The Monday Takeaway
When the Indians and Cubs squared off for a four-game series back in June, each team must have been relieved that they were avoiding one of the other’s top starting pitchers. The Indians boast one of the best pitching staffs in the American League and the Cubs were surely counting their lucky stars not to have to face Corey Kluber. The Indians were equally thankful to miss Jon Lester. But the series opener of that series ended up being rained out and the two clubs agreed to make up the game on Monday. It just so happened that the two rotations lined up such that Kluber and Lester faced off in the matinee; the duel lived up to the hype.
Kluber was absolutely masterful, boasting impeccable fastball command, working both sides of the plate, and changing eye levels throughout the start. While Kluber is renowned for his nasty secondary offerings, he relied on his heater more heavily than usual, going to either the two- or four-seam variation on 73 of his 121 pitches (60 percent). He generated eight swings-and-misses with his fastball and ended six of his 11 strikeouts with cheese.
Of Kluber’s nasty secondaries, it was his cutter that was working particularly well, generating seven swing-and-misses from Cubs hitters. The fastball command allowed him to get into favorable counts often, as he started off 21 of the 28 batters he faced with strikes, with Cubs often being at the mercy of his deep repertoire later in the count. The hitter who had the most trouble with Kluber over his 7 2/3 innings of work was rookie phenom Kyle Schwarber, who struck out in all three matchups against the Indians’ ace.
In the first inning, Kluber started Schwarber off by painting the black with a two-seamer for strike one. The next pitch looked exactly like the previous one—same movement and same location—before the 86 mph changeup sunk and darted away from Schwarber, who swung through the pitch for strike two. Instead of wasting an 0-2 offering, Kluber challenged Schwarber up and in with a fastball and the slugger swung through the pitch for strike three.
Schwarber didn’t get the bat off his shoulder in the second showdown between the two, watching a fastball, curve, and cutter all go by without a hack. The third time they squared off, Kluber missed low and inside with a first-pitch cutter, then hit his target low and away with a fastball to even the count. His next pitch was a cutter that missed its target by a lot but Schwarber swung through the offering anyway. Kluber came back with a fastball up in Schwarber’s eyes that the big man was unable to catch up to for the swinging strikeout.
The Cubs didn’t get their first baserunner against Kluber until the sixth inning, when David Ross lined a cutter at the knees into left field to break up the perfect-game bid. With one out in the seventh inning, Chris Coghlan took a 2-2 sinker off the plate and went the other way with it for a one-out double against Kluber. Up next was Anthony Rizzo and the first baseman somehow got around on a 94 mph sinker on his hands and kept it fair down the right-field line. Jerry Sands was unable to come up with the diving catch and Rizzo ended up with an RBI triple.
Rizzo’s hit gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead thanks to sterling work on the mound from Lester, who was efficient with his pitches and pounded the bottom of the strike zone, getting the Indians’ hitters to continually pummel balls into the ground.
The left-hander induced 16 ground balls during his outing, which led to the Cubs turning four double plays behind him. Twin-killings helped Lester get out of the second, third, fourth, and seventh innings, including a Carlos Santana double play with runners at the corners in the fourth that killed Cleveland’s best run-scoring opportunity during Lester’s first eight innings of work.
With Lester needing just 83 pitches to cruise through those eight frames, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon let the left-hander go back out for the ninth to try to complete the shutout. Lester’s first pitch plunked Ryan Raburn on the back foot, but the hurler responded by striking out Jason Kipnis. Up next was Francisco Lindor; Lester got the rookie to hit a tapper out in front of the mound. This would be a desirable result for just about every pitcher in baseball except for Lester.
The pitcher’s throwing yips have been discussed at length since last year’s AL Wild Card game and on this play he stood frozen on the mound, forcing catcher David Ross to field a ball that was much closer to the mound than home plate. Ross had no shot to get the speedy Lindor and the Indians were granted a free baserunner. That play came back to bite Lester later in the inning when Carlos Santana laced a two-out single to left field, tying the game and knocking the southpaw out of it.
Luckily for Lester, he is teammates with a handful of budding offensive stars. One such talent is Kris Bryant, who bailed the Cubs out in the bottom of the inning by crushing a hanging curve from Zach McAllister the other way to walk it off.
Quick Hits from Monday
The last time David Wright suited up in a Mets uniform, the team was in the midst of its April 11-game winning streak. The team has done just fine with Wright out of the lineup for all but eight games this season, entering Monday’s game against the Phillies five games up on the Nationals in the NL East. But after missing over four months with spinal stenosis, the team captain made his long-awaited return to the lineup. His first swing back launched an Adam Morgan offering into the second deck of Citizens Bank Park.
It was a bit of déjà vu as far as Wright comebacks go. The last time Wright returned from the DL was back in 2013, when he missed seven weeks with a hamstring strain. Wright’s return to the lineup came on September 20th at Citizens Bank Park and he took then-Phillie Cole Hamels deep in his first trip to the plate.
But as far as Monday’s home run by Wright, it looked to be for naught because of an uncharacteristically disastrous outing by Jacob deGrom. The right-hander had gone seven consecutive starts allowing two runs or fewer, but Ryan Howard ended that streak in the first inning with an opposite-field three-run blast. Cameron Rupp answered Wright’s second-inning home run with a solo blast of his own to make it 4-1. Domonic Brown capped off the onslaught against deGrom with a three-run jack in the third inning, tagging deGrom for a career-worst seven runs (six earned), the same as the total number of runs he had allowed in his previous seven starts.
At that point the Phillies held a 7-2 lead and appeared to have successfully spoiled Wright’s return.
Not so fast.
Wright led things off in the fourth inning with a single to left and circled the bases for the second time in the game when Wilmer Flores lined a home run into the left-field stands. Travis d’Arnaud kept things going with a moonshot that traveled an estimated 464 feet.
Morgan didn’t make it out of the fourth inning and was relieved by right-hander Hector Neris. The 26-year-old reliever served up a double to the warning track by Daniel Murphy to lead off the fifth inning and then plunked Yoenis Cespedes with an 0-2 pitch. Wright struck out looking for the first out of the inning, which brought Flores back to the plate. The New York folk hero cranked his second home run of the game and his fourth since “teargate” to put the Mets on top.
But the Home Run Fest wasn’t done. Michael Cuddyer went yard later in the inning to make it a 9-7 game and Daniel Murphy tied the franchise record with the seventh home run of the game for the Mets the next inning off Justin De Fratus. By the time the ninth inning rolled around the Mets had a 14-7 lead and the only New York starters without home runs were Yoenis Cespedes and Ruben Tejada. Cespedes decided to check his name off that list with the Mets’ record-breaking eighth home run of the night.
While the offense was busy burying the Phillies with 15 extra-base hits, New York’s bullpen also did an admirable job cleaning up the mess that deGrom had gotten them into. Sean Gilmartin tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of deGrom and Hansel Robles, Eric O’Flaherty, and Carlos Torres each turned in a scoreless frame to help extend the club’s division lead over the idle Nationals to 5½ games.
On Monday, Eno Sarris wrote about Yankees starter Nate Eovaldi, whose lack of strikeouts so far in his career has been somewhat surprising given that he’s armed with a heater that can touch triple digits. Eovaldi has been unable to miss many bats because of his lack of a quality secondary pitch, but Sarris noted that the hurler has tweaked his grip on his splitter, which he has thrown with increased velocity and frequency over the past two months.
So it was only appropriate that Eovaldi threw his splitter a season-high 40 percent of the time against the Astros and generated a season-high eight swing-and-misses with the pitch en route to arguably his best outing of the season. In addition to getting the Astros to swing over the off-speed offering time and time again, Eovaldi elevated his fastball when needed, getting another eight whiffs with his heater. One of those whiffs came on this 101 mph fastball that whizzed by Carlos Gomez for a strikeout in the fourth inning.
Eovaldi struck out seven and walked three over his eight innings; he also hit 100 mph multiple times against his final batter of the outing. As great as Eovaldi’s outing was, Scott Feldman matched it with eight scoreless frames of his own, striking out six and walking zero.
Both starters turned the ball over to left-handed relievers, with Andrew Miller tossing a clean inning for the Bombers in the top of the ninth. On the other hand, Oliver Perez‘s outing went something like this:
Perez has become a serviceable reliever since remaking his career in the bullpen, but on this night he looked more like the guy who walked eight batters per nine as a starter for the Mets in 2009 and 2010. He walked Brett Gardner on five pitches, then proceeded to uncork a wild pitch, forcing him to intentionally walk Alex Rodriguez mid-AB. Perez then walked Brian McCann on five pitches to load the bases before being pulled in favor of Chad Qualls.
Qualls only threw one pitch, and Carlos Beltran did enough with it to give the Yankees the walk-off win.
The last time the Orioles were in Kansas City, they were forced to watch from the opposing dugout as the Royals celebrated their capture of the American League pennant. The two teams squared off Monday in their first game against each other since last year’s ALCS and the home squad sent Kris Medlen to the mound for his first start in a Royals uniform.
Medlen was sufficiently stretched out during his time in the bullpen—working at least three innings in two of his last three stints—and manager Ned Yost finally decided to try out the former Brave in the rotation after Jeremy Guthrie‘s latest disaster of an outing ballooned his ERA to 5.65. Things didn’t start off too well for Medlen, whose first pitch of the game was crushed for a double by Manny Machado. Adam Jones would give the O’s the early lead later in the inning.
Medlen settled in after the bumpy first inning, requiring just 69 [ed.: stop it] pitches to navigate six innings of five-hit ball. Balitmore would score just once more against Medlen and the right-hander struck out six without issuing a walk.
When Medlen exited, the Royals trailed 3-1, with Ubaldo Jimenez looking outstanding to that point in the game, retiring eight in a row heading into the bottom of the sixth. But as has often been the case for the Orioles’ hurler over the course of his career, dominance turned to disaster in a hurry.
Eric Hosmer kicked things off with a one-out double down the left-field line. Jimenez got Kendrys Morales to ground out for the second out of the inning and just needed to retire Mike Moustakas to escape the inning without any damage. But the third baseman yanked Jimenez’s second pitch of the at-bat and the Kansas City crowd let out a resounding “MOOOOOSE” before the ball landed beyond the right-field wall.
But the Royals weren’t done.
Salvador Perez reached on an infield single and moved up to third base on a double down the left-field line by Alex Rios. Jimenez dug Omar Infante into an 0-2 hole but then proceeded to leave a fastball letter-high and over the heart of the plate.
The Orioles had been playing their outfielders shallow but Infante burned them with a triple over the head of Adam Jones. Jonathan Schoop‘s throw to third base sailed over the head of Machado and Infante raced around to complete the Little League home run and give the Royals a 6-3 lead.
Alcides Escobar knocked Jimenez out of the game with a base knock and the rally continued off Brad Brach. Escobar proceeded to go first-to-third on a single by Ben Zobrist, who moved up to second base on the throw. Lorenzo Cain would cap off the seven-run inning with a single up the middle to make it an 8-3 game. Franklin Morales and Luke Hochevar combined to toss three perfect frames of relief to put the finishing touches on the win for Kansas City. Meanwhile, the Orioles dropped back to .500 and are now 2½ games behind the Rangers in the crowded AL wild card race.
The Defensive Play of the Day
Pablo Sandoval may not quite be Josh Donaldson in the field but he did his best impression of the Blue Jays’ third baseman, diving over the tarp at U.S. Cellular Field to catch this Adam LaRoche pop up.
What to Watch on Tuesday
The Nationals’ underperformance this season has been well documented; many of the club’s core position players have failed to live up to their expected production and the rotation has been good but not the super-rotation it was expected to be. One reason for optimism in Washington, however, is that for the first time all season Stephen Strasburg has exhibited dominant performances over multiple starts. In three starts since returning from a left oblique strain, Strasburg boasts a 25:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 20 innings and has limited batters to a .509 OPS. Strasburg’s raw stuff hasn’t changed since his return, as the velocity and movement on his pitches mirror what they were prior to the injury, but he has been leaning on his curve more often since returning. He’ll look to keep things rolling at home against the Padres, who will counter with James Shields (7:05 p.m. EST).
The Cubs have been the hottest team is baseball of late, with Monday’s walk-off win being their 20th victory in their last 24 games. Perhaps the most impressive part of that stretch was a four-game sweep of the Giants earlier this month. San Francisco will look to exact some revenge for that series on Tuesday in the first of a three-game set out in the Bay Area, with Matt Cain taking the hill for the home squad and Jake Arrieta getting the ball for the visitors (10:15 p.m. EST).