Remaking the Atlanta lineup.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman is now 24 years old and like Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, he is learning that opposing pitchers have decided they simply have no reason to give him anything to hit.
Going into Sunday’s game, Freeman had seen the third-fewest pitches in the strike zone in all of baseball, behind Pablo Sandoval and Giancarlo Stanton, as you can see here (Sandoval is a big hacker, Stanton an obvious power threat):
Pablo Sandoval, SF: 36.9 percent
Giancarlo Stanton, MIA: 39.1 percent
Freddie Freeman, ATL: 40.1 percent
David Ortiz, BOS: 40.2 percent
Those numbers -- and the generally poor numbers for most of the Atlanta batters -- have created a quandary for Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who must structure his lineup in such a way that will nudge opposing pitchers to throw to Freeman. At the same time, there is a concern about stacking one part of the order with too many strikeout hitters.
For the readers: Put yourself in Gonzalez's shoes and consider the Rubik's Cube that is the Atlanta lineup structure. This is what Gonzalez opted for on Sunday night:
1. Jason Heyward
2. B.J. Upton
3. Freddie Freeman
4. Evan Gattis
5. Justin Upton
6. Chris Johnson
7. Tommy La Stella
8. Andrelton Simmons
With the red-hot Gattis occupying the spot behind Freeman, the first baseman seemed to get better pitches to hit, and he had two hits and scored a run, and the Braves' moribund offense came to life after the Angels took a 3-0 lead. Second baseman Tommy La Stella had three hits and pushed his early-career average to .411, and this will inevitably create more questions about whether he should be hitting in the No. 2 spot, or higher, with B.J. Upton -- who has a .284 on-base average -- sliding down.
Last season, the Braves went through a stretch with Dan Uggla batting seventh and B.J. Upton hitting eighth, and the bottom third of the lineup became a much easier ride for the pitcher. If Gonzalez batted Justin Upton fifth, Chris Johnson sixth and B.J. Upton seventh, then Atlanta’s lineup would again have a gap filled with free-swingers. At their current rate, these are the walks and strikeouts that Johnson and the Uptons would generate in 2014:
B.J. Upton: 62 walks, 193 strikeouts
Justin Upton: 64 walks, 193 strikeouts
Johnson: 14 walks, 157 strikeouts
There are no perfect choices, for sure. Atlanta ranks 28th in runs, after finishing 11th last year. The Braves are 20th in walks this year, after finishing sixth last season.
Gonzalez has thought about hitting La Stella second, but is also wary of hitting three consecutive left-handed hitters at the top of the lineup -- Heyward, La Stella and Freeman -- followed by a run of right-handed hitters. This would make bullpen decisions very easy for opposing managers.
After watching the Braves this weekend, I wonder if this might be a way to go, given the current starting lineup:
1. La Stella (who doesn’t run well, but gets on base)
3. Justin Upton
8. B.J. Upton
Howard Smith/USA TODAY Sports
Preparation for catching has helped Evan Gattis prepare more effectively as a hitter.
Atlanta hitting coach Greg Walker believes that Gattis' preparation as a catcher has helped him understand how opposing pitchers and catchers are shaping a game plan to pitch to him, and he has gotten better at covering the outer half of the strike zone. Gattis has pushed his average to .297, with 15 homers, a major league high for catchers. The fact that he's a catcher, however, means he probably is going to be in the lineup less often.
So here's another idea: The Braves could catch Gattis less, to keep him in the lineup more regularly, and use him in left field one or two days a week. On those days, Justin Upton could slide to right and Heyward to center against hard-throwing right-handers, who present the biggest trouble for Justin Upton.
For the readers: How would you build the Atlanta lineup?
• La Stella got the big hit in the middle of the Braves' rally, as Carroll Rogers writes. After the game, about half of his teammates took the opportunity to hit him on top of the head, just as the other Rangers players do with Adrian Beltre, because they know he can’t stand it.
By the way: ESPN producer Barry Abrams produced this piece on Freddie Freeman and his father.
• Going into Sunday's game, Mike Trout was 0-for-28 on pitches in the upper third of the strike zone. In 2012 and 2013, he was 31-for-172 (.180) on those pitches, so it's not as though he previously raked against pitches up. But he has struggled there mightily and has a swing-and-miss rate of 43.2 percent on pitches up.
On the other hand, he's destroying stuff in the bottom part of the zone. Since 2012, he's hit .356 (first in MLB) with a .581 slugging percentage (first) and 27 HRs (second) on strikes down.
From Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Information, more on Trout: At his current pace, Trout is well on his way to producing more value through his age-22 season than any position player in MLB history. He's currently at 24.1 WAR, and Ty Cobb was at 25.5 before age 22. Ted Williams (23.6), Mel Ott (23.5) and Alex Rodriguez (22.9) are other challengers. Trout had a good game Sunday, with another home run, but the Angels hit a snag. Really, they must have been kicking themselves for losing, because they completely dominated the game early; it felt like the Braves had no shot.
• The big series of the days ahead: The Royals and the Tigers, as Bob Wojnowski writes. This is a test for Detroit, as Ted Kulfan writes.
The Royals won their seventh straight Sunday, as Andy McCullough writes.
• Billy Hamilton's on-base percentage has climbed over .300, as C. Trent Rosecrans writes.
• The Rockies deserve major props for the way they responded over the weekend, with a sweep of the Giants amid a whole lot of injury issues.
• Casey McGehee came through for the Marlins again, writes Clark Spencer.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Carlos Martinez will get to start today.
2. Brandon Workman is making his case to stick with the Red Sox.
3. Curtis Granderson moved into the leadoff spot, and it seemed to help.
Dings and dents
1. Bruce Chen is going to make another rehab start.
2. Bronson Arroyo is hurting, writes Zach Buchanan.
3. Buster Posey is aiming to play Tuesday.
4. Carl Crawford's comeback has hit a snag.
5. Logan Morrison needed stitches after losing to his bat.
6. The Orioles expect that Tommy John surgery will be recommended for Matt Wieters.
7. Hisashi Iwakuma has some back stiffness.
8. Gerrit Cole is making his way back to the Pirates’ rotation.
9. Christian Yelich may well be headed to the disabled list.
• The Phillies had a bizarrely easy schedule early, but now a toll will be taken and it may finish them, as Bob Brookover writes.
• Here's a reassessment of the Nationals, from James Wagner.
• The Marlins' patience is a good model for the Cubs, writes Mark Gonzales.
• The Cubs will be the latest teams looking for sign-stealing in Miami.
• Scooter Gennett soaks up advice.
• Miscommunication was a problem for the Dodgers, as Pedro Moura writes.
• The Dodgers couldn't get it done.
• Clay Buchholz has had a steep fall.
• The Jays could use a power arm in their rotation, writes Bob Elliott.
• Toronto will still be playing in October, writes Richard Griffin.
• The Rays rallied to take a series. From ESPN Stats & Info, how David Price won:
1. All 10 of his strikeouts were when he threw a fastball or cutter.
2. The 14 missed swings on his cutter were a season high.
3. All 10 of his strikeouts were against right-handed hitters, who were 2-for-16 in at-bats ending with a pitch on the outer-third of the strike zone or off the outside corner.
Now only Price and James Shields have thrown three straight games with 10 more strikeouts in Rays history. Shields did it in 2012.
• Vidal Nuno had a bad day. The age question lingers for the Yankees, writes John Harper.
• The Tigers shouldn't bail on Joe Nathan, writes Drew Sharp.
• Ricky Nolasco paid a price for poor defense, writes Brian Murphy.
• Nick Swisher stepped up.
• Adam Dunn shares a strikeout trait, as Rick Morrissey writes.
• Josh Donaldson's hitless streak ended, as Susan Slusser writes.
• Yu Darvish feels great and is ready to go.
• Some leaks popped up in the Houston bullpen.
• Because Fenway can't speak for itself, Steve Buckley makes its case.
• Paul Goldschmidt has climbed in the All-Star voting.
• The A’s tribute to Derek Jeter lacked a reference to the flip, writes Scott Ostler. Jeter scored his 1,899th career run Sunday and is now one shy of becoming the 10th player in MLB history with 1,900 runs scored:
Rickey Henderson 2,295
Ty Cobb 2,245
Barry Bonds 2,227
Hank Aaron 2,175
Babe Ruth 2,174
Pete Rose 2,165
Willie Mays 2,060
Stan Musial 1,949
Alex Rodriguez 1,919
Derek Jeter 1,899
• Jim Bunning was honored.
• I think this guy had the best Father’s Day.
• Here’s the video of the father of the day.
• Vanderbilt is counting on Tyler Beede to bounce back today.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Father's guidance aided Trout's ascent.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ATLANTA -- Jeff Trout stays up to watch his son Mike play, no matter what part of the world he happens to be in. Mike knows this because, no matter how late the Angels’ games end, he gets text messages from his parents after the final pitch is thrown.
“He doesn’t miss a game,” Mike Trout said Saturday.
The words are positive, as they have always been, from the time Mike was growing into his love for baseball to now, when he’s generally regarded as the best in his sport. Way to get some knocks, his father might text if Trout has a few hits.
“He’s never negative,” Trout said. “If I go through a little skid or something, he’ll say, ‘Keep a smile on your face,’ or ‘Keep your head on straight.’
"There have been times when he might’ve said, ‘Do this,’ or ‘Do that,’ and I’d be thinking too much out there. He knows I got here for a reason and that it'll turn around.”
What rival players and evaluators love about Mike Trout, beyond his talent, is the unabashed joy he plays with, and this seems to stem from the way he was raised into the game by his mother, Debbie, and father, Jeff.
“They always told me that if they had to put a uniform on me, they didn’t want to do it,” Mike Trout said. “Baseball was a thing where I woke up every day ready to play. It’s always been fun. I was probably driving them crazy to play.”
Mike Trout would get up early and be waiting for his mom to take him to the field or for his father to go outside to play catch, throw batting practice to him or play whiffle ball in their backyard. The driveway was the home run boundary to left field, and in right, hitting the ball into the woods, beyond the grass of the lawn, was pay dirt.
“Every chance he got, he would throw to me,” Mike Trout said. “I’d have my buddies over and he’d be out there playing with us.”
He started beating his father in whiffle ball, he recalls, sometime when he was about 8, 9 or 10, and as Mike pitched to his father -- with Jeff Trout bent down in a crouch or sitting on a bucket to frame the strike zone -- he started to occasionally get the ball past him when he was a sophomore in high school. Such is the life of the father of a prodigy.
To this day in the offseason, Jeff Trout will flip balls to his son in the cage, but he doesn’t throw a lot of hitting advice at his son, doesn’t break down his mechanics. What he does is encourage.
“That’s why he’s always been so helpful,” Mike Trout said.
Jeff Trout had reason to send positive texts to his son Saturday night, after Mike had three hits and four RBIs and the Angels broke out in extra innings to beat the Braves. This is how Kole Calhoun saved the game.
Mike Trout is the third-fastest player to reach 75 career home runs and 75 career steals in MLB history, doing so in his 399th game. Only Eric Davis (335) and Alfonso Soriano (395) did it in fewer games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Other Angels-Braves notes
• We have a small sample for 2014, but Josh Hamilton has basically doubled his OPS against lefties since last year, improving from .596 to his current 1.190. He is chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone, according to FanGraphs, down from 45.4 percent in 2012 to 36.9 percent this year, and he is hitting .342 in 19 games.
Between rounds of batting practice Saturday evening, Hamilton explained that he had a shift in thought process early in spring training. A left-hander -- he couldn’t remember who, exactly -- threw him a first-pitch breaking ball, and Hamilton attacked, as always. After the at-bat, Hamilton said, he understood that he had more time to react to that pitch than he gave himself credit for and that in future at-bats he should remember: Just wait a little longer; you have more time.
Within the scope of each pitch, Hamilton begins the process of preparing to swing as the pitcher’s hands break -- and Hamilton just slows himself down.
This tactic makes sense, because nobody in the majors sees a lower percentage of fastballs than Hamilton, by a wide margin. Opposing pitchers have thrown him only 34.7 percent fastballs this year, per FanGraphs, and the next-lowest among hitters with at least 70 plate appearances is Pedro Alvarez at 42.8 percent.
It was during the 2012 season, Hamilton said, that he noticed pitchers changed their approach on him, refusing to challenge him and instead throwing a lot of off-speed pitches out of the strike zone. He still goes into each pitch anticipating a fastball, he said, adjusting to off-speed pitches as he sees them.
• Mike Minor starts tonight for the Atlanta Braves on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 p.m. ET on ESPN and WatchESPN), pitching to a lineup that includes Trout, Hamilton and Albert Pujols, and you will probably see him shaking off signs from catcher Evan Gattis often; this is a sign of progress in their relationship, in the eyes of Minor.
The left-hander is respectful in his demeanor and relatively quiet, and in his first seasons in the big leagues, he mostly deferred to his catchers, Brian McCann and David Ross. If they called for a pitch, Minor figured that they knew the league better than he did and went along with their thinking.
[+] EnlargeMike Minor
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY Sports
Mike Minor has become more assertive in shaking off signs from backstop Evan Gattis.
But Ross departed after 2012 and McCann signed with the New York Yankees in the winter, leaving Gattis to be the every-day catcher after working just 42 games behind the plate in his rookie campaign last year. When Minor returned from the disabled list, he initially went along with what Gattis suggested, as he had with McCann and Ross; however, he was disagreeing internally with Gattis and not really throwing with complete conviction.
As the two talked, Gattis noted to Minor that he needs to rely on the left-hander’s knowledge because he doesn’t know the league as well as Minor does. Minor likes the rhythm of working quickly but determined it is more important that he makes choices that he believes in. So their working relationship has evolved to this: Gattis makes suggestions, and Minor often agrees. When he disagrees, he will not hesitate to shake his head, nudging Gattis to call for a different pitch.
• After giving Dan Uggla the first five weeks of this season to show whether he could turn around his performance, the Braves turned to Tommy La Stella, who is playing effectively.
In the past 40 days, Uggla has 21 plate appearances, with one hit and seven strikeouts. He really isn’t cut out for pinch-hitting, given his aggressive style and swing-and-miss tendencies. He needs more plate appearances to have a chance to be effective, but he isn’t going to get them. He does not have positional versatility; he is a second baseman.
Uggla is owed about $7.5 million for the rest of this season and another $13 million for next season, but it’s apparent that his time as an every-day player for the Braves is over. It’s not really clear why they are keeping him.
He doesn’t have value on the bench to Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who is essentially working with a 24-man roster because of the situation, and Uggla has no future with the club. He just goes about his business and prepares for the occasional at-bat.
Uggla was used as a pinch runner Saturday, when the Braves rallied before losing in extra innings.
Around the league
• Yasiel Puig needs to work on his bat-flipping accuracy.
• Jimmy Rollins broke the Phillies’ franchise record for hits, and the talk after the game swirled around his possible departure. From Marc Narducci’s story:
Rollins is a 10-and-5 player (at least 10 years in the majors and five with the same team) and can veto a trade. He was asked whether he would like to stay with the Phillies if the team begins rebuilding.
"It really depends. If everything is blown up, then you take that into consideration," he said.
Yet Rollins is hoping that he can finish what he started in Philadelphia. An $11 million option will vest if he makes 156 more plate appearances this season.
"I think I do have a chance to finish my career here," Rollins said. "I don't make all of those decisions. I become a free agent again eventually, so the question will definitely be answered then."
• That’s 16 wins in the past 24 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Vance Worley will make his debut for the Pirates today.
• Chris Davis and the Orioles took it to the Blue Jays again. Toronto lost the game and lost pitcher R.A. Dickey and DH Adam Lind to injuries. The Jays’ lead in the American League East is down to 3½ games.
Along the way Saturday, Adam Jones collided with umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.
• The Rockies’ Brandon Barnes hit a game-winning homer in style.
• Sergio Romo blew another save chance.
Dings and dents
1. Bryce Harper could start swinging a bat next week.
2. Mark Teixeira has an upper back injury, writes Mark Feinsand.
3. Stephen Drew will be available to play Sunday.
4. Adam Wainwright won’t start Monday but says he feels better.
5. The Twins suffered a couple of injuries that might linger.
6. Nolan Arenado’s broken finger was a bad break for the Rockies, writes Patrick Saunders.
7. It looks like Chad Billingsley may not pitch this season, as Dylan Hernandez writes.
8. A Houston pitcher has the dreaded forearm tightness.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Marlins signed their first pick.
2. Tony Cingrani was moved to the Reds’ bullpen.
3. Arizona is close to signing its first-round pick.
4. Michael Taylor was traded to the White Sox.
5. Michael Choice got a mental break.
1. Matt Adams hurt the Nationals again.
2. The Rays’ two-game winning streak has ended.
3. Randy Wolf was hit hard again, as Clark Spencer writes.
4. There was a power outage in the midst of Oakland’s 5-1 win over the Yankees.
5. The Tigers had a big inning.
6. Danny Duffy was dominant as the Royals continued to roll. From ESPN Stats & Information, how he won:
A) In at-bats ending in his fastball, hitters were 4-for-22 with seven strikeouts and managed only two hard-hit balls. Seven strikeouts with his fastball are the second highest in a game for his career (8 in 2011).
B) He generated 18 outs with his fastball, the second most in his career.
C) Fifty strikes with his fastball, the second most in an outing this season.
7. Mat Latos returned, but the Reds’ offense continues to struggle.
8. The Indians drew a line in the sand.
9. The Brewers got a big lift from Ryan Braun.
10. Matt Dominguez led the Houston offense.
11. Leonys Martin bailed out the Texas bullpen.
• Breaking up and rebuilding the Phillies will be difficult, writes Matt Gelb.
As written here before, the contracts attached to a lot of the Phillies’ players mitigates their value significantly in the eyes of rival officials.
• Phillies prospect Jesse Biddle is struggling.
• Casey McGehee is making teams pay for walking Giancarlo Stanton, writes Juan Rodriguez.
• The Mets were shut out by Matt Harvey's former high school teammate.
• Sandy Alderson needs to be bolder, writes Ken Davidoff.
• Russell Martin plays a lot of roles for the Pirates, writes Ron Cook.
• Pitching is keeping the Cardinals alive, writes Bernie Miklasz.
• Offense is down all over the place, but the Reds’ offense is struggling beyond the league-wide trend, as John Fay writes.
• For Edwin Jackson, another bleak effort.
• The Brewers are happy to have Jonathan Lucroy, writes Tom Haudricourt. He has been the best catcher in the majors this year.
• From ESPN Stats & Information: Dan Haren had a three-run double in the fourth inning, his third career game with at least three RBIs. Haren has 24 RBIs since 2009, tied for the third most among pitchers in the past six seasons:
Most RBIs among pitchers since 2009
Yovani Gallardo, 36
Travis Wood, 26
Dan Haren, 24*
Carlos Zambrano, 24
* Three RBIs Saturday
• Seth Smith is leading the way for the San Diego offense.
• The Diamondbacks don’t have the option to rest a lot of key players.
• Evan Longoria still hasn’t settled in.
• The Yankees’ upcoming series against Toronto will be a big test, writes Bob Klapisch.
• Nick Markakis wants to stay with the Orioles for the rest of his career, says Buck Showalter.
• Brock Holt's versatility is proving to be a major asset.
• Eugenio Suarez had a good day.
• The Tigers’ bullpen had a bad day again.
• The White Sox are working on a simple fix with Tyler Flowers.
• Mike Berardino wonders: Is Joe Mauer's decline a matter of bad form or bad luck?
As I’ve written before, when Mauer’s career is over, it would be interesting to see a full disclosure on everything he has faced medically. I doubt Mauer -- who isn’t one to make excuses -- would let that happen, which is his prerogative, but it’d be interesting.
• That’s five straight losses for Seattle and counting.
• Lloyd McClendon reacted strongly to a question about preparation.
• Ed Wade believes his work for the Astros is now paying off. He’s right; he certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare.
• This is a day that will live in Chicago Cubs' infamy. Ernie Broglio hasn’t been jaded by being a punch line.
• A Royals minor leaguer got married at the ballpark, as Pete Grathoff writes.
• Vanderbilt opened the College World Series with a win.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Gausman key to Orioles' playoff hopes.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Fourteen of the 15 American League teams are no further removed from the second wild-card spot than 5.5 games, as of this morning. In other words, 14 of the 15 AL teams should be working with a full dose of hope, including the Houston Astros, who lost 111 games last season, and the Boston Red Sox, who have started slowly after dousing each other with champagne last fall.
Fourteen of 15. All are looking for difference-makers, players who can propel them in the last 3.5 months, players who have provided hints that they are capable of giving a lot more. Players like the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman.
He struggled through some early-season injury trouble and had made one appearance in the big leagues this season before being called up to start against Oakland last weekend, and Gausman overpowered the Athletics, looking completely at ease, throwing his fastball in the high 90s and mixing in changeups. Gausman followed that with a good start against Toronto on Thursday, in which he surrendered one run in six innings.
One evaluator who witnessed the outing says he kept coming back to one name: Justin Verlander.
“Because of the power,” the evaluator said. “He’s got a special arm.”
After Gausman’s start against the Athletics, Oakland first baseman Brandon Moss told MASN: "That guy, I got to home plate in my first at bat and I looked at [Nick] Hundley and I said, 'How can that guy be in Triple-A?’ From what I understand he's had some command issues but the way he pitched, that was the best stuff we've seen all year.
“The first at-bat, you could tell he had [velocity], but you never know how that is going to go. We can adapt to that. Second and third at-bats he started mixing in off-speed for strikes and keeping it down. Then he had 99 in the tank when he needed it."
Gausman said in a phone conversation Friday afternoon that his time in the Baltimore bullpen late last season helped him in learning to fully commit to each pitch, to each situation. With Darren O’Day hurt, Gausman stepped into a late-inning role, and rather than having an extended long-toss session to prepare to pitch, he only had a handful of pitches to get ready physically and mentally, sometimes with runners on base and the game on the line.
There were times in the past, Gausman said, when “I would completely lose focus. This season, when I throw a pitch, if it’s not the pitch I wanted to execute, I have learned that I have to put it behind me. … I learned the intense level I have to have.”
“I got to pitch in Fenway Park in the eighth inning. When you pitch well in those situations, you start to say to yourself, ‘I have the stuff to pitch at this level.’”
Gausman says he has learned to put the result of each pitch behind him, and with the help of Triple-A pitching coach Mike Griffin, he has developed a second type of changeup. Gausman has used a splitter, which is thrown at a great velocity variation from his fastball. But there have been times when Gausman hasn’t had a feel for the pitch, so he started throwing a version of the circle changeup -- thrown a little bit harder than the splitter, but it gives him something else to use.
So far, so good: In his two starts, he has allowed four walks in 13 innings, with nine strikeouts and just two earned runs. There was speculation that Gausman’s stay in the big leagues might be temporary, but with the Orioles -- like all AL teams -- trying to find a way to break out of the muddle, Gausman has the look of a solution.
• By the way: Dylan Bundy, the former No. 1 pick, will make his first start since having Tommy John surgery last year, as Trevor Hass writes. He could be a difference-maker sometime in the last weeks, as well.
Bundy “should be ready to go to Class AA by the end of the month,” Orioles GM Dan Duquette wrote in an email. “He is doing well throwing his fastball, curveball and changeup for strikes. He just needs to get into routine and get some additional seasoning under his belt.”
• Ubaldo Jimenez was more effective, but lost.
Around the league
• The Padres are ripe for changes: They were shut down again Friday, at a time when club ownership is extremely unhappy with the performance of the team.
• On Friday’s podcast, Claudia Williams -- daughter of Ted Williams -- told a lot of stories about her dad, including a Joe DiMaggio gem, as she discussed the release of her new book. Karl Ravech and Justin Havens went next-level on Max Scherzer’s season and Tim Hudson’s Hall of Fame chances.
• The Phillies are preparing for a fire sale, writes Ryan Lawrence.
• Sometimes teams will give a silent treatment to a rookie after his first career homer, but in the case of Gregory Polanco, his homer was pivotal and the other players just couldn’t help themselves. This could have been Polanco’s coming-out party, says Clint Hurdle.
From the Elias Sports Bureau:
Fewest career games before first five-hit game with HR
*Modern era (since 1900)
2014 -- Gregory Polanco, four
1993 -- Mike Lansing, five
1996 -- Brant Brown, eight
1954 -- Hank Aaron, nine
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
Lance Lynn pitched eight shutout innings with eight strikeouts, no walks and only two hits allowed.
• Jordan Zimmermann pitched great, but Lance Lynn was just a little better.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Lynn won:
A) Avoided walking a batter in a start for the first time since April 8 against Cincinnati.
B) Allowed just one hard-hit ball, his lowest total since allowing none on April 14 against the Brewers.
C) Threw 68.5 percent of his fastballs for strikes. This is 3.7 percent higher than his average on the season.
• From ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinals' 14 shutouts this season are tied for the third most through 67 games in MLB history and the most by any team since the 1969 Cubs (15).
• The Rockies were hit by even more serious injuries, but rallied in the ninth inning.
• The Royals are closing fast on the Tigers at the top of the AL Central, and they took down the White Sox on Friday. The Tigers were shut out.
• The Yankees had a nice win in the first game of their series at Oakland, led by David Phelps.
• Mat Latos returns to the Reds’ rotation today, and Tony Cingrani is good with whatever the Reds decide, writes C. Trent Rosecrans.
• Evan Gattis continues to come up very big for the Braves.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Wrote here Friday about the Cubs’ early trade talks on Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. Gordon Wittenmyer writes this morning that the Mariners are among the aggressive teams.
2. The Orioles don’t expect a resolution on Manny Machado’s suspension this weekend, writes Alejandro Zuniga.
3. Oscar Taveras was sent to the minors. Bernie Miklasz isn’t buying what the Cardinals are saying about this choice.
4. Alberto Callaspo is on paternity leave.
Dings and dents
1. Gerrit Cole is set to throw a side session Sunday.
2. Adam Wainwright is going to test his elbow today.
3. The Twins’ Brian Dozier has a back issue.
4. A.J. Ellis was activated from the disabled list.
5. Danny Valencia hopes to begin his rehab soon.
6. Stephen Drew missed his fifth straight game. Rival evaluators who speculated about Drew’s return in April spoke with concern about this exact situation: Drew didn’t have the benefit of full spring training, perhaps making him more vulnerable to injury. He needs to put up numbers to rebuild his value, and he’s not playing.
7. Andy Dirks is likely to go on a rehab assignment soon, as Ted Kulfan writes.
8. A Tigers reliever had surgery.
9. Mitch Moreland is discussing his options.
10. Jason Heyward will be evaluated day to day, after being hit on the hand by a pitch.
11. A couple of Colorado pitchers had bullpen sessions.
1. Jimmy Rollins tied the Phillies’ hit record.
2. Bobby Abreu had four hits.
3. The Red Sox pounded Justin Masterson and the Indians.
4. The Reds are hanging in there, and they pulled out a victory against Milwaukee after blowing a lead.
5. The Astros did a lot of swinging and missing.
6. Miami rallied but lost.
7. The Giants had a ninth-inning problem.
8. Arizona dropped a series opener.
9. Clayton Kershaw was really good.
10. Robinson Cano’s throwing error proved costly in a 1-0 game.
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Alex Cobb struck out a season-high 11 batters in 6 1/3 innings against the Astros.
11. The Rays played like they are supposed to play. From ESPN Stats & Info, how Alex Cobb dominated the Rays:
A) He generated 10 strikeouts with his changeup, second-most in his career and most this season (he had 16 missed swings on the pitch).
B) Hitters were 0-for-15 with no hard-hit balls in at-bats ending in his changeup.
C) The 15 outs recorded with a changeup tied a career high.
D) Threw 15 changeups in two-strike counts, second-most this season.
• The Mets are choosing sides in the World Cup.
• The Marlins are pulling the reins on Andrew Heaney, as they save innings for later in the season.
• Challenges abound for Bryan Price, writes Hal McCoy.
• The Brewers have some roster moves.
• Arizona has been allowing a lot of homers.
• Dodgers owner Mark Walter doesn’t understand the home woes of his team.
• Will Middlebrooks is trying glasses.
• A Rays outfielder got a lot of attention for a leaping catch.
• The Blue Jays are being tested.
• Carlos Santana is better at first base.
• Kyle Gibson aced a test in a big spot.
• The Rangers won the first game in what could be a make-or-break road trip.
• Yu Darvish will pitch against Oakland on this road trip.
• Sonny Gray had a bad day.
• The Angels are not ready to move Albert Pujols down in the lineup.
• Logan Morrison is reaping the rewards of a lot of playing time in Triple-A, writes Bob Dutton.
• As Derek Jeter started his final series in Oakland, the talk was about the Flip Play.
Jeter had two more hits Friday; he’s got nine hits in his last four games. He’s closing in on Carl Yastrzemski and Honus Wagner on the all-time leaderboard.
• A Cubs prospect homered in his professional debut.
• A look at the feud between Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra.
• Carson Fulmer starts for Vanderbilt tonight on the first day of the College World Series.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Strasburg the ace we expected.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It's amazing to consider the thought that Stephen Strasburg, at 25 years old, is already "old news." But whereas his starts were once treated as events, big strikeout totals and dominant performances are now seemingly just expected.
But it's time to stop taking Strasburg for granted because, although he might not be the media sensation he was when he debuted in 2010, here's the truth: He's better now than he's ever been. How? He's going deeper into games; he's neutralizing left-handed batters; and, in direct relation to that, his changeup has developed into a legitimate weapon.
In other words, he has become the ace we expected him to be.
From 2010 through 2012, Strasburg went seven or more innings in just seven of his 45 starts, or less than 16 percent. Since the start of last season, he has logged seven or more innings in 22 of 44 starts. His innings pitched per start is trending in the right direction, too, from 5.69 in 2012 to 6.10 last season and 6.24 so far this season. Related to that, he's becoming more efficient from a pitches-per-plate-appearance perspective.
Pitchers per PA (rank)
2014: 3.72 (33rd)
2013: 3.88 (55th)
2012: 3.98 (91st*)
*Out of 99 pitchers with at least 150 IP
Directly related to this efficiency is that Strasburg is throwing more strikes and, naturally, issuing fewer walks than before. His walk rate is also down from his 2012-13 levels. So far this season, he's issuing walks in 5.2 percent of his plate appearances; he was above 7 percent in 2012 (7.3 percent) and 2013 (7.7 percent).
Nothing from the left
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Strasburg's dominance is the way he has shut down lefties, who have just a .566 OPS against him this season, with righties putting up a .736 OPS. Two years ago, those numbers were basically reversed: Lefties had a .714 OPS-against and righties a .578 mark.
The real separation from previous seasons for Strasburg is the rapid development of his changeup, which lefties can't seem to hit for power (see heat maps). The changeup has become arguably his most effective pitch, and he has ramped up its usage so far this season; he used it about 16 percent of the time in 2012 and 2013, but is up to 23 percent so far this season. He's throwing it 30 percent of the time with two strikes, now his second-most-used pitch in two-strike counts (behind the fastball).
Specifically, the changeup is tied to Strasburg's aforementioned improvement against lefties. He's throwing it 29 percent of the time against lefties after throwing it against them 21 percent of the time last season, and it's resulting in a strike 72.7 percent of the time, up from 58.7 in 2012-13.
Strasburg's strikeout rate of 11.13 (as measured by K/9) would be the 12th-best by any qualified right-hander in MLB history, and behind only Kerry Wood, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling in NL history. He's also second in the NL in total strikeouts, and in fact his current swing-and-miss rate would be higher than he posted in 2012 or 2013. Furthermore, he has posted a 2.99 ERA despite allowing the highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of any starter (.358), a significant departure from his career mark entering 2014 (.292).
In other words, he's dominating like never before and has also been unlucky, as evidenced by his BABIP. He's simply learning how to become a more efficient pitcher, and has become the ace we expected while getting a lot less hype than he used to.