keyboard_arrow_uptop

The Wednesday Takeaway

No matter what the box score may tell you, no two (or three) baseball games are created equal. That truth was on display Wednesday night—three battles stretched past the ninth inning and into the 12th (and 13th), but each matchup offered vastly different viewing experiences. There was the exciting game, the slightly less exciting game, and the, uh, weird game.

In the top of the 13th inning of one game, the ordinary ambient noise of a baseball stadium was replaced by something I can only describe as the combination of a human and a macaw. Yes, you guessed it, this is the weird game.

But before returning to the horrifying interruption, I should probably address how last night’s Astros-Mariners game reached that point. For a while, it was just a normal baseball game—James Paxton came out of the gate dealing, reminding us of his newfound velocity by regularly living in the mid-to-high-90s with fastball.

The Astros’ powerful lineup was silenced by the 28-year-old southpaw, as he allowed just two hits and a walk, while striking out five, over six frames. Houston righty Charlie Morton didn’t have a bad outing himself, going six strong with two earned runs.

But the best pitching performance of the night may have come from Chris Devenski, who entered a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning and left after the 11th with the score held steady. While it’s en vogue these days to compare every middle reliever to Andrew Miller, Devenski has the makings of one of baseball’s best multi-inning relievers, and it showed in his 2017 debut. The 26-year-old went four innings, walking one batter while striking out seven.

Looking to build off last year’s surprising rookie season that saw him finish fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, Devenski could become one of baseball’s few 100-inning relief pitchers while working in a modern-day fireman role.

Anyway, back to what you all care about—the woos. Correlation doesn’t always equal causation, but Astros hurler Jandel Gustave walked three straight batters in the top half of the 13th inning without recording an out, and Brad Peacock came in, only to walk in a run. While he was able to keep the no-out, bases-loaded threat from developing further, the Mariners held a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the inning.

Chase De Jong came in to make one of the higher pressure major-league debuts you’ll see and, well, let’s just say he won’t be getting the game ball back. With men on first and second, one strike away from a Mariners’ win, De Jong served up a hanging curveball to George Springer that was pummeled into the Crawfish Boxes for a heartbreaking walk-off home run.

Quick Hits

Springer didn’t have baseball’s only extra-inning, walk-off home run of the night, though. Sandy Leon, the catcher who turned a 13 wRC+ in 2015 into a 123 wRC+ last season, shattered a 12-inning tie with a single swing of his bat. The unlikeliest of saviors for the Red Sox last season, Leon once again shocked just about everyone by launching an Antonio Bastardo heater over the Green Monster to walk it off for Boston.

For almost four hours, though, this game had as little to do with offense as possible. In his Red Sox debut, Chris Sale did what he always does, carving up the Pirates to the tune of seven strikeouts and just five baserunners over seven shutout innings. Sale had it all working in his lethal repertoire, though his frisbee of a slider netted some of the ugliest whiffs of the night.

Alas, Sale couldn’t escape what plagued him for years in Chicago—a lack of run support. The blame for that falls squarely on the (very tall) shoulders of the Pirates’ sophomore righty Jameson Taillon. The 6-foot-5 starter added to his impressive 2016 by matching Sale’s seven scoreless innings, striking out six while allowing five hits and three walks. This game may be remembered for Leon’s walk-off three-run shot, but it was one of the best pitching duels of this very young season for a full 12.5 innings.

***

Now that we’ve covered the weird and the exciting games, it’s time to move on to Wednesday night’s 12-inning marathon that was more of a slog to get through than a nail-biter. Undoubtedly the most important moments of this contest involved former Mets and current Braves starter Bartolo Colon. Not much more needs to be said about that, though I’d be remiss not to provide important photographic evidence that Big Sexy was, indeed, present during his start, which stretched six frames and saw him allow just one run on two hits, a walk, and six strikeouts.

On the other side of the dugout was Jacob deGrom, who was excellent over his own six innings of work. deGrom nearly matched Colon’s line, also going six frames and allowing two hits and a walk with six strikeouts, though he was able to avoid allowing any runs to cross the plate. Much was made about deGrom’s decreased velocity last season (down almost 1.5 mph), but the many questions weren’t completely answered in his season debut; although deGrom’s fastball looked to be all the way back early in the game, his velocity did fall throughout the outing. Still, that decrease didn’t seem to hinder deGrom much over his 95-pitch outing.

While unanimous fan favorite Jay Bruce did give the Mets a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning, that edge was erased on a deep single by Adonis Garcia off Hansel Robles. Scoring would halt for the next five innings, until former rotation candidate Rafael Montero loaded the bases on a single and two walks (one intentional) and Matt Kemp drove in two with his third double of the night.

The two-run deficit was too much for the Mets to overcome in the bottom of the 12th against Jim Johnson, as they went down in order to tie the series at one.

Wednesday night proved to be a breeding ground for game-winning home runs, so why stop at Springer and Leon? While not of the walk-off variety, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor did hit one of the grand variety, turning a one-run deficit into a three-run lead in the top of the ninth inning (Lindor also hit a solo home run earlier in the game).


Unfortunately, for every winner there is a loser, and Rangers (former?) closer Sam Dyson received the short end of the stick this time around. Sadly, the same could be said about Dyson’s night on Monday. Put those two games together and you get a painful nine runs allowed in just one inning of work from the sinkerballer, which is already half the runs he conceded in 70 innings last year.

You can look at that one of two ways: a) Dyson was good last year! He’ll be fine. b) Dyson’s been reallllllllly bad. Depending on the perspective of Brian Bannister, Matt Bush may or may not be manning the ninth inning for the Rangers from now on. But no matter how you view the Rangers’ third straight loss, there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear … it’s been a rough few days for Texas.

Last night’s slate of games had some game-deciding dingers, but that’s only because most starting pitching was dominant. Among some big names, Reds hurler Brandon Finnegan may have had the best start of the night, retiring 19 straight Phillies hitters after a first-inning walk. After all was said and done, Finnegan had gone seven shutout innings in the win, striking out nine while allowing just a single hit and walk.

Finnegan has had a wild ride since being drafted by the Royals in the 2014 first round and thrown into the big leagues that same season as a reliever, but if the southpaw can continue to throw strikes and induce loads of whiffs on his nasty slider, he may have a more permanent home in the Reds’ starting rotation.

***

Finnegan may have had the best start of the night, but Dylan Bundy may have had the most inspiring of outings. A former impossible-to-miss prospect for the Orioles, Bundy was the poster boy for TINSTAAP until he was finally healthy enough to reach the big leagues last season. A clean offseason and spring landed him in the O’s rotation and Bundy has quickly shown the stuff that made him a potential ace all those years ago.

Bundy’s most dominant pitch was the changeup, which Blue Jays hitters swung and missed on 14 of the 37 times it was thrown, but he also blew a low-to-mid-90s fastball by hitters and uncorked a few vicious curveballs.

All in all, it was an incredibly promising outing for Bundy, and he allowed just one run on four hits and eight strikeouts over seven frames. If he can remain healthy and continue to build on that changeup, there’s reason to believe that one of this offseason’s biggest unknowns can finally blossom into a stud.

Defensive Play of the Day

Kevin Pillar pulled off his best Aaron Roward impression against the Orioles, robbing Manny Machado of an extra-base hit by leaping into the air and catching a ball destined for the wall, before slamming into said wall himself. Fortunately, the defensive wizard managed to hang onto the ball and was uninjured on the play.

What to Watch on Thursday

Thursday’s slate of games features marquee pitching matchups fans have been waiting all offseason to watch, including but not limited to Clay Buchholz vs. Rookie Davis, Jason Hammel vs. Kyle Gibson, and Antonio Senzatela vs. Chase Anderson.

If you’re in the mood to see a pitcher’s duel, I’d recommend either watching Wednesday’s games again or take a shot in the dark and watch the Braves’ Jaime Garcia battle New York’s Matt Harvey at 7:10pm ET at Citi Field. Otherwise, keep an eye out for Jeff Samardzija and Robbie Ray at 9:40pm ET in Arizona, or accept that lots of dingers will be hit and enjoy the power.