The Wednesday Takeaway
No division in baseball has so undermined the strategy of spending money to win baseball games as the AL Central. The Tigers, a team that has sold both its soul and farm system for present success, and the White Sox, who went on an eyebrow-raising spending spree themselves during the offseason, currently trail the small-market, offense-light Royals and Twins. After a Kansas City loss and Minnesota win on Wednesday, the two squads are tied atop the division.
The Royals' success is not a new story. They had a red-hot start, fighting for wins both figuratively and literally, and the bullpen has been expectedly good, despite Greg Holland's injury. They also have five players in the lead at their positions in All-Star voting (including Mike Moustakas?! Oh, how times have changed).
The Royals have generally avoided their traditional May swoon, but almost made up for the lost suckage when they got swept by the Yankees in three games. Monday's 14–1 shellacking was spectacularly bad, Tuesday's 5–1 loss was demoralizing, and yesterday's 4–2 defeat was some other word in my thesaurus that I don't have time to look up. It wasn't good.
Michael Pineda and Chris Young are two pitchers so far apart in their repertoires that they might as well be playing different sports. Young had actually been faring better from an ERA standpoint heading into Wednesday—and he still is—but he gave up two dingers, one a three-run shot from Alex Rodriguez, and was undone.
Yankees closer Andrew Miller, the superior of the two North Carolina alumni New York features (guess the other one and I'll give you an imaginary high five), closed out the game to get his 14th save in 14 opportunities, which no Yankee had ever done before. Before you say, "But saves are an arbitrary stat with much to be desired in terms of their ability to measure a relief pitcher's actual effectiveness, and furthermore I bel—" I'll also say that he had a 53 cFIP as of Saturday so SHADDUP.
About the Twins: They're on a five-game winning streak. Great. They just swept the Red Sox at home. Pretty good. But Minnesota is 18th in team OPS and 16th in team ERA, so you know, I'm not so sure about their potential for sustained success.
And I might be onto something. As of early Wednesday morning, the Twins' first-order winning percentage was .055 lower than their actual win percentage. Get down to the second and third orders, and their stock deflates quicker than the Metrodome (RIP). Overall, the Twins have 6.2 fewer third-order wins than actual wins, which is two fewer than the next closest negative delta, put up by the Mets.
But I'm not going to sit here and act like the series against the Red Sox didn't go well. Wednesday's 6–4 win was certainly satisfactory for the Twins. The Red Sox took an early 2–0 lead when Dustin Pedroia hit a two-run dinger off the suddenly mediocre Phil Hughes in the third . . .
. . . and did it again in the fifth.
That only served to narrow the Red Sox's deficit, as the Twins had used RBI singles from Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer and a two-run homer from Aaron Hicks to tag Rick Porcello for five runs in the third and fourth. Minnesota lengthened the lead to 6–4 when Eddie Rosario went way yardskies off Porcello in the bottom of the sixth.
The Red Sox almost tied it up in the top of the seventh, when Brock Holt singled with two outs and, with Brian Duensing on the mound, Blake "The Snake" Swihart cranked one high and deep to left field . . .
. . . but Rosario made a very nice leaping catch at the wall to haul it in for the third out. Nothing much of note happened for the remainder of the game, though Glen Perkins did get his 18th save.
Quick Hits from Yesterday
In the fifth inning of the Cardinals' 4–3 win over the Diamondbacks, Matt Holliday accomplished one of the most impressive offensive feats in baseball history by singling off an 85 mph Josh Collmenter fastball.
Sorry, what now? That wasn't the impressive part? Okay, yeah. The hit, pedestrian as it may have been in the grand scheme of hits, meant Holliday had reached base 43 straight times to begin the season, a National League record.
The baseball-writing Internet public has been picking up on Holliday's under-the-radar excellence and consistency for some time now, most recently in Ben Lindbergh's Grantland article on Tuesday that was an appreciation for both Holliday's streak of successful (but not wildly so) seasons and the steps he's taken to fight back against the encroachment of age and slowing bat speed.
Holliday has resisted the Lindbergh Curse by reaching base in the two games after that article was published, and I'd direct all general inquiries regarding the "how" of his success to that article. I will say this, however: Though the ways they reached the big leagues and their trajectories to success are quite different, Holliday and Albert Pujols, who himself once reached base in 41 games to start a season, are at almost identical points of their career in terms of their places on the aging curve. I'm not exaggerating: Holliday was born on Jan. 15, 1980, and Pujols was born just one day later.
But for a variety of reasons, Holliday's offensive numbers have declined far slower than Pujols' since the latter player earned the ire—and later caused the relief—of many a Cardinals fan by signing a monster deal to go to the Angels as a free agent in 2011. Since that season, Holliday has compiled 11.7 WARP to Pujols' 9.5 while signed to a contract that's far less of a burden on St. Louis' books than Pujols' is on the Angels'.1
On Wednesday, the Cardinals rewarded Holliday's feat with a thrilling win. They entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 3–2 and facing Brad Ziegler, but on the third pitch of the inning Jason Heyward clubbed a solo homer just inside the foul pole to tie the game.
Later in the inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Jhonny Peralta rolled a ball to third that looked like it could send the game to extra innings, but after Diamondbacks catcher Jordan Pacheco received the throw at the plate, he airmailed the toss to Paul Goldschmidt, which may or may not have been due to Peter Bourjos catching Pacheco's leg on his slide.
While Arizona manager Chip Hale protested initially, he later backed off. The Cardinals' win put them 5 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs for the N.L. Central lead and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Astros for the best record in MLB.
Noah Syndergaard had a pretty okay start on Wednesday, throwing 7 1/3 scoreless innings and striking out six. He also did this:
That'll show Chris Hemsworth who the real Thor is! Syndergaard's dinger went 430 feet, which, according to ESPN Stats & Info, is the longest home run hit by a pitcher since Carlos Zambrano in 2012. It's also two feet longer than Matt Holliday's biggest dinger of 2015, so maybe you shoulda written about Noah Syndergaard, huh, Ben?
Syndergaard was also throwing straight gas in his start, hitting 100 mph with a sinker to Chase Utley in the first inning.
The Mets wound up winning 7–0, which gives them a perfectly respectable 27–21 record. That's a game and a half behind Bryce Harper and the mighty Nationals, however, and speaking of those guys . . .
The Nationals' excellence as a team is finally starting to catch up with Max Scherzer's excellence as a starter, and if Washington can replicate what Scherzer did on Wednesday night against the Cubs, they'll end up with like 130 wins this year.
Which won't happen, nor will Scherzer strike out 13 every time out. But he did it, whiffing every Cubs starter except Starlin Castro, and the Nats cruised to a 3–0 victory. Washington's offensive output was partially aided by the Cubs' defensive sloppiness, as the Nationals' first run came when second baseman Addison Russell short-hopped a throw to Anthony Rizzo on the back end of a potential double play.
Yunel Escobar wound up coming home to score instead. In the sixth inning, Harper got around on an elevated fastball from Jon Lester and sent it into the right-field bleachers, giving Washington a 2–0 lead.
Danny Espinosa pushed the advantage to 3–0 in the top of the ninth with a solo jack, and Drew Storen closed the game out for the Nationals in the bottom of the frame. An equally compelling pursuit to either team's pursuit for a playoff spot was Lester's quest for the first hit of his career. And wouldn't you know it, he nearly pulled a Syndergaard!
Oh well. And to add insult to injury, Scherzer had a single off Lester.
Nelson Cruz continued his impressive early-season trend of, well, hitting a lot of dingers. Wednesday's Mariners-Rays matchup was generally a tight pitching duel between Felix Hernandez and Chris Archer, who combined for 20 strikeouts and just six hits allowed to that point.
You'll notice that one of those slider/short curve things he throws was clocked at an ungodly 91 mph. That's probably good for a lot of Bards, going off Jeff Long's pitch-nastiness rating system.
Alas, Brad Boxberger couldn't hold the line for Archer. He struck out Austin Jackson and Mike Zunino to begin the ninth, but then walked Seth Smith and Robinson Cano, opening the door for Cruz to whack one far over the head of Rays center fielder and Herndon High School alumnus Brandon Guyer.
There were no actual Rays harmed on that home run. At least, I don't think so.
Defensive Play of the Day
That's Starling Marte, probably robbing Christian Yelich of a home run. (Which was hit to the opposite field, natch.) Nice job tracking it, nice job timing the leap and holding onto the ball, nice job keeping the sunglasses on. Swag is indisputably the most important part of playing left field.
Also, that highlight clip contains both the call from Root Sports and that of the Pittsburgh radio station KDKA, the world's first commercial radio station. How about a little bit of history of journalism with your baseball blog? See, I knew that college education wasn't a total waste.
What to Watch on Thursday
Today is a pretty light day: Only eight games are scheduled, with two of them being part of an Orioles–White Sox doubleheader that's making up for two games cancelled because of the Baltimore riots in late April. But Corey Kluber is throwing for the Indians against James Paxton and the Mariners, and any time Stetson University's finest (sorry, Jacob deGrom) takes the mound, thrills are bound to be in the offing. Kluber's last outing, against the Reds, saw him record a comparably pedestrian seven strikeouts, down from the 30 combined he'd racked up in his previous two starts. However, the Mariners just whiffed 12 times against Chris Archer, so they're certainly prone to games low in contact. Kluber will also try to go eight innings or longer for the fourth straight game after doing so only once in his first seven starts of the season.
Buck Farmer, one of the few players with any real prospect pedigree in the Tigers' farm system, is set to make his season debut against the Angels. We most recently ranked the Georgia Tech alumnus the fourth-best prospect in Detroit's farm system, assigning him an overall future potential of a no. 4 starter. However, in his short stint in the big leagues last year, Farmer showed the overall future potential of a guy who lives in a van down by the river, coughing up 11 runs in 6 1/3 innings as a starter, including seven runs in 1 1/3 against the Twins. He's been pretty good in Triple-A this year, allowing 41 hits in 51 1/3 innings while striking out 50. And now, as a reward, he gets to face Mike Trout! Congrats, Buck!
Shelby Miller has yet to give up more than three runs in a start this year, and he will try to keep that streak going against the Giants, who are right at the league median in terms of runs scored. However, change that split to the current month, and the Giants are third in baseball. Will Miller slow San Francisco's offensive surge? Will San Francisco's bats bring Miller down to earth? Will I heed my ninth grade English teacher's advice and stop using so many rhetorical questions?
1. Holliday's brother, Oklahoma State baseball head coach Josh, has also had a pretty solid spring for himself, leading the Cowboys to 37–18 record this spring and a spot hosting a regional, which begins Friday in Stillwater, Okla.↵