June 27, 2016
What You Need to Know
Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Hit Seven Homers and Lose
The Weekend Takeaway
There are no givens in baseball. A 10-run lead can evaporate under the misdirection of a tired bullpen, a no-hitter can be lost on a misplayed fly ball, and a ninth-inning tie can be broken on a walk-off balk. Still, there are certain markers which, once they are passed, provide a feeling of security.
Take the White Sox, for example. On Saturday, they out-homered the Blue Jays with seven long balls. Back-to-back-back jacks were delivered in the second inning: an inside-the-parker from Brett Lawrie, a shot into the right field corner by Dioner Navarro, and a laser drilled into the right field bleachers by J.B. Shuck, inspiring an oddly-timed high-five from two Blue Jays fans.
R.A. Dickey helped the Sox’s cause through 5.1 innings of poor pitch placement and bad luck. His sinker was tattooed on the outfield fence before it had a chance to, well, sink.
And his knuckleball couldn’t find a safe place to land in the strike zone. Lawrie and Navarro found a pair of knuckleballs in the inside corner of the zone, while Shuck took his straight down the middle.
Dickey’s replacements fared little better against Chicago’s homer-hungry lineup, serving up three solo home runs in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. Tim Anderson and Alex Avila went yard on Drew Storen and Jason Grilli fastballs, respectively, while Adam Eaton reserved his franchise record-setting shot for closer Roberto Osuna and a slider that just tipped toward the outer edge of the zone.
Unfortunately, the White Sox also made history for the wrong reasons. They may have tied the franchise record for most single-game home runs, but they also became the third team in major-league history to hit seven home runs ... and lose. While Dickey’s DRA took a beating, the Jays did something the Sox never managed to pull off that night: they drove in multiple runs at a time, to the tune of a 10-8 finish.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
In Detroit, the Indians gambled with their own home run-heavy approach, albeit with a little more success. On the road to their eighth consecutive victory, they slugged four solo home runs against the Tigers and were backed by a complete-game shutout from right-hander Carlos Carrasco.
As one might expect from a team whose starters top the league with a collective 3.59 DRA, pitching has been key for the Indians’ win streak this month. Over their last seven appearances, Cleveland starters turned in three complete games (including two shutouts) and a league-leading 1.72 ERA, complementing their efforts with a 21.7 percent strikeout rate in 47 innings. Their bullpen was utilized in just eight innings during that span, holding opponents to seven baserunners and two earned runs.
Carrasco’s efforts were no less impressive. With a six-run cushion, the 29-year-old flexed his 98 mph fastball against the Tigers, limiting them to four hits and a walk over nine frames. Carrasco coasted from the fifth inning through the ninth, retiring 13 of 14 batters and catching Nick Castellanos with a curveball in the dirt to end the game and preserve his first shutout of the year.
The win not only tipped Carrasco’s win-loss column in the Indians’ favor, but marked the third time the starter has lasted more than seven innings in 2016. Thanks to a disabled list stint he’s pegged for a slight regression from a breakout 5.4 WARP performance in 2015, but a few more outings like this one will have him aiming in the right direction.
Speaking of four-hitters, Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman constructed his own four-hit shutout on Saturday, furthering the Rays’ losing streak during the first half of the weekend doubleheader. His control was exceptional, accounting for zero walks in 7.2 frames, while his fastball flashed 100 mph on the radar gun and caught the Rays swinging seven times.
After getting jerked between the rotation and bullpen in 2015, there were a few doubts about Gausman’s ability to flourish on the Orioles in 2016, not helped by a career-high 4.26 DRA and 98 cFIP. On Saturday, however, he looked perfectly suited for the rotation. He didn’t allow a runner past first base for seven straight innings, save for a fielding error that put Logan Morrison in scoring position in the second. Though his fastball littered the outer half of the strike zone, it looked virtually untouchable, inducing a 77.6 percent whiff rate and powering all but one of his seven strikeouts.
Although it wasn’t the first time Gausman turned in a dominant performance this season, it was the first time the 25-year-old had been rewarded with a win. He’s received an average of 3.8 runs of support per outing in 2016, while every other starter in Baltimore’s rotation has seen an average of 4.0 runs or higher. With some of the pressure alleviated by Gausman’s standout performance, the Orioles turned in a five-run lead on RBI singles from J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Francisco Pena, and Pedro Alvarez, and still managed to take the field for the second half of the double-header and win, 8-6.
In the grand scheme of things, hitting for the cycle ranks somewhere between pitcher wins and getting nominated for All-Star game. It can happen to anyone, but it doesn’t mean all that much when it does. (I apologize if you put considerable time and thought into your All-Star ballot and/or derive some pleasure from the Home Run Derby.)
Will it be remembered forever? Unlikely. Does it give us any significant insight into the skill set of a particular player? No. However, when said player is Jose Altuve--when Altuve rips a double in his first at-bat and hits a first-pitch home run in his second, when Altuve nabs a single and lines a would-be triple into center field and then trips over second base on his way to complete the cycle--well, that’s something worth watching.
Altuve is batting .340/.421/.545 on the year. He’s a 3.8 WARP player in 2016, and it’s only June. His four-hit, three-run effort was the biggest catalyst in the Astros’ 13-5 win and there’s no doubt that he will continue to play a part in their campaign to regain some status within the AL West. Hitting for the cycle doesn’t change any of that, but it sure is fun watching him try.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Let’s leave those highlight reel-worthy outfield grabs to the professionals, okay, random Mariners fan?
What to Watch on Monday
It’s no secret that the Rangers are juggling injured pitchers right and left, but with the AL West lead firmly in their grasp, they have a little wiggle room to experiment with backup options. One such option is Chi Chi Gonzalez, the 24-year-old right-hander who was called up from Triple-A Round Rock to make a spot start against the Yankees on Monday. Gonzalez debuted to mixed reviews in 2015, finishing his major-league stint with an astronomical 122 cFIP and 4.92 DRA in 67 innings pitched.
While half a season at Triple-A appears to have tightened up his peripheral stats--nearly halving his walk rate to 2.8 and bringing his K/9 rate up to 6.0--an inflated 5.04 ERA and 3.91 FIP hardly inspire confidence on the major-league stage. Until the Rangers exhaust their internal options, however, they’ll have to cross their fingers and hope that a bit of the dominance Gonzalez flashed during his 2015 shutout will resurface in Yankee Stadium (7:05 ET).
If walking on the wild side (i.e. watching rookie pitchers) isn’t your bag, the infallible Jake Arrieta will take on the Reds at 7:10 ET. The Reds, doomed as they are to remain at the bottom of the NL Central, rebounded from a four-game skid on Sunday with a 3-0 shutout behind Anthony DeSciafani.
Facing Arrieta and the Cubs’ 48-26 record is right-hander Dan Straily, whose most impressive feat this season was an 11-strikeout effort against Scott Kazmir and his 12-strikeout effort. Is this something we’re likely to see again? You’ll never know unless you turn on the TV.