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July 18, 2016

What You Need to Know

All He Does Is Win, Win, Win

by Ashley Varela

The Weekend Takeaway
For some, a return from the All-Star break is an opportunity to right the season, to rise in the standings, to prove that whatever setback or injury derailed the first half is eclipsed by the success of the second. For Stephen Strasburg, it’s just an extension of the dominance he’s already exhibited this year.

The right-hander tossed four frames of no-hit ball against the Pirates on Friday, losing his bid in the fifth on a leadoff single to Starling Marte. Jordy Mercer followed up with an RBI line drive two batters later, handing the Pirates their one and only run of the night.

Strasburg racked up 105 pitches over eight innings, using his fastball liberally while the Pirates scrambled to find holes in the strike zone. After his heater blew past hitters for the first four innings,

the 27-year-old tripled his off-speed pitches in the second half of his outing, mixing in a variety of curveballs and changeups to cap his appearance at three hits, two walks, and six strikeouts.

The Nationals’ ace exited with his 13th win of the season, improving his start to 13-0 in 2016 and becoming one of two pitchers to begin a season with a 13-0 record or better since Roger Clemens went 14-0 in 1986. As imposing as the record might look on paper, however, Strasburg’s 2.72 DRA and 3.6 WARP aren’t the only things backing his win streak.

Through Saturday, the Nationals’ offense ranks 10th among major-league teams in runs scored, and they’re even more potent with Strasburg on the mound. Every other starter in Washington’s arsenal averages no more than 4.9 runs per outing; Strasburg averages a comfy 6.6 runs of support per outing, a whisker more than any other starter in the majors.

Saturday was no exception: Michael Taylor’s two-run homer in the seventh inning topped a five-run effort from the Nats, including Clint Robinson’s RBI single, Strasburg’s sac bunt, and a generous wild pitch by Neftali Feliz.

Quick Hits from the Weekend
Matt Shoemaker may not have a pristine record in his back pocket, but that didn’t make him any less dominant in his shutout against the White Sox on Saturday. The right-hander kept a tight leash on the Sox through nine innings, striking out 13 with a deceptive splitter that kept hitters swinging outside the zone:

Although his strikeout total was a personal best, as was his first major-league complete game shutout, Shoemaker’s biggest competition wasn’t at the plate. Chicago starter James Shields also went the distance in the Sox’ 1-0 loss, crafting seven scoreless frames of a two-hitter after Mike Trout’s productive out put the Angels on the board in the first inning.

The next seven innings breezed past the Angels with only a hit and two strikeouts. While Shoemaker struck out nearly every name on the White Sox’ lineup, Shields induced a steady streak of weak grounders and fly balls. His exceptional control paired well with a sharp defense, from a Dioner Navarro’s laser pickoff throw

to a between-the-legs grab from Shields himself.

On any other day, against any other last-place team, Shields’ strategy might have worked. Without an offensive drive, however, it only took one mistake to extend Chicago’s abysmal scoreless streak to 32 innings, one they rectified during an 8-1 series finale against the Angels on Sunday.

***

During a weekend of shutouts and one-run nail-biters, Khris Davis and prospect Ryon Healy provided sweet relief for the A’s against R.A. Dickey and the visiting Blue Jays. Healy’s major-league debut passed with little fanfare on Friday as the 24-year-old went 0-for-4 at the plate, striking out against Toronto right-hander Marcus Stroman in his first career at-bat.

On the heels of an impressive 8-7 series opener, notwithstanding Healy’s struggles at the plate, the A’s needed just one inning to solve R.A. Dickey and his iconic knuckleball. Khris Davis opened the second inning with a moonshot over the left-center fence,

while Stephen Vogt and Marcus Seimen loaded the bases for Healy’s first career home run.

Davis returned in the sixth inning for seconds, helping himself to a knuckleball that just touched the top of the strike zone for his 22nd home run of the season.

Dickey wasn’t the only one who left the game with a bruised DRA; Oakland southpaw Sonny Gray’s 4.25 mark is rapidly approaching his career-high 4.30 average, accelerated by a Josh Thole RBI double and Edwin Encarnacion solo shot. Justin Smoak returned in the ninth inning to pester closer Ryan Madson with a solo home run of his own, but thanks to Healy’s three-run knock early in the game, the A’s took the edge on this slugfest.

***

There are many ways to lose a game. There are many ways to balk. There are many ways to lose a game on a balk. And still, no one was prepared—least of all Santiago Casilla himself—for the flub that ended the Giants’ four-hour, 10-inning loss.

Although Casilla’s misstep was an anomaly, rather than an extension of the bullpen’s recent woes, it was the least of the Giants’ worries on Saturday night. The Padres racked up an early five-run lead on a pair of home runs, a triple, and a stolen base, leaving the Giants scrambling to catch up. Buster Posey broke out in the 10th on a Kevin Quackenbush fastball, but a combination of poor pitch location and a tight strike zone immobilized the Giants’ defense in the bottom half of the inning.

Defensive Play of the Weekend
Jordan Baker may wear the trappings of a major-league umpire by day, but his slick fielding skills belie an ability to moonlight as the Phillies’ second backup catcher.

What to Watch on Monday
The second half of the season is now in full swing, which means we’re only weeks away from the trade deadline, roster expansion, and the race to a postseason finish. The Mets went into the All-Star break looking a little fatigued, with left-handers Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard pushing through elbow injuries to finish out the first half. Coming out of the break, both Matz and Syndergaard took a few extra days to rest up before the team’s six-game road trip, which kicks off at 7:05 ET tonight against the Cubs’ Jon Lester. It’s a crucial game for Matz, who is working his way back up to a four-pitch offering after resting his slider in June and needs another solid outing to scoot the Mets closer to the division-leading Nationals.

If American League division races are more to your liking, you can take your complimentary Cubs earbuds and tune into KBME 790, which will broadcast the Astros-A’s game from the Oakland Coliseum at 10:05 ET. The Astros sit just 3.5 games back of the Rangers after a strong showing against the Mariners this weekend, one that culminated in an 8-1 win on the shoulders of starter Collin McHugh.

Right-hander Mike Fiers is set to take the mound on Monday against fellow righty Kendall Graveman. Both pitchers boast impressive win streaks dating back to June, but Fiers has lasted more than six innings in only one start during that time, and his 5.21 DRA and 0.1 WARP do little to allay any concerns about his ability to go the distance. If the match-up goes the way of this weekend’s White Sox-Angels’ pitchers’ duel, however, it’ll take more than a dominant hurler to clinch the series opener.

Ashley Varela is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ashley's other articles. You can contact Ashley by clicking here

Related Content:  Washington Nationals,  Oakland A\'s

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The Call-Up: Ryon Heal... (07/18)
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