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The Monday Takeaway

There’s an old baseball quote that offers sage advice to pitchers who struggle to grasp their fleeting success. To paraphrase: Five starts a year, you have your best stuff. Five starts a year, you have your worst stuff. What matters most is how you pitch in the 20 starts in between.

Although the exact veracity of this quip is up for debate, approaching any particular baseball game with this mindset can allow for a deeper viewing and understanding of the starter’s outing. Sometimes, you’ll see the push and the pull of #want and physical limitations, the jerky fight between talent and mental obstacles, and the perpetual battle as a pitcher fights through a lineup. Sometimes, you’ll see the calamity that spurs from a pitcher who simply woke up on the wrong side of the bed and couldn’t get a feel for the ball. And, sometimes, you’ll have the privilege of seeing a pitcher mow down the opposition with his best stuff of the year.

Let’s talk about that third case—the fun one. While pitchers come in all shapes and sizes, that "best stuff" day finds a way to unite every arm; that rare intersection of luck and talent may turn in different looking outings, but the statlines are largely uniform. It’s that "any given day" mentality—that even Phillip Humber can trot to the mound one day and churn out a perfect game. It’s what makes baseball so exciting.

On Monday in Miami, fans were treated to a pitcher’s duel in which both arms were having a 99th percentile day: Gio Gonzalez and Jose Urena both had outings to remember on the mound, cruising through the opposition’s lineup with few bumps in the road.

Let’s start with the one who’s responsible for all those notifications you got from MLB At Bat yesterday evening. Gonzalez’s first pitch of the day resulted in a fly out by Dee Gordon, and the ball would leave the infield just three more times against Washington’s starter. Although Gonzalez walked three batters on the evening, he was spotless otherwise, turning over the Marlins’ lineup with ease and floating through eight innings of baseball without allowing a hit.

To lead off the ninth inning, Gordon once again strode the plate. One of just a couple Marlins who had managed to make even negligible contact against Gonzalez over the first eight frames, Gordon stayed with a hanging 1-1 curveball and drove it into center field for Miami's first hit of the game.

The Nationals wasted little time removing Gonzalez after 106 pitches, bringing Sean Doolittle in to neutralize the threat and seal the win. The club likely wouldn’t have been so stingy in removing Gonzalez from his gem if they had a sizeable lead, but a sizeable lead wasn’t possible given the way Urena was pitching. While Gonzalez is going to hog the headlines for losing his no-hitter in the ninth inning, Jose Urena matched him pitch-for-pitch over eight dominant innings. Urena actually allowed the same number of baserunners as Gonzalez (who walked three on the evening), scattering just three hits and a walk over his start.

Unfortunately for Urena, he would be tagged with a tough-luck loss due to a sixth inning slip-up. Brian Goodwin began the frame with a leadoff double, and after being moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, was driven in by a Bryce Harper single. It was just one run, but on a day where even singles were hard to come by, that advantage would be enough to give the Nationals a thrilling victory.

Quick Hits

While Gonzalez and Urena had the most exciting matchup of the day, they weren’t the only two arms to duke it out on the mound. Danny Duffy and Ubaldo Jimenez had excellent outings themselves, having nearly identical days and each departing with a tie game in the eighth inning. While the duo was virtually indistinguishable while pitching, their respective teams went separate ways once the game was turned over to the bullpens.

Baltimore’s bullpen held steady. Kansas City’s? Well, let’s just say that Joakim Soria fell victim to the fearsome Death by Singles. Three singles, to be exact, with the final blow coming from Craig Gentry to drive in Caleb Joseph, winning the game for the Orioles on a strange day of trades (or lack thereof) in Baltimore.

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Doug Fister isn’t supposed to be pitching for the Red Sox in 2017. The Red Sox aren’t supposed to be treading water as the second-place team in the AL East. Fister is supposed to be pitching for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. The Red Sox are supposed to be building a super team led by a high-powered offense and a trio of aces in Chris Sale, Rich Porcello, and David Price.

Well, Boston might want to invest in a laminator, because their on-paper results certainly haven’t stuck in 2017. Fister is a Red Sox starter, 7.46 ERA and all, and per BP’s playoff odds, their chance of winning the division sits at just 30 percent. But fear not, Bostonians, all is not lost. Fister might be in your starting rotation, but … that’s a good thing now? The Red Sox had a pretty brutal on-paper matchup on Monday, with Fister set to face the defending American League champions, but as the club has found out, what’s on paper doesn’t always translate. Believe it or not, Mr. Fister found himself still on the mound in the eighth inning, throwing a shutout and putting away Cleveland batters with ease.

Alas, Fister’s shutout did not remain, but it’s hard to be upset about allowing just two runs over 7 2/3 innings, striking out five in the process. The 6-foot-8 righty’s lone mistake came on a Bradley Zimmer two-run home run, but the rest of his performance was enough to guide Boston to a 6-2 win.

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I’ve been writing about pitching, pitching, and more pitching thus far, so let’s talk some offense. Believe it or not, Astros’ bats had the best showing of the evening. No, really. Houston had little trouble taking off against Alex Cobb and the Rays, as the club touched Cobb up for eight runs before moving on to the bullpen for a continuation of the beatdown.

By the time the dust settled, the Astros had a 14-7 victory, with much of the production coming from the back of their lineup: Carlos Beltran, Alex Bregman, Tyler White, and Jake Marisnick—the Astros’ 6-9 batters—combined for an 8-for-15 day with 10 runs scored and nine RBIs. Marisnick was the star of the game, going deep twice and driving in five runs.

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The White Sox had a rollercoaster of a day, to put it lightly. Finally out of pieces to sell, they stood pat on deadline day, with their spoils from the previous month safely in their new homes. With a lineup featuring their crown jewel, Yoan Moncada, batting fifth, Chicago ran onto the field … and then into each other. I only joke now because both players involved appear to be okay, but the aforementioned Moncado and Wily Garcia were victims of a scary collision in the sixth inning, which resulted in Garcia leaving with a head injury and Moncada with a knee injury.

Both players were diagnosed with contusions to their respective injured body parts, and there’s a chance both avoid the disabled list. Considering how bad the collision looked initially, the White Sox must be relieved by that news.

Things only grew worse for the White Sox after the injuries, though—the missed catch allowed three runs to score, and Chicago went down 6-0 in the seventh inning. Alen Hanson began chipping away at the lead with a sacrifice fly to score Yolmer Sanchez, and the team burst through with a four-run eighth inning that was punctuated with back-to-back home runs by Matt Davidson and Sanchez to bring the deficit to just one run.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Adam Engel reached on an infield single, Leury Garcia made it first and second after being hit by a pitch, and with the White Sox down to their final out, Jose Abreu tied the game with an RBI single.

Davidson, already with a big home run to his name, battled Roberto Osuna in a six-pitch at-bat, eventually finding an outside cutter to his liking and punching it into center field to walk it off for his club.

Defensive Play of the Day

Danny Duffy had an excellent start on Monday, but his day may have gone awfully differently if Lorenzo Cain didn’t erase two runs from his line by robbing Chris Davis of a two-run dinger.

What to Watch Tuesday

The first day of August brings us a full slate of baseball, beginning at 7:05 pm ET. If you wait five minutes, though, you’ll catch possibly the best matchup of the evening with Chris Sale (2.37 ERA) facing off against Carlos Carrasco (3.58 ERA) at Fenway Park. At the same time, Max Scherzer (2.23 ERA) will look to top Gio Gonzalez’s near no-hitter against the Marlins.

Plenty other exciting arms will have take the mound on Tuesday, including Carlos Martinez (3.52 ERA), Jon Lester (3.88 ERA), Chris Archer (3.80 ERA), Marcus Stroman (3.08 ERA), and Jose Berrios (3.76 ERA). Just like on Monday, Tuesday may contain plenty of nail-biting pitcher’s duels.