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July 21, 2014

What You Need to Know

Sunday Morning Defending

by Daniel Rathman

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The Weekend Takeaway

With the Indians’ record at an even 47–47 heading into the All-Star break, and the Tigers 7 1/2 games up in the American League Central, the Tribe direly needed a strong weekend in Detroit to climb back into the race.

The four-game series began ominously for the visitors, who trailed 3–0 six innings into the set. Trevor Bauer had pitched well enough, containing a powerful offense to keep the Tribe within striking distance, but Anibal Sanchez had shut the Indians down completely.

Until the seventh.

Michael Brantley singled and stole second. Carlos Santana walked. Lonnie Chisenhall singled. And Nick Swisher drove in a pair with a single of his own.

That was it for Sanchez. Enter left-hander Ian Krol. Enter also pinch-hitter Ryan Raburn:

Raburn’s double tied the game. But the Tigers came close to escaping with only the three-spot pinned on the board when Al Alburquerque fanned both Yan Gomes and Chris Dickerson.

Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera had other ideas:

And suddenly, it was 7–3 Indians.

They weren’t done, either. Kipnis thumped his second homer of the game to make it 8–3 in the ninth and Swisher tacked on a ninth unanswered run with an RBI ground-rule double.

The Indians carried the momentum of that late surge into Saturday’s doubleheader and their ace, Corey Kluber, rode the wave in the first tilt. As the Cleveland offense struggled to figure out Drew VerHagen, a Vanderbilt product making his major league debut for Detroit, Kluber matched him zero for zero until the fifth inning.

VerHagen’s second trip through the bottom half of Terry Francona’s order went less smoothly than his first, as he walked Lonnie Chisenhall and promptly saw him score on a double by Swisher. Swisher then came around on back-to-back singles by Gomes and David Murphy. And through Raburn hit into a double play, Kipnis picked him up by plating Gomes on a two-out knock.

The Tigers countered with a run off Kluber in the last of the fifth, but they’d get no closer. Kipnis brought home an insurance run in the top of the seventh, and a leadoff double by Gomes paved the way for two more in the ninth. Doubles by Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos prevented Kluber from notching a complete game, but Bryan Shaw finished off the 6–2 victory little drama.

The game three matchup of Max Scherzer and Zach McAllister seemed to favor the Tigers, but the Indians had a secret weapon buried in their order. Chris Dickerson, the ninth-place hitter for Francona, took Scherzer deep not once:

but twice:

Those blasts and the Indians’ patience at the plate, which forced Scherzer to fire 118 bullets in 5 2/3 innings, left the Tribe ahead 2–1 when both starters were done. The bases-loaded walk that McAllister had issued to Austin Jackson in the second inning was long forgotten.

Jackson became a thorn in the Indians’ side again in the seventh, when he tripled home the equalizer against Scott Atchison, but the Tigers bullpen reared its ugly head to help the Indians again.

Joe Nathan was the culprit this time, and he got into trouble right off the bat, as Roberto Perez doubled to kick off the ninth. Nathan struck out Dickerson, then filled the open base by walking Kipnis. Mike Aviles flied out. With Michael Brantley at the dish, a passed ball by Alex Avila moved both runners into scoring position, but it gave Nathan an excuse to put the breakout hitter aboard intentionally. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that move backfired loudly:

Nathan grooved a 2–1 fastball to Santana, who walloped it off the wall in right-center, bringing home all three runners. It was the first and only hit with a runner in scoring position in 18 such at-bats for the two sides, and it was the death-blow in a 5–2 Indians win.

Another defeat on Sunday would have really tightened the screws on the Tigers, but Drew Smyly ensured that Cleveland would get no closer. He turned in seven innings of one-run ball, and the home nine rode a pair of two-spots in the first and third to a 5–1 win.

By dodging the brooms, the Tigers reestablished a more comfortable 5 1/2-game cushion in the Central. The Royals, who dropped all three of their games to the Red Sox, are now seven back in the race.

Quick Hits from the Weekend

Back in June, the A’s and O’s had a melee in Baltimore following a couple of run-ins involving Manny Machado. It all began when Machado took exception to a tag by his Oakland counterpart, Josh Donaldson—even though on replay, the contact did not look particularly forceful or malicious. The A’s weren’t pleased with a couple of Machado backswings that hit catcher Derek Norris, which led Fernando Abad to throw at Machado, who retaliated by chucking his bat in the direction of Alberto Callaspo, who was playing at the hot corner in Donaldson’s place.

Machado eventually apologized and served a suspension, while Norris said Machado—who was less than a year over the drinking age at the time—still had some maturing to do. The sides were ready to move on, and since time heals all wounds, it seemed likely that tensions would dissipate long before the sides reunited on the west coast.

Indeed, there were no beanballs, intentional bat-chuckings, wild backswings, or violent tag plays in Friday’s series opener between the first-place teams at the O.co Coliseum. Machado and Donaldson settled the score on the field.

With the game tied, 2–2, in the top of the seventh, Machado dug in against Jeff Samardzija, one of the few A’s who weren’t around for the June clash. He got a first-pitch fastball down and in, and yanked it just inside the left-field foul pole for a go-ahead, two-run jack:

Machado didn’t admire the missile. He didn’t pump his fist or tease Samardzija on his way around the bases. And he didn’t say anything to Donaldson as he rounded third on his way home. The budding star might have savored his 31st career home run a bit more than the other 30, especially with the Oakland crowd heckling him throughout the night, but he didn’t wear those emotions on his sleeve. For those who believed he had some maturing left to do in June, he did his best to show that it was done.

The score stayed 4–2 until the last of the ninth, when Zach Britton took the bump. The first-year closer was perfect in his last six save opportunities and 12-for-13 dating back to May 31. Friday just wasn’t his night.

In a span of five pitches, the A’s put runners at the corners, as Yoenis Cespedes reached on an infield hit and Brandon Moss blooped a single into right field. Pitch no. 6 was a sinker over the middle of the plate, and Donaldson crushed it way back to center:

It took just a couple of minutes for the A’s to turn a 4–2 deficit into a 5–4 walk-off victory at Britton’s expense, and the left-hander tipped his cap to Donaldson for hitting “a good pitch.”

Donaldson’s swing made the Athletics the first big-league club to reach 60 wins. The O’s blasted their former teammate, Jason Hammel, with the Baseball Prospectus crew in attendance on Saturday, but the A’s recovered to rout the visitors in Sunday’s rubber match.


With that win in the bag for the A’s, the Angels needed a “W” of their own to keep pace in the American League West. The Halos scored twice in the fifth, the Mariners countered with two in the seventh, and a whole lot of bonus baseball would be needed to settle game one of three in Anaheim.

The Mariners threatened to put the Angels’ backs against the wall at the outset of extra innings, as Robinson Cano led off the top of the 10th with what looked like a double. Shortstop John McDonald, fresh off the pine after Erick Aybar left with an injury, kept the tag on Cano for a couple of seconds after he received the ball, but second-base umpire Paul Schrieber saw nothing out of the ordinary. Replay, on the other hand ...

... revealed that Cano had popped off the bag for a split second:

And that was enough to erase him from the basepaths.

In the top of the 11th, the Mariners got going again with a single by Justin Smoak. Pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Dustin Ackley, setting the stage for an RBI single by Brad Miller to line into a double play:

Fernando Salas put his glove up as he completed his follow-through, and Miller’s shot found its pocket, as Bloomquist, who’d read it as a sure single, strayed way too far from the keystone to return before Salas tossed the ball over to complete the twin killing.

The next four innings were relatively uneventful—in part because Tom Wilhelmsen logged four shutout frames for the visitors—so we’ll fast-forward to the bottom of the 16th, when Dominic Leone, the next man out of the Seattle bullpen, became the first to falter in extra frames. Pinch-hitting for McDonald, who’d done his job in the field, with two on and two away, Efren Navarro bounced one through the middle to send home the winning run:

Navarro’s heroics sent the crowd home happy with a 3–2 win that kept the Angels 1 1/2 back of the A’s in the West. They’d remain in that position at the end of the weekend after losing Saturday’s middle match in extra innings and winning in walk-off fashion on Sunday.


Before Saturday, Matt Garza had made 210 major league starts. Only one of those lasted fewer than two innings. In the middle match at Nationals Park, though, the right-hander couldn’t even make it out of the first.

It wasn’t all Garza’s fault. The BABIP overlords had their say on a flare single by Denard Span, a bloop double by Jayson Werth, and a soft infield single by Ian Desmond. But Garza walked two and also allowed a single by Ryan Zimmerman on a 1–2 mistake. So when Wilson Ramos, the eighth-place hitter for the Nats, singled home two runs to make it 8–0, Brewers skipper Ron Roenicke had seen enough.

Marco Estrada came on to mop up the mess and helped Garza avoid further ERA damage. Opposing starter Tanner Roark bunted into an out at the plate and Denard Span flied out to end the grueling inning.

Unfortunately, that rescue came too late for the Brewers, who’d score only three times in the contest. Roark saved his best work for the mound, delivering seven innings of one-run ball, walking one and striking out five to pare his ERA down to 2.91. That was more than enough to secure the win, after the Nationals offense chased a starter just one out into his day for the first time in franchise history.


Earlier this month, the Yankees took a small gamble on Brandon McCarthy’s peripherals, small mainly because the cost of acquiring him from the Diamondbacks was Vidal Nuno. All McCarthy had to do to justify the trade was to outperform Nuno, who’d finished the sixth inning only once in his previous six starts.

McCarthy’s first outing in pinstripes was a 6 2/3-inning, four-run (one earned) no-decision against the Indians. On Saturday, he fared much better.

Taking on a Reds lineup that had Brayan Pena filling in for Joey Votto at first and Kris Negron supplanting Brandon Phillips at second, McCarthy carved up the visitors to the tune of nine strikeouts over six innings. The only blemish on his line was a fifth-inning solo shot by Chris Heisey.

McCarthy’s sinker, which averaged 93 mph and topped out at 95, was just too hot for most of the Reds to handle. It elicited eight whiffs in 39 tries, a 20.5 percent swing-and-miss rate on an offering typically thrown with the intent of inducing ground balls. How uncharacteristic was that? McCarthy’s 2014 whiff rate on the sinker entering Saturday’s start was just 7.4 percent.

The Yankees offense, meanwhile, hung a loss on Alfredo Simon, sending him to the showers with four runs (two earned) on his line in five innings on the hill. Carlos Beltran launched his 10th homer of the year in the second inning, and a Jay Bruce error—which gifted Brian Roberts two bases to begin the third—paved the way for what ended up being the deciding run.


With two wins in the bag, all that stood between the Cardinals and a sweep of the Dodgers—and an outright National League Central lead—was the best starting pitcher in the world.

And they surmounted that obstacle. Down 3–1 in the sixth inning, Peter Bourjos—the owner of a .224/.288/.339 line entering play on Sunday—took Clayton Kershaw out of the park to left.

Game tied. And the Cardinals were much better equipped to win a battle of the bullpens than they had been to beat Kershaw. Unfortunately, their closer, Trevor Rosenthal, didn’t have his best fastball command.

A.J. Ellis wasn’t impressed with the gas, whacking a 96-mph four-seamer for a leadoff double. Justin Turner and Dee Gordon both struck out, but Rosenthal stayed wild, plunking Hanley Ramirez with an 0–2 mistake. Then he made his costliest location blunder:

Catcher Tony Cruz wanted the 0–1 fastball to Adrian Gonzalez on the outside black. Rosenthal left it out over the plate, and Gonzalez roped a go-ahead single to right field. Kenley Jansen had no trouble hitting his spots in the last of the ninth, retiring the side in order to end the game, the series, and the weekend slate.

When Cruz swung and missed to wrap it up, he left all three senior circuit divisions sporting two-way ties at the top of their standings.


The World Cup is over, but expressions like “Sunday morning defending,” courtesy of color commentator Steve McManaman, live on. Yesterday, the morning rolled into the afternoon as player after player made a fool of himself on the diamond.

It began with a play straight out of Major League in Washington, D.C. With runners at first and second and one out, Jonathan Lucroy tapped a ball back to pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who casually whirled around and threw to first for the easy putout. What Gonzalez and first baseman Adam LaRoche didn’t notice, though, is that Ryan Braun, the runner on second, didn’t stop at third:

Braun’s heads-up baserunning coupled with the Nats’ nonchalant fielding cost Washington a run. The tying run, in fact, at that stage of the game. The Brewers moved ahead 3–1 before the Nationals rallied on a two-run bomb by Ryan Zimmerman. Jayson Werth settled a 4–4 draw with a walk-off double in the last of the ninth.

That play also involved a blunder in the field, this time by Brewers left fielder Khris Davis. He double-clutched on the throw, then airmailed the cutoff man as Anthony Rendon scored all the way from first on a hard-hit ball into the corner.

Werth’s heroics gave Matt Williams’ club (53–43) the best record in the National League, a tick ahead of the Giants (54–44), who lost to the Marlins, and the Cardinals (54–44 at the time), who’d play the Dodgers later in the evening.


While the Nationals got away with their defensive lapse, the Reds weren’t so lucky. They saved theirs for the last of the ninth, with the winning run on third base for the Yankees, who were 90 feet away from a sweep.

Brian McCann skied a 100 mph heater from Aroldis Chapman to shallow right field, where first baseman Todd Frazier, second baseman Skip Schumaker, and right fielder Jay Bruce converged:

Bruce: “Who’s got it?”
Frazier: “Uh ... you got it, Skip?”
Schumaker: “Um, no?”

None of the three Reds called for the ball, and first-base umpire Adrian Johnson, the only other man within range, wasn’t allowed to. So it plopped onto the grass, a couple of steps beyond the infield dirt, and Jacoby Ellsbury scored to finish off the sweep.


In the grand scheme of the A’s 10–2 rout on Sunday, Josh Donaldson’s third-inning sacrifice fly was insignificant. And it probably would’ve been a sacrifice fly even if Adam Jones had caught the ball and uncorked a bullet to the plate. But ...

... Jones squandered any chance of gunning down Yoenis Cespedes at home by assuming that there were two outs in the inning when in fact there was only one.


Like the Nationals, the Padres won in walk-off fashion with the help of Sunday morning defending, though they might’ve preferred a tidier victory. The only franchise without a no-hitter in its history got 7 2/3 knock-less frames from Odrisamer Despaigne in his fifth big-league start. Trouble is, with two away in the seventh, the Mets strung together three hits in a row, snatching away not only the no-no but also the shutout and the lead.

Fast-forward to the bottom of the ninth. Pinch-hitter Carlos Quentin drew a leadoff walk. Pinch-runner Cameron Maybin advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Alexi Amarista, who was safe at first because pitcher Vic Black kicked the play. On the bright side for the Mets, Chase Headley grounded into a twin killing, putting them an out away from extras. On the other hand, that just made this game-winning, um, infield single that much tougher to swallow:

The 2–1 loss in the rubber match at Petco might put some PFP drills on the Mets pregame schedule for tomorrow’s opener in Seattle.

As for the plays that actually were made…

The Defensive Plays of the Weekend

With the runner going and the shortstop covering, Mike Zunino tried to bounce one through the vacated hole on the left side of the infield. Erick Aybar said, “nice try.”

This liner from Ryan Howard was sinking quickly, but not quickly enough to evade Jason Heyward’s glove:

When a runner takes off on a breaking ball that bounces, it’s usually a good bet that he’ll steal the bag. Unless Cameron Rupp is in the squat:

And last, but certainly not least, Anthony Rizzo earned a spot in this segment with a play so impressive that it warrants inclusion here even though it granted the Diamondbacks the go-ahead run:

What to Watch on Monday

  • It’s been two months since we last saw Cliff Lee on a major league mound, as the left-hander was one of many pitchers to succumb to the injury bug. Lee’s ailment was a flexor pronator strain in his forearm, which sent him to the disabled list with a solid 3.18 ERA and an even better 2.66 FIP. The 35-year-old will go back to work on those numbers when the Giants come to Citizens Bank Park this evening. He’ll take on Ryan Vogelsong in the opener after tossing 10 2/3 rehab innings for High-A Clearwater earlier this month (7:05 p.m. ET).

  • Chris Sale sizzled into the All-Star break by holding the Mariners and Red Sox to a combined 10 hits and a hit batsman while fanning 18 in 16 2/3 innings. Tonight, he’ll make his third July start with just one inning in the Midsummer Classic on his arm over the past 11 days. Sale blanked the Royals for eight innings when the White Sox visited them in April; tonight, he’ll welcome Ned Yost’s club to the South Side, where the visitors are set to counter with Jeremy Guthrie (8:10 p.m. ET).

  • Matt Shoemaker, an undrafted free agent pickup in 2008, has taken his lumps in some of his nine starts this season, but he’s given the Angels a chance to win almost every time. Mike Scioscia’s squad is 7–2 behind the 27-year-old, who’s bounced between the rotation and bullpen. Shoemaker logged 3 2/3 innings in relief on July 7th, but he’ll return to starting duty with the Orioles in town. Buck Showalter will counter with Bud Norris (10:05 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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