Clayton Kershaw vs. Max Scherzer in Washington and Johnny Cueto vs. Jon Lester in Chicago.
On Wednesday night, the Giants did what they have done in every even year of Barack Obama’s presidency: win a do-or-die game in the playoffs. Now, the Giants head to Wrigley Field with the unenviable task of trying to knock off the 103-win Cubs.
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The battle of the best rookies in the NL kicks off in DC.
The battle for coastal supremacy will pit the two best rookies in the National League against each other, not to mention two of the best pitchers in the game right now. It’s hard to fathom that so many storylines could fit in one series and not focus on Bryce Harper, and yet he was neither the most dynamic (Trea Turner) nor the best (Daniel Murphy) player on his team this year. The Dodgers needed every ounce of their depth to arrive in the playoffs, burning through [checks notes] 41 starting pitchers this season. Hey, it was plausible for a minute, right? Fine, whatever. Let’s be real, this is a contest to decide who can lose to the Best Team In Baseball Cubs or the Even Year Bullsh*t Giants, anyway, right?
The Nationals' newest star isn't just great--he's the exact right kind of great for his manager's liking.
You wouldn’t know it by their 17-11 August record, nor by their 100 percent Playoff Odds, but this has been a bit of a turbulent season (again) for the talented Nationals. They’ve gotten some very good luck—like Brandon Phillipsblocking a trade to Washington this winter, forcing the team to move on and sign Daniel Murphy; like Wilson Ramos suddenly becoming the star-caliber catcher for which first the Twins, then the Nationals had waited so long—but also some bad breaks, like Stephen Strasburg’s continued injury problems, and Bryce Harper’s (possibly injury-driven) two-month hiatus from Harperness. They’ve had to rebuild their bullpen on the fly, and navigate some odd early-season decisions by Dusty Baker.
The long-term deals signed last winter have turned into one of the ugliest in recent memory, from the teams' perspectives.
If you look back at the biggest multi-year contracts signed by free agents every offseason, the rate of teams at some point wishing they could get out of the deal tends to be high. On the most basic level, there’s simply a lot of room for a nine-figure investment in a baseball player to go wrong, particularly when the player is usually on the wrong side of 30 years old and coming off a stretch of good performance that makes for a natural regression candidate. Beyond that, the notion of a “winner’s curse” is at work, in that any team bidding enough to secure a high-end free agent likely did so by paying a premium. And, of course, players sign deals when they're in their prime. They end them when they're old, but still getting paid like they're not.
None of which is to suggest that handing out $100 million-plus deals to free agents is always a bad idea, but rather that for the contract to be a good idea the team has to get tremendous value in the early years. There’s a tacit understanding that, for instance, a six-year, $150 million signing will not provide the team with as much value in Year 5 and Year 6 as it does in Year 1 and Year 2, but the team lives with the later years of the contract in order to get the early years. Another way of looking at it is that, if things don’t go well in those early years of a big long-term contract, the whole signing may turn very, very ugly.
Stephen Strasburg's perfect season gets befouled. Meanwhile, a baseball traveled 484 feet and Francisco Liriano righted himself.
The Thursday Takeaway
We’re not supposed to talk about pitcher wins anymore. There’s no real need to count the ways that the statistic is misleading and poorly constructed; Brian Kenny can take care of that for you. If you read this site, you should know why it’s not the greatest barometer of pitching success in a world filled with poor pitching barometers. In a world of blind men, the one-eyed man is king. The pitcher win is a blind man without a nose or nerve endings in his fingers.
Stephen Strasburg coasts to a record win, Ryon Healy gets his first big-league knock, and Santiago Casilla balks his way out of extra innings.
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.
Notable starts this week from Stephen Strasburg, Dallas Keuchel and Anthony DeSclafani
It’s a short week in the sense of taking notes, as the extended All-Star break left me with just a couple of days that bookended the time off from regular baseball. There was still plenty of intrigue, from one man’s quest for hardware to another man’s attempts to justify hardware already won, as well as a staff ace who missed the first couple months of the season. Let’s get to the notes.