The Thursday Takeaway
“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
So spoke Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight. It’s one of the film’s many quotable lines, and at this point you probably know that we’re going to be talking about Matt Harvey.
From the very moment that Harvey first toed the rubber in the big leagues, he was brilliant. Ten starts of 2.82 DRA ball in 2012 composed his unveiling to the baseball world. Then he started the All-Star Game the next year. The cruel fates would have their due when they claimed Harvey’s ulnar collateral ligament, but he roared back to life with a vengeance in 2015. Harvey refused to be hindered by his new UCL, by raging debates over a theoretical innings limit, by the strains of pitching deep into the playoffs, or even by his own manager’s efforts to remove him from the final game of the World Series.
They (whoever “they” are) say that the first year back from Tommy John surgery is the hardest. Theoretically, the pitcher is still learning to throw with his new elbow and shaking off more than a year’s worth of rust. Theoretically, the pitcher is trying to reclaim what was and could be once again. Don’t tell that to Matt Harvey.
He had his work cut out for him on Thursday night. Bryce Harper and a suddenly brilliant Daniel Murphy awaited him. Stephen Strasburg, who has finally become Stephen Strasburg, was his counterpart. Harvey needed to fend off the Nationals so that the offensively stumbling Mets could have a chance against Strasburg. What would happen was nothing short of disastrous.
The once and future ace of the Mets was touched up for nine runs, four of them earned, and failed to escape the third inning. Former Met hero Daniel Murphy took him deep. He exited to a cascade of boos. The heir apparent, the Dark Knight, has fallen. We will know before long if this issue is a medical one, or a mechanical one, or a mental one. In all likelihood it is some combination of two or three. Terry Collins isn’t committing to Harvey making his next scheduled start.
Noah Syndergaard is now the clear ace of the Mets. But they will need Harvey if they are to fell the Cubs and return to the World Series. We don’t know what is wrong with Matt Harvey. But unfortunately for the Mets, and indeed for baseball, there is something wrong. We will know precisely what before long.
Quick Hits from Thursday
If Harvey was the omega on Thursday, Chris Sale was the alpha. The ace of the White Sox improved to a ridiculous 9-0 with a complete game victory over the Astros. Besides a solo shot from Evan Gattis, Sale scattered just three other hits without walking a batter and struck out nine.
There’s just nothing that can be done with that his sider. You can pray that it clips the leg of your pants, or you can pray that it misses. Then he’ll reel off a nearly-sideways 94 MPH and put it where he wants it, and there’s a changeup in his back pocket too. Because the defense behind him is so much better this year, Sale is actively pitching to contact more often to save some bullets and pitch deeper into games. It’s simply not fair.
Pitcher wins are a rather poor statistic, but it’s hard to shrug away 9-0 in May. Sale has been nothing short of brilliant thus far. His 1.58 ERA and three complete games are a testament to his enduring ability to make batters look like they’re playing baseball for the very first time and have to hit against Chris Sale. Is it too early to consider someone a shoo-in for the Cy Young?
The Blue Jays have been creative with their leadoff spot this year. At various times, the job has been held by Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera and Michael Saunders. Thursday saw a fourth player take a run at the spot.
Jose Bautista isn’t a typical leadoff hitter by any stretch of the imagination. The man called Joey Bats is a dinger-hitter of the highest order. When someone is so prone to smacking a ball into the stands, they typically bat in a spot that allows for runners to be on base when they do so. However, due to Toronto being in a run-scoring funk and their lack of a traditional leadoff hitter (speed and OBP skills), Bautista was planted at the top of the order. He went 1-4 with a walk, so there’s that.
The Jays would wind up beating the Twins 3-2 in extra innings. The Twins are now [REDACTED WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN], which is a very bad record indeed.
The Giants won their eighth straight game, because it is the year 2016 and the laws of physics mandate that the Giants bee good at baseball this year. Scientists are divided on whether or not The Even Year Phenomenon truly exists, but like deja vu and the Ben Revere home run, we know on some primordial level that it is a part of our world.
Jeff Samardzija went eight strong innings on Thursday, but because of Even Year Devil Magic, that was somehow disappointing. Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto had each turned in complete game efforts against the Padres the previous two nights. Samardzija required Santiago Casilla’s help to finish off the sweep. Sad!
The Giants also concluded an undefeated road trip of at least seven games for the first time since 1913. Our research scientists are still hard at work in the lab deciphering how the Giants played so well in an odd-numbered year. Pray for them.
Defensive Play of the Day
Carl Crawford gave this Joe Smith pitch an almost angry flick. “What is this arm angle? Get this garbage out of my sight.” Rafael Ortega didn’t take too kindly to that sentiment.
He went and retrieved the ball. “Don’t you ever talk to me or my closer ever again,” he huffed as he threw the ball back in.
What to Watch on Friday
How about those Phillies? They’re really something. Their run differential may not be sexy, their offense may not be sexy… but damn if they aren’t fun, and they’re led by the wonderful Aaron Nola. Only drafted two years ago, Nola has been one of the best pitchers in the game, and he’ll get to have his way with the defective Braves lineup. Yet fear not, lovers of compelling and not totally one-sided games, for Matt Wisler still has some top prospect sheen on him. But let’s be honest, you’re here to see Nola tear through the Braves. That’s more than fine. Just don’t tell Demetrius.
Deep in the heart of Texas, the Rangers and Astros will pit Colby Lewis and Lance McCullers against each other. Lewis isn’t exactly Jamie Moyer (who is?), but there are few pitchers as unalike as these two. Lewis is an older veteran who relies more on guile, and McCullers is a young firecracker with a fastball to match. It’s sure to be a slugfest.
Then, catch the Yankees in Oakland. CC Sabathia will face Sonny Gray. Surprisingly enough, Gray isn’t the one with the 3.81 ERA here. However, the Yankees are hardly an offensive force these days, so this could be a game that helps Gray get back on track. And vintage Sabathia has been a more common occurance these days, and it’s always a treat when it happens. This could be a sneaky pitcher’s duel.