Thursday game notes: ersatz edition
A quickie version of Thursday’s action from your substitute reporter. The real thing will return soon.
The 3-way NL Central race heated up with the Cardinals and Reds both gaining ground on the front-running Pirates, who saw their lead shrink to just two games. The AL East and AL West races also tightened with the closest pursuers in each division both gaining ground on the front-runners. In the AL Central, Detroit hosted Kansas City to begin a 5-game set that could be a make-or-break series for the upstart Royals and tell us if they really are for real.
After a wild 5th inning that saw a scoreless game suddenly become a 5-4 contest, only one run scored over the next 6 innings – a game-tying homer by Russell Martin leading off the 8th. Pittsburgh got the lead-off man aboard in the 11th and sacrificed him to second, but couldn’t bring him home. The Cardinals fared better in the 12th, getting a man aboard on a 1-out walk to Matt Carpenter who went 1st to 3rd on John Jay‘s single to right and scored on Matt Holliday‘s walk-off RBI single. It was Holliday’s 8th career walk-off hit, but his first since the 2010 season.
After a 4-13 slide that dropped St. Louis 4 back of the Bucs (their most games behind all season) St. Louis has won 3 of their last 4 to get back within two. That slump began with 6 straight games (all losses) scoring 2 runs or less, only the second time since the woeful (69-93) 1978 club that St Louis has had as long a streak, and their first time since 1957 to go winless in such a streak. The good news for the Cardinals – of their 8 streaks of 7+ games scoring two runs or less, 3 have come in pennant-winning seasons (1928, 1946 and 1964), as have 2 (so far) of their 9 streaks of 6 games scoring two runs or less, in 1946 (again) and 1968.
The Reds also gained ground on the Pirates, extending their winning streak to 5 and continuing a hot streak that has seen them win 8 of 9, and 10 of 13. Cincinnati pitching has been the difference, holding the opposition to 4 runs or less in 17 of the last 20, and to 3 runs or less in 14 of those games.
Aroldis Chapman logged his 30th save, the 7th straight season that a Cincinnati closer has reached that milestone; only the Yankees have a longer current run with 11 straight seasons and 18 of the last 19 years.
Annibal Sanchez limited the damage in a shaky first inning, then held the Royals at bay into the 8th to stake the home side to an early series lead in a key 5-game set in the AL Central race. Detroit got all the offense it would need on a first inning, 2-run HR by Prince Fielder. It was just the 18th homer for Fielder who is on pace for the lowest HR total of his career (28 in his rookie season). Fielder’s 112 OPS+ is also his lowest since a 110 in that 2006 rookie year.
Oakland gained a half-game on the idle Rangers, as the Astros suffered their 12th shutout loss of the season. That ties Houston with Atlanta for the 2nd most blankings, behind only Miami’s 14 goose-eggs. Every team this season has been shutout at least 4 times, compared to 27 of 30 teams through the first 120 games of 2012. Oakland rookie Sonny Gray, making just his 2nd start, was extended to 8 innings and 118 pitches before before handing the ball to the bullpen. It was the majors’ 204th team shutout involving multiple pitchers, compared to just 44 complete game shutouts, a ratio of just 18% for the latter. Here’s how that ratio has changed over the past 50 years.
% of team shutouts that are CG: 2013 – 18%; 2003 – 28%; 1993 – 45%; 1983 – 73%; 1973 – 81%; 1963 – 85%
Another Oakalnd rookie, first baseman Nate Freiman, did the damage with the lumber, collecting 4 RBI in his first 4-hit game, a triple short of the cycle.
Boston saw its lead shrink to two games as Mark Buehrle got the win, allowing 10 hits over 7 innings, but only one (a double) for extra bases. In 25 starts, this was just Buehrle’s 10th time going 7 innings, but that leads all Blue Jays’ pitchers – R.A. Dickey has 8 such starts and all other pitchers just 12 for a team total of only 30. Only 5 teams have fewer 7-inning starts with the Twins bringing up the rear with just 19.
Boston lost the series, breaking a string of 4 straight series wins in Toronto. The Red Sox are 2-5 over their last 7, and just 14-14 since July 13th, a period in which they have been shutout 4 times and held to just one run on 4 other occasions.
After a 7 game slide, it was Tampa’s second straight win and second day gaining ground on the leading Red Sox. Rookie Alex Cobb went 5 innings for the win, extending his record to 7-2 in his first start since being struck in the head with a batted ball on June 15th (that game was the last time the Rays had a singleton win – all their Ws since have come in groups of at least two). The key inning was the fourth with a Wil Myers 2-RBI double and an Evan Longoria 2-run 428-foot homer coming on consecutive pitches off of Seattle starter Joe Saunders.
Raul Ibanez accounted for Seattle’s only scoring, homering for the first time since cranking a pair against the Angels on July 12th. Predictably, the dog days have caught up with the 41 year-old, who is just .218/.277/.322 since then. Still, his 25th home run makes him just the 3rd player (after Barry Bonds and Ted Williams) to reach that level aged 41 or older, and keeps him on pace to become the first to reach the 30 HR mark, and also to reach 300 for his career. Raul has hit 269 of his 296 career homers since his age 30 season, a 91% proportion that is the highest of any player with as many homers (next are Steve Finley at 88% and former teammate Edgar Martinez at 85%). Hank Sauer hit 281 of his 288 homers (98%) after age 30.
In other action …
Los Angeles broke open a tight game with a 5-run 8th inning, started by a lead-off double by Mike Trout. That summoned Boone Logan from the pen who retired his first two batters, only to walk the next two and bring third baseman Chris Nelson to the plate. Nelson, who had earlier cranked his first homer of the season, connected a second time against his former club, marking career firsts for a grand slam and for a multi-HR game. The Yankees’ attempted 9th inning comeback fell short but the Angels needed 3 pitchers to close out what had been a 7-run lead to start the frame.
Alfonso Soriano had his homer streak stopped but was still a force, collecting 4 hits (all singles), his second 4-hit performance in 18 games with New York (Soriano had just one 4-hit game, in 2012, in his last 5 seasons in Chicago).
Rafael Soriano was staked to a 3-1 lead to open the 9th, and retired two after a lead-off single by Buster Posey. But a walk to Roger Kieschnick after Posey had advanced to second on defensive indifference brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the person of pinch-hitter Hector Sanchez. The seldom-used backup catcher made the most of his opportunity by drilling a 3-run shot to right that provided San Francisco with its margin of victory. It was Sanchez’s first extra-base hit of the season and first home run since a winning solo shot in extras against Milwaukee in May 2012.
Despite the win, San Francisco remains mired in an 18-36 slump. They are on pace for a 71-91 season, the worst for a defending WS champion since the 1998 Marlins went 54-108. The difference, of course, is that these Giants are largely the same club as last year while the Marlins sold off their championship team, returning just a single starter, Edgar Renteria. The 1991 Reds might be the defending champ most similar to the Giants. Those Reds stayed largely intact and were 44-34 on July 5th and just 3 games out, only to finish 30-54 (.357). This year’s Giants were similarly just 3 games out on July 2nd (albeit with a 39-44 record) and have gone 14-23 (.378) since.
That’s all, folks!
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