As play began on Friday, 25 teams stood within two games of a playoff berth, including all 10 clubs in the East divisions. Let’s list the early games in order of the winner’s record:
@Brewers 5, Cubs 2 — What’s not to like? Matt Garza turned in Milwaukee’s 18th quality start, tied for the MLB lead. Three quick hits to start the 1st built a 2-0 Brewers lead, and they never looked back in racing to a 17-6 record. Their top three batters reached eight times, and each swiped a bag against Welington Castillo, who’s caught just one of 19 thieves. Three hits by Carlos Gomez gave the Crew five regulars over .300, a correct challenge led to an extra run, Khris Davis made a breathtaking grab, and K-Rod stayed doubly perfect with his 10th save and 13th scoreless outing (5 hits, 3 walks, 20 Ks).
- Scooter Gennett has a .321 BA through 304 career PAs. Big deal? Just three other second basemen had a .320 BA in at least 300 PAs through age 24: Riggs Stephenson (.335, finished at .336), Eddie Collins (.331, .333), and Nap Lajoie (.347, .338).
- Milwaukee was 20th in quality starts last year.
- Even Zach Duke is getting outs: 14 Ks, 1 walk, 2 runs in 10.1 IP.
- We should all look this good at 79 — and throw this well.
@Braves 5, Reds 4 — The first hiccup for Ervin Santana, but the outfield had his back. First Jason Heyward nailed Joey Votto at the plate to end the 1st, then the B/J-Up’s gave him a cozy cushion with a roller and a roundhouse 3-run punch. Santana sidestepped a leadoff double in the 2nd, and J-Hey stroked a 2-out ribby single. Down 5-0, the Reds got two back in the 6th, but a DP kept the damage down. Three more hits knocked out Santana in the 7th and cut the lead to one, while the Braves bats had gone quiet since the 3rd. Craig Kimbrel dug himself a hole in the 9th, a leadoff hit and then a 4-pitch walk to Zack Cozart. But Brayan Pena couldn’t get the bunt fair, then whiffed, and Kimbrel punched out Chris Heisey on three. Votto chopped the first pitch to 3B Chris Johnson; Freddie had to lay out for the throw, but the out call was upheld.
- Bringing back the Eisenhower Era: You know about Andrelton Simmons’s amazing contact rate (3 Ks in 81 PAs), but he also has just 2 free passes — a season rate of 22 strikeouts, 15 walks, in 600 PAs. The last players under 25 on both counts with 600 trips were Vic Power, 1960 and ’58, and Don Mueller, 1954-55.
- Only the Mets have taken a series from Atlanta so far.
Athletics 12, @Astros 5 — It was just a matter of time. Houston actually had their moments, wiping out a 5-1 deficit with a 4-run 4th, seeing Jesse Chavez for the second time in six days and giving him his first rough outing. It stayed tied to the 9th, when all hell broke loose. Josh Fields plunked Brandon Moss to start things off; and after Fields had failed to get an out, and Oakland batted around for 7 runs, capped by Josh Donaldson’s 7th homer, Moss was hit again.
- I haven’t followed the recent beanball contretemps between these clubs, but wasn’t this a little late to give the warning?
- Houston’s been outscored 124-73 in going 7-17.
- A’s now 20-4 against the ‘Stros as division foes, combined score 149-73.
Tigers 10, @Twins 6 — Nick Castellanos homered early and singled home a run as Detroit knocked out Kevin Correia with a 7-run 3rd inning, all three outs coming on two Miggy grounders. Rajai Davis had his second straight 3-hit game, now batting .354. Two doubles left Torii Hunter one shy of 8th place among career CFs; he’s 15th with 804 extra-base hits.
- Cabrera drove one off the wall, bidding for his 800th XBH, but the sharp carom held him to one base. Eight hits in his last four games, after his early funk.
- Twins starters’ ERA is 6.30. Since 1940, only one team had a starters’ mark that high.
- Brian Dozier hit his 7th HR, all solos; he has 9 RBI.
@Mets 4, Marlins 3 — A game of 2-strike turnarounds. New York blew a slim late lead, then broke Steve Cishek’s string of 33 straight saves, and walked off happy when Curtis Granderson’s hard grounder skipped past Garrett Jones. Bobby Abreu made a pinch-hit bid to bring in Lucas Duda with one out, but LF Christian Yelich was pinched in just enough to catch the sinking liner as a light mist fell. Down to their last strike, Omar Quintanilla sliced one lower and more to the line; Yelich took the hop tried to come up throwing, but he slipped, and the game was tied. Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit for Eric Young and ripped a double in the gap, but Marcell Ozuna cut it off before the track and hit the cutoff man, holding short-striding Quintanilla at third. Granderson came up 0-for-4, but he’d hit some balls hard, and this time Jones just didn’t get the glove down.
Reliever Gonzalez Germen whiffed the first two in the 8th, and he was heading for the dugout after a 2-2 pitch. But he didn’t get a call, and moments later, Salty got it all. Then Jones lunged for a low pitch and plinked it off the pole. The first home runs in six games off the Mets flipped the 2-1 lead they’d built behind Zack Wheeler, who landed 10 Fish in 6 innings, the last two with the tying run on third. He’d topped 7 Ks just once 21 prior starts.
- Cishek has a career 2.47 ERA, but the Mets have lit him up with 17 runs in 24 IP, and three of his seven blown saves since 2012. Patience was the key tonight; the last four batters took a total of nine pitches before they went to hitting, laying off the tempting sidearm tease that starts a strike but tails away.
- Daniel Murphy stole third without a throw, his 26th straight success, nine to that sack.
- On the other hand, here’s one of three that straight balls that Murphy muffed in the 9th. A mistimed jump let a liner tick off his glove. Then he whiffed that grounder, but got an amazing lucky bounce. Finally, a tailor-made DP rolled up his arm, but he corraled it in time for the turn.
- Get him early: Henderson Alvarez has yielded a career .280 BA in his first 75 pitches, .241 thereafter. He found his groove after New York scraped up two runs in the 3rd, with just a tainted groundball hit over the next three, before leaving for a PH.
- Unscheduled gift: No Jose Fernandez in this Mets series, nor the next if the cycle holds.
@Cardinals 1, Pirates 0 — Pittsburgh had beaten Shelby Miller in all five prior meetings, ripping 9 HRs and a 1.063 OPS. He scuffled early, but the DP bailed him out of two jams, and Pat Neshek stranded the tying run on second when he replaced Miller in the 6th. Matt Carpenter bunted safely on Gerritt Cole’s first pitch, Matt Holliday doubled him home, and it stood up. Carlos Martinez was cornered with no outs in the 8th, but Starling Marte’s false start on a comebacker damped the threat. A wild pitch built it up again, but the last five Bucs went down on strikes, and Pittsburgh fell to 9-15.
- My brother vigorously disagrees, but I love how replay’s working. Watching live, I would not have dreamed that Pedro Alvarez got this tag down in time. But he did, and a wrong call was made right. (Watch from 2:56 for the conclusive view.)
@Nationals 11, Padres 1 — Stephen Strasburg fanned 11 in 7 scoreless innings, Anthony Rendon has his first 4-hit game, and Bryce Harper plated four with two hits, but jammed his wrist sliding for his 3-run triple. Strasburg had men aboard in six frames, but he ducked the raindrops with two DPs and a bags-full flyout on a 3-1 count.
- Remember Strasburg’s talk of “pitching to contact” last year? His third double-digit game left him with 54 Ks in 34 IP.
- Kevin Quackenbush made his big-league debut. My glee runneth over. (Wait — Groucho was Dr. Hackenbush? How did I manage to mishear that?)
@White Sox 9, Rays 6 — Grant Balfour doused himself with gasoline, Jose Abreu lit the match, and Chicago walked off unlikely winners. Evan Longoria’s 9th-inning blast off Matt Lindstrom had built a 6-4 lead and cashed the 10th of 11 walks from ChiSox hurlers, who’ve now doled out a numbing 114 passes in 215 IP. Tampa had issued none through eight frames, but two Balfour freebies filled the sacks after a one-out double. Adam Eaton beat out a slightly hesitant relay on what Hawk took for a game-ending double play, and a 5-pitch walk to Marcus Semien gave Abreu one last shot. He’d already homered to dead center and singled home another; now he short-stroked the outside fastball that leaked over, and powered it into the RF bullpen.
- Three walks helped drive the Rays’ 4-run eruption with two gone in the 2nd, driving out starter Eric Johnson. Tampa had many chances after that — two on in the 3rd through 6th, leadoff hit in the 7th — but the Sox turned three DPs, and the Rays went 0-for-7 in those RBI spot.
- Two other searchable win-from-behind slams by ChiSox: Robin Ventura off Goose Gossage, 1991; Gary Redus off Dale Mahorcic, 1988.
Royals 5, @Orioles 0 — KC scored two quick runs off Ubaldo Jimenez, and Yordano Ventura worked a career-best 8 innings, as both clubs leveled their season marks at 11-11. Billy Butler drove in the first run with a single, and the last with a double, the game’s only extra-base hit.
- Despite all the shifts we see now, this is the first great diving play I’ve noticed by a “shortstop” playing on the other side.
- Manny Ma-who-do? Jonathan Schoop looks mighty smooth at that hot corner. My favorite part is how coolly he got up: He knew the runner, and he knew his arm. I read somewhere that J.J. Hardy’s wondering why his contract extension talks are going nowhere. I’ll guessing that Machado’s headed back to short in the near future.
Angels 13, @Yankees 1 — LA gave Hiroki Kuroda a career-worst spanking, 8 runs in 4.2 innings, then kept the party going with 4 runs of longball in Bruce Billings’s Yankee debut. Albert launched his 9th, but most of the damage came from deeper down. The #5-9 spots went 13 for 24, 11 runs, 10 ribs, 3 HRs, while #1-2 went 0-for-10.
- Kuroda got 2 strikes on five men in the first three frames, but all hit safely.
- Yanks are 13-10, but outscored 110-100. Almost half the runs allowed came in four blowouts.
Red Sox 8, @Blue Jays 1 — All good streaks must end. Mark Buehrle had allowed a run or less his first four outings, tying his career best. Boston brought that crashing down with a 4-run 2nd inning, with doubles by the rookies Bogaerts and Bradley, and Papi made it 5-0 in the 3rd with his 5th HR. Jake Peavy went seven strong, with breathing room to laugh off a tape-measure blast and earn his first win out of four quality starts.
- Bradley had another double and a triple, the 11th time since 1914 that a Red Sox had 3 XBH from the 9th spot. (You can probably guess who had the first two.)
- Buehrle failed to record strikeout for the first time in 100 starts, back to Opening Day 2011.
- Chris Capuano fanned the side in the 8th. That’s 14 IP, nine baserunners, no runs — most innings by anyone yet unscathed.
- No wonder Jose Bautista hung his head after this play: caught stealing third, two on, one out, behind 5-zip.
@Mariners 6, Rangers 5 — Justin Smoak’s skein of frustration with the bases full ended with two huge plays in the late innings, leading Seattle to a second straight win for the first time since they swept the opening series.
Smoak went 0 for 12 last year with three men on, including eight strikeouts and a double play, mostly from the 7th inning onward. And despite coming through earlier this year to end an 0-for-22 streak with bases loaded, Smoak’s career tally said 3 for 31 when he stepped in against Neal Cotts, the southpaw who was so effective last year after eons lost at sea. The score was 3-2, the count the same, when Smoak jumped a fastball and whacked a long liner to the left corner, just out of reach for Michael Choice. Two scored then, and two more quickly followed. But a 3-run lead almost wasn’t big enough for Fernando Rodney, who couldn’t find the strike zone despite the compass on his cap.
Three straight one-out freebies forced in two and set the stage for Adrian Beltre, who had already trumpeted his DL return with a scoring double to deep center. This time, the all-fields hitter went with Rodney’s pitch and sent it screaming towards the first-base line, with “ballgame” blazed upon it. But Smoak turned that meaning to his own devices. With barely time for any steps at all, he dived left, gloved the rocket with his right hand, bounced up and touched the bag to complete a game-ending double play.
- More M’s good news: Robby Cano’s no longer limited to singles in Safeco.
Seeing Roenis Elias and Yoervis Medina in the box score reminds me … Have you noticed how many current first names are unique in MLB history? Adeiny Hechavarria, Andrelton Simmons, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Everth Cabrera all are starting shortstops. Dayan Viciedo, Denard Span, Dioner Navarro, Ehire Adrianza, Gerardo Parra, Josmil Pinto, Kenley Jansen, Kole Calhoun, Kolten Wong, Leonys Martin, Leury Garcia, Rajai Davis, Salvador Perez, Starlin Castro/Starling Marte, and then a big run at the alphabet’s tail end — Welington Castillo, Wilin Rosario, Xander Bogaerts, Yadier Molina, Yangervis Solarte, Yasiel Puig, Yasmani Grandal, Yoenis Cespedes, Yonder Alonso, Yunel Escobar.
And that’s not even counting unique spelling variants like Jedd Gyorko, Khris Davis, Marcell Ozuna.
By the way, I hope Roenis Elias shares a name with dad or son. I need there to be a Roenis, Senior.
@Giants 5, Cleveland 1 — Tim Hudson finally walked a man (Carlos Santana, twice), but little else went wrong in his seven innings as he improved to 3-1, 2.19. Mike Morse plated a pair, including his 6th HR, and Hunter Pence found Triples Alley, as San Fran landed well at home after a 2-4 road trip. Cleveland’s #1-4 hitters reached eight times, but nos. 5-8 went 0 for 16.
- Hudson’s gone 7+ IP nine straight games dating to last year, matching his career long. Neither string had any CG.
- Carlos Carrasco hasn’t managed a quality start his last eight tries. He’s 10-22, 5.66 in 44 career starts.
- Having more walks than hits is rare enough, but Santana has twice as many — 20 walks, 10 hits in 75 ABs. Nineteen players have had a year with 500 PAs and more walks than hits, 4 each by Barry Bonds and Maxie Bishop, 3 by Gene Tenace and Jimmy Wynn.
- This was scored a triple for Michael Bourn, despite Pence’s obvious error. A fielder with “ordinary effort” gloves that carom and easily holds Bourn to a double. Pence did get an error in the 9th on a dropped liner.
Rockies 5, @Dodgers 4 (11 inn.) — Brandon Barnes started a 3-run uprising with a pinch-double, and the tack-on runs proved vital as a 2-run shot by Adrian Gonzalez still left LA one short. Charlie Blackmon, still looking like Player of the Month, delivered Barnes for the lead, then swiped his 7th bag to further the insurance fund. Gonzo’s 7th goner came with no outs, but the home nine could get no further against LaTroy Hawkins, who stayed perfect in seven save tries. Matt Kemp would have hit next, but he’d been too contentious after Angel Hernandez rung him up on an outside pitch in the 8th.
Josh Beckett surrendered two home runs in the 2nd, but the rest of his eight innings were almost spotless.
- A daring peg by Wilin Rosario paid off with a DP on a sac attempt. On second thought, what risk? — he could have gone around the horn and still retired Tim Federowicz. If there’s a slower under-40 player going home-to-first, I wouldn’t like to see him.
- LA’s pitchers are 12 for 86 with one RBI. No, wait — that’s their catchers.
- Who doesn’t love an infield double? And when it’s followed by a 2-out, tying ribby rap, we get the warm-‘n’-fuzzies. (Bunting strike three foul while leading off, however….)
- Benching Carl Crawford might seem the simplest resolution of LA’s crowded outfield — but their other lefty swinger, Andre Ethier, is dragging at a similar clip, and Kemp‘s done little outside one 2-HR game. That’s $57 million worth of outfield hitting a combined .201 so far.
@Diamondbacks 5, Phillies 4 — A streak; a palpable streak! Swing-man Josh Collmenter produced Arizona’s first scoreless effort by a starter with six efficient innings, four singles, no walks. Aaron Hill drove in three with two long hits, and the Snakes won their third straight (and first at home since April 1), surviving a bullpen near-collapse when Addison Reed buried a 1-2 pitch that was too close for John Mayberry to take.
- Jimmy Rollins stole second with 2 outs in the 9th, getting into scoring position as the tying run. Then Chase Utley was walked intentionally, bringing up John Mayberry. Harold Reynolds criticized the steal for “taking the bat out of Utley’s hands.” Utley’s the better hitter, sure, but aren’t Mayberry’s odds of delivering Rollins from second better than those of Utley scoring him from first? Harold’s found his groove as an entertaining commentator on MLB-TV, but there’s still plenty of old-school knee-jerk reaction in his game.
- “Zombie Night“? Maybe it was meant to “liven up” their living-dead ballclub, but that’s just weird.
Phillies 7, @Dodgers 3 — Fourteen superb innings last summer, in his return from T.J. surgery, were enough to earn Brian Wilson a two-year deal for about $19 million. Four abysmal innings this year are making Wilson’s agent look shrewd for getting the second year as a player option. Wilson’s -0.945 WPA is 6th-worst so far among those with at least five appearances.
- “I’m over my head … but it sure feels nice.” Juan Uribe had a career .253 BA and 85 OPS+ in his first 13 seasons, never hitting over .289 as a regular. So far he’s at .330 with a 150 OPS+, thanks to a BAbip near .400. Also of note, Uribe’s ratio of 22 strikeouts and 2 walks — a season pace of 155 SO/14 W. The highest ratio ever with 500 PAs was 10.67 by Pudge Rodriguez, 2007.
- Carlos Ruiz is finding the gaps again. His percentage of extra-base hits last year was the worst among regular catchers (21 XBH/83 H), but 10 of his 17 hits this year have gone for extras.
Ben Revere has one extra-bagger out of 23 hits this year. His career path so far is historic:
- His career rate of 1.155 total bases per hit is the 4th-lowest in the live-ball era among non-pitchers with 300+ hits.
- His rate of doubles per hit (31/394) is the lowest in that group.
- A Francoeurian walk rate makes Revere’s career .285 BA a mere figment; his ratio of OPS to BA is 4th-worst of all modern non-pitchers with 1,000 PAs. (Roy Thomas at least would take a walk.) His 82 OPS+ is 97th out of 102 active outfielders with 1,000 PAs.
And his speed doesn’t come close to compensating for all that. Revere’s scoring rate as a leadoff man ranks 42nd out of 51 players with at least 600 PAs in that role since 2010.
Joe Thatcher has been one bright spot in Arizona. His good work, and their dearth of capable pitchers, have lifted him from the LOOGy ranks. Thatcher’s stranded 11 of 12 inherited runners in his 10 outings, and the only ER charged to him was in a game already out of hand.