SweetSpot: Jonny Gomes

World Series history is filled with dramatic Game 6 contests -- 2011 (Cardinals-Rangers), 2002 (Angels rally), 1993 (Joe Carter), 1992 (Jays clinch in extra innings), 1991 (Kirby Puckett), 1986 (Bill Buckner), 1975 (Carlton Fisk)... just to name a few.

We didn't get a classic Game 6 this time. Instead, we saw a lot of fear of David Ortiz, we saw Michael Wacha's October run end in sadness, we saw Red Sox fans celebrating a World Series clincher at home for the first time since 1918. Which is a cool way to end the baseball season.

Hero: Shane Victorino had missed the previous two games with lower back tightness, but returned wearing patriotic cleats and delivered the big hit of the game. With the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning, he drilled a 2-1 fastball from Wacha high off the Green Monster in left-center for a bases-clearing double as Jonny Gomes just barely beat the throw home for the third run. In the fourth, he singled home another run with two outs for a 6-0 lead.

Back to that double. It was set up by a few things. In order:

1. Ortiz's first-inning plate appearance, in which he worked a nine-pitch walk, fouling off three pitches before finally taking a curveball below the knees.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury's leadoff single in the third and Dustin Pedroia's broken-bat ground out to third base that moved Ellsbury to second. Think of the little things that can turn a baseball game: What if Pedroia doesn't break his bat and instead grounds into a 5-4 force play? That means first base would have been occupied. Instead, there was a runner on second and one out.

3. The intentional walk to Ortiz. "We are going to be careful," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said before the game about pitching to the scorching hot Ortiz. "We haven't made it any big secret, and sometimes when we're doing that, it doesn't even work out how we're playing it. It's a situation where you have a hitter that we know and everybody sees, he's swinging the bat very well."

Sabermetricians are not big fans of the intentional walk, mostly because extra baserunners can lead to big innings. Matheny isn't usually a fan of the intentional walk -- the Cardinals ranked next-to-last in the National League in free passes handed out. But he decided to give the Red Sox a free baserunner; the Cardinals would pay the price.

My take: I'm not a fan of the intentional. Yes, Ortiz was hot. And I'm sure that first-inning walk influenced Matheny's decision. At that point, Ortiz had swung and missed at only three pitches the entire Series. But just because he was hitting .750 in the Series doesn't mean he's a .750 hitter. And if you walk him? Well, then he's a 1.000 on-base guy. The move is even riskier with just one out instead of two. As far as intentional walks go, it was certainly understandable as to why it was done. Don't let Ortiz beat us. But it also reminded me of Ron Washington walking Albert Pujols in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6 of 2011 to pitch to Lance Berkman (who would knock in the game-tying run). When you intentional walk a batter in those situations you're assuming the next batter (or batters) are going to hit .000.

4. Hitting Gomes. Wacha struck out Mike Napoli with a 94-mph fastball that looked down the middle. At that point, Matheny's move looked like it would work out. Batters were 0-for-14 against Wacha in the postseason with runners in scoring position, wtih six strikeouts. He just needed to get Gomes. Instead, he hit him.

That brought up Victorino. He fell behind with a curveball inside and fastball below the knees. Victorino took a fastball on the corner but was still sitting 2-1 fastball and got one. Wacha had only thrown five changeups at that point (he got Pedroia on one) and you can certain second-guess going to another fastball there. But again: Bases loaded, can't walk somebody. Victorino cleared the bases, but the intentional walk helped set up the inning.

Goat: Cardinals offense. Look, for all the talk about whether or not to pitch to Ortiz, it wasn't Ortiz who had beat the Cardinals through the first games so much as the Boston pitching (Jon Lester in particular). But the Cardinals scored just 14 runs in six games, hitting .224. They did have nine hits in Game 6, but just one was an extra-base hit (they had just 10 in the entire Series) and Matt Holliday's two home runs (one hit while down 8-0 in Game 1) were the only two the Cardinals hit. The bats simply didn't produce with Matt Adams hitting .136, David Freese .158 and Jon Jay .167.

Big Papi redux: In the fourth inning Stephen Drew led off with a home run and Ellsbury doubled with one out. After Pedroia flew out, Matheny again elected to give Ortiz a free base. He again paid the price for not wanting Ortiz to beat his team. Down 4-0, the game and season on the line, he went to ... Game 4 starter Lance Lynn to face Napoli. Not Carlos Martinez. Not Seth Maness. Not John Axford. Certainly not Trevor Rosenthal (he's the closer!) or Shelby Miller (he was left on the runway in St. Louis). Again, I'm not sure Lynn was any worse of an option than Martinez, Maness or Axford, but it was a bit curious. Lynn faced three batters, gave up two hits and a walk and it was 6-0.

As Keith Law tweeted about yet another intentional walk, "It's almost like putting a hitter on base deliberately, refusing him the chance to make an out on his own, is a bad idea."

Lackey in control: John Lackey wasn't dominant but spaced his hits and worked out of a couple jams, most notably in the second inning when Allen Craig and Yadier Molina led off with hard singles. He retired Adams on another hard liner to deep left, got Freese to fly out to right on a 3-2 curve and then struck out Jay on another curve. Red Sox fans can look back at those two curves as the two big pitches Lackey would make. After that, he seemed to right himself, kept the ball, threw first-pitch strikes and became the first pitcher to start and win clinching games for two different teams (he started Game 7 for the Angels as a rookie in 2002).

Going out in style: Ellsbury is a free agent and with Jackie Bradley Jr. on the horizon, speculation is Ellsbury signs with another team. If it was his final game in a Red Sox uniform, what a game: He went 2-for-4 with a walk, starting both Red Sox rallies. Ellsbury was a late-season add back in 2007, hit .353 in 33 games to earn a starting spot by the postseason and then hit .438 in the World Series. He's had his ups and downs in his Boston career, but he makes the offense go from the leadoff spot and scored 14 runs in 16 postseason games.

Splitting hairs: And the final pitch: A Koji Uehara splitter that Matt Carpenter swung on and missed, the pitch diving off the plate something wicked. The single best pitch in baseball this season was the final one of the season. The guy without the beard let the beards begin the celebration.

The best team won: The best team doesn't always win. But the Red Sox were the best team in the regular season, tying for the most wins in the majors while playing in easily the toughest division. They were best team in the playoffs, beating a good Tampa Bay club, that lethal Detroit pitching staff, and a St. Louis team that was better than its 2006 and 2011 World Series winners. Congrats to the Red Sox.
In a World Series already replete with craziness, we get a little bit more of it for Game 5:

1. Shane Robinson will start and bat second for the Cardinals.
2. Jonny Gomes will hit cleanup for the Red Sox.

The biggest move, however, the one that isn't so strange, is that Allen Craig is back in the starting lineup for the Cardinals and playing first base, bad foot and all. That move makes sense since Matt Adams hasn't been hitting and with Jon Lester starting you get the right-handed Craig back in there instead of Adams. He'll bat sixth, presumably because he can barely run. Still, you can argue that if he can play, why not put him higher in the lineup?

"We ended up kind of holding back on him, making sure he's going to be ready to DH those games [in Boston]," Mike Matheny said before the game of Craig. "But yeah, he felt better yesterday, much better than what he thought he was going to feel, and even better today. So that's continued to move forward."

Matheny's choice to not hit Craig cleanup has a ripple effect: With no Adams and Craig well below 100 percent, he needed a cleanup hitter, so he moved Carlos Beltran down from the No. 2 slot to the No. 4 slot, and moved Robinson into the starting lineup and batting second.

Playing Robinson makes some sense. Again, it gets another right-handed bat in there against Lester instead of Jon Jay. Robinson, in limited duty as a reserve this season, did post a .345 on-base percentage, although just .319 against left-handers. He has next to no power, his home run against the Dodgers more of a fluke than a sign of real ability. Hitting Robinson second is something Matheny rarely did during the season, however; Robinson started 30 games and hit second just nine times (and leadoff twice). When he started, he normally hit seventh because he's a No. 7 or 8 type of hitter.

Fine, Craig can't run. Why not keep Beltran second and simply move Yadier Molina up to the cleanup spot, hit Craig fifth and David Freese sixth? Molina hit .333/.374/.509 against left-handers. No, he can't run either. But ask yourself this: Ninth inning, down a run, you have your 2-3-4 hitters up. Would you rather want Beltran and/or Molina to be assured an at-bat that inning ... or Shane Robinson? Team speed isn't really in the St. Louis playbook, but it appears Matheny became overly fixated on that with this lineup.

As for Gomes hitting cleanup, he's in there because Shane Victorino is again unable to play. And because he hit a terrible pitch from Seth Maness over the fence in left field in Game 4. But Gomes versus Wainwright is a poor matchup, the strikeout-prone Gomes against a good strikeout pitcher in Wainwright. Gomes hit .167 against curveballs from right-handed batters this season, but that's only 18 at-bats; over the past three seasons, he's hit .145 against curveballs, with 33 strikeouts in 58 plate appearances. Good luck.

I do like that John Farrell was willing to move David Ortiz up to the third spot. He clearly wanted to alternate his left- and right-handed hitters to make Matheny's late-game relief substitutions more difficult, going Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz, Gomes and Daniel Nava (a switch-hitter, but much more potent from the left side). As with the Cardinals, I would have stacked my best hitters together. You could have gone Ellsbury, Nava, Ortiz, Pedroia (if you wanted a right-hander to protect Ortiz), or just stayed with the Game 4 order -- Ellsbury, Nava, Pedroia, Ortiz, Gomes. At this point, it doesn't really matter who hits behind Ortiz: If there's an open base, the Cardinals are likely to pitch around him.

The bigger problem with the Red Sox's lineup is Stephen Drew, David Ross and Lester in the 7-8-9 slots. Drew is 4-for-49 in the postseason with 17 strikeouts and one walk and looks helpless (or is it hopeless?) at the plate. But he's understandably in there for his defense. So is Ross, who has become Lester's personal catcher. But Ross hit .216 and struck out in 37 percent of his plate appearances. It's difficult to imagine the bottom of this lineup doing any damage against Wainwright.

So everything is pointing to a low-scoring game.

Which means the final score will probably be 8-7.


Another fun World Series game, with big hits, big decisions and a final score of Boston 4, St. Louis 2.

Hero: Jonny Gomes. Inserted into the lineup only as a replacement for Shane Victorino, who couldn't go because of lower back tightness, Gomes was chosen over Mike Carp, even though Cardinals starter Lance Lynn has a sizable platoon split, and has been much less effective against left-handed hitters. Gomes has sort of been John Farrell's hunch bet this postseason, even though he entered the game hitting just .152/.200/.212. In fact, his .125 career average in the postseason entering the game was the lowest of any active player with at least 40 plate appearances. When he grounded into a double play in the second inning, the second-guessers had a good laugh.

In the fifth, still facing Lynn after David Ortiz hit a leadoff double, Gomes fell behind 0-2 but worked a 10-pitch walk, with Ortiz eventually scoring the tying run on a sac fly.

In the sixth, Dustin Pedroia singled with two outs and Lynn gave Ortiz a four-pitch intentional unintentional walk. It was an interesting set of decisions by Mike Matheny that inning:

1. He could have brought in a lefty to face Ortiz. Remember, Ortiz hit a pedestrian .260/.315/.418 against left-handed pitchers in the regular season. Matheny was either (A) influenced by the fact that Ortiz had homered off Kevin Siegrist and singled off Randy Choate; (B) not wanting to pitch to Ortiz with anybody; or (C) factoring in that there were still at least three more innings and wanted to save his lefties for later in the game, especially with Carlos Martinez unlikely to pitch for the fourth time in five days.

2. Let Lynn pitch to Gomes.

3. Bring in a reliever to pitch to Gomes.

Lynn was at 89 pitches and had allowed five of the previous 10 batters to reach base. While it certainly seemed strange to pitch around Ortiz and then pull Lynn, I can understand the decision to go to Seth Maness, especially considering Gomes' tough at-bat against Lynn the previous inning.

Anyway, in came the rookie and his sinkerball pedigree. Maness threw a 2-2 sinker that didn't sink and Gomes crushed it into the left-field bullpen for a three-run homer and 4-1 lead.

Goat: Maness gave up the home run. Matt Holliday and Matt Adams went 0-for-8 in the third and fourth slots. But Kolten Wong, WHAT IN THE NAME OF LOU BROCK WERE YOU DOING? Pinch running in the ninth, Wong got picked off first base for the final out with Carlos Beltran up as the tying run. Carlos Beltran. One thing we've learned the past two nights: We can't predict the endings to these games. Why was Mike Napoli even holding him on with two outs?

Wasn't going to happen: There were some calls on Twitter to hit for Lynn in the bottom of the fourth with two runners on and two outs and the Cards up 1-0, the arguments being: (A) Lynn probably isn't going to go much deeper in the game; (B) it was a high-leverage pinch-hitting opportunity (maybe for Allen Craig); (C) the Cards have a deep bullpen.

I disagreed with the premise. First, no manager is going pinch hit there, considering Lynn had cruised through four innings facing the minimum. Second, I'm not sure the Cards' bullpen was that deep for this game. Consider that Martinez was probably unavailable, Matheny has little trust in Edward Mujica and Shelby Miller has barely pitched in a month and is clearly an emergency-only option. You would be asking for five innings from your relievers. Third, you'd be facing a mutiny from your starting pitchers if you pulled a guy pitching a one-hitter after 50 pitches. While there is a sabermetric case for hitting there, it's a hard one to transfer to a real-life situation.

Velocity isn't everything: With Clay Buchholz battling shoulder tightness, the Red Sox weren't exactly sure what they'd get out of him. In his two starts against the Tigers in the American League Championship Series he allowed just one run total in the first five innings of those games, but six runs in the sixth innings. So Farrell had to figure he'd get five innings at the most, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 pitches. Buchholz's velocity was down in the first inning, topping out at 89 mph when he's normally at 93-94 in the early frames. But he battled, and while his fastest pitch was 91 mph (his final one), he kept the ball down, making it through four innings and 66 pitches before being lifted for a pinch hitter. The only run he allowed was unearned, when Jacoby Ellsbury bobbled a hit to allow Matt Carpenter to get to second base. Maybe this performance wasn't quite Curt Schilling and his bloody sock, but it was a gritty effort.

At-bat of the night that wasn't a three-run homer: The Cardinals score a run in the seventh to cut the deficit it to 4-2, two runners on, Holliday up. Junichi Tazawa comes on. Holliday takes a called 93 mph fastball for a strike, what looked like a pretty hittable pitch. He then hits another fastball hard on the ground but right to Pedroia.

The bottom of the eighth: As my editor said, using Johnny Wholestaff in Game 4 of a seven-game series is a bit unusual. Even though Koji Uehara threw just three pitches in Game 3, Farrell went to Game 2 starter John Lackey. He pitched around a Xander Bogaerts two-base throwing error and a wild pitch to escape the jam (Jon Jay popped out with Yadier Molina on third and one out) to preserve Boston's 4-2 lead. Now ... just because it worked doesn't mean it was the right decision. I'm not saying it was the wrong move; certainly Farrell had a good idea of what Lackey could give him on two days' rest, but it was still a little bizarre that he didn't go to Uehara for six outs or five outs and even four outs.

Big, indeed: Ortiz went 3-for-3 with a walk and was involved in every Red Sox rally. At the point of his double in the fifth inning he had seven of Boston's 20 hits in the World Series. In four games, he's hitting .727/.750/1.364. The key in the final three games may be whether the Cardinals can figure out how to get him out.
Thoughts on a Game 2 of the World Series that was a thousand times more interesting than Game 1, that ended with the Cardinals beating the Red Sox 4-2.

Hero: Cardinals rookie sensation Michael Wacha was nearly sensational once again, taking a shutout into the sixth inning. Facing David Ortiz with a runner on and one out, he threw one changeup up too many to Big Papi -- four in a row, with Ortiz depositing the 3-2 changeup just over the Green Monster in left-center. But Wacha recovered to strike out Mike Napoli and retire Jonny Gomes to get through six innings. The Red Sox ran up his pitch count -- 114 pitches -- and he walked four batters, but he gave up just three hits, got a big double play on Napoli with two on and no outs in the fourth and improved to 4-0 in the postseason when the Cardinals took the lead in the top of the seventh.

Goat: Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow replaced starter John Lackey with two runners on in the seventh. Breslow isn't exactly a lefty killer (.238 average allowed, including the postseason) but it made sense for manager John Farrell to bring him in to face lefties Daniel Descalso (.183 versus southpaws) and Matt Carpenter. But Breslow allowed a double steal and then walked Descalso on a 3-2 slider to load the bases, setting up the play of the game.

Turning point: So bases loaded, Carpenter lifts a fly ball to shallow left, setting in motion four awful plays that are basically unacceptable in any major league game, let alone a World Series game: (1) Gomes' throw was offline even though he wasn't that far beyond the infield cutoff; (2) catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia didn't catch the ball; (3) Jon Jay, on second base, for some reason headed back to second base as the throw went home, and got a late break for third; (4) which drew a throw from Breslow (at least he was backing up the throw home), which went wildly into the third-base stands, allowing Jay to score. Final tally: two runs, and when Carlos Beltran followed with an RBI single, it was 4-2.

At-bat of the night: How about the walk by David Freese to start that rally? He fouled off two pitches with two strikes, eventually taking a 3-2 cutter outside. Lackey threw 71 of 95 pitches for strikes, his season-high percentage of strikes, so terrific job by Freese to work a walk.

The Jonny Gomes Hunch: All season, John Farrell platooned Daniel Nava and Gomes in left field. Suddenly in the postseason he's gotten the itch to play Gomes against all pitchers, even though Nava had a .411 on-base percentage against right-handers. The Red Sox like Gomes' energy, and Boston had been 7-0 with Gomes starting in the postseason, but Farrell's lucky charm hurt the team in this game. Gomes went 0-for-4, had the bad throw and is 0-for-7 in the two World Series games. Unless there's something going on with Nava we don't know about, he should be out there in Game 3. Yes, Gomes may be more likely to pop one out (especially at Fenway), but Nava gets on base against righties and is a little better in the field.

Hey, it worked, but ... Eighth inning, 22-year-old rookie Carlos Martinez protecting the 4-2 lead in his second inning of work, Ortiz up with a runner on and two outs. Matheny had three options: (1) Bring in lefty killer Randy Choate (.161 against left-handers including the playoffs with no home runs allowed); (2) bring in closer Trevor Rosenthal for a four-out save; (3) leave in Martinez. Choate seemed like the obvious choice, considering Ortiz's production falls way off against lefties. The cameras panned to a nervous-looking Matheny on the dugout steps. He chose to keep Martinez in there, perhaps preferring to battle Ortiz with the 100 mph fastball instead of Choate's junk. I think Choate was the right call, but while Ortiz reached on an infield single, Martinez did get Napoli to pop out.

Revealing statistic: Rosenthal struck out the side in the ninth. Eleven pitches, all fastballs, average speed of 97.2 mph, 99 on the final pitch to Nava (pinch-hitting for Drew). And, yes, all 27 outs recorded by rookie pitchers for the Cardinals.
The Boston Red Sox were dead, crushed in for the second straight game by a dominant starting pitcher, their bats swinging through nasty fastballs and ungodly breaking stuff from Max Scherzer. It was a tip-your-cap kind of game. Pack your suitcases and head to Detroit and figure out how to beat Justin Verlander in Game 3 to avoid falling down three games to zero in the American League Championship Series.

Then came the eighth inning ... an inning that could turn the entire 2013 season. An inning that is going to cause Jim Leyland a lot of lost sleep the next two nights.

Scherzer had followed up Justin Verlander’s division series clincher against Oakland and Anibal Sanchez’s 12-strikeout gem in Game 1 by taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. The Red Sox scratched a run across that inning, but the Tigers had already knocked Clay Buchholz from the game with four runs in the top of the frame. When Scherzer cruised through a 1-2-3 seventh -- including his 12th and 13th strikeouts -- it appeared a victory was in hand, the Tigers up 5-1 and the Red Sox's offense have recorded just three hits while striking out 30 times in the two games.

Then came a series of fateful decisions by Leyland and the Tigers. Let’s look at each one.

1. Removing Scherzer after 108 pitches.

Argument for: You’re up by four runs, it’s a long postseason haul, so there’s no need to push Scherzer unnecessarily deep into the game. You have to manage looking ahead to the rest of this series and the World Series. Yes, he’d thrown more than 108 pitches 14 times in the regular season but he’d topped 120 just twice with a high of 123, so it was unlikely he'd finish the inning anyway. Plus, the Detroit bullpen is better than everyone gives it credit for: Joaquin Benoit had a 2.01 ERA, Drew Smyly a 2.37 ERA, Jose Veras pitched well after coming over from Houston and Al Alburquerque fanned 70 in 49 1/3 innings. It’s not a deep pen, but Benoit and Smyly in particular were very good at the end of games.

Argument against: Scherzer is one of the best pitchers in the game and he’d thrown only 108 pitches. The Red Sox hadn’t done anything against him all game. At least wait until he gives up a baserunner before you take him out. What’s the old saying? No lead in Fenway is safe? You use your best guys for as long as you can and Scherzer was still the best guy.

Verdict: I can’t rip Leyland too harshly for this one. A four-run lead should be safe. If there’s one issue: Why start the inning with Jose Veras instead of Smyly when two of the next three batters were left-handed? But even then, it’s possible John Farrell hits Xander Bogaerts for Stephen Drew if Smyly starts the inning.

2. Bringing in Smyly to face Jacoby Ellsbury.
[+] EnlargeJonny Gomes
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Jonny Gomes scored the winning run after an infield hit to lead off the ninth.

Veras got Drew to ground out but Will Middlebrooks doubled. Due up next: Ellsbury and then Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia, one lefty and then two righties.

Argument for: Smyly held lefties to .189/.225/.246 line, so bring him to get Ellsbury and stop a rally from getting started.

Argument against: Even if Ellsbury gets on against Veras, the tying run is still two batters away. You could still let Veras face the right-handers. But if you bring in Smyly and Ellsbury gets on, then do you let Smyly face the two righties? Probably not, considering both are much better against left-handers.

Verdict: Again, I can’t rip Leyland too harshly as on paper as he got a good matchup with a better pitcher. The question: Do you assume a worst-case scenario and start thinking about David Ortiz looming four spots away? If so, then you have to ask: Who do you want facing Big Papi?

3. Replacing Smyly with Alburquerque.

Smyly walked Ellsbury, which is the one thing Leyland didn’t count on, because that left him with this choice: Do you bring in your fourth-best reliever to get the platoon advantage, leave in your second-best reliever, or go to your closer?

Argument for Alburquerque: Righties hit .202/.346/.337 off him, but just .130 in the second half. He has been pretty deadly since the All-Star break with that wipeout slider.

Argument for Smyly: You have to be concerned about Ortiz in case Victorino or Pedroia get on, and he would be the best matchup.

Argument for Benoit: He's your closer. If he can get four outs, he can get five.

Verdict: Considering the way Alburquerque has been throwing, it's hard to rip this decision. Smyly had walked Ellsbury, so would you have confidence in him facing Ortiz if it got to that point?

4. Bringing in Benoit to face Ortiz.

Victorino struck out but Pedroia singled to right, third-base coach Brian Butterfield wisely holding Middlebrooks at third, even with two outs. That brought up Ortiz. What do you do now? You have to take out Alburquerque, but do you bring in Benoit or the lefty Phil Coke?

Argument for Benoit: He has been your best reliever all year, and as a setup guy most of his career he's used to entering with runners on base. His dead fish changeup makes him very effective against left-handers; they hit .194 with just one home run off him.

Argument for Coke: Ortiz was 2-for-18 in his career off Coke. Ortiz hit .339 against righties and .260 against lefties. Plus, you added Coke to the roster this round basically to face Ortiz, right?

Verdict: Considering Coke hadn't pitched in a major league game since Sept. 18 and didn't have a great season when he did pitch (lefties hit .299 against him), it's again hard to fault Leyland here. Yes, it raises the question of why Coke is even on the roster, but Benoit has been getting out lefties all season. Of all the choices, once we got to this point, I think this was the most obviously correct one. No way can you trust Coke here.

5. Bringing in Rick Porcello for the ninth.

Benoit threw Ortiz a first-pitch changeup, it hung up too much and Ortiz launched it into the bullpen, sending Torii Hunter tumbling over the fence and making this policeman very happy. After the Tigers failed to score, Leyland replaced Benoit in the ninth with Porcello.

Argument for Benoit: He has been your best reliever. He threw just eight pitches in the eighth (after throwing 22 in Game 1). He can easily go one more inning.

Argument for Porcello: You have to look at the big picture and think about having Benoit ready for Game 3. Porcello's stuff plays up as a reliever and he gets ground balls, so you don't have to worry as much about him serving up a game-losing home run.

Verdict: I'm not a big Porcello fan, but he was clearly the next guy on your roster. I'd have gone with Benoit for one more inning.

6. Jose Iglesias tries to throw out Jonny Gomes at first base on weak grounder.

There is no argument here. Iglesias had no chance to get Gomes; you have to eat the ball there. But the worse play was Prince Fielder failing to use his large body to knock the ball down and prevent it from rolling into the dugout. Bad decision by Iglesias, but a lazy, terrible play by Fielder. Gomes goes to second on the throwing error, advances on a wild pitch and Jarrod Saltalamacchia singles past the drawn-in infield.

One crazy inning. To me, it wasn't so much one bad decision by Leyland leading to another, but simply a matter of one result leading to another decision. Did Leyland overthink things? Maybe, especially since he had implied before the series that it's the type of series you win and lose with your starting pitchers. Tigers fans will obviously second-guess the decision to remove Scherzer, but at the time it didn't seem like an egregious error.

It just didn't work out. The Red Sox's hitters beat the Tigers' bullpen. They avoid a two-game disaster at Fenway Park and the Tigers are left wondering what happened. We're left wondering how the eighth inning will affect Leyland's confidence in his bullpen moving forward.

My prediction: Verlander throws more than 108 pitches in Game 3.
Quick thoughts on Tuesday's slate of games ...
  • The Blue Jays belted three home runs off the Rockies' Jeff Francis (why is he still in their rotation?) in an 8-3 win, their seventh in a row. Now 34-36, the Jays are 8.5 out of first place -- although still in last place in the AL East. Can they really climb back into the playoff race? Well, let's do some quick math. With 92 games left, the Jays will have to go 58-34 the rest of the way to win 90, a .630 winning percentage (or 102-win pace over 162). Jose Reyes has begun his rehab in Class A, so he'll be back soon. Brandon Morrow suffered the same forearm soreness in his rehab start on Monday so his return remains down the road. Currently, we have the Jays' odds of making the playoffs at 17 percent; the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report had the Jays at six percent before Tuesday. While catching Boston will be difficult (if Boston plays .500 ball, the Jays have to win 17 more in a row to catch them), I think the Jays can make it an interesting summer in Toronto and get in the wild-card hunt.
  • Here's Adam Rubin's report on Zack Wheeler's impressive major league debut for the Mets. Wheeler or Gerrit Cole? My quick impression after watching both debuts is that I'd take Wheeler first, although one follower on Twitter suggested Wheeler's box score line looked like a Daniel Cabrera line: five walks, seven strikeouts. He certainly has to improve his command but he has a lot of life and run on his fastball. Cole's heater, on the other hand, is very straight, one reason he has just three strikeouts through his first two starts. Anyway, one or two starts don't mean anything, other than at least Mets fans two days a week the rest of the year to watch exciting baseball. Here's a good breakdown on Cole from Andrew Shen of Beyond the Box Score.
  • Speaking of the Mets, Matt Harvey was dominant in the first game of their doubleheader sweep of the Braves, taking a no-hitter into the seventh before tiring. He struck out Jason Heyward in the first on a pitch clocked at 100.1 mph -- the fastest pitch by a starting pitcher this year.
  • The legend of Paul Goldschmidt continues to grow as he hit a walk-off homer to lift the Diamondbacks to a 3-2 win over the Marlins. That's five go-ahead home runs in the eighth inning or later. That's how you win MVP Awards.
  • Nice win for the Pirates, a 4-0 shutout of the Reds to hand Mat Latos his first loss. The Pirates are scraping together a rotation right now with A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Jeanmar Gomez all on the DL, but Charlie Morton, in his second start since returning from elbow surgery, stepped up with 5.1 scoreless innings. It was the Pirates' MLB-leading 12th shutout. By the way, over the last calendar year, Pedro Alvarez leads all NL hitters with 33 home runs.
  • Mark Simon wrote about Carlos Gomez's ability to go back on balls last week. He did this Tuesday in Houston, running up that ridiculous hill to make one of the great catches of the season.
  • Jonny Gomes hit a dramatic walk-off homer to give the Red Sox a doubleheader sweep over the Rays. Don't miss the punt he gives his helmet as he trots home.
  • Tough loss for the Padres to see their seven-game winning streak end as the Giants scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to win 5-4. Juan Perez, filling in for the injured Angel Pagan, had two big plays, throwing a runner out at home and hitting the go-ahead single.
  • Yu Darvish is winless over his past six starts -- but he has a 2.66 ERA. Run support, my friends.
  • Another rough night for Josh Hamilton in the Angels' 3-2, 10-inning loss to Seattle. He went 0-for-5, grounded into three double plays, and struck out with runners in scoring position in the seventh and ninth. He's hitting .213/.269/.388 and over a calendar year is hitting .235 with a .302 OBP.
Baseball teams don't have the same home-field advantage as, say, NBA teams, but it's still an important element of the game. Last season, 26 of the 30 teams had a better record at home, although a big home-field advantage isn't necessarily a path to the playoffs. The Astros, Cubs and Brewers each won 15 more games at home than on the road but finished a combined 199-287. The Tigers and Cardinals had the biggest home-field advantages among playoff teams, both going 50-31 at home and 38-43 on the road.

With the season under way, here's a look at some players for whom home-field advantage is an important thing to consider when evaluating how they may fare.

Tom Milone, P, A's. The soft-tossing lefty made his first start on Wednesday and showed again that he loves pitching at home. He allowed two home runs to Seattle in the first inning but settled down after that, throwing six scoreless frames and allowing just four total hits over his seven innings. Milone is a fly ball pitcher, which plays well with Oakland's big dimensions, but his splits were so extreme last year (2.74 ERA, 6 HR at home, 4.83 ERA, 18 HR on the road), that manager Bob Melvin should consider skipping him on the road whenever possible.

Jason Vargas, P, Angels. Staying in the AL West, Vargas moves over from Seattle, where he loved Safeco Field. He gave up 35 home runs last year despite pitching in a park that kills fly balls, especially to left-center. In his four years with Seattle, he allowed 34 home runs at Safeco but 57 on the road. Last year, his ERA was two runs higher on the road, where he allowed 26 of those 35 homers. Anaheim is still a pretty good park for fly ball pitchers (see Jered Weaver), but it will be interesting to see whether Vargas keep his home-field dominance intact.

[+] EnlargeJustin Upton
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWill Justin Upton hit with Atlanta like he did with Arizona?
Justin Upton, LF, Braves. Upton moves from one of the best hitting parks in baseball in Arizona to a more neutral environment. In general terms, every player performs a little better at home, but Upton's splits were pretty extreme with the D-backs. He hit .307/.389/.548 at Chase Field -- superstar numbers -- but a pedestrian .250/.325/406 on the road. So far so good: He's homered in his first two games at home, including smashing a low Roy Halladay fastball to right-center on Wednesday night.

Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes, Red Sox. One reason the Red Sox signed the two right-handed sluggers is their potential ability to take advantage of the Green Monster. Both have big raw power but can also pull the ball to left field. Over the past three years, 49 of Napoli's 80 home runs have gone to left or left-center. But what makes him even more intriguing is that he’s hit 18 to the “far right” -- meaning in the direction of the Pesky Pole. Fenway is a tough home run park to right-center, but very short down that right-field line. Napoli is that rare hitter who may take advantage of the Monster and the Pesky Pole. Gomes, meanwhile, is a dead-pull hitter. Over the past three years, 48 of his 50 homers went left or left-center.

Carlos Gonzalez, LF, Rockies. Is Gonzalez a star hitter or just a guy who takes advantage of Coors Field? Over the past three years he's at .361/.421/.651 at home (55 HRs) and .263/.315/.440 on the road (29 HRs). I'd like to see better production on the road before I declare him the great player many believe he is.

James Shields, P, Royals. Shields has pitched 200-plus innings the past six seasons and the Royals hope their new ace makes it seven. But he leaves Tampa, a pitcher's park, for Kansas City, a neutral hitting environment. During his tenure with the Rays, Shields had a 3.34 ERA at lovely Tropicana Field, 4.51 on the road. Last year, it wasn't quite as extreme, 3.25 and 3.83, but I think Shields will be hard-pressed putting up the same numbers he did with Tampa (although moving to the AL Central could help in that regard since he won't have to face the Yankees and Red Sox eight times a year or so).

Nick Swisher, OF-1B, Indians. Swisher averaged 26 home runs per season during his four years with the Yankees, but it was not because the switch-hitter took advantage of the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium. Fifty-nine of his 104 home runs in pinstripes came on the road, so I see no reason Swisher shouldn't hit around 25 home runs for Cleveland.

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Which player will be most hurt by his new park?

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Josh Hamilton, RF, Angels. Hamilton, of course, moves from one of the best hitter's parks in baseball in Arlington -- probably second only to Coors Field -- to Angel Stadium. Despite the initial inclination that the move may hurt Hamilton, Michael Veneziano of ESPN Stats & Info argued in December that he may not be affected. Michael looked at all of Hamilton's home runs from last season and figured that only one would not have gone out at Angel Stadium. In other words, when Hamilton hits them, he hits them a long way.

Zack Greinke, P, Dodgers. The other big free-agent signing of the offseason should enjoy his new home park. Dodger Stadium remains an excellent park for pitchers and Greinke has spent most of the past two seasons in Milwaukee, where the balls fly. Despite that, he pitched very well at home (2.98 ERA last season, which includes his time with the Angels, versus 3.98 on the road). If that home-field advantage carries over to Dodger Stadium, Greinke could be poised for the big season his contract suggests.

All Mariners hitters! The Mariners are moving in the fences -- primarily in left-center -- so after years of cool Pacific Northwest air swatting down fly balls and line drives, will Seattle hit better at home? This was a team that actually scored more runs on the road a year ago than the Rangers. We don't know the effect this will have on the Mariners' hitters (or how it will hurt Felix Hernandez and friends on the mound), but I suspect we'll see a few more runs scored this year at Safeco and the hitters will enjoy a little home cooking for a change.

Offseason report card: A's

February, 8, 2013
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2012 in review
Record: 94-68 (92-70 Pythagorean)
713 runs scored (8th in American League)
614 runs allowed (2nd in AL)

Big Offseason Moves
Traded Cliff Pennington and Yordy Cabrera to Arizona for Chris Young. Re-signed free agent Bartolo Colon. Signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. Acquired John Jaso in three-way deal that sent A.J. Cole to Washington. Traded Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi to Houston for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez. Lost free agents Brandon McCarthy, Stephen Drew and Jonny Gomes.


More than anything, Billy Beane improved Oakland's athleticism and versatility. He lost two designated-hitter types in Carter and Gomes, but acquired an elite defensive center fielder in Young and picked up two infielders to go along with the return of Scott Sizemore (the team's best hitter in 2011 who missed all of 2012). Nakajima was a star player in Japan and since Lowrie's range at short is limited, the A's are counting on Nakajima to live up to his defensive reputation. The loss of McCarthy will hurt, but re-signing Colon helps maintain their rotation depth. For the tight-budgeted A's, a solid offseason that gives manager Bob Melvin multiple options around the diamond.

Position Players

As you can see from the projected lineup, there is a lot of unsettled aspect to Oakland's starting nine, but in a good way. Melvin will be able to mix and match and the depth gives the A's injury insurance.

But how good is the lineup? The A's set an all-time strikeout record last season and hit just .238. They did hit better with runners in scoring position -- .265 -- which is one reason they ranked eighth in runs despite finishing 12th in on-base percentage and ninth in slugging percentage. Three reasons to like Oakland's chances to score more runs this year, however: The second basemen hit .228 with five home runs; the third basemen had a .280 OBP, lowest in the AL; and the shortstops had a .272 OBP, again lowest in the AL.

And a fourth reason: Yoenis Cespedes surprised everyone by hitting .292/.356/.505. Very nice numbers. Those could be big numbers this year.

Pitching Staff

Either you believe in Oakland's young starters or you don't. I'm a believer. Remember that the best of the group might be Brett Anderson, and he made just seven starts in 2012 after returning from Tommy John surgery. Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone and A.J. Griffin enter their second seasons with playoff experience under their belts and Colon returns after his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Dan Straily and Travis Blackley provide depth.


If we're going to nitpick, it's that it's not a big strikeout rotation. The A's ranked 10th in the AL strikeout rate among starting pitchers at 16.6 percent -- more than 5 percent less than Tampa Bay's 21.9 mark. But guess which staff tied for the lowest walk rate? The A's won't beat themselves and they pitch to their big home ballpark -- where Young, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick have the speed to run down a lot of flyballs.


If you watched the A's down the stretch, you saw the hard-throwing trio of Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle dominate the late innings. Those three combined for a 2.49 ERA over 195 innings; not bad for a minor free-agent signing, a throw-in in the Trevor Cahill trade and a guy playing first base in the minors in 2011. All told, opponents hit .206 off the Oakland pen, second-lowest in the league to the Rays' .205 mark. There's depth behind those three guys as well.

Good rotation. Good pen. Some will predict regression from this group, but I expect another solid season in which the A's once again rank among the AL leaders in fewest runs allowed.


Jarrod ParkerESPN Stats & InformationJarrod Parker's 3.8 WAR ranked 10th among AL pitchers in 2012.
Heat Map to Watch
Beane acquired Parker from the Diamondbacks and the rookie right-hander showed why he was highly rated coming up through the Arizona system. His changeup made many left-handed hitters look foolish at the plate -- in 140 plate appearances ending with that pitch, they hit .163/.216/.194, with just three extra-base hits (two doubles, one triple). It's one of the best pitches in the game and the reason I expect Parker to have another solid season.

Overall Grade

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How many games will the A's win?

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Many won't believe in the A's simply because they were such a big surprise a year ago. But I'm trying to find reasons to expect a decline and am having trouble identifying them. OK, the offense was sort of one-dimensional last season; but the A's basically received nothing from three positions and they have likely upgrades at all three spots. I didn't even mention Jaso above; if he hits like he did with Seattle, he's another plus at the plate (though the Mariners clearly didn't like his defense behind the plate).

OK, maybe you don't believe in Reddick and Cespedes and Brandon Moss. I do. I think they return to the playoffs.

Planning a Boston bounce-back in 2013

November, 23, 2012
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So, how about that AL East? We know the Blue Jays have been busy, and the Yankees will be. The Rays can't be counted out and the Orioles just proved nothing's certain. What's a fading former contender like the Boston Red Sox to do?

It would be easy to blast to the foundations and start dealing away everyone who might be a free agent after 2013 -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Jarrod Saltalamacchia among others -- but I doubt that's why they re-signed David Ortiz, and it probably wouldn't help them talk Dustin Pedroia into signing a contract extension. So instead, let's say the Red Sox make a real effort to contend again, shy of making any huge financial commitments, but shoring up the hand they've got and making a play to get back to October. Could they make that happen?

What do they need? I'd argue two big areas would have to be addressed: A front-end rotation starter who ranks up there with Lester at the very least, and offensive upgrades wherever possible, especially at first base and the outfield.

The rotation's fairly straightforward, because to keep up in the AL East's arms race, the Red Sox need to shore up a rotation that let them down in 2011, delivering only 72 quality starts last year. Hoping for rebound seasons from Lester and Clay Buchholz may be reasonable, and counting on John Lackey to come back and be a solid mid-rotation horse will help, but it isn't enough.

On offense, let's face it, an outfield blend of just-added Jonny Gomes plus Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeney doesn't add up to two well-stocked corners. And at first base, settling for some combination of Mauro Gomez and Jerry Sands also isn't going to get it done; outside of Albuquerque's extra-friendly confines, Sands hit a relatively unimpressive .278/.350/.510 in the hitter-friendly PCL in his second season in the circuit. Take that down a few pegs in the majors, and you won't get much O from an offense-first position.

General manager Ben Cherington's cupboard isn't bare. The Red Sox have a few young veterans who might fill people's needs at up-the-middle positions, notably Saltalamacchia and Kalish. In and of themselves they're not guys who will put Boston over the top, now or ever, but that's perhaps the Red Sox's area of surplus. As Salty heads into his age-28 season after belting 25 bombs in 2012, he's already as good as he's going to get, and while Kalish has had his moments at the lower levels over a long minor-league apprenticeship, he's no Ellsbury. Their value may never be higher, so better to shop them now and address the Red Sox's needs.

(Read full post)

Why each team can win it all

October, 4, 2012
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With help from the blog network writers, here are reasons each team can win the World Series.

St. Louis Cardinals
1. A potent, balanced lineup. The Cardinals had the best on-base percentage in baseball, including four starters -- Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, David Freese and Yadier Molina -- with a .370 OBP or better, and that doesn’t even include two of their most dangerous sluggers, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig.

2. Deep and solid starting rotation. Cardinals starters featured the second-best fielding-independent pitching in the majors, and Chris Carpenter has rejoined the staff just in time for the playoffs.

3. Playoff experience. If there’s an advantage to be gained from experience, the Cardinals have it, with nearly three-quarters of their championship team returning to the tournament.

4. "The postseason is a crapshoot." As a wild-card team, the Cardinals proved this last year by beating a dominant regular-season team in the Phillies in a short series, then the powerful Rangers in the World Series.

5. They’re saving their best ball for last -- again. As with the 2011 squad, the Cardinals are coming together at the right time. They won their last two series of the season against potential playoff foes Washington and Cincinnati and their regulars are generally healthy.
--Matt Philip, Fungoes.net

Atlanta Braves
The biggest thing the Braves need to do this postseason is hit left-handed pitching. For the year, they have an 85 wRC+ compared to the league average of 100 against left-handed pitching, the lowest of any of the playoff teams. If they win the play-in game against the Cardinals on Friday, they could face three left-handed starting pitchers in the first round in Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler and John Lannan.

On the pitching front, Kris Medlen has taken the ace role of the staff, but the Braves will specifically need Mike Minor and Tim Hudson to perform at a high level to compete with the other National League teams. Defensively the Braves have been stellar, so the key for all of their starters will be to avoid free passes and long balls. They do not have an overpowering or star-filled staff as other rotations do, meaning their starters will need to rely on command and pitch sequencing to perform well against upper-tier offenses.

If the Braves get solid pitching performances from Medlen and Minor, and manage to scrape enough runs across against left-handed starters and relievers, they should be able to advance through the playoffs and potentially win their first World Series since 1995.
--Ben Duronio, Capitol Avenue Club

Cincinnati Reds
Here are five reasons that there will be a celebration in Fountain Square the first weekend in November:

1. The bullpen. This is the Reds' most obvious advantage. Their bullpen ERA ranks first in baseball at 2.65. How deep is this bullpen? One of these pitchers probably isn't going to make the postseason roster: Logan Ondrusek (3.46 ERA), Alfredo Simon (2.66) or J.J. Hoover (2.05).

2. Jay Bruce. The Reds' right fielder is one of the streakiest hitters in the game. If he gets hot, the Reds will be tough to beat. Bruce was twice named National League Player of the Week this year. In those two weeks, Bruce hit .488 AVG/.542 OBP/1.186 SLG (1.728 OPS). If Bruce gets on a hot streak like that, he could carry the Reds to the 11 wins they need.

3. The defense. Defensive metrics are flaky, but when you look at all of them, you start to learn something. The Reds rank near the top of almost every leaderboard. Seven of their eight starters are plus defenders, and three-quarters of the infielders have Gold Gloves on their shelves.

4. Ryan Hanigan. One of the things I'm most excited about this postseason is the broader baseball world discovering Ryan Hanigan. He does a lot well. His .365 OBP is better than any Red but Joey Votto. He walked more than he struck out. He threw out 48.5 percent of would-be base stealers -- the best in baseball -- and his handling of the pitching staff has the Reds' coaching staff speaking about him in hushed tones.

5. Luck, or something like it. The Reds outperformed their Pythagorean W-L by 7 games. Since Sept. 1, they have an 8-3 record in one-run games. This could mean they're due for a reversion to the mean. I like to think it means they're destined to win the Series.
--Chris Garber, Redleg Nation

Washington Nationals
1. The one-two punch of Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. Few teams could lose a starter like Stephen Strasburg and still claim that starting pitching is a strength, but the Nats can. Cy Young candidate Gonzalez leads the NL in strikeouts per 9 innings and is second in hits per 9. Zimmermann rarely allows a walk, and has an ERA under 3.00. I'd match Gonzalez and him up with any team's one-two.

2. The infield defense. Each position is manned by someone you could argue is one of the majors' top 10 fielders at his spot. The staff throws a lot of ground balls. Put them together and you get a lot of outs.

3. The re-emergence of Drew Storen. Tyler Clippard had been manning the closer role effectively but has recently looked very shaky. No matter. Storen returned to the 'pen and has been dominant, allowing just one run in his past 16 appearances. He’ll be closing games going forward.

4. The offense with no holes. While there is no individual superstar, six of the Nats' eight regulars had an OPS+ between 112 and 128 for the season. A seventh, Danny Espinosa, would have been right there as well if not for a hideous April. The weak link is Kurt Suzuki -- and he hit over .300 in September.

5. Davey Johnson. Outside of Jayson Werth, this team has little postseason experience, but this is the fourth team Davey has led to the playoffs, and he’s won five postseason series. You have to expect that he can guide this team through the highs and lows of October baseball.
--Harper Gordek, Nats Baseball

San Francisco Giants
1. Buster Posey. His second half was off-the-charts awesome, hitting .385/.456/.646. He was the best hitter in the majors after the All-Star break -- even better than Miguel Cabrera.

2. The rest of the Giants' offense. Even though they ranked last in the NL in home runs in the second half, they still managed to rank second in runs per game. Marco Scutaro proved to be a huge acquisition, hitting .362 with the Giants.

3. Matt Cain. Remember his dominant postseason performance in 2010? In three starts, he allowed just one unearned run. This time around he's the Giants' No. 1 guy.

4. Sergio Romo. The Giants rode Brian Wilson a lot in 2010, but this time they'll have Romo, who could be just as dominant closing games. He allowed just 37 hits and 10 walks in 55.1 innings while striking out 63. He was equally crushing against lefties (.491 OPS allowed) and righties (.537).

5. Bruce Bochy. He's considered by many to be the best manager in the game. If a series comes down to in-game tactics, most evaluators would rate Bochy superior to Dusty Baker, Fredi Gonzalez and Mike Matheny.
--David Schoenfield

Baltimore Orioles
1. No. 1 -- and, you could certainly argue Nos. 2-5 as well -- is the bullpen. The O's went 73-0 when leading after the seventh inning. As relievers, Tommy Hunter is touching 100 mph and Brian Matusz has struck out 19 batters in 13 innings. Then there's Troy Patton (2.43 ERA), Pedro Strop (2.44), Darren O'Day (2.28) and Jim Johnson (2.49, 51 saves) to finish things out. While it might not be the best bullpen ever -- or even the best bullpen in the league this year -- it may have been the most "effective" 'pen in history, as noted by its record-setting (record-obliterating, really) +14 win probability added. Maybe 16 consecutive extra-inning wins and a 29-9 record in one-run games (the best since the 1800s) is partially a fluke, but having a quality bullpen certainly doesn't hurt in keeping that going.

2. Buck Showalter. Aside from bullpen management that's been so effective, Buck seems to just make all the right moves, putting guys in positions to succeed and making in-game decisions that seem to work even when they probably shouldn't. Sac bunt? You get the run you need. Hit and run? Batted ball goes right to where the second baseman was. Bring in Chris Davis to pitch? Two shutout innings, a pair of strikeouts (including Adrian Gonzalez!), and a win. Judging managers is tricky, but it would be mighty hard to argue that Buck isn't a net plus.

3. A surging offense. Overall, the O's were a little below average, but since the beginning of September they've actually been one of the league's better hitting teams (with an AL-best 50 home runs). It's mostly been the Davis show recently (.320/.397/.660, 10 home runs), but Matt Wieters (.296/.389/.541), Adam Jones (.295/.343/.504) and Nate McLouth (!) (.280/.355/.456) haven't been slouches either.

4. An improved defense. The glove work was often sloppy early in the year, all around the diamond, but not so much lately (largely since Manny Machado was called up). Machado is a shortstop (with the range that implies) playing third base, and adjusting both well and quickly to it. J.J. Hardy is one of the game's better shortstops. Whoever is playing second is decent (Robert Andino or Ryan Flaherty). Mark Reynolds may have found a home at first base, even if he's not a Gold Glover there (yet). The O's fielding (via FanGraphs) for the first four months: -20 runs. Fielding since: +0.

5. Orioles magic. Even if you count the O's as underdogs in each playoff series -- and really, you probably should -- they still have a 3-5 percent chance of winning it all (those chances double if they knock off Texas, by the way).
--Daniel Moroz, Camden Depot

Texas Rangers
1. An obvious on-paper advantage in the wild-card game. Yu Darvish has been dominant down the stretch with a 2.13 ERA and just 10 walks over his final seven starts. He's a strikeout pitcher against a lineup that strikes out a lot. Meanwhile, Joe Saunders is 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts in Arlington.

2. Big-game experience. Matt Harrison had a terrific season, and having started a Game 7 of the World Series won't be fazed by the postseason. Derek Holland has had an inconsistent season but, as he showed in the World Series last year, is certainly capable of huge performances. Ryan Dempster also has playoff experience with the Cubs.

3. Defense. The infield defense with Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler is arguably the best in baseball and was a key component to the Rangers' World Series run a year ago.

4. Josh Hamilton. If these are his final days with the Rangers, you get the feeling he'll be focused to go out with a bang, especially after his disastrous game in the regular-season finale. After his hot start, Hamilton recovered from his slump in June and July to hit 14 home runs over the final two months.

5. One game equals momentum. OK, the series sweep in Oakland was a disaster, but all it takes is one win over Baltimore and the Rangers can forget what happened down the stretch. Do that and this team is still the scary opponent everyone figured it was a few days ago.
--David Schoenfield

Oakland Athletics
1. Sometimes a very good overall team matches up poorly against a playoff opponent. As far as lefty-righty goes, the A's won't have that issue. General manager Billy Beane gave manager Bob Melvin the pieces to construct platoons, including at first base (Brandon Moss/Chris Carter), designated hitter (Seth Smith/Jonny Gomes) and catcher (Derek Norris/George Kottaras). Further, the top two everyday hitters, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes, bat from opposite sides of the plate, and leadoff man Coco Crisp, a switch-hitter, has very similar career splits from both sides of the plate.

2. The top three relievers, Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, have pitched remarkably well. All three bring gas. Cook can struggle with his command and Doolittle might hit a rookie wall any minute, but Balfour's 3.01 FIP is the highest of the group.

3. The A's are third in baseball in runs scored after the All-Star break. Ahead of the Yankees. Ahead of the Rangers. Well ahead of the Tigers. The current roster has been legitimately excellent on offense.

4. Defensive efficiency is a very simple metric: It is the rate at which a team turns balls in play into outs. It doesn't account for everything, but it does measure the core skill of a team's run-prevention unit. The A's are third in baseball in this number. Either the pitching staff doesn't give up hard-hit balls, the defense catches everything in sight, or both. Regardless of the why, the what is indisputable: Hits don't happen against the A's.

5. By record, the Tigers are the worst squad in the playoffs, yet the A's, the No. 2 AL team, play them in the first round because of the structure of playoff seeding. It likely isn't a huge advantage (the A's did just sweep Texas, after all), but every little bit counts on the way to a trophy.
--Jason Wojciechowski, Beaneball

Detroit Tigers
1. Miguel Cabrera. MVP or not, the Triple Crown speaks for itself. He is the best pure hitter in baseball and, unlike last year, is healthy heading into the postseason.

2. Prince Fielder was the American League’s only .300/.400/.500 hitter, and he’s not even the best player on his own team. He isn’t completely helpless against LOOGYs either, posting an OPS of .808 against left-handed pitchers this season.

3. Justin Verlander, who has been just as good as he was in 2011. If Mother Nature cooperates this year, he will put a serious dent in that career 5.57 postseason ERA.

4. The rest of the rotation. With Doug Fister finally healthy, Max Scherzer’s breakout second half, and the acquisition of Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers have the best playoff rotation in the big leagues. The four starters (Verlander included) combined for a 2.27 ERA in September and October.

5. Jim Leyland. The Tigers’ skipper has been ridiculed by the fan base for most of the year for the team’s lackluster performance, most of which was a mirage created by its early struggles. He has had his finger on this team’s pulse all season and deserves credit for managing the outrageous expectations for a team with more flaws than people realized. Now he has the Tigers playing their best baseball heading into October and is the biggest reason why they could be parading down Woodward Avenue in early November.
--Rob Rogacki, Walkoff Woodward

New York Yankees
1. The rotation. This looks like the strongest playoff rotation the Yankees have had in years, even better than 2009, when Joe Girardi rode three starters (CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett) to the World Series title. Sabathia has battled a sore elbow but looked good down the stretch, including eight-inning efforts in his final two starts. Pettitte is 40 years old but still looks like Andy Pettitte. Hiroki Kuroda had a quietly excellent season, finishing eighth in the AL in ERA and 10th in OBP allowed among starters. Phil Hughes is a solid No. 4.

2. Home-field advantage. While this generally isn't a big factor in baseball, the Yankees' power comes into play with the short porch at Yankee Stadium. Earning the No. 1 seed was probably more important to the Yankees than any other team.

3. Robinson Cano. He's locked in right now, going 24-for-39 in his final nine games, all multihit games. Don't be surprised if he has a monster postseason.

4. Lineup depth and versatility. In this age of bullpen matchups, the Yankees are difficult to match up with. They can run out a lineup that goes right-left-right-left-switch-switch-left-left/right-right. You'd better have a deep bullpen to beat this team in the late innings.

5. Health. While Mark Teixeira may not be 100 percent, at least he's back in the lineup, meaning the Yankees finally have all their position players available (even Brett Gardner may make the postseason roster as a pinch runner/defensive replacement). They've been dinged up all season, but Sabathia and Pettitte should be strong. The only question: The Yankees haven't won a World Series without Mariano Rivera since 1978.
--David Schoenfield

Keep on clapping, Oakland A's

September, 24, 2012
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When the Oakland A's hit three home runs against the Yankees in the 13th inning on Saturday, they apparently celebrated in a manner that Yankees infielder Eric Chavez called "high schoolish" and "pretty unprofessional," referring to some sort of orchestrated cheering and clapping celebration.

I re-watched the inning on the YES network broadcast and didn't see what Chavez was referring to, but here's my take: Who cares? I agree with Oakland designated hitter Jonny Gomes, one of the few veterans on the team, who told ESPNNewYork:
    "Listen, we've got 17 rookies in here, you know? I mean, these guys are playing the game to have fun, you know? These guys aren't playing the game to go to arbitration. These guys aren't playing the game for free agency. They're playing the game for fun, you know? And when you take fun out of the game, you're going to have 17 rookies crumble."
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What do you think of the A's cheering and clapping in the dugout?

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A's manager Bob Melvin also defended his club, saying his players respect the game on the field. "If you try to keep things loose in the dugout, there's nothing wrong with that," he said.

The last thing baseball needs to crack down on are players celebrating and showing emotion. There is already too much of an old-school, "don't show up the other team" mentality in the sport. Do we want to see MLB turn into the No Fun League? No.

For those of us groomed on baseball in the '70s and '80s, there was actually more stuff that could be classified as "non-professional" back then, from Reggie Jackson lovingly staring at his home runs at home plate to Rickey Henderson's little dance and home-run trot to Pascual Perez's theatrics or Al Hrabosky's weird antics before pitches. It was all part of the entertainment product. Heck, think of Gaylord Perry's ridiculous gyrations before each pitch when he'd touch his jersey and cap as if were he loading up the baseball (which, at times, he undoubtedly was). Could you imagine such nonsense today?

There's a fine line, of course. Some of the NFL celebrations went too far or players were doing touchdown celebrations and sack dances while trailing by 21 points. That's absurdity and self-glorification, not celebrating the moment.

But cheering and clapping from the dugout? Hey, it's not for the buttoned-down Yankees that's fine, but it seems to work for the A's.

Now, you have to be careful, I suppose: The Yankees came back and won that game.


I don't yet know if 2012 will be considered a baseball season to remember. We tend to appreciate the great teams and memorable moments -- last year's dramatic final day of the regular season or the World Series Game 6 for the ages -- more than the beautiful, long grind of surprises and melodrama that is played out over 180 days and 162 games per team.

But I'll say this: 2012 has a chance to be one of those years, doesn't it? You can't start wherever you want -- the perfect games and no-hitters, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, Josh Hamilton's four-homer game or Derek Jeter's continued excellence, R.A. Dickey's knuckleball, Aroldis Chapman's fastball and Felix Hernandez's changeup -- and the list goes on and on. At the top of that list right now: The Oakland A's, everybody's spring training joke, now co-owners of the second-best record in the American League.

The other day I wrote that the Baltimore Orioles are starting to look like a team of destiny, and they didn't disappoint over the weekend, taking two of three at Yankee Stadium to claw to two games behind the Bronx Bombers. The same can be said of the A's. Like the Orioles, we waited through June and July and August for the fall to come. Well, fall is right around the corner and the A's are not only still here, they're getting better and breathing down the necks of the Texas Rangers, three games out of first place after winning their ninth game in a row on Sunday.

The A's absolutely destroyed the remnants of the Boston Red Sox over the weekend -- 20-2, 7-1 and 6-2 -- and have outscored their opponents by the dominating total of 72-22 during the winning streak. Here's a fun stat: Ten days ago the A's ranked 13th in the AL in runs scored, just 10 runs ahead of the Mariners. Now they rank ninth, after hitting .307 during this streak with 20 home runs and 29 doubles. OK, a 20-run game will inflate those numbers (thanks for showing up, Red Sox), but Oakland's lineup has steadily been improving all season:

April: .209/.280/.330
May: .210/.295/.334
June: .250/.327/.425
July: .249/.312/.437
August: .258/.322/.454

How do you explain something like this? We can start with Chris Carter and Brandon Moss, who have turned into a powerful platoon at first base. A season ago, A's first basemen hit .219 with seven home runs. Led by Carter (.272/.375/.580 after his June 29 recall from Triple-A), A's first basemen are hitting .232 but with 26 home runs. You can start with Josh Reddick (28 home runs) and Yoenis Cespedes (.297/.356/.493) or Coco Crisp (.288/.354/.550 since the All-Star break) and Jonny Gomes (.942 OPS since the break).

A team that was hitting .208 on June 1 is now contending for the league's best record. A season for the ages? Maybe.

Brett Anderson was the winning pitcher in Sunday's 6-2 win, his third win in three starts since returning from last year's Tommy John surgery. I think his quote says it all about this club from nowhere: "It's crazy. Who would have predicted that [on Sept. 2] we'd be tied with the Yankees for the same record? Everything's working right now -- offense, defense, pitching. When that's happening, special things are going to happen."

Most amazing is the complete transformation from last year's squad that won 74 games.

  • Of the 12 players with the most plate appearances on the club in 2011, only four are in top 12 in plate appearances in 2012. And one of those, catcher Kurt Suzuki, was traded several weeks ago.
  • The team's two best hitters by OPS a season ago were Josh Willingham, who left as a free agent, and Scott Sizemore, who tore his ACL in spring training and will miss the entire season.
  • General manager Billy Beane traded away the two starting pitchers who pitched the most innings in 2011, Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill. The one holdover from the rotation, Brandon McCarthy, spent time on the DL and has made just 17 starts. Oh, Beane also traded away the team's closer.
  • Speaking of injuries, are you hearing a lot of complaining from Yankees and Red Sox fans about the injuries their teams have suffered this year? Besides Sizemore and now Brandon Inge, the A's have run through 10 different starting pitchers (not including Dallas Braden, out all season with a shoulder injury), missed their best hitter (Cespedes) for a spell and Bob Melvin has used five different starting shortstops, including Stephen Drew, acquired from the Diamondbacks on Aug. 20. Drew, one of the few players on the team with postseason experience, went 3-for-4 on Sunday with his first home run.
  • Bartolo Colon, one of the starters who remained healthy and in the rotation, was suspended for the rest of the season after a positive PED test.

Executive of the year? Beane basically lost all his best players from 2011, rebuilt an entire team and on Sept. 2 the A's and their $55.3 million Opening Day payroll (29th in baseball) have the same record as the mighty Yankees and their $198 million payroll.

The A's of a decade ago -- the "Moneyball" A's of book and movie fame -- were a different sort of team. In reality, that was a team of stars, not a patched-together roster of youngsters, castoffs, reclamation projects and one-more-chance guys. When I think of surprise teams and great seasons, I think back to 1991, when we saw the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins both go from last place to the World Series. But in retrospect, those teams were in a far different position than these A's. The Braves were a young team that came together all at once -- Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery, David Justice, Ron Gant and so on -- while the Twins were more of a veteran team (Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Greg Gagne) that added reinforcements in free agents Jack Morris and Chili Davis plus rookies Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Erickson.

There was absolutely no way to predict this team would be in the pennant race as we head into September. Maybe the carpet ride will stop short of the postseason -- of Oakland's 29 remaining games, 23 are against teams with winning records and the other six are against Seattle, which is tied with Baltimore for the second-best record in the AL since the All-Star break.

"We're not looking too far ahead," Reddick said. "I don't think we're going to worry about who we're tied with right now. All that matters is when that last game of the year comes along, where we're at at that point."

We'll get to that last game of the year ... but I already can't wait. I have a pretty good feeling we're in for something special.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Derek Norris Kyle Terada/US PresswireDerek Norris applies the tag to Podzilla, but the Red Sox are no longer the 'it' team.

Reds getting production from all over

May, 24, 2012
5/24/12
11:55
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The Reds received a game-changing grand slam in the sixth inning to take a 5-2 lead against the Braves on Thursday night, leading to their sixth consecutive victory and their first sweep of the Braves since 1980. It wasn’t superstar Joey Votto who provided the knockout punch, nor was it mainstays Brandon Phillips or Jay Bruce. The home run came off the bat of one of the Reds’ many unheralded young players: 23-year-old rookie catcher Devin Mesoraco.

The blast also marked Cincinnati’s 10th home run of the series, leading to 14 of its 16 runs in the series. Winning with home runs is nothing new for this Reds squad, not at Great American Ball Park and certainly not in the Joey Votto era. But Votto didn’t hit a single homer in the series. Neither did Bruce. Phillips hit two. Instead of the three stalwarts on this Reds squad, it was the supporting cast leading the way: Mesoraco (1), Drew Stubbs (3), Zack Cozart (2), Todd Frazier (1) and Mike Leake (1).

[+] EnlargeCincinnati Reds
AP Photo/Al BehrmanDevin Mesoraco's grand slam in the sixth inning on Thursday put the Reds ahead for good.
Leake’s homer backed up a quality start on Monday, and the other home runs backed up quality starts from Mat Latos (Tuesday), Bronson Arroyo (Wednesday) and Homer Bailey (Thursday). The Reds saw scoreless outings from five different relievers and saves converted by three. To accomplish this in any series is excellent; to do so against the second-highest-scoring team in the league in one of the best hitters’ parks in all of baseball is another.

Depth and pitching have set this year’s Reds squad apart from last year’s version, a preseason favorite for the National League Central crown that was eventually lapped by both the Brewers and Cardinals. The 2011 season saw a 156 OPS+ from Votto and 119 OPS+ marks from both Phillips and Bruce. No other full-time starters came close; only part-time players Chris Heisey (113), Ramon Hernandez (113) and Miguel Cairo (101) even mustered an above average mark.

This season has seen the likes of Paul Janish, Edgar Renteria and Jonny Gomes excised in favor of Cozart (.727 OPS) and Frazier (.887). It has seen Stubbs come to life after three horrible series to open the year -- he owns a .266/.324/.430 line since April 17 to go with his typical fantastic defense. It’s seen Ryan Hanigan pick up his game as well, with a .794 OPS in 27 games as the starting catcher.

Johnny Cueto owns a phenomenal 2.22 ERA over 33 starts dating back to May 2011, but it was the other four Cincinnati starters who held down the Braves this week. Latos started out cold, but has a 2.35 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 23 innings in May. Arroyo has a 121 ERA+ after allowing a near-record 46 home runs last season, owning an absurd 44-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first 58.2 innings. Bailey and Leake have had their rough spots, but they fit well in the back of the Reds’ rotation -- a tough job with half of their starts coming in the bandbox in Cincinnati.

The bullpen has established itself as one of the league’s best. Regardless of what one thinks Aroldis Chapman’s role should be, it is undeniable that he is the league’s best reliever. In the four-game sweep of the Braves, he pitched two more scoreless innings. Chapman fronts a bullpen full of talented pitchers: Jose Arredondo, Logan Ondrusek and Alfredo Simon all own ERA+ marks of 137 or higher. Sean Marshall shouldn’t be counted out either despite a rough start -- he was one of the best relievers in baseball over the past two seasons.

The Reds currently sit atop the NL Central, with a half-game lead over the Cardinals. As usual, Votto, Phillips, Cueto and Bruce lead the way. But if the Reds maintain their current success and carry it through to a playoff run, it will be because this year they didn’t have to do it all themselves.

Kernels of Wisdom: Week in review

April, 14, 2012
4/14/12
1:48
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  • Austin Jackson scored a run in each of the Tigers' first six games this season. That was the longest streak by a Detroit batter to start a season since Darrell Evans crossed the plate in each of the first eight contests in 1986. And it's the longest streak by a Tigers leadoff hitter since 1939, when one of Jackson's center field predecessors, Barney McCosky, also scored in the first eight games of the season. In game seven on Friday, however, Jackson was on base only once (he walked in the eighth) and was stranded at third.
  • [+] EnlargeAustin Jackson
    Duane Burleson/AP PhotoAustin Jackson is having a solid season for the Tigers early on.
    The Red Sox managed to blow a three-run lead in the ninth and a two-run lead in the 11th in losing a wild one to Detroit on Sunday, 13-12. It was the first time Boston had scored a dozen runs and lost since May 31, 1970, when they were on the wrong end of a 22-13 slugfest with the White Sox at Fenway.
  • Alfredo Aceves gave up all three ninth-inning runs in Sunday’s game without retiring a batter, making him just the second Red Sox pitcher in the live-ball era to work zero innings pitched in each of his first two appearances of the year. Guido Grilli faced one batter each in the first two games of the 1966 season, and didn't get either of them out.
  • The Tigers used eight pitchers in that 13-12, come-from-behind win over the Red Sox. It marked just the second time in 70 years that Detroit had come back to win a game in which their starter surrendered seven-plus runs without getting through the third inning. Omar Olivares was the starter in 1997 when the Tigers rallied to beat Baltimore 11-8.
  • On Sunday, the Yankees managed just three hits -- all doubles. That same day, the Twins had just two hits as Jason Hammel posted the longest no-hit bid of the year so far. Both Minnesota knocks were doubles. It's the first time in almost three years that two teams have done that on the same day. But then … the Royals did it against Oakland (three hits, three doubles) on Monday … and the Athletics did it against Kansas City (one hit) on Tuesday.It's the first time since at least 1917 that there have been three straight days where a team had every hit be a double.
  • On Sunday, Jeff Samardzija (making just his sixth career start) was afforded the chance at a complete game. He had to be pulled after giving up a two-out homer that pulled the Nationals to within a run. Four days later, Matt Garza was en route to a shutout against Milwaukee, but was pulled after committing a two-out error that allowed the inning to continue. So the Cubs had two pitchers this week leave the game after 8.2 innings pitched.The Cubs hadn't had two pitchers work exactly 8.2 innings in the same season since 1995 (Jaime Navarro and Frank Castillo).
  • In Sunday's Cardinals-Brewers game, you could say the teams spread it around. In the 9-3 Milwaukee victory, the 12 runs were charged to eight different pitchers. In fact, every hurler who appeared in the game ended up with at least one earned run on his record.It's the first game in eight seasons where the teams combined to use eight or more pitchers, and every single one of them got charged with at least one earned run. The last time that happened was on Sept. 9, 2004, when the Royals erupted for a 26-5 victory over the Tigers in the first game of a doubleheader.
  • James Shields got called for a balk Wednesday on an illegal pickoff throw to third. That was in the bottom of the fifth -- after Justin Verlander had been called for his own balk in the top of the fifth.It was the first MLB game to feature balks by both teams in the same inning since Aug. 16, 2004, when the Rangers' Mickey Callaway and then-Indian CC Sabathia committed them in the fourth inning of a 5-2 Texas win.
  • In that same game, Verlander threw eight shutout innings before getting tagged for four runs and the loss in the top of the ninth. He became the first pitcher to throw eight scoreless innings, then surrender four (or more) runs in the ninth to take a loss since Tim Hudson did it for the Braves on Sept. 22, 2005. Hudson allowed a three-run homer to Shane Victorino of the Phillies for most of that damage before Macay McBride had to come in and get the final out.
  • In Monday's Yankees-Orioles game, Derek Jeter went a perfect 4-for-4 for the visitors, while Matt Wieters went a perfect 4-for-4 in the home dugout. It was the first game this year to feature two players with four-hit games.Since the start of 2010, there's been only one other MLB game where a player for each team went a perfect 4-for-4 or better -- and it was between the Orioles and Yankees. On July 30, 2011, Vladimir Guerrero’s 4-for-4 was the bright spot for Baltimore as the Yankees -- led by Robinson Cano's 5-for-5 -- demolished them 17-3.
  • In Yu Darvish's much-anticipated major league debut on Monday, he allowed five earned runs, four walks, hit a batter, threw one wild pitch -- and won the game because the Rangers spotted him eight runs.He's the first pitcher in the live-ball era to win his major league debut while giving up all of those stats (or worse). Even take away the wild pitch, and only one other hurler has hit five earned runs, four walks, one HBP and a win in his debut. That was the Blue Jays' Matt Williams on Aug. 2, 1983.
  • Jeff Gray of the Twins earned the first one-pitch victory of the season on Wednesday. Gray threw his one and only pitch to Peter Bourjos to end the top of the seventh, after which the Twins took the lead in the bottom of the inning. The Twins, conveniently, recorded the last one-pitch win last season, by Matt Capps on Sept. 23.
  • Speaking of pitching oddities, the Royals-Athletics game was finally called in the top of the eighth inning on Tuesday after its second rain delay. Aaron Crow, who had pitched the seventh for the Royals, was credited with his first career save. Technically, he does meet the save criteria set forth in the rule book, notably that of being the "finishing pitcher" in a game his team won.The last player to be credited with a save prior to the ninth inning was Tony Sipp of the Indians, who received one in a rain-shortened affair with Tampa Bay on July 23, 2010. That also remains Sipp's only career save.
  • On Tuesday, Freddy Garcia of the Yankees famously threw five wild pitches to tie the single-game American League record for such a thing. He was also the first pitcher to throw five-plus wild pitches in an outing of less than five innings. But two of those wild pitches scored runs for Baltimore. Another run scored on an error. That made the Orioles the first team in two years to score four-plus runs with one or fewer RBI. (The one RBI they did get came on a home run.)For the Orioles, it was just the second time since moving to Baltimore that they scored four runs on one or zero RBI. The other was in their inaugural year: On June 27, 1954, they scored three times on errors by the Athletics before finally walking off on an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th.
  • Oakland "walked off" in unusual fashion on Wednesday when Jonathan Broxton plunked Yoenis Cespedes and Jonny Gomes to force in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th. It was the first game to end with back-to-back hit batters since Sept. 2, 1966, when Stu Miller of the Orioles hit Al Weis and Tommie Agee of the White Sox in the bottom of the 11th. (I admit that Elias found this a lot quicker than I would have.) However, Gomes became the first Athletics batter to get hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in extra innings since at least 1947. (It had never happened in the Baseball Reference "play index" era.) It's also noteworthy that Oakland scored its two runs in the 12th without a base hit. The three runners ahead of Cespedes reached on two walks and an error.
  • Before Friday, there had been 36 double-digit strikeout games by teams this week (including seven games where both teams did it) but not one by a single pitcher. Max Scherzer's 11-strikeout outing on Friday afternoon broke that string.
  • In Wednesday's 17-8 eruption between the Giants and Rockies, there were four pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Jeremy Guthrie, Guillermo Mota, Jeremy Affeldt)who all gave up at least six hits and at least five runs. It's the first time that that has happened since July 17, 1998, when Seattle dropped an 18-5 score on the Royals at the Kingdome.(It is also very intriguing that, in that game, both teams posted a seven-run inning. Except I don't know of a good way to search line scores.)

    By the way, on their next two games on Thursday and Friday, the Giants promptly had two pitchers (Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain)carry no-hit bids into the sixth inning. The only team to have bids in consecutive games last season was also the Giants. That happened on May 8 and 10 by Ryan Vogelsong and Lincecum.
  • The Orioles and Blue Jays combined to hit seven home runs in Baltimore's 7-5 victory on Friday. All were solo shots. It's the first game with seven-plus home runs that were all solo since a July 20, 2010 game at Camden Yards between the Rays and Orioles.
  • There's always one guy left out.In the 10-9 "pitchers’ duel" between the Twins and Angels on Thursday, 17 of the 18 starters recorded at least one base hit. Howard Kendrick was the lone collar, going 0-for-4 plus a walk.

    It's the first nine-inning game this season to have 17 different starters record a base hit. There were three games last season where all 18 did.
  • Minnesota got a four-hit game from Denard Span and three-hit games from Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Danny Valencia. It's the first time the Twins have had four players with three hits, including at least one with four, since they dropped a 20-1 score on the White Sox on May 21, 2009.

Clearing the bases: Beanings and beatings

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
8:00
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First: Take your base! You figure when kids dream about winning the game, they don’t dream about doing it by getting beaned, right? Nobody does that, right? Well, the A’s won on Wednesday in the bottom of the 12th on a bases-loaded hit by pitch when the Royals’ Jonathan Broxton plunked Jonny Gomes.

[+] EnlargeJonny Gomes
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesA jubilant post-plunking Jonny Gomes pays it forward into the stands to some lucky fan.
Unusual? Of course. While Broxton’s pretty wild on his career, he’s not even in MLB’s top 1000 pitchers ever when it comes to plunking people. Yet according to ESPN Stats & Info, Broxton became the first pitcher to lose a game by hitting consecutive batters since Stu Miller achieved the feat in 1966 for the Orioles. I’m sure that’s one he’ll tell the grandkids.

Gomes may not be Carlos Quentin or Ron Hunt or the immortal Hughie Jennings when it comes to taking one for the team, but he does rate 58th all-time among batters with 1,200 or more career plate appearances by getting hit by a pitch 2.2 percent of the time. So maybe, if anyone dreamed the impossible dream of being a winner by taking one for the team, it might just be the transiently heroic Jonny Gomes.

Second: C’mon blue! Need a reason to beat the replay drum? Wednesday night’s Phillies-Marlins game gave us something avoidable yet dumb: Juan Pierre was out trying to steal second in the bottom of the third, but the fallible human charged with making the call blew it, giving the Phillies a shot to do some damage. They exploited that in full when Placido Polanco hit a ball that deflected off Josh Johnson to head into the hole at short, a hole emptied out because Reyes was moving to where the ball should have gone while Hanley Ramirez was covering third -- because Pierre had been ruled safe. Pierre scored on that infield single, and that combination of events -- umpire error plus a changed set of defensive responsibilities -- opened the floodgates.

Third: Box score confusion. Nothing beats a baseball bloodbath, and the 17-8 slugfest between the Giants and Rockies in Denver was a nice bit of mile-high mayhem as far as that goes. But the ugliest part came in a blown rundown in the bottom of the fifth, when Ramon Hernandez belted a single that plated Todd Helton, advanced Michael Cuddyer, who got hung up between home and third in a rundown. But Brett Pill committed two errors on the same play -- first with a wild throw home and then again in a flubbed rundown. Who do you think had a worse night of it in the aftermath: Pill, Giants manager Bruce Bochy or the official scorer?

Home: Tweet(s) of the Day. Because smart teams have a play book and they use it ... and smart people like Sam Miller noticed:
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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