The Wednesday Takeaway:
If there’s one thing baseball will always be, it’s weird. So as surprising as it is that the Yankees, Reds, and Rockies hold some of the best records in baseball, teams making unanticipated breakouts (at least, for one month) is to be expected. That doesn’t take away from the startling nature of these teams’ performances, though, as the way each team has succeeded sharply contradicts our preseason expectations.
If the Yankees were going to win games, it would be from the transcendent Gary Sanchez and ace Masahiro Tanaka, not struggling youngsters like Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Luis Severino. If the Reds wanted to avoid a last-place finish, Joey Votto would need to be one of the best hitters in baseball, not … Eugenio Suarez and Zack Cozart. If the Rockies had any shot of breaking out of mediocrity, their offense would have to be among the best in baseball despite their awful pitching.
That last team in particular, the Rockies, have turned in some of the most startling performances of this young season. While studs Carlos Gonzalez and Trevor Story have struggled and the offense has been merely above average, pop-up names like Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland have pitched like aces in the rotation while Greg Holland, Jake McGee, and Chris Rusin are becoming baseball’s new murderer’s row in the bullpen (though if that continues remains to be seen).
The team’s surprising play continued Wednesday in a 3-0 victory over the Cubs; the defending World Champs were shut out while playing
on the moon at Coors Field by none other than 22-year-old rookie German Marquez.
Our no. 11 prospect in the Rockies’ system this offseason, Marquez was hit hard over 20 2/3 innings last season and was off to a rough start over three outings in 2017, allowing 13 runs in 16 innings. He defied all expectations last night and went eight shutout innings, allowing just three hits and one walk while striking out eight in the finest pitching performance of the night. It took until the seventh inning for the Cubs to even notch a hit.
Marquez easily handled the Cubs’ star-studded lineup with a mid-90s fastball and dominant curveball, which netted seven of his eight whiffs, though most of his success came from pinpoint command with the heater. Pitching dominance at Coors Field is extremely rare (for reference, Marquez’s 88 game score was the sixth-best ever by a Rockies hurler), and so is pitching dominance from a 22-year-old rookie with 25 runs allowed in 36 2/3 career innings. Yet somehow, a gem was delivered on Wednesday from the unlikeliest of sources in the unlikeliest of places, with Marquez making the Cubs look foolish to extend Colorado’s record to an outstanding 23-12, second-best in baseball.
Oh, and to put a little exclamation point on an already great day, Marquez drove in a couple runs with his first career hit.
Marquez may have pitched his way to one of the most improbable performances of this season, but Oakland hurler Andrew Triggs has blown away expectations this entire season. The 28-year-old now has a 2.21 ERA in his sophomore season after going six strong against the Angels, allowing just one run on three hits and three walks (along with four strikeouts). It’s worth mentioning that Triggs’ three walks came against the first three batters of the game, though he somehow managed to escape the no-out, bases-loaded jam with just one run allowed.
Triggs had made just a single start in his professional career before being claimed by the Athletics last March, but he managed a 2.70 ERA over six starts in 2016 and has been even better this season. The ground-ball machine continued the trend on Wednesday, with just five fly balls (two of which were infield pop-ups). His 55.2 percent ground-ball rate is 11th-best in the majors, and makes his miniscule 0.26 HR/9 mark a bit more sustainable than you may expect. Triggs may not continue to pitch like a top-flight starter for all of 2017, but what he’s done so far is impressive and might have more to do with talent than luck.
A more expected dominating start came from Chris Archer, who mowed down the Royals in a 12-1 blowout. The Rays’ ace threw eight shutout innings, striking out 11 while giving up five hits and zero walks. Lowering his ERA on the season to 3.04, Archer was undoubtedly Tampa Bay’s MVP of the day, though there was plenty of standout performances around him.
On offense, Colby Ramsus continued to swing a hot bat, capping off a 3-for-5 showing with a grand slam in the eighth inning to extend the lead. Since being activated from the disabled list, Rasmus has hit three home runs in eight games.
Rickie Weeks Jr. and Logan Morrison also homered in the win, going back-to-back in the bottom of the third inning. Quietly, Morrison now has nine home runs this season, putting him just five away from last year’s total.
The Royals weren’t without a couple bright spots, though. Jorge Soler notched his first hit of 2017—ending an 0-for-16 skid since returning from the DL—with an RBI double in the ninth inning to give the Royals their first run of the game. On the defensive side of the ball, Alex Gordon made up for his inability to catch all those home runs by making an outstanding catch in center field.
Narrative is sometimes dressed up to mean more than it truly does, but it’s always fun when things work out perfectly to make for a great story. That was the case for Matt Wieters and the Nationals last night, when he played hero against his old team by hitting a two-run, walk-off single.
The Nationals were down 6-4 in the final frame, but the contest was far from over. With dominant closer Zach Britton sidelined for two months, Brad Brach instead came in to notch the save. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Brach has struggled mightily after starting the season with 12 scoreless innings, and had allowed five runs over his past 6 2/3 innings before this outing. That line grew uglier, as the Nationals threw together a late-game comeback to steal the game away.
Brach’s day quickly went downhill after an impressive 11-pitch battle with Jayson Werth, as the veteran outfielder got ahold of a fastball and sent it into the right field bleachers to narrow the Orioles’ lead to one.
Next came a double from Bryce Harper, then an intentional walk of Daniel Murphy, and single off the bat of Anthony Rendon. Wieters stepped to the plate against the team he was with for 10 years and gave his new team a win.
Wednesday’s clash between the Blue Jays and Indians got off to an ugly start, with both teams' hurlers struggling early and departing before the third inning. But after Danny Salazar ceded five runs and Francisco Liriano seven, the two clubs’ bullpens buckled down and held the game at a 7-7 stalemate until the bottom of the ninth inning.
While Cody Allen has been his elite self this season, the Indians’ closer allowed just his second run of 2017 while attempting to keep the game tied up. An Ezequiel Carrera single and two straight walks of Justin Smoak and Steve Pearce loaded the bases, and with two outs Ryan Goins drove an Allen fastball down the right-field line for a walk-off single.
Cody Bellinger is good. There, I said it. Relax, Cody, you don’t need to keep proving it to everyone. Yes, I’m aware you hit your sixth home run last night, and yes, I also saw that great play you made in left field.
You can stop doing ridiculous things against every team who dares to face you, Cody, because your roster spot is safe now that Andrew Toles is out for the year with a torn ACL. Trust me, big-league at-bats will continue to come, and I don’t doubt that you’ll continue to impress with every chance you get.
Defensive Play of the Day
Back in the sixth inning of the Rockies’ game, German Marquez was still in the midst of a no-hit bid. While this incredible catch by Carlos Gonzalez will merely go down as just that, opposed to the famous grab that saved Marquez’s no-hitter, it’s still nothing to sneeze at.
Watch to Watch for Thursday
Jason Vargas can’t possibly be good, on account of him being Jason Vargas, but he also has the best ERA in baseball so, uh, maybe. I can’t say for sure, but you can be the judge on Thursday when he faces off against the Rays at 1:10 pm ET.
If you’re not up for being an armchair scout, though, there are a few starters whom I’m quite confident are, in fact, good. Baltimore’s Dylan Bundy faces off against the Nationals at 7:05 pm, while Houston’s Dallas Keuchel and New York’s Michael Pineda will begin an intriguing duel at the same time. Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke present the best pitching matchup of the night at 9:40 pm in Arizona, and it’s also worth keeping an eye on last year’s Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer while he pitches against the Angels at 10:07 pm.