The Weekend Takeaways
If three’s a charm, then three threes must be … uh … nine charms? Well, whatever it is, the Astros did it this weekend, scoring just nine runs total in their three-game set against the Dodgers, but holding Los Angeles to just three runs of its own and coming away with a sweep.
You probably heard about the first game, which was a no-hitter by Astros right-hander Mike Fiers. It was the first complete game of Fiers’ career, too. It was a good game that Fiers threw! Obviously, because he didn’t allow a hit to the Dodgers, and they’re a team that tends to hit the ball well, but Fiers didn’t start really cruising until the fourth inning. He threw 19, 19, and 22 pitches, respectively, in the first three innings. After that, he never threw more than 14 in an inning. The linear weights value of Fiers’ pitches in the final six innings also never rose above -0.848, while the lowest he got in the first third of the game was -0.532. Basically, Fiers got much, much better as the game went on.
You can also see that Fiers generally missed up with his pitches, which is in line with his profile as a fly-ball pitcher.
If we’re going to compare this no-hitter to the four others we’ve seen this year, a good place to start is Game Score. Fiers recorded a 94 in his no-hitter, which is behind Cole Hamels and Chris Heston and Max Scherzer‘s no-hitters but ahead of Hisashi Iwakuma‘s. Fiers also threw 134 pitches, which is the most in any of the five.
Fiers has initiated the competition for most impressive accomplishment by a Nova Southeastern alum. Personally, I’m partial to this colossal blast by J.D. Martinez, which is the longest home run ever hit at Comerica Park.
The Dodgers were significantly better on offense on Saturday, notching six hits off Scott Kazmir and one off Luke Gregerson. While Zach Greinke only gave up three in seven innings, two of were home runs. One came from Luis Valbuena, the Greek god of True Outcomes.
Los Angeles had a chance to ride Clayton Kershaw to a victory on Sunday and salvage a game from the series. Everything was going well—Kershaw allowed a run on seven hits in eight innings, and the Dodgers got two off Lance McCullers—until the ninth inning. Kenley Jansen replaced Kershaw and gave up a leadoff single to Carlos Correa. Valbuena struck out swinging, but Correa stole second before Evan Gattis popped out for the second out.
With Marwin Gonzalez up, Jansen left a cutter over the plate, which Gonzalez stroked to right for the game-tying single. After Luke Gregerson threw a scoreless tenth, Chris Hatcher served up a walk-off dinger to Jason Castro. The homer was reviewed but umpires determined that yes, it hit a fan in the Crawford Boxes before getting stuck in the scoreboard.
Every Astros win this weekend was crucial to the division race, as the surging Rangers took three straight from the Tigers after dropping the series opener on Thursday. The sweep certainly hurt for the Dodgers, but the Giants dropped three of four to the Pirates, meaning Los Angeles holds a one-game lead in the division.
Those very Rangers are just four games back from the Astros and 1½ games clear of the Yankees for the second American League Wild Card spot, and judging by their acquisitions of Cole Hamels and more recently Will Venable, they seem to be preparing to make a run. Their pitching has resisted an August swoon and has actually improved as of late. The Rangers have benefited from luck in close games, to be sure—five of their last eight wins have come by two runs or fewer—but they haven’t allowed more than four runs in a game in their last 10 contests.
The addition of Cole Hamels should only help if the Rangers plan on outpitching everybody for the rest of the season. Hamels got the start on Sunday and allowed two runs in six innings to lock up the series win.
Hamels’ stuff was not electric, as he had two strikeouts and as many walks while giving up eight hits, but for the second-straight game, none of those hits were dingers, which is a welcome change from the five combined that Hamels gave up in his first two games with the Rangers.
Texas is off today, but on Tuesday Derek Holland will make his third start of the season after missing months with a shoulder injury.
Part of the reason the Nationals’ postseason hopes are dimming is because they’re generally playing crappily, underachieving in pretty much every area of the game. A larger part, however, is the Mets. Washington just took series from the Rockies and Brewers, but New York counteracted that by taking one of two from the Orioles and then sweeping the Rockies.
Even in the depths of disappointment, before Wilmer Flores‘ tears and subsequent walk-off bomb invigorated a team and fan base, the Mets never seemed far from relevance. They had three of the top young pitchers in the league and a decent bullpen and defense. They just needed a bat or two or three.
Well, they got Yoenis Cespedes, and he’s been a bat and a half. In his 20 games with the Mets, Cespedes has racked up an .890 OPS, and that figure soars to 1.014 if you look at just his last seven games. Cespedes has three home runs in that span, and they all came on Friday against the Rockies.
Those are all the other way or to dead center. The man is strong, and if that sleeve is any indication, his strength has turned radioactive. Cespedes almost had four dingers, but a rocket to the track ended up in Carlos Gonzalez‘s glove. Add that to his single and double, and Cespedes might have had the greatest individual offensive night of the year.
The Mets won that game 14-9, and Cespedes had two singles in Saturday’s game, which New York won by the same score. And while Cespedes was hitless on Sunday, Logan Verrett made up for it by allowing just four Rockies hits in eight innings in his first MLB start.
Although the Mets’ acquisition of Cespedes was hilariously anticlimactic, he’s been extremely productive for the club, hitting just behind the pace of his excellent rookie campaign in Oakland and with better defense, to boot. He’s on pace for the lowest walk rate of his career, but a .334 BABIP has meant more contact doesn’t mean more outs; the opposite, actually. Cespedes’ .219 ISO is also on pace to be the highest figure of his career.
Cespedes is hitting fly balls at a lower rate than he ever has: His current 35 percent figure is a whopping 13 percentage points lower than it was last year. This would suggest that Cespedes has flattened out his swing plane and is trusting his incredible strength. This year’s Cespedes, from a batted-ball standpoint, looks more like 2012 Cespedes, and that’s a good thing.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
This is Billy Burns robbing Logan Forsythe of what probably would have been a double, and holy cow this ball was scorched, 102 mph off the bat according to data pulled by Baseball Savant, just a little slower than a 430-foot dinger Forsythe hit off Sonny Gray earlier in the game. I think that’s why you see Burns stay pretty upright even when he begins his dive: The ball might have still been rising.
What to Watch on Monday
In today’s Yankees-Astros matchup, we’ll see Nathan Eovaldi face off against Scott Feldman. Eovaldi, as you probably know, throws extremely hard for a starter: According to the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards, he averages 97.5 mph with his four-seamer, which is second among qualifying pitchers. Feldman is not one of those qualifying pitchers, but he has averaged just 91.1 mph with his sinker, his primary fastball, in 2015. That would place Feldman 132nd in the PITCHf/x velocity leaderboards. His rarely seen four-seamer has averaged just 90.8 mph this season.
Basically, Eovaldi throws really hard and Feldman doesn’t. This doesn’t produce the contrast in whiff rate that you’d probably expect, though: Eovaldi has a 6.6 percent whiff rate with his four-seamer this season, and Feldman has a 3.9 percent whiff rate with his sinker. (And a 10.7 rate on the 28 four-seamers he’s thrown!) Overall, Feldman’s contact rate is only 2.7 percentage points higher than Eovaldi’s. Switch Eovaldi out for Gerrit Cole, another hard thrower, and that gap in contact rate jumps to 6.6 percent.
For an exploration of Eovaldi’s strange lack of whiffs, I’d recommend checking out Murphy Powell’s article at Beyond the Box Score. The main gist of Powell’s findings is that Eovaldi gets whiffs on high pitches, but when he’s in two-strike counts, he concentrates his offerings low and to the glove side, his most whiff-averse area.
If we apply that same examination to Feldman, we find that his best whiff-producing area this year has been low and to the glove side and that he has a few other strong areas in the vicinity. When he’s got two strikes on a hitter, that’s where his pitches go.
If Kris Medlen gets the start for the Royals in tonight’s matchup against the Red Sox, it will be Medlen’s first MLB start since 2013. He is getting the start in place of Jeremy Guthrie, and not because Guthrie is injured but because Guthrie is bad: a 5.65 ERA with a 5.31 FIP.
Medlen began his MLB career as a reliever, and that’s what he’s been this year in seven appearances for the Royals. And really, Medlen’s only season as a full-time starter was 2013, with the Braves. It’s tough to tell how Medlen has changed since then: His ground-out-to-air-out ratio has shifted from 1.2 then to 0.9 now, but that comes with the caveat of him only throwing 14 1/3 innings this year. PITCHf/x isn’t much more illuminating. Medlen has more giddyup on his four-seamer and sinker, and a lot more on his changeup, but of course he does when he’s throwing out of the bullpen.
Basically, we can’t judge what Kris Medlen will be as a starter in 2015, because we haven’t seen him as a starter since 2013. All the more reason to watch tonight!
Two makeup games are scheduled for Monday, and they feature all three MLB teams—the Indians, Cubs, and Reds—that have red C’s as their logos. Weird! Also, the Tigers are playing.
Neither of those games is particularly interesting from a standings standpoint. The Cubs are the only team of the four that even has a winning record, and they’re 6½ games out of first in the N.L. Central. (Man, the Cardinals!) They are, however, 5½ games clear of the Giants in the race for a Wild Card spot, where they would face the Pirates in a one-game playoff.
Because time is a flat circle, we can be a little bit more temporally flexible in looking at these games. The Indians-Cubs game is rescheduled from June 15th, and Tigers-Reds is rescheduled from June 18th. Were Indians-Cubs being played on June, it would have been about the same in terms of interest. The Cubs were seven games back in the division and a game behind the Pirates. The Indians were 29-33 and seven games away from the first-place Royals, so they hadn’t reached the Realm of Complete and Utter Darkness that they currently inhabit.
The Reds were already 12½ games back from the Cardinals, but the Tigers were still sort of close to the Royals, at 5½ games back. I don’t remember what I was thinking on June 18th about the Reds playing the Tigers—probably nothing—but if I had thought critically about that matchup, I would said, “Well, the projections are still in the Tigers’ favor, and they still have plenty of time to catch the Royals, so yeah, they’re a contender! No way should they trade David Price later this season!”
We all know how that turned out. As these games are being played today, they are not interesting. If they had been played on their originally scheduled dates, they still wouldn’t have been interesting, but maybe more interesting than they are today. This could be the premise for the lamest time-travel movie ever.