The Wednesday Takeaway
While what happens on a baseball field may not have a tangible impact on a general fan’s day-to-day life, many of us, often unconsciously, use the sport to reflect our world. We can feel a deep connection to those otherworldly athletic multimillionaires, even if they couldn’t possibly be more different than us, because we see ourselves in them.
We have Bryce Harpers, Rich Hills, Francisco Lindors, and Aaron Judges on our television screens, but we also have real-life versions of those players in our lives. We feel the painful lows, the nausea-inducing ups and downs, the satisfying victories, and the incredible feats of greatness of those players like they’re our own, which might be why many of us are so emotionally invested in a game. And it’s probably why, if you’re a Nationals fan, you spent the better part of Wednesday with a bad taste in your mouth.
Sometimes, life isn’t fair. Sometimes, baseball isn’t fair. Max Scherzer learned that on Wednesday, and fans all felt the blow from that reality check. The Washington ace, putting together one of the finest seasons of his career as he chases a third Cy Young, came out of the gates with a vengeance against the Marlins. While some pitchers can make a career off just one or two elite pitches, Scherzer was showcasing an array of unhittable offerings. He had four pitches in his pocket on Wednesday, and every single one was electric.
Scherzer started the game by blowing away Dee Gordon with a mid-90s fastball, painting the outside corner before going inside and twisting the leadoff man up with a bullet of a heater. Next up was near-deity Giancarlo Stanton, and this time, it was a changeup which ended his at-bat after being fed a steady diet of fastballs. While, yes, Christian Yelich managed to work a five-pitch walk, it didn’t matter a whole lot because Marcell Ozuna waved over the top of another fading change.
The next inning, Justin Bour was sat down by a perfectly located four-seamer on the low-outside corner, and (after a hit-by-pitch, which also proved harmless) A.J. Ellis tried to golf a two-strike slider but was also unsuccessful. J.T. Riddle didn’t have a chance either, as his swing at a 95 mph fastball proved fruitless. Just like that, Scherzer had six strikeouts through two innings.
Scherzer’s strikeout streak was broken by, of course, the opposing pitcher, Dan Straily, to start the third inning, but it’s hard to complain when the damage was a weak ground ball that was easily handled. Gordon struck out next on three pitches, and, well, I'll spare you the rest of the details and jump to the bottom of the eighth inning—Mad Max Scherzer was just five outs away from a no-hitter, and given the way he’d pitched, it was hard to imagine a Marlin making hard contact against him, let alone notching a hit.
Alas, it didn’t take any hard contact to shatter Scherzer’s bid for history. In horribly frustrating fashion, Ellis hit a soft chopper which was deflected by Scherzer’s glove and into no-man’s land by second base. After watching Scherzer’s 7 1/3-inning masterpiece, an infield hit felt like a crime.
A batter later, more injustice: pinch-hitter J.T. Realmuto reached on an error by Adam Lind, Gordon was hit by a pitch, and an overthrown fastball bounced to the backstop, allowing a run to score. Another run crossed the plate on a Stanton single later in the plate appearance. In just a couple batters, a no-hitter gone, a shutout gone, and, oh yeah, the lead was gone too.
Impossibly, Scherzer was tagged with a loss, giving up two runs (both unearned) on just two hits, a walk, and 11 strikeouts over eight innings. The baseball gods were far from just on Wednesday, and Scherzer, along with scores of Nationals fans, paid the price.
If you’re a Tigers fan, feel free to scroll back up to the top of this article and replace every mention of Max Scherzer with Justin Verlander. That’s because Verlander unfortunately had as exasperating a day as Scherzer. Also chasing history, Verlander started the afternoon with five perfect innings. Entering the sixth frame, Detroit’s ace quickly retired two batters, and then watched his perfect-game bid crumble in excruciating fashion.
There are probably more than a few red-faced Tigers fans who are furious that Jarrod Dyson had the nerve to break one of baseball’s infamous unwritten rules: never bunt during a perfect game. And, frankly, it’s understandable why this practice would be frowned upon. A bunt barely feels like a real hit, and losing a perfect game to it? Ouch.
Still, Dyson deserves to be defended for his decision. The Mariners were helpless against Verlander while he pitched out of the windup, and the game had to be disrupted. With Seattle down by just four runs, the game was well within reach. One can’t expect Dyson and his club to stop giving their best effort to win a game in deference to a perfect game bid—after all, their job is to break up said bid. So, when Dyson bunted for a single, it shouldn’t be considered ‘bush league’, it should be viewed as a smart decision.
As a result of the bunt, Verlander was pitching out of the stretch for the first time all night and couldn’t seem to settle back down. He walked Mike Zunino to put runners on first and second, then loaded the bases on a bloop single from Jean Segura. Next, Ben Gamel notched an RBI hit and Nelson Cruz knocked in two more with a double. Just like that, Verlander’s incredible outing turned into one that very nearly didn’t qualify as a quality start, and the Tigers went on to lose the game. Baseball isn’t fair, ya’ll.
For most offenses, scoring 10 runs in a game is a pretty successful day. All normalcy gets thrown out the window when we head to Coors Field, though. For the Diamondbacks on Wednesday night, 10 runs wasn’t a good game … it was a good inning, After being held to just one hit through three innings, the Arizona offense took advantage of the thin Colorado air and took off. Remarkably, the Diamondbacks’ bats didn’t hit a single home run in their monstrous inning, instead ruining opposing hurler Jeff Hoffman’s day with five singles, four doubles, and two walks.
A little over a week ago, I "wasted" a decent part of my afternoon watching eight clips nominated by Buster Olney as the best at-bats in the last 30 years. While I can’t in good faith say Alex Cora deserves to win the title (my vote would go to Kirk Gibson), I sure did enjoy the hell out of his 18-pitch plate appearance which ended with a home run.
Naturally, my mind flashed back to that moment as I watched Salvador Perez come to the plate in the eighth inning, the Royals down by two runs and the bases loaded with no outs. Robby Scott started Perez with a low-and-outside fastball, then got two strikes on the catcher with another two heaters. Scott then decided to change things up with … another fastball for a ball, and kept at it with a fifth four-seamer outside to load the count. Next up was, um, another fastball, then, yep, another fastball, aaaaand an eighth fastball in a row. Oh, and I should probably mention that, save for two pitches, every single one of these offerings was on the outside part of the plate.
Don’t fret, though, with the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Scott decided to get creative. He toed the rubber, tried out a different couple grips on the ball, and then settled for what he knew best—the fastball. Shockingly, it went poorly.
I don’t want to come down too hard on Scott and his battery mate, Christian Vasquez, but the pitch selection in this at-bat was brutal, at best. Look, I get it if you’re, say, Aroldis Chapman facing off against a skinny, slap-hitter who has trouble catching up to a heater. In that case, go for it, throw your elite fastball. But if you’re Robby Scott, whose four-seamer struggles to reach 90 mph, and you’re pitching against the beefy Sal Perez, who hits four-seamer fastballs better than any other pitch (with a .540 slugging percentage against), it might be a good idea to try and switch it up. Or not, I guess. The mistake cost the Red Sox the lead and the game, with Perez’s grand slam giving the Royals a two-run lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Cubs lost a game against the Padres, not because their starter was Eddie Butler, but because Koji Uehara walked the bases loaded against Luis Torrens, a Low-A catcher when he isn’t moonlighting as a backup catcher for San Diego. Welcome to the Cubs in 2017, I guess. It’ll get better, I promise.
In baseball, practically every positive comes with a negative. For the most part, lots of contact comes at the expense of power, and lots of power comes at the expense of contact. Nasty pitches like the cutter and splitter are blamed for Tommy John surgery, and tricky pitching mechanics can throw batters, and scouts, off the trail.
Jose Berrios learned this lesson the hard way last season, as the immense break on his own stuff served as a double-edged sword in his woeful major-league debut. Carrying an 8.02 ERA and sky-high 12.5 percent walk rate in 2016, Berrios’ struggles cast doubt on his talent and ultimate role in the big leagues. As it turns out, he may just have been struggling to wrangle the movement his pitches possess.
Berrios is no more talented this year than he was last, but the 23-year-old has begun to locate his high-octane fastball and ridiculous hook of a curveball, allowing him to shine as a starter. Berrios was dominant as ever on Wednesday, going eight strong frames while allowing two runs on four hits and a walk (along with eight strikeouts). The start brought his ERA on the season down to 2.67, and he’s now allowed just two runs in each of his past four starts.
There’s a lot of ways to describe a home run, it can be crushed, launched, jacked, destroyed, lined, ripped, punched, turned on, roped, smashed, hammered, and so on. But for Matt Kemp’s walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the 11th inning, the perfect word to describe the dinger is "muscled." Kemp didn’t get the best pitch to hit, nor did he put the best swing on it, but the Braves outfielder stuck with the pitch and used his raw strength to muscle it into the right field seats for a clutch, walk-off dinger.
Defensive Play of the Day
Sans context, Orlando Arcia’s incredible scoop and off-balanced, spinning throw to nail John Jaso at first base would’ve been one of the best plays of the night. But we aren’t going to ignore the gravity of this play, which might have saved the game-tying run from scoring and sealed the game for the Brewers.
Watch to Watch on Thursday
Baseball will get started early on Thursday with Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez (2.86 ERA) facing off against Aaron Nola (4.76 ERA) and the Phillies at 1:05 pm ET. Just five minutes later, tune in to see if the struggling Jose Quintana (5.07 ERA) can continue improving after stringing together a couple solid starts in a row. Later in the afternoon at 2:05 pm, Marcus Stroman (3.15 ERA) will throw against the Rangers, and surprise studs Ivan Nova (2.91 ERA) and Chase Anderson (2.92 ERA) will face off soon after.
In the evening, it’ll be worth watching the Yankees’ Luis Severino (2.99 ERA) as he looks to build upon an excellent bounce-back season, and Chicago’s Jake Arrieta (4.64 ERA) will try to right the ship on a rough season. Late on Thursday at 10:10 pm ET could be a solid little pitcher’s duel, with Steven Matz (3.21 ERA) throwing against Alex Wood (1.90 ERA) in the Mets/Dodgers series finale.