The Tuesday Takeaway
This week's series between the Nationals and Cubs has been promoted as the first time Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant—who both hail from Las Vegas and have emerged as two of the game's brightest stars—have taken the field in opposition. It's always humbling to remember that Bryant is actually the elder of the two young players and makes you appreciate how amazing Harper's career has been so far.
The drawing power that the two young stars bring often outpaces any actual "matchup" that takes place given that Harper and Bryant aren't actually squaring off against each other. That being said, nobody is complaining about getting to see two of the sport's brightest stars without having to grab the remote. Bryant went deep in the series opener on Monday, accounting for the home squad's only form of offense in their 2–1 loss, but we got enticing displays of power from both Bryant and Harper in the middle match of the series.
The Cubs had jumped out to an early lead when Dexter Fowler went yard off Jordan Zimmermann to lead off the bottom of the first inning, but Zimmermann and Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks traded zeroes for the next six innings. Zimmermann had the Cubs' hitters swinging over his slider all night, generating 10 swings and misses with the pitch, striking out five, and scattering six hits over seven innings. He didn't allow a run after Fowler's home run.
As for Hendricks, he made few mistakes throughout the night, but he also got some timely defensive help from his young infield to keep the Nationals off the board through six innings. In the second inning, Addison Russell robbed Ryan Zimmerman of a single up the middle with a diving backhand stab to record the second out of the inning.
Just a few pitches later Wilson Ramos hit a slow chopper down the third base line, which Bryant charged, barehanded, and whipped to first to end the inning.
The very next inning the Nationals threatened with a runner on second base and two away. Denard Span hit a grounder into the five-five hole but Starlin Castro got a good read on the ball and made a diving stop to keep the ball in the infield and hold the runner at third base. Ian Desmond proceeded to ground out to end the inning.
Harper led off the seventh inning against Hendricks, who fell behind 3–1 before firing in a fastball on the outer third of the plate. Harper got under the pitch and threw his bat toward the dugout in disgust
before realizing that the ball had actually cleared the fence in left field for Harper's 17th home run of the season.
Harper's dinger may have been aided by the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field on Tuesday but the ease with which he flipped the ball the other way is just another example of the ridiculous strength Harper possesses.
And speaking of strength …
Bryant showed off his own, crushing a hanging breaking ball by Aaron Barrett an estimated 477 feet off the new scoreboard in left field to tie the game back up at 2–2 after the Nationals reclaimed the lead in the top of the eighth inning.
Chris Coghlan started things off for the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth with a one-out single back up the middle against reliever Matt Grace. Grace got Jonathan Herrera to ground into a force out but the Cubs infielder advanced to second base after an ill-advised throw by Ian Desmond sailed into the home dugout.
That set the stage for Addison Russell, who has been a mixed bag at the plate since reaching the majors. The 21-year-old has shown some pop since being called up, which has led to a .262 True Average entering Tuesday's game (the average TAv for MLB second basemen entering Tuesday was .259), but Russell has also had trouble putting the bat on the ball, with his 69.5 percent contact rate rivaling that of fellow rookie teammates Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler and leading to a 37 percent strikeout rate.
But Russell put good wood on the ball on Tuesday, notching a single in the third inning and ripping a two-bagger to the warning track in left field in the seventh inning. He put an exclamation mark on one of the finer nights of his young major league career by drilling a slider off the plate from Grace into the right center gap for the first walk-off hit of his career.
Quick Hits from Tuesday
Jose Bautista has been battling an ailing shoulder for most of the past month, keeping him off the field and limiting him to DH. The Blue Jays slugger received a cortisone shot on Sunday and returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing the last two games. It's still way too early to gauge whether the treatment will bring Bautista back to full strength but the Blue Jays must have been encouraged by his night at the plate against the White Sox.
After flying out to right field in his first at bat, Bautista stepped to the plate with runners on in his next three trips and ripped a double all three times, driving in five runs on the afternoon. His first two-bagger came in the third inning off John Danks, who was actually called for a balk on the play, but the umpires let the play proceed after the ball bounced over the center field fence for a ground rule double.
Both Danks and R.A. Dickey were getting knocked around, which was why the score was already 5–4 in favor of the White Sox by the time Bautista took his next stroll to the plate in the fifth inning. With runners at first and second, Bautista sliced a 1–2 offering from Danks down the right field line to plate both runners and reclaim the lead for the home nine. The White Sox added a run in the top of the sixth inning to even the score back at six apiece but Bautista gave Toronto the lead once again in the seventh with a double down the right field line; Josh Donaldson came around to score after J.B. Shuck misplayed the ball.
But Bautista didn't even have the best night at the plate on his own team. Donaldson started the offensive barrage with a solo blast in the first inning, then added a single, double, and walk, and came around to score all three times on subsequent Bautista knocks.
The seesaw battle continued with the White Sox tallying three runs in the top of the eighth inning to take a 9-7 lead, which they turned over to the nearly automatic David Robertson in the ninth inning. Robertson entered the game with just three runs allowed and a ridiculous 29:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 1/3 innings this season. In the spirit of the slugfest, though, Josh Thole led things off with a single and Jose Reyes followed with a double to right field. That brought Donaldson to the plate. After missing below the knees with a cutter, Tyler Flowers called for another one of Robertston's bread-and-butter pitches low and over the inner third of the plate. Robertson missed badly up and Donaldson took a big hack at the pitch but came up empty. Flowers called for another cutter down at the knees and Robertson missed his spot again, this time over the heart of the plate. Given a second chance, Donaldson didn't miss, sending the mistake over the right field fence to cap off a crazy shootout in Toronto.
The last time Jacob deGrom took the hill he retired the final 23 batters he faced as part of an eight-inning masterpiece against the Cardinals. Any hope of a hidden perfect game for deGrom was squashed out of the gate when Ben Revere led off the game with a single to left field. However, deGrom stifled opposing batters once again, striking out nine with zero walks while holding the Phillies to just four hits over seven scoreless innings.
deGrom got ahead in the count early (21 of 27 first pitch strikes) and pounded the strike zone with his fastball (76 percent strikes), at one point retiring 11 straight batters.
The former Stetson University shortstop also helped out his own cause by keeping a rally going with his legs in the bottom of the third inning. Kevin Plawecki had reached on an infield single to start the frame and, after failing to get the sacrifice bunt down, deGrom was given the green light on 0–2. He promptly hit a tailor-made double play ball to second base, but, perhaps with the assumption that the pitcher was running, Chase Utley made a soft toss to Freddy Galvis, who was ready to make the turn. However, the extra split second that Utley took to start the potential twin killing cost the Phillies, as deGrom, hustling out the box, beat Galvis' throw by half a step.
The Mets' offense rewarded deGrom for his hustle by capitalizing on the extra out they were granted. Lucas Duda singled home a run to put the Mets on the board with two outs and Michael Cuddyer collected a pair of two-out RBIs later in the inning to give deGrom a 3–0 cushion.
But deGrom's command began to waver toward the end of the seventh inning, as he got away with a handful of mistake pitches up in the zone and came back out for the eighth inning at 98 pitches. After retiring the first batter of the inning, deGrom promptly gave up back-to-back base knocks to Carlos Ruiz and Cesar Hernandez, which brought out Terry Collins to end the right-hander's night.
New York's bullpen proceeded to implode, with Hansel Robles serving up a two-run triple to Revere and a game-tying single to Galvis. Alex and Carlos Torres each gave up singles before the inning had concluded to give the Phillies the 4–3 lead. However, the Mets came back to tie the game in the bottom of the frame against an erratic Ken Giles, thus giving the Citi Field crowd a dose of free baseball.
Jeanmar Gomez remained in the game for the Phillies to start his second inning of work in the 10th inning but gave up a leadoff single to Juan Lagares. Southpaw Elvis Araujo came in to face Lucas Duda but the first baseman worked a six-pitch walk. The Mets nearly blew their prime scoring opportunity, as Daniel Murphy promptly grounded into a double play, but Wilmer Flores bailed out his double play partner with a base knock to walk it off for the Amazin's.
With the addition of a curveball and a spike in his splitter usage this season, Danny Salazar doesn't use his slider all that often anymore. The 25-year-old has used the pitch just 7 percent of the time this season and has utilized it just 2 percent of the time to left-handed hitters. As Nick Wheatley-Schaller pointed out, Salazar had thrown a lefty a first-pitch slider just once this season prior to Tuesday's start against the Rangers. He threw a second one during the outing but unfortunately for Salazar he hung the pitch to one of the hottest hitters in the game.
Prince Fielder's moonshot tied the game at three apiece and was one of three hits by the slugger during the game. It was the fourth straight three-hit game for Fielder, who entered Tuesday's game with a .352 True Average and has been one of the key cogs in the resurgent Rangers offense this season. Mitch Moreland went deep off Nick Hagadone in the eighth inning to break the tie and Shawn Tolleson shut the door on the 4–3 final.
Red Sox fans are glad to see Rusney Castillo up with the team after the Cuban outfielder spent the first month and a half of the season down at Triple-A. One man who is probably not too pleased with the arrival of the toolsy outfielder is Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki, who was robbed of a base hit twice by Castillo last night.
The Wailuku, Hawaii native drove a fastball up and away from Clay Buchholz into the right-center gap in the sixth inning but Castillo raced over and went airborne to make a spectacular backhanded diving catch.
The next time up, Suzuki sliced a ball down the right field line but once again Castillo was there to make the diving catch.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox their bats were unable to match Castillo's glove, as Mike Pelfrey quieted the offense with seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball. The Twins plated a pair of runs in the first off Buchholz, which turned out to be all the home squad needed. Blaine Boyer and Glen Perkins did the rest after Pelfrey departed to clinch the series win for the Twins, who improved to 27–18 and are suddenly just one game back of the Royals—who dropped their third straight game on Tuesday—in the American League Central.
The Defensive Play of the Day
After all those home-run robbing grabs in center field, Mike Trout now knows what it feels like to be on the receiving end of one of them. This time it was Will Venable's turn to flash the leather.
Venable's catch turned out to play a pivotal role, as Trout's robbed homer would have been the only run scored during the first nine innings between the Padres and Angels. Odrisamer Despaigne and Matt Shoemaker each turned in scoreless outings and the two bullpens kept things tidy as the game carried on to the 10th inning. However, Joe Smith allowed a leadoff single to Jedd Gyorko and issued back-to-back walks to load the bases with one out. The sidearm-slinging reliever struck out Justin Upton to get within one out of escaping the jam but Matt Kemp cleared the bases to give the Padres the first lead of the game. Kemp scored later in the inning on a Derek Norris single and Craig Kimbrel closed things out in the bottom of the inning to give the Padres the win.
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What to Watch on Wednesday
Entering Tuesday's slate of games, Carlos Carrasco had the third-best cFIP on the Indians staff behind Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner has been pitching as well as anybody in the game as of late and Salazar appears to be on the cusp of becoming a star, so third place in a rotation comprising those two and an improving Trevor Bauer is nothing to scoff at. However, leaving Carrasco's season at that would be underselling the 28-year-old, given that he not only ranks third on his own staff but also has the third-best cFIP among all starting pitchers this season.
With three arms pacing all starting pitchers in cFIP, it's no wonder the Indians entered Tuesday's slate of games with an 82 cFIP, a mark that places them significantly ahead of the 92 sported by the second-place Cubs. But despite the league's best cFIP and the third-best team DRA, the Indians remain at the bottom of the league with the seventh-highest team ERA. Much of this enormous gap between the true talent of Cleveland's rotation and the actual run prevention when they're on the hill can be ascribed to the team ranking dead last in baseball in defensive efficiency. Zone-based defensive metrics also perceive the Indians as one of the worst defensive squads in baseball this season.
After considering the poor defense behind Carrasco, the picture becomes slightly clearer when assessing his 4.74 ERA and .351 BABIP this season, as his peripherals haven't been all that different from what they were in 2014. His strikeout rate is practically the same as it was during his phenomenal 10-start stretch at the end of last season, and while he has walked a few more batters and served up a couple extra long balls, there's reason to believe he should be one of the better starting pitchers in the league going forward. His next assignment will be to try to cool off a Texas squad that steamrolled through the Yankees over the weekend and is the winner of seven straight games (12:05 p.m. EST).
If you're looking for Wednesday's premier pitching duel you'll want to clear your plans for the evening's matchup on the north side of Chicago. However, if you can't fit that game into your schedule, you could do worse than tuning in to the matinee in Tampa Bay that will pit Felix Hernandez against Chris Archer. Despite giving up home runs at a slightly elevated rate this season, King Felix has continued to dominate opposing hitters this season and has actually generated groundballs at the highest rate since his rookie season. As for Archer, the 26-year-old has used his nasty slider nearly two out of every five pitches this season, which, along with an uptick in velocity across the board, has led to the fourth-highest strikeout rate among qualified starting pitchers this season. There is plenty of afternoon baseball to choose from on Wednesday—first pitch for nine games will have taken place before the clock strikes 2 p.m. on the East Coast—but if there's one game to have up on the big screen, it's hard to find a better pick than this one (1:10 p.m. EST).
After the power that was on display Tuesday at Wrigley Field, Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant will be back for more on Wednesday. However, the series finale between the Nationals and Cubs should provide the most interesting individual matchups of the series with Harper and Bryant each scheduled to take their hacks against bona fide aces. Harper will square off against Jon Lester for the first time in his career while Bryant will try to inflict damage on Max Scherzer (8:05 p.m. EST).
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