The Weekend Takeaways
The Royals and Blue Jays squared off this weekend in a series pitting a team that doesn't score a lot of runs but wins a lot against a team that scores a ton of runs but doesn't win a lot. Funny how that works!
Kansas City won the series, two games to one. In the first game, Danny Duffy threw six scoreless innings, and then Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland closed the game out. It was an extremely typical Royals win based on the team's reliance on those three relievers to close the deal, but not a very typical start from Duffy, because he didn't strike anybody out.
It's atypical mostly at first glance, because Duffy's left-handed and throws hard. You expect those sorts of guys to strike out at least some people, if not a ton. But in Duffy's last two outings, he's thrown 12 1/3 innings, allowed two runs and nine hits, and struck out just one batter.
In these last two starts, Duffy has relied more on his four-seamer and less on his breaking stuff. He isn't throwing as hard, with his 92.4 mph average four-seam velocity on Saturday being the lowest of the season. And, oddly enough, he seems to be walking more guys, with six over his last two starts. Duffy could be prioritizing nibbling with lower velocity over challenging guys with his hardest stuff over the plate. If such an approach continues to yield results like those of his last start, he'll keep doing it, I'm sure.
On Saturday, Mark Buehrle held the Royals to two runs over seven innings and Bo Schultz and Roberto Osuna combined to blank them the rest of the way. Chris Young, Franklin Morales, Ryan Madson, and Luke Hochevar kept the Royals within a run, but Brandon Finnegan got whacked around for four runs in an inning of work.
And on Sunday … well, lots and lots of things happened.
Felix Doubront's start for Toronto was short of catastrophe only in that he lasted five innings. But in those five innings, he gave up ten hits and seven runs, including six in the first. Eric Hosmer opened the scoring by singling Alcides Escobar home, then Kendrys Morales drove Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain in with a three-run jack. An RBI double by Omar Infante and RBI single by Paulo Orlando made it 6–0.
The Royals added a run in the bottom of the fifth to make it 7–0, meaning they could sit back and relax until the All-Star break, save for periodic fits of crying into their Boulevard Wheat thinking about Alex Gordon's injury. Right? Well, you should know by now that whenever I write a sentence presenting a hypothetical scenario and ending in a rhetorical question, I end up refuting the scenario, so no, of course not.
In fact, the Blue Jays took the lead in the top of the sixth inning by scoring eight runs. Devon Travis' RBI single to right with a full count and two outs was the go-ahead hit.
Well, the Royals took the lead right back in the bottom of the inning, when Jose Reyes' error at short lett two runs come home and Lorenzo Cain singled home another. Then the Blue Jays went right back at 'em, against the HDH combo to boot, as Russell Martin's RBI double off Herrera and Reyes' RBI single off Davis—which was just the second run he's allowed all year—tied the game at 10 heading into the bottom of the eighth.
This game had veered off the rails a long time ago, so it seems fair that a dude who hit triples for his first three MLB hits would hit the go-ahead jack, right?
Greg Holland closed it out, and the Royals got their 52nd win of the season. They are in control of the A.L. Central, four and a half games in front of the miraculously relevant Twins. Who needs Alex Gordon, anyway?
Sunday's Angels-Mariners series finale was interesting in that in the 10–3 win, the Angels locked up the series split and a half-game lead in the A.L. West. And the last-place A's still sit just eight and a half games out of first, so there's plenty of room for chaos in the second half.
But Sunday's game was also interesting for the pitching matchup of Taijuan Walker and Andrew Heaney, two of the best young power arms in the game. Walker has been shockingly inconsistent this year, with performances ranging from nine runs in 3 1/3 innings against the A's on Opening Day to two hits in eight innings with eight strikeouts against the Indians. But his stuff is nothing short of nuclear, with a fastball that can sit in the upper 90s and a biting splitter. Whatever, you probably know about him by now.
Heaney is something of a lesser-known commodity. First-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2013, runaway success in the minors, kinda crappy stint with the Marlins in 2014, traded to the Dodgers and then almost immediately to the Angels last offseason. We rated him the Angels' top prospect for 2015, with his lively, deceptive fastball and strong athleticism earning accolades.
He started the season in the minors, but since getting called up to make his first start on June 24th, though, Heaney's been great. He's gone six innings or longer in all four of his starts and hasn't allowed more than two runs in any of them. Sunday was easily the best of the season, with Heaney working 91–93 with the fastball, snapping his slider and change on occasion. Heaney also worked around his own mistakes. He allowed a leadoff double to Kyle Seager in the second, walked Jesus Montero, and threw a wild pitch to put men on second and third with one out, but whiffed Logan Morrison and Mike Zunino to end the inning.
When he let two more runners get on in the fifth, he struck out Robinson Cano.
In all, Heaney gave up five hits in seven scoreless while striking out six. Seattle's runs came off relievers Trevor Gott and Matt Shoemaker. The Angels' runs, on the other hand, came primarily off Walker. Some of them were sort of inevitable, because the Angels are very good at hitting and their vets/Mike Trout will be able to key on a one-note guy like Walker. For example, in the third, Trout singled, then scored on Erick Aybar's double. It happens.
But Walker's sixth inning saw him really lose a handle on the game. He got Mike Trout in a 1–2 hole, but then came too far inside and hit him. Albert Pujols singled to put men on first and second, and when Aybar bunted, Walker's throw to third was wild. Trout scored.
Right after that, Walker grooved a straight fastball, which David Freese pounded off the center-field wall, scoring two more runs. In all, the Angels got seven runs off Walker on seven hits, even though he struck out seven and walked none.
Results like this just go to show the importance of damage-limitation in the majors. The instances when a guy can get by on pure talent are exceedingly rare. Walker has the stuff of a major-league pitcher, but also the unpredictability and erratic nature that keeps somebody in the minors. The problem for the Mariners is that they can't afford to keep that potential down in Tacoma if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.
Sunday was the Futures Game, when baseball's brightest young stars convene at the All-Star Game site, throw all semblance of mechanical soundness out the window during batting practice in search of bombs, then try not to make fools out of themselves during the game. The United States team smashed the World Team 10–1, but nobody really cares about the final score, just the individual highlights. And there were many of them!
Like Lucas Giolito getting the start for the US and striking a dude out. Boom!
Mets no. 9 prospect Michael Conforto made this strong throw to save a run in the top of the third. Zing!
Kyle Schwarber was named the game's MVP, and he broke it open with a two-run triple in the third. Blammo!
Pirates no. 3 prospect Josh Bell hit this bomb in the fourth to expand Amurrica's lead. Double blammo!
And it's not like the World team didn't do anything: Brewers top prospect Orlando Arcia made this spectacular spinning throw at short. I can't think of any more sound effects!
Kirk Nieuwenhuis has had a strange, frustrating season. He started with the Mets, was bad, got DFA'd and traded to the Angels, then released and picked up … by the Mets. He was hitting .091 before Sunday's game, and was hitting fifth, because the Mets are still the Mets.
And then, wouldn't you know it, he hit three home runs.
Of course, the resulting fame and fortune probably pale in comparison to this scalp massage.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
This season hasn't gone the way the Nationals expected, especially in the middle infield. Instead of Yunel Escobar at second base and Anthony Rendon at third, it's been Escobar at third and Danny Espinosa at second, because Rendon has been hurt most of the season. Bummer! And Ryan Zimmerman has been hurt, and Ian Desmond has been terrible, so wow, that infield is just … uh …
But Desmond and Espinosa are two very athletic, capable defenders who can whip plays like this out of nowhere. Adam Jones absolutely scalded that ball, but Espinosa snagged it basically with his eyes closed, then flipped to Desmond, who made the tough throw to first. And what a stretch by Tyler Moore! Great play all around, guys. We're definitely getting ice cream on the ride home.
What to Watch on Monday
The Home Run Derby, if that's your thing. Kris Bryant! Anthony Rizzo! Joc Pederson! Prince Fielder! Other guys! And the whole thing's timed, with extra points awarded for long bombs.
But yeah, other than that it's just minor-league stuff on tap. Happy All-Star break!