The Wednesday Takeaway
The heartbeat of baseball is the perpetual battle between a batter and a pitcher, two players with one goal in mind: to best the other. While this duel is started anew following each pitch, it also exists on the macro level as a seasonal grind, a constantly shifting war as both sides try to figure out how to gain the upper hand. With that in mind, it’s fair to say that one of the most important parts of baseball is to adjust, to figure out how your opponent is gaining ground, and counteract that with a move of your own. Without making these vital adjustments, a player simply won’t survive in the major leagues. Vulnerabilities will inevitably be discovered and if they aren’t covered up, the opposition wins.
For CC Sabathia, a lack of adjustment very nearly destroyed his career—he lost the physical ability to be a power pitcher, yet he continued to pitch like one until a 4.81 ERA over three abbreviated seasons left his ability to start in the big leagues in doubt. He finally made a key change last season—trashing his $122 million four-seamer for a nifty cutter—and had a 3.91 ERA over 30 starts as one of the better starters in the Yankees’ rotation.
Sabathia hit another wall to start 2017, carrying a 5.77 ERA over his first seven outings, and many feared he was finally finished. But, luckily for the Yankees, he adjusted again and has allowed just four earned runs over his past 32 1/3 innings (five starts). The former Cy Young winner continued his streak of dominance on Wednesday against the Red Sox, twirling eight innings of shutout ball in a New York win. Sabathia brought his ERA on the season down to 3.66. Not bad for a nearly-37-year-old who was being lit up on the mound just a month ago.
Speaking of rebounds, the Yankees are also hoping Chris Carter is finally turning a corner after a brutal start. Carrying a 70 wRC+ into Wednesday night—third-worst among qualified first basemen (min. 130 PA)—Carter went yard for the second day in a row to highlight a strong 3-for-4 evening.
Last year’s NL home run leader very nearly had two round-trippers on the evening, but a ball destined for the right-field bleachers was robbed by Mookie Betts in an amazing play that I’ll talk about more later.
It’s hard to get off to much of a worse start than the Orioles did on Wednesday. I mean, it even got bad enough that they had to bring in Edwin Jackson—Edwin Jackson, of all people!—to throw 2 2/3 innings. The bad news began in the second inning when Wade Miley gave up a two-run double to Max Moroff, and the Orioles experienced déjà vu an inning later when an Elias Diaz two-bagger plated a pair to chase Miley from the game.
The Pirates lead grew to 6-1 in the seventh inning when Jose Osuna crushed a two-run home run, and if you’re a fan of win probability, the Orioles’ chance of victory fell to 1.3 percent. Then, they began a steady climb upward, chipping away at the five-run deficit in eighth and ninth innings.
Adam Jones started things off with a solo shot off reliever Johnny Barbato, bringing the Pirates’ lead to just four. The next inning, Joey Rickard brought in a run with a sacrifice fly, and J.J. Hardy did the same with an RBI double. A strikeout later, though, Trey Mancini and the Orioles were down to their final strike. You can probably guess what happened next.
Mancini’s huge two-run home run tied the score up at six and sent the game to extras. In the bottom of the 11th inning, with two on and two out, Mr. Mancini came up to the plate once more, the game in his hands. You can probably guess what happened next.
The most exciting matchup going into Wednesday was undoubtedly Clayton Kershaw vs. Stephen Strasburg, and the game lived up to expectations. Still, believe it or not, there was some offense involved in this star-studded pitching duel. First blood was drawn in the second inning, when Ryan Zimmerman went deep off Kershaw for his 17th home run of the season.
Kershaw buckled down after the dinger, finishing with seven innings of one-run ball. The Dodgers’ ace allowed three hits and three walks while striking out nine to bring his ERA down to 2.20.
Strasburg looked like the superior pitcher for the first five innings of the game—he allowed just one hit up to that point, at one time struck out five batters in a row, and simply looked dominant to start the day. Unfortunately for the Nationals, Strasburg wasn’t quite as untouchable in the sixth inning. After recording two outs, Corey Seager did what he does best, launching a solo home run to tie the game.
The next batter, Adrian Gonzalez, struck out but reached on a passed ball and advanced to second after a wild pitch to Yasmani Grandal, who then drove a hanging curveball into center field for an RBI double.
Strasburg exited the game after that inning, with two runs (one earned) to his name along with all of three hits, a walk, and eight strikeouts. But after two scoreless innings from the Dodgers' bullpen, you can also add a loss to Strasburg’s line, with Washington falling 2-1 to Los Angeles.
Somehow, that Kershaw/Strasburg showdown wasn’t the best pitching duel of the day, instead being overshadowed by household names Buck Farmer and Alex Meyer. Despite being 26- and 27-year-old rookies, respectively, Farmer and Meyer duked it out for the better part of seven innings, neither pitchers allowing an earned run.
Farmer, owner of a name which shan’t be spoonerized on this respectable website, was ultimately the better pitcher in this one, going 6 2/3 shutout innings. The big righty gave up just three hits and a walk, striking out five on the day and earning a hard-fought victory for the Tigers.
While Meyer ended up on the losing side of things due to an unearned run, he was electric against the Tigers. Also allowing just three hits over six innings of work, Meyer both showed why he used to be a highly-regarded prospect with the Twins and why he was ultimately considered a bust and tossed into a Hector Santiago/Ricky Nolasco swap. The 6-foot-9 hurler demonstrated eye-opening swing-and-miss stuff, striking out nine batters, but he also struggled with control at times and walked four.
Meyer averaged 96.4 mph with his heater on the day, but actually threw his curveball more often than the four-seamer and notched an insane 13 whiffs on the curve. Combining that power curveball, which is the second-fastest in baseball, with his elite fastball and a serviceable sinker make for a pitcher who will never have issues missing bats, as long as he can make hitters swing. The latter issue is a huge one, though, and Meyer has the third-lowest swing rate in baseball because of his tendency to throw so many balls.
For our very own Meg Rowley’s sake, I’m going to start this quick hit with a quick statement: MIKE ZUNINO MIKE ZUNINO MIKE ZUNINO. Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about Mike Zunino. The former top prospect turned bust turned post-post-post-hype sleeper had himself a night, beginning with a big solo home run in the third inning to tie the game.
Much would happen after that dinger, including homers from Carlos Ruiz, Miguel Sano, and Kyle Seager, eventually leaving the Mariners losing by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Down to their final out against closer Brandon Kintzler, Ben Gamel singled to keep the game alive and then, well, MIKE ZUNINO:
It’s anybody’s guess whether Mike Zunino is ever going to figure things out, but it’s worth pointing out that the 26-year-old catcher is 15-for-49 with four home runs and four doubles since returning from a stint in Triple-A. The third overall pick by the Mariners back in 2012, Zunino still has plenty of pop and there may be hope yet.
While it’s hard not to smile when a player makes his big league debut, it’s a hell of a lot more fun when said rookie has a great day performance-wise. That’s why one of the best moments from Wednesday was the standing ovation Jacob Faria earned after his first game with the Rays, following an excellent one-run showing over 6.1 innings.
The 23-year-old gave up just three hits and two walks on the day, also striking out five. Faria had more than earned a call-up from the infamously conservative Rays’ club after striking out 84 batters in 58.2 dominant Triple-A innings, and while Wednesday was considered a spot start, Tampa Bay may put thought into keeping him in the MLB now.
Don’t get too excited about Faria just yet, though—expectations have been tempered for the righty due to shaky command, and while it didn’t come back to bite him in this one, Faria left more than a few too many pitches up in the zone on Wednesday.
Here’s a mild surprise: the Reds started Bronson Arroyo in a 2017 game … and won. The 40-year-old Arroyo owns a 6.25 ERA on the year and struggled in this one, so the fact that Cincy pulled out a 6-4 win is more of a testament to their offense than anything else.
The Reds did something they’ve done more than a few times this season—rally in the late innings. Trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning, the club was able to make up for the deficit, and then some, against a struggling Cardinals bullpen which has the seventh-worst ERA in baseball despite an awfully expensive set of relievers manning the late innings.
The Reds started the seventh frame quickly, with Scott Schebler and Scooter Gennett (Tuesday’s four-homer hero) singling. A batter later came pinch-hitter Patrick Kivlehan, who quickly tied up the game with one swing against the painfully ineffective Brett Cecil.
Billy Hamilton was then retired, but baseball’s current WARP leader Zack Cozart (?!) doubled to knock Cecil out of the game with two away in the inning. Trevor Rosenthal was brought in to face Joey Votto and keep the Reds from taking the lead, but his first pitch was right down the middle and deposited by Votto into the center field seats for a two-run home run.
Although Rosenthal got out of the inning without giving up another run, the Reds had the lead following the five-run inning and, unlike the Cardinals’ bullpen, managed to hold that score over the final two innings.
Defensive Play of the Day
I already mentioned this one earlier, but any time a home run is robbed, the play pretty much automatically wins this title. And, hey, this one even comes with a fan doing his best Jeffry Maier impression.
Watch to Watch Thursday
Kicking off the action will be the Reds and Cardinals, with Mike Leake (2.64 ERA) facing off against Scott Feldman (4.52 ERA) at 12:35 pm ET. While this matchup isn’t featuring the flashiest names ever, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on Leake to see if he can continue his hot start to this season.
Later in the day, the Yankees and Red Sox will both look for the series win at 7:05 pm ET. While the Red Sox appear to have the edge in this matchup on paper with David Price (3.00 ERA) throwing against Michael Pineda (3.76 ERA), the Yankees have never had a problem with Price, as he has a career 4.55 ERA against the club in 35 starts.
Gerrit Cole (4.27 ERA) and the Pirates will take on Edinson Volquez (3.79 ERA) and the Marlins. Volquez is coming off a no-hitter, and Cole is always a good bet to throw a gem, so this matchup is certainly worth watching. Later, the Astros’ Lance McCullers Jr. (2.71 ERA) will take on the Royals. He’s been nothing short of electric this season, and could have quite the night against a weak Kansas City lineup.