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The Thursday Takeaway
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so after losing the first two games of their series at Citi Field playing regular baseball, the Braves decided to pull some shenanigans.

Like, say, bunting the ball into right field on the fly:

That got Eric Young Jr. to first, but it didn’t get him any further. Which is problematic, because the next batter, Alberto Callaspo, bounced into what replay review determined to be a 3-6-1 double play.

Soon after, in the bottom of the first, Julio Teheran was frustrated with his offense’s inability to grant him a lead, and even more frustrated with his lack of control.

Unfortunately, taking a break for lunch didn’t absolve Teheran of walking the bases loaded in the first inning. Nor did it help him to strand any of the runners:

Daniel Murphy’s three-run double got the Mets off and running, but the Braves would tie the game in the top of the fourth.

Tied it stayed, until the last of the fifth, when generosity got the visitors into hot water again. With a runner in scoring position and one out, after a single and steal by Curtis Granderson, Fredi Gonzalez called for lefty reliever Ian Thomas to face Lucas Duda. Thomas jumped ahead, 0-2, but then missed badly with four straight pitches. Sensing trouble afoot, his catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, tried to end the game by trucking the ump:

Unfortunately, the arbiter in question, Jordan Baker, wasn’t having it. He stayed in the game, called four balls in five pitches to Michael Cuddyer, and then two batters later, with the bases loaded, called four more to Eric Campbell. That free pass, the eighth issued by Braves pitching, made it 4-3 Mets.

Disappointed with the inefficacy of his plot to take out the ump, Pierzynski, on first base with two away in the top of the sixth, decided to wander toward second, commencing a footrace with Bartolo Colon. And before you tell Pierzynski to pick on someone his own weight…

…score that play caught stealing, 1-unassisted.

Things would get no better for the Braves, as they’d cough up two more runs in the seventh inning, when the Mets benefited from the umps’ third overturned call of the afternoon. Cuddyer’s run-scoring double-play ball became an RBI force play, and Braves reliever Luis Avilan proceeded to gift Cuddy second base on a balk. That put the outfielder into scoring position for Murphy, who promptly cashed in with a single, his fourth RBI of the day.

That would do it for the scoring in the 6-3 Mets win, which capped the first 10-0 homestand in franchise history. Terry Collins’ club has now won 11 straight, a mark the Mets have reached on four previous occasions, most recently in 1990. They’ll try to win 12 in a row for the first time ever tonight, when they open up a road trip with a short ride to the Bronx.

Quick Hits From Thursday
Kris Bryant is many things, but among the exceptions to his mastery of baseball is the art of playing center field, the position at which Joe Maddon wrote the rookie into his lineup card Thursday with Dexter Fowler on the shelf. It was a harmless decision for most of the game, but with one out in the last of the seventh, Josh Harrison drilled a liner to center, tailing away from Bryant.

An adept center fielder might’ve played this into a single, but the 6-foot-5 Bryant wasn’t rangy enough to prevent the ball from going all the way to the wall. Hence, Harrison cruised into second with his second double in as many innings, and Maddon came out to replace Brian Schlitter with Phil Coke.

With first base open, Coke intentionally walked Corey Hart, setting up a lefty-on-lefty matchup with Gregory Polanco. That might’ve done Coke more good if the Cubs weren’t playing Polanco to pull.

But they were, and so what might’ve been a fielder’s choice—or even a 6-4-3 double play, with a quick turn—became an RBI single, plating Harrison, who might not have scored had Bryant originally kept him to one base. The next batter, Neil Walker, was called out on strikes, and Pedro Alvarez ended the inning with a groundball.

Every decision is magnified in a one-run loss, and on most occasions, playing Bryant in center might not have bitten Maddon and the Cubs. In Thursday’s 5-4 defeat, it did.

***

In their bid to avoid the brooms at AT&T Park yesterday afternoon, the Dodgers had two home runs to show for their first nine innings on offense. Alex Guerrero—who now boasts more homers (4) than starts (3)—delivered the first

and Adrian Gonzalez, of whom the more-homers-than-starts fact was true early on, but whose long-ball pace has since slowed, got back in yardwork business

to extend the Dodgers' lead to 2-0.

For nine innings, that was enough. It was enough because Mike Bolsinger, a former D’back fresh up from Triple-A for his club debut, held the Giants to a run on five hits in 5 1/3 innings, walking two and fanning five along the way.

It was also enough because, in the eighth inning, the defense came to the bullpen’s rescue. With a runner on first and two away, manager Don Mattingly replaced J.P. Howell with Joel Peralta, who proceeded to walk Buster Posey and Brandon Belt. No harm, no foul—the visitors were still up, 2-1, and while the bases were loaded, Peralta was one out away from escaping unscathed. But then Peralta fell behind Justin Maxwell, 2-0, and suddenly collars tightened up and down the dugout. And then Maxwell rocketed a line drive toward the middle, just to the right of second base, and the lead was in grave danger. Until Howie Kendrick saved Peralta with The Defensive Play of the Day.

With Peralta, his favored closer, spent, and Chris Hatcher, the primary alternative, used in the middle innings, Mattingly turned to the hard-throwing Pedro Baez in the ninth and hoped for the best. Instead, he got a single by Casey McGehee, and then a game-tying triple by Brandon Crawford

all with nobody out. But once again the Dodgers wriggled out of a perilous situation, as Baez recovered to whiff pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco, induce a popup from Norichika Aoki, and get Joe Panik to fly out to left.

And so the fans spending their Thursday afternoon at the yard were treated to bonus baseball. Albeit, not much of it, because the Dodgers’ inability to add on finally came back to haunt them in the 10th.

Juan Nicasio relieved Baez and immediately wound up in the stretch when Angel Pagan led off with a single. After Buster Posey flied out, Pagan stole second with Brandon Belt at the plate, putting the winning run in scoring position. Mattingly then made a somewhat curious decision, opting to intentionally walk Belt with a 3-2 count with catcher Yasmani Grandal up out of his crouch, giving no illusion that the Dodgers might see if the first baseman would chase a pitcher’s pitch.

So, with two on and one down, up stepped Maxwell. And once again, the Dodgers fell behind in the count, 1-0, setting the powerful outfielder, who’d keyed Tuesday’s series-opening victory with a triple and a homer, to see another fastball. Nicasio obliged with the hard one, down and in, and this rocket down the left-field line would not be caught:

Maxwell’s RBI single gave the Giants their second straight walk-off win and the three-game sweep, their first over the Dodgers since 2013.

***

File this under the dictionary definition of “getting all of it.”

Just how much of that fat Chris Tillman offering did Donaldson get?

Enough to pace the league in big-fly distance to date—which becomes even more impressive when you consider that the pitch in question was a changeup. Donaldson’s looooooooong bomb give Drew Hutchison a three-run advantage, which was plenty for a while, because the righty was perfect through five.

The perfection ended there, because Manny Machado found the first pitch of the sixth to his liking and walloped it out to left:

But by then the Jays were up by seven, just collecting outs en route to their ninth win of the year.

Or… not. What was a comfortable, five-run lead when Hutchison hit the showers after eight got a whole lot tighter on Liam Hendriks’ and Miguel Castro’s watch. The former gave up three hits while recording just one out before giving way to the latter, who got a firsthand look at Machado’s thump:

The third baseman’s second jack of the game wasn’t quite enough to complete the comeback, though, and Castro gathered himself quickly, fanning Ryan Lavarnway to secure the 7-6 win.

***

“That’s all we got? One goddamn hit?!”

Yup. But if you’re only going to get one hit, you might as well make it count. To wit:

Kole Calhoun’s third-inning dinger was the Angels’ lone knock on Thursday, but in a fortuitous twist, it came two batters after Brett Lawrie committed a throwing error that allowed Drew Butera to reach. Thus, the big fly was worth two runs.

And that was all the Halos would need to win the series finale in Anaheim, because the A’s—despite having eight hits—failed to score. Nick Tropeano and three relievers combined on the shutout, with the starter going six innings and the ‘pen arms one apiece.

Per the Baseball-Reference Play Index, four teams managed to win a game with the benefit of just one goddamn hit last year, but only one of them did so while permitting its opponent to notch eight or more. That would be the A’s, when they topped the Rays, 3-2, on May 21st.

On Thursday, the shoe was on the other foot.

***

The main event on Thursday night in Chicago was supposed to be a duel between Yordano Ventura and Chris Sale. Both pitchers delivered, holding the opposition to two runs in seven innings. And then, it was fight night at U.S. Cellular Field:

Ventura and Sale were both pushing 100 pitches, so the bullpens would have taken over soon anyway, but the brawl left their fates in the hands of the umpires, headed by crew chief Tim Welke. And Welke and Co. sent Ventura and Sale on their way, along with Jeff Samarzija and Lorenzo Cain—who were at the center of the action—and Edinson Volquez, another active participant.

That’s three Royals and two White Sox, if you’re scoring at home, and that makes nine ejections in the last six games for Ned Yost’s club. And if that’s not impressive enough, try this on for size:

Let’s break them down:

Date

Opponent

Reason Left

April 6

White Sox

Thumb cramp

April 12

Angels

Calf cramp

April 18

Athletics

Ejected (HBP)

April 23

White Sox

Ejected (Brawl)

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, Ventura very well could have been tossed from the April 12th start, because the benches cleared when he started jawing at Mike Trout and Matt Joyce.

Thursday’s melee got started when Ventura (possibly) quick-pitched Adam Eaton

who took umbrage with what he perceived to be a premature delivery and began barking at the mound. The right-hander escalated the shouting match, and off they went.

Ventura avoided a suspension stemming from the April 18th incident, when he was tossed for plunking Brett Lawrie, but he might not be so lucky if the league now considers him a repeat offender. Fines on both sides will surely abound when the Commissioner’s office sorts it all out.

***

Oh, that’s right. There was a game being played as U.S. Cellular, too. Almost forgot.

Zach Duke took Sale’s place. Kelvin Herrera supplanted Ventura. Jarrod Dyson jumped in for Cain. And they continued, well into the night, with extra innings necessary to decide the opener.

Finally, in the 13th, Mike Moustakas picked up a one-out single, which loomed larger when Dyson replaced him a first on a fielder’s choice. The next batter, Eric Hosmer, doubled, Dyson scored, and that was all she wrote. Wade Davis worked around a two-out Leury Garcia single to slam the door.

Now, what’s left to sort out is whether the dirty laundry aired Thursday is now dry. While Samardzija is not scheduled to toe the rubber in this four-game set, Volquez is due to go in game three on Saturday. With three head-to-heads left this weekend, what began last night might not be over yet.

What to Watch This Weekend

Friday

Welcome back, Drew Smyly. The left-hander returns this evening after spending the first two-plus weeks of the season the disabled list with tendinitis in his left shoulder. Smyly was outstanding in seven starts with the Rays after being shipped from Detroit to Tampa in the David Price deadline blockbuster; he compiled a 1.70 ERA in 47 2/3 innings while allowing just 25 hits and punching out 44.

The 25-year-old might catch a break this evening, as the Blue Jays club heading to Florida is still missing Jose Bautista, who’s on the shelf with a shoulder injury of his own. Bautista’s ailment is a strain, exacerbated on an unnecessary throw, and while he has thus far avoided the disabled list, he’s questionable for tonight.

Smyly, who authored a two-hit shutout in his most recent meeting with the Blue Jays, on August 22nd of last year, will face a new-look lineup not only because of Bautista’s possible absence, but also because of GM Alex Anthopoulos’ offseason activity. He’ll take on R.A. Dickey in the series opener at the Trop (7:10 p.m. ET).

Saturday

The big story in the lone interleague tilt on the weekend slate is Matt Harvey’s assignment in the Bronx, as the first-place Mets cross town to play the Yankees. While the Mets ace is on the mound, all eyes will be fixed there. But there’s an intriguing matchup to follow in the top halves of innings, as well.

Harvey’s opponent, CC Sabathia, has pitched quite well if you trust his peripherals, which feature a 20-to-4 K:BB ratio and just one home run allowed in 20 2/3 innings. The rotund left-hander is 0-3 with a 4.35 ERA, but there’s reason to believe better results are in store.

To this point in the 2015 seasons, teams have stacked their lineups with right-handed batters when facing Sabathia: 82 foes have dug into the box in his three starts, and all but six of those plate appearances have come with the platoon advantage in the hitter’s favor. There’s a reason for that—righties are collectively batting .319 with a triple and a home run, and save for six double-play balls, Sabathia’s pedestrian ERA could look a lot worse.

The 34-year-old has combatted opposite-handed opponents by working down, not just at the knees, but also below them:

With inconsistent command of the outside edge, where Sabathia thrived in his heyday, he’s relied instead on batters’ willingness to expand the hitting area downward, which has helped him to coax the aforementioned twin killings. That’s noteworthy, because it stands in stark contrast to the way he’s previously approached Michael Cuddyer, with whom he locked horns frequently during their time in the AL Central.

Cuddyer is the only active Met with more than 20 career showdowns with Sabathia, and he has a whopping 65. In them, the ex-Twin is 14-for-61 with four doubles and two homers, which comes out to a .230/.277/.393 triple-slash line, enough to declare Sabathia the victor to date. And while 65 plate appearances still amount to a small sample, they do evince a pitch-selection trend:

Twenty-nine of those 65 plate appearances were documented by our PITCHf/x matchup tool, and it recorded only six offerings clearly below the knees. Sabathia has primarily attacked Cuddyer in the strike zone, mixing in changeups and sliders below the belt, along with a steady diet of fastballs and sinkers in the upper third.

That differs from Sabathia’s overall approach in the early stages of 2015, which is why Cuddyer’s at-bats could carry some intrigue in the middle match of the Subway Series. Or, at least, give those tuning in purely for their Matt Harvey fix something to monitor between his frames on the hill (4:05 p.m. ET).

Sunday

A 6.61 ERA and five gopher balls through 16 1/3 innings over three games isn’t quite the start that Hisashi Iwakuma dreamt up for his 2015 campaign. The right-hander’s slider is chiefly responsible for his early demise: Opponents have bashed the pitch to the tune of six hits in 14 at-bats, five of them for extra bases, three of them for round-trippers. The chart below explains why:

That’s no bueno. He’s missed every which way—backing up sliders that were meant to go low and away, among other misfires—and center-cutting far too many.

A friendlier matchup awaits this weekend, with the Twins visiting Safeco Field. Iwakuma will try to rein in his slider against Joe Mauer and Co. while dueling Kyle Gibson (4:10 p.m. ET).