The Weekend Takeaway
Max Scherzer threw a really good game on Sunday! Like, a really, really good game. Like a REALLY, REALLY GOOD GAME. (Imagine me yelling that at you.)
Numbers will probably work better for getting my point across. Scherzer threw a one-hitter against the Brewers, with the only hit coming on Carlos Gomez's little bleeder over Anthony Rendon's head to lead off the seventh.
Scherzer struck out 16 and walked one in the shutout. The start was sensational by those measures, and crossed another threshold that puts it in a truly elite pantheon: A Game Score of 100 or higher.
Game Score is an arbitrary measurement, as are all statistics, to a point. Pitchers gain points for outs recorded, innings pitched, and strikeouts. They lose points for hits allowed, earned and unearned runs, and walks. It gives no weight to the leverage of each situation, the quality of the opposition, or how many bases each hit went for.
But Scherzer's game score of 100 is an exceedingly rare beast, having been matched or bested only 11 times in MLB history. Chris Heston's no-hitter and Corey Kluber's 18-strikeout performance scored 98s, as detailed in this Deadspin article.
The most recent game score over 100 was when Clayton Kershaw threw a no-hitter and struck out 15 last season, scoring a 102, which is the second-highest ever recorded, trailing only the 105 Kerry Wood recorded when he whiffed 20 Astros.
Here are the full highlights of arguably the best pitching performance of the year.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
The Blue Jays are saying "eh?" to the notion that offense in baseball is declining, and their record is all the better for it. Toronto has won 11 straight games, with a 13–5 drubbing of the Red Sox on Sunday being the latest in a line of slugfest victories.
Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com sums things up nicely in his story from Sunday's win. The Blue Jays' offensive charge has been led, as is the case with many above-average offensive charges of individual and team nature, by a completely absurd and even more completely unsustainable average of .473 with runners in scoring position over that 11-game stretch. (I'm looking at you, Allen Craig.)
It hasn't even been Josh Donaldson leading the way for Toronto. Kevin Pillar has hit .381 with two dingers and 12 RBIs in June. Danny Valencia has four doubles and a home run. José Reyes has two home runs, 11 RBIs, and five steals. The Blue Jays have mashed all season, leading MLB in runs by more than 20, and this most recent stretch of games has just magnified that.
But they're still a game back in the A.L. East, and weren't even above .500 until seven games into this streak. That speaks to the reality that Toronto can't really pitch. As of Sunday, their team DRA was 4.68, tied for dead last in baseball. And Aaron Sanchez hit the DL on Sunday with a lat strain, so now they have to dip into the minors for help. (Though maybe that isn't such a bad thing, because Sanchez is leading the league in walks and wild pitches and has a 5.18 FIP.)
These are Toronto's buddies at the bottom of the DRA standings: The Mariners, White Sox, Braves, Phillies, Padres and Cubs. In fact, seven of the bottom ten teams in the DRA leaderboard have losing records.
Then again, the Indians and A's are third and fourth, respectively, and they're doing pretty crappy themselves. Shut down the site, guys; turns out stats actually mean nothing.
The Prospectpocalypse is upon us. On Saturday afternoon, news broke that Twins outfielder Byron Buxton (no. 1 on BP's prospect rankings) would join the team on Sunday in Texas. On Saturday night, news broke that shortstop Francisco Lindor (no. 4 in the rankings) would be in Detroit for the Indians' game against the Tigers.
After he stumbled rounding first, Lindor pointed to Miguel Cabrera in jest, as if to signal that he was pushed, though Cabrera doesn't seem to be in on the joke.
On to Buxton. In his first plate appearance, he struck out against Nick Martinez. In his second plate appearance, he grounded out against Nick Martinez. In his third appearance, he struck out … against Nick Martinez. It wasn't until that damn Nick Martinez was out of the game that Buxton was able to reach. He grounded into a fielder's choice against Shawn Tolleson in the ninth, as Eduardo Escobar ran into an out at third. When Eddie Rosario doubled, Buxton scored, and the run would turn out to be the difference in the Twins' 4–3 win.
With Buxton and Lindor's debuts, six of BP's top 10 prospects (Russell, Correa, Bryant, and Noah Syndergaard being the others) have made the majors this year, and the entire top five are up right now.
This weekend's Royals-Cardinals series was more than just another iteration of a geographic rivalry. It pitted two genuinely good teams against each other. One has a bit stronger claim to excellence, though: The Royals are on top of the AL Central, but are drawing more attention for having seven position players on track to make the All-Star team. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have the best record in the majors.
The series was light on offense, but St. Louis had just enough to pull through. The Cardinals had provided Jaime Garcia with zero runs of support in three of his four starts leading up to this weekend, but St. Louis gave him four runs on Friday.
Jon Jay contributed the opening blow with an RBI triple in the second to drive home Randal Grichuk, then Garcia himself reached out and poked a Yordano Ventura fastball past third baseman Mike Moustakas to score the second run. You can see how the decision to play Moustakas far off the line backfired a bit.
The Cardinals' second rally also centered on Jay and Grichuk, with the latter driving Jason Heyward in with a triple and the former scoring Grichuk with a sacrifice fly. Those were two unnecessary insurance runs, because Kevin Siegrist threw a scoreless ninth to give St. Louis a 4–0 win.
Let's talk a bit more about Garcia, who has been excellent since making his injury-delayed season debut on May 21st and is part of the reason the Cardinals have pulled even further away from the division pack since Adam Wainwright went down with a torn Achilles tendon.
Garcia has given up more hits than innings pitched just once this season, and more than two runs just once as well. He has yet to have a start of fewer than six innings, and four of his five have been for seven innings or more. Saturday's game was Garcia's masterwork: Eight innings, four hits, no walks. In fact, since walking five in his first start, Garcia has walked none in his next 28 innings.
How has Garcia done it? Well, he's basically Dallas Keuchel, only with fewer walks and a third of the innings pitched. They're control-based lefties, throw sinking fastballs, and are listed at nearly identical heights and weights. Their FIPs are .01 apart; the groundball percentages differ by less than a point; and their strand rates are almost the same as well. It's a bit eerie, really. The only real difference in their pitch selection is that Keuchel throws his four-seamer a bit less, making up the difference in his curve and cutter, which are two pitches Garcia doesn't throw. Also, Garcia throws everything a bit harder.
But seriously, though: The resemblance is uncanny. If Garcia qualified for any statistical leaderboards, he would be second in baseball in ground out/air out ratio, right behind … you guessed it, Dallas Keuchel.
Here's the main difference between the two: The spatial aspect to the way they attack hitters. Garcia is someone who, this season, has typically focused on pounding the inside part of the plate. Keuchel, on the other hand, works both sides. But the two are still bound by an overwhelming focus on the low part of the zone.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
This was a tough call. I really liked this play by Anthony Gose:
Look how far he ran for it! Unbelievable! Also, it probably played a big role in keeping Justin Verlander's surely still-fragile psyche in place. If that ball had fallen, Michael Brantley would have had a double, maybe a triple, maybe an inside-the-park home run, and who knows how badly things could have spiraled out of control for Verlander, making his first start of the season? Who knows?
But instead, I'm going with Jay Bruce's catch from Friday, because it literally saved the game. If Bruce doesn't make this catch, Chris Coghlan scores, Cubs win. Instead, the Reds won on Eugenio Suarez's go-ahead single in the tenth. Cincinnati wound up dropping three of four to Chicago, though.
What to Watch on Monday
The Blue Jays will try to make their winning streak 12, facing the Mets in a game that has probably the biggest contrast in style in starting pitchers in recorded history. Noah Syndergaard, a gigantic Texan nicknamed Thor who possesses a fastball that routinely hits 99, will face Mark Buehrle, who throws in the mid-80s, succeeds because he works too fast for hitters to think, and was cut from his high school team as a freshman. And you know what, just because baseball is baseball, Buehrle's probably going to strike out 12 and win.
The Cardinals continue their grand AL Central Teams Who Weren't Projected To Do Well But Are Actually Doing Pretty Well Tour '15 with the opener of a homestand against the Twins. Minnesota will start Trevor May and the Cardinals will go with John Lackey, both of whom are 4–4 with mediocre ERAs. Should be a fun time! The Twins are hitting a stretch of the season that will effectively decide whether they're actually decent or huge pretenders. They've got four in St. Louis (the best record in baseball), then three in Chicago against the Cubs (a more talented team than the Cardinals). If the Twins win four of those games, great! They get to play relevant baseball until at least the All-Star break. If they go 0–7, nothing really changes either, because that's what everybody expected.
You know who's been kind of bad this year? Gio Gonzalez! Yeah, Stephen Strasburg has received the bulk of the coverage for underachieving, but Gonzalez has been underwhelming himself, with a 4.74 DRA and .281 opponents' batting average. Gonzalez has yet to have a start without a walk, and he's been particularly wild lately, walking four and three in his last two outings. On the upside, he's been keeping the ball on the ground, with 2.22 ground outs per air out, which is the best of his career by far. Is this the new Gio Gonzalez? Well, if it is, I don't really like it. Can we uninstall the update?