For every underperforming team like the Astros, there is a club that shocks us with its refusal to shut up and lose like it's supposed to. One of those teams is the Phillies. At 12-10, they sit just a breath out of first place after completing a sweep of the division-leading Nationals. Thursday’s victory was a 3-0 effort that saw yet another cathartic and well-earned walloping of Jonathan Papelbon. This could easily be a space to talk about the euphoric feeling of dunking on the schoolyard bully who picks you last for basketball in gym class, but instead we’ll talk about Bryce Harper and Elvis Araujo.
Harper strode to the plate in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and two out. Araujo had entered the game after an injury to Dailer Hinojosa and walked Anthony Rendon to juice the bags. To that point, the game had been defined by a pitching duel between Tanner Roark and Aaron Nola. So now, the best hitter in the universe was at the plate, with nowhere to put him but back in the dugout. Araujo was up to the challenge.
Araujo retired him on three straight sliders that Harper could do nothing about. The Philles would then put men on against Felipe Rivero, and Papelbon would enter to feast on his just desserts. The Phillies weren’t supposed to be good, or anything approaching good, but yet here they stand two games over .500. A strong pitching staff and an offensive nucleus of Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco has been more than enough to get the job done.
Once the club adds J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams and Jake Thompson to the roster later in the summer, well, who knows what’ll happen. What did happen, though, was that Bryce Harper looked utterly foolish at the plate in the most important spot of the game. It happens even to the best.
Despite his best efforts to convince the world otherwise, Jake Arrieta is in fact human. His legendary home scoreless streak was ended at 52 1/3 innings by the Brewers. Alex Presley, who entered the game with a career .259 TAv, doubled home Jonathan Villar, who entered the game with a career .240 TAv.
The Cubs still won the game, of course, because they haven’t lost with Arrieta on the mound since the Pleistocene Epoch. The victory did cost them a Kris Bryant ankle sprain, however, because the ten-story tall demonic billy goat that lives in a cavern under Wrigley Field must have its due. It is also responsible for transfiguring Arrieta into Bearrieta, who will feast on your soul once slumber takes its cold grasp on you tonight.
God help us all.
The Braves hit their fourth home run of the year on Wednesday. This was cause for much celebration in Atlanta. The Braves tallied their 17th loss on Wednesday. This was cause for drinking in Atlanta.
Then the Braves did a strange thing indeed on Thursday. They finished a ballgame with more runs than the other team. Atlanta beat the Red Sox 5-3. Clay Buchholz managed to lower his ERA from 7.11 to 6.51 by surrendering all five runs in 6 1/3 innings and generally leaving everything out over the plate. Not great, Bob.
The Red Sox entered the game with a collective starting staff ERA of 4.70. Major-league sources indicate that, no, David Price cannot pitch every day.
Rubby De La Rosa had a 4.74 DRA in 2015. He entered the day with an ERA of 5.94. Because baseball makes no sense whatsoever, he fired seven innings of two-hit shutout ball and stuck out ten. He accomplished this against the Cardinals, who certainly didn’t look like the best offense in baseball.
De La Rosa located his slider and danced around the edge of the plate with his upper-90s fastball, because why the hell not. The Cardinals took weak swings and generally floundered about while trying to figure out why a pitching-proficient pod person had decided that Thursday would be the day that he replaced De La Rosa. Baseball is strange and meaningless. We will all eventually realize that life takes place inside a computer simulation run by fickle aliens who screw with us every now and then by doing weird things like making Rubby De La Rosa throw seven innings of shutout ball against the Cardinals.
Defensive Play of the Day
First, some music to set the tone. Cue that up. Get into a nice serene frame of mind. Relax, and think of Juan Lagares and Andrelton Simmons. Bask in memories of Jason Heyward and Manny Machado. Breathe deeply, relax.
Now, there were only seven games played on Thursday. This is because A) baseball scheduled only eight games, because Thursdays are often used as off-days to set up a series that runs the course of the weekend, and B) the Rockies and Pirates were rained out. Because of that, there weren’t as many chances for someone to make an outstanding play in the field. There were a few nice ones, to be sure, including this nifty bit of glovework from Dustin Pedroia. However, A.J. Pierzynski also played the field in that game, and, folks.
Ah, yes. Poetry in motion. Technically, this is a defensive play. Technically, I can be fired at any given moment.
What to watch on Friday
The baseball gods have blessed us with not one, not two, but three notable pitching prospects making their debuts today. First at 2:20 ET, Aaron Blair will give the world a reason to willingly watch the Braves. Blair, ranked the 43rd best prospect in the game and 4th best in the Atlanta system by BP before the season, was part of the infamous Shelby Miller deal. His opponents Gwinett have been held to a .157 TAv, so it’ll be fun to see what he’ll be able to conjure up against Jon Lester and the Cubbies.
Next, Michael Fulmer will take the hill for the Tigers against Phil Hughes and the Twins. Detroit’s top prospect, who was the headliner in the trade that sent Yoenis Cespedes to New York, has been blessed with an easy first assignment. Minnesota is hitting just .242/.315/.388 this year. Also, any time Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Hughes are in the same game is must-see TV.
Finally, lefty Sean Manaea will debut for Oakland by taking on Mike Fiers and the Astros. The big lefty with even bigger hair will get to tangle with right-handed hitters Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa in his first big league inning. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice. All in all, it’ll be a fun day for the prospect geeks out there. And this is Baseball Prospectus, is it not? So that includes all of us, including you, dear reader. Go watch these guys get their first taste of the Show.