Daily Dose: Last-place Indians lose MVP

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After struggling through elbow pain for most of the month, Grady
Sizemore finally landed on the disabled list Sunday. Sizemore followed
up a strong April by going 24-for-114 (.211) in May and was limited to
designated hitter duties last week as the Indians tried to keep him in
the lineup despite problems throwing. Cleveland is set to get Travis
Hafner back at some point this week, so he’ll take over at DH.

Ben Francisco had been subbing for Sizemore in center field with
Mark DeRosa playing a lot of left field, but it was Trevor Crowe
playing center field Sunday with Francisco sliding over to left field.
However, once Hafner returns to soak up the DH at-bats it seems likely
that DeRosa will get most of the starts in left field with a
quasi-platoon of Crowe versus righties and Francisco versus lefties in

While the preseason AL Central favorites end May in last place and
without their best player, here are some other notes from around
baseball …

* Edwin Jackson earned a spot on my preseason “busts” list because his
14 wins and 4.42 ERA didn’t match his sub par 108/77 K/BB ratio over
183.1 innings last year. However, instead of taking a step backward
he’s taken his game to a whole new level. A change of scenery and new
pitching coach Rick Knapp have worked wonders on Jackson, who shut out
the Orioles for eight innings Sunday.

Not only has Jackson sliced his walk rate by 37 percent, his
strikeout rate is also up 43 percent. He hasn’t pitched as well as the
2.30 ERA suggests, but Jackson has a 57/18 K/BB ratio in 74 innings and
has walked more than two batters twice in 11 starts after doing so in
13 of 31 starts last season. His mid-90s fastball has always been
intriguing and now Jackson is finally learning how to actually pitch.

* It turns out that Matt Wieters is actually human. Called up
Friday, baseball’s top prospect started all three weekend games for the
Orioles and went 2-for-11 with zero walks and three strikeouts. The
good news is that both of his hits went for extra bases and after
catching back-to-back games he was used at designated hitter Sunday, so
the Orioles will get Wieters as many at-bats as possible.

* Matt Gamel has gone just 6-for-28 (.214) while starting only half
of Milwaukee’s games since being called up from Triple-A two weeks ago,
but general manager Doug Melvin said Sunday that he’ll stick with the
team through at least the end of interleague play on June 25. Rickie
Weeks’ season-ending wrist injury has given Gamel more starts of late
and he may be in the majors for good by then.

* Carl Pavano has been one of the rare bright spots for the Indians
and turned in another solid outing Sunday, holding his ex-Yankees
teammates to three runs in 7.1 innings. Pavano got stuck with a
no-decision despite leaving up 4-2 and his ERA remains ugly at 5.29,
but since allowing nine runs in his Cleveland debut he has a 4.07 ERA
and 49/10 K/BB ratio in 62 innings spread over 10 starts.

AL Quick Hits: Kevin Youkilis homered twice Sunday and leads the
league with a 1.150 OPS … Zack Greinke allowed more than two runs
Sunday for the first time this year, taking a no-decision for seven
innings of four-run ball … Ervin Santana struggled again Sunday and has
now allowed 19 runs in 18 innings since coming off the disabled list …
Ichiro Suzuki went 4-for-5 with a homer Sunday to finish with a .377
batting average for May … Andrew Bailey blew what would’ve been a
five-out save Sunday, but ended up with a win instead … Mark Teixeira
homered and drove in four runs Sunday, finishing May at .330-13-34 …
Jon Lester broke out of his slump by racking up a dozen strikeouts in
six innings Sunday … Adam Kennedy went deep twice Sunday, and is
batting .390 with four homers and five steals in 21 games since signing
with Oakland … Josh Hamilton (groin) pinch-hit Sunday, but is still
scheduled to undergo an MRI exam.

NL Quick Hits: Adrian Gonzalez became the first big leaguer to
20 homers when he smacked a three-run blast Sunday … Brad Lidge appears
to be back on track after saving games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
… Ian Stewart went hitless Sunday, finishing May just 9-for-64 (.141) …
John Maine left Sunday’s start after six scoreless innings with the
same stomach virus that kept Carlos Beltran out of the lineup … Edwin
Encarnacion (wrist) is reportedly several weeks from coming off the
disabled list, but Edinson Volquez (back) is expected to be activated
for Monday’s start against St. Louis … Jamie Moyer came into Sunday
with a 7.42 ERA, but held the Nationals to one run over six innings …
Casey Kotchman left Sunday’s game after being hit on the shin by a
pitch … Chad Gaudin struck out nine and walked none over 6.1 innings of
two-run ball Sunday at Coors Field.

Playoff Reset: The AL Wild Card Game

Wild Card
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Each day throughout the playoffs we’re going to be doing what we’ll call a reset. Not always a preview, not always a recap, but a generalized summary of where we stand at the moment and what we have to look forward tonight.

Today, of course, is Day One of the playoffs so we can really only look ahead, so let’s look ahead to what’s on tap in tonight’s one and only game.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees, American League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern. Or thereabouts.
The Place: Yankee Stadium, New York
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Dallas Keuchel vs. Masahrio Tanaka

The Upshot:

  • Dallas Keuchel is the Astros’ ace and may very well win the Cy Young Award, but he’s (a) pitching on three-days’ rest; and (b) not in Minute Maid Park, where he is clearly superior compared to how he does on the road. At the same time, (a) the Yankees haven’t figured him out this year, going scoreless against him in 16 innings and striking out 21 times, including a poor performance against him in the Bronx a month or so ago; and (b) lefty sinkerballer types are basically the platonic ideal of a pitcher you want to throw against the Yankees to drive them crazy. While, historically, pitchers going on short rest in the playoffs fare poorly — in the past 20 years they are 18-37 — sinkerballers and extreme groundball pitchers fare much better than most. It ain’t a perfect setup for him, but you gotta like Keuchel here.
  • Meanwhile, Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka has made one career start vs. the Astros: this year, back on June 27. He got beat up, allowing six runs in five innings, receiving no decision. Those disclaimers about past performance not being indicative of future results you see in financial services commercials should apply to this and all other past matchup stats you see in the postseason, however. One random start here or there — or two in Keuchel’s case — doesn’t tell us a ton. This is baseball and tomorrow is always another day. At least if you don’t lose the Wild Card Game. More of a concern for Tanaka: rust. He has pitched only once since tweaking his hamstring against the Mets on September 18 and it wasn’t a good outing. At least he’s rested?
  • Both teams are dependent on the longball but both teams have struggled at times on offense down the stretch, with the Yankees’ bats being particular quiet in the season’s last month or so. Someone needs to wake up A-Rod. And Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Brian McCann for that matter too. Of course, all of that firepower may not matter. The playoffs often see offenses go quiet and pitching come to the fore. Both teams have decent bullpens — the Yankees’ far, far more than decent — and given Tanaka’s rust and Keuchel’s short rest, this one is very likely to come down to multiple innings of hard-throwing relief. That favors the Yankees if they can keep it close.
  • Both teams are basically stumbling into the postseason, with the Yankees having lost six of their last seven games. They’re also under .500 since the end of July. The Astros swooned themselves in the second half, going 11-16 in September before rebounding in the season’s last week. Good thing momentum generally isn’t a thing in the playoffs — remember those 2000 Yankees losing 15 of 18 before the playoffs started and then won the World Series! — because neither team here has much of it.

This is the Astros’ first playoff game in a decade. While the Yankees haven’t been in the postseason since 2012, there is a lo tof playoff experience here, making this an interesting study in contrasts from a storyline perspective. At least if you’re into storylines. Personally I’m not. I’m more into baseball games and in this baseball game, I think Keuchel is a tough draw for the Yankees, even on short rest, and that for New York to advance they’re gonna have to be a team they haven’t been for weeks and maybe months: one that lays off junk down low and hits the ball hard.


Mike Scioscia will return as Angels manager in 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 21:  Manager Mike Scioscia #14 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the dugout during batting practice before a game against the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 21, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

It was assumed already, but Mike Scioscia made it official during Monday’s press conference for new general manager Billy Eppler that he will return as Angels manager in 2016.

Scioscia, the longest-tenured manager in the majors, has been at the helm with the Angels since 2000. There was a clause in his contract which allowed him to opt out after the 2015 season, but he has decided to stay put. He still has three years and $15 million on his contract, which runs through 2018.

Jerry Dipoto resigned as Angels general manager in July amid tension with Scioscia, so there were naturally questions today about what to expect with first-time GM Eppler in the fold. According to David Adler of MLB.com, Scioscia isn’t concerned.

“I think we’re going to mesh very well,” Scioscia said. “If we adjust, or maybe he adjusts to some of the things, there’s going to be collaboration that’s going to make us better.”

Eppler is the fourth general manager during Scioscia’s tenure with the team.

After winning the AL West last season, the Angels finished 85-77 this season and narrowly missed the playoffs. The team hasn’t won a postseason game since 2009.