The Wednesday Takeaway
The Royals beat the Twins for their fourth straight victory and moved two games ahead in the A.L. Central. Torii Hunter displayed his frustration in the same way I might have when I was four: by taking his clothes off.
I'll get to that in a bit. First, the pitching matchup: Edinson Volquez vs. Kyle Gibson, the latter of whom has actually been striking out people lately! Gibson had nine in seven innings against the Brewers on June 5th, and whiffed six Royals last night. However, neither of those starts ended particularly well for Gibson, as he gave up five runs in seven innings (with three homers) against the Brewers and gave up five more against Kansas City.
Gibson was actually quite good, but only after the first inning. In that frame, he allowed hits to Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas, then a single to Eric Hosmer that drove Escobar home. Alex Gordon proceeded to blast a centered-up nothingball out to right field.
Seriously, that was one of the fattest pitches I've ever seen thrown at the MLB level. The game was never really within the Twins' reach, especially after the Royals scored two in the top of the seventh. But let's fast forward to the bottom of the eighth, when Luke Hochevar struck out Hunter on an outside fastball to lead off the frame. Hunter was displeased with home plate umpire Mark Ripperberger, who promptly, and with little ceremony, ejected the veteran center fielder. Twins manager Paul Molitor got involved and was ejected shortly thereafter.
Hunter kept getting hotter, though, and sort of like a frozen pizza you leave in the oven too long, he got mighty crusty. His helmet was the first to go, lost in the shuffle somewhere in the initial quarrel, and then he started getting rid of his elbow guard, and wristbands, and batting gloves, and then …
Whew, is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?
With the loss, the Twins have dropped seven of their last 10 games. Interestingly enough, that's the exact number of games they've played since BP's Matthew Trueblood wrote this article debunking the Twins' illusory early success. I imagine a group of players (not Hunter, for obvious reasons) reading the article in the clubhouse, having a moment of epiphany, then beginning to play like crap.
The Ultimate Bryce Harper Fun Fact is dead, long live The Ultimate Bryce Harper Fun Fact. On Wednesday, in his fourth year in Major League Baseball, Bryce Harper finally faced a pitcher younger than he was. The Dread Fun Fact Killer was rookie left-hander Jacob Lindgren, who relieved Nathan Eovaldi after he gave up a leadoff single in the eighth. Lindgren's first pitch was a slider for a ball. His second pitch was a high sinker on which Harper flew out.
Do better, camera operator. Anyway, at that point, the Nationals were down 4–2 after the Yankees had whacked Gio Gonzalez, Felipe Rivero, and Aaron Barrett around for four runs in the seventh inning. But then, after Ian Desmond extended the eighth inning by beating out a 5–4 fielder's choice, Michael Taylor got in a quick 0–2 hole, took a slider high from Lindgren and then got a fastball in a similar spot, doing this to it:
That tied the game. In the bottom of the tenth inning, the Yankees pinch-ran Didi Gregorius for Mark Teixeira after the big lug singled to lead off the frame. After Brian McCann struck out swinging, Gregorius tried to steal second with two strikes on Carlos Beltran, who whiffed as well. Gregorius was called out, and while the Nationals began to dash off the field, Joe Girardi challenged the call.
And it stood. Sorry, Didi. Tyler Moore singled to lead off the 11th, made his way to third and then scored when Denard Span beat out an infield bouncer. Despite the loss, the Yankees still hold the top spot in the A.L. East, while the win allowed the Nationals to take a half-game lead in the N.L. East from the Mets, who, despite having Matt Harvey on the mound …
… lost to the Giants because Harvey gave up more home runs than he ever had in a single game. Joe Panik hit one, Brandon Belt hit one, and Justin Maxwell hit one, and those accounted for three of the hits and five of the runs that Harvey surrendered.
Harvey has given up two dingers four times, one dinger thirteen times, and zero dingers more times than I feel like counting; the rest of the times, minus this game. Here are some other thresholds Matt Harvey has yet to cross in a single game:
Stolen bases allowed: Two
Wild pitches: Two
Balks: Zero. Matt Harvey has never balked in his career!
The seven runs that Harvey allowed also constitute the highest single-game total of his career, tying his May 23rd start against Pittsburgh. In fact, Matt Harvey had never given up more than five runs in a single start until this season, during which he's done it twice.
Wednesday saw the worsening of an already troubling trend for Harvey. This was the fifth straight start in which he gave up six hits or more—though two of the recent ones were eight-inning outings, one where he didn't give up a run—and the fourth straight where Harvey gave up a home run. Worse yet, he only struck out two batters on Wednesday, the lowest single-game total of not just this season but also his entire career.
So, rather than being the Dark Knight, Harvey was more like (spoiler alert!) that Batman impersonator in hockey pads the Joker hung in front of the mayor's office.
The night of baseball ended on two west coast walk-offs. The first took place in Oakland, where the still-floundering A's squared off against the surprising Rangers, led by the also surprising Prince Fielder. The Rangers struck for three runs in the third, a rally capped by Leonys Martin getting hit with the bases loaded, and Mitch Moreland's RBI single in the fourth gave Texas four runs.
But the A's were resurgent. Josh Reddick singled off Sam Freeman with one out in the eighth, and the Rangers brought in Tanner Scheppers to face Ben Zobrist. He singled to right, and when Reddick beat the throw from right field to third, Joey Gallo went to second to try to nab Zobrist, but the throw went into right field, and Reddick scampered home.
Billy Butler then drove Zobrist home with an RBI single to tie the game at four. Then, with runners on first and third in the ninth, Reddick was the one doing the RBI-ing, hitting a grounder to second that Adam Rosales dove to stop but was unable to throw back home in time.
I had to leave that Zobrist-Fuld hug in there. Adorable. The Rangers stayed within reasonable striking distance of the Astros in the division even with the loss because Houston lost to the White Sox, so Jeff Banister's club is still just two games back from the division lead. The A's, meanwhile, are still 10 games back and in last place.
In the senior circuit, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks squared off in the night's other late game. Los Angeles took the game's first significant lead with a four-run rally in the second inning. That outburst got kicked off with Brett Anderson bunting Andre Ethier home from third, which was more due to Aaron Hill's brain fart than anything.
Ethier was dead meat in that position, and Paul Goldschmidt was dashing over to third to set up the other end of the rundown. Hill, however, didn't even look at Ethier and just went right to Chris Owings, who was covering first.
Later on in the inning, Yasiel Puig hit a three-run jack.
Yasmani Grandal's homer in the sixth gave the Dodgers enough padding to withstand Arizona scoring three runs in the fifth and another in the seventh. It wouldn't be so easy, though: A.J. Pollock hit a solo shot in the top of the ninth off Kenley Jansen, which tied the game at six.
The Diamondbacks couldn't hold the lead, though. Daniel Hudson got Joc Pederson to ground out to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but then he walked Puig and Adrian Gonzalez. He followed that with a nasty 97 mph tailing fastball off the inside corner to Howie Kendrick. Daniel Hudson the reliever has been putting up gradually zippier fastball velocities as the season has progressed. He tended to sit in the mid-90s at the beginning of the season, then inched up to 96, 97, and even averaged 98.8 mph, according to Brooks Baseball, against the Braves on June 2nd. And it ain't exactly a straight pitch, as you'll see. Pretty nasty stuff.
Oh yeah, the game. That aforementioned pitch wound up in right field as a bloop RBI single.
Welp, that's baseball!
Defensive Play of the Day
I just have so much love for Yasiel Puig on this play. I downloaded a rap air horn app to my phone today and was blowing on it obnoxiously for a good part of the evening. I imagine if Puig had an actual air horn he could carry with him, he would be blasting it in peoples' ears approximately 25 percent of the day, and after Pederson's catch he would probably still be blasting it to this very second.
What to Watch on Thursday
Could the Giants, who've thrown four no-hitters in the past four years, throw two no-hitters in one series? The chances aren't terrible, as far as chances for this sort of thing go. That's because Tim Lincecum is starting for San Francisco, and his decline in general productiveness has coincided with an incline in no-hitting people.
Lincecum hasn't been great this season: 4.17 FIP, 4.33 xFIP, 4.19 DRA. And maybe, if you're a betting type who bets exclusively on whether people will throw no-hitters, that's a good sign! Lincecum's first no-hitter, in 2013, saw him throw almost 150 pitches in nine innings while seeming to either walk or strike out everybody. In 2014, Lincecum's outing was much cleaner, with just one walk on 113 pitches in nine innings.
But here's the main knock against Lincecum tossing a third no-hitter: Both of his previous ones came against the Padres. On Thursday, he's facing the Mets.
The N.L. East race is getting pretty hot, by virtue of the Nationals not playing well enough to really pull away from the Mets. Washington travels to Milwaukee today. Tanner Roark makes his fourth straight start after opening the season as a reliever, and with both Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg on the D.L., Roark seems to have a good shot to stick in that role. The thing with Roark is that he hasn't really been able to decide whether he's a four-seam or sinker guy.
Just look at that chart. It's a dang mess. Still, he seems to be leaning on the sinker more often of late. Also, Roark didn't strike out a single batter until his eighth appearance of the season, and while in his last start he had six whiffs, it was also his worst outing of the season.
Garrett Richards gets the ball for the Angels against the Rays, and I'm not gonna lie, since striking out 10 and allowing just one hit against the Astros on May 10th, he's been pretty bad. Richards has eaten innings, going at least six in three of his four most recent starts, but he has also allowed an average of 4.3 runs in those three starts. And his most recent start was REALLY bad, with Richards allowing five hits and six runs in 2/3 of an inning. Yeesh!
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