Oh, 2019. Where did you go? You weren’t the best year, but compared to this? Well, you are missed. You gave us a thrilling edition of March Madness, which ended with Zion and Duke sitting at home while Virginia completed their storybook comeback to win the championship. You gave us a shocking NBA Finals, as the Kawhi-led Raptors brought Canada its first title and stopped the Golden State War Machine from three-peating in the process. And in baseball… you gave us so, so, so many home runs.
Given everything that’s happened both in and around the sport since, it’s easy to forget how prominent the “juiced ball” narrative was for most of last year’s MLB season. The 2019 baseballs were leaving the yard at an unprecedented rate, and as entertaining as it was, this made fans of good pitching very unhappy.
Well, thanks to the box scores of last few weeks, the juiced ball conversation is officially back. And after a brief hiatus, so is the MLB Roundup! We’re here on this fine Sunday to offer the latest coverage of the baseball world, including reactions to the Braves’ 29-9 ass-smattering of the Marlins on Wednesday, an update on the Reds postseason outlook, and a peek ahead to the fast-approaching playoff match-ups in each league (warning: if you’re a Yankees fan, stop right here). Enjoy!
Runs, Forrest, Runs!
Two weeks ago, on Sept. 1, the Giants beat the Rockies by a final score of 23-5. They scored in every inning except the ninth, Alex Dickerson went 5-6 with three homers and five runs scored, and we were all very impressed. Then on Wednesday afternoon, the Brewers one-upped them with a remarkable 19-0 shutout of the Tigers that featured two home runs from Jedd Gyorko, of all people, and near perfection on the mound from righty Corbin Burnes. A few eyebrows were raised.
Then, less than a few hours later, Marlins starter Pablo Lopez stepped on to the mound in the second inning in Atlanta holding a 2-0 lead. So began one of the most catastrophic single-game pitching performances by one team in recent history. Here are the next 14 batters’ results:
Single. Walk. Walk. Ground out. Sac fly. Walk. Single. Single. Home run. (Pitching change: Lopez is replaced by Jordan Yamamoto). Single. Single. Home run. Home run. Ground out.
Before anyone knew what happened, the Braves had an 11-run inning, the largest such outburst in the sport this season. And it didn’t stop there: they added two more runs in the 3rd, three more in the 4th, six more in the 5th… you get it. The final tally was a whopping 29 runs, a franchise and N.L. record, just one shy of the modern-day MLB mark of 30 set by Texas in 2007. I could go on about this one, but we’ve got limited space, so here’s a short summary of some of the crazy things that happened in this game.
- In that wild 2nd inning, all nine Braves hitters reached base, with the exception of OF Ender Inciarte, who accounted for two of the three outs.
- Yamomoto, the Marlins reliever who came in for Lopez, ended up pitching 2.2 innings in this game. He gave up an astounding 13 runs (12 earned), 11 hits, four home runs, and raised his ERA by seven points.
- Despite all of this, the Marlins *almost* made a comeback. After leading 11-2, a breakdown by Braves starter Tommy Milone allowed the Marlins to close the gap t0 13-8 in the 4th. So close!
- The Braves’ offensive outburst was capped in the 7th when Adam Duvall hit a grand slam to bring them to 29. It was his third homer of the game, making him the first player in Braves history with two career hat tricks. The fun part? He hit the other one the week before.
So, about that juiced ball theory? Well, it’s hard to prove. The league did a study last year and concluded that the recent spikes in home run rates (an 11% increase last year from the previous record, for example) cannot be solely attributed to “juiced balls.” The study found that the chief causes are an increase in launch angle from homer-happy hitters and a decrease in drag, the causes of which remain unclear.
The whole situation is a mess, but here are some numbers that put this weird season in context. In 2019, the average MLB team scored 782 runs, a modern record, which equates to 4.83 runs per game. Through 45 games in 2020, the average total is 213 runs. Stretched out over 162 games, that adds up to about 766 runs, or an average of 4.73. While entirely theoretical, this slight decrease may indicate a twinge of recency bias on our part—but it would still be a higher mark than any season prior to 2019.
In other words, now might not be the best time to go into the pitching business.
A.L. Playoff Picture: What’s Up with the Yankees?
When the season started in July, one thing was generally agreed upon: it was the Dodgers and the Yankees, then everyone else. The Bronx Bombers won 103 games last season, advancing to the ALCS where they lost to the star-studded Astros in six games. This year they brought nearly the entire roster back, including a healthy Giancarlo Stanton, and they shelled out $324 million to sign the best pitcher in baseball (Gerrit Cole) for good measure. That should pretty much wrap things up, no?
Well, no. Or at least, not so quickly. Fast forward to September 10 (last Thursday), and the Yankees sat at 21-21, barely hanging on to the 8th playoff spot in the American League. It was the first time any Yankees team has held a .500 or worse record in September since 1995. For the average baseball fan, it’s a glorious sight.
The causes of the Bronx meltdown are multitude, as examined in this insightful New York Times piece from Tuesday. It has a little bit to do with a brutal rash of injuries, a little bit to do with underwhelming pitchers, and a little bit to do with cut-and-dry regression from several players. Plus, the once-superhuman Cole has been “ordinary.”
True to form, the Evil Empire rebounded this weekend by winning the first three games against the Orioles, building a 4.5 game cushion between them and the American League’s bottom-feeders; but the gap to those preseason expectations remains much larger.
Here’s the latest postseason picture in the AL, courtesy of MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.
One thing to keep an eye on: the A.L. Central, where the White Sox, Twins and Indians are in a dead heat. Thanks to the new format, they’re all gonna make it… but there’s a big difference between the 3rd and 7th seeds. Hey, it’s the closest thing we’ve got to a pennant race out here.
N.L. Playoff Picture: L.A. vs. the World
While the Yankees have failed to live up to the hype so far, the Dodgers have taken that hype, wrapped it in bacon, and eaten it up like an Applebees $5 appetizer. They’re so good, it’s boring. They lead the sport with a 32-14 record, and their +96 run differential is more than 20 points better than the next closest team in either league. They’ve all but secured the No. 1 spot in the National League playoff bracket, despite facing a strong push from the upstart San Diego Padres.
The biggest question mark for L.A. at this point is who they’ll be playing in the first round. It’ll be easy for them to overlook a lowly eight seed, but given the new wild card format, it could be interesting—after all, in a three-game series, anything can happen. So who has the best shot at pulling the upset of the decade? Let’s look at the possibilities.
- Miami Marlins (23-21) — The current eight seed in the N.L., the Marlins have really made something out of nothing this season. Their lineup is made up of fringe players, inexperienced rookies and former Olympic medalists in other sports, but they’ve managed to hang around .500 for the last month. The emergence of flame-throwing prospect Sixto Sanchez has been fun, but I doubt he can do enough on his own to give the Dodgers a scare.
- Colorado Rockies (21-25) — After a hot start, the Rockies fell back to earth quickly in 2020. Still, they’re only two games out of the playoffs, and Charlie Blackmon’s hot bat has been something to watch. They probably don’t have the rotation for a postseason run, but they’re more than familiar with the Dodgers—and they took two out of three in Chavez Ravine last weekend.
- Cincinnati Reds (21-26) — I know, I know, but hear me out. They’ve got some work to do (3.0 games back of the Marlins as of Sunday morning), but if they can get there, they’ve got the horses to make a push. Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo are one heckuva 1-2-3 punch.
Here are the N.L. match-ups if the season ended now:
Yeah, this is going to be fun.
Reds Update: Positive Vibes Only!
So, they keep blowing leads. And the lineup is maddeningly inconsistent. And yeah, they just can’t seem to get it together to win a big series. And as so many of you have eloquently pointed out in the comments, they have a tendency to suck. But it ain’t all bad! When was the last time the Reds were in playoff contention in September? 2013? So what if it’s in a total asterisk of a season where any team with half a pulse has a chance?
Okay, fine, I’ll give you a break from the insufferable optimism. The Reds (21-26) went 3-3 this week, counting today’s win in St. Louis. They dropped two of three in Chicago but rebounded for a solid series victory against the Cardinals. Castillo threw a very impressive complete game on Friday, and rookie catcher Tyler Stephenson has been great since returning to the bigs. And of course, there’s this:
Trevor Bauer's National League ranks:
? 1st in WHIP (0.79)
? 2nd in ERA (1.74)
? 2nd in K (71)
? 2nd in average against (.155) pic.twitter.com/xu8zUP9yZs
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) September 10, 2020
Like I said before, if they can make it to October, things could get very interesting. But we need to see it soon.
Highlight of the Week: Sutersault
We’ve all been there. In the most wholesome story of the week, Brewers pitcher Brent Suter became an internet celebrity yesterday for slipping off the mound, landing on his back, and getting right back up again with the utmost grace.
Presenting: The Sutersault pic.twitter.com/sAMdvJbCEU
— Cut4 (@Cut4) September 12, 2020
Naturally, it wasn’t long before the memes arrived:
Yep that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation- Brent Suter probably pic.twitter.com/0avYG1PCtg
— Wisco Disco (@Wisco_Disco_) September 13, 2020
Brent Suter X Willy Wonka pic.twitter.com/ODetqPbbsH
— Elon Altman (@ElonAltman) September 13, 2020
Brent Suter vs. Simone Biles, Floor Routine.
Suter is on the left. pic.twitter.com/1b3Jtz7mCz
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 12, 2020
And like any good story, it has a happy ending:
— Brent Suter (@bruter24) September 13, 2020
- It took Braves 1B Freddie Freeman 10 years to hit his first career grand slam. It took him two days to hit his second.
- Phillies ace Zack Wheeler is currently day-to-day with a sore pitching hand after injuring himself while putting on pants.
- The A.L. East-leading Rays made history by sending out an all-lefty lineup on Friday against Red Sox RHP Andrew Triggs.
- Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman may or may not have pooped his pants on the mound last night. This is not a drill!
- And, finally: SCORIGAMI! The Braves 29-9 win over the Marlins was the first new final score in MLB in over 20 years.
- COMING: Blue Jays SS Bo Bichette – activated after nearly a month on the IL with a grade-one knee sprain. The Blue Jays are holding tight to the 5th seed in the A.L., gunning for their first playoff appearance since 2016.
- GOING: A’s 3B Matt Chapman – the MVP candidate and gold-glover is likely out for the year after undergoing hip surgery this week. It’s a tough blow for the A’s, who currently hold the third-best record in baseball.