The Thursday Takeaway
Charlie Morton pitched one of his best games of the season, striking out eight batters in 6 2/3 innings while only allowing six baserunners as he shut down the Giants, who are tied with the Dodgers for baseball's best TAv. "Charlie is developing into a more complete pitcher," Clint Hurdle told MLB.com. "A pitcher with a sinkerball, rather than a sinkerball pitcher."
Over his last five starts, Morton has indeed moved away from the sinker, throwing it 56 percent of the time instead of the 66 percent rate he used through his first 11 starts of the season. Correspondingly, Morton has begun to rely more heavily on his curveball, which, as Hurdle also noted, has a great amount of "tilt and depth," as this nifty Statcast analysis shows:
That change has been beneficial for Morton. Although it's only a sample of 30 2/3 innings, the changes are already becoming apparent. Morton has doubled his strikeout rate from five K/9 to 10.2, and while his ground-ball rate has fallen, it's still above 50 percent. Despite having allowed a .338 opponents' BABIP in those 30 2/3 innings, his FIP during that span is 2.95, much better than the 4.61 FIP he had logged previously while getting by with a .274 opponents' BABIP. His BB/9 has gone up only slightly, from 2.7 to 2.9.
In support of Morton in the Pirates' 4-0 victory were Aramis Ramirez and Jung-ho Kang, who each hit RBI doubles and each collected two hits, as did Starling Marte. Neil Walker provided the game's biggest blast in the bottom of the sixth:
Quick Hits from Thursday
Chris Archer was the most dominant he's been since his three-game streak of 10-plus strikeouts and no walks in late May and early June. Archer did walk a batter, but just one, and it was the first batter he faced, as he retired 26 of the next 27 after throwing four straight balls to Jose Altuve in the bottom of the first inning.
Archer hadn't quite been the same since that May 27th–June 7th run, as he's had a 3.25 FIP and a 4.1 K/BB ratio since June 13th after having a 2.09 FIP and a 5.30 FIP in 83 innings before that. Archer's ground-ball rate also fell from 49 to 42 percent. The righty has still been good, but he hadn't been great, at least until last night.
Archer racked up 11 strikeouts on the night, using his slider more often than usual: he threw it as often as he threw fastballs. He needed just 98 pitches to get through the nine innings, a rather astounding feat given that he was striking out a batter or more every inning.
Collin McHugh was no slouch for the Astros, as he passed his innings mark from last season on his way to seven innings of one-run baseball. McHugh gave up five hits and walked two as the Rays pounded nine ground-ball outs against him. A single by Logan Forsythe in the fourth inning became the pivotal moment in the Rays' win as McHugh chucked a curveball by Jason Castro, allowing Forsythe to move to second. Jennings drove him in with a single on the next pitch.
The Rays walked away from a tough opponent in Houston with two wins in four games and a 17 percent chance of making the playoffs, which they'll try to increase against Oakland this weekend.
Halfway across the country, another pitcher made quick work of his opponents. In his third career start, Tyler Duffey limited the Orioles to two runs over 7 2/3 innings while needing just 96 pitches to strike out 8 batters.
However, it was baseball's worst offense (again, by TAv) that truly stood out, as they were baseball's best for one night, pouring it on the Orioles for 15 runs. It was an offensive parade as every member of the Twins' starting lineup reached base and scored a run during the game. The Twins scored the most runs they have all season and eclipsed the number of runs they scored during their three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees by one.
Alfredo Simon got himself back on track for his best start in the second half after a series of clunkers. Simon pitched his best game of the season, as the fly-ball pitcher generated 13 outs in the air to join Archer in the one-hit-shutout club.
Simon, who struck out five, also induced 12 ground outs, including this uncharacteristically great play by Victor Martinez:
Martinez also contributed a sacrifice fly in the Tigers' 4-0 win over the Rangers to start the four-game series.
Max Scherzer may not have given up any home runs, but he still hasn't returned to his usual dominating self, as he gave up eight hits and walked three in six innings, giving up three runs in a 3-2 loss to the Rockies.
The entirety of Washington's scoring came on this blast, which was the longest of the season tracked by Statcast:
What To Watch This Weekend
The best of the west will face off in Houston on Friday as the Dodgers take on the Astros to begin a three-game series. Both teams have sat on top of their respective divisions for most of the season, although they haven't been able to shake their competition: the Giants and the Angels, respectively. While both San Francisco and Anaheim are knotted up playing tough opponents—each of their respective league's Wild Card leaders—the Dodgers and Astros will hope to gain some ground on their pesky rivals. Brett Anderson for the Dodgers will take on Mike Fiers for the Astros as both teams will look this weekend to boost their odds of winning the division further over 80 percent. (8:10 PM ET)
Two teams in the thick of the AL Wild Card race and the races for their own divisions will begin an important weekend series on Friday. The Blue Jays will send out their best in David Price, who has been good all season and even better since the beginning of June, when he changed his mix of pitches. Price now relies more frequently on his sinker, cutter, and especially his changeup than his fastball, and has seen his strikeout and ground-ball rates rise and his ERA and DIPS statistics fall. He's even managed to lower his walk rate from 2.2 BB/9 to 1.5. The Angels will, some would argue, send out their own ace, as Hector Santiago has the team's most strikeouts, second-most innings pitched, and a 2.86 ERA. However, the fly-balling Santiago has been just getting by, as his BABIP is .256 and his DRA is 4.03. Santiago has a little luck along with the Angels' defense (second in defensive efficiency) to thank for his overachievement this season. He'll be tested against the Blue Jays, who own baseball's third-best team TAv. (10:05 PM ET)