September 29, 2015
What You Need to Know
September 29, 2015
The Monday Takeaways
The Cardinals have been able to overcome these injuries and keep winning because the guys they call on to provide replacement-level production haven't performed like replacements. Stephen Piscotty is one of those: The Stanford alumnus has hit .310 in 62 games with a .502 slugging percentage. His 55 strikeouts to 20 walks and .379 BABIP hint at some overachievement, but that doesn't make his hits count any less.
St. Louis might be without those hits for a while, though, as Piscotty sustained one of the scariest injuries of the year in Monday night's game against the Pirates.
That's Piscotty's head snapping back disturbingly hard after colliding with Peter Bourjos' knee. He was out cold on the play and had to be carted off the field, though he did give a thumbs-up to the crowd. He was brought to the hospital, where tests for a severe injury were negative but didn't necessarily preclude any injury at all.
Pinch hitter Mark Reynolds then whacked a two-run homer to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead …
… and set the game up for Trevor Rosenthal to get his team-record 48th save. Rosenthal has given up a home run on only 5 percent of the flyballs hit off him this year. That's really impressive, considering how often he throws up in the zone and how his BABIP was .337, as of Monday night.
Here's another impressive thing, just for the NL Central in general: The Cardinals still haven't clinched the division title! Their magic number is two.
The Washington Nationals still have to play baseball, which is unfortunate. At least they won't have to do it with Jonathan Papelbon, who was suspended three games by the league for throwing at Manny Machado and then four games by the Nationals for trying to choke Bryce Harper out. So his season is over. Bryce Harper also didn't play on Monday.
But Max Scherzer pitched, and though it may be tough to remember, Scherzer was at one time this season extraordinarily good at pitching. Remember his one-hitter? And his no-hitter? Scherzer's horrific August, in which his ERA was 6.43 in five games, makes that stuff easy to forget, but it happened, and Scherzer is still capable of incredible performances.
He turned one in against the Reds yesterday, giving up two hits and a run over eight innings while striking out 10. Scherzer held Cincinnati hitless through seven innings before giving up an opposite-field single to Tucker Barnhart in the eighth.
Movement-wise, according to Brooks Baseball, Monday was one of Scherzer's weaker recent starts. His fastball averaged 7.2 inches of horizontal break, the least since September 7th, and his changeup averaged 7.8 inches of break, the least since August 20th.
But Scherzer's slider averaged 2.0 inches of break, the most of any start this season. And he got 14 whiffs on his fastball and topped out at 99 mph with the pitch, which PITCHf/x tells us is the single fastest pitch he's thrown this season.
This game was completely irrelevant, except for the money the Nationals made from concessions and the reminder Scherzer provided us that he's quite good at pitching.
These next games were not pointless, however! The AL West is your spot for hot, fresh division-title and Wild Card implications, and Monday's action brought us more action on that front!
First came the Rangers and Tigers in Arlington, where a disastrous five-run fifth inning for Texas did them in. Colby Lewis had been solid for four innings and entered the top of the fifth trying to hold a one-run tie, but then he gave up a single to Dixon Machado, and a double to Anthony Gose, and a home run to Tyler Collins. Oh dear!
Oof, juuuuuuuuuuust snuck inside the pole there. The Tigers scored another run in the sixth to give them seven on the night, and when Ian Krol looked shaky and gave up two runs in the ninth, prodigal Ranger Neftali Feliz took the ball to close the game out.
The Rangers are mainly running from the Astros, who played in Seattle on Monday night. Lance McCullers used the appearance to remind us not to forget about him in this year's class of quality rookies, tossing six solid innings in which he gave up two runs on four hits and struck out seven batters.
Home runs from George Springer and Evan Gattis gave the Astros a 2-1 lead through five and a half innings, but McCullers gave up a solo shot to Ketel "One" Marte in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game up.
"Not so fast!" said Chris Carter, presumably, as he smacked a solo home run of his own off Danny Farquhar in the next inning. That dinger put the score at 3-2, a margin the Astros held to inch a game closer to the Rangers and keep their spot in the Wild Card.
The Astros did not, however, climb any further away from the Angels in the Wild Card race. That's because Los Angeles took advantage of an error from Edward Mujica in the ninth and walked off on David Murphy's single.
The game up to that point was a back-and-forth affair that came to a head with Albert Pujols' solo jack in the bottom of the sixth to tie the ballgame at 4-4.
Apart from his bombs, though, Pujols has been shockingly unproductive.
Is it bad luck? Is it his broken lower body? Maybe the fact that he's striking out more than he's walking and has just lost a step discipline-wise? Either way, it's really weird, and a classic example of why you should always look at somebody's complete stat line.
The game remained tied until the bottom of the ninth. After C.J. Cron's single to lead off the inning, David Freese hit a dribbler and Mujica's throw to first hit Freese in the back, allowing Cron to scoot to third. After Shane Victorino was intentionally walked, Murphy came up with the bases loaded and no outs and proceeded to not totally screw everything up, thankfully.
Anyway, here's how we stand with that division, playoffs-wise: The Rangers are in the lead in the division, 1½ games in front of the Astros, who are themselves a half-game ahead of the Angels. Texas and Los Angeles meet starting Thursday for a four-game series to close out the season. This could get wild.
Defensive Play of the Night
I knew a lot of Royals fans in college, but I knew one particular Royals fan who, two years before they won the Wild Card game and went to the World Series, was an ardent advocate for Johnny Giavotella. I think about that sometimes when considering how far that franchise has come: Not two years ago, a fan of the team was spending mental energy on fanhood of Johnny Giavotella, rather than Alex Gordon or Eric Hosmer or Lorenzo Cain or even Christian Colón, for Pete's sake.
Sorry, Johnny. This was a great play, though.
What to Watch on Tuesday
Although I'm sure both teams would be okay with a breather after last night's 12-inning showdown, the Dodgers and Giants are playing again tonight at 10:15 ET. It's Clayton Kershaw vs. Madison Bumgarner, but there's also a milestone on the horizon for Kershaw:
That would indeed be amazing, especially since Kershaw's early-season struggles prevented him from having longer seven- or eight-inning starts. The one constant, though, is that he's struck out a ton of dudes.
Grant Brisbee wrote about the 300-strikeout milestone and what it would take to reach it in February. Kershaw certainly has benefited from one of the four possibilities Brisbee posed about the milestone being reached—that hitters do strike out more in today's game, though not necessarily this year—but he's also a superfreak, a hyper-prepared, two-wipeout-breaking-ball-throwing superfreak. He's not Randy Johnson, but he's in a similar mold.
Time to fire the Johnny Cueto Watch back up! Cueto is starting for the Royals tonight against the White Sox at 8:10 ET, and a Kansas City team that suddenly looks very vulnerable, pitching-wise, will be anxiously watching the results of his start. Well, that might be more of something for the fanbase to do, but Cueto is under quite a bit of scrutiny to actually start pitching like a guy the Royals traded Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb and Cody Reed for. I mean, it's not like Finnegan has gone buck-wild in Cincinnati—his FIP was 5.83 as of Monday night—but it's about the sentiment, you know? Cueto's last start was decent: He gave up seven hits and three runs to the Mariners. He struck out just five against Seattle, and Cueto hasn't struck out more than that in a start since August 26th against Baltimore, when he whiffed eight.