Sports: MLB — Kang stays hot; Tanaka gets no run support

Jung Ho Kang

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished an impressive sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers at home on Sunday, thanks to a nine-run seventh inning that allowed the Pirates to come back from being down 5-3. The exclamation point to the rally was a three-run home run by shortstop Jung Ho Kang over the right field wall. It was on the first pitch he saw from pitcher Joel Peralta, who had just entered the game. What made the at-bat stand out even more was that earlier in the inning Kang was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game,and later scored.

Kang

Kang

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to put a foot down and Jung Ho did that with the home run,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said, according to USA Today.

On the season, Kang is now hitting .293 with nine home runs, 39 RBI and an .821 OPS. He has continued to hit very well into August since July 6, when third baseman Josh Harrison went on the disabled list, creating more opportunities for Kang to play and more of an importance of his bat in the lineup. Since that date he is hitting .364 with a 1.033 OPS, four home runs and 11 RBI.

The stats also show that he is one of the hottest hitters in baseball over the last 30 days. In that time frame he ranks seventh in average with .376, 10th in on-base percentage at .436 and 13th in slugging at .624. Moreover, Kang’s 3.6 WAR ranks second on the team behind center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who has 3.7 WAR, showing just how vital to the team Kang has become.

The Pirates now sit five games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the lead in the National League Central, but they begin a three-game set with them on road on Tuesday. Look for Kang to be a big factor in the series to help the Pirates gain ground.

Masahiro Tanaka

The New York Yankees did something this weekend they have not done since 1999 — get shutout in back-to-back games. After getting swept by the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend and not scoring a run in 26 consecutive games, the New York Yankees’ first-place lead in the American League East has dwindled to 1.5 games, and their offensive slump wasted three good starts from their pitchers.

The last of these pitchers was Masahiro Tanaka, whose strong start would gladly be taken by the team on any day, but it was not good enough when the Yankees gave him zero run support. Tanaka went six innings and only gave up three hits, but two of those hits happened to be solo home runs, and that was all the Blue Jays needed to win 2-0.

The first mistake happened in the first inning to the third baseman Josh Donaldson. With one out, Tanaka let a fastball run over the plate and Donaldson hit it over the fence in right-center. He then retired eight of the next nine batters, only allowing a single, before giving up the second home run to right fielder Jose Bautista after leaving a fastball on the outer half of the plate while trying to pitch inside.

Home runs have been a more pressing issue for Tanaka as of late. In his last nine starts, he has now allowed 14 home runs and 18 overall in 99.2 innings versus 15 overall last season in 136.1 innings. Struggling with home runs in the home run-favorable park of Yankee Stadium versus the Blue Jays was bound to lead to more, since the Blue Jays are second in the MLB in home runs with 151. Donaldson and Bautista have been particularly good this season, as the former is third in the AL with 31 and the latter is eighth with 26. Moreover, this was Donaldson’s sixth home run in nine August games.

Besides the home run, Tanaka continued to pitch well, retiring the next eight batters. He did enough to keep the Yankees in the game and give them a chance to win, but they only mustered three hits all game. Despite only having 80 pitches after the six innings, Manager Joe Girardi did not let Tanaka come out for the seventh. He said it was because Tanaka had not pitched on regular rest in the past few starts, and he did not want to overwork him, according to The New York Times.  

Tanaka’s next start will come Saturday, August 15, against the Blue Jays in Toronto, so something to watch for is whether home runs play a factor again. With a week to regain their stride, the Yankees have time to start hitting again and score enough to back Tanaka.

Munenori Kawasaki

Blue Jays second baseman Munenori Kawasaki was sent down to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons on Sunday, ending his fourth stint in the majors this season. Kawasaki was brought up to the team on August 1 after second baseman Devon Travis was placed on the disabled list on July 31 with a left shoulder strain.

He was to serve as a backup infielder to Ryan Goins, who would take over the starting role. However, he only played in one game and went 0-3 before appearing as a pinch runner in the August 7 game against the Yankees.

Although Travis is still expected to remain on the disabled list for another couple weeks, Kawasaki was no longer needed in a backup role because the Blue Jays traded for infielder Cliff Pennington from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Pennington can play shortstop as well as second base and hit .237 with a .314 OBP and one home run and 10 RBI in 157 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks.

All of Kawasaki’s stints in the majors this season have resulted from players either going on the disabled list or bereavement list, but with the Blue Jays choosing to trade for a backup infielder instead of staying with Kawasaki, it is likely that he will not get another chance in the majors this season baring another injury unless the team brings him up in September when the active rosters expand.

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