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September 14, 2017

What You Need to Know

Streak of all Streaks

by Ben Diamond


The Wednesday Takeaway

The moments that are most often immortalized in baseball lore, permanently commemorated with statues, written down in history books, and reserved a place in Cooperstown, are just that—moments. The flip play, the shot heard ‘round the world, and Gibson’s impossible blast, to name a few, are neatly packed into explosive highlights, snippets which seem to capture the magic of the game so perfectly and stick in fans’ minds because of how re-watchable, re-playable, and re-livable they are. You can blink and envision Hank Aaron rounding third on his record-breaking shot, hear Lou Gehrig’s retirement speech, and feel the jubilance following the Cubs’ World Series win. It’s a rush of emotion that strikes you, and stays with you.

Just as remarkable as those pillars in baseball history is the Cleveland Indians’ 21st straight win, an improbability that tops all improbabilities, an uncanny combination of talent and luck, a nearly month-long streak of some of the best baseball ever played. It’s a rarity in this sport’s history, an impossible feat that is unlikely to be repeated for decades, or even centuries.

And while this winning streak will be long remembered, celebrated, and canonized, it won’t pack the emotional punch of the achievements listed above, nor will it linger in every baseball fan’s heart and mind. It lacks the singular, otherworldly thrill that baseball’s greatest highlights are so celebrated for, and that’s perfectly fine. Winning 21 straight games doesn’t deserve to be remembered as one moment—it’s an incredible and grueling battle featuring resounding successes, minimal slip ups, and a showing of dominance over a month that’s never been seen before.

It isn’t one hit, one pitch, or one catch. It’s Yandy Diaz blasting away Chris Sale and turning a .186 batting average into a .377 mark. It’s Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber giving up a combined seven runs over eight starts. It’s Francisco Lindor gliding through the infield and Bradley Zimmer flying through the outfield. It’s Jose Ramirez playing like a superstar in all facets of the game, and the bullpen serving as an unstoppable force against opposing bats. It’s nine runs in an inning, and zero runs in nine innings. It’s shutouts, blowouts, thrilling victories, and everything in between.

There’s too much to capture in one highlight video, too much to capture in a plaque, and too much to capture in a memory. But that’s what makes this feat truly special.

Quick Hits

This season was supposed to the Phillies’ next big step toward contention, a season of growth and development toward a talented, young, and most importantly, successful roster. Alas, those ambitious plans never came to fruition, and the disappointing club is on pace to finish with a worse record than in 2016.

That said, the Phillies haven’t been without bright spots, as a handful of young players are giving fans a reason to look forward to Opening Day in 2018. Front and center is the club’s top draft pick in 2014, Aaron Nola, who’s having himself a promising third season in the big leagues. Making his 25th start of the season on Wednesday night, Nola went seven strong frames, ceding just one run on four hits and two walks while striking out a career-best 11 batters.

The 24-year-old showcased his curveball in this outing, throwing it 36 percent of the time and netting 11 whiffs on the pitch. Nola wasn’t afraid to use the devilish breaker in all counts, but it was particularly effective when finishing off at-bats, as he struck out eight with it.

On offense, Rhys Hoskins stole the show, per usual. This may shock you, but Hoskins did the thing where he hit the baseball over the fence. If you’re counting, and I’m guessing you are, that’s his 17th home run of the season in just 33 games.

***

Post-All-Star break Ervin Santana hasn’t exactly been the same pitcher who carried a 2.99 ERA in a remarkable first half, but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how to pitch. In fact, he recaptured his early-season magic in his latest start on Wednesday against the Padres and then some, going six scoreless innings and striking out seven while allowing just three hits.

Alas, a one-run lead was quickly coughed up Trevor Hildenberger on Austin Hedges’ 17th home run of the season (seriously, is every hitter going to smack 20 home runs this season?), and the game went into extra innings.

Matt Belisle kept San Diego bats quiet in the top of the 10th frame, and the Twins offense went to work in the bottom half. With Joe Mauer on first base and two away in the inning, Eddie Rosario took two balls from Phil Maton and then turned on a high-and-inside fastball, lifting it just past the foul pole for a walk-off two-run shot.

***

Mike Zunino status: Good.

UPDATE: Mike Zunino status: Gooder.

***

As it turns out, forgetting to tell your ace to rebuild his shoulder muscles following thoracic outlet surgery isn’t the best plan. Atrophied shoulders aren’t too great for throwing baseballs, and if you’d like some evidence, allow me to direct you to Matt Harvey’s 2017 season.

Now up to a 6.14 ERA on the season, Harvey was helpless against the Cubs’ offensive attack on Wednesday, giving up five runs on seven hits and four walks over 3 1/3 innings (somewhat incredibly, he didn’t allow a home run). The Cubs didn’t take their foot off the gas after Harvey was lifted, scoring another 12 runs in the final six innings. The main victim was Jacob Rhame, who allowed five runs while recording all of one out in the eighth inning. The damage? A 17-5 blowout. It hasn’t been a good season for the Mets, folks.

Defensive Play of the Day

It wasn’t exactly a spectacular catch, but Lonnie Chisenhall’s sliding grab to retire Ian Kinsler and seal 21 straight wins for the Indians was a heck of a moment on Wednesday.

What to Watch Thursday

If you’re reading this article, you probably know which game is worth setting aside time for: the Indians will be going for their 22nd straight win at 7:10 pm ET against the Royals, with Josh Tomlin (5.13 ERA) taking on Jakob Junis (4.34 ERA).

If you want to get into the winning mood before the evening matchup, Drew Pomeranz (3.35 ERA) should do the trick against the Athletics at 1:35 pm ET. Ten minutes after that game’s first pitch, Cardinals rookie Luke Weaver (2.16 ERA) will look to keep the ball rolling against Amir Garrett (7.39 ERA) and the Reds.

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

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