I don’t remember the last time a big-ticket pitcher was booed off the mound in his home debut (not that I’ve done any research to that end), but that’s what greeted James Shields on Wednesday night in Chicago. I don’t quite find the pleasure or purpose in booing poor performance, but Shields sure didn’t leave those who are so inclined any other choice.
Two-plus innings, eight hits, seven runs (all earned), two walks, two strikeouts, three home runs and one wild pitch.
It was a long night for Shields made even longer thanks to a bevy of lengthy at-bats. Nine of the 16 hitters he faced saw at least three balls. That led to the rapid ascension of Shields’ pitch count.
He threw 32 pitches in the first inning, 47 in the second and finally five more to Anthony Rendon before he singled to open the third.
Eighty-four pitches. That’s the second-most pitches ever needed to record no more than six outs. And when I say “ever,” I mean “since no later than 1947, when pitch count data became the norm via Baseball-Reference’s Play Index tool.”
Shields actually joins three other starters who spent 84 pitches to get six outs. Russ Ortiz in 1999, Steve Parris in 2000 and Chris Young in 2007 all accomplished as little with as much. The “record” belongs to 23-year-old Matt Moore, who dialed up 86 pitches in his six-out stint in 2013.
Everyone knows this marriage between Shields and the Southsiders isn’t always going to be a smooth one. Since the start of 2015, Shields has made the majority of his starts in some cavernous National League venues, including Petco Park, Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park, and he allowed 42 home runs in 269.2 innings during that time. Bartolo Colon took him yard.
Now he moves to one of the game’s most homer-friendly pads. Including Wednesday’s thrashing, Shields has given up 12 homers in 74 career innings at U.S. Cellular Field. Rough outings are going to be on the menu. But the White Sox will deal with that as long as Shields eats up innings, preferably more than two per night. If there’s a silver lining to this for White Sox fans, it’s that they have probably seen the worst Shields has to offer.
What Max Scherzer did on Wednesday night, striking out 20 Detroit Tigers, was better than a no-hitter, and he’s thrown two of them. Way more rare, way more about his true abilities than the abilities of the men behind him. And just way more sexy.
It is. If you’re a batter, the name of the game is to hit the ball. Major league hitters ultimately failed to do that against Scherzer 20 times tonight. Sorry to dumb it down, but when something happens that has occurred only four previous times in the past century, reducing the accomplishment to its lowest form somehow makes it seem that much more special.
Of course, Scherzer joins the company of Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens, the other pitchers to strike out 20 in no more than nine innings (Clemens pulled it off twice). Coincidentally enough, there were no walks in any of these five outings.
But Scherzer did a couple of things that even Johnson and Wood did not. Scherzer completed his game with a ground out from James McCann (Nationals fans so very much wanted to see Anthony Rendon throw that ball away, even if it would have meant postponing the win). His 20th K was the second out of the ninth, so only Scherzer and 1986 Clemens can say they got to 20 strikeouts in less than nine innings pitched.
Also, Max was remarkably efficient. He entered the ninth with 106 pitches. When he gave up a homer to J.D. Martinez to begin that frame and when Victor Martinez singled with one out, people on Twitter started wondering how long Dusty Baker would stick with him. First of all, it’s Dusty Baker, so if Max’s elbow is still attached, no moves were going to be made.
Secondly, this wasn’t uncharted territory for Scherzer in terms of his pitch count. This wasn’t Ross Stripling or Adam Conley. Scherzer threw 116 pitches in a game earlier this year. He reached 119 twice last season. Even in a one-run game, Scherzer would have needed to let at least one more batter reach base before Dusty had come with the hook.
But back to that pitch efficiency. Wood, Johnson and Clemens all topped the 120 mark in their performances. Clemens threw 151 pitches when he did it in 1996 (also against Detroit). How did Scherzer keep his total manageable? He threw only 23 balls, and nine of his strikeouts took three pitches. In the gif below, you can really see how Scherzer utilized his changeup to achieve an incredible amount of quick strikeouts.
My favorite fact of the night came in a tweet from Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron:
Scherzer struck out 20 batters in nine innings AND broke xFIP. That is indeed sexy.
I saw “The Jungle Book” today. Very entertaining. Even with so many of today’s movies being overwhelmed by computer graphics, the CGI in this movie is outstanding. If there is a criticism, it’s that, other than the wolf pack and a couple others in the forest, there seems to be only one of each animal. One panther. One tiger. One snake. One bear. Forget about the one human boy among the wild; someone needs to investigate what befell so many of the species in this ecosystem.
But that’s all I did Sunday. Otherwise, I relaxed and watched some baseball. However, it’s difficult to relax when you are on the edge of your seat, and that’s where a handful of games put me. There were some wholeheartedly “good” games — Mets-Braves, Cardinals-Padres and Marlins-Giants were all tense late — but four games specifically turned this lazy Sunday into a crazy one.
Let’s start chronologically and with perhaps the wildest game of the bunch: Twins-Nationals. Stephen Strasburg was the story for the first seven innings. But in the eighth, he challenged Brian Dozier with one too many fastballs, and Dozier sent Strasburg’s 114th and final pitch way out for a three-run homer that gave Minnesota a 4-1 lead.
The Nats got two runs back in the bottom of the eighth. Then in the ninth, Dusty Baker made a brilliant managerial move: He sent Bryce Harper to the plate. What a strategy.
Harper had been given the day off, but in a one-run game, it was time for him to get involved.
Harper took a couple of hacks that made it known he wants to hit this ball into the Atlantic. I’m not sure why Kevin Jepsen gave him the chance — so what if you walk Bryce Harper? Throw it out of the zone, for goodness sake — but his low fastball wasn’t low enough. Unless you’re a Twins fan, click here to feel all the chills.
Now that I’ve published what I consider to be the possible high and low points for every team, let’s keep the guessing game going with a look into what will happen by the end of this season.
American League East
1. Toronto Blue Jays (No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs)
2. Boston Red Sox (4)
3. New York Yankees
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles
Toronto’s offense is unmatched. But with Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and a strong bullpen, the Jays are much more than a bunch of bats. The Red Sox so desperately want to make up for last year’s failure, and they will to a point. David Price cures a lot of ails, but how far that team goes really hinges on the well-being of Clay Buchholz and their aged stalwarts.
American League Central
1. Cleveland Indians (3)
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Kansas City Royals
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Chicago White Sox
I’m assuming Michael Brantley has no further problems with his repaired shoulder. That pitching staff should be the best in the division. Detroit should hit a ton, and its new bullpen looks nice. I have them just below Cleveland because I don’t trust Anibal Sanchez to stay healthy, and the starters behind him in the rotation are a mystery. And no, I will never learn my lesson about doubting the Royals. I’m a stubborn person, OK?
You know the adage that is hammered into every team preview column at this time of year: Hope springs eternal. That hope is then extinguished pretty early for some teams. Really, really early for others. But we should all be optimists in March. So, here’s what I consider to be the best-case scenario for each team on the field this season.
However, I’m also a realist. “Winning the World Series” isn’t a down-to-earth possibility for everyone. Conversely, there is no chance that the Cubs — even the Cubs — will lose 100-plus games. Consider this list a sensible results spectrum for each team. “Sensible results spectrum” just doesn’t sound catchy as a title.
Best Case: All that action in December pays off as Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller head a staff with a good amount of complementary talent. Patrick Corbin more closely resembles his 2013 form. The offense remains potent, and 36-year-old Brad Ziegler follows up a solid 2015 by continuing to make hitters pound the ball into the dirt. A division crown is very possible, and a trip to the NLCS isn’t out of the question.
Worst Case: This is basically a repeat of the 2015 Padres: Winning the offseason doesn’t promise success over the summer. Miller has an understandable regression, turning the rotation into Greinke followed by a bunch of guys. The offense will still be productive, but the likes of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas don’t do enough to support Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Who knows if this will all mesh? If it doesn’t, third place is where they will land.
Best Case: For some teams, winning right now isn’t really what’s best for the club. The Braves are one such team. What’s best for them is seeing some of their young players (Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, etc.) provide hope for the future, a healthy Freddie Freeman, and a lot of losses so they can maximize their draft pool and couple Dansby Swanson with another No. 1 overall pick.
Worst Case: Freeman battles more injuries. Atlanta’s green pitchers get thoroughly battered around the league. Coming out to Turner Field only serves to remind fans how the Braves are technically deserting Atlanta and a relatively young ballpark to get their hands on some more sweet, sweet public money where a lot of rich white folks live. No hope.
Best Case: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Weiters, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez. This team should lead the sport in home runs, so that’s cool. If the starting rotation can be league average collectively, the O’s can slide their way into a Wild Card spot.
Worst Case: The starting rotation is as much of a tire fire as many expect. That unit lost Wei-Yin Chen and basically replaced him with a Yovani Gallardo who is becoming more hittable. Weiters still can’t shake the injury bug. In the game’s deepest division and bereft of an arm they can depend on to stop a losing streak when the strikeout-happy bats are slumping, Baltimore could find itself in last place comfortably.
Boston Red Sox
Best Case: What was supposed to be in 2015 comes to fruition in 2016. All of the vets are able to stay healthy. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez endear themselves to Red Sox Nation. David Ortiz gets one more shot at October magic. The duo of David Price and Clay Buchholz dominate, and the back end of the bullpen with Craig Kimbrel is no longer a point of great consternation for the Sawx. This squad has World Series potential.
Worst Case: Another huge letdown. Price remains great, but the rotation otherwise is a mess. Buchholz hardly makes it past 100 innings again. Carson Smith’s elbow injury subtracts a critical late-inning weapon. First base becomes Ramirez’s latest comical defensive venture. With Sandoval, people talk more about his fat than his bat. Father Time continues to wear on Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Fourth place and another finish behind the Yankees.
Four years ago, the World Baseball Classic served as a welcome distraction during a long spring training. With the WBC’s help, February and March flew by. Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast became real; he must not have seen his shadow in 2009, because spring arrived mighty early. It was MLB Opening Day after a couple of blinks.
Or maybe that was all a dream? I don’t know. Maybe the fact that I spent all of March 2009 attending spring training and WBC games in Florida made the days pass quickly. I don’t have a good explanation, because this spring dragged on like a filibuster, and the World Baseball Classic actually made it seem even longer. It’s been torturous. However, the Rangers and Astros played a game that actually mattered tonight, and we are now mere hours outside of baseball salvation known as Opening Day. So, it’s time to roll out everybody’s favorite dart-throwing contest: season predictions.
I usually put a lot of thought into this exercise, but now I view it much like composing a March Madness bracket: You can do all the research you want, but you are still going to be very, very wrong. So with zero abandon for what lies ahead, I closed my eyes and jotted down season standings, award winners and postseason results. Let’s see what my idle hands came up with.
American League East
1. Toronto Blue Jays
Yes, this division could go a thousand different ways (Actually, it could go 120 ways, mathematically speaking. But let’s not get caught up in the details). I’m not worried about chemistry or “learning how to win” or playing in a historically stout division. This team is loaded. When you have Josh Johnson as your fourth starter, you’ve got a pretty damn good squad.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Here is my first Wild Card winner. I’m expecting a big step forward from Seth MacFarlane, errrrr, I mean, Matt Moore. News flash: It would really help if Evan Longoria could stay healthy.
3. Boston Red Sox:
You know the AL East is crazy when the Blue Jays and the Rays are the steadiest teams in the division, without question. There are a whole lot more questions than answers after those two. The Red Sox may have the most issues of any team in this division as they are filled with injury-prone hitters, and pitchers looking to rebound. But if everything breaks right, they’ll be good enough to barely miss the playoffs.
4. New York Yankees
It’s a long season, but how many bad omens and big injuries can one franchise stand? If Robinson Cano gets hurt … mother of God.
5. Baltimore Orioles
I picked the O’s to finish fifth last year. Look at how well that turned out. Seriously, there is no way that pitching staff, especially the relievers, can be that good again.
It’s a very, very early fall Sunday morning here in Long Beach, Calif. Specifically, it’s about 12:45 a.m., and I really should go to bed so that I can get up at a still very, very early time to get in my usual four hours of fantasy football preparation. Because anything less would be just plain lazy.
But something happened Saturday night that made me lament all of the baseball I’ve missed over the past three weeks.
Keeping it short, the Nationals’ Michael Morse hit a line drive out to deep right field with the bases loaded. The hit was initially ruled a simple RBI single, and Morse was tagged out after getting caught in a rundown.
By the umpires reviewed the play and correctly ruled that Morse had indeed homered. But first, he needed to follow MLB protocol. He couldn’t just finish rounding the bases. He … well just click on the screen shot below. And please fast-forward to about the 2:35 mark since I already gave you the background.
You can have your seven no-hitters, possible Triple Crown and one of the greatest rookie seasons ever. That is the highlight from the 2012 baseball regular season.