The Thursday Takeaway
It’s early, we say. Indeed it is. For the Braves and Twins, the season is but nine games old. Yet they have been a very long nine games for both teams; a fruitless and unforgiving nine games. All 18 games have ended in losses. The two teams both lost on Thursday.
For the Braves, it was a 6-2 thrashing at the hands of the Nationals. Bryce Harper launched a Julio Teheran fastball into the stands for a grand slam and the 100th home run of his career. Stephen Strasburg pitched into the eighth inning and allowed just the two runs on four hits and two walks.
The Twins fell victim to the latest installment of the Mat Latos comeback effort. Latos, who had a 4.95 ERA in 2015, pitched six innings of one-run ball. The Twins managed just four hits for the whole day, and scored their only run on a Trevor Plouffe groundout. Minnesota now has just a collective .582 OPS. Miguel Sano has struck out in 44.1 percent of his plate appearances. Byung-ho Park has struck out in 47 percent. Byron Buxton has struck out in half of his.
The Braves are rebuilding, to put it nicely, so this inauspicious start isn’t entirely surprising, or necessarily even inauspicious. By design, Atlanta will lose a small mountain of games this year, and for that they'll score some desirable draft picks. For the Twins, it is a disturbing development. Minnesota fancied itself something of a contender due to its stockpile of young talent. That very young talent is part of what’s causing the problems.
It’s also the fact that Opening Day duties fell to Ervin Santana, by design, and that Kurt Suzuki is given a plurality of the time behind the plate. It’s that RIcky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Santana are how Terry Ryan has deigned to spend his money in recent years. There’s the potential for an extended soliloquy here on the virtues of how the Twins have spent and how to properly contend on a budget. Yet this column lacks the length for that particular lesson, one that is a bitter pill to swallow and fraught with moments that cause the frenzied pulling of hair from one’s scalp.
So know this. Neither of these teams are so bad that they will stumble to 0-162 finishes. Yet, in the end, it may very well be a sign of things to come.
The Phillies are also a particularly bad team, but don’t tell that to Vince Velasquez. Sam Miller has the full lowdown on the young right-hander’s brilliant outing against San Diego, but the long and the short of it is that Velasquez, all of 23 years old, threw a three-hit shutout against the Padres. He struck out 16 men. Thirteen of them were retired on fastballs.
Oh my. While, yes, the Padres have the offensive capability of a white-tailed deer when they’re not playing at Coors Field, Velasquez treated them like they were the local little league team.
Velasquez wasn’t the only starter to be utterly brilliant on Thursday. Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia one-hit the Brewers, striking out 13 along the way. The only blemish was a Domingo Santana single. How’s that make you feel, Scooter Gennett?
Understandable. We’ll let you have some alone time.
Nathan Eovaldi has always been a frustrating talent. Here is a starting pitcher who can easily touch 100 mph whenever he desires, but gets hit around all the time and has trouble getting out of the sixth inning. Keeping it 100 is great, but useless when it’s as straight as an arrow. So when Eovaldi’s fastball started showing some movement on Thursday, and he was spotting his new and improved slider, it was very encouraging. H/T to Ben Diamond for the following GIF.
That’s 97 with some arm-side zip that makes one of the premier sluggers in the game look like a fool. It’s the kind of pitch that can work scouts into a lather. Then, some time later, he started hanging his splitter, and the reigning MVP deposited a ball 424 feet from home plate to bring home three runs.
Life is terrible and then you die. Maybe Eovaldi will slowly but surely, and finally, figure it out. Or, maybe, he’ll wind up in the bullpen after much ado about 100 mph still coming freely and easily after six innings. Eat at Arby’s.
Defensive Play of the Day
The Royals have turned good defense into an art form and a World Series win. Here’s Alcides Escobar giving every Astros fan bad flashbacks to the ALDS.
An honorable mention goes to Brett Gardner sacrificing life and limb to catch a foul ball in the seats at Rogers Centre. Notice how the Jays fans make no effort whatsoever to help him up. Lovely people, those Canadians.
What to Watch on Friday
This section is often used to highlight potential pitching duels. Our first game is quite the opposite. Rick Porcello and R.A. Dickey will match up in a clash of the run-allowing titans. The Blue Jays scored the most runs in baseball last year, and though Dickey’s overall numbers from last year (3.92 DRA, 1.0 HR/9) are fine, he’s prone to some rather raucous starts. This will be one to catch for fans of the long ball.
For fans of good pitching, Friday’s slate offers two prime options. First on the east coast, Chris Sale and the White Sox will face Jake Odorizzi and the Rays. Sale is pretty much must-see TV every time he takes the mound, and Odorizzi is a young and exciting arm. Then the action moves out west.
When Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw threw down just a few games ago, Bumgarner took him deep. The rematch will be played in Los Angeles in front of what’s sure to be a massive crowd at Dodger Stadium and a very tiny television audience. Damn you, cable companies. Damn you all to hell.