The Weekend Takeaway
Most baseball fans can probably remember the last time their team’s ace had a bad day on the mound. For Giants fans, it could be the day when Madison Bumgarner served up three home runs to the Dodgers, all while receiving zero runs of support in return. For Diamondbacks fans, perhaps it was the time Zack Greinke scattered seven earned runs over four innings in his 2016 season debut. For Cubs fans, however, pinpointing the exact date that Jake Arrieta failed to execute a pristine performance is a bit trickier.
This is likely due to the fact that Arrieta hasn’t allowed a run in 48 2/3 consecutive regular-season innings pitched within Wrigley Field. In six straight outings dating back to July 25, 2015, Arrieta permitted a total of 31 batters and crowned his streak with a late-September complete game shutout over the Brewers. The Cubs’ offense also deserves a modicum of commendation; in each of Arrieta’s starts, he’s received an average 4.1 runs of support.
Saturday was no exception. Against the visiting Rockies, Arrieta teased batters with his four-seamer and sinker at the top of the zone, edging around the sides with a variety of off-speed pitches to strike out the side in the first inning.
Arrieta’s sinker and multi-faceted slider/cutter combo did the rest of the work; through eight innings, the 2015 Cy Young Award winner struck out eight—including home-run machine Trevor Story thrice—and left five runners for the Rockies to strand. Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon finally pulled his ace before the ninth, not because Arrieta was gassed after just 100 pitches, nor to stymie the Rockies’ momentum (in the eighth, they walked, grounded into a double play, and parked a ball in Dexter Fowler’s glove), but because the Cubs had already racked up five runs in support of Arrieta’s Chicago debut. As Arrieta put it after the game, there will be more important moments to shut out the opposition. This was not one of them.
The Rockies made quick work of relievers Travis Wood and Pedro Strop, unleashing Travis Story and Carlos Gonzalez for back-to-back extra-base hits and the Rockies’ first runs of the game. The last-minute rally wasn’t quite enough to unseat the Cubs, however, and Arrieta’s sixth scoreless outing also became his 16th consecutive win.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
The Braves finally tired of losing games to the Nationals and Cardinals, and turned in their first belated win of the season on Friday against the Marlins, only the second-worst team in the NL East division. Miami southpaw Wei-Yin Chen held the Braves scoreless through six frames, striking out the side in the third inning and limiting the offense to one walk and one hit until a fateful seventh inning. With runners on first and second, Braves third baseman Adonis Garcia lofted a double to right field, his first extra-base hit since he commemorated his Opening Day drive with a home run off the Nationals.
After that, no amount of belt-high fastballs could stifle the Braves’ offense. Chen was pulled for right-handed reliever David Phelps, and with a little help from the rest of the bullpen, another five runs came to rest on the visitor’s scoreboard. The Marlins responded in the eighth with a bases-loaded threat, but it was too late: Arodys Vizcaino worked his two-seamer low in the zone to get Marcel Ozuna on three straight whiffs,
the Braves set down another goose egg in the ninth, and Atlanta skirted an 0-10 start to the season.
Over in the AL Central, another 0-9 team earned its first season win on Friday night. Designated hitter Byung-ho Park, the Twins’ primary offseason acquisition, drove in the winning run for Minnesota on a 3-2 change-up, left up in the zone by Angels’ right-hander Fernando Salas. By the end of the weekend, not only had the Braves and Twins snapped their losing streaks, but they also each swept the competition in extra-inning finales.
It’s not often that a pitcher manages the worst start of his season and also ties Randy Johnson for a career strikeout record, yet, in a 3-2 squeaker over the Yankees on Saturday, that’s precisely what Felix Hernandez accomplished.
For the Big Unit, the victim of his 2,162nd strikeout as a Mariner was the Indians’ Sandy Alomar, on a full count in the ninth inning. It took Johnson seven pitches to induce the swinging strike he needed for his final punch-out.
Felix, too, needed seven pitches to retire Yankees’ shortstop Didi Gregorius in his pursuit of that 2,162nd strikeout. On a 3-2 count, Hernandez punched out the infielder with his signature changeup, just skimming the top of the strike zone for a called strike.
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There’s no doubt that Hernandez will find a way to surpass Johnson’s record, but it wasn’t going to happen on Saturday. Locating pitches was a problem for the 30-year-old all afternoon. Hernandez issued six walks in five innings, the most he’d given up in a single outing since April 5, 2010, putting his WIP alone a hair over the 1.16 WHIP that PECOTA expects from him in 2016. Although he escaped the game with just one earned run, he induced only eight swinging strikes in 60 attempts, just a little over half of his output in his past two starts.
While Felix worked the kinks out of his system, the Mariners came through with a forceful rally in the fifth. Leonys Martin took CC Sabathia deep for his second home run of the season, and Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz worked in tandem to deliver another two runs to cement the series win.
Trevor Story may be this season’s dream boy of every Rookie of the Year voter, but he ain’t got nothing on Bryce Harper. The Nationals’ super-slugger launched his 103rd career home run on Sunday, taking a Jeanmar Gomez slider down the middle for a ride to the bullpen bathroom in right-center field. The feat would’ve been enough on its own—Harper’s 10th-inning rally gave the Nationals a fighting chance in their eventual 3-2 loss to the Phillies—but it represented even more to the 23-year-old. It was the fourth home run hit in Harper’s previous four games, and the sixth to happen at Citizens Bank Park (dating back to a moonshot off of Aaron Nola in September 2015).
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The only other hitter to produce a six-game home run streak in the Phillies’ park was one Ernie Banks, who gathered his six home runs in 1955, back when the Phillies operated out of the far more expansive Connie Mack Stadium.
When he wasn’t busy extending his home run streak, Harper missed few pitches against Philadelphia’s pitching staff, lashing a first-pitch base hit against starter Charlie Morton in the first inning and drawing a walk against lefty reliever Elvis Araujo in the eighth. It’s early in the year, sure, and statistics will take a while to iron themselves out, but so far, Harper’s .443 TAv and 0.9 WARP belie a return to 2015-levels of power, far more than the modest 5.1 WARP allotted him by PECOTA at the beginning of the season.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Jose Altuve pirouetted his way into the defensive highlights of the weekend after nabbing a comebacker to retire Anthony Gose. This wasn’t just an amazing grab, it was a feat of Baryshnikovian proportions.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Jumpman, Jumpman, Jumpman, <a href="https://twitter.com/JoseAltuve27">@JoseAltuve27</a>'s up to somethin'. <a href="https://t.co/b3avBwwwWF">https://t.co/b3avBwwwWF</a> <a href="https://t.co/kMBdKQ2Ys5">pic.twitter.com/kMBdKQ2Ys5</a></p>— Houston Astros (@astros) <a href="https://twitter.com/astros/status/721512248846495749">April 17, 2016</a></blockquote>
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What to Watch on Monday
The Twins did a convincing job of holding their own against the Angels this weekend, including a walk-off single by outfielder Oswaldo Arcia to clinch a 12-inning contest on Sunday afternoon. On Monday, they’ll wrap up their homestand with a two-game series against the Brewers, the first in a week’s worth of interleague games that will end, unfortunately, back in Nationals Park. The Brewers will send out Chase Anderson to face Minnesota right-hander Phil Hughes, whose reputation for over-working his pitches landed him a 4.95 DRA and 0.1 WARP in 2015. So far in 2016, he’s survived 12 1/3 innings without disaster (or more than two runs of support), and it’ll take some muscle from the Twins’ lineup if they want to stretch a three-game winning streak to four.
Although the Brewers are fresh off a series loss to the Pirates, they’ve not yet forgotten their last meeting with the Twins:
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Over in the AL East, Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz will go toe-to-toe with the Blue Jays' J.A. Happ in an attempt to take the series and fend off the Jays’ bid for second place in the division. Although the Sox have a two-game lead on the Blue Jays, Buchholz has yet to allow fewer than five earned runs in a single start. During his last outing, he conceded three walks, two home runs, and five earned runs over five innings against the division-leading Orioles.
Luckily for Buchholz, the Red Sox are currently averaging the third-most runs per game in the American League, with 5.3, and might be persuaded to do so again if Buchholz can exhibit greater control on the mound and prove that he’s capable of deflating his 10.00 ERA to the respectable 3.69 he’s owed by PECOTA. While the Blue Jays don’t fare nearly so well in run production, lefty Happ has yet to give up more than two runs in an outing this season, and it’s doubtful that even doubles king and 0.5 WARP-through-nine-games slugger David Ortiz will be able to convince him otherwise.
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