Match-ups to watch
Red Sox vs. Yankees:
What for years was a seemingly one-sided rivalry has now turned in the Red Sox favor, with the franchise winning three rings over the past decade. Adding some spice to the brew is the Jacoby Ellsbury factor—the center fielder that was once the property of Boston and who donned pinstripes in the offseason.
The starting pitching match-ups in this series slightly favor Boston. However, comparing the bullpens is where the real separation begins. Current Yankee closer Shawn Kelley has the unenviable task of replacing the injured David Robertson—who filled the giant shoes of Mariano Rivera. The Bronx was wishing Mo would come back when they saw Kelley allow four hits and two runs in Wednesday’s loss to the Orioles. The Red Sox, meanwhile, continue to have the same members of the relief staff that so dominated the 2013 postseason. It has carried over into 2014, as the group collectively posted 7 2/3 scoreless innings through the first three games.
The two kicked off the series on Thursday, with Michael Pineda apparently using any way to get an edge on their AL East foe.
— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) April 11, 2014
Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks:
As their opening series in Sydney went without hitch, it’s unlikely that we’ll see any sort of retaliation for the Dodgers’ pool party after clinching the NL West title last September. It’s also doubtful that we’ll see a reprise of the extracurricular activities that took place a little more than three months prior.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to this three-game set in Phoenix.
Following the two meetings down under, the Diamondbacks subsequently sunk to the bottom of the division standings. L.A. is 6-4 after 10 games, but has yet to show the prowess it is capable of. The two teams may be on opposite sides of the power rankings, but they have been fairly even when it comes to recent history—with Arizona having won 10 of the 19 games played against the Dodgers in 2013.
Athletics vs. Mariners:
Leaving Minnesota with a sweep of the Twins, the A’s sit a half-game ahead of a Mariners team determined to climb into the upper echelon of the AL West. The most glaring proof came this winter with the unexpected signing of Robinson Cano. The former Yankee second baseman has hit .300 after eight games, but has no home runs and just two runs batted in.
Seattle’s other big money player is—well deservedly—Felix Hernandez, who has anchored the pitching rotation for a little more than seven years (still only 28) and is set to toe the rubber at Safeco Field on Friday. He has been especially sharp in the young season: a 2-0 record with a 1.88 earned run average and holding the opposition to a measly .185 average.
The two teams squared off just a week earlier, with the A’s taking two of three from the M’s in Oakland. Hernandez garnered the lone victory in that series, a 3-1 win last Saturday.
David Price vs. Johnny Cueto:
This pair of 28-year-old aces make up two of the more entertaining pitchers in the game—despite having relative off-years in 2013 either due to poor performance or injuries. Cueto has deserved a better fate than an 0-1 record so far, having pitched brilliantly on Opening Day against the Cardinals (done in solely by a Yadier Molina homer) and being nearly as stifling towards the Mets.
Price has allowed more runs than his Friday night counterpart but has a 1-0 mark to his name—thanks mainly in part to greater run support from the Rays offense. Cincinnati ranks 13th in the National League in runs scored and is 11th in batting average.
Edinson Volquez vs. Yovani Gallardo:
Volquez’ first venture as a Pirate came out of the bullpen in what turned out to be a 3-2 loss on April 3 against the Cubs. He got the chance to start three days later versus St. Louis and didn’t disappoint. When he left with two outs in the sixth, he had given up just three hits, one walk and one earned run on 81 pitches. Despite ending up with a no-decision, Volquez proved that he can be an important part of an improving Pirates rotation.
Gallardo has elevated himself to the ace of the Brewers staff—and he has lived up to that honor so far this season. In two starts, he has two wins and has yet to allow a run. Volquez and the Pittsburgh offense get their shot at Gallardo on Saturday evening in Miller Park.
Game of the Week
The Minnesota Twins haven’t generated much excitement lately. It was not the case in a narrow defeat to the defending AL West champion Oakland A’s on Wednesday at Target Field.
After falling behind by four runs in just a half inning, the Twins slowly chipped away. Jim Johnson, who had tallied 50 or more saves in each of the past two seasons with Baltimore, couldn’t slam the door for Oakland in the ninth.
He let Minnesota load the bases with one out before Eduardo Escobar’s bloop single to left field cut the A’s advantage to one. Johnson got the hook from manager Bob Melvin, and the game was entrusted in the right arm of Dan Otero. But a Brian Dozier sacrifice fly barely scored Suzuki (with confirmation from the replay).
The Twins had tied the game at 4-4, and the struggling Johnson had let more than just the lead slip away.
Melvin: “We’re going to give Jim a break” from the ninth. Now closer by committee: Doolittle, Gregerson, Cook, Otero all options.
— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) April 10, 2014
But the A’s offense bailed out the faltering bullpen when it came to bat in the 11th. With two men on, Derek Norris went deep off Jared Burton for the game’s deciding runs. Clutch homers are nothing new for Norris. Of his 18 career round-trippers, eight have either tied of given the A’s the lead.
This lead proved to be safe as the Twins couldn’t muster another comeback, as Oakland topped Minnesota for the eighth straight time.
On this day in MLB history
In 1963, Warren Spahn notched the 328th win of his career—making him the winningest left-handed pitcher in baseball history—a distinction he still holds today. He and his Milwaukee Braves beat the New York Mets 6-1 in this Opening Day affair, with Spahn allowing only one batter past second base.
Spahn ranks sixth on the all-time win list and has the most victories in baseball’s modern era (363), so there wasn’t a doubt he’d be a shoo-in for Cooperstown on the first ballot. After a 21-year career (mostly with the Braves), he entered baseball’s Hall in 1973.