The Wednesday Takeaway
Luis Severino is the Yankees’ new ace. I’m not crowning Severino the staff ace because of his sterling outing on Wednesday, nor because that label has been the talk of New York media lately. This proclamation isn’t even purely borne out of his eye-popping stats, though Sevy has been a top-seven starter in the American League in ERA, DRA, WARP, and strikeouts. Instead, I’m putting Severino on that lofty pedestal because he struck out Tucker Barnhart on Wednesday. To be more specific, because of how he got Barnhart out.
I’m willing to look past long-lived concerns over Severino’s delivery and stature, his 8.50 ERA last season, and the volatile nature of 23-year-old flamethrowers, because four pitches in the fifth inning of a single outing proves the righty’s outstanding numbers this season are here to stay. Let’s dive deeper into those few pitches.
Now, this sequence may seem like an odd choice, since Severino doesn’t even showcase his high-octane, triple-digit heater, but that makes it all the more impressive. Facing offensive powerhouse (okay, not really) Tucker Barnhart, Severino decided not to attack him with the fastball he throws over 40 percent of the time, but instead with his pair of developing secondary pitches.
Despite starting off the at-bat with a changeup that fell low and outside the zone, Severino went right back to the pitch and location on the next offering and caught enough of the zone to make Barnhart swing. Next up came two Bugs Bunny sliders, boomerangs that dodged away from the heart of the plate and just barely kissed the outside of the zone for called strikes, the final one putting away Barnhart looking.
Last year, Severino struggled for two primary reasons: changeup regression made him one dimensional, and command on all three pitches slipped into well-below-average territory. As a result, he had the look of a reliever who couldn’t spot an off-speed pitch if his life depended on it and relied solely on hitters chasing his secondaries. With that in mind, go back and watch his first two pitches.
Last season, Severino threw his changeup 5.5 percent of the time for the first pitch and 7.5 percent of the time on 1-0. This season, those numbers sit at 11.4 percent and 18.7 percent, respectively. In this at-bat, he threw the changeup in both situations, showing a trust in the pitch that didn’t exist in 2016. While he missed out on hitting the zone with his first change, he perfectly spotted the second one to put himself in a favorable count. While placing the changeup in the strike zone isn’t necessarily a sign of improved command, Severino has upped his zone rate from 29 percent last season to 51 percent this year, allowing for the offering to be more than just a chase pitch.
Not much needs to be said about the slider, considering it’s been pretty damn spectacular this season—Severino gets the 17th-most horizontal movement on the pitch in baseball and he’s learned to move it around the zone this season, like in Barnhart’s at-bat. Despite inducing whiffs with ease on the pitch, he used it to get two called strikes against Tuck, notching an easy strikeout.
In case you didn’t gather by now, Severino had himself quite an afternoon against the Reds in a 9-5 Yankees win. Going seven innings, Severino allowed two unearned runs on three hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts. He got 11 whiffs on the slider, five on the changeup (on seven swings), and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 18 innings.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Chris Sale went seven scoreless innings and struck out 11 batters. I know, boring, yawn, whatever, it’s nothing special at this point. I kid, but Sale’s level of dominance this season has been absolutely unreal: in 21 starts, Sale has struck out nine or more batters 17 times. He also hasn’t given up a run in 21 2/3 innings, bringing his ERA down to 2.37 after his latest run of dominance.
Sale’s outing was overshadowed, though, by a certain 20-year-old third baseman by the name of Rafael Devers. Devers, who went hitless in Tuesday night's 13-inning game, notched his first big-league hit in spectacular fashion.
The youngest Red Sox player to hit a home run since Tony Conigliaro in 1965, Devers could be a spark plug at the hot corner for a Boston team that dearly needs production at third base (and just traded for Eduardo Nunez).
Diamondbacks fans are used to being on the wrong side of trades, but their first big splash this season is already paying off. J.D. Martinez didn’t have the most awe-inspiring of starts with his new club, injuring his hand in the debut, but the slugging outfielder has enjoyed using the desert as a launchpad over the past few games. Martinez’s first hit with Arizona was on Sunday, and in classic J.D. style it was a home run. To follow that up, he had himself quite the day on Wednesday, crushing a pair of two-run dingers in a 10-3 win.
Light-hitting speedster Ketel Marte, owner of five career home runs in nearly 200 games, joined the fun in his own way, zooming around the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
As the old baseball adage says: “There is no such thing as too many insurance runs.” Okay, I may have just made that up, but it should be the 2017 Nationals’ motto. You can probably guess why that sentence fits Washington to a T—an implosive bullpen is often bailed out in potentially hairy situations by an explosive offense that has found that simply taking the lead is rarely enough to seal a win.
Consider Wednesday’s nerve-wracking 8-5 win, for example. Down 2-1 in the eighth inning, Wilmer Difo singled in Adrian Sanchez to score the tying run. After Bryce Harper went down swinging (and almost swung at umpire Chris Segal in the process), Ryan Zimmerman doubled in Brian Goodwin and Difo to leap ahead by two. Anthony Rendon singled in another run, then an Adam Lind double scored an extra pair. Finally, an RBI two-bagger from Pedro Severino crossed the line from insurance to overkill, and the inning ended with Washington putting up a seven spot.
As it turns out, that overkill turned out to be a necessity. The recently-acquired Sean Doolittle struck out the first batter in the inning, then walked the next and subsequently gave up a two-run shot to Lewis Brinson, the first homer of the top prospect's career.
Following a single and an RBI double, the Nationals were suddenly only up by three runs, with the tying run on deck. Luckily, Doolittle was able to strike out the final two batters to finish the game, but Washington has solidified its place as the only team in baseball that needs (approximately) a six-run lead in the eighth inning to put away a game.
The A’s seem to be one of those teams that produce the most random but startlingly successful players. Here’s another name to watch, though how long his "successful" tag will last is up for debate: Paul Blackburn, a 23-year-old rookie, brought his ERA on the season down to 2.25 in five starts after silencing the Blue Jays over seven innings. The ultimate contact pitcher, Blackburn induced all of four whiffs on 98 pitches, an impressively low number that backs up his impressively low strikeout rate on the season—the righty has thrown 32 innings in the big leagues, and has just 12 strikeouts. For reference, Chris Sale has struck out 12 or more batters in five outings this season.
Unfortunately, Blackburn’s strong start was wasted after an abysmal pitching performance from Santiago Casilla. After a leadoff walk to Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak stepped to the plate and delivered a game-tying two-run home run.
Following the back-breaking dinger, Casilla gathered himself, took a deep breath, stepped back on the rubber, wound up, and delivered … a meatball to Kendrys Morales that was pounded into the center field seats for a walk-off home run.
A certain writer by the name of Ben Diamond said the Royals should sell during BP’s roundtable discussion about the team, and Kansas City proceeded to win seven straight to make that writer look an idiot. They extended their winning streak to eight games on Wednesday with a 16-2 route of the Tigers, with Eric Hosmer going 5-6 with five runs scored, six RBIs, and his first career grand slam:
The Indians won their sixth straight game to somehow hold the Royals at bay in the AL Central, but KC has surged past the Rays into the second Wild Card spot.
Trailing the Twins for the majority of this game, the Dodgers began their slow climb back from a five-run deficit with some fireworks from Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig, both going deep with solo shots to bring the game within three runs by the fifth inning. Next up was Chase Utley with a two-RBI double in the seventh inning, and, finally Logan Forsythe with a clutch sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to tie it up.
The Twins threatened in the top of the ninth inning, as Max Kepler led off the inning with a double, but Kenley Jansen was able to neutralize the threat. In the bottom half of the inning against All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler, a pair of singles from Austin Barnes and Chris Taylor set the stage for Justin Turner and his .360 batting average to do this:
Defensive Play of the Night
I’m sorry, but I love this whole clip so much that I’m going to bend the rules, say Adrian Beltre was defending his territory, and beg that everyone watch the best moment of the night.
— Today in the MLB (@TodayintheMLB) July 27, 2017
What to Watch on Thursday
Kicking off Thursday baseball will be Cy Young frontrunner Max Scherzer (2.26 ERA) of the Nationals facing off against the Brewers’ Michael Blazek (0.00 ERA) at 12:05 pm ET. Another intriguing pitching matchup comes precisely 32 minutes later, with Oakland’s Sean Manaea (3.82 ERA) and Toronto’s Marcus Stroman (2.98 ERA) taking the rubber for their respective teams.
In the evening, Chris Archer (3.77 ERA) and the Rays will start an important AL East series against CC Sabathia (3.44 ERA) and the Yankees, while the Cubs and White Sox Crosstown Cup will come to an end with Jon Lester (3.95 ERA) and Mike Pelfrey (4.46 ERA) throwing.