by Ray Kuhn
While it seems that season just started, we are already in the midst of pennant race baseball. That also applies to your fantasy team and keep in mind that we are just barely halfway through the season. So in other words, who really knows what is happening?
Enjoy the ride of the 2020 season and embrace the unexpected. It seems that is all that is happening this season, so let’s take a look at some of the performances from last night that stood out:
1. Pillar Fits In
Over the past few years, Colorado has become quite the punch line when it comes to acquiring veterans and blocking their young players. The jokes continued when they added Kevin Pillar at the trading deadline, but at least for now, they appear to be committed to playing the outfielder. Batting fifth on Wednesday he went 2 for 5 with two RBI and two runs scored. It was the the third triple of the season for Pillar who is now up to 15 RBI while batting .272. With the Rockies placing Pillar in the middle of the order, it will only serve to benefit him in the RBI department along with all of the positives that come out of playing your home games in Coors Field.
2. Conforto Continues to Rake
You can always count on the Mets for disappointment and players failing to meet expectations, but Michael Conforto appears to be exceeding them. With Pete Alonso experience a hardcore sophomore slump, Conforto is working to keep the Mets offense afloat in the middle of the order. Wednesday was no different as Conforto finished a triple shy of the cycle as part of a four hit effort that saw him hit his sixth home run of the season while driving in five runs (22 overall). Conforto is up to nine doubles on the season to go along with a .331 batting average, and it appears that he is truly living up to his potential.
3. Sixto Dominates Despite the Loss
It’s just three starts, but Sixto Sanchez hasn’t shown much of a learning curve in adjustment to the major leagues. Sure that can still come, but even in a loss on Wednesday, it’s hard to knock Sanchez as he certainly looked impressive. Very few pitchers can go from 99 miles per hour down to 64 while still controlling the strike zone, but that is what the right-hander did against Toronto. Early in the game Sanchez concentrated more on pitching to contact, but he still finished with five strikeouts in seven innings of work giving him 19 strikeouts in 19 innings so far this season. Ultimately it was one bad pitch, a two run homer by Lourdes Gurriel, that determined the game for Sanchez. With an ERA of 2.37 with a WHIP of 1.00, it’s hard to argue with Sanchez’s early success.
4) Another Gem from Wheeler
So far in this abbreviated season, Zack Wheeler is earning every penny of his contact. Yesterday it was 6.2 innings of shutout ball out of the right hander as he picked up his fourth victory of the season against Washington. The Nationals managed just three hits and two walks against Wheeler as he struck out six and lowered his ERA to 2.20. The strikeouts were a good sign though as Wheeler is striking out just under six batters per nine innings so far this year. With a 55.2% ground ball rate and 1.8 walks per nine innings, Wheeler is limiting the damage but the lack of strikeouts is something to watch despite his average fastball velocity of 97.3 miles per hour right in line with last season. But a 2.5% opposing barrel rate is certainly a good sign.
5. Duvall Goes for the Hat Trick
While the batting average isn’t going to be there, .250 after three hits on Wednesday, power and run production doesn’t seem to be an issue for Adam Duvall. A day after Marcell Ozuna went deep three times, Duvall did the same against the Red Sox last night. That gives the outfielder eight home runs and 18 RBI (five last night) on the season. As of late, things have been going well for Duvall as entering play on Wednesday, he was hitting .320 with two home runs and four RBI over his last seven games. With a 15.3 degree launch angle, prior to last night, Duvall is actually trending below his career levels, but his hard hit rate is back up to around 40% after dipping last season. A power streak like this can really make a difference in the standings, so Duvall is worth the roster spot.
6. Another Victory for McKenzie
It’s not supposed to be this easy, is it? Well things really couldn’t have been much easier than they were for Triston McKenzie on Wednesday against the Royals. The young right-hander picked up his second career victory with six scoreless innings as he allowed just three hits while not walking a batter and striking out six. With a 1.69 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in three starts with 19 strikeouts in 16 innings, it really isn’t supposed to be this easy. But the talented right-hander is healthy and in a groove, so why not ride it? Entering last night, in the first 10 innings of his career, McKenzie had just two balls barreled up against him and eight hard hit balls in 21 events. If that continues, the success should follow.
7. Javier Continues to Dominate
Christian Javier went through the Rangers’ lineup with ease the first time around retiring all nine batters in a row, and an Isaiah Kiner-Falefa solo homer in the fourth inning was all Texas was able to muster against the right-hander. Dusty Baker decided to stick with Javier in a big spot in the seventh inning against Joey Gallo, and it paid off with the young right-hander picked up a big strikeout. Overall, Javier threw 6.2 innings of one run ball with three strikeouts while allowing two hits and two walks. With four victories on the season, Javier’s ERA now sits at 3.35 and he has been one of the most dependable pitchers for the Astros so far in 2020. We do have to keep a close eye on Javier though, as he is walking 3.11 batters per nine innings while benefiting from a .167 BABIP. Additionally, Javier’s 5.14 FIP is also a cause for concern.
8. Buehler Makes His Return
While he didn’t pick up a victory for his efforts, it’s hard to argue with Walker Buehler’s performance on Wednesday in his return from the Injured List. The right-hander threw five innings of shutout baseball allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out six. That brought Buehler’s ERA down to 3.60 for the season. Prior to heading to the Injured List, things had been shaky for Buehler without a .197 BABIP, but he is still one of the more talented pitchers in the game, and Wednesday reminded us of that.
9. Donaldson Returns
It is not too late for Josh Donaldson to make good on his draft day value. The third baseman returned from the Injured List and Minnesota slotted him right back into the second spot of the batting order. Donaldson picked up two hits, including his first double of the season while doubling his RBI total from two to four. In 27 at bats, Donaldson is batting .222 and that is not where I would expect him to finish the season. There is still plenty of season left for Donaldson to make an impact as we know what the Minnesota offense is capable of.
10. Yelich Gets on Base
I know, this is not why anyone drafted Christian Yelich where they did. But given his struggles to start the season, you will take anything you can get at this point. On Wednesday, Yelich walked four times which led to the three runs scored. He is still batting just .205 on the season, but with 17 walks, things at least look a little better in OBP leagues. The 43 strikeouts are clearly a problem, but with nine home runs, 17 RBI, and 26 runs scored, things could be worse. With a 53.2% hard hit rate, I am still remaining optimistic as it won’t take much for Yelich to turn things around.