The Tuesday Takeaway
In early April of this year, the Orioles released catcher J.P. Arencibia and watched him sign a minor-league deal with the division-rival Rays. About a month after that, in a completely independent event, the Rays lost Drew Smyly to a torn labrum in his left shoulder. With the southpaw's season in doubt, the odds were solidly against either Arencibia or Smyly furthering the O's summer tailspin on the first day of September.
Smyly forewent surgery, which would have ended his year, and instead rehabbed his shoulder to the point where the Rays cleared him for duty in mid-August. The early results were mixed—two clunkers sandwiching one strong showing—and there was reason to wonder if the 26-year-old's arsenal would regain its crispness before 2016.
Meanwhile, Arencibia was in Triple-A, having a typical Arencibia year. He whacked 22 homers for Durham but struck out 125 times while drawing only 15 walks. The Rays' organizational emphasis on catcher defense led to Arencibia spending the bulk of his time at first base, but when big-league backstop Curt Casali was placed on the disabled list in late August, the 29-year-old got his chance to don the tools of ignorance in the majors again.
Arencibia and Smyly first crossed paths on August 27th, Smyly's third start off the shelf, a 5-4 win over the Twins in which the lefty pitched poorly and the catcher struck out twice while chipping in a sac fly. Nonetheless, they meshed well enough that manager and ex-catcher Kevin Cash decided to put them together again in Baltimore. This time, both supplied a meaningful jolt.
Smyly gave up three hits and a walk in his first three innings on the hill, looking good but not great, and weaving out of trouble instead of cruising through his frames. Then the Rays scored four times in the top of the fourth, half of them on a single by Arencibia, and Smyly kicked himself into gear.
He struck out the side around a Jonathan Schoop double in the last of the fourth, and the Rays were right back to hitting, where they'd post their second straight four-spot. Another inning, another two-run knock for Arencibia, and just like that, it was 8-0.
The next six Orioles batters went foul out, pop out, ground out, strikeout, strikeout, fly out. And then, Arencibia drove in two more, this time with a big fly:
Per the Baseball-Reference Play Index, that blast off T.J. McFarland made Arencibia just the second nine-hole-hitting catcher to collect six RBI in a game since 2000. The only other one was a fellow Ray, Ryan Hanigan, on April 19, 2014.
As for Smyly, he wrapped up his outstanding day with two more strikeouts in the seventh, giving him 10 for the day. It's the first time he's reached double digits since April 29th, his penultimate pre-injury start, and the first time he's eclipsed five Ks since coming back.
Each of Smyly's four offerings induced at least three whiffs Tuesday, with his slider leading the way with eight, en route to 19 total on 100 deliveries. He threw 74 of his pitches for strikes, up from 63 of 100 his last time out, and more than four of five sliders and changeups either found the zone or drew a swing.
All of this is very good news for a Rays club that's still lurking on the periphery of the Wild Card race. The top five teams in the running all won Tuesday, further burying the darkhorses, including the Orioles, who've ceded six in a row and 12 of 13 to fall 6½ games behind. Tampa Bay's three-game winning streak has leveled its record at 66-66, just 3½ shy of Texas.
Our odds have the Rays with around a one-in-10 shot of pulling an upset and securing a Wild Card berth. If the Smyly who showed up in Baltimore yesterday sticks around down the stretch, don't count them out just yet.
Quick Hits from Tuesday
Up 6-3 in the ninth inning of the first game of their doubleheader at Coors Field, the Diamondbacks had two men on and nobody out with Paul Goldschmidt up, an excellent opportunity to add to their lead. Both runners took off on the 0-2 pitch to Goldschmidt, which led to the worst possible outcome for Arizona:
You might never see a more straightforward 6-4-3 triple play than the above one started by Jose Reyes. It was the first ever turned against the Diamondbacks, who until yesterday had been the only holdouts in the league. But it was merely a footnote in the play-by-play of a game that otherwise swung Arizona's way.
The ball was carrying exceptionally well in the afternoon affair, so well that Phil Gosselin hit his first home run in a D'backs uniform more than halfway up the left-center-field bleachers:
So well that noted slugger D.J. LeMahieu was able to crank one 462 feet to center:
But while the Rox out-homered the Snakes, 3-2, all three of Colorado's bombs were of the solo variety and Gosselin's matched them all by itself.
Aside giving up two taters, Patrick Corbin shrewdly kept the ball on the ground, getting 12 of his 19 outs in that fashion. He and the setup crew turned a 6-3 lead over to Daniel Hudson, who was filling in for the scuffling Brad Ziegler in the ninth. Hudson notched his third save of the year despite surrendering a run, and along the way, he became the first pitcher known to reach 100 mph after his second Tommy John surgery.
The D'backs overcame the Balk of the Year to sweep the doubleheader with a 5-3 victory in game two.
It was Gerrit Cole for the Pirates and Jimmy Nelson for the Brewers at Miller Park on Tuesday, so you might have foreseen a long night for the home team. With Nelson coming off a 3 1/3-inning walk-a-thon in Cleveland, there was reason to think this one might be lopsided early. And it was. Just not the way most would've expected.
Nelson got three ground outs around an Andrew McCutchen double. Then Cole took over and watched the Brew Crew go single, single, single, two-run double,
All that must've come as something of a shock to Cole. He'd only been charged with four or more earned runs seven times in his big-league career, and here he was, already at that bloated total one frame into his evening. And that was before Jonathan Lucroy picked up an RBI single in the second inning, tying a career-worst for Cole with his fifth run allowed of the night. The right-hander was through after four, matching the shortest outing he's ever had in the bigs.
Five runs were plenty for Nelson, who didn't walk eight—as he did against the Indians—or seven, or six, or … well, anyone actually.
Bad misses were few and far between, as Nelson fired 72 of 101 pitches for strikes, shoving his fastball by the Bucs. He threw 24 four-seamers, 20 of them strikes, seven of those swings and misses. And with 14 strikes on 19 sliders, he was efficient with his primary breaking ball, too.
That kept the Pirates behind the eight ball until the late stages, as the 26-year-old ended up holding them to a run on four hits in seven frames while striking out six. Pittsburgh drilled three late homers—one each by Pedro Alvarez, Aramis Ramirez, and Jung-ho Kang—but that was too little, too late in their 7-4 defeat.
After it was over, this rather remarkable nugget became a fact:
Pirates now have a losing record vs every other NL Central team this year after losing to MIL. They are 58-21 against the rest of baseball.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 2, 2015
Presented with a wide-open door to gain a game on the Mets, who were in midst of a 14-8 bludgeoning at the hands of Darin Ruf (six RBI) and the Phillies, the Nationals took a 4-0 lead over the Cardinals in the top of the third. All was well.
And then their rookie starting pitcher, Joe Ross, lost his feel for the strike zone. He got two outs in three batters to begin the last of the third, but then he fell behind Jhonny Peralta, who singled home Matt Carpenter, who'd walked with one out. Then Ross walked Jason Heyward, drawing a visit from pitching coach Steve McCatty. And then he walked Yadier Molina, drawing a pep talk from catcher Wilson Ramos and shortstop Ian Desmond. And then he walked Kolten Wong, and instead of a pep talk, manager Matt Williams delivered the hook.
Whether it was the yips, a mechanical flaw, or the humidity affecting his grip on the ball, Ross was forced from the game after just 2 2/3 innings, matching the output the Redbirds got from his counterpart, Marco Gonzales. This one would be decided by the bullpens, and Doug Fister was the first man out of the Nats', taking over with the bases loaded and two down.
Now, Fister didn't walk his first batter, Mark Reynolds. Instead he …
… hit him. Reynolds would leave the game for x-rays, but he took one for the team, and the Cardinals were within one.
Fister got out of the mess with no further damage, and together with Cards' long man Carlos Villanueva, he carried the nailbiter into the seventh. The Nationals plated an insurance run with the help of a Carpenter error, and it was 5-3 going to the bottom of the eighth.
To Storen's credit, he regained his composure after that, but by then, even a double-play ball—which Stephen Piscotty supplied—meant the Cardinals would earn a draw. And so, it was 5-5 going to the ninth.
Mitch Harris, pitching for the Redbirds, stranded runners at the corners by coaxing a fly ball from Ian Desmond. That left it up to Casey Janssen to force extras. Janssen got two quick outs, then gave up a double to pinch-hitter Cody Stanley. With first base open, he walked Tommy Pham, bringing Moss to the plate. And with one swing of the bat by their deadline pickup,
the Cardinals improved to 40 games over .500 while the Nats wasted their opportunity to gain ground on the Mets.
The middle match between the Giants and Dodgers featured the marquee matchup of the series: Madison Bumgarner vs. Zack Greinke, with the Giants looking to knot the three-game date in L.A. at one apiece.
Greinke and the Dodgers threatened in the second, when a diving catch by Matt Duffy on a liner off the pitcher's bat spared Bumgarner an early deficit, but they made good on their threat in the third. With two down, Jose Peraza singled, Justin Turner walked, and Adrian Gonzalez singled in Peraza as the home team drew first blood.
Outside of an infield single by Buster Posey and a popup dropped by Peraza, Greinke was perfect through three. And four. And five. And six. But then, in the seventh, the Giants put two on with nobody out when Brandon Belt singled and Posey walked. Marlon Byrd followed with a ground out that advanced both runners, teeing up a big moment for newcomer Alejandro De Aza. That went awry when plate umpire Mike Winters rang him up on a backdoor changeup that never quite entered the house. Kelby Tomlinson lined out, and Greinke was out of the jam.
Between innings, Winters sent Jake Peavy off for barking at him from the Giants' dugout, and Bruce Bochy followed his Monday starter into the clubhouse when he got the heave-ho, too. They left just in time to miss a solo shot by Joc Pederson—just the second long ball Bumgarner has given up to a lefty in 2015—that gave the Dodgers a critical insurance run:
With his pitch count well over 100, Greinke ran into more trouble in the eighth. Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan picked up consecutive singles with one away, and Duffy singled in Blanco while putting the tying run 180 feet away. Don Mattingly called it a day for Greinke, then watched two of his boss's deadline acquisitions, lefty specialist Luis Avilan and second baseman Peraza, team up to preserve the one-run margin:
Kenley Jansen retired the side in order in the ninth, and with the 2-1 victory, the Dodgers moved to 5½ up in the West.
If your last name starts with Go and ends with an "s," you had yourself a day in the Indians-Blue Jays game last night. Yan Gomes clubbed two homers for the visitors in the hotly contested, extra-inning affair. Ryan Goins made The Defensive Play of the Day
early on, and then reemerged as the hero
with a walk-off homer in the 10th.
The Jays' 5-3 victory kept them 1½ up on the Yankees—who overcame a career-high 13 strikeouts by Rick Porcello in a 3-1 win over the Red Sox—in the AL East.
The top of the seventh inning at Petco Park began with the Rangers and Padres tied 4-4. It ended with the Rangers doubling up the Friars on the scoreboard. And there was a whole lot of trouble at the catcher position in between.
First, the setup: Prince Fielder singled with one away and moved to second on a single by Adrian Beltre. A passed ball by Derek Norris advanced both runners a base, opening up first for an intentional walk to Rougned Odor.
Now, Act 1: The next batter was Elvis Andrus, who singled, scoring Fielder, before a rough two-base error by Norris—who had Beltre kick the ball away from him—allowed two more runs to score and Andrus to take third:
With Norris hurt (he was later diagnosed with a left shoulder strain), Pat Murphy replaced both his pitcher and his catcher, installing Kevin Quackenbush where Shawn Kelley had been and Austin Hedges in lieu of Norris.
Now, you might recall that Elvis Andrus was at third base when all of this happened, but perhaps Quackenbush and Hedges didn't. They were all eyes on each other while Andrus had his eyes on the prize
a straight steal of home that made it 8-4 Texas. The Rangers held on amid a ninth-inning mess to win 8-6.
What to Watch on Wednesday
Can you name the last Reds pitcher to rack up double-digit strikeouts in three consecutive starts? No, you can't. Stop trying. According to the Play Index, it hasn't happened since at least 1914.
But that drought now sits at the mercy of Cuban right-hander Raisel Iglesias, who fanned 13 Diamondbacks on August 23rd and 10 Brewers five days later. This afternoon, Iglesias will take on a Cubs lineup that leads the majors in strikeouts. It's a golden opportunity for the 25-year-old to go where no Reds hurler has ever gone before.
As our own George Bissell noted last month, Iglesias' upturn "coincides with a newfound emphasis on his slider and changeup," especially the breaking ball, which got him mentioned in the same sentence as Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. Here's what enemy batters did against the slider—or, perhaps more accurately, what the slider did to enemy batters—in the aforementioned two starts: 2-for-24 with 17 strikeouts.
Iglesias may struggle to maintain that breakneck strikeout pace, even against a whiff-happy Cubs lineup, but Jason Hammel might need to look to his left-handed-hitting teammates for support in the matinee at Wrigley Field (2:20 p.m. ET).
A battle of aces closes out the midweek showdown between the Nationals and Cardinals, as Max Scherzer and Michael Wacha square off in St. Louis.
Scherzer has come upon rough times of late, surrendering three or more runs in each of his five August starts. He struck out 37 in 28 innings during the dog days, but also watched seven baseballs soar over fences, bloating his ERA to 6.43. The primary culprit was a suddenly ineffective fastball, evidenced by the following splits compiled against the four-seamer by Scherzer's opponents:
Suffice it to say that the hard stuff has been pounded of late. And if that continues this evening, the Nationals may find it difficult to keep up against Wacha, who's held his foes to two or fewer earned runs in six straight. Wacha chucked seven innings of one-run ball at Nationals Park back on April 23rd (8:15 p.m. ET).
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