Cards’ Wainwright deals gem

June 29, 2013

A beautiful Saturday afternoon with a pair aces on the mound is generally a pretty good recipe for a pitching duel. And while A’s starter Jarrod Parker departed early with a hamstring injury, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright did not disappoint, as the Cards evened up their interleague series at the Oakland Coliseum with a 7-1 win over the A’s.

Wainwright was brilliant in going the distance to earn his 11th win, tying him for tops in the National League with the Nationals’ Jordan Zimmerman.

Just a day after Cards rookie Shelby Miller got shellacked to the tune of a 51-pitch second inning, both Wainwright and Parker came out blazing through three quick innings.

The classic pitching duel was not to be though, as Parker was forced to leave the game after 3 2/3 innings. The injury occurred on a long double by Cardinals cleanup hitter Allen Craig. As the ball bounced high off the wall in left-center, Parker fell to the ground writhing in pain as he grabbed at his right hamstring.

Parker soon regained his footing, but after four warm-up pitches, manager Bob Melvin opted to take the ball from his 24-year-old right-hander. Parker was diagnosed with right hamstring tightness. Parker is day-to-day, as the A’s are hopeful the injury was merely brought on by dehydration due to Saturday’s heat and humidity.

“We’re hoping that’s all it is,” Melvin said.  

A’s reliever Jesse Chavez looked to pick up right where Parker left off, entering the game and quickly disposing of Matt Holliday on a weak groundout to end the inning. But a sudden bout of wildness to start the fifth cost him. Chavez issued a leadoff walk to Matt Adams, then hit David Freese with a pitch. Both would come around to score, before St. Louis broke through in the sixth for four runs. Adams provided the big swing of the bat, as the burly slugger crushed a towering three-run homer to right field in a lefty-on-lefty matchup against A’s reliver Jerry Blevins. Adams added another bomb in the seventh, a solo shot to stake Wainwright to a 7-0 lead.

Seven runs were more than enough for Wainwright. The imposing 6-foot-7 right-hander looked larger than life before he even threw a pitch. And with his persistent attack mode, that stature seemed to grow more imposing as the day wore on.

Wainwright did what great players do. After Parker made quick work of the top of the Cards batting order with an efficient 12 pitches in the top of the first, Wainwright responded with an even more efficient inning of his own. The Cards’ ace threw just nine pitches in the first inning, totaled 33 through three innings, and entered the ninth with under 100. He ultimately totaled 112 pitches while surrendering one run on the afternoon.

“When he’s on, he’s one of the best pitchers in the league,” Melvin said.

Upon the game’s completion, Wainwright moves into the major league lead with 125 2/3 innings pitched. That could change if Phillies lefty Cliff Lee goes the distance against the Dodgers tonight in Los Angeles though. Lee currently ranks third in the Majors with 118 1/3 innings pitched.

With the win, the Cardinals improve to a major league best 49-31 record. With a win over Oakland in Sunday’s rubber match, the Cards would become the first team to 50 wins this season. On the same date last season, the Rangers became the first team to reach the half-century plateau.

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All-Star C: Vote Carlos Ruiz

June 27, 2012

            Three years ago, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel screwed the Giants by overlooking left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt for the 2009 All-Star squad. But, Giants fans need to take the high road this year by doing the right thing and voting for Carlos Ruiz as the starting catcher for the National League.

            After all, Affeldt got his revenge. After posting one of the best seasons of any reliever in 2009 – with a 1.73 ERA in 74 appearances, including a remarkable 1.32 ERA in the first half of the season – Affeldt was left off the NL All-Star squad.

            From an overview perspective, it’s tough to fault Manuel. There has long been rampant prejudice against middle relievers in terms of All-Star selections. And, the modern scheduling format doesn’t help, with out-of-division teams such as the Giants and Phillies only playing each other six times a season.

            Still, an All-Star manager is responsible for more than an overview perspective. It is after all an All-Star position. And so, when a pitcher who displays out-and-out dominance throughout a season gets left off the team, it should be viewed as a slight, whether or not that’s actually the case.

            Of course, Affeldt took it to Manuel and the Phillies in Game 6 of the 2010 National League Championship Series. History will remember that decisive game that propelled the Giants to the World Series as the Madison Bumgarner game. And, while the then 21-year-old Bumgarner was nails through two shutout innings in that game, it should not go overlooked that it was actually Affeldt who came on in relief of starter Jonathan Sanchez to shut the door and turn the tide of the postseason for the Giants.

            With the Giants having tied the game 2-2 in the top of the third, Affeldt emerged with two on and no outs in the bottom of the inning to settle things after benches had cleared following a hit batsman. Affeldt’s first order of business was a tall one, having to face slugger Ryan Howard. But Affeldt made quick work of the All-Star first baseman, striking him out on five pitches, before setting down all six batters he faced in order.

            Throwing four consecutive lefties at the Phils in the game – Javier Lopez went on earn the win – the Giants of course prevailed 3-2 to advance to their date with destiny against the American League champion Rangers.

            Back in the present day, Buster Posey may well be on his way to a date with destiny in becoming the first Giants catcher to start an All-Star Game since 1963. However, this year’s All-Star honor really should belong to Ruiz.

            Sure Posey is a heroic story, rebounding from a career-threatening injury suffered last season in a collision at home plate. And, there’s no fault in voting for the best catch-and-throw backstop in the game, who’s hitting .298 with 10 home runs through 66 games. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is also amidst a brilliant season, as the reigning four-time Gold Glove winner is currently hitting .317 with 12 home runs through 68 games.

            The travesty, however, is that Posey and Molina are the only two names in the All-Star conversation. While Ruiz has moved into the cleanup spot for the Phillies, he is hitting 10 home runs through 67 games, and is currently leading the majors with a .361 batting average. The veteran backstop is also heartily outslugging his contemporaries – .579-.520 over Molina, and .579-.483 over Posey.

            Plus, giving Posey a couple extra days off should be viewed as a win-win for Giants fans. So do the right thing. Vote for Carlos Ruiz.


The return of Jair Jurrjens

June 22, 2012

            With the spotlight on Tim Lincecum’s struggles in San Francisco, an even more enigmatic implosion has been that of Braves right-hander Jair Jurrjens. That is, until Friday night.

            The Braves’ rotation has been solid but unspectacular this season, with the exception of young Brandon Beachy, who was riding high with the best ERA in baseball until he underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery Thursday.

            So Friday, the Braves turned to Jurrjens to make his first big-league start since April 23. The right-hander turned in his best start since previous to last year’s All-Star game, shutting down Boston with 7 2/3 dazzling innings of three-hit ball as Atlanta prevailed 4-1.

            The game had originally received top television billing by the MLB Network, but due to a rain delay, the network instead aired the Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees. And so, the West Coast audience was relegated to viewing the game on the MLB Gameday rotisserie board. But, much like the Brandon Morrow start I blogged about last month, Jurrjens’ outing was a fun one to watch via a pitch-tracker.

            Location-wise, Jurrjens looked hittable early on. He left pitches up to each of Boston’s first three hitters, including a high fastball to Adrian Gonzalez, which the Red Sox No. 3-hitter promptly served into left field for a single. It would be another seven innings before Boston scratched out its second hit, however.

            After the first inning, Jurrjens dominated the bottom of the strike zone. His fastball was cutting both sides of the plate, and his changeup was consistently bottoming out. He took a one-hit shutout into the eighth having set down eight batters in a row, and ultimately gave up one run on three hits, while striking out four against one walk and one hit batsman.

            It was something the baseball world didn’t know if it would ever see again – the Jurrjens of old. While he has long since garnered the dubious label of an injury-prone player, that wasn’t the problem this season. He was just out of whack, beginning the year with four dreadful starts in which he was 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA. He was summarily demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he wasn’t much better, going 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA over 10 starts.

            Granted, Jurrjens was coming off a nagging knee injury which derailed his All-Star season last year. After dominating in the first half with a 12-3 record and a 1.87 ERA, he managed just a 1-3 record with a 5.88 ERA after the All-Star break, before spending the final month of the season on the disabled list.

            After whirlwind trade rumors regarding Jurrjens in the offseason, and recent speculation in the Atlanta newspapers that the Braves are in the market to acquire Matt Garza from the Cubs, the right-hander’s clutch performance Friday night is a vindicating one – at least for the time being – especially with Atlanta being overtaken for second place in the NL East standings by the surging Mets earlier in the week. With Friday’s win, the Braves still trail the second-place Mets by a half game, and are three games back of division-leading Washington.

            More importantly, it looks like Atlanta can count on its 2011 All-Star to step up with the recent loss of the best pitcher in baseball.


Rangers run out Gentry

June 5, 2012

            It’s too bad Ron Washington didn’t care to play the matchups in the ninth inning Monday night in Oakland’s 12-1 blowout of Texas.

            The Rangers manager opted to run out Craig Gentry as a reliever in the ninth, utilizing the outfielder to save his bullpen. Gentry faced seven batters, allowing two runs on three hits in the inning. The right-hander initially faced two righties and two switch-hitters to start the frame, before contending with two lefties in the heart of the A’s order.

            Gentry does have a splash of pitching experience from college, having appeared in two games for Arkansas in 2005. But, like his current major league ERA of 18.00, he also owns a double-digit collegiate ERA in limited experience.

            All told, Monday night’s outing was a success. Gentry got through the inning. That’s all a manager can ask of a position player who is called upon to mop up a laugher. However, the Rangers have a potential beast of an arm in left-handed first baseman Mitch Moreland.

            Moreland actually has a wealth of college experience, having excelled as a two-way player at Will Clark’s alma mater Mississippi State. In three years on the hill, Moreland notched a 5-0 record with 45 strikeouts through 33 relief innings. His pitching arm was so valued, he was viewed by many as a pitching prospect heading into the 2007 draft. When the Rangers selected him in the 17th round, it was noted Moreland fought tooth-and-nail to sign as a position player.

            As it was, Gentry faired well against lefty Seth Smith. Gentry was the only pitcher to retire Smith all night. Sitting on a 4-for-4 night with three legs of the cycle heading into his final at bat, Smith flied out to left to end the ninth.


All-Star CF: Vote McCutchen

June 3, 2012

            Fox’s game-of-the-week crew foreshadowed my left field vote during Saturday’s Giants-Cubs game. But we’ll get to that later in the week.

            What was most intriguing about Thom Brennaman and Eric Karros’ analysis of the current NL All-Star outfield voting is they endorsed four corner outfielders – Carlos Beltran, Ryan Braun, Melky Carera, and Andre Ethier.

            In Karros’ defense, he did reference the need for a true center fielder. But at the end of the day, the mainstream a-team mentioned nary a one. And, there is one that stands head-and-shoulders above the rest that could use the publicity – Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

            McCutchen has emerged as the premier five-tool player in the National League. He’s had flashes of brilliance in three previous major league seasons, and flexed his power in 2011 in his first as an All-Star with a 24-home run showing. This season, though, he has put is all together as the quintessential three-hitter, swinging it for power and average.

            While the baseball world is rightfully raving about Cabrera’s showing in May with 51 hits, McCutchen’s month deserves some recognition as well. The Pirates’ franchise player hit at a .360 clip (31 for 99) on the month, and has helped the Pirates to enter play Sunday with a 26-26 record, just four games back of Cincinnati in the NL Central.

            A 26-26 record might not seem like much to cheer about, but it is for Pittsburgh fans. Keep in mind, the Pirates are suffering one of the longest losing traditions in the history of sports, having not finished over .500 in a season since 1992. That’s the Barry Bonds era of Pittsburgh baseball, folks.

            McCutchen’s peripheries are also impressive across the board. In addition to ranking fifth in the NL with a .336 average, he’s getting on base at a .396 clip, slugging .553, and is stealing bases at as good a rate as he ever did as a leadoff hitter. And while there have been some naysayers regarding his defense this year, McCutchen’s exhilarating center-field range is always a Web Gem or two away from quieting those criticisms.


All-Star RF redo: Vote CarGo

May 31, 2012

            Alright, scratch Matt Kemp. It looks as though the Dodgers star is headed back to the disabled list after re-aggravating his hamstring last night against Milwaukee.

            After last night, it seems like Carlos Gonzalez wants it more anyhow. While all eyes were on Seattle’s 21-8 win over Texas, Gonzalez was making headlines of his own in Colorado. The Rockies slugger hammered three home runs en route to a 4-for-5 night, improving his season average to .323 while vaulting into third place in the NL with 13 home runs and 41 RBIs, respectively.

            It’s hard to believe Gonzalez has never appeared in an All-Star game. Sure he’s still just 26. But in 2010 he took a shot at an NL triple crown while pacing the league with a .336 average. And while he finished third in the MVP race behind Joey Votto and Albert Pujols that season, it was widely theorized that Gonzalez would have won the award if not for a remarkable year from his teammate Troy Tulowitzki, which essentially split the Colorado vote.            

            What’s even harder to believe, especially for A’s fans, is how Gonzalez ended up in Colorado in the first place. The technical answer is he was traded by Oakland for Matt Holliday. The more accurate account, though, is he was part of one of the most prolific (if not strange and disastrous) parlays in Billy Beane’s tenure as general manager of the A’s.

            Gonzalez was initially something of a steal for Oakland, when he was acquired prior to the 2008 season along with pitcher Brett Anderson for ace right-hander Dan Haren. The trade was a no-brainer for Oakland, with Haren on the verge of a salary spike. But, that argument went out the window the following year when Beane rolled over Gonzalez into a package deal with the Rockies for high-priced slugger Matt Holliday.

            As it stands, three former A’s outfielders – Gonzalez, Holliday, and NL RBI leader Andre Ethier – are serious contenders to make the NL All-Star team.


All-Star RF: Vote Matt Kemp

May 30, 2012

            Carlos Beltran has been the best right fielder in baseball this year. But, when casting an All-Star ballot, fandom matters. And having been witness to Beltran’s short stint in San Francisco at the end of last season, there’s no way I’m voting for the guy, let alone endorsing him.

            To prove I’m not going full-on homer, though, my vote for right fielder goes to Dodgers superstar Matt Kemp. It would be justifiable to bypass Kemp, who was recently activated after spending two weeks on the disabled list. His epic start is pretty much worthy of All-Star consideration in and of itself, though.

            Kemp was the most dangerous hitter in baseball before being sidelined with a hamstring injury, and that dates back to last season when he won two legs of the triple crown. He earned NL Player of the Month honors in April, and is currently hitting .355, while his 12 home runs ranks third in the NL.

            So far as voting for All-Star outfielders goes, it’s essential that fans keep in mind the importance of defense. All-Star ballots don’t recognize the three individual outfield positions, which makes being astute to the defensive dynamic all the more important. Seriously, Can you imagine Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, and Jay Bruce starting in the NL outfield? No one needs to see that.

            Sliding center fielders over to play a corner is certainly acceptable, especially if there is good cause. There certainly is with Kemp, whose range has been inhibited this season by the hamstring injury. He has a fair amount of experience as a right fielder, though, and more importantly, would give the NL a viable center-field option should, for example, Holliday and Bruce earn the other two nods as starting outfielders.

            And, just a quick note: As mentioned in the previous All-Star write-up, I had originally penciled in Carlos Gonzalez as the starting right fielder. This, of course, was before Kemp was reactivated. Rafael Furcal still stands as my choice at short over Troy Tulowitzki, however. Sorry, Rockies. However, we may soon need to reassess the first base situation now that Joey Votto is returning to his MVP form.