The Thursday Takeaway
The Pirates may have had a 6 1/2-game edge in the standings and a 56-percentage-point advantage in playoff odds over the Reds, but Cincinnati has dominated their matchups this season, as Pittsburgh stands only 2–6 in the series. After a four-hour, 41-minute marathon, that would prove to be true once again.
It would be the Reds who struck first in the game, as Todd Frazier singled in Brandon Phillips before Phillips himself tripled in the second inning to bring Billy Hamilton home for a 2–0 lead against A.J. Burnett. However, Burnett himself collected his fourth hit and third RBI of the season after a Jordy Mercer RBI double to take a 3–2 lead, which would later boost to 4–2 in the sixth inning after Francisco Cervelli singled home Skip Schumaker.
That would be the peak of the Pirates' win expectancy, as they would not score again. Instead, Frazier, carrying a .355 TAv to the plate, hit a home run with Joey Votto on third in the seventh off Arquimedes Caminero. All knotted up at four.
The Pirates looked as if they would walk off in the bottom of the twelfth when Andrew McCutchen doubled and the Reds intentionally walked Neil Walker to face Jung-ho Kang. For a split second, it looked as if the Reds had made an unwise choice, as Kang, who has a .931 OPS in high-leverage situations, lined a pitch the other way … directly into Votto's mitt. Votto easily doubled off Walker for the second out. Pedro Villarreal later induced a ground out from Cervelli to escape the inning unscathed, and the threat was over. Just a half inning later, Phillips would hit what would prove to be the winning home run:
Phillips also made a nifty double play in the eighth, which is your Defensive Play of the Day:
By ERA, the Pirates have the third-best bullpen in the league, with a collective 2.44 mark. The Reds rank 23rd at 3.82. However, it was the Reds' bullpen that came out on top on Thursday, allowing no runs in seven innings, whereas Bucs relievers gave up three. DRA agrees, giving the Reds' bullpen a 0.10 edge.
Dallas Keuchel was his usual dominant self on Thursday night, and then some. Hinch and Rodriguez were right: Even though they lacked some giddyup, Keuchel's pitches had some extra movement on them, as his sinker and changeup dropped 1.5 and 0.7 inches more than usual, respectively, and his slider had an extra 0.4 inches of movement.
It isn't as if Keuchel, whose sinker has the highest groundball rate in baseball and whose 2.05 DRA ranks fourth among pitchers with at least 70 innings, needs a whole lot of extra movement on his pitches, but in this case, it was enough for Keuchel to shut down the Yankees, baseball's best offense by TAv.
He struck out twelve, topping his career high of eleven set on May 30th. No Yankee got past first base until the Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira reached base in the ninth, at which point Keuchel told Hinch during a visit to the mound that he felt "dandy." Two batters later, the shutout was complete.
The Astros' RBIs were spread out between Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, and Preston Tucker, but the night belonged to Jose Altuve on the offensive side, who collected three hits (including two doubles) and scored three of the Astros' four runs. Altuve has been cold recently, with just a .565 OPS in his last 99 plate appearances, but he's hit in all four of his games since returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for a few days. Altuve also stole his American League–leading 19th and 20th bases.
The Mets found themselves in a seven-game skid, slipping from first place to second place, dropping under .500 for the first time since April 11th, and shaving nearly 30 percentage points off their playoff odds. They had just been narrowly beaten by the Brewers, baseball's second-worst team, and were in danger of falling behind the Braves in the division.
Thankfully, they had the right man on the mound. Jacob deGrom, undeniably the Mets' best pitcher this season, had already reeled off six straight starts of seven innings or more entering Thursday, giving up only 23 hits, five walks, and seven runs in 44 1/3 innings while striking out 50.
It was time for him to go to work on baseball's second-worst offense by TAv. Work deGrom went to, striking out seven in eight shutout innings. He allowed only four baserunners—three singles and a double—over the start and baffled the Brewers with a changeup that sunk nearly a half-inch more than usual and a slider that broke nearly an inch more than usual.
One streak continued while another one ended on Thursday in Washington.
With Doug Fister's seven-inning, no-run performance against Atlanta, the Nationals' starters extended their scoreless streak to 41 1/3 innings. It's been more than a full turn through the Nats' rotation, and it stands a good chance to continue tonight.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Friend of Effectively Wild Nick Markakis, who, despite being worth just 1.1 total FRAA over the past three seasons, saw his errorless streak of 398 games come to a close after he bobbled Denard Span's single in the first. In that split second when he realizes he's made the error, you can just see him saying to himself, "Damn. Now I'll never get an MVP vote or all-star appearance."
What to Watch on Friday
As I said, the Nats have a good opportunity to extend their scoreless-innings-by-starters streak tonight. Max Scherzer one-hit baseball's 29th-best offense (by TAv), no-hit baseball's 20th-best offense, and now, he'll get to face baseball's 28th-best offense tonight in the Phillies. He'll go against Aaron Harang, who's given up four runs in six innings in each of his past two starts. (7:05 PM ET)
Much like the Braves themselves, Williams Perez has been a surprise this season. The square-framed pitcher has enjoyed a nice run since being called up in May. His major-league career started off a bit inauspiciously, as he allowed four runs in just one third of an inning on May 8th, but since then he's put together a nice run, lowering his ERA to 2.78 over two more relief appearances and seven starts. Between starts in which he went seven innings and allowed one run and six innings and allowed no runs, Perez even closed out the Braves' eleven-inning win on June 13th. He wasn't quite as good last Saturday, allowing four runs to the Mets, so he'll see if he can get it back up against the Pirates and Francisco Liriano, who also had a lackluster outing on Saturday but has been good for a 2.95 FIP and a 2.65 DRA this season. (7:05 PM ET)
For all Midwesterners out there, the Route 66 rivalry will begin its latest chapter tonight, as Jake Arietta takes on John Lackey at Busch Stadium. Arietta was as good as ever in his last start, blanking the Twins for his second career shutout. He hasn't quite replicated his 2014 ERA of 2.53 or FIP of 2.23, but that's due in part to his HR/FB rate jacking up from a low 4.5 percent to a relatively high 11.6. Still, he's pitched well enough to earn a 2.93 FIP and a 3.37 DRA. After a rough start against the Rockies on June 8th, Lackey threw solid games against the Twins and Phillies, but he'll be tested against the harder-hitting Cubs. (8:15 PM ET)