The Monday Takeaway
Before Monday, there had been two instances of starting pitchers recording double-digit strikeouts while dueling each other this season. The first, Max Scherzer and Noah Syndergaard on May 17th in Queens, we might’ve seen coming. The second, Scott Kazmir and Dan Straily on May 26th in Cincinnati, not so much. On the surface, the third such battle of the year, featuring Trevor Bauer and James Paxton in Seattle last night, would’ve fallen into the latter category. But upon closer review, perhaps it wasn’t as unlikely as it seemed.
Paxton, who was recalled from the minors on June 1st when Felix Hernandez went on the disabled list, returned to Seattle with a new arm slot and newfound giddyup on his fastball:
Correlation doesn’t imply causation, and it’s possible that the lower release point was a byproduct of other changes that spawned the velo boost, but the two happened concurrently. And the gas was very much still present on Monday night:
Sometimes, a sudden spike in velocity can be accompanied by less-positive developments—fatigue, for instance, or waning command. Not so for Paxton, however. He dialed up a “101” on the Safeco Field gun with his pitch count past 101, and he pounded the lower part of the zone with ruthless efficiency Monday night:
By and large, the Indians were unable to handle the knee-high heat, whiffing 14 times on 43 fastball swings. Jose Ramirez, off to a breakout .315/.384/.461 start, was among the few who weren’t impressed:
He got 98 down and in, and said, “Thank you very much, I’ll have a double.” On the play, the relay home got by catcher Chris Iannetta, as the Tribe scored the tying run and Ramirez took third on the error. Ramirez then scored the eventual winning run on Juan Uribe’s sacrifice fly. Rajai Davis’ fifth-inning homer came when Paxton and Iannetta got cute, electing to throw a cutter with the count 3-2, after Davis had swung on and missed two fastballs earlier in the at-bat.
Paxton’s night came to a close with the following line: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K. That’d be adequate to win on most nights, with the league’s no. 2 home-run offense at his back, but not on this one.
Not with Bauer on the bump for Cleveland. Facing a right-hander, Mariners manager Scott Servais loaded his lineup with left-handed bats—seven of them, counting the switch-hitting Ketel Marte and Shawn O’Malley, with only Nelson Cruz and Iannetta batting from the right. But in doing so, Servais might’ve played into the righty’s hands.
Two months and 228 opponents’ plate appearances is hardly a voluminous sample, but the early numbers were showing an intriguing reverse split for the 25-year-old, particularly as they pertained to his strikeout and walk rates. Bauer had struck out 24 of 104 left-handed hitters (23.1 percent) and unintentionally walked only five (4.8 percent), compared to 23 Ks for 124 arm-side batters (18.6 percent) and 15 free passes (12.1 percent).
Adam Lind, a lefty, drew Bauer’s only walk Monday, but eight of his 10 strikeouts came against glove-side bats. Bauer neutralized the platoon advantage by throwing nearly as many changeups and curveballs as he did fastballs,
playing up the 94-97 mph heater when he went to it in deeper counts. There was no better example of that than Robinson Cano’s at-bat in the fourth, which went change,
for Bauer’s first strikeout of the night. That’s not a misprint: Bauer K’d 10 Mariners on Monday despite having none through three innings of work. He struck out the side in the fourth, added two each in the fifth, sixth, and seventh, and then caught O’Malley looking before departing in the eighth.
7 2/3 innings, five hits, one run, one walk, 10 strikeouts. Plenty good enough for the Tribe to kick off a 10-game road trip with their sixth win in a row.
Quick Hits from Monday
A year ago, three-run homers were the Yankees’ bread and butter. They clubbed 40 of them, and no other major-league team had more than 23. That prowess with two runners on carried over into the early days of the 2016 season, when the Yankees drilled a pair of three-run blasts in their second game of the year and another in their third. The date of that third game was April 7th, exactly two months ago.
Then, while liters of ink—digital and print—were spilled mocking the Braves’ power outage that covered home runs of all stripes, the Yankees quietly went on a long-ball drought of their own. The team that in 2015 seemed to produce a three-run tater on a nightly basis went a week, and then another, and then another without adding to its quickly assembled total of three. May 7th came and went, and what initially was an amusing oddity became a legitimate concern that refused to go away.
On the morning of June 6th, the Yankees were batting .138 with zero homers with runners on second and third, and .173 without a big fly with men at the corners. All of their three-run jacks had come with runners on first and second, and, you might recall, the most recent one was hit a day shy of two months prior to their series opener against the Angels.
Game one of four in the Bronx was tied 2-2 in the last of the eighth, knotted a frame earlier on back-to-back solo shots by Brian McCann and Starlin Castro that wiped away a whole lot of good work done by Angels starter Matt Shoemaker. The last batter Shoemaker faced was Brett Gardner, who singled to advance Jacoby Ellsbury to third with two down in the inning. Shoemaker had only thrown 93 pitches, but with the game potentially on the line, Mike Scioscia called to the bullpen for left-hander Jose Alvarez, turning the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran around to his (weaker) right side.
Now, as if the Yankees’ pitiful performance with two men on base weren’t enough, it’s worth noting that they’d been just as miserable with runners on third, no matter how many comrades were alongside them on the basepaths. The Bombers had just one bomb on their ledger in those situations all season.
That is, until Beltran got a misplaced fastball middle-away and punched it into the short right-field porch:
The outfielder’s 14th round-tripper of the year was the Yankees’ first three-RBI job in two months, and it was the deciding blow in New York’s 5-2 victory Monday night. With it, the 39-year-old Beltran is now slugging .540, better than any full-season mark he’s logged since 2006, when he had 41 homers for the crosstown Mets.
Much like Shoemaker, Danny Duffy was fantastic for six innings last night, matching Orioles starter Mike Wright zero for zero on the scoreboard at Camden Yards. The Royals sacrificed their third baseman for a run in the top of the seventh, when O’s second baseman Jonathan Schoop tried to check his relay throw and instead fired it straight down into Cheslor Cuthbert’s right elbow. But while Cuthbert merely suffered a bruise, the trouble for the visitors was that Duffy was about to get (figuratively) battered and bruised.
Duffy’s third pitch of the seventh inning didn't miss Drew Butera’s target by much, but it found a willing participant in Mark Trumbo, the league leader in long balls, who just happened to be sitting on a fastball middle-in:
We’ll blame the game-tying dinger, no. 19 of the year for Trumbo, on poor pitch selection. The ensuing, go-ahead shot by Matt Wieters, though?
Yeah, that 436-footer’s on Duffy.
When you’ve only got one run of support, all it takes is a couple of swings to spoil 6 1/3 innings of nine-strikeout, no-walk work. That was the most Ks the southpaw had ever compiled in a game without handing out a base on balls, but he’d have traded a couple of those punchouts to have back the center-cut heater that Wieters clobbered over the fence.
There are no backsies in baseball, though, and the Orioles would tack on a couple more—one on Manny Machado’s 15th homer of the season—before this one was over. Baltimore went on to win 4-1.
Jose Altuve was everywhere on Monday. He was flashing the leather and earning the The Defensive Play of the Day:
He was serving up oppo tacos at the plate:
And he nabbed his AL-high 17th steal of the season on the bases.
But it was Rangers keystoner Rougned Odor—Texas’ designated hitter Monday, with Jurickson Profar at second base—who got the last laugh in the 6-5 barnburner at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Odor’s wall-ball double
sent Adrian Beltre home from first, making a winner out of Sam Dyson and a loser out Ken Giles, as the Astros struggle to find a ninth-inning arm, save situation or otherwise. Odor also went yard in the contest and Nomar Mazara went 4-for-4, as the Rangers overcame three errors in the narrow win.
Nobody likes Mondays, if we’re being honest, but at this point, the Dodgers might like them least of anyone:
This is the second consecutive Monday #Dodgers have been held to one hit. They might face Zack Greinke next Monday.
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) June 7, 2016
A week ago Monday, they got one-hit by Jason Hammel and a cavalcade of Cubs relievers led by Travis Wood. Last night, Tyler Chatwood did most of the heavy lifting himself, going eight and permitting just an opposite-field single by Howie Kendrick in the second.
So, what was Chatwood’s secret?
Nothing fancy, really. The right-hander mixed four pitches and sprinkled in a fifth, leaning most on a two-seam fastball he tossed 50 times in 100 deliveries, and he teamed well with Nick Hundley to keep the Dodgers behind the eight ball. Dave Roberts’ batters only whiffed four times, collectively, in Chatwood’s eight frames on the hill, but they failed to capitalize on his location mistakes, fouling off a handful and taking more pitches down the pipe for strikes than the hitting coach would like to see.
Trevor Story’s 16th dinger of the year
put this one away, 6-1.
What to Watch on Tuesday
There are some players who can make a living off of hitting the ball on the ground—Denard Span, for instance, or Billy Burns or Brett Gardner or Adam Eaton. Speedy leadoff types, in short, the sort that can beat out a slow roller or put heat on a left-side infielder to make an accurate throw. The four aforementioned outfielders comprise four-fifths of the top five batters in groundball rate over the past two weeks. Rounding out that group and sticking out from it like a sore thumb is… Yadier Molina.
What happens when Molina hits the ball on the ground a league-high 70.3 percent of the time over a two-week stretch?
An .081 BABIP. And that in turn yields a 3-for-45 slump. Which breeds a 126-point plunge in OPS.
Dayn Perry covered Molina’s historically high workload over at CBS Sports last week, and it’s fair to wonder if a hint of fatigue might be behind the backstop’s recent rut. Whatever the cause, though, the 33-year-old would do well to start lifting the ball more frequently. We’ll see if Monday’s off day helps to get him back on track. Molina and the Cardinals will take on John Lamb and the Reds in the series opener at Great American Ball Park tonight (7:10 p.m. ET).
Zack Greinke was excellent his last time on the hill, when the Diamondbacks paid the Astros a visit and the right-hander thwarted whatever offensive plans the home nine had that afternoon. Greinke hurled seven scoreless innings on June 2nd while striking out 11 and walking none, the first time he’d cleared eight Ks this season and the third time he’d held his opponent without a free pass. The natural question to ask when a recently great pitcher toting a 4.71 ERA comes alive with a gem is “what changed?” and the answer is…
…command. Greinke’s stuff was intact in his first two months in the desert, but his feel abandoned him at times, leading to in-zone mistakes that produced 78 hits, nine of them homers, in 70 2/3 frames. On Thursday, he left virtually nothing elevated and over the middle, and he got the Astros to chase a slew of well-placed sliders below the knees, resulting in 13 whiffs on the pitch. Greinke amassed 18 swings and misses in total that day, after four straight starts in single digits.
Now, the question is whether Thursday was the aberration or if vintage Greinke has truly returned. Our first chance to find out comes this evening, with the Rays in Arizona, sending their own scuffling starter to the bump. Matt Moore’s given up 48 hits and eight jacks in his last 30 2/3 innings and will be looking for whatever Greinke found in Houston last week (9:40 p.m. ET).
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