Real or Not? Pitchers clap back against early HR barrage

On Monday, I wrote about all the home runs in April. Well, the pitchers got a little revenge on Tuesday. For one night at least, the best games revolved around good starting pitching instead of dingers. Here’s a roll call of some of those performances:

Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 11 SO

Cole took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Max Kepler doubled to right field with one out. Cole entered the game with a 1-4 record and 4.71 ERA, but he had pitched better than those numbers indicate. He was tied with Max Scherzer for the major league lead in strikeouts, and batters were hitting .212 off him. He’d given up six home runs, but all were solo shots. He had one bad game in which the Rangers scored nine runs off him, including five in the first inning, and that helped ruin his ERA.

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Anyway, Cole handcuffed the Twins all game with his four-pitch arsenal. His swing-and-miss rate is almost 5 percent higher than it was in 2018 and ranks fourth among starters (behind those of Blake Snell, Luis Castillo and Scherzer) this season. He’s an elite starter with elite stuff, and I expect he’ll have a run of good games coming up that should get him back in the Cy Young discussion in the second half.

As for the hard-hittin’ Twins, they entered the game leading the majors in home runs per game while averaging 5.42 runs per game, but they scored one run the past two games against Cole and Justin Verlander (they won 1-0 on Monday). Granted, we’re talking about two of the best pitchers in the league, but let’s not hand the AL Central to the Twins just yet.

Twins versus Orioles: 6-0, 7.5 runs per game, 3.83 home runs per game;
Twins versus everyone else: 11-10, 4.57 runs per game, 1.29 home runs per game.

I like what the Twins have done, but we’ll have a better feel for them after the next two games against Houston and a six-game road trip to New York and Toronto.

Gerrit Cole overpowered the Twins, sending Minnesota a message about its readiness to play with MLB’s elite. Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via AP

Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 SO

After a horrid start (11.12 ERA in his first three outings), Porcello is looking back on track and has allowed five runs in 19⅔ innings in his past three starts. His Game Score of 84 ties the fourth-highest of his career, so this was not just his best start of 2019 but also one of the best of his career.

Chris Paddack, San Diego Padres: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 SO

Love me some Chris Paddack. This kid is the real deal. The two runs he allowed came in the second inning on three singles — exit velocities of 82.6, 90.0 and 80.2 mph. Even when he was hit, he wasn’t hit hard.

There were two other takeaways from this game, a 4-3 victory for the Padres over the Braves. First, Franmil Reyes hit two home runs and drove in three runs. He’s hitting .232/.286/.561 and has eight home runs. He’s a huge key to the Padres’ success this year. When he connects, the ball goes a long way. His strikeout rate is not excessive (22 percent), but his chase rate is too high at the moment (36.4 percent). If he can show the plate discipline he had in the second half last season, he’s capable of big-time numbers.

Second, is Kirby Yates the best closer in the game? He has an argument. He has allowed one run in 16 innings, has a 25-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 14 saves, and was dominant last season (2.14 ERA, 63 innings, 90 K’s), so you can’t say it’s a fluke. Closers aren’t exactly lighting it up this year, and some of the longtime best in the game have dropped a notch (Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman). Yates, by the way, was claimed off waivers from the Angels in April 2017.

Yates got help in the ninth from this incredible throw by Francisco Mejia:

Spencer Turnbull, Detroit Tigers: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 SO

It’s not easy to go into Philly and shut down the high-powered Phillies’ offense, but Turnbull pitched a great game and lowered his ERA to 2.53. Is he legit? It’s too early to say. He throws hard enough, with a 94 mph fastball. His minor league track record isn’t overly impressive except for one aspect: He was stingy with home runs. That’s what has happened so far, with just two in 32 innings. He has allowed a .293 wOBA, and his expected wOBA via Statcast data isn’t much higher, so there hasn’t been a lot of luck in his results. He has been good and maybe surpasses his back-end starter projection. Plus, he still has rookie status.

By the way, Bryce Harper was booed at home in this game. “I’d do the same thing,” he said afterward. Harper finishes his first month in a Phillies uniform at .240/.388/.490 with six home runs and 20 RBIs in 29 games, but he’s hitting .188 in his past 17 games. Also, this happened in Tuesday’s game:

Those were just a few of the highlights. I didn’t even mention German Marquez, who took a perfect game into the sixth inning against the Brewers, only to lose it when Raimel Tapia had a very catchable fly ball bounce off his glove. Jesus Aguilar then did this against an 0-2 pitch in the seventh for a three-run home run, and the Brewers beat the Rockies 4-3:

Trevor Bauer also started and beat the Marlins, striking out 10 in seven innings. But he allowed four runs and four walks. I’m sure in his mind it was a dominant start.

The aforementioned Castillo started for the Reds and had another strong effort, allowing two runs in 6⅔ innings. He came away with a no-decision.

Speaking of that game …

Mets blow late lead, win in extras: The Mets led 3-1 entering the ninth inning, but with Edwin Diaz unavailable after pitching three days in a row, manager Mickey Callaway tried to eke out a second inning from Jeurys Familia. It didn’t work. The Reds scored twice to tie it up, and Drew Gagnon escaped a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout of Eugenio Suarez. The Mets won in the bottom of the 10th when J.D. Davis doubled and Pete Alonso scored him with a sacrifice fly. Thoughts on that ninth inning:

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• Diaz pitched Friday when the Mets were down 8-6 and Saturday to save a three-run lead. Callaway’s usage of Diaz hasn’t exactly been optimal, as he has used him twice with a four-run lead, once when down two runs and three times with a three-run lead. The game Friday was probably just to get him some work because he hadn’t pitched in four days, but pitching that game meant he wasn’t available to pitch this game.

• Trying to get two innings from Familia was odd, considering he hasn’t pitched well this season. Clearly, as evidenced by using Diaz with those four-run leads, Callaway has little faith in the rest of the bullpen. To be fair, the rest of the bullpen hasn’t been great, and Seth Lugo, the best of the rest, pitched the previous two days and threw 39 pitches. Some of this ties into what all teams are facing these days: If your starters aren’t going deep into games and your bullpen isn’t deep and you have a string of close games, you’re going to burn through your top relievers. Still, it doesn’t seem that Callaway has a good feel yet on optimal usage for his pen.

P.S.: Jeff McNeil had a four-hit game, his fifth since joining the Mets on July 24, the most four-hit games in that span.

CC gets to 3,000 strikeouts: Congrats to CC Sabathia on his 3,000th career strikeout, which makes him just the third lefty (Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton) and 17th pitcher overall to achieve that milestone:

Of the other 16 in this elite group, only Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens haven’t been elected to the Hall of Fame. Sabathia was a fringe Hall of Fame candidate a few years ago, but he has bounced back from some injury issues and added enough bulk to his numbers that his case is much stronger now. He isn’t quite a lock, but he has passed 3,000 strikeouts, is three wins short of 250, has a Cy Young Award and was big in the Yankees’ 2009 title run.

His first strikeout in the majors: April 8, 2001, against Mike Kinkade. The Indians beat the Orioles 4-3 that day (CC got a no-decision). In the lineup for the Orioles: Cal Ripken Jr., who made his debut 20 years earlier in 1981. One of the Orioles in the lineup was Rick Dempsey. In Dempsey’s first game in 1969, he played with Harmon Killebrew, who debuted in 1954. In that game, Phil Cavarreta was in the opposing lineup. His debut came in 1934, and a teammate in that game was an old catcher named Bob O’Farrell, who debuted in 1915. O’Farrell played against Honus Wagner in his first game.

Sabathia to Ripken to Dempsey to Killebrew to Cavarreta to O’Farrell to Wagner — six degrees of CC, and we go all the way back to 1897.

Vladdy Jr. with the D: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. showed off some range and arm (granted, Albert Pujols was running):

Pick it, big guy!

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