by Ray Kuhn
To say we had an interesting day to begin the week might be an understatement. Also, depending on how some of the events of the day impacted you, interesting could mean a few different things. Both Chicago teams were slated to play yesterday afternoon, but the snow only caused the cancellation of the Cubs game. We also saw Xander Bogaerts and Anthony Rizzo head to the disabled list yesterday with Roughned Odor looking to be on his way their too. Lorenzo Cain and Jose Martinez then proceeded to collide with each other last night which caused both to exit the game. Greg Holland made his debut on Monday, but he promptly walked four batters, one intentionally, to blow the save.
Alright, so by now you get the point. In reality though, that is just a microcosm for the 2018 season is going so far. The good news, is that we had multiple aces take the mound on Monday, and they lived up to expectations. Let’s take a look at some of the bright spots from yesterday:
1) Smith Gets on the Board
We heard it all off-season; stolen bases are hard to come by, plan accordingly. One of the ways to do that, was to draft Mallex Smith late in drafts. As we got closer to the season, his ADP and profile began to rise, but until yesterday, Smith had yet to steal a base. That changed on Monday though, as the speedy outfielder picked up his first two stolen bases of the season while also getting caught trying to steal home. They came as part of a 4 for 4 day with Smith just missing the cycle by a home run. He drove in one run, and despite all of his time spent on base, Smith scored just one run. On the season, his batting average is up to .350 in 20 at bats, and hopefully Monday is just the beginning for Smith.
2) An Easy Win for Kluber
I already feel like a broken record, but so far this season, it doesn’t take much to dominate the Detroit Tigers. With that being said, it was almost unfair for Corey Kluber on Monday as he dispatched them without issue. Kluber cruised through eight innings as he picked up his first victory of the season. The right-hander allowed just two runs and one walk as he shut the Tigers out while striking out 13 batters. Through three starts so far this season, Kluber is striking 10.57 batters out per nine innings and has a 12.1% swinging strike rate while throwing a first pitch strike 67.9% of the time.
3) Scherzer Shows off the Speed
No, the story of the night was not the stolen base picked up by Max Scherzer. He was actually pretty impressive on the mound as well. On a night that wasn’t the most ideal as far as conditions go, it didn’t appear to bother the right-hander. Scherzer handled the Braves with ease as he threw a complete game shutout while limiting Atlanta to just two singles. The right-hander struck out 10 batters and only needed 102 pitches, 72 strikes, to get through the night. Most pitchers so far this season need that amount to get through just five or six innings, but that is why Scherzer is considered one of the top two pitchers in the game. So far this season, Scherzer is getting a 40.9% swinging rate on balls out of the strike zone which is well above his career rate of 31.3% and above last year’s mark of 36.8%.
4) Kingery Gets His First
It was actually a night of two firsts for the Phillies’ rookie. Scott Kingery certainly has proved he needs to be in the major leagues, but the problem is that the Phillies don’t have a set position for the infielder at this time. Yesterday, Kingery got his first start of the season at shortstop, but more importantly, he hit his first career home run. The solo shot gave the rookie his second career RBI as he raised his average up to .259. Despite all the buzz that came with Kingery’s promotion, things have actually been relatively quiet so far, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on him.
5) Pearce Cleans Things Up
If you are following playing time and batting orders, it was slightly interesting to see Steve Pearce not only in the lineup, but batting clean-up against Dylan Bundy on Monday. That is because the Blue Jays are platooning their outfield, and Pearce is a right-handed batter going against Bundy who is also a right-hander. Currently, Pearce is clearly the beneficiary of Randall Grichuk’s struggles, and more recently the injury to Kendrys Morales that caused him to leave Monday’s game. Pearce responded by going by going 2 for 4 and hitting his third home run of the season (a two run shot) off Bundy. For the season, Pearce is batting .286, and moving forward he might be worth a closer look if you have hole to plug due to injury.
6) Blisters, What Blisters?
Apparently Noah Syndergaard was dealing with some blisters on Monday, but they didn’t appear to impact him too much. While it was clear he was sharper in the first four innings of the game than his last two, overall it’s hard to argue with the results. It also is a good sign that Syndergaard doesn’t appear to be concerned and therefore there shouldn’t be any issues relating to his next start. The Marlins got to the right-hander for a run in both the fifth and the sixth innings, but Syndergaard was still able to do enough to pick up both a quality start and his second victory of the season. Overall, he gave up two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out five and lowering his ERA to 3.94 on the season.
7) Don’t Sleep on Pujols
Yes, we know there certainly more exciting players on the Angels than Albert Pujols. We also know that he isn’t the same player he used to be. But that doesn’t mean he has forgotten how to hit. We should also note, that on Monday, Pujols played his sixth game of the season at first base so things should be getting easier as far using him in your lineup. Batting clean-up against Doug Fister and the Rangers, Pujols went 2 for 5 with his second home run of the season. In 47 at bats, Pujols is hitting a solid .277 with five RBI; not elite numbers, but they are solid. However in that Los Angeles lineup, you would expect to see Pujols with more RBI at this point in the season.
8) Verlander Dominates the Twins
If you want to talk about less than ideal conditions for baseball, that was Minnesota last night. It didn’t appear to hinder Justin Verlander all that much though as he turned back the clock to his days facing the Twins as a member of the Tigers. Verlander worked out of serious trouble in the sixth inning, and instead of calling it a night, the right-hander went back out for the seventh inning. Overall, Verlander needed 109 pitches (69 strikes) to get through his seven shutout innings to pick up his second victory of the season. On the night, he limited Minnesota to just four hits and one walk while striking out nine batters. With an ERA of 1.45, it’s hard to argue with Verlander’s dominance three starts into the season.
9) Junis Flirts with History
While perhaps we should have lead with this, Jakob Junis shouldn’t be overshadowed when it comes to pitching performances on Monday. The Kansas City right-hander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning as he continued his success so far this season. Junis ultimately completed the seventh inning before passing the baton to the Royals’ bullpen and he left after allowing just the one hit and two walks while striking out three. He picked up his second straight victory of the season, and Junis has yet to allow a run this season. Yes, it’s just two starts, but regardless, it is something to take note of as he sports a WHIP of just 0.50.
10) Godley and His Sinker
If I really wanted to, I could come up with a pun about Zack Godley and his sinker, but I thought better of it. Regardless, it’s hard not to be impressed by it; although I’m sure the Giants thought differently about it last night. So far this season, Godley is getting a 13.8% swinging strike rate and per Fangraphs, he is using his sinker 39.6% of the time which is up from 32.2% in 2017. With a 54.3% ground ball rate, Godley is truly picking up from where he left off last season. On Monday, he limited San Francisco to just four hits, all singles, in seven innings of work while striking out nine and lowering his ERA to 0.64.
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