keyboard_arrow_uptop

The Monday Takeaway
Few pitchers are as unhittable at their best as Max Scherzer is. The right-hander’s 20-strikeout game earlier this year can attest to that. And for a while on Monday, it seemed as though Scherzer might duplicate that effort against a Cubs lineup that looked helpless at the plate.

Scherzer struck out the side in the first, two more in the second, and another trio in the third. With his high-80s breaker darting expertly at lefties’ back feet,

via GIPHY

his 96-mph fastball running perfectly toward the corners,

via GIPHY

and his changeup showing devastating fade,

via GIPHY

the strikeout record watch was on, and the perfect-game alerts would soon follow.

Scherzer was unblemished heading into the sixth, which began with a ground out by Miguel Montero. Then, up stepped Addison Russell for the most impressive at-bat of the day:

After a helpful call from home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna on a 1-1 breaking ball that appeared to nip the low-and-away corner, the young shortstop fought off everything Scherzer threw at him, before unloading on a rare hanger for a game-tying jack.

While the Cubs will hope that gives Russell going at the plate, the Nats had to get going soon thereafter to regain the lead. Enter Wilson Ramos:

The catcher’s solo shot gave his battery-mate a 2-1 edge, and the Nationals would add two more in the inning, before Scherzer notched his 11th strikeout of the night in a scoreless seventh. His final line: 7 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 0 walks, and 11 strikeouts on 93 pitches. Scherzer likely had more in the tank, but manager Dusty Baker elected to lift him for a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and two down. Chris Heisey struck out, but the 4-1 lead would hold the rest of the way.

Monday’s terrific outing was Scherzer’s fourth double-digit-strikeout effort of the season, but just his second without a free pass allowed, the other being his 20-strikeout gem on May 11th. The Nats are now 9-5 behind their ace, who’s been splendid with the exception of one bugaboo: the long ball. Russell’s perfecto-shattering blast Monday was the 17th given up by Scherzer in just 95 1/3 innings. And that’s why, despite being second only to Clayton Kershaw in strikeouts with 118, Scherzer is just 39th among qualifiers with a 3.40 ERA.

Quick Hits from Monday
When the White Sox obtained James Shields from the Padres, many questioned the fit, in large part because of the righty’s struggles with the long ball. Those concerns promptly rose to the forefront, when the Nationals came to town and smacked three taters in a two-inning, seven-run drubbing of a Pale Hose debut. Shields’ first chance to atone for that dud came Monday, with the Tigers visiting U.S. Cellular Field. And…

…welp. One batters and two pitches into the game, Ian Kinsler went yard. That would be Detroit’s only dinger at Shields’ expense, but they’d score six more times on eight other hits and four walks. Shields worked five innings and only struck out one.

But all’s well that ends well, and this one—as unlikely as it seemed when the Tigers led 7-0 heading into the last of the third—would end well for the South Siders.

Chicago trailed 9-7 in the bottom of the ninth, when Francisco Rodriguez entered and split his first four foes down the middle, permitting two runners while recording to outs. Brett Lawrie halved the deficit with an RBI single

via GIPHY

and Avisail Garcia knotted it up:

via GIPHY

Three innings later, a leadoff double by J.B. Shuck, a sacrifice bunt, and Adam Eaton’s fourth hit of the night

sent the fans home happy, giving Shields a brief reprieve from the harsh reality of his 16.71 American League ERA.

***

Coming into last night’s game against the Dodgers, Brad Ziegler had converted 40 straight save chances. The submarining right-hander had steadily been climbing up the save-streak leaderboard, and the next step on that ladder was occupied by Rod Beck, Heath Bell, and Trevor Hoffman. But he’d have to work extra hard to join that troika with 41.

Ziegler came on with the bases loaded and one out in a one-run game–and he did so in the eighth inning, not the ninth. To avoid having blowing his first save since May 27th, 2015, he’d need to strand all three of those runners aboard. And to pick up his 13th save of the 2016 season, he’d need to do that, and then get three more outs in the ninth.

First things first, Ziegler had to navigate the mess left for him by Daniel Hudson, who faced four batters after relieving ex-Dodger Zack Greinke in the eighth and walked three of them. Ziegler came on when Kiké Hernandez was announced as a pinch-hitter, with his manager, Chip Hale, likely seeking a groundball. Beggars can’t be choosers, though, and Hale would settle for this:

via GIPHY

Hernandez took a seat after flailing at a breaking ball well outside, and then watched Howie Kendrick do the same:

via GIPHY

To Kendrick’s credit, he’d eventually make contact, flipping a threatening flare into shallow center.

via GIPHY

But Michael Bourn was there to save Ziegler’s streak.

The Dodgers went down in order in the ninth, so the righty did indeed match Beck, Bell, and Hoffman at 41 in a row. And the D’backs prevailed 3-2.

***

When the injury-ravaged Royals called up 27-year-old Whit Merrifield from Triple-A, the utility man had 11 doubles, no triples, and five homers to his name in 163 plate appearances. Merrifield was having a nice spring on the farm, but he wasn’t expected to be anything more than a versatile plug-in, with Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas on the disabled list.

Except Merrifield had other ideas. He came up and raked, carrying just an 11.8 percent soft-hit rate into play yesterday, the 15th-lowest clip in the majors, a shade better than those of Jose Altuve, Carlos Beltran, and Joe Mauer. Merrifield’s only had two walks in 89 trips, but the Royals could live with that if he kept hitting the ball hard. And, well,

That counts. In the fourth inning of Monday’s tilt with the Indians, Merrifield cranked an 0-2 mistake from Carlos Carrasco over the Royals bullpen in left field for his first big-league home run. That came three frames after a leadoff triple…

…that was smoked to the opposite field, but was as much a misplay by the right fielder, Lonnie Chisenhall, as it was a true three-bagger. That’s how it went into the book, though, and so Merrifield picked up his first triple and his first big fly on the same evening.

As it turned out, Merrifield would also score the Royals’ only runs, coming across in the first on an RBI knock by Alcides Escobar before driving in himself in the fourth. Edinson Volquez greatly appreciated that support, for without it, his seven shutout frames would’ve gone unrewarded. After Kelvin Herrera served up a solo shot to Jason Kipnis, Wade Davis nailed down the 2-1 win.

***

There were nervous moments in Oakland on Monday night—not because the Warriors dropped Game Five of the NBA Finals to the Cavaliers, not because Shin-Soo Choo returned from the DL to slug this long ball,

via GIPHY

but because of this:

The A’s had 10 runs on the board when Choo’s bomb cleared the center-field fence, but their starting pitcher, Sean Manaea, was shedding velocity in a hurry as his pitch count cleared 75. If you watch the GIF above closely, you’ll notice Manaea shaking his left arm as he watches the ball fly. He left immediately thereafter with what was initially diagnosed as a strained pronator muscle in his forearm. More testing will follow today, and we’ll hope for the best for the young southpaw.

In the meantime, the A’s were busy giving the Rangers pitching staff the business, pulling no punches, particularly after Tom Wilhelmsen came on in relief of Cesar Ramos. Wilhelmsen lasted just one inning, and in it, he gave up six runs on nine—NINE!—hits, the loudest of them this three-run shot by Josh Phegley:

via GIPHY

According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Wilhelmsen is just the ninth reliever to be shelled to that extent—nine or more hits, three or fewer outs recorded—since at least 1913, and the first since Mike Matthews coughed up nine hits in two-thirds of an inning on June 27th, 2004.

The A’s had 17 total knocks, 15 of them singles, in the 14-5 romp, which also featured…

The Defensive Play of the Day

…courtesy of Tyler Ladendorf:

What to Watch on Tuesday

Some four years after the Padres made him the 33rd-overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, Zach Eflin is ready to make his major-league debut. He’ll do so as a member of the Phillies, having taken a roundabout path to Philadelphia, with a brief detour to Los Angeles. Eflin was first traded from the Padres to the Dodgers in the Matt Kemp blockbuster, before moving on to the Phillies in the deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to L.A. Now, after stops in Reading and Lehigh Valley, he’s ready for his first taste of The Show, which’ll come in today’s matinee in Toronto. The 22-year-old Eflin is a strike-thrower, as Christopher Crawford described in our Call-Up post yesterday, but he’s also done a fine job of keeping opponents in the park this year, with just two homers allowed in 68 1/3 Triple-A innings. That skill could come in handy this afternoon, when Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Co. dig in at the Rogers Centre. Marcus Stroman gets the ball for the Jays (12:37 p.m. ET).

***

Two seasons into a four-year, $50 million contract, Matt Garza hasn’t returned much value to the Brewers. In fact, after a dreadful 2015 campaign in which the right-hander compiled a 6.17 DRA and 118 cFIP, he’s been a combined 0.2 wins below replacement level halfway through the deal. As if that weren’t bad enough, Garza has spent the first two months and change of the 2016 season on the disabled list nursing a lat strain, costing him and the club valuable time to get out of the red. Now that his arm is back in order, Garza will come off the shelf to face the Giants in this evening’s middle match at AT&T Park.

The 32-year-old made three rehab starts on his way back to the majors, all of them with Low-A Wisconsin, where he gave up seven runs (six earned) in 11 1/3 innings but did record a 10-to-1 K:BB ratio. Garza faces a tall order, taking on Madison Bumgarner in his first start at AT&T Park in more than four years (10:15 p.m. ET).