The Weekend Takeaway
Once in a while, the baseball gods conspire to do a little mischief-making. A fair number of these anecdotes end up in this column, brief asides that bring some life and color to otherwise fairly routine games.
When the Giants took the field on Saturday, however, the baseball gods emerged from behind the curtain and stepped into the limelight.
In the top of the fourth inning, Jake Peavy turned to argue with the third base umpire over a check swing call to Jake Lamb. With Paul Goldschmidt on second, no outs, and a tenuous 1-0 lead, there was precious little margin for error. In the middle of Peavy’s protest, Buster Posey had enough. He stepped toward the mound, tossed the ball in the pitcher’s general direction, and watched it flutter right into Peavy’s glove. The crowd—and one very startled Lamb—anticipated far more disastrous consequences:
Later, in the bottom of the fourth, the baseball gods turned on the Diamondbacks. Jake Lamb lost a Brandon Crawford pop-up in the glaring San Francisco sunshine, only to find it moments later after it ricocheted off of his shoulder and turned Crawford’s easy out into a base hit.
Bruce Bochy, he of the meticulous late-inning pitching matchups, pulled Peavy in the middle of the fifth inning to exercise a well-rested bullpen. The baseball gods, naturally, had other ideas. (Luckily for the Giants, Javier Lopez’s pitching proved much steadier than his footwork.)
By the fifth inning, things finally began to stabilize on the field. The Giants were pitching well and hitting well and no one hit a pop-up in Jake Lamb’s direction. Everyone was lulled into a false sense of security, even this woman, who was likely enjoying her garlic fries and craft beer free of a Paul Goldschmidt foul ball:
In spite of the Angels in the Outfield-like shenanigans, a baseball game was played, one that eventually fell in the Giants’ favor, 4-2. Jake Peavy lasted 4 â…“ innings on seven hits, two runs, and three strikeouts, his 3.86 DRA a perfect mirror of his 2015 output.
While the offense backed its starter with a two-run homer from Grant Green and a pair of extra-base RBIs from Brandon Belt and Ruben Tejada, the real test came during the bullpen’s 4 â…” inning stretch. Notwithstanding Javier Lopez’s hiccup on the dugout steps, the bullpen emerged unscathed from their outing and extended their scoreless streak to 7 â…“ innings since they imploded during Madison Bumgarner’s start last Monday. Now, if only they could find a way to appease those pesky gods.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
The number of teams who can outmaneuver Jake Arrieta is small but mighty. On Friday, after three draining appearances against the Cubs this season, the Pirates finally earned their spot on the list.
The first inning was classic Arrieta. Curveballs and sliders were chased out of the zone, John Jaso and Gregory Polanco swung their way through the first two outs, and Andrew McCutchen lobbed an easy grounder off of a 95 mph sinker.
By the second inning, Arrieta’s pitch placement transformed the 2016 Pirates into their 2015 predecessors. A sinker through the heart of the strike zone scraped the right field foul pole.
A curveball sinking just below the center of the zone turned into a base hit. A slider angling toward the edge of the zone cruised into the left field bleachers.
Arrieta righted the Cubs’ sinking ship by the seventh inning, retiring 12 of 16 batters and striking out six. With a steady but underwhelming offensive drive backing another quality start, however, back-to-back basehits signaled the end of his outing. Reliever Travis Wood allowed another run on the back of an Anthony Rizzo throwing error. Reliever Carl Edwards gave up two runs on an RBI single and RBI forceout. This is not how you support your team’s best starter. This is how you pick at the scab of a 4-4 tie and turn it into a gaping, four-run wound.
With the loss, Arrieta has now taken two consecutive losing decisions, and the Cubs have taken five (excluding their brief resurgence during Sunday’s 6-5 series finale). This should have little effect on Arrieta, whose talents supersede pitching wins and losses, but it means considerably more to the Cubs, whose five-game skid brings the Pirates within eight games of first place.
Further down in the NL Central standings, the Cardinals and Brewers faced off in one of Carlos Martinez’s most dominant career games to date. The immediate, impressive return was an 11-strikeout spread in five frames, matching the career-high strikeout record that the right-hander set back in 2015.
The Brewers couldn’t dig their heels in against Martinez, chasing changeups in the dirt and sliders far outside the zone. Although Martinez tossed his fastball more often than any other pitch, his mix of off-speed stuff was key to his strikeout total, especially given home plate umpire Ted Barrett’s exceptionally small strike zone:
Equally necessary, though perhaps less impressive on paper, was Martinez’s ability to work out of a jam. Despite his double-digit whiffs, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the 24-year-old, who issued four walks, four hits, and four stolen bases over five innings. In the first inning, he escaped a two-out, bases-loaded headache with a four-pitch strikeout to Will Middlebrooks.
In the third, Kirk Nieuwenhuis solved a 100 mph fastball offering with an RBI single to right field,
scoring Jonathan Villar and forcing Martinez to work quickly to induce a groundout for the final out. A five-run outburst from the Cardinals in the ninth inning put them on top, 8-1, and finally within reach of second place in the division.
Sunday marked the beginning of the All-Star week with the annual All-Star Futures Game. Scores of bright-eyed prospects in atrocious Padres throwback colors turned out for the showcase, among them Red Sox’ second baseman Yoan Moncada. Moncada profiles as the no. 1 prospect within the Sox’ farm system and no. 2 overall on Baseball Prospectus’ midseason Top 50. His speed and power highlight an impressive skill set, one that was put to good use against the U.S. team with a basehit, stolen base, and this monstrous double-deck home run:
Sure, you can dismiss any of the moonshots, warning track catches, stolen bases, and inning-ending strikeouts as byproducts of the pointless midseason pageantry that makes up the All-Star festivities. Just don’t be surprised when you find Moncada and his peers raking at the major-league level soon enough.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
If only they gave out prizes for becoming the first team in 37 years to log three triple plays within a single season.
What to Watch on Monday
There are no questions here, no existential drama as you decide which major-league matchup to while away your post-work, post-annual free-slushie run hours with. None of your favorite players are playing a regulation nine-inning baseball game today; none of your least-favorite players are playing, either.
This is the week of the All-Stars, the glorious stretch of arbitrary, goofy, meaningless baseball* designed to give us a brief reprieve from worrying about bullpen collapses and playoff odds and whether or not Matt Harvey will ever pitch in the major leagues again. If you’re not watching some of the best players in baseball go head-to-head, you’re watching the best prospects go head-to-head, or some assorted celebrities with varying degrees of athletic ability go head-to-head. Are you not entertained? Because you should be.
Tonight, at 8 p.m. ET, eight of the best sluggers in baseball will attack batting practice pitches with all the severity befitting a World Series Game 7 eighth-inning-verging-on-rain-delay tie in the 31st annual Home Run Derby. Returning champion Todd Frazier will attempt to defend his title against household names like Giancarlo Stanton, Robinson Cano, Carlos Gonzalez, and Mark Trumbo, token hometown nominee Wil Myers, and dark horse candidates Adam Duvall and Corey Seager.
We’re all thinking it, so I’ll just say it: The only thing that would improve this lineup would be the presence of one .612 OPS-wielding, snake-defying, home run-launching Madison Bumgarner.
*Except for the part where home field advantage in the World Series is decided by Bartolo Colon.