The Tuesday Takeaway
While baseball pales in comparison to the tragic events currently unfolding in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, it can also bring a sense of normalcy and comfort to those who are living through anything but. With that in mind, the Rangers and Astros playing their first game since the storm is a small step in the direction toward recovery, toward the light at the end of the tunnel which so many are grasping for in these trying times.
It’s unlikely many will remember a random Tuesday game in which the Rangers blew out the Astros 12-2 at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay, but the feelings that came from this one game, of collective anguish, hope, and inspiration, will stick in our minds for a long time.
And while playing the game itself serves an important symbolic value, it’s also worth recognizing the generosity of the teams and players who reached out to help Texas rebuild. All revenue generated from the Rangers-Astros series will be donated to hurricane relief efforts, and individual clubs also pitched in directly to get victims back on their feet as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately for the Astros, Mike Fiers was helpless against Rangers bats, allowing eight runs over four innings. Much of the damage came from Elvis Andrus, as he smacked a pair of doubles and a triple in a standout, 4-for-5 day.
Martin Perez was solid on the hill for Texas, throwing seven innings of two-run ball and lowering his ERA on the season to 4.89. That isn’t quite the rebound I hoped for when I dubbed him the "oldest 26-year-old ever" a few weeks ago, but it certainly was a solid start for the southpaw.
In other pitching news, 24-year-old third baseman J.D. Davis managed to throw a perfect inning on the mound, striking out one and hitting 92.4 mph on the gun with a very solid two-seam fastball. Seriously (not seriously), the former college closer looked pretty damn good out there if this whole hitting thing doesn’t work out.
Davis had to share the position-player-pitching limelight, though, as Mets catcher Kevin Plawecki also got a chance to strut his stuff. He wasn’t quite as Kimbrel-esque as Davis, but the backstop went a scoreless inning himself, giving up just one hit and inducing a double play on … 12 changeups? PITCHf/x might have been just a bit fooled by Plawecki’s lack of velocity, though I prefer the changeups-only theory.
If you’re wondering why New York ended up using Plawecki as a pitcher, then you probably haven’t seen enough Mets games this season. The simple answer, one that most fans have come to terms with at this point, is that the Mets Mets’d. In more detail: Chris Flexen Flexen’d to the tune of seven runs over 4 2/3 innings to raise his ERA on the year to 6.89, and Chasen Bradford Bradford’d by giving up seven runs (only four earned, thanks to two Wilmer Flores errors) without recording a single out in the eighth inning.
Following Jake Arrieta’s free agent experience this offseason will be a fun ride. A 31-year-old former Cy Young winner in peak physical condition and coming off four straight excellent seasons shouldn’t be such a controversial buy, but his stock is in flux due to performance, health, and velocity concerns that have persisted over the past two seasons.
For the optimist: Arrieta has a 1.69 ERA since the start of July (69 1/3 innings) and his velocity is climbing over that span after dipping to career lows. He’s always been a slow starter and a strong finisher (his first- and second-half ERAs differ by nearly a full run), and the righty looks like vintage Arrieta of late. If he continues this performance, there’s reason to believe the pre-break struggles are behind him.
For the pessimist: Arrieta may be able to rebound from this year’s poor start, but his margin for error is rapidly shrinking as his velocity falls and age climbs. Known as an injury-prone pitcher in the past, Arrieta’s trademark sinker as plunged from 95 mph in 2013 to 92.5 mph this season, and his results have gone downhill as well. He had a 4.67 ERA over the first three months, and as good as he’s been recently, the whiffs aren’t all the way back. In a market starved for starting pitching, he’s a fine option, but there are lots of red flags.
Depending on which side you fall, you may be rooting for your favorite team to recruit Arrieta or praying they steer clear. He’s a controversial player, and it’s easy to see why. Tuesday’s performance is a good example, as his six shutout innings (with a pair of hits and walks) show a very solid starter, but the meager three whiffs induced all night are a far cry from the strikeout arm Arrieta once was. Maybe the Ks will come around, or maybe his results will be good enough to overlook the lack of strikeouts, but there’s plenty to be worried about with this profile despite the improved run prevention.
For some reason, in a time when baseball fans seem acutely aware of the historical significance for standout performances, we’ve failed to recognize just how incredible Chris Sale has been in his seven big-league seasons. Everyone knows Sale is great, and that he’s been great for a while, but we don’t seem to cite his seasons with the same historical context that Mike Trout or Bryce Harper get. Perhaps it’s because his style of pitching seems so violent and unsustainable that we simply struggle to imagine Sale being historically good for nearly a decade, but the lanky lefty has, up to this point in his career, been the greatest strikeout pitcher of all time, and that’s no hyperbole.
With a K in the second inning, Sale reached 1,500 strikeouts faster than any other pitcher in MLB history, needing just 1,290 total innings to do so. That’s 13 innings fewer than Kerry Wood, 47 fewer than Pedro Martinez, 75 2/3 fewer than Randy Johnson, and 94 2/3 fewer than Nolan Ryan to round out the top five. Sale’s strikeout rates are unprecedented, and it’s time we start talking about him in the same breath as this generation’s other historically great pitcher, Clayton Kershaw.
Oh, and Sale certainly didn’t slow down with his performance on Tuesday night. As we’ve come to expect, the Cy Young (and possibly MVP) frontrunner went seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and striking out 11 to lower his ERA on the season to 2.77. He’s good, folks. As in, all-time good.
If there was one pitcher I expected to have a breakout season in 2017 after just a week of baseball, it was Dylan Bundy. The oft-injured former top prospect kicked off the season with seven innings of one-run ball, striking out eight and displaying an electric changeup/curveball pairing to go with a very solid fastball. With health, I figured he was a good bet to keep up the performance.
While Bundy has stayed on the field all season, the underperforming righty held a 4.18 ERA going into Tuesday’s start. Well, call me stupid, but I’ve hopped back on the Bundy bandwagon after seeing him show that tantalizing potential yet again against the Mariners. Bundy pitched his way to one of the best performances of any starting pitcher this season, throwing a shutout and allowing just one hit. The righty also walked two and struck out 12 in the process, bringing his ERA below 4.00 and giving Orioles fans a reason to be excited in what’s been a rough season.
Bundy showed five solid offerings in this one, leading with a low-90s fastball and nasty slider while keeping hitters off balance with a curveball, changeup, and two-seamer. He doesn’t look like the same pitcher who was drafted fourth overall back in 2011, nor the arm who flashed excellent upside to start this season, and that’s perfectly fine. The triple-digit heaters have been replaced with a wide arsenal of pitches that continue trading places as the out-pitch this season, and once Bundy can find a consistent harmony with his promising slider, changeup, and curveball, we could be looking at a dominant pitcher.
Giancarlo Stanton. Number 51. 440 feet. Enough said.
Defensive Play of the Day
A pitcher catching a comebacker is always a thrilling and fun play, but it reaches a new level when the pitcher goes bare-handed. Also, this is a heck of a showing of athleticism from Matt Garza, who threw his full bodyweight in one direction while delivering the pitch and quickly had to reverse course to make this snag.
What to Watch on Wednesday
Due to inclement weather, we’ll have the pleasure of watching a double double-header on Wednesday, with both the Braves/Phillies and Indians/Yankees playing two. Elsewhere in baseball, Milwaukee is hosting an intriguing pitching matchup with Chase Anderson (2.87 ERA) facing off against Carlos Martinez (3.48 ERA) of the Cardinals at 2:10 pm ET.
Justin Verlander (3.90 ERA), center of trade rumors which may or may not come to fruition this offseason, will look to continue improving his stock in Colorado at 3:10 pm ET. You may have to take small breaks from Verlander’s start, though, to catch Giancarlo Stanton’s must-watch at bats against Stephen Strasburg (3.10 ERA), who will throw at 4:05 pm ET.
Later in the evening, a host of exciting arms will throw, including the dominant Dallas Keuchel (2.58 ERA), electric-but-inconsistent Jose Berrios (4.04 ERA), breakout suprise Robbie Ray (3.06 ERA), and downright confusing Parker Bridwell (2.89 ERA).