Rounding Third, Heading Home: The latest in Major League BaseballDate: June 29, 2014
By John Fanta, Assistant Sports Director
Masahiro Tanaka has been fantastic for the New York Yankees, but Saturday night, the Yankees tried to lean on him just a bit too much. There aren't many starts for a pitcher where his ERA goes down, yet he comes up on the losing end. The Yankees bullpen, which boasts a 3.93 ERA (23rd in MLB) on the season, has not come through in the clutch situations very often, so Joe Girardi stuck with Tanaka.
Mike Napoli silenced a sellout crowd of more than 48,000, drilling a fastball to the right-field stands. Tanaka fell to 11-3 with a 2.10 ERA with the loss, but the defeat should indicate something to New York. They need to get some help not only from the pitching side, but also with the bats. Tanaka's doing too much for a first-year guy, regardless of the hype around him.
C.C. Sabathia should be able to give the rotation a boost when he returns after making at least three minor league starts. He was 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA before going to the DL with right knee inflammation. One thing the rotation will miss is another guy along with Tanaka that can be an innings-eater. Sabathia had reached 200 innings pitched for the Bronx Bombers in five straight seasons. David Price and Jeff Samardzija are the main targets, but the question is whether the Yankees have enough pieces to get one of those guys. Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy, two solid arms, seem realistic for the Yankees. The other curious case with NYY is the third-base situation. Yes, A-Rod is missed. What was one an amazing start has become a nightmare for Yangervis Solarte, who is hitting under .190. On Saturday, he was one of the six final hitters in the Yankees order that only compiled one hit combined. Pitching appears to be coming first, but New York needs a healthy Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran to start living up to their hype. They are part of an offense that is hitting .250 with runners on scoring position. It's been stats like that where the Yankees have been right in the middle of the road. Big names don't necessarily produce results always. There's the beauty of baseball.
New York concludes a three-game series in the rubber match against the Red Sox on Sunday at 8:05 p.m. John Lackey (8-5, 3.45 ERA) will face Chase Whitley (3-1, 4.07 ERA), who has never faced Boston.
Blue Jays, Brewers haven't wavered
Toronto's pitching staff has compiled a 4.09 ERA. The Birds also have a 4.79 ERA in the seventh inning and later. Nothing special, right? Well, they're hitting the ball solidly with a .261 batting average. But where's the success coming from? It's all about the power. The ball is flying out of the park in the Rogers Centre, as Toronto has 61 home runs at home and 108 total. That mark leads the rest of the league by 11. The pitching staff has been anchored by a well-known leader, one that appeared over the hill heading into the start of the season. He has looked like he's reentered his peak. Boasting a 10-4 record with a 2.52 ERA, Mark Buehrle faces his former team, the White Sox, Sunday. For Buehrle, he's not going to overpower hitters. But his location is one of a veteran and that has hitters guessing. The change-up that he brings tails away and gets hitters out in front. On the offensive end, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista have combined for 40 homers. Melky Cabrera has played in 82 games and is at the .300 mark while Jose Reyes has played in 66 and is delivering. Can the Blue Jays carry success? While the AL East has had the Rays and Red Sox struggle, that has opened the door for Toronto to get near the front. It's hard to believe that the Blue Jays will take this division, but their wild card chances are legit. If R.A. Dickey, who has 88 strikeouts, can begin to get consistent, Toronto's rotation could really take a boost. It still looks as if that's the area that they need help in.
The Milwaukee Brewers have gotten off to more of a good start. It's the best start to a first half in the franchise's history. A 49-32 record than their previous mark of 47-34 last set by the 2007 team. It's pretty scary to think that there are three Brewers hitting over .300 and none of them is Ryan Braun (.287). Jonathan Lucroy has been Mr. Everything, compiling three hits in a 7-4 drubbing over the Rockies on Saturday. He's now hitting .341. With Carlos Gomez emerging in center field and two nine-game winners in Kyle Lohse and Wily Peralta, the Brewers certainly have many ways that they can hurt teams.
Milwaukee's one main need comes in the rotation as well. Marco Estrada has a 6.94 ERA in his last eight starts, and has not shown signs of getting better. But, the chances have to be good for Milwaukee to compete for a playoff spot in the NL. While the Cardinals are chasing them at 44-38 and still are the favorite, Milwaukee has the tools to still get into the postseason. For the Cards to be the next closest at 6 ½games back shows how well Milwaukee has played.
Performance of the weekend: Holy Tomlin!
Since 1914, the Indians have not had a one-hit complete-game shutout in which the pitcher earns 11 strikeouts, walks no one, and faces the minimum. That statement was true until early Friday morning when Josh Tomlin wrapped up an absolute gem. He is only the eight pitcher in Major League Baseball to complete that feat, as Cleveland routed the Mariners, 5-0. The two will meet in a rubber match on Sunday at 4. The Tribe has been a roller coaster. After trailing the Tigers by 10 ½ games on May 18, they have made up four games in a month. While it could be better than 6 ½ at this point, the Tribe's been in this situations before. Last year, they were only a game off at the end of the regular season. It starts with playing in the dog days of summer. Cleveland boasts a 4.08 ERA, so the Fighting Francona's are expected to get into talks with Kennedy and Hammel. David Price's name gets tossed around, but one wonders if he understands that rough seasons happen. Plus, if Cleveland could get him, so could New York. The Bronx Bombers cannot, and the Indians' offer cannot get much better.
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