The Nationals’ Max Scherzer leads the NL on IP (102.1), Ks (123), ERA (1.76), WHIP (0.80) and CG (2) – (Photo Courtesy: Getty Images)
Saturday the Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer no hit, sort of, the Pittsburgh Pirates. He certainly didn’t allow any hits, but like the Giants’ Chris Heston before him, who hit three batters in his June 9th no-no, Scherzer hit a batter. More dramatic was the fact the Bucs’ Jose Tabata took one for the team with Mad Max one strike away from a perfect game. The Max no-hitter was a 10 K, no walk effort and early Father’s Day gift he didn’t have to wrap because his parents were in attendance. I guess the performance was an upgrade from his previous start when he pitched a one-hit complete game shutout with 16 Ks and one walk against the Beermakers.
Sunday the Nats swatted away the Pirates in a three game sweep by posting a 9-2 win that was highlighted by an upside down 6 in the first inning run column. They didn’t need to score anymore after that. Bryce Harper hit his 24th home run. Did you know Yunel Escobar is hitting .331 in front of him? Going 5 for 5 three times in three months will do that to a batting average.
It’s a little late to post my graphic recapping the 40% mark of the season (64 games). It’s the one where I’m breaking the season down in 16-game increments. I will however refer to some of the latest numbers to help tell our story.
The Nationals are once again trending in the right direction, but they are coming off a 5-11 stretch (Games 49-64). They have won three in a row and four of six to maintain a 1.5 game lead over the New York Mets. The Mets won the first two games of this current stretch but have since lost five straight. Sunday the Braves’ Julio Teheran out dueled the Mets’ Matt Harvey in a 1-0 win that completed an Atlanta three game sweep. The Mets haven’t done anything exciting over an extended period of time since that 13-3 start to the season. 7-9, 7-9, 7-9, and 2-5 marks have followed.
Just two games behind the Nationals are the Atlanta Braves. They’ve never had a stretch better than 8-8, but have won four of six to make it a three team fight in the NL East as we steamroll toward the 81-game midway point of the season.
The Marlins are 7.5 games back with the Phillies a distant 13.5 games back after a 3-13 stretch preceded their current 2-5 run. Hey, they did beat the Cardinals 9-2 on Sunday behind Adam Morgan’s first major league victory in his debut.
The Cardinals (11-5) and Pirates (12-4) were top notch during the previous stretch of games, but both are 2-3 since, leaving the Pirates, who might still be sad after playing the Nationals this weekend, six games back in the NL Central.
Remember when Tropicana Field was called the ThunderDome? If so, do you also remember the original Mad Max Rockatansky throwing down any post-apocalyptic action adventure against Blaster in that place? Of course not. Different time and place, although Tina Turner “Aunty Entity” has performed in that domed Saint Petersburg stadium. Unfortunately the Rays still play in that outdated “park” which opened in 1990, eight years before they became a team.
Despite the departure of the Joe Maddon-era success, catwalks, undersized crowds, and a rookie manager in Kevin Cash they somehow still win. “We Don’t Need Another Hero”, Tina might sing on their behalf. The Rays lost 1-0 to the Indians on Sunday even though the Tribe was major league debuting starting pitcher Cody Anderson for 7.2 IP. Walk-off sac fly honors go to David Murphy. The Ray have still won eight of their last ten and lead the AL East by one game over the New York Yankees.
The Rays (40-31) have been getting by offensively with Steven Souza Jr. (14 HRs), Logan Forsythe (.804 OPS) and moderately effective Evan Longoria (.760 OPS). Previously discussed Chris Archer anchors a productive if non-headlining rotation.
In the Bronx, it’s still the Tex Message (.920 OPS) and ARod (.908 OPS) show. Old-timer Alex Rodriguez homered for his 3,000th hit on Friday night against Justin Verlander. Derek Jeter and Wade Boggs also homered for their 3,000th hit.
The AL East has gotten hotly contested. The Rays (11-5), Orioles (10-6), and Blue Jays (12-4) all played winning baseball during the fourth stretch of the season to make it a four team race. The Orioles and Blue Jays are just three games behind the Rays.
The Blue Jays (37-34) have Jose Bautista (.936 OPS), Josh Donaldson (.911) and Russell Martin (.872) slugging it out with unsung journeyman and Twins castoff Chris Colabello hitting .344. Toronto leads the AL in run differential at +78, so their record is a little worse than it should be at this point. Losing games in the 9th on back-to-back days to the Orioles doesn’t help matters.
Sunday, the Orioles scored seven in the top of the second, but allowed six in the bottom of the inning. They then beat the Blue Jays 13-9 by scoring four runs in the 9th against “closer” Brett Cecil. He went five weeks without a save, finally got saves on June 12th and 13th only to allow eight runs over his next three appearances.
The Orioles are doing it with 22-year old third baseman Manny Machado returning to health and stardom. Including Saturday and Sunday, he has five three hit games and eight home runs since May 31st to raise his average over .300 for the first time this season. The OPS has gone from .760 to .882 over that span.
Nationals, Mets, and Braves. Rays, Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays. The east coast pennant races are in great shape as we enter the final full week of June.