Sunday game notes: Kimbrel in the 8th?!?
Braves 5, @Cardinals 2 — Given their hefty lead, there was no immediate cause for Atlanta to fret about losing the first three in this series, their first games since the loss of Jason Heyward reopened their leadoff hole. But with no certainty of Heyward’s productive return come playoff time, there’s no doubt that Jordan Schafer’s two extra-base hits in the first 2 innings raised a big sigh of relief, breaking his 0-12 skid and building a 3-0 lead for Mike Minor. The lefty contained the relentless Cardinals for 7 innings, and when they squawk a bit in the 8th, Fredi Gonzalez took no chances, but brought in Craig Kimbrel for just the second 4-out save of his career.
- Kimbrel’s allowed no runs and 9 hits in his last 21.1 IP. He’s allowed 6 runs in 52.2 IP (1.03 ERA), while Luis Avilan’s let in just 8 ER in 54.1 IP (1.33). Yoiks. No team has ever had two relievers with 50+ IP and ERA under 1.50.
@Giants 4, Pirates 0 — The main blot on Pittsburgh’s chance of October advance is their 27 games scoring 1 run or less, 3 more than any other team currently holding a playoff spot. Their 11-12 August record and 3.7 scoring average again underscore the failure to bolster their right-field spot, whose .665 OPS is worst in the majors.
Brewers 3, @Reds 1 — Dude, where’s the slide? Shin-Soo Choo’s tenderfooting cost Cincinnati the run he had earned with his leadoff single and two steals, and then Marco Estrada took over the game, retiring 19 of his last 20 batters, with 9 strikeouts.
- Caleb Gindl’s short, but he’s not small.
Red Sox 8, @Dodgers 1 — Jake Peavy and the BoSox gave L.A. their first blowout loss since June 28, and their first series loss since June 14-16, and grabbed a clear lead in the AL East.
- Hanley’s come back to earth a bit — .200/.636 in his last 15 games. Puig’s hitting .185/.561 in his last 15.
- A measure of Boston’s balanced offense: Count the AL players with 200+ PAs and an OPS+ of at least 120. Just 2 of 30 are BoSox; four teams have more. But drop the OPS+ threshold to 100 and you find 10 out of 80 on Boston; Tampa has 9, no one else more than 7.
@Orioles 10, Athletics 3 — A game vital to Baltimore’s playoff hopes saw a rocky beginning by Scott Feldman, but he stunted the damage with unaccustomed K power. The O’s answered quickly, then powerfully pulled away, to capture the series and close within 2 games of Oakland’s wild-card seat. J.J. Hardy led the balanced attack with 3 hits, 3 runs, a double and his 23rd homer, forming a HR/2B trio with McLouth & Markakis.
- Next up for Baltimore: A 9-game trip through Boston, the Bronx and Cleveland. They’re 43-35 against teams at .500 or better.
- Oakland’s last tough stretch continues with 4 in Detroit, then hosting Tampa and Texas 3 each. After that, their last 23 games hold just one contender, a mid-September trio in Texas.
Yankees 3, @Rays 2 (11 inn.) — Parse the math and the schedule as you will, New York basically had to win this one. Thanks to Robbie Cano’s power, Alfonso Soriano’s daring, Ivan Nova’s grit, and stalwart relief, they salvaged the series finale, and pulled within 4 losses of Oakland. Soriano swiped 3rd after doubling with 1 out in the 11th, taking advantage of Jose Lobaton’s weakness (career 18% CS), and came home on a fly by Curtis Granderson. Mariano closed swiftly (6 pitches, 6 strikes), capping a masterful bullpen effort of 13 outs from 13 batters.
Nova was behind almost everyone (8 of 28 first-pitch strikes), and tied a career high with 6 walks, but he lasted into the 7th, as the infield backed him with 3 double plays (4 in all). A calm 5-2-3 squelched Tampa’s potential big opener at just one run, and Cano tied it up with his 24th HR, an opposite-field rarity that balanced off Evan Longoria’s 1st-inning ribby. Nova yanked one off the RF wall in the 6th, scoring Ichiro with the lead, but his horrific baserunning may have cost them a run, and then it was Longo’s turn to answer the bell.
- In steals of 3rd this year, Soriano’s 7-for-7, tied for 3rd in MLB in successful thefts. Trying for 2nd, he’s 7-for-14.
- Mark Reynolds started 3 double plays in his first start at 3B for New York.
- Cano does use the whole field, as observer know well. But since 2009, just 10 of his 139 HRs have gone to the opposite field.
- Bad enough that Cano didn’t bust from the box on his double, but then trying for 3rd with no outs was disgraceful.
- David Robertson had 2 IP for the first time this year, cutting through the heart of the order. He’s allowed one run in his last 28 innings, and has a 1.62 ERA for the year.
- Chris Stewart nailed the two Rays who tested him.
- Longoria homered in each game of the series. He has 6 HRs and 17-for-43 in his last 11 games.
- I’ll never understand this defensive attitude. Sure, it’s a gimme sac fly — but suppose Soriano trips, or brain-cramps and doesn’t tag up right away. One-in-a-thousand, maybe — but what does it cost you, Desmond Jennings, to get in position and make a strong throw?
@Indians 3, Twins 1 — It’s still an uphill trek, but there’s no quit in this Tribe. A 6-game slide early this month could have sunk them, but they’ve since gone 9-4 to keep pressure on Oakland (2 losses back) — and maybe, just maybe, on Detroit as well. The upcoming stretch will define them: at the Braves and the Tigers, then home for the O’s. If they’re alive after those 9 games, watch out — their last 23 games feature zero contenders. (6 KCR, 6 CHW, 4 HOU, 4 MIN, 3 NYM.)
- Up-and-down Kazmir was on today, fanning 8 in 6 IP. He’s allowed 2 runs or less in 13 of 23 starts, one of the AL’s best ratios, but he’s given 5 runs or more 5 times, adding up to a 4.25 ERA.
- Minnesota went 3-for-19 with RISP, scoring only on a bunt hit. Cleveland made 4 errors, all with 1 out or less, but none proved costly.
- Drew Stubbs reached all 4 times from his #9 spot, including a go-ahead solo HR with 2 outs in the 8th.
Tigers 11, @Mets 3 — “He’s playing slow-pitch softball” is one way to describe a dominant hitter. But Miguel Cabrera takes that image to a new level. Midsection injuries have left him unfit for most baseball activities, beyond crushing a pitched ball. Cabrera’s 42nd HR put Detroit up early, and his 3rd hit helped spark the big 9th that salted a close game away. Andy Dirks hit a 2-run shot in the 6th, offsetting Travis d’Arnaud’s career first that gave New York a brief lead, and the Tigers finished a sweep, out-hitting the Mets 33-7 in the last two.
- Since rejoining the lineup on August 5, Miggy’s started all 21 games at 3B and hit .356 with 10 HRs, 29 RBI, slugging .759.
- After 130 team games last year, Cabrera trailed Josh Hamilton by 4 homers, 36-32. At the same point this year, he trails Chris Davis by 4 HRs, 46-42.
- Cabrera has reached safely in 117 of his 122 games this year, and is now on his 3rd streak of 28+ games. The 8 games he’s sat out leave him no shot at the known record for games reaching safely, 152 by Wade Boggs in 1985 (out of 161 games played). The pre-expansion record is 149/155 by Ted Williams, 1949.
- Hitters with a 180 OPS+ for any 4-year span with 2,000 PAs: Williams, Cobb, Jackson, Mantle, Ruth, Hornsby, Foxx, Thomas, Gehrig, Bonds, Lajoie, Musial, McCovey, McGwire, Wagner. Cabrera is currently at 180 for the last 4 years. It’s a pretty exclusive list, but somehow I don’t think it shows anything we didn’t know already.
@Royals 6, Nationals 4 — Washington struck for 3 tying runs after Ervin Santana set down the first 2 men in the 7th, but the Royals did likewise for their go-ahead runs in the 8th, starting with a walk to the recently fearsome Eric Hosmer.
- One big difference between the Nats of 2012 and ’13: their bullpen ERA has climbed from 3.23 to 3.80.
- Washington scored 4 runs on 3 HRs, but wasted their other 11 baserunners.
- Here’s a play I have to see: “Single to SS (Ground Ball to SS-2B); Bonifacio Scores” [from 1st base]. OK, Bonifacio was stealing, he had a huge jump, and then Ian Desmond randomly interrupted his pursuit of the ball in short CF.
- It was a bad day of leathercraft for Desmond. They scored this a hit, for some reason. P.S. to Ryan Zimmerman — How can I buy one of those on-field spectator tickets? I’d love such a close-up view of the action, with no duty to, say, cover a base. Sheesh. You can tell that the 5-game win streak didn’t exactly make him believe in their remote playoff chances.
@White Sox 5, Rangers 2 — Craig Gentry’s first error in 192 games was a costly one, and Chicago took the rubber game for their 4th straight series win. One “J. Danks” logged 0.147 WPA, the other a mere 0.144.
- Texas holds the best record in baseball against southpaw starters (26-15), but the left-leaning ChiSox won the season series, 4-2, all from the port side.
- Six more against non-contenders before the Rangers return to Oakland next Monday. That will make 24 straight games against losing clubs in between showdowns with their division rival.
@Padres 3, Cubs 2 (15 inn.) — Go figure! Nick Hundley took over the #9 spot in the order after 7 full innings, came to bat five times, and might have worn the goat’s horns for the first three — strikeout, failed sacrifice, unproductive out after a leadoff double. Instead, he wound up the hero.
- Junior Lake’s seemingly harmless failure to bring in a man from 3rd with 1 out in the 13th, with 2 runs already in, turned costly when Kevin Gregg’s first wild pitch in almost 2 years let the tying run score in the bottom half.
Blue Jays 2, @Astros 1 — Chia-Jen Lo lost the strike zone in the 9th, walking 3 to force in the tying run as Toronto rallied to make a winner of Mark Buehrle for the 5th straight decision.
- With 10+ wins for the 13th year in a low, Buehrle joins a group of 16 modern pitchers with 13 such years within their first 14. Tom Seaver was the last to do it all 14 years. Mike Mussina was the last to do it specifically in his 2nd through 14th seasons.
- Dallas Keuchel notched 7 scoreless innings for the first time in his 33 career starts.
- Houston’s lost an astounding 14 games when they led after 7 innings (34-14, .708 W%). The other AL teams average 5 such losses (52.5-5, .913 W%).
Athletics 2, @Orioles 1 — Coco Crisp crunched a 3-1 pitch from Darren O’Day to start the 9th, homering for the 3rd straight game. Grant Balfour quickly finished what Jarrod Parker started, notching his 32nd save (in 33 tries), with half of those protecting a one-run lead. By my unofficial count, only Joe Nathan and Greg Holland have more one-run saves.
- The BA and OPS against O’Day this year are roughly double for LHBs vs. RHBs, and Crisp has hit far better from the left side this year. After Chris Tillman went 8 innings, it’s odd to think that O’Day v. Crisp was the best Buck Showalter could get.
Red Sox 4, @Dodgers 2 — Boston scored 4 before the Dodgers came to bat, with Jonny Gomes hitting the first-ever 3-run HR off Hyun-Jin Ryu. Jon Lester toted that lead into the 8th, before L.A. began the kind of rally that’s come to feel inevitable. Lester walked Crawford, Puig singled off Tazawa, and with 2 outs, Adrian Gonzalez doubled in a pair against Craig Breslow. Hanley drew a walk, bu finally, Koji Uehara, the 4th moundsman of the inning, struck out A.J. Ellis to end that threat. Uehara finished up routinely, and the Sox had evened the series.
- In 58 innings, Uehara has a 1.24 ERA, with 29 hits, 9 walks, and 78 strikeouts. His 0.655 WHIP would be the 4th-best ever for 50+ innings. No shock, as Uehara already has the lowest career WHIP for 200+ IP. But can we stop a moment, and consider that he’s 38 years old? Uehara arrived in the majors in 2009, and after a so-so half season as a starter, he switched to relief at age 35. He’s not racked up a lot of innings, just 203 IP in relief — but his 2.04 ERA as a reliever trails only Craig Kimbrel and Carl Hubbell among those with 200+ relief innings since 1916. (Mariano’s 4th at 2.06.) For any 4-year span starting at age 32 or older, only Joe Nathan, Mariano, Eckersley, Fingers, Larry Andersen and Hoyt Wilhelm have logged a relief ERA of 2.04 or better.
- In these 4 years, Uehara has fanned 34.4% of all batters. In all of MLB history, for any 4-year span with 200+ IP from age 28 onward, the only one who can match Uehara’s K rate is Randy Johnson (age 34-37 and 35-38).
- Longest active pennant droughts among the 16 original teams: (1) Cubs, 67 years; (2) Pirates, 33 years; (3) Orioles, 29 years; (4) Dodgers, 24 years; (5) Athletics and Reds, 22 years.
D-backs 12, Phillies 7 (18 inn.) — The Phillies had nine good chances to pull off a 4th straight walk-off win, and one “yeah–right.” This game deserves a deeper delve, but just quickly:
- Adam Eaton had 10 ABs, a new Diamondbacks record and the 3rd such game this century. Cliff Pennington and Tony Campana each drew 5 walks, also a club record.
- Philly gave 18 walks in all, one short of the searchable record, and the Snakes 10. The Phils were on the receiving end of the last 18-walk game, a 16-inning loss in 2004.
- It’s the Phillies’ 12th searchable game of 18+ innings, but just their second loss, and first since 1918; the others were 7 wins and 3 ties.
- Arizona won a 16-inning game last Sunday.
Tigers 3, @Mets 0 — The unprecedented regular-season rematch of the All-Star starting pitchers lived up to the ballyhoo, at least in terms of compelling action while both were around. Max Scherzer fanned 11 in 6 innings and came out on top, winning his 6th straight decision to reach 19-1. My semi-running diary:
Scherzer skunked 8 of his first 12 batters, with 3 in a row after the only man reached base in that stretch.
Detroit had 8 hits before Matt Harvey got 8 outs, or any strikeouts. It’s just his 6th time in 36 starts yielding 8 hits or more. Four of those first 8 hits came on hitter’s counts, the others on even counts. Harvey’s career splits before today: .265 BA when batter ahead, .214 when batter even, .142 when batter behind.
Despite the 8-1 hits disparity through 4 innings, Scherzer used more pitches, by 65-60. Harvey found his slider in the 3rd, retiring 8 straight, 4 by strikeout.
Juan Lagares fouled six away with 2 strikes to work a leadoff walk from Scherzer in the 5th. A 2-out walk to Harvey raised Mets hopes, but Eric Young swung through a high heater for Scherzer’s 9th strikeout. The 32-pitch inning ran his count to 97 in just 5 frames.
Andy Dirks broke Harvey’s run with a leadoff single in the 6th, his 3rd hit of the game, but Matt got the next three on just 7 pitches; 86 pitches through 6 innings makes him good for at one more round, maybe two if his spot doesn’t come up.
Daniel Murphy’s line single to left starts the home 6th. Marlon Byrd fanned on 2-and-2, his 3rd and Max’s 10th. Now Ike Davis, who reached in his first two trips; he takes a 2-0 change for strike one, tailing back over the plate, then ropes a fastball off the RF wall, putting two in scoring position for Wilmer Flores. Murphy couldn’t tell straight off that it was over Dirks’s head, and a quick hop back to Andy held Murph at 3rd. Scherzer at 109 pitches, and the long man’s been warming up all inning. Flores whiffed and bounced to 2nd, before, but he walks on four wide ones, nothing close, as Max seems to be aiming. Now Lagares again, and he’s quickly down 0-2 on knee-high fastballs, Scherzer cutting loose again. The slider misses, but a tailing-up-and-in fastball gets Lagares swinging. John Buck pops up the first pitch, and Scherzer has escaped. (New York won’t threaten again.)
Danger inning for Harvey, now — top of the order, and the emotional letdown of the wasted chance. Infante strokes a 1-out hit, and here’s That Man Again. Miggy’s 1 for 3 — single, groundout, 3-pitch whiff. No one warming for the Mets, as Terry Collins hopes to pinch-hit for Harvey in the bottom half. But Cabrera punches a 1-1 pitch through the middle, the career-high 11th hit off Harvey, and on 1-0, Fielder slaps it past Flores at 3rd. Infante is waved on, but Eric Young makes his best throw of the year, a one-hop strike to Buck, and Omar’s dead on arrival. Cabrera stayed at 2nd, which is key when Matt Tuiasosopo’s hard grounder beats Davis into RF; Byrd gets it in quickly, and the hobbled Miggy holds. That’s four straight hits, and Harvey’s day is done: 13 hits (11 singles), no walks, 4 Ks, 102 pitches, 70 strikes.
Scott Rice comes in for Dirks, but Torii Hunter comes off the bench to make a wretched match-up — righties hitting .364 off Rice, and Hunter .323 vs. southpaws. His hopper nicks off Rice’s glove, right to SS Omar Quintanilla, who shovels to Murphy covering — called out! Looked wrong from here, and replay agrees, but the inning’s over.
Harvey becomes the first pitcher since 2004 to allow 13+ hits and no more than 2 runs, in just the 3rd such searchable start ever with less than 7 innings. It’s but a footnote to what looks like Harvey’s 5th loss this year (9-5, 2.27), dropping the Mets to 13-13 in his starts.
Rookie lefty Jose Alvarez comes in for a clean home 7th, two hard hits and a bang-bang 6-3 on Young. Six outs to Scherzer’s 19th win (19-1, 2.73). Max has performed superbly, but certainly not better than Harvey (soon to be 9-5, 2.27). They’re tied at 178.1 IP; Scherzer leads 198-191 in Ks, but Harvey has the BB edge, 31-42, and has allowed half as many HRs (7-14). The story is run support: With Scherzer in the game, Detroit’s averaged 6.8 runs per 9 innings (tops in MLB), 3 full runs more than Harvey gets.
Detroit finally tacks on in the 9th, against New York’s still-dicey bullpen, and Joaquin Benoit shuts the door, 17-for-17 in save tries. (Is it too late to trade for a Proven Closer? I hear Kevin Gregg can be had….)
- Please, Mets, ditch these orange home jerseys. We’re not the Orioles.
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