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September 23, 2015

What You Need to Know

September 23, 2015

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
Bonus baseball was required to decide the middle match between the Yankees and Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre, and the top of the 10th inning began with a shift-beating bunt single by Brian McCann. Visiting manager Joe Girardi promptly called for Rico Noel to pinch-run for McCann. And at that point, the Jays telecast panned to Cliff Pennington, to show that he'd entered the game at second base, and for a scouting report on Noel:

Sure is, Cliff. But that intel would be of little use to the Jays. Noel stayed put with pinch-hitter Slade Heathcott at the plate, advancing to second only when Heathcott reached on catcher's interference. The next batter was another rookie, Greg Bird, and if Pennington had a two-word report on Bird, it would've gone something like, "He's strong":

Mark Lowe left his 2-2 pitch to Bird upstairs and learned that the hard way when it cleared the right-field fence. The three-run homer made it 6-3 Yankees, and they'd go on to win the thrilling tilt by a final score of 6-4.

There was no shortage of drama or fireworks in the late innings, when Andrew Miller bore the brunt of the damage. Dioner Navarro ambushed the closer with a game-tying bomb in the top of the ninth,

after which the Blue Jays loaded the bases for Josh Donaldson, who squandered what might've been a signature MVP moment by striking out swinging to send the game to extras. An inning later, Edwin Encarnacion's solo shot

was a toothless counter to Bird's three-run job, but it must have come as something of a shock to Miller, who'd allowed exactly three big flies in each of the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons, and was on track to make it four straight before Navarro and Encarnacion bumped his 2015 total to five. Nonetheless, the southpaw got Navarro in their second meeting of the night, a flyout to left that ended Miller's 42-pitch outing and the game.

In the top of the ninth, Jays skipper John Gibbons called on Drew Hutchison to hold the line in a one-run game, a curious choice considering it was the righty's first-ever major-league appearance out of the bullpen. Hutchison scuffled, walking Chris Young and giving up a ground-rule double to Didi Gregorius, which would've scored a run if the turf at the Rogers Centre were a little less bouncy. Still, the Yankees had two runners in scoring position, and Gibbons asked Ryan Tepera to come to the rescue. Which he did, with a little help from Jose Bautista:

That was the second outfield assist of the night for the right fielder, who had just two on the season coming in, and whose first—with a nod to Josh Donaldson's tagging prowess at third base—was The Defensive Play of the Day:

Returning to the top of the ninth, the Yankees failed to score after the flyball double play, but they were still in front thanks to this eighth-inning dong off the bat of Carlos Beltran:

Dellin Betances navigated a mess in the last of the eighth, fanning Encarnacion on a wicked slider to preserve the 3-2 edge into the final regulation frame.

Earlier in the game, rookie Luis Severino and veteran Marco Estrada battled to a virtual draw. Severino went six and gave up two runs on three hits and three walks, including a solo homer by Kevin Pillar. Estrada kept the ball in the park, but he likewise was charged with a couple of tallies, the product of six hits and three walks in 6 2/3 innings. Per the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Pillar became the first Jay to author a double, a dinger, and two stolen bases in a game since Vernon Wells did it on August 27, 2006.

On another night, that—along with this catch

—might've made Pillar the star of the show. But come the end of game two of three between the AL East contenders, that title belonged to Bird, the first-year now batting .256/.336/.562 with 10 homers in 121 at-bats, including six go-ahead taters since August 19th.

Thanks to their 2011 fifth-rounder, now filling in admirably for the injured Mark Teixeira, the Yankees climbed back to within 2½ games of the Blue Jays, making up the ground they ceded with a loss Monday night. Ivan Nova (starting in place of Masahiro Tanaka) will square off with Marcus Stroman in a critical rubber match tonight (7:07 p.m. ET).

Quick Hits from Tuesday
It's one thing to win 20 games in a season. It's another to do it in style. On Tuesday, Jake Arrieta worked as hard as he has all season to become the first big-league starter to reach that coveted plateau.

The right-hander's evening began ominously, with a double by Scooter Gennett, but he stranded the leadoff runner with three straight outs and didn't allow another hit to the outfield the rest of the night. Two infield singles and a walk were all the Brewers could muster in the remaining eight frames, as Arrieta rolled the visitors into 12 groundball outs and punched out 11 more. He threw a season-high 123 pitches, 85 of them for strikes, 23 of those whiffs, few close to making contact.

When Arrieta has everything working, as he did last night, few hitters can combat his power repertoire. The 29-year-old ranged from 94 to 98 mph with his fastball, using it to set up three specialty offerings, one more special than the other. His slider drew 10 whiffs in 39 tries, his curveball five in 12. And even the changeup, by far the laggard in this five-pitch mix, racked up strikes eight of the 11 times Arrieta pulled the string, three of them of the swing-and-miss variety.

No sequence better illustrates the pinpoint command and electric stuff Arrieta brought to the hill Tuesday than his seventh-inning meeting with Jean Segura, in which the shortstop was thoroughly overmatched. Here it is, pitch by pitch.

0 balls, 0 strikes:

0 balls, 1 strike:

0 balls, 2 strikes:

1 ball, 2 strikes:

From the low-90s sliders, off the plate or dotting the outside black, to the 96 mph paralysis heat, Segura never stood a chance.

Neither did most of his teammates. Or, for that matter, just about anyone who's faced Arrieta in the last two months. He's made 13 second-half starts now, and his ERA in them is 0.86. He's allowed two home runs since June 16th. And he's gone eight or more innings while permitting no more than one earned run in five consecutive outings, the longest such streak by a Cub since Bill Lee did it in 1938, and the longest by a pitcher for any team since Roger Clemens went five straight in 1997.

Joining Arrieta in the pursuit of history was rookie Kris Bryant, who drove in three of the Cubs' four runs, two of them on this third-inning homer:

That was no. 26 of the year for Bryant, a new Cubs rookie record. Bryant also doubled in a run in the eighth, capping off the scoring in the 4-0 win.

Both the Cardinals and Pirates won Tuesday, so amid all the excitement at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon's team merely held serve. The Cubs are still two back of the Pirates for the right to host the NL Wild Card playoff, and six behind the Cardinals in the Central.


Hours after Tigers manager Brad Ausmus announced that he'd sent reliever Bruce Rondon home for an inadequate "effort level", his team made a run at a combined perfect game (and, subsequently, no-hitter).

Rookie southpaw Daniel Norris, who came over from the Jays in the David Price blockbuster, led the way with five flawless frames, but with the Tigers keeping a close watch on his workload, Ausmus went to the bullpen 63 pitches into Norris' night. Buck Farmer did his job in the sixth, striking out two in another three-up, three-down inning. Then, Ian Krol kinda sorta did his job in the seventh, hitting a batter but completing the frame without giving up a hit.

So, at stretch time in Detroit, the perfecto was gone, but the no-hitter was still intact. Only, there was still the matter of the Tigers needing to score, a pesky prerequisite when it comes to making pitching history. The hosts finally got around to doing that in the last of the seventh, when back-to-back-to-back one-out singles by J.D. Martinez, Nick Castellanos, and James McCann made it 1-0. That, however, was all Jose Quintana would allow.

Ausmus entrusted Drew VerHagen with the no-hitter in the eighth, and he kept it going uneventfully. The ball was in Neftali Feliz's court to wrap it up, but with one out in the ninth, he hung the snot out of a slider, and Tyler Saladino intervened:

Saladino got to third on the gapper, despite hesitating on his way around second, and moments later, Adam Eaton put the Tigers' lead down the tubes with an RBI single. No-hitter gone, shutout gone, but at least the hosts clung to the tie, as McCann gunned down Eaton on a steal attempt and Feliz fanned Jose Abreu.

An inning and a half later, the Tigers cheered up the fans with a walk-off win. Anthony Gose worked a leadoff walk from Zach Duke, and Rajai Davis tripled to send him home

and salvage the "W" out of a combined perfect game, no-hitter, and shutout gone awry.


There are several ways to boost run-scoring in baseball. You could shrink the strike zone. You could bring in the fences. You could liven the ball. Or, you could just have Jeremy Guthrie face a bunch of left-handed hitters.

Lefties have always been a thorn in the right-hander's side because he lacks the stuff to mitigate their platoon advantage. Their career True Average against him was .304 before this season, and they were batting .314/.373/.528 in 2015 entering Tuesday night's start against the Mariners.

Then Kyle Seager did this

and Robinson Cano did this

and Cano came back for seconds, this time with his longest shot since 2013

and Brad Miller got in on the fun

and by the time Ned Yost came to Guthrie's rescue, it was 9-0 Seattle.

Jesus Montero added a two-run blast off long reliever Miguel Almonte to stretch the lead to 11-0, which was way more than enough for a dominant Hisashi Iwakuma. The right-hander was on cruise control from the get-go, striking out 10 while permitting just three hits and a walk in seven scoreless innings. The Royals got a run back in the eighth and one more in the ninth, but they never came close to threatening in the 11-2 blowout.


Back-to-back jacks were the name of the game in Houston on Tuesday. The Angels went first, as Mike Trout clubbed his 40th of the season—joining Troy Glaus as the only Halos to do that in franchise history

—and Albert Pujols followed

with his 35th of the year and the 556th of his career, good for 14th all-time, now ahead of Manny Ramirez.

Marwin Gonzalez

and Chris Carter

did the honors for the Astros, but their long balls off Hector Santiago were both of the solo variety, which didn't quite compensate for the three runs Trout and Pujols pinned on Lance McCullers.

Neither side would score again until the eighth inning, when the Angels added an insurance tally on a double by Chris Iannetta, an infield hit by David DeJesus, and an RBI single by Kole Calhoun. That run proved crucial, as the Astros would halve the deficit in the home half of the frame. A leadoff single by Jed Lowrie got them going, and an Evan Gattis grounder advanced him to second. A fielder's choice off the bat of Matt Duffy moved Lowrie to within 90 feet of home, and he scored on a wild pitch by Huston Street. The closer made up for that, though, by striking out Jake Marisnick to end the eighth and tossing a scoreless ninth to earn his 39th save.

With the 4-3 win, the Angels moved to within 2½ games of the Astros for the second Wild Card spot and stayed four shy of the Rangers, who downed the A's. That result was bad news for Houston's hopes of chasing down Texas for the division title, as the margin grew to two games (three in the loss column). The Astros have just 10 games left on their schedule, the Angels 11, and the Rangers 12.

What to Watch on Wednesday
While Lance Lynn has mixed several solid outings in with his recent duds, there's little doubt that he's stumbling toward the finish line. And since the Cardinals' season won't end on October 4th, that's of great concern to the folks in St. Louis.

Lynn has been struggling to miss bats for a month now, going five straight starts without striking out more than three batters after failing to do so just once in his previous 23. The bundle includes three quality starts, in which Lynn was able to survive without his best stuff, but also two clunkers, most notably a calamity in Chicago on September 18th, when Lynn nibbled his way to six walks in 3 1/3 innings while barking at plate umpire Dan Bellino, who had little to do with the right-hander's plight.

What, exactly, is behind all this is difficult to discern. His velocities are fine, and there's been no great change in his release points. The problem is evident:

Hitters have stopped swinging at fastballs and sinkers out of the strike zone, which is especially troublesome for a pitcher who deploys one of those hard offerings 83 percent of the time; still, the cause is something of a mystery.

The 28-year-old will return to the drawing board with the Reds in town, taking on ex-Royal Brandon Finnegan in the last of three between the Central-division rivals at Busch Stadium (8:15 p.m. ET).


Let's end on a more positive note, with a pitcher who's actually enjoying the start of fall, with a couple of strong September outings under his belt. Colby Lewis took his lumps in his first game of the month, but he recovered to toss a two-hit shutout against the A's and six innings of two-run ball in a critical victory over the Astros. The 36-year-old is prone to the occasional debacle, but all in all, he's been a reliable back-end starter for Jeff Banister.

As the summer has worn on, Lewis has gradually altered his pitch mix to include more sliders,

nearly doubling his use of the breaking ball from April to September. Sliders are typically harder to hit than fastballs, and Lewis' slider is his best strikeout pitch, so it's easy to see the appeal of the revamped approach. But the moral of this story might be that too much of a good thing is a bad thing:

As Lewis' use of the slider has gone up, opponents' whiff rate on the pitch has gone down. After generating 25 strikeouts in 70 at-bats (36 percent) as the terminal offering before June 1st, it's yielded a strikeout just 46 times in 188 at-bats (25 percent) since then. And it was this hanger to Danny Valencia that cost Lewis his perfect-game bid in the eighth inning on September 11th:

Tonight, Lewis will face that same Oakland squad, this time at the O.co Coliseum, where he held the A's to a run in six frames in his first start of 2015. Tune in to see if he keeps spinning it nearly half the time while dueling Felix Doubront (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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