The Weekend Takeaway
The Blue Jays' are good at offense; that's your weekend takeaway. Really, that's been the takeaway from the last month, but it came to a head this weekend, especially regarding Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion has a 25-game hitting streak that began on July 26th. His ISO in August is .525. To say he's crushing the ball would be selling him short. Encarnacion has benefitted from a BABIP in the upper .300s, but he has also cut his ground-ball rate in half and replaced the missing grounders with line drives. He's cut his GB/FB ratio nearly in half from the first half to the second.
There's no huge change in Encarnacion's plate discipline figures, and, in fact, he seems to be walking at a lower rate. It's just that when he hits the ball now, he crushes it. The graphs below show the sea change in power on pitches in the zone Encarnacion has shown this season. Before June, there just wasn't much going on.
I compared Encarnacion's swing in May (left) with Encarnacion's swing in August (right), and if you can see anything different at the point of contact, let me know, because I sure don't. This tells me that with Encarnacion the difference is in the eyes, and the brain, and probably the confidence.
Now, on to Encarnacion this weekend: The Blue Jays scored 29 runs in a sweep of the Tigers this weekend, and Encarnacion drove in 10 of them. He had just a double on Friday, but he greeted Saturday with three dingers.
Encarnacion had a chance on Saturday to homer for the cycle, as he had a three-run dinger, a two-run dinger, and a grand slam. He couldn't do it then, but in the first inning on Sunday, Encarnacion got that solo jack in.
The Blue Jays put up '90s Rockies numbers this weekend, except they did it with solid pitching, holding the Tigers to just six runs overall. Toronto even got a strong seven innings from Drew Hutchison, the clear weak link of the rotation. The Blue Jays have a game and a half on the Yankees with David Price going tonight. Things are looking pretty peachy in Toronto.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
Oh em gee, another no-hitter! This one was by Jake Arrieta on Sunday night against the Dodgers. Jessica Mendoza certainly got a treat in her debut on Sunday Night Baseball.
This no-hitter, in the scope of no-hitters, was pretty dominant. Arrieta threw 116 pitches, 80 of them for strikes. He walked Jimmy Rollins on four pitches in the sixth inning and Kiké Hernandez reached on an error in the second inning, but that was it. Arrieta was dominant; he can be Maddux-esque in how his pitches maintain a similar speed and look until breaking every which way, rendering batters helpless.
The two closest calls are below. In the bottom of the third, Hernandez whacked a ball to second with authority, and the hop ate Starlin Castro up.
It's a debatable play as to whether it was a hit or an error: Castro was in position to make the play but couldn't snare it, and whether he really had a chance to do so is up for discussion. It was scored an error.
Then, in end the eighth, Hernandez hit a bouncer just to the left of second base. The in-between hop could have eaten Addison Russell up, or if he hadn't read the ball off the bat he might not have even gotten there, but Russell showed off his athleticism by scooping and making an off-balance throw to first.
That those were the closest call speaks to how supremely nasty Arrieta was. His slider-cutter thing—with the break of the former and the pace of the latter—was in full form, as seen in this strikeout of Yasmani Grandal.
And frankly, that was probably one of Arrieta's weaker pitches of the night. When he hit the spot in which Miguel Montero's glove is positioned in that GIF, the pitch was simply untouchable, producing off-balance whiffs and weak grounders. When Arrieta wanted to switch up hitters' timing on the breaking ball, he went to the bigger power curve–looking one.
For the Cubs this was a great accomplishment, one that could give them the momentum to make a run in the division, or at the very least close the gap between them and the Pirates. For the Dodgers, it was the opposite, obviously. It was the second time in nine games that Los Angeles was no-hit, which is the shortest span in MLB history. Furthermore, it's a wacky reversal of the last season, when the Dodgers got no-hitters of their own from Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers aren't sunk yet; far from it, as they're still 3½ games up in the NL West after the Giants lost a series to the Cardinals. But this puts even more weight on the upcoming series against San Francisco, if nothing else, to at least show that they can hit.
Would you believe that the Blue Jays didn't score the most runs in baseball this weekend, and not even the most in their own division? Yes, the Yankees scored 38 runs this weekend, and that was while putting up a measly three on Saturday. Weak sauce, guys! Friday started the series with a thunderous bang, with Didi Gregorius whacking four hits and driving in six runs.
Things got fully out of hand early for the Braves this series, as Jonny Gomes took the mound in the ninth. He gave up a bomb to Chris Young, a double to John Ryan Murphy, and another double to Brett Gardner, but miraculously only gave up two runs, with his fastball bumping 70 or so. He also provided some great GIF material.
Yeah, Bryan Mitchell is a pitcher, but that's still got to hurt the ego a little bit.
On Sunday, the Yankees were back at it again, drubbing Julio Teheran for eight runs in 4 1/3 innings and clobbering Jake Brigham for eight more in 1 2/3 innings. The light-hitting-infielder-turned-offensive-monster for this game was Stephen Drew, who went 4-for-4 with two walks. Three of Drew's hits were singles, but one of them was a solo shot off Teheran.
Even with New York's huge weekend, the Blue Jays are still 34 percentage points above the Yankees in the team OPS race. The AL East will likely be a division won with firepower. The Blue Jays come to the Bronx for a four-game set starting September 10th, and the Yankees head up to Toronto for three starting on September 21st.
The Mets lost two of three to the Red Sox this weekend, but the seven consecutive games they won before still loom large in the NL East, where Washington still sits five and a half back with the expectations of the prognostication community (and PECOTA) looming large.
Washington dropped Friday's game 4-3 behind another mediocre Max Scherzer start—four runs in seven innings—and while Jordan Zimmermann was strong in a 5-1 win on Saturday, Stephen Strasburg's start on Sunday tempered those good feelings. Strasburg gave up four runs on seven hits in four innings, with a three-run shot by D.C. area native Justin Bour and a solo shot from Derek Dietrich propelling Miami early on.
I guess Bour didn't think he hit it that well? Or maybe he doesn't like hitting dingers? If that last part is true, he might want to look for a different job.
Ian Desmond continued with this go-ahead single in the fifth …
… and Clint Robinson expanded the lead with a long bomb to right.
The Nats are still in panic mode, I'd say, if just for the catastrophic disappointment missing the playoffs would cause. But they're still very much in the race, and they have the talent to make a run. Stretch-run baseball is a go!
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Baseball players can have a lot of success just by minimizing their thoughts and letting their training take over. They've taken so many swings and fielded so many ground balls and thrown so many fastballs that a lot of it is cemented in muscle memory.
After this play, Carlos Torres and Daniel Murphy were probably thinking that maybe their coaches did have a point in taking an entire week of spring training to smash fungoes right at the pitchers' feet.
What to Watch on Monday
The next unfortunate soul with the task of facing the Blue Jays' wood chipper of an offense is Danny Salazar, scheduled to get the start for the Indians at 7:07. Salazar has faced the four other AL East teams this season—most recently the Yankees, against whom he gave up five runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings—but has been lucky enough to avoid Toronto.
The most significant change seen with Salazar this year in terms of his stuff is his curveball usage: Percentage-wise, he throws it about a third as much as he did at the beginning of the year. The question I will next attempt to answer is whether the Blue Jays are a team to whom one would want to throw more curveballs than normal. As it stands, according to FanGraphs' leaderboards, people don't think that, because their percentage of curveballs seen is in the bottom third of the league.
Will the linear weights tell us a different story? The Blue Jays are first in the league by a great deal, so maybe they cancel that out by struggling against curveballs? The answer is no they do not, because the Blue Jays have positive value against curveballs as well. So no, Danny Salazar should not reverse tack and throw more curveballs than normal when facing the Blue Jays. When facing the Blue Jays, Danny Salazar should just not throw too many pitches in general; maybe call in sick or something. MLB pitchers can do that, right?
When the Mets take on the Phillies tonight at 7:10, it will be Bartolo Colon's first appearance since … well, Saturday, actually. Colon threw an inning out of the bullpen in the Mets' 3-1 loss to the Red Sox, mainly because the Mets' relief corps was a bit gassed. But he's back to starting tonight, because the Mets need him to and his arm is made of some sort of unbreakable putty.
If the Mets make the postseason, it's unlikely that Colon will start. He's not terrible, but he's not great, either, and the team will almost certainly have four better options should it get that far. This is also the last year of Colon's contract with the Mets. Maybe somebody will pick him up in 2016, but he's also (1) old and (2) not that good anymore. Colon's days as a starter could very well be nearing their end. There aren't many like him anymore, a chubby dude relying on command and location in a game in which everybody is chiseled like a statue and throws 96 mph. You should watch Colon while you still can.
Meanwhile, in what in my opinion is the most fascinating division race left, the Nationals are traveling to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals at 8:15. You have to think that this is one of the least desirable setups for the Nationals. They need to narrow the gap in the division to make the playoffs, but to do that they need to win games while the Mets lose games. The Nationals are playing the best team in baseball while the Mets are playing the worst. How unfortunate! Furthermore, the Nationals are starting Gio Gonzalez, who hasn't give up fewer than five runs in a start since August 10th. The Nationals are pretty hot, having won four straight series, but they haven't swept any of them, and the Mets are easily keeping pace.
In a recent column, Murray Chass called the Washington police department and asked if anyone had reported the Nationals missing from first place. Nobody had done so, Chass learned. This is even worse than I thought: The Nationals are missing, and nobody cares enough to alert the authorities! We must do something! Well, they're scheduled to be on TV tonight, so if you see them be sure to call the cops. I'm sure they'll appreciate the heads up.