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The Tuesday Takeaway
The debut of Noah Syndergaard was highly anticipated largely because the 6-foot-6 right-hander has the type of pedigree that gives him the potential to be one of the better pitchers in baseball down the road. However, Syndergaard is also 22 years old and is far from a finished product, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that the hard-throwing Texan ran into some issues against a talented Cubs lineup on Tuesday. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that the guy opposite Syndergaard, Jake Arrieta, one-upped the rookie and pitched like a polished front-of-the-rotation starter, given that it’s pretty much what he’s been for the past year.

The first pitch of Syndergaard’s major-league career buzzed in at 97 mph, missing just below the knees of Dexter Fowler. The Cubs outfielder headed back to the dugout three pitches later after failing to check his swing on a curve ball in the dirt from the man they call Thor. The Mets rookie touched 99 mph later the inning and cruised through his first two frames but was faced with his first bout of adversity in the third inning.

Syndergaard was on his way to a clean frame but a mental lapse by Daniel Murphy prolonged what should have been a 1-2-3 inning. Murphy played the grounder as if it was routine and made a lazy throw to first base. Bryant, who hustled out of the box, was able to beat it out and keep the inning alive. Syndergaard promptly walked Anthony Rizzo on four pitches and then issued a second straight free pass to Montero, which loaded the bases for Jorge Soler The scouting report on the Cubs rookie was clear, as Syndergaard went to his curve on six of the first seven pitches to run the count full. He finally came back with a 98 mph fastball and Soler flied out to right to end the inning.

The Cubs threatened again in the fifth, with Bryant scorching a 2-0 fastball off the right field wall for a two-out triple. Syndergaard walked Rizzo and fell behind 2-0 to Montero but battled back against the catcher with a curve for strike one, a fastball fouled off for strike two and then a 97 mph heater up and out of the zone to escape his second jam of the game.

Syndgergaard flashed the weapons of the top prospect that Mets fans had anticipated: his fastball sat 97-98 mph throughout the start, his curveball generated its fair share of ugly swings

and buckled knees

and he was able to pull the string on a couple of good changeups. He mixed his pitches well throughout the night and showed a willingness to throw his secondary stuff in hitter’s counts. However, he also found himself in hitter’s counts far too often, throwing first-pitch strikes to just 12 of the 26 batters he faced. That finally caught up to him in the sixth inning.

After falling behind 2-0 to Soler, Syndergaard left a fastball up at the letters and the Cubs rookie ripped a single right back up the middle. He then got to a 2-2 count against Starlin Castro but the shortstop smacked a hanging breaking ball down the left field line for a double that broke the scoreless tie. Up next was Chris Coghlan, who got ahead in the count before launching a center-cut fastball into the empty right-field bleachers.

Syndergaard stayed in and struck out Arrieta for his sixth punchout of the game but was promptly given the hook by manager Terry Collins after 103 pitches. The three-run lead that Cubs had built up by the time they had chased Syndergaard from the game was more than enough for Arrieta to work with.

The right-hander carved up the Mets lineup, with the only hit through seven inning coming on a soft grounder down the third base line by Daniel Murphy that only got through because the Cubs had been shading him. Arrieta attacked early with his fastball and was able to keep Mets guessing later in the count with both his slider and curve, notching seven swing and misses with his breaking pitches. His dominating stuff was on display from the get-go, with arguably his most impressive work of the evening coming against the most potent hitter in the visiting lineup in the second inning.

Arrieta started off Lucas Duda with a first-pitch fastball for a called strike and then got the left-handed slugger to swing through a curveball low and away.

Next came a 0-2 curveball in the dirt that Duda was able to lay off. Arrieta then went back upstairs with a fastball up and in to change Duda’s eye level.

The right-hander then dotted a fastball on the black, which Duda could only hope to spoil foul. Arrieta came back with another nasty curve to finish off the first baseman.

That was one of 10 strikeouts that Arrieta racked up during the outing. The Mets were finally able to muster some offense against him in the eighth inning, with a pair of singles and a sacrifice fly accounting to their only run in the 6-1 defeat.

Quick Hits from Tuesday

Edwin Encarnacion hits balls further than nearly anyone in the game but for the most part, he yanks his long balls down the left field line.

That spray chart, courtesy of Baseball Savant, shows all 34 times that Encarnacion took his parrot for a trot around the bases last year. Two of them were to straight away center but none went the other way. He hit just two to right field in 2013. That’s what made Encarnacion’s home run in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s game against Baltimore so unusual.

Encarnacion’s home run evened things up at 2-2 but it was the next inning that a handful of defensive miscues opened the floodgates for the Orioles. Chris Tillman went back out to the hill to start the seventh inning and after Ryan Goins reached on a leadoff single, the Orioles right-hander got Justin Smoak to hit a soft chopper to first base. Chris Davis fielded the ball and whipped it to Manny Machado—covering second base because of the shift—to start the potential double play ball. However, Machado’s throw was wide of Tillman at first base and forced the pitcher to reach back across his body. The throw was catchable but clanked off Tillman’s glove and Machado was charged with a throwing error.

Tillman fanned Ezequiel Carrera for what should have been the third out of the inning but Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista ripped back-to-back doubles to chase the starter from the game. In came Tommy Hunter and out went Encarnacion’s second opposite-field home run of the game, equaling his total over the past two seasons, and giving the Jays a 6-2 lead.

Baltimore’s woes in the infield continued the next inning. Once again, Toronto’s first batter reached base to lead off the inning but Chris Davis proceeded to throw a potential double play ball into left field. Unlike the previous inning, the Orioles weren’t even able to get one out, and Baltimore was forced to bring the infield in with runners at the corners and no outs. Devon Travis bounced the second pitch he saw to J.J. Hardy and the shortstop short-hopped his throw home. Everybody was safe. Instead of being out of the inning, T.J. McFarland had yet to record an out. Donaldson put the finishing touches on Baltimore’s second four-run inning a couple batters later.

At the end of the day, looking up at the scoreboard would lead you to believe that this game was a complete blowout. Toronto did its due diligence in making Baltimore pay for giving them free outs but the truth is: this one could have been a lot closer if not for a few costly mistakes.

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Things got away just as quickly from the Indians, who had clawed back from an early 4-0 deficit against the Cardinals to make it a one-run game in the eighth inning. Bryan Shaw walked Jason Heyward to lead off the frame and then struck out Mark Reynolds for the first out. The Indians reliever then got Peter Bourjos to hit a bouncer right back to him but bobbled the ball before making his throw to second base. Jose Ramirez, perhaps thinking ahead to a potential double play, dropped Shaw’s throw and the Cardinals had runners at first and second with one out. After Kolten Wong struck out for the second out of the inning, Matt Carpenter singled home an unearned run to give the Cardinals a 5-3 advantage. Matt Holliday extended that lead even further after the Indians made a call to the bullpen.

Holliday’s three-run blast off Scott Atchison put the game out of reach for the Cardinals, who took the series opener by an 8-3 final.

Another noteworthy event that occurred during the game brought a streak to an end for Cleveland’s best hitter. In the fifth inning, Cleveland had a chance to get back into the game, down 3-0. A pair of one-out walks and a single off Lance Lynn loaded the bases for Michael Brantley, who has been the king of contact this season, entering Tuesday with an MLB-best 96.1 percent contact rate. Prior to his at bat against Lynn, Brantley had just two swing-and-misses at pitches inside the strike zone this season, with none against a right-handed pitcher. Before Lynn got Brantley to come up empty on his 3-2 fastball, the last right-hander to generate a swing and miss against Brantley on a pitch in the strike zone was Trevor May, who got him on a 2-1 changeup during a game on September 20 last season.

***

After Stephen Strasburg’s last start, Matthew Trueblood noted that the Nationals starter has gotten away from the pitcher that he has been in the past, pounding the strike zone more frequently but not getting the same type of swings at pitches out of the zone—particularly his curve—as he previously has. Trueblood suggested that this could be because Strasburg’s pitch selection could be getting more predictable, as he has relied more heavily on his fastball, particularly when behind in the count.

If Strasburg is indeed getting more predictable, the Diamondbacks certainly picked up on it, pounding the right-hander for a career-high eight runs (seven earned), including home runs by Ender Inciarte

and Mark Trumbo.

Trumbo’s three-run shot—his first of two dingers during the game—knocked Strasburg out after just 3 and 1/3 innings of work. As you can see in Strasburg’s pitch chart below, he didn’t have trouble finding the strike zone but he got hammered on pitches left over the middle of the plate.

If there was any silver lining for Nationals fans amidst the 14-6 drubbing, it was that Bryce Harper continued his assault on National League pitchers. The 22-year-old clubbed his NL-leading 12th home run of the season off Rubby De La Rosa in the sixth inning.

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Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball very far off Mike Bolsinger on Tuesday night.

In fact, the ball landed on top of the pavilion past the left field bleachers and bounced out of Dodger Stadium. The ball left Stanton’s bat at 114 mph, per Statcast, and traveled an estimated 475 feet. Although it didn’t leave as many jaws on the floor, Stanton actually outdid himself later in the game in terms of exit velocity, as he ripped a single in the sixth inning that left the bat at 120 mph—tied for the hardest recorded exit velocity this season. Stanton, of course, has the other 120 MPH hit, a double scorched down the left field line against the Phillies earlier this month.

However, Stanton was the only Miami hitter to show up against the Dodgers, who routed the Fish by an 11-1 final behind a 21-hit onslaught that included a 5-for-5 performance by Andre Ethier, four hits from Howie Kendrick and three base knocks apiece from Alex Guerrero and Scott Van Slyke.

The Defensive Play of the Day

What to Watch on Wednesday

—Throughout his career, the offering that Sonny Gray has paired with his explosive fastball has been a big 12-to-6 curveball. It has been a swing-and-miss offering since his time at Vanderbilt and was an integral part of his strong sophomore campaign in 2014. Lately, Gray has done some tweaking, and over the past month or so, he appears to be growing more comfortable with his other breaking pitch.

When Eno Sarris talked to Gray prior to the 2013 playoffs, Gray referred to his two breaking balls as just one pitch, saying that he would “sometimes add and subtract” but that it was just one grip. But when Sarris caught up with the Oakland starter last season, Gray admitted that he was now throwing a slider and that it was a separate pitch. Gray’s slider has typically sat between 86-87 mph during his career compared to his 82 mph curve, with the latter getting significantly more drop. Last year, Owen Watson of FanGraphs created a pretty cool overlaid GIF to illustrate the visual difference between the two pitches. But that was last year’s slider and this year Gray has gotten even more horizontal movement on the pitch.

Year

Slider Usage

Velocity

Horizontal Movement

Vertical Movement

2013

3.5%

86.4 MPH

3.24

1.07

2014

10.8%

87.4 MPH

2.67

2.83

2015

17.6%

86.4 MPH

6.13

1.35

The pitch is getting even more sweeping action and so far has generated the fourth-best whiff-per-swing rate among sliders thrown at least 50 times this season. It’s been his go-to pitch when ahead in the count to righties this season and was responsible for nine swing-and-misses in his latest start against the Mariners.

The results so far have been extremely encouraging for Gray, as he trails only Dallas Keuchel and Shelby Miller with a 3.15 DRA and has a cool 81 cFIP to go with it. Keep an eye on whether Gray continues to lean on the slider when the Athletics takes on the Red Sox, who will send the struggling Wade Miley to the bump in the series finale (3:35 p.m. EST).

—Perhaps the best pitching matchup on Wednesday’s docket is a duel between southpaws that is scheduled to take place in Philadelphia. The Pirates will send Francisco Liriano to try and take a third straight game from the Phillies, who will counter with Cole Hamels, who twirled seven outstanding innings against the Mets last Friday and outdueled Matt Harvey in the process. On the other hand, Liriano is coming off his worst outing of the season in terms of run prevention, as he was knocked around by the Cardinals for six runs on six hits last time out despite striking out 10 and walking just one (7:05 p.m. EST).