This is my first post in what I hope will become a series as the season progresses (I’ll take my cue from our reader response, or lack thereof). I’ll be picking a series each week, or maybe two, involving the leading teams, and see what nuggets I can pull out of the games or, perhaps more likely, gems that you contribute through your comments.
So, to start, I’m looking at this inter-league rivalry matchup between the NL East leader and, as the series begins, the second place team in the AL East, just a half game in arrears of the leading Yankees. It’s a four game home-and-home set, starting in Baltimore and finishing in D.C. More after the jump.
Game 1 matched Gio Gonzalez against Kevin Gausman, the latter needing just 10 pitches to dispatch the Nats in order to start the game. In the bottom of the inning, three of the first six Orioles homered as the O’s took a quick 4-0 lead they would not relinquish. Gonzalez, who had been sharp this season (1.64 ERA entering the game) has a history of first inning struggles. Here are his career results in the first inning, with many of them the worst of any inning, and often by healthy margins.
|Next worst inning||123||231||42||22||68||108||2.02||.333||.365||.698|
Baltimore would add two more in a fourth inning notable on a couple of levels: Jonathan Schoop saw a 3-0 count, something that rarely happens (four times in 2016, none in 2015); and Caleb Joseph picked up an RBI, something that didn’t happen at all last year (he drove in Schoop who held true to form and did *not* draw a walk). Washington would add singleton runs in four frames as the game progressed, but the issue was never really in doubt. Final score: Orioles 6, Nats 4.
Game 2 pitted Nats’ ace Max Scherzer against the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez. Scherzer was Scherzer and Jimenez was on his game this night, with a solo homer the only blemish on both pitchers’ dockets through 7 innings. Jimenez was greeted by back-to-back singles to start the eighth, but when he whiffed Chris Heisey on three pitches (running his game total to 101), O’s manager Buck Showalter rolled the dice and stuck with him to face lefty pinch-hitter Adam Lind. Snake eyes! Lind crushed a 1-1 pitch to dead center and the Nats were ahead 4-1 with six outs to go. Easy to fault Showalter for staying with Jimenez for one batter too long but, in his defense, the Birds have just one healthy left-handed reliever (Donnie Hart, with all of 28.1 career IP, but a glowing 0.95 ERA), and Jimenez has handled Lind well (5 for 23) over his career. Still, Lind has almost no power against southpaws (one HR in his list 150+ PA), so it might have made sense to go to the lefty, if only to limit whatever damage might result.
But, this game was far from over. Adam jones homered in the bottom of the frame to cut the lead to two. Ryan Zimmerman doubled to lead off the visitor’s 9th but could advance no further (Daniel Murphy followed Zimmerman by working a 3-0 count, but kept watching the pitches go by as Mychal Givens delivered three straight strikes for an unconventional 6 pitch whiff). For the home 9th, it was anyone’s guess who Dusty Baker would call on to preserve the win. Bucking conventional practice, Washington’s 10 saves have been split between no less than 5 pitchers, including one by lefty Enny Romero, who got the call this night with the O’s lefty slugger Chris Davis leading off the inning. Davis drew a walk but Baker stayed with Romero despite five straight righty batters following in the Oriole batting order. Romero retired the next two before a balk, double and single plated two to tie the game. You might be thinking that Baker ought to have gone to a righty reliever after the walk to Davis (or even if Davis had been retired). Except that Romero has a rather pronounced reverse platoon edge, with .899 OPS by lefties in 160 PA, but only .668 by right-handed batters in 266 PA. That’s easily the largest reverse platoon advantage of any active southpaw with 150 career PA against left-handed batters.
Both teams threatened in extras, with Bryce Harper ending the 11th frame by throwing out J.J. Hardy at the plate, trying to score from second on a Caleb Joseph single. In the 12th, the Orioles secured the walk-off win with a Mark Trumbo one out bases loaded single off Jacob Turner, working his second inning of relief. The win went to Logan Verrett, his second in as many outings for his new team. In his first two seasons in New York, the Mets tried to use Verrett as an occasional starter, but without much success. Among 171 active pitchers with fewer than 500 IP incl. 50+ as a starter, Verrett has the 11th worst ERA split between starting and overall ERA, with a 4.49 ERA comprised of 5.68 as a starter, but 2.90 in relief (two of the pitchers with a worse starter split are teammate Zach Britton, and Oriole nemesis Koji Uehara with a 1.04 career ERA against the Birds).
Game 3 saw Stephen Strasburg take the hill for the Nats against southpaw Wade Miley. Baltimore took the early lead, turning a hit batter and four singles into 3 second inning runs. That lead was extended to 5-1 when Mark Trumbo delivered a mammoth 455 foot two run jack in the 5th. Strasburg lasted 6 innings and recorded a 43 game score that would have been smaller if not for his 9 strikeouts. Strasburg’s game scores have been sliding steadily since 2014 when he reached 70 or better in 11 starts, that number dropping to 4 in 2015, 5 in 2016, and none in 7 starts this year. Miley limited the Nats to two runs in 5 innings of work, but needed 119 pitches to record those 15 outs; that’s the 3rd highest total since pitch counts have been recorded for 5 IP allowing no more than 2 runs and 5 hits.
The O’s were still leading by four going into the 8th inning, but that’s when the wheels started to come off. With a man on, Alec Asher took the mound for Baltimore and promptly struck out his first two batters. But, Michael Taylor took Asher’s first offering deep with a 421 foot blast, his first of the season, to cut the lead in half. On to the 9th and closer Brad Brach who has done a dandy job (8 saves, 2.41 ERA) filling in for the injured Zach Britton. Jayson Werth led off for Washington and battled Brach for 10 pitches before connecting on the 11th with a right field bomb to cut the lead to one. A Bryce Harper double, an intentional walk to Daniel Murphy and an Anthony Rendon single loaded the bases for Matt Wieters who delivered the coup de grace against his old team, singling to drive home Harper and Murphy as the Nats had their turn enjoying a walk-off triumph.
One might surmise that catchers switching teams would do well facing the pitchers they caught the season before. It isn’t going to always work out that way, but here are some examples of catchers who were apparently able to profit from inside knowledge of the pitchers they were facing:
- Mike Piazza: 1998 vs Dodgers – 33 PA, .393/.455/.679
- B.J. Surhoff: 1996 vs Brewers – 54 PA, .354/.407/.750
- Mike Stanley: 1996 vs Yankees – 21 PA, .353/.476/.471
- Benito Santiago: 1993 vs Padres – 45 PA, .293/.341/.488 (overall .230/.291/.380)
- Carlton Fisk: 1981 vs Red Sox – 35 PA, .433/.514/.833
- Rick Cerone: 1980 vs Blue Jays – 50 PA, .381/.438/.667
- Milt May: 1974 vs Pirates – 32 PA, .367/.406/.533
- Andy Seminick: 1952 vs Phillies – 50 PA, .326/.380/.543
- Ernie Lombardi: 1942 vs Reds – 48 PA, .366/.458/.561
- Bob O’Farrell: 1926 vs Cubs – 87 PA, .355/.430/.526
- Wally Schang: 1921 vs Red Sox – 52 PA, .356/.420/.511
- Ivey Wingo: 1915 vs Cardinals – 43 PA, .325/.341/.425 (overall .221/.250/.316)
Game 4 was to have matched two youngsters with barely 200 career IP combined, with Dylan Bundy going for the O’s and A.J. Cole for the Nats. The game was postponed, so I’ll close with a couple of observations on Bundy who is sporting a nifty 5-1 record with a 2.17 ERA, and doing so despite striking out 3 fewer batters per 9 innings than his 8.5 mark from last season. Ratcheting down the heater has apparently led to better command and control in the early going, with much improved walk and home run rates and a WHIP down almost a third of baserunner, or 3 fewer per 9 innings. Bundy started last season in the bullpen and moved to the starting rotation after the All-Star break, but managed only three quality starts among his 14 assignments, Completely different story this year, with a perfect 7 for 7 in quality starts coming out of the gate. A bit of Bundy trivia concerns his debut five seasons ago before his 20th birthday, making him the first teenage Oriole pitcher in 45 years, and just the second since Jim Palmer.