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July 5, 2016

What You Need to Know

Oh, That Fernando Rodney

by Daniel Rathman

The Monday Takeaway
The Marlins were ahead 6-0 after they batted in the first half of the fourth inning yesterday. Matt Harvey had been roughed up for 11 hits and six runs (five earned) without completing the fourth. Miami starter Tom Koehler had driven in a run with a base hit. And Harvey’s own throwing error had compounded the home team’s woes before Terry Collins finally decided that enough was enough.

It was fixin’ to be a miserable Independence Day for Mets fans. And then, gradually, the mood in Queens began to turn.

Travis d’Arnaud provided the first ray of hope with a solo shot in the fourth,


Curtis Granderson followed suit in the fifth,


and the Mets loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth, though they only came away with a pair in that frame, shaving the lead to 6-4. New York put runners at second and third with nobody down in the seventh, and James Loney and Wilmer Flores combined to get them over and in, knotting the game at 6-6.

With the trade deadline a month away, bullpen regression was among the chief concerns harbored by Michael Hill and the front office. They were especially conscious of the team’s setup relievers and closer A.J. Ramos being taxed too heavily, potentially leaving them fatigued down the stretch. On Monday, two of those setup men, Kyle Barraclough and David Phelps, faltered badly, enabling the Mets to close a six-run margin in the middle innings. And so, it was up to Fernando Rodney, the veteran Hill imported from San Diego, to stanch the bleeding and give the offense a chance to kick back into gear.

Rodney was brilliant for the Padres, permitting just one earned run (two total) on 13 hits in 28 2/3 innings, and he was unscored upon in his first two appearances for Miami. But the 39-year-old’s .197 BABIP against and 92.9 percent strand rate formed the walls of a house of cards, and yesterday, that house began to crumble.

D’Arnaud started the last of the eighth with an infield single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Juan Lagares. Granderson flied out, leaving d’Arnaud 180 feet from home with two away. Rodney then filled the open base with the switch-hitting Neil Walker, bringing Yoenis Cespedes to the plate with two men on. With a 2-2 count, Rodney chucked a fastball to the opposite side of the plate from J.T. Realmuto’s target, and Cespedes pummeled the mistake into the right-center-field gap:

And thus, the man who’d given up just one earned run to this point in the season was charged with two. Rodney’s BABIP rose, his strand rate fell, and his ERA shot up to 0.85. Most importantly for the Fish, instead of halting the bullpen’s collapse, Rodney had poured fuel on the fire, and the resulting 8-6 deficit held through the ninth.

Now, the Mets, winners of five straight, are two-and-a-half games clear of the Marlins for the senior circuit’s second wild card berth. And the Marlins’ new reliever, Rodney, who on Sunday was seen dancing to Cotton-Eyed Joe,

will have to shake off a meltdown for the first time this year.

Quick Hits from Monday
Batting in the first inning of yesterday’s first game, Ryan Braun did this…


…and the play was scored 2-unassisted, because, as it turns out, Braun shouldn’t have been batting in a 1-2-3 first inning at all. Jonathan Lucroy was to bat third, according to the lineup card submitted by Brewers manager Craig Counsell, and Braun was in the four-hole. So the first-inning ended on a putout by the catcher of Lucroy, not Braun, who grounded out to third to begin the second.

Embarrassment aside, there was no harm, no foul from the blunder, because Brewers starter Junior Guerra needed little help Monday. A relatively anonymous minor-league veteran coming into the year, the 31-year-old had pitched well since getting the call-up from Triple-A Colorado Springs, and he was as good as ever in the series opener in D.C. His line: 7 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K. The only part of Guerra’s arsenal that he couldn’t command was his necklace, which struck him in the face after a fourth-inning pitch:


No harm, no foul there, either. But for the Nationals, this loud blast off the bat of Guerra’s batterymate, Martin Maldonado, did plenty:


And the Brewers hung on to win, 1-0, with the help of the Defensive Play of the Day, courtesy of Jonathan Villar:


Andy Fletcher spent his Fourth of July afternoon calling balls and strikes for the Rangers and Red Sox, and his body of work looked like this:

Right-handed batters found the arbiter tightly enforcing the lateral zone’s lateral boundaries while lefties were dismayed by calls well off the outside edge. And no matter who was at the plate, the pitchers in this one couldn’t count on getting the knee-high strike.

Fletcher’s peculiar strike criteria might explain why the offenses ruled the day in the series opener at Fenway, where Texas and Boston combined for 17 runs on 37 hits, including 13 extra-base knocks by the Red Sox alone. Every Boston starter had at least one hit, and all but two had a pair or more. Sandy Leon, the owner of 10 major-league doubles when his alarm clock went off Monday, finished the day with 13.

According to the Baseball Reference Play Index, the Red Sox are the 32nd team since 1913 to collect least a baker’s dozen of extra-base hits in a game, and no team that’s done so has gone on to lose. John Farrell’s club wasn't about to become the first, even though Rick Porcello coughed up 12 hits and Koji Uehera stumbled in the eighth. The Red Sox won 12-5.


The Mariners turned a couple of double plays on Monday, but if the twin killing were outlawed after their loss to the Astros, Scott Servais and his squad probably wouldn’t have complained. It wasn’t their friend in the opening frame, when Leonys Martin ran into a rare 2-3-1, strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out at the plate:

And it sure wasn’t on their side in the top of the seventh, when Dae-Ho Lee poked a comebacker into a home-to-first play to help get the Astros out of a treacherous jam:


Now, let’s have one more look at that first double play, because Martin’s TOOTBLAN oughtn’t take anything away from the hellacious breaking ball that Lance McCullers snapped off to punch out Robinson Cano:


That was one of many devastating curves twirled by the right-hander, who threw 94 pitches and went with the deuce on 51 of them. Which, hey, if they can’t hit it, you might as well keep throwing it:

McCullers fired 40 four-seamers on Monday—averaging nearly 95 mph and eclipsing 97, mind you—and the Mariners didn’t whiff on a single one of them. The knuckle curve, on the other hand? That got 18 empty swings in 51 tries, and a 76.5 percent strike rate overall, which his how McCullers wound up with 10 strikeouts in seven innings of five-hit, one-run work.

George Springer went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer out of the leadoff spot, and the Astros edged the Mariners 2-1.


Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco was dinger-less in his first 16 games of the year, then whacked nine of them in his next 37. After that, Polanco’s power bat went back into hiding, with just one long fly to his name in a 24-game stretch over which the Bucs went just 9-15. That slump ended yesterday.

Polanco was 0-for-2 with a double-play ball and a strikeout when he dug in against Carlos Martinez for the third time. He was a little out in front of this 2-1 changeup, but that didn’t stop the outfielder from belting it over the right-field wall:


His next time up, Seth Maness went high and away with his payoff pitch, and Polanco drilled it in the other direction, delivering a souvenir into the left-field stands:


And just like that, El Coffee is hot and ready to serve. Behind Polanco and 5 2/3 strong innings from Jonathon Niese, the Pirates dinged the Cards, 4-2.


Two-run lead, two men on, two men out, and a starting pitcher running out of gas. Who ya gonna call?

There’s been no better man for that job this season than Ryan Dull. The diminutive righty’s 1-2 challenge went right through the bat of Brian Dozier


and just like that, the A’s were out of the mess.

Dull added one more clean inning after that in the Athletics’ 3-1 win over the Twins, but it was his work in the seventh, and his efforts in past situations of that ilk, that’s most remarkable. Opponents are now just 1-for-47 with 19 strikeouts in 54 plate appearances against Dull with runners in scoring position this year.

Thus, Dull has inherited 36 baserunners in 2016 and stranded all of them. Is that sustainable? Most likely not. But is it a record? You bet:

What to Watch on Tuesday
If the Fourth of July weekend didn’t satisfy your appetite for day baseball, luckily, there’s a matinee on today’s slate, too. The Reds and Cubs will meet in the middle match of a three-game set comprised solely of afternoon contests, with Brandon Finnegan and John Lackey set to tangle in game two.

Lackey’s been a fine addition to the Cubs’ excellent rotation this season, posting a 3.27 ERA in 104 2/3 innings overall, but he’s been wobblier in recent weeks, particularly in the FIP-related categories. Ten of Lackey’s 29 walks—plus three of his four hit batsmen—and four of his 11 home runs surrendered have come in his last four starts, out of 16 on the year. The Cubs have dropped their last three behind Lackey, but the right-hander has only made one start at home in the path month, and he owns a 2.01 ERA in seven starts at Wrigley Field. That’s where Finnegan and the Reds will have to conquer him today (2:20 p.m. ET).


Jonathan Villar has already figured into this edition of WYNTK, with The Defensive Play of the Day, but it’s not all good news for the Brewers shortstop. After moving from Houston to Milwaukee in the offseason, Villar had been enjoying a breakout season on the strength, at least in part, of an upsurge in power. Villar had logged 16 doubles and six homers by the middle of June, and he was among the league leaders in stolen bases, a strong overall offensive profile that landed him a spot at the top of Craig Counsell’s batting order.

Over the past two weeks and change, though, Villar’s power has virtually disappeared. He has a double, a triple, and that’s about it in his last 52 plate appearances, a bundle that also includes 18 strikeouts. The shortstop’s spray chart for that timeframe is below:

If that looks like a lot of groundballs, well, it is. Villar leads the league with an 82.6 percent grounder rate since June 19th, and he’s hit 20 of them compared to one, single, solitary flyball to fairly deep left. There are a handful of line drives in the mix, as well, but by and large, Villar, a switch-hitter who’s seen very few southpaws in recent days, has been yanking everything on the dirt since the third week of June.

And the trouble isn’t just that Villar’s been rolling over, it’s also that he hasn’t been doing so with much pace on the ball. Over the past two weeks, Villar’s soft-hit rate is a league-worst 52.2 percent, compared to a 23.9 percent share for the season as a whole. Soft groundballs don’t often become extra-base knocks, so it shouldn’t come as any shock that Villar is slugging just .333 since June 19th.

While Villar is a switch-hitter, he has shown a preference for left-handed pitching, both in his career and this year in Milwaukee, where his OPS is .879 from the right side and .773 from the left. Villar will be thrilled to learn that the Nationals are sending Gio Gonzalez to the bump this evening, because Gonzalez isn’t just a lefty, he’s a scuffling one, to boot. The 30-year-old has been shelled to the tune of 55 hits in his last 43 1/3 innings over eight starts, with the damage amounting to an 8.10 ERA. Villar will look to prolong Gonzalez’s misery while batting in support of Zach Davies tonight (7:05 p.m. ET).


Back to pitchers with recent long-ball woes, David Price has caught the nasty case of gopheritis that's been going around. The lefty served up at least one big fly in each of his six June turns, plus one apiece in his final three starts in May, for a total of nine in a row with one or more balls clearing a fence in fair ground. Only one pitcher, Erik Johnson of the Padres, has a longer active streak, and Price is well into uncharted waters here, as his worst previous gopher-balling run lasted only six starts back in 2014. The 30-year-old will aim to keep it in the yard at Fenway Park with the Rangers in town this evening. A.J. Griffin goes for Texas (7:10 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

Related Content:  New York Mets,  Miami Marlins

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