Thursday game thoughts, plus Wednesday wanderings

I’m a little punchy, but here’s what I’ve got for you:

@Indians 9, A’s 2: Take that, skeptics. Those (like me) who scoffed at the odds of Scott Kazmir‘s comeback, 4 years since his last good season and after dropping all the way to the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, now have a reason to eat their words. Coming off his first quality start in almost 3 years, Kazmir fanned 10 while holding the AL’s #2 offense to one run in 6 innings, with no walks against the club that’s far out front in that department.

 

After Kazmir quelled an opening threat with a pair of whiffs, the surging Tribe gave him plenty of pillow with 5 runs in their first two frames, 3 driven home by Jason Kipnis (HR, sac fly). With the comfy lead, Kazmir threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 23 batters, and fanned 2 in each of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and the 6th, when he suffered his only blot from Josh Donaldson’s 2-and-2 HR. The A’s got no other man to 2nd base in his last 5 stanzas.

Ks go up, walks go down? It’s Kazmir’s 18th time in double-digit Ks, first since August ’09. His walk rate in those 18 games is 1.9 BB/9, less than half his career rate of 4.2, which I guess is a common relationship but a bit extreme. For active pitchers with similar career walk and K rates (and at least ten 10-K games), here are their walk rates in 10-K games and overall: Lincecum (32 games) 2.4/3.5; Burnett (31) 3.1/3.7; Kershaw (19) 1.7/3.2; Gallardo (17) 2.2/3.4; Lester (17) 3.1/3.3; Bedard (15) 2.0/3.6; U.Jimenez (12) 3.4/4.1; Liriano (11), 2.1/3.8. Kershaw is close, but none of these guys has a ratio like Kazmir’s; and while start length may play a role in these measures, it may be that Kazmir has more variation in control and effectiveness than is typical.

@Nationals 5, Tigers 4: Dan Haren wobbled in the 6th, and the Tigers just missed 2-out thunder in the 9th. But the Nats’ early runs stood up, as they won their 4th straight. Detroit had 12 hits and the game’s only HR, but just once had the leadoff man on — and Haren stranded that double by retiring the meat of the order on 3 straight pitches.

Cluster-funk: Before today, Doug Fister had allowed 15 runs in 6 starts this year, with one scoring inning in each start: 3, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3. His other 35 innings were zeroes. A pattern like that makes you think “homers,” but he’s allowed just 1. Today he had little command, and the Nats scored 3 in the 1st and 2 with two outs in the 2nd. He was gone after a scoreless 3rd — lifted for a PH, even though he stroked an RBI single in his only trip and is now 3-10 with a double in his MLB career.

  • Matt Tuiasosopo pinch-hammered this Haren breaker with 2 outs in the 6th, shaving the lead to 1. He’s started only once against a righty, but he’s now 6 for 12 against them, with 2 HRs and 2 doubles.
  • Prince thought he’d got this ‘un, but the park just held it. Rafael Soriano allowed HRs in back-to-back games a month ago, but he’s unsullied in his last 12 games despite a diminishing K rate.
  • Drew Smyly ran his scoreless string to 13.1 IP over 7 games (1 walk, 14 Ks). He’s top-10 in the majors with 21.2 relief innings, sporting a 1.25 ERA and 0.83 WHIP.
  • Jose Valverde so far: 5 IP, no hits, 1 walk. It’s a funny game, no?
  • Amid the calls for pitcher protection, note these shots at the box snagged by Haren and by Smyly. Our sport’s response to the scary injuries suffered by J.A. Happ and Brandon McCarthy must include reinforcing proper follow-through at all training levels. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but the video of Happ’s incident shows his delivery ended with him standing sideways to the plate, with his glove hand towards second base. Better position would have given a good chance to get a glove on that ball — even with his glove on the far side, he was just late — and the front of the skull is much stronger than the side. Even perfect form isn’t perfect protection, but it’s the right start.

Yankees 3, @Rockies 1: A long rain delay meant showers for both starters after 4 IP, so Adam Warren‘s 5 outs earned his first MLB win. Six Yankees in all held Colorado to 4 hits at home for the 2nd straight game, just the 5th time that’s ever happened. The Rockies have scored 3 or less in 4 straight home games, tying their record.

  • Robinson Cano beat one out on the infield (just his 2nd this year) for hit # 1,500, then celebrated with a drive to the shrubbery — his 186th HR, and first in 6 games in Coors. Vernon Wells stayed in the outer pastures, but had 2 more hits and the first RBI, now hitting .294/.850.
  • Mariano got save #13, but the biggest outs came from Boone Logan and David Robertson, who came in with 2 on and 2 outs in the 6th and 7th, respectively, and retired Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton. Robertson stayed on for the 8th, fanning Fowler and CarGo.

@Mets 3, Pirates 2: All hail Mike Baxter! We know these Mets won’t party like it’s 1969, not with a 1968-style offense scoring 3 runs per their last dozen games while batting under .200. But they scratched out this one, becoming the first team to “solve” Jason Grilli, via an infield hit, a sac bunt, and Baxter’s seeing-eye grounder scooching through for his second walk-off pinch-hit in 3 days. There have been only 3 other pinch-walk-offs this year.

I do not understand modern managers. With his two relief aces very well rested and their pitcher’s turn at bat far down the road, Clint Hurdle sent mediocre lefty Tony Watson to work the home 7th in a tie game — an inning that began with 3 righty hitters. One of them singled (first big-league hit for MILB veteran Andrew Brown), and with 2 outs, Ike Davis doubled off the wall for the lead.

But Terry Collins returned the favor. In the top of the 8th, scheduled hitters were Russell Martin, Pedro Alvarez and Brandon Inge. The one thing I want is a lefty to face Alvarez, who has a huge platoon gap, especially in his power. Scott Rice, our one lefty, was already in the game, having pitched to 2 men in the 7th. Rice is not a LOOGY; he’s gone at least an inning in 10 of 18 games, with 4 games of 4 outs or more. He’s yielded some hits to RHBs, but no HRs in 15.1 IP overall. Martin does not have a big platoon edge for his career, and this year he’s crushed righties (5 of his 6 HRs) and been feeble against southpaws (4 for 22). Instead, Collins treated as Martin as the bigger threat, and brought in LaTroy Hawkins to start the inning; he got Martin, but Alvarez hit a colossal tying HR.

  • No clue who was the last with game-winning pinch-hits so close together. Donnie Murphy had 2 within 5 days in 2011; no other since 2000 had less than a 13-day spread. Just having 2 in a season is rare, about 1 player per year this century.
  • Baxter with the Mets is now 8 for 11 in pinch-hit RBI spots (plus 2 sac flies), producing a run on 9 occasions, and reaching base in 14 of 20 PAs, with 1 strikeout and no DPs. Overall as a Mets PH, he’s 18 for 41 with 10 doubles and a .528 OBP.
  • Playing “no doubles” in the top of the 9th cost the Mets a single in front of rookie CF Juan Lagares. But that strategy looked a little wiser later on. Don’t think he’d have got there from normal depth.

Twins 5, @Red Sox 3: Are we seeing cracks in the BoSox armor, or are the Twins really no longer Twinkies? A go-ahead 4-run 6th — all unearned due to John Lackey‘s own error (be still, my beating schadenfreude!) — gave Minnesota 3 out of 4 in this series and their first look down at Mount .500 this late since 2010, their last playoff year. Big game for Oswaldo Arcia: he tripled and scored their first run in the 5th, then capped the 6th with a big fly to the bullpen, beyond even Shane Victorino’s over-the-top effort. The free-swinging rook’s hitting .313/.900 in 18 games.

  • Great game for Minny’s unheralded bullpen: 11 outs, no hits, 7 Ks by Brian Duensing (2.13 ERA), Jared Burton (1.93 this year for the best 2012 reliever I never noticed) and Glen Perkins, the almost-extinct lefty closer who’s 8 for 8 in save tries this year and 24/28 since inheriting the job last June.
  • Twins are the first visitors to take 3 straight in Fenway this year, which they’ve done just one other time in the last 20 years.
  • Boston allowed 3.2 R/G in their first 19, 5.2 in their last 16.
  • Official cooling-off period for Papi, who made the last out as the tying run. His last 4 games, 2 for 18, no runs or RBI.

Royals 6, @Orioles 2: A batting-order shuffle put Alex Gordon in the 3-hole for the first time this year, and the erstwhile leadoff man paid off with a turnaround 2-run kronk in the 4th. That sparked a 4-run frame culminating in Eric Hosmer’s first dinger, and his would-be bash brother Mike Moustakas poled one off a lefty in the 7th, his 2nd straight game with yard work. The Royals pulled away and snapped a 3-game slide, holding on to 2nd place in the tough AL Central (MLB-best 12 games over .500).

  • Two years after departing Baltimore with a 9-17 season, Jeremy Guthrie faced the O’s for the first time ever. He labored with 10 runners through 6 IP, but allowed just 2 runs and moved to 5-0. In 5 years with Balto, he had a 107 ERA+ but a 47-65 record.

Angels 6, @Astros 5: They fought uphill most of the way in one of the ugliest beer-league games of the year, but our plucky Springfield Isotopes fought off 13 Shelbyville hits and some lineup shenanigans(?) to salvage the series finale and snap their latest skid at 4 games. The ‘Topes were handed 11 walks and 3 more baserunners on errors by 3B Matt Dominguez. They left 16 on base and got just one hit in 13 RBI chances, but it was a bags-full double by Mark Trumbo that led to a go-ahead sac fly.

  • Kidding aside, the big hero was Ernesto Frieri, who came on after Scott Downs was injured with 1 out in the 8th and 2 in scoring position, and punched his way out. Should prove to be one of the highest WPA saves in many years.
  • Dominguez started the night with 1 error in 31 games, and tied for 1st in defensive WAR at 3B. His errors led to only 1 UER, and he drove in 3 of his own, including a go-ahead 2-run single with 2 outs in the 6th.
  • Trumbo went 1 for 6. Six ABs for a #4 hitter whose team scored 6 or less in a 9-inning game, last happened in 1995. (Krukkie!)

@Rays 5, Blue Jays 4 (10): Entering after an intentional walk, Brad Lincoln passed the 2 men he faced, donating the game to his American cousins on 4 straight balls from an 0-2 count, then fled the stage screaming, “Sic semper Torontus!

The rare matchup of reigning Cy Young winners was an oddball see-saw battle, the Jays scoring 2 unearned after a rare Longo error, the Rays tying on a Zorilla triple and a passed ball, one of two charged to poor Henry Blanco (who may be miscast as a knuckleball catcher at age 41).

  • Said Escobar to Delabar: “Wunderbar!” Yunel came in with the 3rd-worst OPS among MLB qualifiers.
  • To those who oppose sliding into home, this jeté is for you.

_______________

Wednesday games

@Indians 4, A’s 3: The one we’re all foaming about … The potential tying drive by Adam Rosales struck the invisible force field that emanates from all yellow lines and remained in play, letting Chris Perez and the Tribe survive an angsty ending and win their 9th of 10. Cleveland led thanks to a bungled DP (bad throws on both ends let in 2 runs) and comeback-completing HRs by Swisher and Santana in the 6th. Justin Masterson is solidifying his workhorse status, back on the beam after a couple of clunkers; he’s averaging almost 7 IP per game. The ‘pen authored two more zeroes, editing their MLB-best ERA to a concise 2.60.

  • Mr. Inside (Jaso’s target) and Mr. Outside (Griffin’s delivery). They pulled the same act on Santana two batters later. Griffin’s allowed 2 HRs in each of his 3 losses, just 1 total in his 4 winning starts.
  • Carlos Santana has settled in at the 6th spot, now leading the majors in OPS and OPS+. Indians have solid production everywhere but #2, though Kipnis has started to pick it up.
  • A’s have allowed 15 unearned runs, 3rd-most in the AL.
  • Yes, that was Daric Barton driving in 2 in his first game of the year (and, of course, drawing a walk).
  • The call was egregious and game-changing. Can MLB act? Not on a judgment call … but maybe they can trump up a “rules” case that he applied the wrong standard of evidence.

@Padres 1, Marlins 0: Break up the Friars’ conclave! Their second 4-game win streak makes them 11-3 since a brutal start. Jason Marquis bested Ricky Nolasco; the teams combined for 9 hits, with each side logging a 2-bagger, a walk, and 0-3 with RISP. The Pads clustered 3 baserunners in the 6th and scored on a bags-full sac fly. Marquis came out after 8 IP, 96 pitches, no pinch-hitter; Huston Street set ’em down in order with 2 Ks.

  • Padres are 16-9 in 1-0 games at Petco.

Mariners 2, @Pirates 1: A day at the office for King Felix (5-2, 1.53). He came out after 8 IP, 97 pitches, no PH, having gotten 12 outs from his last 12 batters. Tom Wilhelmsen took it home. Jesus Montero broke a tie with a HR in the 7th, just the 2nd hit off A.J. Burnett (3-3, 2.57).

@Orioles 5, Royals 3: Balto boosted their lead to 5-1 in an ugly 3-run. With 1 run already in, helped by Alcides Escobar’s throwing error, the O’s had men at the corners with no outs. Those men scored in a 2-pitch span, no balls in play: steal+overthrow scored the first, with another Escobar E sending the trail runner to third, whence he scored on a wild pitch. KC scored 2 in their next raps to make sure the errors hurt.

@Astros 3, Angels 1: With just 77 pitches through 8 IP, Bud Norris tried for his first CG. The inning began with Trout and Pujols, who’d each doubled earlier, but brassy Bo Porter let his ace face both. Their singles summoned Jose Veras, but the Halos couldn’t capitalize. Mark Trumbo whiffed a-b-c, and Howie Kendrick rapped into a 6-4-3. The Angels dropped to 11-22, keeping pace with their worst start ever, and the Astros can tie them in wins by completing the sweep Thursday.

  • Joe Blanton lost his 3rd straight quality start and is 0-6, matching the worst start by an Angel since 1991.
  • Josh Hamilton broke a 20-game HR drought, but the team went 0-5 in RBI spots.

@Rays, Blue Jays: Kelly Johnson’s last 8 starts: 15 for 34, 12 ribbies. Last 20 games for James Loney: 32 for 65, 3 strikeouts. Not the best from Matt Moore, but he’s 6-0.

D-backs 3, Dodgers 2: When you’re going badly … Kershaw led 2-0 in the 6th, but Dee Gordon booted a leadoff grounder, and Paul Goldschmidt said, move over, I’ll drive. Then he played back the tape in the 8th off Kenley Jansen,

  • 3 straight games of 3 RBI (tying a club record) gives Goldy the NL lead with 30. The deciding blow was #9, and his first solo shot. He takes his cuts, whiffing about once a game, but with RISP he has just 2 Ks in 36 PAs, and is 13 for 27 … with 4 HRs.
  • He had a single in 16 ABs off Kershaw before that bomb.
  • When you’re going badly … you injure yourself sliding for a foul pop — and drop it. Luis Cruz came in for A-Gon the next inning, and promptly muffed a catch. The Dodgers made 3 errors.
  • I guess I didn’t realize just how slow Gonzalez is. After doubling home a run, he stopped at 3rd on a 2-out ground single, with Juan Uribe on deck (.201 since 2011). Adrian’s taken just 1 of 13 potential extra bases on teammates’ hits; 0-3 in scoring from 2nd on a single and 0-2 from 1st on a double. (Konerko, of course, remains the station-to-station standard, 0 for 11 on XBT opps.)

@Nationals 3, Tigers 1: On another rainy night, Jordan Zimmermann lost his scoreless string at 20, but went 7 strong to help the Nats beat Detroit for the first time in 7 games since 2002. Whenever the Big Boys made noise, he exploited the lineup’s lower extremities to skate away: Prince leadoff double in the 2nd … 3 groundouts. Miggy & Prince on with 2 gone in the 3rd … Dirks down on strikes. Zimmermann’s won his last 3 starts by a combined score of 6-1, which happens to be his season record.

  • Alex Avila had a wretched night in a spring full of them, DP-ing after a leadoff hit in the 4th, then whiffing twice to end threats with the tying runs aboard. Avila is 1 for 27 with RISP, no RBI — worst combo in the majors.
  • Washington’s won 5 of 6 this month despite hitting a Senatorial .221/.627.
  • Bryce Harper is 52 games ahead of his 2012 home-run pace. But just for perspective … After 32 games played last year, Harper was hitting .288/.922, but finished the year at .270/.817. For sure, he’s a better hitter now, but he might not become the first National with a season OPS over 1.000.
  • The other Zimmerman — the one with $90 million guaranteed over the next 6 years — is 2 for 14 with 7 Ks since his DL stint

Braves 7, @Reds 2: Turning point: Top 8, 2 on, no outs, Braves up 1 but wanting a cushion for their suddenly vulnerable bullpen. Seeking a whiff or DP against Freddie Freeman, Dusty Baker called for his lefty specialist Sean Marshall (32% Ks of lefties since 2010), instead of the world’s foremost lefty killer (49% career). Marshall got his count and threw his pitch, but Freddie stayed with a nasty curve and fluffed it into right for an RBI hit. Two batters later, Juan Francisco stuck a fork in his first salami hero, rendering Jay Bruce’s 9th-inning HR mere decoration, and Atlanta captured the series between these former NL West rivals.

  • Costly decision. Sure, it’s the bottom of the order if Phillips stays put (bags full, 1 out, no score in the 2nd). But Devin Mesoraco has hit lefties well (22-67 career) and has a low DP rate, and Mike Leake is a legitimate .276 hitter.
  • Schafer City: Jordan took a 2-strike breaker before it bounced, and sliced it in the gap for his first triple, one of 3 hits. He has a .453 OBP, but had been 0-13 when starting at leadoff, as the Braves try to plump up their .287 OBP from the table-setters.
  • Mike Leake symbolizes the challenges for a modern low-K pitcher. His control is good, but not great — career 2.4 BB/9, 2012 NL average 3.1. His DP rate is also good, not great (16% vs. 10%). His HR rate is a bit worse than average (1.2 HR/9 vs. 1.0), and he doesn’t improve from the stretch. It all adds up to a career ERA+ of 96 — which is fine for a mid-rotation guy, but that’s his ceiling right now.

Twins @Red Sox: First game since 2011 where both starters were gone after 2 innings, and both of those were rain delays. The last where both were hammered out (4+ runs) was in 2010. Allen Webster‘s second game didn’t go quite as well as his debut.

Yankees @Rockies: Those scrappy ‘Stripers scratched out the lead run without a ball to the outfield: Infield single and steal by Vernon Wells, an Ichiro sacrifice, and with 2 outs, another infield safety. Mariano closed for his 620th save, 12 for 12 this year.

  • Wells started the scoring with a 2-run shot, his 7th, and ended the game playing 3rd base — his first infield duty after 2,208 professional games. He handled a hard chopper to his left as though he’d been practicing … which he probably has done, given New York’s ravaged roster.
  • Tying 2-run shot by Todd Helton, #356 career. Sixty-one percent of his career HRs and RBI have been in Coors.
  • Said with conviction on the Yankee postgame show: “They’re winning the close games; that’s the mark of a good team.” From 1996-2012, the Yanks were 389-302 in 1-run games (.563), and 555-319 in games decided by 5 or more (.635).

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17 Comments on "Thursday game thoughts, plus Wednesday wanderings"

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Voomo Zanzibar
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Yes, the league decided that the Astros get to play by co-ed softball rules.
And they might still break the Mets’ record.

Hartvig
Guest

I’ve never been an Astro’s fan but after suffering thru 2003 with the Tigers and wishing that on no fans I’ll have to start pulling for them a little bit. Just like I’m rooting for Kazmir because as far as I’m aware he”s a decent enough guy and it’s always nice to see someone make a comeback.

Hartvig
Guest

On the Tigers front-

a) I hope that old Prince ain’t gone back on his vegetabletarian diet because that ball was only about 1 bacon-cheeseburger away from clearing the fence and

b) I’m embarrassed to admit it but I hadn’t realized that Papa Grande was back with the Tigers until just now.

Richard Chester
Guest

That .563 winning percentage in one-run games by the Yankees from 1996-2012 was the best in the majors by far. The Dodgers were second with .535.

Doug
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Henry Blanco and Darren Oliver formed a battery of 40 year-olds for the Jays on Thursday, for the second time this season. The most games for a battery of 40 year-olds: 11 times for Jamie Moyer and Pat Borders in 2005; both were also 40+ and teammates in 2003 and 2004, yet never hooked up as a battery in either of those seasons.

Blanco and R.A. Dickey is another battery with a combined age exceeding 80 years, and one which could reach 30+ games with the Jays’ current rotation and catching platoon.

RJ
Guest

Saturday Sneak-Preview… I’m looking forward to seeing Pete Kozma’s WPA: his first two at-bats today were both 1-out bases loaded strikeouts in front of the pitchers spot in a tied game. I’m guessing WPA doesn’t cover things like batting in front of the pitcher though.

…And the Rockies finally get a baserunner, 40 plate appearances later.

Ed
Guest

What the heck is going on with Colorado’s offense??? First they score a grand total of 5 runs in three games against the Yankees in Colorado. Then they nearly have a perfect game thrown against them. Now they’re getting no-hit through 7 innings.

bstar
Guest

I just heard the Atlanta announcers say that Colorado was 0 for their last 50 at-bats vs. the Cardinals’ staff before Nolan Arenado broke up Wainwright’s no-no with one out in the eighth.

Wainwright finished with a CG 2-hit shutout.

RJ
Guest

Are the Cardinals an exceptionally slow team? In today’s game they only took the extra base on 2 of their 7 singles to the outfield and one was a second-to-home jobby on a weird bloop by Molina. I know Carlos Gonzalez in left field for the Rockies has a good arm, but only one of the five delcined extra-base opportunities were at him. The runners in question were Molina (OK, I know about him); Craig; Carpenter, M; Holliday.

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