The Monday Takeaway
When Francisco Liriano ascended the PNC Park mound Monday, he did so with a tall order riding on his left arm. The Pirates' rotation was on a rather incredible roll as they kicked off their home-and-home set with the White Sox, having allowed just four runs in their last 50 1/3 innings, a 0.72 ERA over a seven-game span.
Liriano was up to the task.
While the southpaw didn’t quite equal A.J. Burnett’s nine-inning shutout from the previous day, he sliced and diced the White Sox lineup through eight scoreless innings, racking up a 12-to-1 K:BB ratio while holding the visitors to just two singles. Three of the four men who reached on Liriano’s watch were erased on double-play grounders—two of them off the bat of Jose Abreu—so he faced just one more than the minimum.
Liriano’s outing began ominously, when Adam Eaton reached on an error by Josh Harrison, who was making just his 10th appearance of the year at second base. But the 31-year-old lefty forgot about the miscue and forgave Harrison, whiffing Alexei Ramirez, coaxing the first of Abreu's twin-killings, and never looking back.
Both Liriano and his White Sox counterpart Carlos Rodon had to contend with an oddly shaped strike zone Monday, as home-plate umpire Tom Hallion showed a willingness to expand the corners but refused to grant anything above the waist.
The rookie Rodon, who hit the showers after a 3 2/3-inning shelling that saw the Pirates drill nine hits and score seven times, never settled in. The veteran Liriano was in control from the start. His game plan jelled perfectly with Hallion’s ball-strike biases:
He pounded the knees and very, very rarely aimed upstairs. The three times he did, Hallion didn’t reward him. Unfazed, Liriano went right back to the bottom third of the zone, where he occasionally benefited from catcher Francisco Cervelli’s framing, and stayed there the rest of the night.
Liriano’s fastball, which averaged 93 mph and hit 96 when necessary, set up a vicious secondary-pitch tandem. He twirled 28 sliders and got seven swings-and-misses with the breaking ball. And somehow that paled in comparison to the dominance of his changeup, which elicited 10 whiffs in 23 tries.
Just two of the White Sox’s 24 outs against Liriano came through the air, and one of their hits was of the infield variety. For all practical purposes, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata could have called in sick.
All three starting outfielders contributed multiple hits at the plate, but the Bucs’ infielders did plenty to support Liriano, who needed barely any help to lead the way to victory. Harrison went 4-for-4 with a walk and two steals atop the order to atone for his first-inning error, and the leadoff man catalyzed a lineup in which the one through seven hitters all collected two or more hits. Only first baseman Sean Rodriguez and Liriano took 0-fers back to their Pittsburgh homes.
And yet, amid the team-wide effort that produced the Pirates’ 11–0 rout, the night belonged to one man above the rest: The one who shaved the rotation's ERA over the past eight games to a minuscule 0.62.
Quick Hits From Monday
To steer their 11-game winning streak through Monday’s game, the Blue Jays needed to beat an old friend. On the hill for the Mets in the series opener at Citi Field was Noah Syndergaard, the headliner of the return package that went to Queens for R.A. Dickey. Thor was in no hurry to grant the team that selected him 38th overall in the 2010 draft its 12th consecutive “W."
Syndergaard struggled with his command in the early stages of game one of four between the sides, but his stuff was electric enough to stifle the Jays, holding up amid a high-stress workload. The 22-year-old required 32 pitches to escape the first inning, one that saw Jose Bautista launch a solo shot into the second deck
but Syndergaard was undeterred, firing fastballs, almost all of them 97 mph or better, that were too hot for the Jays to handle. His night seemed sure to be over early, with his pitch count at 62 through three, but he whiffed the side in the fourth, punched out a pair looking in the fifth, and picked up one of each type of “K" in the sixth, as the Jays went nine up, nine down in the middle frames.
And so what threatened to be a short, disappointing night for Thor in his bid to make the Jays regret their decision not to see his development through to the majors turned into a dazzling display of his power arsenal. He wound up with 11 strikeouts over six innings of two-hit, one-run ball, blowing pitches by the majors’ highest-scoring offense even when they missed catcher Kevin Plawecki’s intended targets. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Syndergaard became just the fourth right-handed pitcher ever to strike out 11 or more Jays in six or fewer innings, joining Nolan Ryan, David Cone, and Brandon Beachy.
But for all the good Syndergaard did, he left three innings for the bullpen to gobble up. And the 2–1 lead the Mets built against Mark Buehrle, helped out by a Jose Reyes throwing error, wasn't enough for closer Jeurys Familia. He, too, fell victim to Bautista’s prodigious power:
Unlike the first-inning bomb, this one was a lined shot that just cleared the left-field wall, but it counted the same. The game was tied, Syndergaard was denied a win, and bonus baseball was on the way.
Neither side notched a baserunner in the 10th, so it was on to the 11th, when Hansel Robles ceded a run. The righty issued a one-out walk to Ezequiel Carrera, who moved on to third on a single by Chris Colabello and sprinted home on a sacrifice fly by Dioner Navarro. It was 3–2 Toronto, and the visitors were suddenly just three outs away from extending their winning streak to 12.
But the Mets had other ideas.
Just like Robles, Brett Cecil issued a one-out walk, though he quickly got the second out of the frame on a fielder’s choice. Then, with one out separating the Jays from victory, Cecil allowed a game-tying single to Lucas Duda. That prompted manager John Gibbons to call for Liam Hendriks to face the right-handed Wilmer Flores, who thought little of the plan to deny him the platoon advantage:
The shortstop’s walk-off single sent the Citi Field crowd home happy with a 4–3 win, and the Jays back to their New York hotel with their first defeat in two weeks.
If the Padres sought a quick change of fortunes with the firing of Bud Black, they got no such thing with the A’s in town on Monday night.
Instead, Oakland built a 3–0 lead in the top of the third inning and chased former A’s prospect Tyson Ross after five, with seven hits and five walks on the right-hander’s line. Meanwhile, Jesse Hahn, who went to Oakland in the winter deal that shipped catcher Derek Norris to San Diego, turned in 6 2/3 solid innings. He allowed one run on just three hits, striking out four and walking two, handing a 4–1 advantage to the bullpen.
Later, the A’s were no less cruel to reliever Cory Mazzoni—who joined Triple-A manager Pat Murphy on the trip west from El Paso—than they were to Ross. Stephen Vogt’s grand slam keyed the five-run outburst that buried the Friars, running their deficit to 9–1, the eventual final score.
The A’s finished the night with 13 hits and seven walks, four of them drawn by Ben Zobrist, just the 11th A’s cleanup hitter to draw four unintentional free passes since 1914 and the first since Jack Cust did it on July 29, 2009. Nearly half (23) of the 47 A’s plate appearances in this game came with at least one runner in scoring position, as the Padres pitchers faced danger from start to finish.
Dave Roberts, who took over the skipper job on an interim basis Monday morning, can only hope for smoother sailing in his second game at the helm.
After feeling the Diamondbacks’ broom bristles to begin their five-game homestand, the Giants sought to recover in their series opener versus the Mariners. They’d dropped eight straight at home entering play on Monday, notable because the Giants had never lost nine consecutive contests in San Francisco. The organization’s most recent nine-game home skid had come way back in 1940 at the Polo Grounds in New York.
Now they have a San Francisco slide to match it.
Armed with a first-inning run of support, Taijuan Walker limited the Giants to seven hits—six of them singles—and struck out six without walking a batter. The 22-year-old completed seven innings on 98 pitches, and he permitted only one run for the second straight game. It was Walker’s fourth straight quality start, and it ticked his ERA down to 5.00, still high but far superior to the 7.33 mark he sported just three weeks ago.
The Giants went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and failed to draw a free pass, continuing a virtually team-wide slump that began during their previous homestand, took a hiatus while they visited the Phillies and Mets, and returned as soon as they landed in San Francisco at 4:00 a.m. last Friday morning.
and the Giants trailed the rest of the way in the 5–1 Mariners win.
The Ceremonial First Pitch of the Day
Many of the things that happen on a Major League Baseball field are beyond the physical capabilities you and I bring to the table, but that’s mainly true of what happens after the ceremonial first pitch, not the pregame event itself. This one, last night at AT&T Park, was impressive enough to supplant the Defensive Play of the Day feature that usually occupies this space:
What to Watch on Tuesday
As auditions for deadline shopping go, few players are doing their clubs a greater service than A’s left-hander Scott Kazmir, who turned in his second seven-plus-inning, one-hit effort of the year last week. The 31-year-old’s ERA is down to 2.79, buttressed by a 3.21 DRA, which suggests that most of his success to date has been earned. This afternoon, Kazmir takes on the righty-loaded Padres lineup, which—despite the addition of boppers like Justin Upton and Matt Kemp—has combined for only seven homers off southpaws this year.
On the other side, Andrew Cashner toes the rubber for the Padres looking to rediscover his swing-and-miss stuff. The 28-year-old fanned 12 Mets in an otherwise-poor outing on June 1st—when he became the first pitcher in at least a century to book double-digit hits and Ks in fewer than five innings—but since then, he’s K’d only three batters in 12 1/3 innings. Today’s matinee will mark Cashner’s first-ever start against the A’s (3:40 p.m. ET).
Matt Harvey has sunk into a rare rough patch over the past two weeks, serving up at least one home run in each of his last four starts and multiple long balls in three of them. The Giants touched up the UNC product for seven runs on three homers in his six innings on the hill on June 10th, the second time Harvey’s been charged with seven runs during this span, bloating his ERA from 1.98 at the end of play on May 18th to 3.62 entering tonight’s battle with the Blue Jays. A date with the league’s highest-scoring offense is no picnic for a scuffling pitcher, but, on the other hand, a strong outing tonight could assure Mets fans that Harvey has righted his ship. Scott Copeland goes for the Jays, replacing Aaron Sanchez, who was placed on the DL on Sunday (7:10 p.m. ET).
Through three starts, Chi Chi Gonzalez’s first taste of the majors has been a smashing success. He has a shiny 0.42 ERA and hasn’t allowed a homer in 21 2/3 innings; in fact, he’s permitted just two extra-base hits, and neither of those drove home a run. That’s enabled Gonzalez to post a 1.26 DRA, which is no easy feat on its own, and much more so alongside an 8-to-10 K:BB ratio.
Weak contact has been the secret to the former Oral Roberts University standout’s early brilliance, and he’s already become the first starter in Rangers franchise history to hold foes to one run or fewer in each of his first three games. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Gonzalez now has a chance to join Drew Smyly as the only starting pitchers of the last decade to begin their careers with four such outings.
A powerful Dodgers offense stands between Gonzalez and that rare accomplishment. His ability to continue keeping the ball inside the fences—more challenging at Globe Life Park than it was in Kansas City and Oakland, the settings for his past two starts—will be key in tonight’s home duel with Brett Anderson (8:05 p.m. ET).