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The Thursday Takeaway
At the seventh-inning stretch Thursday, the Braves were up 2–1 on the Padres, buoyed to that narrow edge by Freddie Freeman's sixth-inning solo homer. The series finale at Turner Field was eventful virtually from the get-go. Matt Kemp, the third batter of the day, was hit by a Julio Teheran pitch and took exception to the HBP, prompting the benches to clear:

Amid the lightweight scrum, plate umpire Jordan Baker took exception to Kemp's taking exception and put him on the ground:

If this whole umpiring thing doesn't work out, Baker might have a future as an NFL lineman. But before answering calls from the Chargers and Falcons, he had nine more innings to work behind the plate, and there was plenty to see after the seventh-inning stretch.

The Braves, aiming to square their record at 30–30, managed to pad their lead without earning an outfield hit, walk, or hit by pitch. Two infield singles put a pair on for Teheran, who sacrificed them over. An RBI infield single by Jace Peterson made it 3–1, but not without a little controversy. Watch the slow-motion replay closely

and you'll notice that the ball hits Peterson's bat twice, which should have rendered it foul and brought the batter back to the plate. Unfortunately, that ruling is not reviewable, and neither Baker nor first-base umpire Paul Emmel saw what happened. Bud Black pleaded his case to anyone who would listen, but Baker eventually grew tired of listening and sent the skipper on his way:

That's a shame, too, because after Cameron Maybin's sacrifice fly made it 4–1 Atlanta, the rest of the afternoon went the Friars' way.

All the, uh, light lifting the Braves put into building their three-run lead would be erased in the very next half-inning, as Teheran gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases. Fredi Gonzalez yanked his starter in favor of a parade of relievers, beginning with Dana Eveland, who drew a pinch-hit appearance from Justin Upton in his first major-league action of the year. That matchup probably wasn't what Gonzalez had in mind, but it was the Braves' catcher, Christian Bethancourt, not their former outfielder, who'd doom them in the top of the eighth:

Bethancourt's passed ball cut the lead to 4–2, though it had the peripheral benefit of opening up first base, which Eveland promptly filled by walking Upton. Gonzalez then replaced Eveland with righty Nick Masset, who punched out Kemp, and then replaced Masset with left-hander Luis Avilan, who walked Yonder Alonso to force in San Diego's third run. That would do it for Avilan, as David Aardsma came on, tasked with stranding Wil Myers on third base with nobody out.

Which he almost did. Aardsma struck out Derek Norris and had the next batter, Cory Spangenberg, in a 1–2 bind, when Bethancourt got in the way:

Will Middlebrooks grounded into an inning-ending fielder's choice, but the damage was done and the game was tied.

So, let's recap: The Braves scored two runs on three infield singles and two sacrifices. And, as if that weren't wacky enough, the Padres then scored three runs on a passed ball, a bases-loaded walk, and catcher's interference on a two-strike foul, all while Gonzalez got his cardio workout in walking to the mound to shuffle through five pitchers.

The weirdness subsided shortly thereafter and brought both offenses along with it, as neither team got on the board again until the 11th. Walks and bunts were nearly the story again: Norris drew a leadoff free pass and moved up to second on a bunt single by Spangenberg, but when pinch-hitter Melvin Upton's sacrifice bunt try turned into an out at third—one of Bethancourt's few positive contributions Thursday—small ball was over. Singles to the outfield by Alexi Amarista and Yangervis Solarte made it 6–4 San Diego.

That sent a familiar face to the Turner Field mound for the second time in the series. Craig Kimbrel mowed down the Braves' side in order for his second 11th-inning save of the four-game set.

Quick Hits From Thursday
Gappers typically pose a grave threat to one-run leads, but not when Billy Burns is the center fielder, ready to turn in The Defensive Play of the Day:

Off-the-wall doubles and one-run leads don't get along either. Except when Burns is there to play matchmaker with a formidable runner-up:

Both of those preserved the smallest of margins, before homers by Mark Canha and Josh Reddick blew the game wide open. The A's ultimately routed the Rangers, 7–0, behind eight innings of one-hit ball from Scott Kazmir.

***

It's too soon to look ahead to the July 31st trade deadline, but a month-and-a-half out, contenders' needs are beginning to crystallize. And for the Nationals, a bullpen upgrade might top general manager Mike Rizzo's list.

For three straight days now, the Nats have ridden a tiring pitcher deep into the seventh inning, a sign that manager Matt Williams is wary of going to his bullpen, even as late leads or ties slip away. On Tuesday, Max Scherzer failed to see a 1–1 draw through the seventh, handing Matt Thornton a 2–1 deficit and watching the hole grow to 5–1 on his watch. On Wednesday, Gio Gonzalez started the seventh up 2–0, allowed an RBI triple, and then stood helplessly in the dugout as Felipe Rivero and Aaron Barrett permitted three more Yankees to score.

Yesterday, it was Tanner Roark's turn, and with no trustworthy setup men at his disposal, Williams let Roark try to navigate the seventh, too. He began with a 5–4 lead and got Jonathan Lucroy to fly out as his pitch count neared 100. Under different circumstances, Williams might have elected to play matchups, using Rivero and Thornton against lefties Gerardo Parra and Adam Lind, while deploying another righty to retire Ryan Braun between them. Instead, he let Roark face Parra, and the result was

that game-tying solo shot. Roark stayed on to fan Braun and Rivero took care of Lind, but the score was knotted up at five apiece and the game was in the bullpen's porous hands.

Barrett came on in the eighth and struck out Aramis Ramirez—but even that typically positive outcome went awry for the right-hander, as Ramirez reached on a wild pitch. The next batter, Shane Peterson, hit into a fielder's choice, but while the Nats got the lead runner, Peterson moved to second on an errant throw to first by Anthony Rendon. Peterson then advanced to third on a groundball off the bat of Jean Segura and scored on an RBI single by Scooter Gennett.

Francisco Rodriguez logged a scoreless ninth for Milwaukee, and the Nats fell for the seventh time in nine games, once again undone by a rocky seventh.

***

Albert Pujols' homer binge continued Thursday, when he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning with the Angels already up 4–2:

That two-run tater off Preston Guilmet was Pujols' ninth in 13 games, his 17th of the season, and no. 537 of his career. With it, he gave the Halos a four-run cushion and moved ahead of Mickey Mantle for 16th place on the all-time list.

The first baseman's yard work came on the heels of a three-run seventh inning in which the Angels exploited old friend Kevin Jepsen. The visitors' offense, held to a Mike Trout bomb while Alex Colome was on the hill, sprung to life when Jepsen entered and promptly walked ex-Ray Matt Joyce. After Efren Navarro notched an infield single, Kyle Kubitza secured his first big-league RBI on a game-tying single. Navarro came home on a fielder's choice off the bat of Erick Aybar, who stole second and scored on a Trout double to make it 4–2 Anaheim.

All of that bailed Angels starter Garrett Richards out of a costly 0–2 mistake to Steven Souza in the second inning:

Richards' 93 mph fastball caught too much of the plate, and Souza cranked it out to right-center. The rookie outfielder can now boast of being the only major-league hitter to whack an 0–2 offering from Richards out of the park.

Richards—who was otherwise excellent, scattering just three other hits and a walk while punching out seven in as many innings—and the Angels settled for the 6–2 win.

What to Watch This Weekend

Friday

Six active major-league pitchers have had the pleasure of staring down Giancarlo Stanton more than 30 times. Here's how they've fared:

Pitcher

PA

OPS

K:BB

Cole Hamels

52

.809

19:3

Stephen Strasburg

37

1.361

10:5

Jordan Zimmermann

37

.856

9:5

Jon Niese

32

1.300

9:2

Julio Teheran

31

.665

9:4

Kyle Kendrick

31

.403

9:2

In a list replete with aces, the most impressive résumé when it comes to stifling the league's best power hitter belongs to the finesse right-hander Kendrick, whose array of sinkers, cutters, and splitters have baffled Stanton to date. The outfielder is hitless in his last 19 plate appearances versus Kendrick. And, should you be inclined to blame that on rotten luck, Stanton hasn't so much as hit the ball out of the infield in any of their last 13 encounters.

The last three came five days ago, when the two locked horns in the thin air of Coors Field, where Stanton has routinely peppered the bleachers. Kendrick was one of the few Rockies with an answer for the Marlins' slugger, booking an 0-for-3 in Stanton's row with a strikeout, popup, and ground out. The game plan was the same as it's always been—

—cutters away, splitters down and in, and sinkers riding in on Stanton's hands. Considering how successful it's been, the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach is infallible from Kendrick's point of view.

Expect more of the same when they reunite this evening, in the series opener in Miami, where Kendrick is set to take on rookie righty Jose Urena (7:10 p.m. ET).

Saturday

When a pitcher racks up a 38-to-0 K:BB ratio over three starts, he becomes appointment television. So clear your schedule for Saturday afternoon now, and keep it clear for a few hours after first pitch at Tropicana Field, where Chris Archer and the Rays host Jeff Samardzija and the White Sox.

Archer has been virtually unhittable over the past two weeks, permitting just two runs (one earned) over his historic 23-inning stretch. The 26-year-old right-hander's slider has accounted for about two-thirds (25) of his 38 Ks, and its velocity has grown steadily since the season began, from 88 mph to almost 90 mph, the perch at which it has proven deadly to opposing batters.

Things haven't gone nearly as well for Samarzija in recent outings, as the Rangers knocked him around for nine runs on 12 hits on June 2nd and the Tigers battered him for six runs on 10 hits five days later. The right-hander's 94 hits allowed "lead" the American League, which isn't quite what the South Siders had in mind when they acquired him from the A's during the offseason. Shark will have to right the ship in short order to keep up with Archer (4:10 p.m. ET).

Sunday

Corey Kluber struck out just four Mariners in his most recent outing, the first time he's K'd fewer than six over seven or more innings of work in nearly two years. He'll get the ball in Sunday's series finale looking to rediscover his whiffing ways, which produced 10 strikeouts in 6 1/3 frames when he last faced the Tigers, back on April 11th.

The Indians are winless in Kluber's last two starts and still just 3–10 on the season behind their ace, whose 3.53 ERA is still nearly a run higher than his 2.65 DRA. Tigers starter Alfredo Simon, meanwhile, has outperformed his 3.24 DRA by almost half a run, carrying a 2.76 ERA into this assignment. Two wins over the Tribe bookended Simon's four-start "W" streak to begin his Tigers career, and he'll need to top Terry Francona's club again to steer Detroit to back-to-back wins for the first time since late April (1:08 p.m. ET).