Welcome back to Gnats of the Week! It’s the series where I take everything that happened in Major League Baseball this week and single out the most brilliantly stupid performances to be enshrined in eternal (until next week) glory.
What is a gnat, you ask? Good question. Gnats are the little guys, the washed-up utilitymen, unheralded prospects and unproven entities who seem to come out of nowhere to make their mark on a game. If you watch a lot of baseball (and if you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet on it), then you know that this happens pretty much every day.
These players are delightful stories, unless, of course, they’re playing your team. Then they’re most daggum irritating thing you’ve ever seen. That’s what makes them gnats; a truly beautiful phenomenon.
This week in the Gnatlands:
- Luke Weaver: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 8 K vs. Reds on Sunday
- Freddy Peralta: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 10 K vs. Cubs on Monday
- Grayson Greiner: 2-3, HR, 3 RBI vs. Zack Greinke on Monday (bonus points for having the same first five letters of their last names)
Third Runner-Up: Gregory Polanco
2-2, HR, SB, 2 BB vs. Joe Musgrove, Padres on Wednesday
The stars were aligned for Joe Musgrove: fresh off throwing the first no-hitter in Padres history on Friday, he was slated to face his former team, the Pirates — who have one of the worst offenses in baseball — with a chance to run it back. It didn’t quite work out that way, however, as Musgrove was chased after the fourth inning, having thrown 81 pitches already and a run on four hits. Johnny Vander Meer breathed a sigh of relief.
The primary reason for Musgrove’s departure (other than the fact that he threw 112 pitches five days prior) was none other than Gregory Polanco. The 29-year-old outfielder went 2-2 against his former teammate, including the 395-foot second-inning blast that ended Musgrove’s MLB-best 32 inning scoreless streak and ultimately tagged him with the loss. Polanco got on base four times in total, and the Pirates stunned the favored Padres for the second night in a row.
No doubter. pic.twitter.com/Ypq95vDUPg
— Pirates (@Pirates) April 14, 2021
What makes this performance extra gnatty — other than the ex-teammate factor, which is always juicy — is that for most of his career, Polanco has been the epitome of average. He has a career OPS of .729, bolstered by two strong years in 2016 and 2018, when he hit 22 and 23 home runs, respectively. Last season he hit seven while slashing a miserable .153/.214/.539. And now he’s launching meatballs to the Allegheny against the second-best team in the National League. Because, baseball.
Second Runner-Up: Adam Duvall
4-5, 2 HR, 4 R, 7 RBI vs. Max Fried, Braves on Tuesday
Sticking with the former team fireworks… ladies and gentlemen, Adam Duvall. Was there ever any doubt this would happen? As soon as the Braves let Duvall walk without a contract in December, I knew he was going to land with an N.L. East foe. Frankly, I’m just shocked it wasn’t the Nationals (see: Matt Adams, Kurt Suzuki, etc.). So when he jumped all over a Max Fried slider in the third and parked it 447 feet to left center, I had a bad feeling in my gut immediately.
— MLB HomeRuns (@MLBHomeRuns_) April 14, 2021
Of course, Duvall didn’t stop there. He added an RBI double in the fourth, an RBI single in the sixth, and sent another dinger 419 feet in the seventh for good measure. He finished with a franchise-record-tying 7 RBIs, and the Marlins ended up winning 14-8, as Fried was shelled for eight runs in four innings.
It is a cool story for Duvall, who rejuvenated his career in Atlanta last year after looking truly terrible in 2018 and spending most of 2019 mashing moonshots in Triple-A. Why my Braves didn’t re-sign him is beyond me, but he made them pay this week. By the end of the four-game series in Atlanta, Duvall amassed seven hits in 14 ABs, including three homers and nine RBIs. The gnat bastard.
First Runner-Up: Zach McKinstry
8-21 (.381), 2 HR, 4 XBH, 8 RBI vs. Nats, Rockies & Padres
It breaks my brain to imagine putting a Dodger of all people on this list, since they’re, you know, the best team in the world. But somehow, by black magic or divine manipulation (or possibly just great player development), they’ve produced yet another under-the-radar stud who can simply rake. Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, Max Muncy and now Zach McKinstry. When will it end??
In all seriousness, this guy is awesome, and that’s why he’s here. It started on Sunday, when McKinstry earned the start in left field against Max Scherzer despite going 0-11 in his last three games. All he did was knock in an RBI double in the second inning — the decisive run in a 1-0 pitching duel through six between Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw — and then tack on a two-run bomb for insurance as soon as Washington went to the bullpen. The final was 3-0, all three runs driven in by McKinstry.
He hit another homer in a mid-week sweep of the Rockies, then put on his big-boy overalls once again for this weekend’s massive divisional tilt with San Diego. He finished 3-6 with two RBIs, including this clutch eighth-inning knock to drive in Will Smith:
— MLB (@MLB) April 17, 2021
Per unconfirmed reports, this was McKinstry after the game. The man can handle a rake, that’s for sure.
Even in San Diego, Zach McKinstry rakes pic.twitter.com/S28thWFzKB
— Blake Harris (@BlakeHarrisTBLA) April 17, 2021
GNAT OF THE WEEK: Michael Wacha
6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 9 K, W vs. Yankees on Friday
If you watched checks notes literally any of Wacha’s seven starts for the Mets in 2020, you might have been surprised to see him toss six sparkling innings of one-hit, no-run ball against the frightening Yankee order on Friday. But then again, maybe he just has a thing for crushing New York teams. Either way, it was a lethal performance that few saw coming, and it’s more than worthy of our Gnat of the Week slot for this fourth inning sequence alone…
And also for this image of the statcast whiff leaderboard from Friday, which is one of the funnier things I’ve seen all week.
(Photos by Gerry Angus, Leslie Plaza Johnson & Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)