The Wednesday Takeaway
Justin Verlander has been looking a lot more like the Justin Verlander of old lately, allowing one run or fewer run in five of his last six starts, over which time he’s boasted an impressive 40:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In fact, Jeff Sullivan just wrote a post yesterday wondering whether Verlander had figured it out again, highlighting that the one-time ace appears to have polished his mechanics out of the stretch. Verlander rarely had to work out of the stretch against the Angels on Wednesday and the way he was pumping up his velocity as the start wore on evoked memories of his peak seasons with the Tigers.
Through eight innings Verlander had faced the minimum and the Angels had failed to notch a hit. Verlander walked Caleb Cowart in the third inning and David Murphy in the eighth inning but both had been erased by subsequent double plays. Verlander relied heavily on his fastball during his dominant out and it averaged a season-best 94.5 MPH and topped out at 98 MPH in the eighth inning. The Angels were simply unable to touch Verlander’s heater, as he attacked the top of the strike zone with it and generated 14 swing-and-misses with the pitch, the most in a single start by Verlander since 2013.
His most dominant stretch took place in the sixth and seventh innings, when he fanned five straight batters including Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols. Here’s Calhoun swinging through two straight letter-high Verlander fastballs before walking back to the visitors dugout.
Verlander headed into the ninth inning with his no-hitter still intact and the bottom of the Angels lineup due up. He started off by falling behind in the count 2-0 to Chris Iannetta, then got the Angels catcher to foul off an inside fastball and chase a slider low and away. Verlander’s batterymate James McCann called for a fastball away with the 2-2 delivery but the pitch leaked back over the plate and Iannetta turned on it, ripping a double that just landed on the chalk down the left field line.
After getting a standing ovation from the Comerica Park crowd, Verlander retired the next three Angels in order—including his ninth strikeout—to put the finishing touches on his first complete game since July 4, 2012. Iannetta’s hit in the ninth inning kept Verlander’s outing from joining his previous two no-hitters in the record books but it hardly makes the right-hander’s recent stretch of success any less encouraging. Despite a rough patch upon returning from the disabled list Verlander entered the start with a 2.90 DRA, which tied him with Johnny Cueto for the 15th best mark among pitchers with at least 70 innings pitched this season.
Despite waving the flag on the season at the trade deadline the Tigers still have a strong offensive core and were able to get major league ready pieces when they traded away David Price and Yoenis Cespedes at the end of July. It’s an aging roster but if they are able to cobble together a productive starting rotation it’s not that difficult to imagine the Tigers contending in 2016. A healthy and productive Justin Verlander would be a major boost to those chances.
The Tigers may not have much to play for in September but how Verlander performs down the stretch will certainly be something to keep an eye on in Detroit. Wednesday’s outing was just the latest piece of evidence that the idea of a return to stardom isn’t as crazy as it may have seemed a couple of months ago.
Quick Hits from Wednesday
As August draws to a close Washington’s shot at a playoff spot continues to slip away. The heavy pre-season favorites to win the National League East entered Wednesday 5 and ½ games back of the Mets and our playoff odds gave them just a 12% chance to make the playoffs. New York took care of business in Philadelphia, jumping out to an early lead against the Phillies and topping them by a final of 9-4 behind seven stellar shutout innings from Bartolo Colon and an offense that continues to rake, which put the pressure on the Nationals to keep pace against San Diego.
Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez was able to work around leadoff hits in each of the first two innings but was unable to get out of the third inning before the Padres had done some damage. Gonzalez surrendered a leadoff single to his counterpart Tyson Ross and then retired Yangervis Solarte for the first out of the inning. The left-hander then coaxed a grounder to third base off the bat off Melvin Upton but Yunel Escobar botched the ball and also the subsequent throw to first base, turning a potential inning ending double play into a play where no out was recorded.
Upton would add a second home run in the seventh inning, at which point the Padres held a 6-2 lead. Ross had been carving up Washington’s lineup through the first six innings, striking out nine and only issuing two walks. But the right-hander plunked Clint Robinson with out out in the seventh and hit the showers after serving up a double to Denard Span.
In came Shawn Kelley but the reliever couldn’t find the plate, immediately walking two batters and then giving way to Marc Rzepczynski with Bryce Harper due up. Harper laced a single off Rzepczynski to center to cut Washington’s deficit to just one run, bringing Escobar up with the chance to complete the comeback. Rzepczynski fell behind 3-0 to Escobar but the third baseman swung at the very next pitch, grounding into a 5-4-3 double play to kill the rally.
That turned out to be the last good chance that Washington would have at scoring, as Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel each turned in a clean inning of relief to finish off the 6-5 win for the Padres. Washington now sits 6 ½ games behind the Mets in the NL East.
After being on the shelf for the past month with a right forearm strain Michael Pineda made his return to the Yankees rotation to try and slow down an Astros lineup that was fresh off a 15-1 massacre of the Bombers the night before. Evan Gattis, who went yard and reached base four times during Tuesday’s blowout, picked up right where he left off against Pineda in the second inning.
The opposite-field shot gave the Astros an early 1-0 lead and was one of the few hard-hit balls that Pineda surrendered during the outing. But the Astros strung together a series of singles in the fifth inning that brought Pineda’s day to a premature end.
Carlos Gomez started the inning off by using his speed to beat out a grounder in the hole at shortstop and promptly took advantage of his wheels to go first-to-third on a Luis Valbuena single to center. Jake Marisnick was up next for Houston and the outfielder laid down a perfectly placed push bunt that he beat out for an RBI single. Jason Castro would draw a walk to load the bases for Jose Altuve.
Pineda, who the Yankees planned to limit to 80-85 pitches, made his exit after Altuve’s sac fly extended the lead to 3-0 and put the starter’s pitch count at 71. Both of the runners that Pineda had left on base eventually came around to score against reliever Chasen Shreve, who served up an RBI single to Marwin Gonzalez and then uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Castro to score Houston’s fifth run of the game.
That was more than enough support for Colin McHugh, who cruised through the first six innings of his outing with eight strikeouts while keeping the Yankees off the board. Didi Gregorius cut into the lead in the seventh by launching a hanging curveball from McHugh into the second deck in right field for a two-run homer. The mistake to Gregorius was one of the few McHugh made during the day, as the Yankees were otherwise only able to tally four singles against the right-hander.
The Houston bullpen has been one of the best in baseball this season and the three-run cushion was more than enough for Tony Sipp, Pat Neshek, and Will Harris to work with once McHugh exited the game. But just to be sure, Gattis took Adam Warren deep in the eighth inning for his second blast of the game.
The no-doubter off the bat of Gattis extended the lead to 6-2, the eventual final score, as Sipp, Neshek and Harris combined to keep the Yankees off the board over the final 2 and 2/3 innings of the series finale.
Just about a week ago Minnesota’s hopes at a playoff berth looked to be nearing its end. After playing above their heads in the first half, the team had come crashing back to Earth since the All-Star break and fell two games under .500 after being swept by the Yankees last week.
But then the Twins won four straight games against the Orioles in Baltimore this past weekend and took the series opener against the Rays on Tuesday. Chris Archer took the mound for the Rays in the middle match of the series but even his 12-strikeout performance wasn’t enough to bring Minnesota’s winning streak to a halt.
Everything was going smoothly for Archer in the early going against the Twins, as he struck out the side in the first inning and had eight strikeouts through four innings. Archer’s fastball-slider combo worked throughout the night, as he got six swing-and-misses with the heater and got nine whiffs with his nasty breaking ball.
Daniel Nava had given the Rays first blood with a solo home run in the fourth but the Twins tied it up in the fifth with a pair of singles and an RBI fielder’s choice. The Rays regained the lead in the fifth thanks to a Kevin Kiermaier leadoff triple but Minnesota tied it back up on a solo blast by Eduardo Escobar.
Archer issued his lone walk of the evening to Shane Robinson to lead off the seventh inning and it ended up biting him. With the lineup turning back over, Byron Buxton was up to bat and dropped down a bunt in front of the mound. With the first baseman breaking in on the play, second baseman Logan Forsythe had a long way to go to cover first base, which forced Archer to delay his throw just long enough for the speedy Buxton to beat it out for a base hit.
Brian Dozier was next up and he quickly got ahead in the count 2-0 against Archer. It seemed like as good a time as any for Dozier to look for a pitch to drive and give the Twins the lead but in an odd turn of events he squared around to bunt. Dozier popped the bunt up in the air and appeared upset at himself for not getting down the bunt. But the ball ended up in no man’s land just beyond the reach of a diving Archer and Dozier had himself a base hit on an all-around bizarre sequence of events.
That was it for Archer, as the Rays ace had to watch from the dugout as two of the runners he left on base eventually came around to score to give the Twins a 4-2 lead. Evan Longoria went yard in the bottom of the seventh to cut the deficit to one run but Eduardo Escobar gave the Minnesota bullpen some extra cushion with his second home run of the game in the eighth inning.
That long ball off Brandon Gomes gave the Twins a 5-3 lead, the eventual final score, as Kevin Jepsen closed it out with a scoreless ninth inning with Glen Perkins unavailable due to back spasms. Paired with Texas’ 12-4 loss at the hands of the Blue Jays, Minnesota’s win put them back in sole possession of the second AL wild card spot.
The Defensive Play of the Day
Anyone who has watched Ben Revere in the outfield knows that despite his top-end speed, he is prone to running his share of inefficient routes. This was not one of those routes, as Revere did a great job tracking this ball off the bat of Delino DeShields and made a incredible leaping catch to rob the outfielder of extra bases.
What to Watch on Thursday
With the Yankees idle on Thursday and falling two games back in the AL East after yesterday’s games, the Blue Jays will look to extend their lead in the division to a season-best 2.5 games with a win over the Rangers. Toronto stormed back in the ninth inning to pull off the comeback win on Tuesday and rode home runs from Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar and Edwin Encarnacion to route Texas in the middle match of the series. They’ll look to complete the sweep in Texas with Marco Estrada on the mound. Estrada has done better this season at limiting the long ball, an issue that plagued him for much of the 2014 season. The right-hander has a respectable 3.53 DRA to show for it but is coming off back-to-back starts in which he’s given up multiple home runs, the first time that’s happened this season. He’ll look to break that streak against the Rangers on Wednesday but a matinee matchup in the blazing Texas heat won’t be the easiest conditions for Estrada to try and rein in his gopher ball issues. The Rangers will counter with Yovani Gallardo in what is one of five day games around the league (2:05 p.m. EST).
Washington’s decision to shuffle its starting rotation unfortunately did not line up Joe Ross to take the hill opposite his brother; Tyson threw 6 1/3 solid innings in front of their parents in Washington on Wednesday. But the Ross family will stay in town to watch their younger son get the start Thursday against the team that selected him 25th overall in the 2011 draft. The Padres traded Joe along with shortstop Trea Turner to the Nationals as part of the three-team deal that brought Wil Myers to San Diego this past offseason and the right-handed starter has thrived since his call up to the big leagues. Like his older brother, Joe boasts a filthy fastball-slider combo, but unlike the Padres right-hander, Joe has been able to avoid handing out free passes, which has helped him post an impressive 3.12 DRA and 91 cFIP through his first 10 MLB starts. However, the Nationals do have Ross on an innings limit and recently sent Tanner Roark down to Potomac to stretch him out for a potential spot in the starting rotation come September. Ross will try to make the most of his limited bullets and help keep Washington’s bleak playoff hopes afloat in the series finale (4:05 p.m. EST).