The Thursday Takeaway
Before the Astros took the field Thursday, the front office struck for the second time this deadline season, adding Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to the previously acquired Scott Kazmir. Emboldened by those moves to solidify the roster in pursuit of a division title, the existing players—with Kazmir on the hill and Jed Lowrie off the disabled list—had a chance to sweep the Angels out of Minute Maid Park and broom their way to a two-game lead.
The southpaw did his part, scattering three singles and three walks across 7 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out five. It was Kazmir's second straight scoreless effort since joining the Astros, following a seven-inning blanking of the Royals on July 24th. With a little help from his defense, including this gem by Lowrie
the lefty has now tackled two of the toughest assignments with aplomb since joining his hometown team.
But the trouble for A.J. Hinch's club Thursday was that Matt Shoemaker matched Kazmir virtually zero for zero. The right-hander put seven goose eggs on the scoreboard, allowing just three hits and one walk while punching out seven. After Pat Neshek finished off the top of the eighth, Joe Smith logged a clean frame, and it was 0-0 heading to the ninth.
Since the game was in Houston, Hinch did not hesitate to use his closer to preserve the tie, and he got exactly what he wanted from Luke Gregerson, who was shaky earlier in the series. This time, Gregerson retired the Halos in order, giving his offense a chance to end it without going to extras.
Meanwhile, as the visiting skipper, Mike Scioscia elected not to use his ninth-inning man, Huston Street, instead turning to Jose Alvarez. That looked alright initially, as Alvarez sandwiched a Lowrie walk between a strikeout of Luis Valbuena and a fly ball off the bat of Colby Rasmus. With a man on first and two away, Scioscia went back to his bullpen for right-hander Fernando Salas, matching him up with Marwin Gonzalez, a switch-hitter with a .237/.259/.393 triple-slash line and 2-to-32 BB:K ratio from the left side. And that's when things went awry.
Gonzalez singled, advancing Lowrie to second for the left-handed-hitting Jason Castro. Scioscia stuck with Salas, a risky move because he'd permitted a .781 OPS sans the platoon advantage. Salas got ahead in the count, 1-2, and then Chris Iannetta called for a fastball over the inner third, a curious choice considering Castro's zone profile:
Salas hit the glove; or, more accurately, he hit the desired spot, only to see the ball hit wood instead of leather. And then, he watched it go a long way:
Castro's walk-off blast capped a 3-0 victory and a 3-0 sweep, both reasons to celebrate for Houston, with Gomez and Fiers in transit. The Astros, winners of three straight and eight of 10, are now 58-45 overall and 36-17 at their home yard.
Quick Hits from Thursday
The Astros weren't the only Lone Star State team to enjoy a walk-off win Thursday. The Rangers, buoyed by Josh Hamilton, made it a Texas two-step.
Hamilton began his evening with a three-run moonshot
that squared the game at 3-3 after Mark Teixeira launched a solo homer amid a three-run top of the first.
The teams continued to trade round-trippers after that, with Shin-Soo Choo's giving the Rangers a 4-3 edge and Brian McCann's flipping the margin to 5-4 Yankees. Ryan Rua then re-tied the game with an inside-the-parker that got by a diving Jacoby Ellsbury and rolled halfway to Arkansas,
only to watch Teixeira drill his second of the day to give the lead back to New York:
That draw held until the ninth, when Nick Goody, who kicked off his big-league career with a strikeout that ended the eighth, got the nod from Joe Girardi to stay in and face Delino DeShields. Unfortunately for the Yankees, DeShields worked a walk, and Girardi wasn't messing around: He went straight to closer Andrew Miller.
The lefty got Elvis Andrus to fly to center. Leonys Martin followed with an infield single, but his batted ball hit DeShields on his way to second, and the Rangers were down to a runner on first with two away. But then Miller walked Adrian Beltre, granting Martin a free pass into scoring position. And that set Hamilton up to be the hero:
Texas improved to 49-52 with the win, eight back of the Astros but four shy of the wild-card lead. The Yankees, meanwhile, fell to 57-44, still six up on the Orioles, who dropped a 9-8 nailbiter to the Tigers, and now six ahead of the Jays, who topped the Royals, 5-2.
In the other East division, the Nationals entered play with a two-game cushion over the Mets, with a head-to-head showdown between the contenders set to begin tonight. Max Scherzer outdueled Dan Haren, 1-0, putting the pressure on Terry Collins' club to keep pace.
The Mets were poised to do just that, as they carried a 7-1 margin into the seventh inning, keyed by a three-run blast off the bat of Curtis Granderson. Things got a little dicier when Derek Norris—who had a career-high five hits—bopped a grand slam off reliever Hansel Robles,
but the home team was still up 7-5, and it boasted a newly upgraded late-inning crew to help it prevail in tight contests like this one.
Familia, 0-for-2 in save chances since the All-Star break, got to the brink of snapping that streak. He retired Abraham Almonte and Melvin Upton, then got ahead of Norris, 0-1, before third-base umpire and crew chief Dale Scott signaled for the tarp. Play resumed some 45 minutes later, and Collins elected to leave Familia on the mound, perhaps because his bullpen was thinned a bit by Jenrry Mejia's second suspension.
At any rate, Familia was considerably less sharp following the delay, and Norris and Matt Kemp took advantage with back-to-back singles. Still, the Mets were just one out away from victory, and the tying run was 270 feet away. That is, until Familia grooved a first-pitch breaking ball to Justin Upton:
With that big swing, perhaps Upton's last act in a Friars uniform, 7-5 Mets became 8-7 Padres, and Craig Kimbrel—also the subject of deadline rumors—was on tap.
But first, another delay—a much-longer one, as it turned out. Long enough for beat writers to muse about what would happen if play could not resume:
It's an academic question, but MLB confirms the score would revert to past half-inning.
— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) July 30, 2015
Alas, the rain stopped, the tarp came off the field, and the game was back on about two hours and 47 minutes after the second ninth-inning hiatus began. Then, Kimbrel made quick work of the Mets, and it was over. Just another gut punch for a fan base that's come to expect them:
While you couldn't blame a Mets fan for expecting a gut punch these days, it'd also be tough to fault an Indians fan for expecting every Tribe starter to toss a complete game.
After all, they've now given the bullpen three straight nights off for the first time in more than two decades:
The relievers have Carlos Carrasco to thank for their most recent 24 hours of PTO. He got three runs of support in the first inning, two of them on a homer by Carlos Santana that followed an RBI double by Michael Brantley. Oakland got one back on a double by Josh Reddick, but it would get no closer.
In fact, the A's barely threatened to get closer. After Reddick's two-bagger, Ike Davis flied to right. Here are the results of their next 19 plate appearances:
Pop out, strikeout, strikeout, ground out, ground out, ground out, E4, ground out, strikeout, walk, pop up, double play, ground out, ground out, ground out, ground out, strikeout, strikeout, line out to second, ground out.
Yup, that's 19 straight batters without a ball leaving the infield. Marcus Semien's line out to end the eighth snapped that run, but it didn't get the A's a hit. And they wouldn't get one the rest of the way, going 0-for-25 after Reddick's two-bagger.
In the end, Carrasco wound up with a two-hit, one-run masterpiece. He walked one, struck out seven, and—most impressively—got 14 outs on the ground. Keeping the ball down will do that for you,
particularly when you have the assortment of stuff the 28-year-old wields. He drew 12 whiffs in 50 breaking balls while touching 98 with his heater, all of that almost exclusively low in the zone.
No wonder the Indians—after dabbling in discussions with the Blue Jays—have taken him off the market:
Francona discussed trade rumors with Carrasco recently. Said Carrasco: "He told me, 'You're not getting traded.'"
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) July 31, 2015
Finally, back in Ohio, Brandon Phillips had a night for the ages unlike any ever turned in before.
It began innocently enough, with a ground out to short in the bottom of the first, ahead of consecutive singles and a three-run homer by Marlon Byrd. The Pirates quickly countered a with a Pedro Alvarez big fly, but they were down 3-1, and Phillips hadn't even gotten started.
He did, in the fourth inning, with an RBI single that scored former leadoff man Billy Hamilton, now batting ninth, who reached on a bunt single and stole both second and third. Not to be outdone, even by the speediest of runners, Phillips followed suit by swiping a pair himself. He was stranded at third, but it was now 5-1 Reds.
In the sixth inning, Phillips made it 9-1 with a three-run jack:
One frame later, he made it 14-2 with another:
Skip Schumaker replaced Phillips at that juncture, with the Reds well on their way to a 15-5 rout.
Which means Phillips went 4-for-5 with two homers, two steals, and seven RBI—totals unmatched in major-league history—and he did all that while playing six innings.
The Defensive Play of the Day
We gave Ellsbury some grief for his ill-advised dive on Rua's inside-the-park home run, so it's only fair that we give him some credit when it's due:
BONUS! The History-Denying Defensive Play of the Day
Eddie Rosario had a double, a triple, and a homer in the Twins 9-5 win over the Mariners. He would've had a single to complete the cycle, too, but Brad Miller said, "not on my watch":
What to Watch This Weekend
Hours after the deadlines, the stars of the first two blockbusters of the week leading up to July 31st will lock horns, as Johnny Cueto debuts for the Royals in a date with Troy Tulowitzki and the Blue Jays.
Tulowitzki batted leadoff in his Toronto premiere Wednesday, occupying the lineup slot vacated by Jose Reyes, and manager John Gibbons appears intent on stacking his right-handed power bats at the top of the order, in lieu of a speed-oriented leadoff man. Tulowitzki is 3-for-13 lifetime against Cueto, though that includes a double and homer, and he's only struck out once in 14 trips.
The Jays will counter Cueto with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who's had an up-and-down season since returning from elbow surgery. He's in a rut at the moment, carrying a 7.32 ERA through four starts this month, light-years removed from his four-hit shutout over the White Sox on May 25th. Hutchison made his major-league debut against the Royals, back on April 21, 2012, when their lineup still featured Yuniesky Betancourt and Jeff Francoeur (7:07 p.m. ET).
Rookie left-hander Andrew Heaney is 5-0 through the first six starts of his big-league career, sporting a 1.79 ERA after 40 1/3 innings. He came to the Angels by way of the Dodgers, as Andrew Friedman sent Dee Gordon to the Marlins to get Heaney, then sent the prospect to Anaheim to obtain Howie Kendrick. Now, the Dodgers will get a look at the 24-year-old who was briefly their employee but never had a chance to wear their uniform.
To avoid suffering his first major-league defeat, Heaney will have to keep up with Zack Greinke, one of the few starters who can claim a superior ERA, sitting at a league-best 1.37 in 138 1/3 innings. Greinke lost his scoreless streak in Queens on July 26th, and the Dodgers ultimately lost behind him for the first time in five games. Don Mattingly's squad has dropped consecutive Greinke starts only once this season, so Heaney and the Halos have their work cut out for them in the middle match at Chavez Ravine (4:05 p.m. ET).
The Nationals need just one win this weekend to escape their three-game set at Citi Field alone in first place, but the Mets can draw even atop the standings with a sweep. Washington will see a new-look Mets lineup, with Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe solidifying the Mets infield, from the outset, but in Sunday's series finale, the Nats will get their second look at rookie right-hander Noah Syndergaard, who faced them on July 22nd.
Syndergaard was atypically erratic in that outing, issuing five walks in as many innings yet still escaping with only one run on his line. It was the first time Thor has issued more than two walks since his major-league debut back in May, and his K:BB ratio stands at 91-to-20 in 86 2/3 innings. He flirted with perfection in an eight-inning domination of the Padres his last time out.
Matt Williams will send Jordan Zimmermann to the hill in the nationally televised contest, hoping for similar or better results than he got in the duel with Syndergaard last time. Zimmermann held the Mets to three runs in seven innings that day, striking out six, his highest K total in his last four starts. The Nationals are 11-5 behind the 29-year-old since May 4th, a span over which he's authored a 2.94 ERA, but Zimmermann's 104 cFIP suggests he'll need a bit more run support to keep piling up Washington victories going forward (8:08 p.m. ET).