Triple Play: Matt Garza, Ichiro, Jose Fernandez
In this week’s Triple Play, we look at some brilliant pitching performances, a future Hall of Famer nearing a major milestone, a recently traded pitcher acting like a fool and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:
Starting pitchers in both leagues
Have you noticed just how many ridiculously brilliant pitching performances there have been since the All-Star break? Jose Fernandez (more on him below). Francisco Liriano. Clayton Kershaw. David Price. Max Scherzer. Justin Masterson. Yu Darvish. I couldn’t narrow it down to a single “hottest” pitcher over the past week or two, so I’ll spotlight a handful of the best games, in no particular order:
- Price. In four starts since the All-Star break, Price has spun 32 1/3 innings in which he allowed 19 hits and seven earned runs, with 22 strikeouts and one (!!) walk. Opponents watched Price throw 73% of his pitches for strikes and they hit a measly .167 off him.
- Liriano. Has there been a better return-to-dominance story than Liriano this season? Once half of a devastating 1-2 punch (with Johan Santana) in Minnesota, Liriano has finally rediscovered his swagger after several years of injuries and struggles. In his past three starts, he has shut down the Nationals, Cardinals and Rockies while pitching at least seven innings each time (all won by the Pirates), and allowing a total of eight hits. While he needs to cut down on the walks (10 in those three starts), he has shown a knack for getting critical strikeouts and his changeup has been deadly.
- Kershaw. The Dodgers’ 25-year-old southpaw has been even better than he was in 2012, when he finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting. Since the break, he has started three times and allowed a total of three runs, while striking out 22 and walking none in 23 innings. Like with Miguel Cabrera’s hitting, I’m running out of superlatives to describe Kershaw’s pitching.
- Scherzer. Baseball writers (including me) and analysts who predicted a falloff from Scherzer are still waiting. He has been just as dominant in his three starts since the break as he was before. In those three, he tossed 21 2/3 innings of 0.83 ERA ball, with 18 punchouts and only three walks. Opponents are slugging an absurd .211 off Scherzer in those three games (all Tiger wins). Although Brian Kenny would be aghast Scherzer’s 16-1 record, fantasy owners certainly aren’t.
- Darvish. After getting knocked around by the Astros in his final start before the break, it is safe to say Darvish is back on track. To wit, he has allowed just one run in his past three starts versus the Yankees, Indians and Diamondbacks, while fanning almost 40% of the batters he faced in those three games. His seven-inning, 14-strikeout, no-walk steamrolling of Arizona was nothing short of brilliant.
- Masterson. Perhaps the most surprising name on this list, Masterson has transformed into the ace of an unexpectedly tough Indians rotation. He leads the AL with three shutouts, the most recent of which, was a 1-0 masterpiece in which he outpitched Darvish at home on July 27. Since the All-Star break, Masterson has limited his walks (four in three starts) while maintaining the strikeouts (23).
If you are a fan of dominant pitching (as I am), these two weeks since the All-Star break have been a joy to watch. It’s no wonder that teams rarely trade pitchers anymore unless they overpay drastically.
Matt Garza, Texas Rangers
Normally, this spot is reserved for a player who is struggling or not playing well. Saturday night, though, Garza displayed behavior so boorish, so idiotic, that he merits this spot for the week. Here’s the scenario: 1) Garza is a poor fielder; 2) normal third baseman Adrian Beltre was serving as the DH, and 3) second baseman Eric Sogard is a good bunter. This led to the A’s bunting four times, including Sogard’s perfectly executed suicide squeeze in the 7th inning that plated Oakland’s fourth run of the game. Solid strategy, right? Take advantage of another team’s weakness, especially when that team is a division rival trying to catch you. Garza barked at Sogard while walking off the field after the inning, but played it off after the game, saying he was asking if there were any good places to eat in Oakland. He added,”They showed me how they were going to play and how they were going to attack me, and that’s fine. Next time, I’ll be ready. That’s it.” It seemed to be done and over.
After the game, though, Garza went over the edge and started tweeting at Sogard and his wife, Kaycee:
Where do you even start with this? Aside from being a sore loser and displaying repeated ignorance of basic grammar, you’re still left with the complete and utter disrespect of a player’s wife and of women in general. Man’s game? Some people can’t shut there [sic] women up? Seriously? I can understand being hyper-competitive and angry about a game, but how taking it to this level is pure misogynistic stupidity. And the half-hearted apology – “sorry I let my competitive edge out” – is laughable at best.
By the way, here’s what Kaycee Sogard tweeted that got the cement-headed Garza so riled up: “Get em on, get em over, get em in!” Some pretty controversial stuff there. To their credit, Sogard and his wife said they consider the whole matter a joke, which is a perfect response. Garza certainly made a laughingstock of himself Saturday night. He did issue a statement of apology yesterday, but it lacked sincerity and sounded like something his agent’s summer intern wrote for him. But, hey, I guess we should give him credit for not going with the “my Twitter was hacked” excuse. In any case, Garza wins the award for Neanderthal of the Week, and I dearly hope the A’s use the exact same tactics on him if they face off again this season.
Playing the Name Game
Player A: .305/.361/.461, 11 HR, 54 RBI, 3 SB, 50 runs, 122 OPS+
Player B: .323/.367/.412, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 3 SB, 28 runs, 112 OPS+
Player A is Jhonny Peralta. Player B is Jose Iglesias, who will likely be replacing Peralta as Detroit’s everyday shortstop this week. If all the Biogenesis reports are true, then Peralta is staring at a 50-game suspension that will take him out of the lineup until late September. Under those circumstances, the Tigers traded outfield prospect Avisail Garcia and others as part of a three-team deal that also saw Jake Peavy go from the White Sox to the Red Sox. Most importantly for Detroit, though, is a quality replacement for Peralta. Iglesias may not have the power Peralta offers, but he is a FAR superior defender and has not been nearly as overmatched at the plate as some feared before the season. With Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez, the Tigers have enough offense to get by without Peralta’s bat. Thanks to the acquisition of Iglesias, their defense should actually improve, which will be to the benefit of their pitchers.
Player A: .440/.452/.700, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 5 runs
Player B: .255/.319/.558, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 4 runs
Player A is the Mariners’ Kendrys Morales since the All-Star break. Player B is Nate Schierholtz of the Cubs during that same time frame. Both players would have been perfect fits for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Morales could have taken over at first base, with Garrett Jones sliding back to right field. Schierholtz would have been a perfect platoon partner in right. Morales’ season totals of 17 homers, 63 RBI and 50 runs scored would rank 2nd for the Pirates, while Schierholtz’s ability to hammer right-handed pitching would have been an ideal fit for a team in need of that particular skill. Instead, though, Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington failed to make any deals by the July 31 deadline. Any chance to acquire either player is likely gone. Although the Pirates took four of five in last week’s huge series against the Cardinals (and seized back first place in the process), fans are right to wonder if Huntington’s failure will come back to haunt the team before the end of the season.
- Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. His most recent start, last Wednesday against the Pirates, saw Wainwright do something he hadn’t done all season: walk the first batter of the game. That would be his only walk allowed, as he went seven innings, surrendering four runs and whiffing six. For the season, Wainwright has walked just 19 hitters, versus 151 strikeouts (still an 8-to-1 K/BB ratio).
- Oakland’s Bartolo Colon and Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee are the next closest starters in terms of fewest walks allowed, with 19 and 22, respectively.
- Ichiro Hit Tracker: the former Mariner and current Yankee outfielder is closing in on 4,000 hits in his brilliant career (including the 1,278 he tallied in Japan). Going into Monday’s games, he sits at 3,986. Only Ty Cobb and Pete Rose have reached the 4,000 summit.
- At age 39, Ichiro doesn’t get on base as often as he once did, nor does he dazzle us with his speed or cannon arm, but at no point should it be lost on us that we have been witness to one of the greatest hitters of this generation. After a slow first two months to the season, he has hit a respectable .296/.333/.403, while ranking second on the team in stolen bases, third in runs scored and fourth in OPS+ and total bases.
- Every once in a while, Ichiro can still turn back the clock to the pinnacle of his greatness in Seattle. On July 31, in a rare trip Yankees-Dodgers matchup in Los Angeles, he uncorked a laser from right field to nail Hanley Ramirez at home and keep it a one-run game (which New York would go on to lose 3-2). The day before that, he went 4-for-4 with an RBI in a 6-5 win over Tampa Bay.
- At his current pace, Ichiro should notch hit #4,000 between Aug. 12-18. The Yanks host the Angels between the 12th-15th, then travel to Boston for a three-game set on Aug. 16. With the Yankees’ luck this year, it will happen in their archrival’s home field.
- Wouldn’t it be nice to see as much coverage devoted to Ichiro reaching this milestone as has been wasted on Alex Rodriguez? I’m sure the Yankees would welcome it.
- Jose Fernandez is Really Good, Vol. III: the Marlins’ phenom, who just turned 21 last week, became the first 20-year-old to have an ERA+ (which adjusts for park factors) of at least 150 since Dwight Gooden did it in 1985.
- Incidentally, Gooden’s ERA+ in 1985 was an other-worldly, mind-blowing 229.
- Jose Fernandez is Really Good, Vol. IV: Last week, Fernandez became the first hurler to fan at least 13 batters in consecutive starts since Randy Johnson in 2004, and the first rookie since Kerry Wood in 1998.
- Jose Fernandez is Really Good, Vol. V: The last rookie to notch at least 10 strikeouts four times in his freshman season was Cole Hamels in 2006. Since his electric appearance in the All-Star Game, Fernandez has fanned 35 hitters in 23 innings, while allowing just 13 hits and three walks.
- A few weeks ago, I predicted in this column that the Rookie of the Year Award was Yasiel Puig’s to lose. Fernandez is making me re-think that prediction, even with a possible innings shutdown looming in the next month.
- The Dodgers have won 14 straight road games, the longest such streak since the 1984 Detroit Tigers. The NL record for consecutive road wins is 17, set by the 1916 New York Giants. Breaking that streak will be tough, though: Los Angeles next takes on the Cardinals in St. Louis.
- If Hanley Ramirez and Puig are out with injuries, the task becomes even tougher.
- News: Ron Washington became the all-time winningest manager in Rangers history Sunday. Views: The fact that Washington did that in just his 7th season on the job tells how just how bad the Rangers have been in their history until he took over.
- All those who thought the Royals would have a better record than the Yankees on August 5, raise your hand.
- Finally, it was 20 years ago yesterday that Robin Ventura decided to charge Nolan Ryan after taking a heater in the back. The still image of Ventura in a headlock as Ryan prepared to punch him in the face is legendary, but many people forget that Ventura managed to wiggle out of the headlock and appeared to be in the process of tackling Ryan as the swarm of players enveloped them. Still, the overriding lesson, to this day, is that you just don’t mess with Nolan Ryan.
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