A week and a half into the MLB season, things are just about as crazy and weird as one might expect in the year 2020. Some teams have played 11 games. Other teams have yet to play five. Dan Szymborski, a senior writer for Fangraphs, pretty much summed things up perfectly in the tweet below.
Because of the COVID-19 postponements, the NL East standings currently look like one of those leagues from the 1870s when the team folded in May because the owner had to flee to the next town over to escape his creditors and the team didn't want to be paid in leftover opera hats. pic.twitter.com/GFerhK97jP
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) August 3, 2020
Last week, over half of the Miami Marlins’ roster contracted COVID-19. This week, seven St. Louis Cardinals (thus far) have caught the virus. The likelihood that baseball finishes a shortened season is looking bleaker and bleaker by the day. As of right now though, baseball is being played. Weird things continue to happen on the field.
One-sixth of the way into the season, some unlikely names top the fWAR leaderboards. Mike Yastrzemski leads the National League (1.1) while Luis Robert leads the American League (0.9). Trent Grisham (0.9) and Nick Castellanos (0.8) are third and fourth on the list. None of these names were necessarily considered MVP favorites at the beginning of the year. At the same time, none have more than 51 plate appearances. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see which players maintain production.
Among pitchers, nobody has been more impressive than Cleveland’s Shane Bieber (1.1 fWAR). We know that last season was a breakout year for the right-handed 25-year-old. This season though, it seems as though he has taken his game to a new level. In two starts, Bieber has an absurd strikeout rate of 54 percent. He has not yet given up a run. His FIP is -0.39. His command has been impeccable. Tonight, Bieber takes the mound against the Cincinnati Reds.
Speaking of the Reds, although their record sits at just 5-5, they have three of the six best starting pitchers in baseball in terms of fWAR. The three-headed monster of Luis Castillo (0.8), Sonny Gray (0.7), and Trevor Bauer (0.6) have all been electric. Gray and Bauer trail only Bieber in K-rate at 42.6 and 41.2 percent respectively. Castillo isn’t far behind at 33.3 percent.
Alright, let’s get to some weird things that happened last week.
Who doesn’t love the old 5-3 triple play? Last Wednesday, the Cincinnati Reds were crushing the Chicago Cubs 12-5 in the bottom of the seventh inning. With the bases loaded and no outs, Shogo Akiyama stepped up to the plate and hit a soft line drive (78.2 mph) to third baseman Kris Bryant. After making an impressive diving catch (although the ball may have hit the ground first), Bryant nonchalantly strolled over to third base for the second out and tossed onto first to complete the triple play.
In the grand scheme of things, this play didn’t matter all that much. The Reds would eventually win the game 12-7. Having said that, triple plays are never not cool to see.
Lead-Off Two-Run Home Run
With the new extra innings rule, we continue to see things happen that we’ve never seen before. Cue the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers game last Wednesday night.
In the top of the 13th inning, Edwin Rios slammed a lead-off home run to give the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Obviously, a lead-off two-run home run has never happened before. Because of the man second rule, this is now possible. It’s weird to see and seems off. But hey, this is baseball in 2020. Embrace the weirdness. The Dodgers would win the game 4-2 in the longest game of the season up to this point.
On Sunday, Tigers’ left-handed pitcher Tyler Alexander tied Doug Fister’s 2012 record for the most consecutive strikeouts in an American League game with nine. Ironically, Fister also played for the Tigers when he originally set the record.
Alexander used a variety of pitches to finish off Reds’ hitters nine times in a row. He got things started by whiffing Mike Moustakas with a filthy slider.
Eugenio Suarez could not do anything with this painted fastball. Let us too note the excellent frame from Austin Romine.
Jesse Winker had no chance with this curveball falling off of the table.
In his second inning of work, Alexander blew Nick Senzel and Josh VanMeter away with fastballs. He then fanned Freddy Galvis with a perfectly placed curveball.
For his final three consecutive strikeouts, Alexander froze Tucker Barnhart and Akiyama on fastballs and got Castellanos to swing over on the curveball.
In all, Alexander punched out 10 Reds’ batters in 3.2 innings. He walked one and did not allow a hit. All of this came on 55 pitches of work. Of the 10 swinging strikes Alexander generated, five came from the curveball, three were changeups, one a fastball, and one a slider. The Reds’ hitters could not lay off of the shin-high curveball.
I can’t describe how impressive it is to strike out nine straight major league hitters. It’s a record for a reason. Getting nine outs in a row itself is quite the feat. Striking out nine consecutive is otherworldly.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they would go on to lose 4-3 in the first-ever scheduled seven-inning game.
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)