On Thursday, I attended the first half of a back-to-back crosstown doubleheader. I joined the masses for Thursday’s “getaway day” special between the Cubs and Brewers at Wrigley Field. With free neighborhood parking and a friendly secondary ticket market at play (one popular site had tickets available for 19 cents plus fees), I entered the stadium for less than the cost of a large latte.
I had high expectations for the matchup between Zack Greinke and Matt Garza. Both pitchers factored prominently in our FOXSports.com “Baseball Hot Streak” game and delivered the requisite strikeout numbers (five to keep your streak alive), but Greinke’s final stat line was positively brutal.
Greinke fell victim to some lackadaisical fielding (Ryan Braun and Mat Gamel left me scratching my head) and had zero movement on his pitches during the Cubs’ six-run third inning. He departed in the fourth inning after yielding eight earned runs on nine hits and a walk.
Conversely, Matt Garza dominated the Milwaukee lineup. He pitched 8 2/3 shutout innings of three-hit, two-walk baseball before leaving Shawn Camp to record the final out. Garza struck out nine batters during Thursday’s win. He’s allowed two earned runs in his first 14 2/3 innings pitched while striking out 14 batters.
Backup catcher Steve Clevenger started the Cubs’ rout of the Brewers with a double. Clevenger went 3-for-4 with two doubles and scored twice in the 8-0 win. He’s hit safely in each of his four appearances this season (6-for-9 with three doubles).
Apropos of nothing, former Chicago Bulls forward Dickey Simpkins led the seventh-inning stretch.
With my initial foray into live baseball for 2012 completed, I’m stepping back to review some of the performances of this past week that caught my eye. Here’s an interesting team statistic to take into the weekend.
The Pirates’ pitching staff posted a tremendous 2.50 composite ERA in the team’s first two series. Alas, Pittsburgh also scored two or fewer runs in five of those six games.
Pittsburgh is also one of four teams yet to record a save this season. Miami, Cincinnati and the Angels are the others. Brian Wilson of the Giants earned his first of the season Thursday. I’ll delve into that contest a little more shortly.
Owners that grabbed Jonathan Broxton could only shake their heads when they watched the highlight reel from Wednesday. The Kansas City closer allowed two earned runs on two walks, an error and back-to-back hit batters in the loss to Oakland. Greg Holland is the closer-in-waiting for the Royals, but it should be noted that Broxton had pitched well in his previous outing. Manager Ned Yost gave him a vote of confidence, so a change isn’t imminent. Still, owners with deeper benched may wish to pick up Holland as insurance.
Closer Brian Wilson made things interesting in the ninth inning against the Rockies before closing out the 4-2 victory for San Francisco. He nearly spoiled a gem by youngster Madison Bumgarner, who allowed one earned run on four hits and two walks in 7 1/3 innings before departing. Bumgarner struck out two batters, but earned his first win in this matchup with Jamie Moyer.
Did you catch the replays of Stephen Strasburg’s win over New York on Wednesday? He was the beneficiary of a generous strike zone during his six shutout innings of work. Strasburg allowed two hits and walked three batters against nine strikeouts. He’s fanned 14 batters in 13 innings this season while allowing seven hits and four walks.
Johan Santana isn’t going to start tossing complete games anytime soon, but he was effective for the second straight start and battled Strasburg gamely. He allowed one earned run on five hits and three walks in five innings pitched. I will, however, circle his high strikeout number (eight). Santana threw 56 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
Carlos Pena launched his third home of the year for the Rays, a solo shot, off of Detroit rookie Drew Smyly. Pena has settled in nicely in the No. 2 hole for the Rays, producing nine hits (four for extra bases) with eight RBI in 20 at-bats (.450 batting average).
Gio Gonzalez rebounded well from a brutal season debut against the Cubs with a gem against the Reds. Gonzalez pitched seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits while striking out seven batters. Alas, he earned no decision for the extra-inning contest after Brad Lidge failed to convert a save opportunity (two earned runs allowed on two hits and two walks).
The Cardinals have slammed 27 extra-base hits (12 home runs) in the first seven games of the post-Albert Pujols era. The Pujols-led Angeles have produced 18 (four home runs).
Minnesota starter Francisco Liriano struggled for the second straight outing. He completed five innings against the Angels on Thursday, allowing six runs (five earned) on seven hits and three walks. He threw strikes, but his groundball-to-fly ball ratio was abysmal (4-to-11).
Derek Holland pitched to a no-decision in his season debut against the White Sox (three earned runs in six innings). He dominated the anemic Seattle offense in his second turn in the rotation, allowing two earned runs on five hits in 7 1/3 innings pitched. Holland struck out eight batters and yielded zero walks.
Setup man Mike Adams stepped into the closer role for the Rangers on Thursday against Seattle to spell closer Joe Nathan. He allowed one run on two hits and produced a strikeout to close out the Mariners. Adams will see spot saves to avoid overtaxing Nathan and stands as one of the top “handcuff” options while setting up a closer with an injury history.
Josh Willingham extended his hitting streak to seven games on Thursday and hit his fourth home run of the season in the Twins’ comeback win over the Angels. Willingham went 3-for-5 in the contest to raise his batting average to .409 (9-for-22) with seven RBI. Willingham homered in each game of the three-game set.
Jason Heyward snapped out of his early funk with a 3-for-4 performance against the Astros on Wednesday. Heyward hit his first home run of the season, drove in two runs and stole his second base of 2012. He’s batting .316 (6-for-19) following Wednesday’s series finale.
“The Captain,” Derek Jeter, is off to a strong start for the Yankees and drove in a run in each of the Yankees’ three wins over Baltimore. He enters the weekend with a robust .370 batting average (10 for 27) with two doubles, a home run and three RBI.
Fernando Rodney has stepped into the closer role for the Rays in Kyle Farnsworth’s absence. He’s pitched 2 2/3 innings of perfect baseball (zero hits, zero walks and one strikeout) to earn three saves and a victory.
Chad Billingsley took advantage of a second start against a weak-hitting opponent in a mid-week outing against the Pirates. Billingley allowed one earned run on five hits over six innings while striking out four batters. He’s allowed a single earned run in 14 1/3 innings pitched while striking out 15 batters against a single walk. Billingsley next takes the hill on the road against the Brewers.
Josh Johnson mitigated the damage from a high hit rate in his season debut against the Cardinals. He wasn’t as fortunate on Wednesday against the Phillies. Johnson lasted only 3 2/3 innings before his departure. He allowed six earned runs on 11 hits and a walk while recording a single strikeout.
Matt Cain received a monster extension from the Giants before the start of the regular season, thereby prompting speculation about Tim Lincecum’s future in the Bay Area. Lincecum has been battered in his first two starts of 2012, road turns in Arizona and Colorado. In his latest start, Lincecum failed to escape the third inning after surrendering six earned runs on eight hits and two walks with three strikeouts. He has allowed 11 earned runs in his first two starts spanning 7 2/3 innings (12.91 ERA).
Following a rough season debut against the Indians, Ricky Romero rebounded with a fantastic start against the Red Sox. Romero pitched 8 1/3 innings of one-run ball against Boston. He allowed three hits, two walks and struck out five batters to earn his first win of the season.
Javy Guerra earned his fifth save of the season on Thursday as the Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the Pirates. Guerra has pitched five shutout innings this season with five strikeouts against one walk and one hit. Kenley Jansen may come for his role eventually, but Guerra has been absolutely fantastic in the early going for owners that trusted his status in Los Angeles and acquired him as a back-end RP2.