The best thing about interleague play is that fans get to see great players from the other league that they would otherwise not have occasion to watch. Like Madison Bumgarner. I knew intellectually that he was a good pitcher. I knew he was someone I should care about, but I had rarely watched him, and had definitely never payed attention when I did. Great. That was fun. Now can I never have occasion to watch Madison Bumgarner again, please?
I know it's an oversimplification, but one way to think about pitching is to separate it into two distinct areas: throwing strikes to get ahead of hitters, and then putting hitters away. David Price, is an excellent pitcher but he's also a perfect illustration of the traditional plan. His main tool for getting strikes is his mid-90s fastball. Hitters have real difficulty squaring it up, so he can pound the zone with impunity, producing swinging strikes, called strikes, and foul balls. Then he puts people away with a mixture of fastball, changeup, cutter, and curve.
Bumgarner, on the other hand, is unique in that he he uses his slider, in combination with his fastball, as the getting ahead pitch. According to the MLBAM classification algorithm (on FanGraphs), he throws his slider 37% of the time, more than any other starter in the league. The Rays stacked the lineup with right handed bats, against which Bumgarner mixed low-90s fastballs (41 of them, according to Brooks) and high-80s sliders (53 of them) starting on the outside part of the plate and coming in over the strikezone. It was two pitches doing the job of one.
Then he has plenty of options. He can continue with his same, backdoor approach, he can bump the fastball up to 94 mph and elevate it. He can pull his slider down and in to attack the back foot, or he can go to his perfectly respectable but rarely used changeup and curve (the curve is a killer for lefties). Against the Rays he did all of those, pitching seven innings of one run ball and striking out eleven Rays (seven hits and three walks).
Note the pitches up and away to right handed batters, coming down diagonally into the strike zone (along the same plane as the movement of his slider), and continuing down and in onto the back foot, where he picks up his swinging strikes. It's an uncommon location chart from an uncommon pitcher.
Compared to Bumgarner, Chris Archer seems completely guileless. But his stuff is good. He threw 72 fastballs, and 36 sliders, and one, sad, ill-fated changeup. He only struck out four Giants in his seven innings of work, while also allowing seven hits and walking three. He got victimized by some #ToughBreaks, but he also gave up some hard hit balls, and those are not the peripherals of a dominant outing. Still, he battled with his fastball. He gave the type of aggressive outing we'd be mostly praising if the Rays had scored five runs.
As an example of Archer's attacking mindset and excellent raw stuff, check out Pablo Sandoval's at bat in the first inning. Sandoval is a good hitter. He has a quick bat and good hands, and a level swing that's a line drive machine. He can hit a fastball. That's why it was so impressive to see Archer aggressively go after him with his fastball in their first meeting. Sandoval swung under two elevated fastballs before fouling another one off. Then, Archer put 97 mph right in on his hands, inducing a weak infield fly. Archer couldn't catch it, but Longoria charged well and throw the Panda out at first.
Jose Lobaton lead off the Rays' half of the third inning with a double. Ryan Roberts bunted down the third base line. His bunt hit off the grass, and would have gone foul, but Joaquin Arias alertly charged it and, knowing he had a play, scooped and threw to first. Joe West called Roberts safe, claiming that Brandon Belt came off the bag. It was absolutely, definitely, the wrong call, and I'm really not the least bit sure what West was seeing. Regardless, after Desmond Jennings struck out, Zobrist singled in a run with his second hit of the night.
In the top of the fifth, Archer threw Brandon Belt a first pitch changeup. I have no doubt that Archer's changeup will become a weapon in time. RIght now, it is not very special. The change stayed up, and it's not a pitch that moves much. Belt walloped it into the right field stands to tie the game.
Desmond Jennings lead off the bottom of the inning with a beautiful bunt single down the third base line. Zobrist had hit Bumgarner well (patiently, and to opposite field) twice, and this time the Giants pitcher was very careful. Zobrist walked on four pitches. Longoria continued his nightmarish stretch at the plate with his second strikeout of the game. Wil Myers hit the ball hard to straight away center field but the yard held it and Gregor Blanco tracked it down. Sean Ridriguez lined hard the other way to right, but it stayed up for Hunter Pence, and the Rays failed to cash in on a golden opportunity to retake the lead.
This was as close as the Rays got. Center field at The Trop: where hope goes to die.
The Giants would make them pay. With two outs in the seventh, Hunter Pence took a big swing and made poor contact for what amounted to a swinging bunt down the third base line, and was rewarded with an infield single. Brandon Belt, having already hit a homer off Archer, struck again. He reached down for a fastball at the bottom of the zone and sent a high fly ball against the wall in the deepest part of the Tropicana outfield, ending up with an RBI triple. Brandon Crawford stamped an exclamation mark on the rally by turning on a thigh-high fastball on the inner third to bring the score to 4-1. Archer was victimized by another infield hit, but kept his head and struck out Marco Scutaro with a 97 mph fastball to end the inning and his night.
Some other notes:
- According to Todd Kalas, there was garnet and gold sprinkled throughout The Trop tonight. Hail to the Buster.
- In the top of the second, Buster Posey took four close pitches in a row to work a walk. Roger Kieschnick struck out on a foul tip (on an elevated backdoor slider). Jose Lobaton caught it cleanly, despite the redirection, and threw out Posey trying to take second on what was likely a hit and run. A good throw on Lobaton's part.
- Sean Rodriguez, playing left field, made a great play in the third to cut off a Brandon Belt line drive into the alley. He got a great jump on an angle back towards the wall, slid and backhanded the ball, popped right up and made a strong accurate throw to hold Belt to a single. There are plenty of every-day left fielders who wouldn't have been able to keep that ball from going to the wall there.
- Jennings made yet another quietly great play in the third on a Gregor Blanco fly ball, tracking it back and to his right. He's a really classy center fielder, that I think gets overlooked because of just how easy he makes plays like that look.
- Todd Kalas, filling in for Brian Anderson in the booth, quoted O-Swing% as support for his assertion that Sean Rodriguez had been a guy who used to chase a lot of pitches out of the zone, but has cut down on that this year. Kalas may not offer quite the same insight as Brian Anderson, and his patter with Dewayne Statts hasn't yet had the chance to settle in, but he's a pro. When he comes to the booth, he comes prepared (there were plenty of other instances of his preparedness, too). Props, Todd.
- While retreating back to first base, Yunel Escobar reached over and grabbed Joe West's belly with both hands. Why? I have no idea.
- Bumgarner is really wicked against lefties. In addition to his oft-used slider, his curve is of the sweeping variety, making it more of a platoon pitch than many other curves. James Loney, as the only lefty in the lineup, was a sacrificial lamb (he struck out twice, both times on curves), but he justified his presence with his defense, starting and ending a tough 3-6-3 double play in the sixth and throwing out the lead runner at second earlier in the game.
- Evan Longoria is clearly struggling. Even without knowing the stats of his cold streak, you can see it on his face, and you can see it in his at bats. He's not able to hold off on pitches down and inside, and he's not able to catch up to them either. His swing looks long and loopy and he's pulling everything, rather than driving the ball to right field the way he did at the start of the season. He knows all this, and it clearly bothers him. For the Rays' sake, he better figure it out soon.
- Jennings also had a bad game at the plate. He had lots of trouble picking up Bumgarner's outside offerings, and seemed to be trying to pull them, a tall task. He struck out three times, but did get on base with a bunt single. I give him lots of credit for choosing to go for the bunt base hit, as he clearly knew he was struggling with Bumgarner tonight.
- I'm sure that some of you are asking, "Why isn't there a recap for this game written by Erik? I want to read a recap by Erik!" Well, he's currently practicing for a qualifying tournament for the World Shuffleboard Championship. The tournament is tomorrow. Wish him luck.
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