April 20, 2017
What You Need to Know
The Wednesday Takeaway
In 2015, Bryce Harper set the baseball world on fire with one of the best non-Barry Bonds offensive seasons we’ve ever witnessed. Hitting .330/.460/.649 with 42 home runs and an absurd 197 wRC+, Harper’s age-22 season was so transcendent that it even made people question whether Mike Trout could stake claim as the no-doubt best player in baseball. Alas, Harper’s follow-up act was marred by ... “issues,” according to Scott Boras. If you ask anyone else, they’d tell you his performance was slowed by a nagging shoulder injury, which played a large role in his depressed .243 batting average and mere 24 home runs.
But you didn’t expect him to continue to disappoint, did you? Most run-of-the-mill MVP winners can’t rattle off the kind of historic 2015 Harper had, so expecting this long-haired, otherworldly being to stop terrorizing the league after just 24 years on planet earth is, well, a bit shortsighted. If you don’t trust me, just ask Julio Teheran, who at the time of this writing is probably in the midst of a nightmare which may or may not include this ...
... or this ...
Batter versus pitcher stats may be relatively worthless when making meaningful conclusions about specific matchups, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to look at. Until Wednesday evening, my favorite line was probably Paul Goldschmidt’s seven home runs and .536 batting average in 28 at-bats against Tim Lincecum, but Harper’s history against Teheran is just as fun: 33 at-bats, three doubles, seven home runs, and a .454 batting average. Given this absolute dominance, Teheran’s decision to intentionally walk Harper in his third plate appearance doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world.
While Harper’s start to this season hasn’t been too shabby, Ryan Zimmerman also deserves some recognition for shattering his reputation as a slow starter—at least for this season. Zimmerman added his fourth home run of the season on Wednesday, in the form of yet another grand slam for the Nationals.
While Miguel Gonzalez snapped the Yankees’ eight-game winning streak Tuesday by nearly pulling off a Maddux (throwing a shutout in under 100 pitches), the Bronx Bombers came out of the gates swinging for the fences Wednesday. Chase Headley, Aaron Hicks, and Starlin Castro all went yard for New York, but the dinger you’ll be hearing about came by way of—you guessed it—Aaron Judge:
My favorite GIF of the night is a direct result of this home run, too, so thanks to Aaron Judge for giving us the privilege of seeing Ronald Torreyes disappear into the abyss of the Yankees’ dugout.
While we’re on the topic of home runs, it’s probably a good idea to share a couple more. The first of which came off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton, and, well, it was a classic Giancarlo Stanton home run.
Also in the Marlins' lineup Wednesday night was Ichiro Suzuki, returning to Seattle for the first time since 2014 when he was on the Yankees. In what may be Ichiro’s final game in the city he called home for the better part of 12 incredible seasons, he did something he’s only done three times over the past three seasons. I’d recommend turning the sound on for this one:
It’s not often you see the crowd erupting into a standing ovation when a visiting player hits a home run, but it’s almost always the sign of a special moment. If you’re a Mariners fan, this one fits that description.
Now that we’ve covered most of the important home runs, let’s turn our focus onto pitching. In a much-hyped pitcher’s duel between rotation stalwarts Madison Bumgarner and ... Jason Vargas, only one man walked away with the win. Was it the axe-wielding, snake-destroying, World-Series-winning Bumgarner, or the, uh, glove-eating, photogenic Vargas? Unsurprisingly, it was the pitcher who had a 2.25 ERA (in three starts) last season. That’s right, apparently Jason Vargas is good now.
Battling his way through another excellent outing, Vargas went seven strong in this one, striking out nine while allowing just four hits. The 34-year-old has now given up just one run over 20 2/3 dominant innings after missing most of 2015 and 2016 following Tommy John surgery. As Ned Yost so astutely put Vargas’ post-TJ results: “I think he’s better.”
While Vargas may be playing the star in one of the weirder storylines of this young season, the weirdest moment Wednesday night was likely the final play of the Rays-Tigers game. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez induced a seemingly routine double-play ball that would end the game, but mild insanity ensued:
That walk-off error wasn’t the only game-winner of the night, though, as the Cubs built an impressive comeback in the late innings of their game against the Brewers to steal the win. While panic was setting in among Cubs fans, as last year’s World Series winners looked to be blowing this season with a horrendous 7-7 start to the season (please read this with heavy sarcasm), Addison Russell smashed a walk-off three-run home run to assuage those fears and remind everyone that the Cubs are, in fact, a decent baseball team.
Finally, we can round out Wednesday’s action with a pair of pitching duels. The first one came in Cincinnati, where top prospect Amir Garrett built on his impressive start to the season by striking out 12 in seven innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and a walk.
Garrett was out-pitched, though, by everyone’s favorite volatile pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez has had a brutal couple of starts to kick off 2017 but put together a brilliant outing this time around, going 7 2/3 scoreless and allowing just two hits and four walks, along with three strikeouts.
If the Orioles’ 2-0 victory wasn’t offensive-deprived enough, then you might have enjoyed watching the Padres and Diamondbacks battle it out in a 1-0 win for San Diego. While the Padres’ staff has quickly established itself as baseball’s worst rotation with a 5.01 ERA, Jhoulys Chacin was spotless against the normally solid D-Backs lineup, giving up all of three hits and a walk (with five strikeouts) over eight shutout innings.
On the other side of the field, Zack Greinke took the painful complete-game loss, giving up a lone run off an Erick Aybar homer in the bottom of the eighth inning. Otherwise, he too was excellent, allowing just five hits and a walk whole striking out six.
Defensive Play of the Day
The best plays on defense are often the max-effort ones, when fielders risk life and limb to make the out and save the day for their teams. That’s exactly what happened in this next play, when the defender did everything possible to catch the ball.
Oops, that, uh, wasn’t the right video. Let me try again, with a clip of Christian Yelich running face-first into a wall after making an excellent grab:
What to Watch on Thursday
Thursday’s abbreviated slate features some excellent pitching matchups. If you’re looking for a day game, the Red Sox and Blue Jays will battle it out at 12:37 pm ET by handing their aces the ball: Chris Sale and Marco Estrada. At night, Aaron Nola of the Phillies squares off against the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, and other electric arms, such as Stephen Strasburg, Carlos Martinez, and James Paxton, will throw later. Paxton, in particular, will be must-watch TV, as the suddenly lights-out hurler has yet to allow a run in 21 innings.