If you read this website every day you know that at the start of this series against the Houston Astros I wrote about Minute Maid Park, its short corners and the need for pitchers to keep the ball in the middle of the field.
And Monday night that’s what Lance McCullers did.
The Astros rookie faced 26 batters; 23 of them struck out, walked or hit the ball up the middle or the other way. Three batters pulled the ball down a line: Jarrod Dyson led off the game with a double down the right field line, Salvador Perez homered to left, and Alex Gordon hit a groundball to the first baseman.
For most of the game McCullers kept Royals hitters from pulling the ball down the line to reach either of those short corners.
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Now let’s look at Joe Blanton.
The Royals starting pitcher struggled with command from the get go; he got out of the first inning but wasn’t so lucky in the second. An infield single and three walks led to two runs.
In the third inning Blanton threw Jose Altuve an 88-mph fastball on the inner half and Altuve pulled the ball into the short part of left field — the Astros were up 3-0. A walk and three singles later and it was Astros, 5-0.
Two innings later Brandon Finnegan was on the mound and made the mistake of throwing Chris Carter a hittable changeup. Carter is listed at 6’4” 250 pounds, so throwing a guy that size a poorly located 84-mph pitch will probably lead to bad things — and it did; Carter pulled the ball into left center for another homer. On the other hand, the ball went out over a sign that read 404, so you can’t totally blame a short corner for that one.
Nevertheless, when you watch the game tonight, pay attention to the catcher’s signs; if he puts down more than one finger it’s something off-speed (unless there’s a runner on second and they’re using multiple signs). And if a pitcher throws a hitter an off-speed pitch in Minute Maid Park, he needs to keep the ball down or the hitter’s going to get the ball up — and maybe out if he hits it down the line.
Back to that Oakland series: Look at all 30 teams and you’ll see that as of today the Athletics are third in runs scored, ninth in team batting average, ninth in on-base percentage, sixth in team ERA, seventh in opponents’ batting average and dead last in the American League West. So what gives?
How is a team in the top third of so many important categories getting such poor results?
If you watched them over the weekend and saw them kick the ball around like they were playing in a third-grade soccer game, you’ve probably got a decent idea: the Oakland A’s have more errors than any other big league team and are dead last in fielding percentage.
And speaking of poor performances over the weekend
In Sunday’s game Franklin Morales came out to pitch the seventh inning and people were asking — me included — what was up with Kelvin Herrera. The seventh is usually his inning.
If I’d been paying better attention I would have known nothing was up with Herrera, it was Greg Holland that was getting the day off. Herrera pitched the eighth and Wade Davis pitched the ninth.
Most of the time the math is pretty simple: if a reliever throws two days in a row, he’s likely to get the third day off. Holland threw both Friday and Saturday, so Sunday was his day of rest. You might see a reliever go three days in a row in a pinch, but most managers would prefer not to do that.
How the A’s made sure Holland was unavailable on Sunday
Because he threw Friday and Saturday, Holland was unavailable on Sunday, but Holland had to throw Friday because Franklin Morales came out to pitch the ninth with a four-run lead and turned it into a save situation when he gave up a run on a hit-by-pitch and a double.
Holland came on and got the last two outs and a save.
There’s always something to play for; you can be losing by four in the ninth, but if you can get on the board and force the other team to use their closer you might have an advantage two days later.
Because Holland pitched on Friday he wasn’t available Sunday, and while the A’s couldn’t take advantage, it gave them a better chance.