Fourteen of the 52 starters with sub-3 ERAs took the hill Sunday, with five pairs squaring off; another was rained out. Most lived up to their billing.
@Braves 1, Reds 0 (10 inn.) — The mind boggles. Atlanta’s allowed 58 runs through 24 games, with 17 starts of one run or less — three more than any other team since at least 1914. Freddie Freeman was hitless in four trips against Johnny Cueto, but he came through in the end off a fresh-summoned lefty, after Heyward and B.J. kept the inning alive with 2-out hits. That’s his 7th game-ending RBI since 2011, tying teammate Justin Upton for the MLB lead in that time.
- Cueto matched Julio Teheran with 8 scoreless innings on 3 hits, for a 1.15 ERA through six starts (no UER). He’s the first Red since Jim Maloney with three straight starts of 8+ IP and 3 hits or less.
- Freeman’s biggest growth in the last year-plus has been hitting lefties. After a .240 BA in his first two full years, he hit .287 last year and 9 for 26 this year, with 2 HRs.
- Atlanta’s played five 1-0 games, winning three. The three 1-0 wins ties the searchable record for 24 games, done by five other teams 1967 and earlier.
- Granted, the modern trend of shorter starts favors such results as “one run or less.” But even with an added requirement of 7+ innings, Atlanta’s 10 such starts through 24 games have been topped only twice since 1969 — the ’85 Mets and the ’81 Indians both had 11.
@Yankees 3, Angels 2 — Masahiro Tanaka remains unbeaten in living memory. Mark Teixeira manhandled a high fastball from Garrett Richards, tying the game in the 7th and unhooking Tanaka, who left in the top half with 11 Ks but trailing 2-1. The winning run in the 8th was a 100% tax-deductible contribution: two walks, a passed ball on a textbook strike (see 0:23), and then a classic “55-footer.”
Tanaka fanned Trout and Pujols three times in six trips (one single, one walk), but he was pulled with one out in the 7th and that duo up next. Trout singled off Adam Warren, but Albert erased him with his 6th GDP, 4-4-3 into the shift.
- All eyes turned to Jacoby Ellsbury after his leadoff walk in the 8th: How would his speed tilt the outcome? Would the Bombers “manufacture” a run? Michael Kohn holds runners well, and he threw over often; when Ellsbury did run, Jeter fouled off the pitch. But thanks to a self-assaulting battery, even Ernie Lombardi could have completed the circuit.
- Three 10-K games in the first 5 career outings: Tanaka, and Mark Prior. Seven-plus Ks each of the first 5 games: Tanaka, Strasburg and Jose DeLeon. Strasburg had 48 Ks, 7 walks through 5 games; Tanaka, 46/6.
- I know it’s petty, but the term “55-footer” bugs me. You could watch baseball all year and not see a pitch truly fit that description. Fifty-five feet from the slab is still grass in most parks; how many pitches have you ever seen hit grass? Either way, Nick Maronde’s 0-and-2 slider to Brian McCann was buried.
- It’s not how many times you fall down, but how many times you hustle back up and fire a strike to the cutoff man. Ichiro’s 40, and far from the player he was. But he still honors the game every time out. Shushou.
@Cardinals 7, Pirates 0 — Adam Wainwright’s 3rd straight scoreless outing, summing to 9 hits in those 24 innings — but alas, his hitting streak ended at four games, one off his career best. Jhonny Peralta broke the Cards’ homerless string at 10 games with bombs in consecutive innings off Edinson Volquez.
Volquez had his first bad result for the Bucs, mainly due to Peralta, but his remarkable change in control continued, with just one walk. He’s walked two or less in all five starts, which he’s done just once before. Volquez has never walked less than 4 per 9 innings in any season, but he’s at 1.6 BB/9 so far with Pittsburgh.
- The Pirates have scored 2 runs or less in 14 of 26 games, tied with the Padres for most in MLB. The Cards are next, with 13 such games.
- Since Bob Gibson in ’68, only Wainwright and John Tudor have had 3 straight scoreless games of 7+ innings. Tudor did it in September ’85, capped by this memorable Mets crusher.
@Mets 4, Marlins 0 –Dillon Gee started the 8th inning near his 90-pitch expiration date, but he crashed past it to whiff the first two men on a combined 17 pitches, and complete 8 scoreless innings for the first time. David Wright backed him up with an RBI double, just his 4th extra-base hit, and some sweet “D”. Daniel Murphy also lent a hand.
Tom Koehler is no household name, yet the Miami righty came in at 2-1, 2.13, with four straight games of 6+ IP and 2 runs or less. But his command was off, with 4 walks and a plunk while slogging through 109 pitches in just 5 innings.
- Chris Young missed a home run just foul, then nailed one fair later in the at-bat. I must have seen a Met do that before, but I can’t recall one.
- Mets fans, if you had known in advance that the first 25 games would bring a .218 team BA, .149 from your two free-agent outfielders, .216 from Travis d’Arnaud, .200 from Ruben Tejada, one HR from Wright, Juan Lagares out with a hammy and Bobby Parnell lost for the year — could you have imagined this team being 14-11? They’ve been oddly efficient, averaging exactly 4 runs a game, but scoring at least 4 sixteen times — tied for the NL lead! — and winning twelve of those.
@Astros 5, Athletics 1 — Collin McHugh fell one batter short of a one-hit shutout, but he still led the ‘Stros to a split with their nemeses. McHugh had carved up the Mariners Tuesday in his season debut, but he scuffled early, loading the bags with two walks before escaping the 1st. Then he retired 24 of 25 A’s, before hitting Brandon Moss (who else?) with two outs in the 9th, a result of review. After Moss stole second, Alberto Callaspo singled him home with Oakland’s second hit, ending McHugh’s day at 114 pitches.
Keystone contributors: SS Jonathan Villar paced the offense from the #9 hole, scoring the first run after a 3rd-inning double, and plating the next pair on a three-bagger with two gone in the 7th. Jose Altuve crunched Dan Otero’s next pitch for his first HR, giving McHugh a cushion to work on his gem.
- McHugh has pitched 17 times, 11 starts, three with a Game Score of 80+. Since 1999, only Tim Lincecum also has three 80s within his first 20 outings. This year, only Martin Perez also has back-to-back 80s.
- He’s the first Houston starter to last more than 7 IP this year. Now, only the Rockies haven’t had any starter get an out in the 8th.
@White Sox 9, Rays 2 — A bright day for long-in-the-tooth rookies. Scott Carroll made his big-league debut at age 29, beating David Price with 7.1 innings and one earned run, while the 27-year-old emigre Jose Abreu smacked his 10th homer and drove in four.
- With 31 RBI in his first 26 career games, Abreu trails only Mandy Brooks, who was also 27 when he plated 34 in his first 26 for the 1925 Cubs. (Brooks batted .390-9-34 in his first 26 games, but he finished at .281-14-72, and lasted just one more season.)
- Abreu’s also the 5th player with 10 or more HRs in his first 26 games, joining George Scott, Chris Davis, Zeke Bonura and Kevin Maas. And he’s the first player known to have four games of 4+ RBI in his first 26.
- FWIW, “most [whatever] in April” is a total crap stat. From 1916 through 1968, MLB teams averaged 13 games in April, with a high of 18. Since 1996, teams have averaged 25 April games.
Carroll is the first American-born player since 1986 to go 7+ IP on 2 runs or less in a debut at age 29 or older, and the first since 1954 to win such an outing. (That late-success story was Brooks Lawrence, who went 15-6 as a swingman for the ’54 Cards, and 35-23 for the 1956-57 Reds.)
Carroll had the first ChiSox debut of 7+ and 2- since the original Roberto Hernandez in 1991. Ironically, Hernandez got clocked in his next two starts, so they tried him in the bullpen. Hernandez had pitched in relief just once coming up through the minors, but the switch took; he logged a 1.98 ERA in his first two full seasons. Hernandez never started again after those first three, making his last 1,007 appearances in relief. (Oh, and we can’t miss a name-check of Little Dickey Kerr, who had the first such Sox debut in April 1919, and went on to much greater distinction that fall.)
- David Price: 6 straight games with 6+ Ks and one walk or less, longest of that kind in almost 4 years. He has 47 Ks, 5 walks, but a 4.75 ERA.
@Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 1 — A tight game turned in the 7th. Steve Delabar preserved a 2-1 lead by untangling R.A. Dickey’s 2nd-and-3rd, one-out mess, and doubles by Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie pushed the lead up to three against Jon Lester. Double-E tacked on a late 2-run double, for 12 RBI in his last 13 games after none in his first 12.
- Lawrie’s double and 6th HR gave him 20 RBI and 16 hits. Just two players in MLB history have had more RBI than hits in a year of 50+ RBI — Paul Sorrento (1995), and Mark McGwire (four times). How’s Lawrie doing it? He’s only 5 for 50 with bases empty, but 5 for 12 with two or more on base, 3 HRs, 13 RBI.
- Jose Bautista’s season-starting on-base streak reached 25 games,
Royals 9, @Orioles 3 — Omar Infante drove in the first two runs with outs, then added two 2-run long hits, tying his career-high 6 RBI set just last September, and pacing KC’s season-high output. James Shields won his third straight by blanking the O’s into the 6th. The Royals ripped open a close game with 4 runs in the 8th, all starting from Nori Aoki’s bunt single with two outs, none on.
- I love all-out play in the outfield. But even more than the diving catch, I love David Lough’s read and break; ditto SD’s Wil Venable.
- Can you name the seven players with 30+ steals each of the past two years? Answers below.
Padres 4, @Nationals 2 — Rookie reliever Aaron Barrett walked in two runs with 2 outs in the 6th, pushing SD’s lead to three. Through Saturday, there had been 45 bases-full walks in 647 plate appearances this year, 7.0%. The walk rate in other situations with first base occupied was 7.1%.
- Huston Street has cashed 65 of 68 save tries since joining the Padres in 2012. He’s not the most durable or the most flashy, but game for game, he’s as effective as anyone.
@Mariners 6, Rangers 5 — Kyle Seager homered in his last two at-bats, the second a 3-run job with two outs in the 8th that completed Seattle’s comeback from a 5-0 deficit. Texas southpaw Matt Harrison made a strong return from a year lost to back surgeries, yielding 2 runs in 6 IP. Alexi Ogando started the home 8th ahead by 5-3, struck out the first two on six pitches, and pumped two strikes past Justin Smoak. But in just five more pitches, the lead vanished. Smoak doubled to the opposite field on 1-2, and pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley beat out a first-pitch grounder to short. Seager took a pitch, then socked his go-ahead homer deep down the right-field line. Fernando Rodney closed out with two three-pitch whiffs, capping a 5.1-IP, one-hit contribution by the Seattle ‘pen.
Cubs 4, @Brewers 0 — Seven scoreless by Jason Hammel for his 4th win, half the team’s total. Five straight quality starts, a personal best, and he’s had better support than their other starters.
- With two on in the 2nd, Jason Hammel bunted into an inning-ending DP. It’s the 7th DP turned in about 150 sac attempts by pitchers this year, and the 4th in less than 30 tries with men on first and second.
@Giants 4, Cleveland 1 — The right move sometimes goes wrong. With two outs in the 9th, winning run on second, right-hander Cody Allen intentionally walked Brandon Crawford to face Brandon Hicks, a righty batter and .163 career hitter. But Allen’s 1-0 pitch was a chest-high fastball that Hicks hammered into the left-field stands, his second walk-off among five career homers.
Starters Ryan Vogelsong and Danny Salazar each came in with an ERA over 7.70, but they combined to allow just one run on 7 hits over 14 innings. Yan Gomes was the first man up after Vogelsong left, and he tied the game with a high-arcing home run off Santiago Casilla, Cleveland’s first blast in six games.
- Hicks’s first-ever HR was a notable game-winner in 2012: He pinch-ran in the 7th, and scored the tying run from first base on a 2-out double. He stayed in at SS, and hit the walk-off in his only trip to the plate. That’s one of six known walk-off HRs by a player who scored as a pinch-runner and batted just once.
- Hicks has just 23 career hits, but 5 HRs and 8 doubles.
Phillies 2, @D-backs 0 — A.J. Burnett went 8 scoreless innings with no walks, and Chase Utley was the crux of both Philly runs, as they climbed over .500 for the second time this year. Brandon McCarthy was good on the mound — 12 Ks, 1 walk in 7 IP — but his shortfall in two key at-bats helped keep the Snakes off the board. McCarthy’s bunt attempt with two on in the 3rd got the lead man erased, and the next hit a DP grounder. Then he followed Chris Owings’s one-out triple in the 5th with a grounder back to Burnett, and that threat expired.
- Sure, it’s harsh lay blame on McCarthy’s offense — after all, he’s the worst active hitter with at least 50 ABs (1 for 58) — but if he’s going to improve on his 0-5 start, he may well have to help himself. Arizona’s totaled 4 runs in his last four losses.
- Burnett worked 8 shutout innings for the first time since his 2012 no-no bid.
Rockies 6, @Dodgers 1 — Since 2013, the Rox are 8-5 in Dodger Stadium, 27-55 in all other road venues.
Last of the 1st, no score, Dee Gordon on with a bunt hit. Yasiel Puig bunted the first pitch, bidding for a hit, the out going down as a sacrifice. It was a good bunt, something Puig does well, and he almost beat it. But I hate that play. Nolan Arenado is a spectacular third baseman. The pitcher was Jorge De La Rosa, a lefty; Puig’s hit .331/.944 against southpaws in his short career. And Gordon was leading the majors with 12 steals in 13 tries; De La Rosa doesn’t hold runners well, and catcher Jordan Pacheco had thrown out just one of 14 thieves in his 25 career games. At least give Gordon a couple of pitches to steal — as he did, in the next at-bat. Puig rarely hits into a DP. It’s just not how I’d play that first inning.
But game situations often escape Yasiel’s grasp. Saturday, he ran into an egregious out at third base, ending the 8th and nullifying a run that would have scored easily on the flyout — and with Adrian Gonzalez due up. The right fielder was clearly lined up for a throw to third, conceding the run. LA led by 6-2 at the time, so the run didn’t seem crucial; but Colorado loaded the bags with one out in the 9th. Point is, the value of advancing to third with two outs is so minimal, and the risk so great.
He’s still young, but it’s time to start cutting down on these mistakes.
Belatedly, from Saturday:
Rays 5, @White Sox 0 — 16 walks, 10 Ks so far for Ben Zobrist. Two active players have had a season with 100+ walks and and at least 50% more walks than strikeouts. I’ll bet you can guess one of them, but only one.
Welcome back, Juan Carlos Oviedo! Or, as we once knew you, ___ ____.
Answers — 30 SB in both 2012-13: Jose Altuve, Everth Cabrera, Rajai Davis, Jarrod Dyson, Carlos Gomez, Jason Kipnis and Mike Trout.