The Tuesday Takeaway
In recent seasons the rivalry between Pirates and Cardinals has evolved into arguably the best one in baseball. The two National League Central powerhouses entered their series in St. Louis with the two best records in the Senior Circuit, with the Pirates third in all of baseball behind the Cardinals and Royals. Tuesday's series opener between the two squads certainly didn't disappoint.
The Pirates threatened out of the gate against Carlos Martinez, with Starling Marte doubling with one out and Aramis Ramirez reaching on a hit by pitch to bring up Jung-ho Kang. On Tuesday, Jeff Sullivan wrote about Kang's stellar rookie campaign, noting that he has recently been hitting the ball in the air more often and driving the ball to all fields. Like clockwork, Kang drove the 1-1 offering from Martinez to the warning track in right field to draw first blood for the Pirates.
The Cardinals tied it back up in the bottom of the inning, but Gregory Polanco got things rolling again for Pittsburgh in the third inning. The rookie outfielder worked a 2-0 count against Martinez to lead off the inning and yanked the next pitch to deep right field. Jason Heyward looked like he had a chance at reeling in the fly ball but it glanced off the side of his glove and bounced off top of the wall, resulting in a triple for Polanco. He would score later in the inning on a single by Ramirez.
Pittsburgh appeared to be control of the game after Pedro Alvarez took Martinez deep in the fourth inning to make it a 3-1 game. But then the fifth inning rolled around and the Cardinals stormed back against Pirates starter Jeff Locke. The left-hander issued walks to Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta to lead off the inning and then fell behind 2-0 to Heyward. He left his next offering belt-high and Heyward turned on the inside pitch, singling to right field and scoring Wong to cut the lead to one. A ground out and sacrifice fly tied the game and advanced Heyward to third base.
That brought up Stephen Piscotty, who battled Locke to a 2-2 count. Francisco Cervelli called for a curveball and made it clear that he wanted the southpaw to keep the ball low. Instead, Locke left the pitch over the plate and Piscotty gave the Cardinals the lead.
Armed with a 4-3 lead, Martinez proceeded to buckle down and mow through the Pirates lineup over his final three innings of work. He relied heavily on his slider throughout the start, opting for the pitch 45 percent of the time, which was easily his highest usage of the pitch in any start this season. Martinez threw 35 of his 49 sliders for a strike, going to the pitch not only to draw swings outside the zone (six swing and misses with the pitch), but also early in the count to get ahead.
Martinez was at 91 pitches through seven innings and instead of going to his bullpen, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny left his young fireballer in for the eighth inning despite this requiring Martinez to face the Pirates' order for a fourth time. Martinez rewarded his skipper's faith by getting Andrew McCutchen and Ramirez to fly out and then striking out Kang on his 108th pitch, tying his career high.
Quick Hits from Tuesday
The Blue Jays haven't had any trouble scoring runs this year. They have arguably the game's best offense and entered Tuesday's in the midst of an eight-game winning streak. The last thing the team needed was any help scoring runs. But that's exactly what the Athletics provided through a series of defensive miscues in the second inning behind Kendall Graveman.
Chris Colabello led off the second inning against the young hurler by dropping a base hit in front of Coco Crisp. But the left fielder misjudged the bounce off the Rogers Centre turf and the ball sailed over his head for a leadoff "double."
The miscue loomed large when the next batter, Russell Martin, hit what would have been an easy double-play ball to Marcus Semien at short. But to make matters worse, there wouldn't even be one out recorded, as Semien's throw to first sailed over the head of Ike Davis. It was Semien's league-leading 30th error of the season, and 15th of the throwing variety.
Justin Smoak ripped an opposite-field double to score both Colabello and Martin, giving Toronto a 2-1 lead. Next up was Kevin Pillar, who hit a soft grounder to second base. The defensive woes continued for Oakland, with Eric Sogard botching it to put runners at the corners with no outs.
The Jays would tack on one more run on an RBI ground out by Ryan Goins. The long inning finally came to an end for Graveman when he got Troy Tulowitzki to ground out to Semien, who nearly threw another ball away.
But while the Oakland starter failed to get any help behind him in the second inning, there was no one who was going to catch this one off the bat of Jose Bautista:
Meanwhile, Drew Hutchison turned in seven stellar innings for the Blue Jays, striking out six and walking two while limiting the visitors to just two runs. Aaron Sanchez and Robert Osuna did the rest to put the finishing touches on Toronto's ninth straight win.
The Athletics may have cost themselves a win with their rough defensive play but the slick-fielding Royals provided Yordano Ventura with some strong defense to help the youngster stay out of trouble despite issuing six walks against the Tigers.
Kansas City got out to an early lead against Anibal Sanchez, who has been bitten hard by the home run bug this season. Lorenzo Cain singled up the middle against the right-hander with two outs in the first inning and Eric Hosmer followed with an opposite-field drive.
The Tigers made some loud contact against Ventura in the fourth inning but a pair of strong defensive plays kept the visitors off the board. With one out, Tyler Collins laced a hit to left-center field that looked like a sure-fire double off the bat. But Lorenzo Cain ranged over into the gap and cut the ball off, limiting Collins to a single.
That would prove to be critical later in the inning when Jefry Marte ripped a double into the left-center gap. Jarrod Dyson played the ball well off the wall and got it in to Alcides Escobar, who fired home to nab James McCann—who had replaced Collins on a fielder's choice—for the final out of the inning.
The defensive clinic continued in the sixth inning after Ventura had walked a pair of batters, giving the Tigers a chance to claw their way back into the game. With two outs, McCann hit a hard grounder to the left side, but Escobar was there to make the diving play and record the final out of Ventura's outing.
The home run issues came back for Sanchez in the bottom of the inning, with Cain leading off with a solo shot, one of his four hits on the night. Mike Moustakas would join the party with a two-run blast to give the Royals a 5-0 advantage and knock Sanchez out of the game. The home run was Moustakas' 11th of the season and the 28th given up by Sanchez.
The Tigers would tally a run against Franklin Morales in the seventh inning but that's all they would manage in the game. Luke Hochevar relieved Morales and turned in 2 2/3 perfect innings to clinch the series win for Kansas City.
Matt Harvey's first season back from Tommy John has been a bit of a mixed bag. The hard-throwing righty has boasted the same velocity and similar stuff that made him one of the best starting pitchers in baseball in 2013, but he has gone through some rough spots when it comes to his command. The Pirates and Giants hung seven-spots on him within a span of four starts a couple of months ago, then Harvey went through a three-start stretch in July in which he walked at least four batters in each game. He didn't issue four walks in a single start during his 2013 season.
But things have been clicking lately for Harvey, who entered Tuesday's game against the Rockies on the heels of three stellar outings against the Dodgers, Nationals, and Marlins in which he tallied 19 strikeouts against just one walk. The right-hander was efficient at home against the Rockies, as he didn't issue any free passes and limited hard contact. While Harvey didn't miss a ton of bats (four strikeouts), he kept the Rockies' hitters off-balance with his entire repertoire, working the outer third of the plate against both lefties and righties, while allowing just three infield singles through the first six innings.
Behind Harvey, the Mets were clinging to a 1-0 lead that they had mounted on a Ruben Tejada RBI single in the sixth inning. The hardest hit ball of the night off Harvey was off the bat of Ben Paulsen in the seventh inning, a one-out double hit over the head of Michael Cuddyer in right field. However, the Rockies squandered the opportunity when Paulsen broke toward third on a line drive to second base, resulting in an inning-ending double play.
A clean eighth inning of work left Harvey at 97 pitches and with the top of the Rockies order due up in the ninth, they were looking at an opportunity to either break through against Harvey the fourth time through the order or get their hacks against Jeurys Familia, who has struggled of late. But the Rockies' bullpen never gave the offense that chance.
Cuddyer got things going with a one-out single off John Axford, then promptly stole second base (cc: @cantpredictbaseball) and advanced to third on a poor throw by Nick Hundley. A couple of walks by Axford loaded the bases and brought up Harvey's spot in the order. Terry Collins went to Curtis Granderson and Walt Weiss countered with Boone Logan, who had plunked Granderson the previous night with the bases loaded before giving up the eventual game-winning hit. This time, Logan walked Granderson and promptly served up a two-run double to Juan Lagares.
The third hit of the night for Lagares, who was making his first start in a week, gave the Mets a 4-0 lead and allowed the recently-acquired Eric O'Flaherty to get in an inning of work to close it out.
It's been a rough couple of days for the Dodgers, who were swept over the weekend by the Pirates and dropped their series opener against he Nationals on Monday. But with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw lined up for the final two games of the series against Washington, there was reason for optimism in Los Angeles. Greinke did his part on Tuesday, tossing six scoreless innings against a Bryce Harper-less Nationals lineup.
But Yasiel Puig also had a big game for the Dodgers, a good sign given the right fielder's struggles at the plate over the past month. Puig gave the Dodgers the lead in the fourth inning with his two-run blast off Joe Ross
and then broke the game open with a bases-clearing triple in the fifth inning.
That was it for Ross, who turned in his worst outing to date. During his first seven starts for the Nationals, he had managed an outstanding 47:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But on Tuesday, he issued four free passes to the Dodgers and failed to crack five innings for the first time in his career.
The Dodgers would go on to win by a final of 5-0, with Yimi Garcia and Luis Avilan combining for three scoreless frames out of the bullpen to close it out. As for the Nationals, the loss now puts them 2½ games back of the Mets in the NL East.
The Defensive Play(s) of the Day
Tuesday's 16-inning marathon between the Yankees and Indians featured a handful of spectacular defensive plays but none finer than Giovanny Urshela's jump throw at third base to nab the speedy Brett Gardner.
According to August Fagerstrom, Statcast measured Urshela's efficiency on the play at 99.5 percent. Pretty good if you ask me.
But Yan Gomes flashed his defense as well in the form of one of the best pop times in baseball this season at a critical juncture in the game. It was all tied up at two in the ninth inning when Gardner drew a one-out walk against Cody Allen. On the second pitch to Alex Rodriguez, Gardner took off
As for the game itself, the two teams would trade two-run blows in the 10th inning, with Andrew Miller blowing his first save of the season. Neither team would score for the next five innings, with Ryan Webb throwing three scoreless innings for the Tribe and Bryan Mitchell turning in three for the Bombers. In the bottom of the 16th, the Indians broke through.
Bonus Defensive Play of the Day
Defense is fun! There were more awesome defensive plays from Tuesday! Watch this catch by Carlos Gomez!
Despite Gomez's spectacular play, the Astros were unable to overcome Madison Bumgarner's dominant outing. The left-hander needed just 105 pitches to go the distance, striking out 12 and walking none. Providing the offense for San Francisco was Brandon Belt, who smacked a pair of solo home runs, which proved to be the difference in the 3-1 win.
What to Watch on Wednesday
The mid-week ledger of games includes a smattering of matinee matchups, with a handful of exciting young starting pitchers such as Kevin Gausman, Aaron Nola, and Eduardo Rodriguez scheduled to take the hill for their respective clubs. The Astros and Giants also square off in the day game (3:45 p.m. EST) with the most playoff implications at stake. It will also take place on MLB Network on a telecast hosted by Brian Kenny, Jim Duquette, Kevin Millar, and Rob Neyer.
The games you'll want to schedule your time around won't come until later in the evening, with the first marquee matchup of the night coming in St. Louis. Michael Wacha is fresh off a pair of seven-shutout-inning outings and will get the ball for the NL Central leaders against the red-hot Pirates, who will counter with their ace, Gerrit Cole, in the middle match of the series.
Wacha has increased the usage of his four-seam fastball as the season has worn on and has seen his whiff rate on the pitch increase along the way. Aside from a few starts at the beginning of April in which his fastball velocity was lower than usual, Wacha's gun readings have been pretty consistent throughout the season and he doesn't appear to be elevating the pitch any more as the summer days have come upon us. Maybe it's been a case of better sequencing or improved command. Nevertheless, his strikeout rate has ticked up, as he's striking out a batter per inning since the beginning of June after fanning about six per nine during the first two months of the season. Pit the Cardinals' right-hander against the hard-throwing Cole and you've got yourself quite the entertaining division clash to kick off your night (8:15 p.m. EST).
A few hours later, you'll be presented with another fantastic pitching duel, this one between Jordan Zimmermann and Clayton Kershaw, along with Vin Scully in the booth. The Pirates brought Kershaw's scoreless-innings streak to an end the last time he took the mound and went on to pile on four runs in six innings against he left-hander, marking just the fourth time this season he's given up more than three runs. Kershaw will look to rebound from his uncharacteristic poor start to try and help the Dodgers take the rubber match (10:10 p.m. EST).