Thursday game notes: Murphy’s Law nabs Strasburg
Nationals 5, @Cubs 4 (13 inn.) — Washington’s third straight win pivoted on two pitcher assists, the first a perfectly placed dribbler that got the job done, the latter a screaming liner that Drew Storen deflected into a game-ending DP that sealed his first save since June. But the true drama came in the 9th, when the Cubs trailed 4-1 with 2 outs.
Perhaps his first taste of complete-game glory created a craving in Stephen Strasburg. More likely, his closer’s struggles led Davey Johnson to the unconventional option of leaving in Strasburg to chase the last out, facing a red-hot slugger who stood for the tying run. But Donnie Murphy came between the Natzgul and his prey, bending a hanger into the waiting glove of a Wrigley bleacherite.
It was the 4th HR in 4 games for Murphy, the latest entry in Chicago’s hot-corner sweepstakes. He has 8 HRs in just 63 PAs since coming east from Iowa three weeks ago, tied for the MLB lead in August. (No other with even 5 HRs this month has as few trips to the plate as Murphy.) It’s his second HR that forged a tie or a lead with 2 outs in the 9th. And it’s the third time in eight days that Washington suffered a 2-out HR, the other two coming off Rafael Soriano.
- I’m surprised at Davey’s decision. Strasburg had allowed a home run and two more line drives in the 8th, and had fanned just one of the last 17 batters before Murphy came up. His first try at the last out had gone to a 3-1 count and an infield hit. On the other hand, Murphy had struck out in all three prior trips. And maybe Davey just thought it was more important to Strasburg’s development to leave him in, rather than go for the best percentage chance to win.
- It was a happy coincidence when the clutch blow was caught by a Cubs fan wearing a “Ramirez 16″ jersey. Aramis Ramirez owns 10 such home runs (tying or go-ahead, 2 outs in the 9th or later) — three more than anyone else during his career. (He’s just 22nd in total HRs for 1998-2013.) With six on behalf of the Cubs, Ramirez trails only Billy Williams (8) on that searchable list; Sammy Sosa also had six. Ramirez hit four of those at Wrigley Field, tied with Ernie Banks atop that searchable list. (Event Finder results date from 1945.)
Starting pitchers yielding a tying or go-ahead HR with 2 outs in the 9th or later: Eyeballing the Event Finder results, Strasburg seems unique in the last two years. (One can’t specify “starting pitcher,” so I just look for SP names that I recognize.) In 2011, four suffered that fate: Clayton Kershaw was touched by Vernon Wells on a full count for an Angels lead, but Kershaw won, anyway, as L.A. rallied. Pinch-hitter Bryan LaHair hung up Mike Leake, but 10 days later the Cubs were on the other end, when Carlos Lee got to Matt Garza for the second time in that contest. And just the day before that one, Cliff Lee gave it up on 0-2 to Jose Lopez, while bidding for a 1-0 win.
- Of the 13 active pitchers with 20+ complete games, only Lee has known that particular sinking feeling. None for Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Chris Carpenter, Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, Felix Hernandez, James Shields, Roy Oswalt, and Justin Verlander.
- Gaylord Perry, the expansion-era leader with 303 complete games, gave up six such HRs in the 9th or later: 1969, 10th inning (lost); 1971 (no decision); 1972, 10th (lost), 1974, must see (tied in 9th, lost in 11th), again in 1974, 11th (lost, after a 1-out leveler in the 9th), and 1977 (lost). None were walk-offs, but the two in ’74 helped cost Gaylord the Cy Young Award, as he started off 15-2 with a 1.40 ERA but finished 21-13, 2.51 — still the clear WAR leader, but a 4th-place afterthought in the CYA vote. (Alas, checking these from the pitcher’s end is tedious, as there’s no selector for “tied the game,” only for “walk-off,” so this is where I leave it.)
@Reds 2, D-backs 1 — Eury De La Rosa faced only three batters, but he still squeezed in a walk, an error and a wild pitch, all career firsts, adding up to his first loss. Shin-Soo Choo scored both Cincy runs after leadoff singles, advancing six bases with nary a further hit; his first tour was started by two wild pitches, as Trevor Cahill uncorked a career-high three wild ones in a span of four deliveries.
- Cahill leads the majors this year with 14 wild pitches in just 109 IP, and is 2nd to A.J. Burnett with 39 in the last 3 seasons. His WP rate in that span is four times what it was in his first two years.
- On the opposite end of the WP spectrum are Kevin Correia (the only qualified pitcher with no wild ones this year) and Bartolo Colon (one in 471 IP for 2011-13).
- Mat Latos lost his first 2 decisions with Cincy last year, but is 27-6 since then. Last year’s 14-4 mark had a fair bit of luck, although he did pitch well (120 ERA+). But he’s stepped it up this season, and not just in terms of his 136 ERA+ and improved rates of strikeouts, walks and HRs. This was his 4th win when backed by just one or two runs (4-3, 1.63 ERA in 9 games), allowing one run total in the 4 wins. Just two others have matched that low-support win count — Clayton Kershaw (4-6, 1.97 in 13 games) and Eric Stults (4-9, 3.76 in 14 G). A winning record in such games is extremely rare; since 1994, out of 1,272 seasons with 8+ starts backed by 2 runs or less, Latos would be just the 6th to win more than he lost.
Dodgers 6, @Marlins 0 — It’s Clayton Kershaw, after all; what did you expect?
- Most scoreless starts since 2008: 41–Kershaw; 33–Jered Weaver & Hiroki Kuroda.
- Most scoreless starts by a Dodger since 1980: 41–Kershaw; 40–Orel Hershiser; 35–Fernando.
- Kershaw’s 1.72 ERA would be the best qualified mark since 1995 (Greg Maddux, 1.63), 5th-best since the mounds were lowered in 1969, and the 16th live-ball mark of 1.80 or better.
- With a 207 ERA+, Kershaw would be the 4th pitcher since 1997 to post a 200 or better. Zack Greinke did it once, Roger Clemens twice, and Pedro five times. (Ah, Pedro … how we miss you!)
- L.A.’s 5 doubles among 8 hits spurred me to look up the fewest team hits in a 5-double game. I can’t recall if I noticed this one before: Just two months ago, Detroit had doubles in all 5 hits (all with 2 outs) — one of 7 known games with 5+ doubles and 2B=H. (And here’s the only one of those with more than 5 doubles.)
Pirates 10, @Giants 5 — Four free runners fueled Pittsburgh’s 7-run 5th, right after the Giants had tied it at 3 with a 2-out hit off Jeff Locke. Jeanmar Gomez vultured the win with 3 near-perfect innings. Jose Tabata reached 4 times from the leadoff spot, capping the outburst with a 3-run double. Jordy Mercer got all of a Matt Cain fastball in the 2nd, after Garrett Jones had tested the waters.
- Mercer’s 109 OPS+ in almost 300 PAs this year is a balm to the Bucs’ longstanding sore spot at shortstop. The OPS+ marks for their #1 SS, going backwards from this year: 64 and 64 (Clint Barmes), 79 and 82 (Ronny Cedeno), 83 and 76 (Jack Wilson). Just one of those seasons topped the 1.5 WAR Mercer has posted in 81 games so far. Pittsburgh’s record is 37-36 with Barmes starting at SS this year, 32-20 with Mercer.
White Sox 4, @Royals 3 (12 inn.) — K.C.’s winning run stood at 2nd with 1 out in the 11th, and Salvador Perez (.341 with RISP) at bat. It was a tough spot for Jake Petricka’s big-league debut, but Perez rolled over a 2-and-2 fastball for a threat-ending DP. Two pitches later, Conor Gillaspie golfed one off Luke Hochevar, just over the fence and Justin Maxwell’s reach, and the Royals missed three cracks at the tying run, as Chicago finished the sweep and their 6th straight win. James Shields was unable to hold a 3-0 lead, surrendering 6 hits in his last 2 innings, though some were louder than others.
- Last Saturday, K.C. was enjoying the afterglow of a doubleheader sweep in Detroit. They rallied to tie in the 8th, with 2 more in scoring position and no outs. A win would have put them 4 games back of a wild card, 5.5 back in the division. But the run wouldn’t come, Miggy walked it off, and their offense has dried up since, hitting .200 with 1 HR and 8 runs in the next 4 games. Getting swept at home by the White Sox has pretty much ended their playoff hopes: With 36 games left, the Royals stand 7 games behind Oakland for a wild card, and at least 3.5 behind the other 3 teams they must pass, with no games left against Oakland, Baltimore or New York.
@Cardinals 6, Braves 2 — St. Louis knocked three straight 2-out RBI doubles off Paul Maholm, reversing a 2-1 gap en route to their first win over Atlanta since last October, and staying within a game of the 1st-place Pirates. Some old issues flared in the Braves’ first game since Jason Heyward was lost for a month or more: Jordan Schafer went 0-5 in the leadoff spot; they only scored on a home run, despite having runners in 7 of the other 8 innings; and they lost on the road.
- Atlanta’s last road trip came halfway through their 14-win streak, and they swept the Phillies and Nationals. But a 1-2 start to this 6-game trip leaves them 33-32 on the road, with a team ERA that’s more than a run higher outside of Turner Field (2.65-3.75).
- Maholm dropped his 4th straight start, all on the road. In Atlanta, he’s 5-2, 1.93, but away he’s 4-8, 6.08.
- Since the end of May, Evan Gattis is hitting .190/.545 in 35 games.
- Matt Holliday rapped into his 28th GDP, and remains on pace to tie Jim Rice’s record of 36. In 39 DP chances with 2 or 3 men on base, Holliday has 12 hits and 11 GDPs.
- St. Louis went 4-for-5 with 2 outs and RISP, raising their BA to .302 in that split. It’s an absurd number for any team — Detroit’s #2 at .265, and only two teams since 1916 have topped .300 — but especially for one with a pitcher batting. This year’s NL average minus the Cards is .221; L.A. is 2nd at .250. Since 1995, the only NL clubs to reach .280 in this split are the Coors-aided Rockies, and no NL team in the past 3 years hit even .270.
@Yankees 5, Blue Jays 3 — Curtis Granderson answered Toronto’s 5th-inning leadoff homer with one of his own, and 4 of the 5 walks New York drew in the 5th & 6th crossed the plate with only 2 singles to guide them, as the Yanks won their 5th in a row and 12th in 13 games with Toronto. Since limping home after the ChiSox swept them(!), the Bombers are 11-3.
- Hope is building in the Bronx. (So much the better for the schadenfreudians!)
- With one more win this year, Andy Pettitte would be the 20th modern pitcher with at least sixteen 10-win seasons.
- J.P. Arencibia’s blast off Pettitte gave him 19 HRs and a .248 OBP. That would tie the lowest OBP in a season of 19+ HRs, set in 2011 by Vernon Wells (25 HRs). Arencibia’s SO/BB ratio of 7.625 would be the 9th-worst in a season of 100+ Ks, and 12th-worst for any qualified season.
- The missed call on Rajai Davis’s catch doesn’t look as bad as what I’d heard. At live speed, I thought he probably did catch it, but you can detect an upward bounce; only with slo-mo can you know that the bounce happened inside his glove.
Twins 7, @Tigers 6 — Detroit rallied to bail out another poor outing by Justin Verlander, tying at 6 in the 6th on Austin Jackson’s 2-out, 3-run shot, on the second pitch from reliever Josh Roenicke. But Minnesota prevailed after all, when Jackson misplayed Chris Herrmann’s drive into a go-ahead double off Drew Smyly. Glen Perkins beat Victor Martinez on a first-pitch fastball right down the middle, for a game-ending DP with the tying run on second.
- Memo for Bruce Rondon: There’s a reason SS Doug Bernier is batting 9th, and playing his 20th MLB game at the age of 33: He cannot hit. Please don’t walk folks like him any more.
- Ryan Doumit came in 0-for-11 against Verlander, but he singled in his first trip, and popped a balloon for a 3-run HR in the 5th.
- Detroit had won the last 10 times Verlander faced the Twins, with JV bagging 9 of those wins.
- Trevor Plouffe swung 3-and-0 in the top of the 9th, with 2 outs and none aboard. I love it. There’s little chance of a 2-out rally from Minny’s bottom third. Plouffe has power, and although he grounded out here, his two prior 3-0 batted balls were a HR and a double.
Verlander’s strikeout rate is down three percentage points from his 2009-12 average, from 25.5% of all batters to 22.5%. This year’s AL average is 19.7%. And this is why you don’t hand out 5-year, $140-million contract extensions two years before you have to — y’know, in case Ryan Howard wasn’t persuasive enough.
Yes, that’s a harsh and possibly premature judgment, based on less than a full year of still pretty good performance. But Justin is 30 now, with a ton of pitches on his ledger. In the last 5 years, he’s thrown 7% more pitches than the #2 man (King Felix), and 13% more than the average of nos. 2-11. His 18,913 pitches for 2008-12 are the most for any 5-year span since 2000 (prior years aren’t fully searchable, if at all). And the three others who’ve topped 18,000 pitches in a 5-year span don’t inspire confidence:
- Barry Zito, high of 18,588 for 2002-06 — A 122 ERA+ for those 5 years (age 24-28), and then he signed with the Giants.
- Livan Hernandez, high of 18,671 for 2001-05 — A 104 ERA+ for those 5 years (age 26-30), but 88 for the next five.
- CC Sabathia, 18,165 for 2007-11 — A 142 ERA+ for those 5 years (age 26-30), then 123 and now 83.
By the way, Roy Halladay had a high of 17,313 for 2007-11, and his breakdown started the next year. Verlander’s 2008-12 count is 9% higher than Halladay’s max.
JV could surprise us. He might be a freak of nature, like Randy Johnson, who topped 20,000 pitches from 1998-2002 (age 34-38). But Johnson broke down the next year, and had just one more sublime season in his last seven. Verlander might still have many good-to-great years left. But a long-term bet on a pitcher of his age and mileage is bucking the odds. For my money, we’ve seen the last Cy Young-caliber season from Justin.
Twins 2B Brian Dozier had made just 3 errors in his first 109 games this year, then made 2 in the 8th inning Wednesday.
In the last calendar year, Allen Craig has 120 RBI and 16 home runs. The last season with 120+ ribs and less than 20 HRs was Jackie Robinson‘s MVP year. Among all searchables with at least 300 PAs with RISP, Craig’s career .389 average is #1 in raw terms (by 40 points over Tony Gwynn) and in difference between RISP and overall (whether by subtraction or as a percentage).
Jim Johnson, Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano have 30+ saves allowing more than one hit per inning. The last such season occurred in 2010.
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