out to keep their long-shot wild card hopes alive while the Royals are still within striking distance of the Tigers for the division and of the A’s for the chance to host the one-game playoff (7:05 p.m. ET).

No position tandem has fared better at the plate this month than Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario and Michael McKenry. Before Monday’s series opener at Petco Park, Rosario was leading the league with a .514 average and 1.356 OPS in September, and his backup, McKenry, wasn’t far behind at .387 and 1.145. Playing 13 of their last 19 games in the friendly confines of Coors Field has certainly helped the duo finish strong, but the 29-year-old McKenry, whose best season prior to this had been a .762 OPS effort with the Pirates in 2012, has been a dangerous hitter regardless of venue in his scant playing time. The Tennessee native has hit .299/.365/.484 in road games this year, giving opposing pitchers no relief even when manager Walt Weiss has opted to give Rosario a break. Tonight, the task of cooling down the Colorado catchers falls on the left arm of Robbie Erlin, who tossed six innings and allowed only one run in his return to the rotation on September 18th. The Rockies will go with Jorge De La Rosa in game two in San Diego (10:10 p.m. ET).

Last but not least, the middle match between the Giants and Dodgers features a marquee matchup between Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke. Both could have sleepwalked through their assignments when the sides last met at AT&T Park—as the Giants took advantage of an injured Hyun-jin Ryu and the Dodgers pounded Tim Hudson—but each still did his part. Bumgarner chipped in seven scoreless innings toward a 9-0 win, and Greinke posted six goose eggs in a 17-0 rout. Pitting the two against each other should yield a much more competitive contest than either of those lopsided tilts (10:10 p.m. ET).