When you have a playoff race as entertaining as the one in the NL Central has been all season long, you hate to see this happen.
In yesterday afternoon’s game between the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Bucs lost infielder Jung Ho Kang for the season.
Kang’s knee bent the wrong way as Chris Coghlan came in for what appeared to be a clean take-out slide on the front-end of an attempted double play. (Kang has said he doesn’t hold Coghlan responsible.)
While he won’t win the award, Kang was sure to get some votes for Rookie of the Year, batting .287/.355/.461 with 15 HR and a 123 OPS+.
Kang started the year as sort of a part-time player, starting in just 3 of the Pirates’ first 12 games.
When Josh Harrison went down with an injury, Kang became a more regular player.
During Harrison’s absence (July 6th – August 20th), Kang made 37 starts, batting a stellar .329/.401/.564.
He started that stretch replace Harrison at third base, then moved to short when the Pirates acquired veteran Aramis Ramirez near the trade deadline.
It’s a big blow for the Pirates, who now lead the Cubs by just 2 games after the North Siders took 3 out of 4 against them at PNC Park earlier this week.
Pittsburgh now trails the St. Louis Cardinals (winners of 4 straight) by 5 games in the NL Central and the chances of them getting back into that race seem pretty bleak at this point.
Stranger things have happened, but it’s starting to look more and more like the only race remaining is the one to see who hosts the NL Wild Card game.
How big of an effect Kang’s injury will be on the Pirates’ playoff run remains to be seen.
Jordy Mercer becomes the everyday shortstop now. In 100 games, he’s put up a slash line of .239/.289/.304, which is pretty much what you expect from him.
Both Kang and Mercer have comparable range factors per 9 innings, though Mercer is the surer-handed fielder (.984 fielding percentage versus .961).
Baseball Info Solutions has both shortstops with 0 defensive runs saved.
Even if Mercer is an upgrade defensive-wise, the bat is a definite step down. There’s no way to sugar-coat this thing. Losing Kang is a big deal. It’s just a question of how big of a deal.
If you watched yesterday’s sloppy loss, you know how desperate the Pirates are for better defensive play.
They rank 13th in the National League in Defensive Efficiency (balls in play turned into outs) and have committed more errors (113) than any team in the league. Mercer may help shore that up a touch, but not so much that it will make up for the loss of Kang’s bat.
Things don’t get any easier for them. They now head out for a 7-game swing out West before 3 more road games at Wrigley Field. Their first two match-ups are in Los Angeles against Cy Young hopefuls Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.
* * * * * * * * *
Cardinals (16): @ Cubs (3), REDS (3), BREWERS (4), @ Pirates (3), @ Braves (3)
Pirates (16): @ Dodgers (3), @ Rockies (4), @ Cubs (3), CARDINALS (3), REDS (3)
Cubs (16): CARDINALS (3), BREWERS (3), PIRATES (3), ROYALS (1), @ Reds (3), @ Brewers (3)
* * * * * * * * *
The Cardinals’ magic number to clinch the playoffs is 2, so they’re in line to celebrate this evening.
The San Francisco Giants trail the Cubs for the 2nd Wild Card spot by 8 games, giving the Pirates a magic number of 7 and the Cubs a 9.
There were many 6-run innings on Tuesday night and we had another one on Wednesday as the Redbirds put a 6 spot up in the 4th, batting around the order.
Jason Heyward and Matt Adams each connected for their 4th home runs of the season in that 6-run outburst.
Martinez went 6.1 innings, striking out 5 and improving to 4-2.
Jaime Garcia makes his return to the Cardinals rotation this evening. He’ll become the third left-handed pitcher to try and plug in the hole left in the rotation since Adam Wainwright went down with a season-ending Achilles injury.
The always entertaining Bernie Miklasz has a nice write-up on Michael Wacha over at the Post-Dispatch. Read it here and thank me later.
* * *
Tsuyoshi Wada made his 2015 MLB debut, striking out 9 over 4.2 innings of work to help get the Chicago Cubs started in a 3-2 win over the San Diego Padres. Not getting the requisite 5 innings to qualify for the win and only having thrown 69 pitches, Wada was pulled after allowing a hit, hitting a batter, and having a few hard-hit outs. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon: “I’m more about the Cubs winning as opposed to any particular pitcher winning.”
Wada, to his credit, seemed cool with it.
Justin Grimm, Zac Rosscup, Jason Motte, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon combined for 4.1 innings of shutout relief work. They got a couple of clutch efforts there, particularly when Motte struck out Matt Kemp in the 7th with two man on and again when Rondon struck out Abraham Almonte to end the game with the tying run on 3rd.
Down 2-1 in the top of the 5th, Dexter Fowler tied it up with an RBI triple and then scored the go-ahead run on a sac fly by Kris Bryant.
There’s talk of Javier Baez getting recalled soon. The question, then, is how the Cubs will make room for him. It would seem the odd man out would be LF Chris Coghlan with Bryant moving out there. But then who plays third? Baez, hitting .296 at AAA, has been splitting time between middle infield positions, so it wouldn’t be him. SS Starlin Castro has said he would prefer to move to second if moved at all. So does all of this mean 2B Addison Russell moves over to the hot corner? A natural shortstop, Russell is already being asked to play a position he’s unfamiliar with and his defensive metrics haven’t looked so good. But my guess is that that’s where the team is headed. Either that or the Cubs are hoping to flip Baez for assets. Baez has made 6 errors in 8 games at short and 1 in 10 games at second, which again points towards the team being influenced to move Russell to the hot corner. I’m interested in seeing how this one plays out.
* * *
The Cincinnati Reds lost their 5th straight, again getting no offense in a 7-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
Jason Marquis (still in the rotation) went 3.2 innings, allowing 4 runs and falling to 3-4 with a 6.91 ERA.
A case can be made that you can live with a starting pitcher who puts up pedestrian numbers provided they are chewing up innings and affording your bullpen some rest when their turn in the rotation comes up. But 6.91 is about 2 runs higher than I think you can ignore. Also, not making it through 4 innings of work (as Marquis has now failed to do in consecutive starts) is inexcusable.
Brandon Phillips had three hits for Cincinnati, upping his season average to .314.
Coming into last night’s game, Devin Mesoraco had a slash line of .400/.438/.600 since May 9th.
* * *
Joe Mauer‘s homer gave the Minnesota Twins a 4-3 win in 13 innings over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Pittsburgh was down 3-1 and tied it up by scoring in the 7th and 8th.
Another nice game for Josh Harrison, who went 3-for-6 and is now hitting .514 during his current 8-game hitting streak.
Andrew McCutchen was 3-for-5 with his 5th homer of the year.
Gregory Polanco is mired in an 0-for-18 slump.
When trailing after 7 innings, the Bucs are now 0-17 in 2015.
* * *
The Milwaukee Brewers were 5-2 losers against the Detroit Tigers.
Ryan Braun hit his 10th homer of the year. That’s his 2nd tater in as many days and it gives him 6 in May.
If you’re a Brewers fan, you’re desperate for some reason to feel good about the future. 22-year old shortstop Luis Sardinas, who came over in the Yovani Gallardo deal, was hitting .429 through his first 4 games with the team.
Martin Maldonado was 0-for-3 and is hitting .036 in his last 8 games.
* * *
NL Central Leaders
|Anthony Rizzo (CHC)||.460|
|Matt Holliday (STL)||.442|
|Kris Bryant (CHC)||.416|
|Joey Votto (CIN)||.387|
|Jason Hammel (CHC)||0.919|
|Johnny Cueto (CIN)||0.964|
|Jake Arrieta (CHC)||1.038|
|Michael Wacha (STL)||1.046|
|Mike Leake (CIN)||1.098|
* * *
|St. Louis Cardinals||27||13||–||W2|
* * *
|27-13||CARDINALS||Garcia, J (NR)|
|23-18||Mets||deGrom (4-4, 3.21)|
|12:10 PM CT|
|15-26||BREWERS||Garza (2-5, 5.72)|
|19-20||Braves||Teheran (3-1, 4.33)|
|6:10 PM CT|
|22-17||CUBS||Hendricks (0-1, 5.15)|
|20-21||Padres||Despaigne (2-2, 6.75)|
|8:10 PM CT|
The St. Louis Cardinals pounded the Mets, 10-2, behind Grichuk (3B, 2 2B) and Mark Reynolds (3-for-5, HR).
Michael Wacha won again, improving to 6-0 after going 7 innings and allowing 2 runs and 4 hits and a pair of walks. Wacha struck out 5.
The Redbirds blew the game open in the top of the 6th inning, improving on a 4-2 lead by sending 10 men to the plate in a 6-run outburst.
In other news, OF Jon Jay is on target to return from the DL on May 26th. Jay has been out with thumb and wrist injuries.
* * *
The Chicago Cubs couldn’t hold on to a 2-0 lead and let the San Diego Padres come back for a 4-3 win.
Actually, the Cubs’ fielders couldn’t hold on to anything either.
After having had a pretty nice run of error-free games – eight, to be exact – the Baby Bears committed three of them last night and that led to three unearned runs.
In the bottom of the 5th, Justin Upton led off by reaching on a throwing error by 3B Kris Bryant that sailed high over 1B Anthony Rizzo‘s head. He later scored.
In the bottom of the 6th, Matt Kemp also led off by reaching on an error, this time on a grounder that ate up SS Starlin Castro. A 2-out RBI single by Will Venable tied the game by bringing home another unearned run.
And in the bottom of the 8th, with the score tied 2-2, Clint Barmes – yes, this happened three times – led off and reached base on an error. This one was a dropped pop up in shallow center field by 2B Addison Russell. Both Barmes and Cory Spangenberg scored on a 2-RBI double off the bat of Derek Norris. That lead run – unearned.
Jason Hammel had a nice start for the Cubs, going 7 innings and allowing no earned runs on 3 hits and no walks to go along with 8 strikeouts. We’ve been seeing his name pop up on the NL Central Leaderboards under WHIP and ERA, which fell to 2.70 after this start. The Cubs did well to bring him back.
There’s been some talk of Chris Coghlan‘s roster security, but he had a 2-homer night for the Cubs. (He also struck out twice.) Coghlan, who is hitting .205 this year, said he isn’t worried. The former NL Rookie of the Year actually had a pretty decent season for the Cubs last year and there’s still some time to turn things around as we head towards the end of the end of May.
Aside from the costly error, Castro had a rough night at the plate, going 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts.
In light of this Cubs/Padres series, Carlos Portocarrero at Sports on Earth took a look at how the Rizzo-for-Andrew Cashner trade. Read the article here.
* * *
The Cincinnati Reds managed just 4 hits in a 3-0 shutout at the hands of Yordano Ventura (7 IP, 6 SO) and the Kansas City Royals.
It was the 4th straight loss for the Redlegs.
Future trade-bait, Johnny Cueto, fell to 3-4 on the year despite a 3.03 ERA. He continues to get miserable run support when he’s on the mound, further pointing out the ludicrous nature of the Win-Loss statistic for pitchers. You can throw phenomenally, but if you’re team can’t hit a lick, you get hung with the “L”.
* * *
The Minnesota Twins scored 6 in the 2nd inning en route to an 8-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Although this highlight of Pedro Alvarez hitting a ball into a boat on the Allegheny River is pretty damned awesome.
Francisco Liriano went just 2 innings for Pittsburgh, watching his ERA climb from 2.96 to 4.15 in 2015.
Both Gregory Polanco (2 SO) and Andrew McCutchen (1 SO) went 0-for-5 at the plate for the Bucs. I die a little inside every time I point out another bad game for McCutchen.
Pittsburgh has lost 5 of their last 6 games.
On a bright note, Josh Harrison has been heating up. In the last 7 games, he’s hitting .517 with 6 extra-base hits.
* * *
The Milwaukee Brewers unpredictably went up 2-0 on the Detroit Tigers in this series with a dominant 8-1 win on the road.
6 continued to be the magic number of the day as the Brew Crew put up a 6-spot of their own in the top of the 3rd inning. The highlight came with 2 outs in the inning when Ryan Braun (9th), Adam Lind (7th) and Aramis Ramirez (5th) hit homers on three consecutive at bats.
Braun also doubled in a 4-RBI night.
Jimmy Nelson (W 2-4) went 8 innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits and 4 walks. His ERA dropped to 3.73 for the season.
Martin Maldonado went back to being a blight in the lineup, going 0-for-4 and committing an error. He’s putting up a slash line of .154/.204/.220, which is not too far removed from his .215/.279/.339 career slash line. He’s 1-for-25 in his last 7 games.
I get that catchers offer value in ways other than their performance at the plate, but the Brewers have to be dying for Jonathan Lucroy to get back from the DL.
* * *
NL Central Leaders
|Todd Frazier (CIN)||12|
|Ryan Braun (MIL)||9|
|Marlon Byrd (CIN)||8|
|Starling Marte (PIT)||8|
|Anthony Rizzo (CHC)||8|
|Johnny Cueto (CIN)||60|
|Lance Lynn (STL)||58|
|Jake Arrieta (CHC)||55|
|Gerrit Cole (PIT)||53|
* * *
|St. Louis Cardinals||26||13||–||W1|
* * *
|22-17||Twins||Pelfrey (3-1, 3.23)|
|18-21||PIRATES||Locke (2-2, 5.40)|
|6:05 PM CT|
|15-25||BREWERS||Lohse (3-4, 5.85)|
|23-17||Tigers||Greene (4-2, 4.21)|
|6:08 PM CT|
|26-13||CARDINALS||Martinez, C (3-2, 4.73)|
|23-17||Mets||Colon, B (6-2, 3.86)|
|6:10 PM CT|
|18-21||REDS||Marquis (3-3, 6.63)|
|25-14||Royals||Guthrie (3-2, 5.44)|
|7:10 PM CT|
|20-20||Padres||Ross, T (2-3, 3.94)|
|9:10 PM CT|
Corey Kluber did this to the St. Louis Cardinals last night, erasing his 0-5 start to the season: 8 shutout innings with 1 hit allowed, no walks and 18 strikeouts.
Kluber, the defending AL Cy Young winner, joined Bob Feller as the only Cleveland pitchers to strike out 18 men in a game. That’s good company.
John Lackey (L 2-2) allowed 2 runs in 5.1 innings, which seems like a small miracle considering he allowed 5 hits and walked 5 as well. The Indians went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
Jhonny Peralta had the sole Cardinal hit – a single with two out in the 7th.
Mark Reynolds and Peter Bourjos each struck out in all three plate appearances.
Matt Holliday took a 94-mph Kluber fastball to the left elbow in the 1st inning and had to be pulled from the game. A scan revealed a “deep contusion” and he’ll likely be out at least a few days. With Jon Jay already nursing an injury (left thumb bruise) and Randal Grichuk‘s back injury keeping him off the team, the Cards’ outfield situation is pretty grim right now.
* * *
A walk-off walk for Chris Coghlan and the Comeback Cubs as they take their 3rd straight game against the visiting New York Mets.
Jason Hammel held his own against Matt Harvey, leaving the Chicago Cubs trailing 1-0 headed into the bottom of the 8th. Addison Russell singled with one out, moved to second on a wild pitch, then scored on a base hit by Dexter Fowler to tie it up.
In the bottom of the 9th, Anthony Rizzo led off with a hard single into right. Starlin Castro roped one through the left side for another hit, moving pinch-runner Matt Szczur to 3rd. After Miguel Montero was intentionally walked, reliever Jeurys Familia entered the game. He struck out Jorge Soler, who swung at some pitches that he really shouldn’t have. But then Coghlan stepped up with the bases loaded and left the bat on his shoulders on a 3-1 pitch that wasn’t close.
Hammel went 8 innings, allowing 1 run on 5 hits and a walk, striking out 6. Check him out on the division’s WHIP leader boards below.
A rough night for Soler, who couldn’t possibly look more miserable about playing in weather below 50 degrees. The entire field will be full of guys in short sleeves and there’s Soler with a parka on. He might have signed up for the wrong team. His plate appearances tonight: 4-6-3 double play, strike out, 4-6-3 double play, strike out with the bases loaded.
* * *
Jeff Francoeur can still throw the ball and his arm helped save the Philadelphia Phillies in a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jordy Mercer‘s fly ball into right field was caught in foul territory by Francouer for the 2nd out. Steve Lombardozzi then attempted to tag up from 3rd but was thrown out at the plate by a good 5 feet, giving Francouer his 123rd career outfield assist. That’s 3rd best among active outfielders behind only Carlos Beltran (135) and Torii Hunter (125). For reference, the career leader is “The Grey Eagle”, Tris Speaker, who had 449.
Cole Hamels was impressive against Pittsburgh, going 7 innings for the win while allowing 2 runs on 5 hits and a walk, striking out 9.
Andrew McCutchen is still only hitting .231 this season, but he had a 2-RBI single last night and is hitting .293 with 6 extra-base hits in his last 14 games.
Sean Rodriguez, who my wife finds exceptionally handsome for a hirsute man, struck out twice and also grounded into a double play.
The loss ended the Bucs’ four-game winning streak.
Some exciting news for Pirates prospects as the #2 pick of the 2010 draft, starting pitcher Jameson Taillon, is slated to throw his first inning of work since undergoing Tommy John surgery last April.
Also recovering is Charlie Morton, scheduled to start in the minor today in his rehab from hip surgery. Morton is among the front-runners to replace Vance Worley in the bullpen.
* * *
Raul Iglesias made his second career start an impressive win, firing 5+ innings of no-hit ball to lead the Cincinnati Reds to a 5-1 win over the Atlanta Braves.
Iglesias finished with 8 innings of work, allowing 1 run on 2 hits and 3 walks, striking out 5.
Zack Cozart returned to the Cincy lineup and had a double and sac fly. He also made this pretty sweet play in the field. The shortstop is hitting .321 this season.
On the other side of the middle infielders, Kristopher Negron is hitting just .111 after an 0-for-2 day – he filled in for Brandon Phillips and his injured toe at second.
* * *
The Milwaukee Brewers tried to come back but couldn’t overcome the 3 runs they allowed in the 1st inning, falling to the Chicago White Sox 4-2.
The Journal Sentinel has a nice short article on Elian Herrera. Herrera signed as an amateur free agent in 2003 and didn’t see action in the big leagues until 2012 when he was already 27 years old. Read the full article here.
Herrera has been filling in at third base while Aramis Ramirez sits out with back problems. Rami, who has missed the last six games, is expected to return to the lineup Friday.
* * *
NL Central Leaders
|Matt Holliday (STL)||.466|
|Anthony Rizzo (CHC)||.463|
|Kris Bryant (CHC)||.411|
|Joey Votto (CIN)||.408|
|Matt Carpenter (STL)||.391|
|Johnny Cueto (CIN)||0.877|
|Mike Leake (CIN)||0.966|
|Jason Hammel (CHC)||0.993|
|Francisco Liriano (PIT)||1.007|
|Michael Wacha (STL)||1.034|
* * *
|St. Louis Cardinals||23||10||–||L1|
* * *
|23-10||CARDINALS||Wacha (5-0, 2.09)|
|12-20||Indians||Bauer (2-1, 4.19)|
|11:10 AM CT|
|17-17||PIRATES||Worley (2-2, 4.63)|
|12-23||Phillies||Harang (3-3, 2.38)|
|12:05 PM CT|
|20-14||Mets||Niese (3-2, 1.95)|
|18-15||CUBS||Wood, T (2-2, 4.96)|
|1:20 PM CT|
|17-17||Giants||Lincecum (3-2, 2.00)|
|17-17||REDS||Cueto (3-3, 2.98)|
|6:10 PM CT|