2011 Season


Interleague play is suddenly upon us again. You can read my thoughts on the entire thing here. Like it or not though, it’s back for one series at least this weekend.

One of the matchups I actually look forward to is the Pirates-Tigers, which is slowly becoming an annual rematch of the classic 1909 World Series! Yes, that was the year that Honus Wagner bested Ty Cobb’s Tigers 4-games-to-3 for the Pirates first championship.

With the Tigers in town, I will be at PNC Park all weekend for the festivities. The Pirates already got a leg up in the series with a 10-1 victory Friday night thanks to Neil Walker’s two-run double and three-run home run to lead the way. Can Walker duplicate his efforts tonight during his bobblehead giveaway?

The Tigers are the hottest team in baseball right now winning their past 10 of 11 games, and there’s one main reason for it. Detroit’s starting pitching is on a torrid pace  the past two weeks.

In the past 10 wins, Tigers starters are 9-0 with a 1.29 ERA (69.1ip/10er). That total doesn’t hurt when it includes a no-hitter by ace Justin Verlander. But even bigger than JV has been for this team, the streak has been helped by the turnaround by Brad Penny. Penny has been exceptionally strong after struggling in April. He’s 3-0 with a miniscule 0.83 ERA in his last three starts. Not bad for a pitcher who started the season allowing 20 runs in his first four starts with his new team to sport an ERA well over 8.00 for most of April.

Max Scherzer has been another stud for the Tigers this year, including his past two starts (2-0, 1.38). He’s 6-0 on the year for the longest winning streak to start a season in Detroit since Jeremy Bonderman won eight straight in 2007. Scherzer and Trevor Cahill of the A’s are the only two pitchers this season who are 6-0 to this point and both are slated to start Sunday afternoon. Ever since making his debut with the D-Backs in 2008, I thought Scherzer could developed into a legitimate ace…and not just because I have him in a keeper league. I still can’t believe Arizona dealt him and now the Tigers have a great chance for a ridiculous 1-2 combo for years with JV and Max.

Scherzer looks to continue the Tigers winning streak when he starts against the Royals Sunday at Comerica Park. And the way he’s pitched against the Royals over his career (2.52 ERA), the Tigers stellar starting pitching numbers in their last 10 wins could actually improve following his start.

Just four days after Liriano’s no-hitter, Tigers ace Justin Verlander fired the second no-hitter of his career Saturday night in a masterpiece over the Blue Jays in Toronto. Verlander faced the minimum 27 batters with a double play erasing the only walk he allowed of the game. He struck out four batters and finished with an efficient 108 pitches.

It’s been just about four years since Verlander threw his first no-no in interleague play against the Brewers back in June of 2007. Not much has changed since then. Verlander is still the ace of the Tigers staff and he’s still a dominant pitcher that can throw in the high 90s deep into games. Though he has seen the rotation changed around him completely in Detroit since ’07 when Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman, Chad Durbin, Mike Maroth and Andrew Miller each made 13 or more starts. None of those five pitchers are anywhere near Detroit’s roster today. It doesn’t seem like four years is an incredible amount of time for a franchise, but there sure has been a lot of change around him. Today, Verlander is surrounded with the likes of Max Scherzer, Brad Penny, Rick Porcello and Phil Coke.

Getting back to Verlander and his second no-hitter…he becomes the 24th player since 1919 to throw multiple no-hitters. Nolan Ryan of course leads with seven! Sandy Koufax tossed four of them and Feller recorded three while the rest of the list all put together two. Out of the entire list, six of the players are already in the Hall of Fame (Ryan, Koufax, Feller, Walter Johnson, Warren Spahn and Jim Bunning). Randy Johnson is another on the list, who will be in the Hall the first year he’s eligible. Then you have Roy Halladay, who is pretty much a lock for the Hall once his playing days are over. Halladay and Mark Buehrle are also the only two active players along with Verlander to accomplish this feat.

So eight of the players who have thrown multiple no-hitters will be in the Hall soon enough. Will Verlander join them down the road? It’s entirely too early to wonder about that as JV is just in his sixth full ML season, but his start hasn’t been too shabby to date.

No power outage
Can you name the batter who leads the Yankees in home runs this year? It’s not A-Rod, it’s not Teixeira and it’s not Robinson Cano, Russell Martin or Posada. Believe it or not, it’s former Tiger Curtis Granderson. Granderson ripped another two home runs in a 4-1 Yankees win in Texas Friday night. It looks like the Yankees lineup is a perfect fit for Granderson, who now has 10 homers through 30 games of 2011. Also, dating back to August 14, 2010, the only player who has hit more home runs than Granderson is Jose Bautista (who’s on his own planet right now) with 27. Granderson has 24 since last Aug. 14.

Ton of strikeouts and a big ol’ L
Phillies starter Cliff Lee struck out 16 against the Braves, but was tagged the loss after his offense managed just two hits off of Derek Lowe and the Braves bullpen in a 5-0 loss. According to B&R’s Play Index, there have been 287 games since 1919 where the starter struck out 12+ batters and took the loss. Lee’s performance Friday night was the first one of 2011. It happened five times last year: Josh Johnson (12k), Jhoulys Chacin (12k), Jon Lester (13k), Adam Wainwright (12k) and Jared Weaver (12k).

The most strikeouts for a starter who took the loss over the years at least since 1919? Randy Johnson (1997), Nolan Ryan (1974) and Steve Carlton (1969) all struck out 19 batters in a game where they were the losing pitcher. Ryan’s performance was an 11-inning pitched 1-0 complete game loss. Talk about a wasted effort.

Red Sox pitching routed again
Just when you thought the Red Sox were starting to turn it around, they drop three straight including a 9-2 beat down at home to the Twins. And I just wrote about the anemic Twins offense yesterday only to see them break out for nine runs in Fenway. This time the culprit was Tim Wakefield, who allowed eight runs (six earned) in just 4.1 innings of work. Besides Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, the Sox rotation has been a disappointment. This loss leaves Wakefield with a 5.73 ERA while John Lackey currently sits with a 7.16 ERA after his latest implosion. Meanwhile Dice K and Clay Buchholz are hovering in the mid-4 ERA. The Sox dropped to 14-18 and in last place of the AL East. That is not a misprint. Despite all the offensive improvement and signings in the offseason, Boston needs to find more consistency from its rotation if they are to compete for a pennant this summer.

LEAD OFF

There are three undefeated teams left in the Majors. The Reds defeated the Astros 8-2 to improve to 4-0 while the Rangers continued to roll with a 3-2 win over Seattle to move to a  5-0 mark. They join the 4-0 Orioles, who enjoyed an off day Tuesday. All three are in action on Wednesday. On the other side of the spectrum, there are three winless teams remaining: one that isn’t a shock (Astros) and two that are a surprise (Red Sox and Rays).

NOTABLE DEBUTS

Michael Pineda, Mariners: L, 6.0 IP, 5H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB, 4K (Not a bad start at all against the red-hot Rangers offense on the road).

QUESTION:

The 4-0 Reds are off to their best start since what year?

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

Nelson Cruz‘s bid to become the only player in MLB history to homer in his first five games came up short Tuesday with an 0-for-2 performance with one walk. His four home runs in the Rangers first four games was a feat matched only by Willie Mays and Mark McGwire.

QUICK HITS

– The Mets will need more performances like this one if they hope to compete this year. Mets starter Chris Young did it all on Tuesday in his debut with his new team as he not only shut down the Phillies through 5.1 innings with one run allowed for a victory, but he helped his own cause with three hits and one RBI. Two of his three hits came in the third inning as the Mets exploded for a six-run inning. Giants starter Madison Bumgarner was the last pitcher to record two hits in an inning last September.

– The Red Sox lineup Tuesday including their starting pitcher will earn $87.4 million this year. While their opponent Indians starting lineup and pitcher will make just over $23 million. And the Red Sox are 0-4. Good thing it’s a long season.

ANSWER:

The Reds haven’t been on a start like this since 1990 when they started the season 9-0 and would eventually go on to sweep the A’s in the World Series. On the flip side, the Reds dropped the Astros to 0-4. It’s the worst start for the Astros since…2010.

LEAD OFF

Break up the Baltimore Orioles! With a 5-1 victory over the Tigers Monday, the O’s improved to 4-0—their best start since 1997, which was the last time the Orioles made the postseason. Is it really possible? Is it Buck Showalter? I have no clue, but they sure on a hot ride dating back to last August.

Here are some of the numbers on the O’s 4-0 start…

  • O’s have allowed only four runs in four games.
  • They are outscoring opponents (Rays, Tigers) 17-4.
  • They have yet to trail a game this season.
  • Orioles starters have allowed two runs in 26 innings, a 0.69 ERA.
  • Since Showalter took over as Orioles manager on August 3 of last year, the O’s have the best record in the AL East at 38-23 in the 61 game stretch.

NOTABLE DEBUTS (from Sunday)

Zach Britton, Orioles: W, 6.0 IP, 3H, 1R, 1ER, 3BB, 6K

Michael Crotta, Pirates: 1.0 IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 1K

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

Nelson Cruz made history last night as he homered in his fourth straight game to start the season in the Rangers 6-4 win over Seattle. He became just the third player in history to accomplish the feat. Willie Mays was the first to do it in 1971 and scroll down to find out who the second slugger was.

QUESTION:

In 1998, this player became the second to homer in his team’s first four games of the season. Can you name him?

QUICK HIT

With every good start, there’s a bad start to the season as well. For a bad start, see the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew are 0-4 after being swept by the Reds that started with a blown three-run lead on Opening Day in Cincinnati. Today, they fell apart late again on two solo home runs by the Braves Martin Prado and Dan Uggla. Uggla’s home run hit the top of the wall and bounced over for the game-winning run. The Brewers responded by becoming frustrating and blaming it on bad luck instead of their lackluster play on the field:

“What do you want me to say? We had a ball hit the top of the wall and bounce away from us.” — Casey McGehee

ANSWER:

Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire belted a home run in his first four games to start the ’98 season. That season should stick out in fans memory as the year McGwire and Sammy Sosa went on a home run chase after Roger Maris single-season record of 61 home runs. McGwire would ultimately beat out Sosa and break the record with 70 homers.

LEAD OFF

It didn’t take Adam Dunn very long to adapt to that American League pitching. The White Sox big free agent pickup in the offseason belted a two-run bomb in his second at-bat and doubled in two runs in his next as the White Sox cruised to a wild 15-10 beat down of the Indians in Cleveland. The Chi Sox ran out to a 14-0 lead with two early touchdowns and then came up with a late defensive stand to hold off the Browns Indians. The Sox rapped out 18 hits while the Indians record 17 of their own in a game that featured 20 runs, 25 hits and four home runs.

Cleveland Opening Day starter Fausto Carmona gave up 10 runs in 3.0 innings. According to B-R’s Play Index, it was the most runs allowed by a starting pitcher on Opening Day since 1948. Wow. Early Wynn gave up 12 runs against the Yankees on April 19, 1948.

NOTABLE DEBUTS

Tsuyoshi Nishioka: 1-for-4, K, 1 error

The Japanese pickup did not have the debut he was looking for as he had one single while batting second for the Twins while also recording a fielding error.

QUESTION:

Pirates second baseman Neil Walker became just the second Pirates player to hit a grand slam on Opening Day. Who was the first?

QUICK HIT

Brett Myers made his fourth Opening Day start at Citizens Bank Park, but with the visiting team this time around. Myers was the Phillies Opening Day starter from ’07-09 and yesterday started on the road for the Astros. Myers pitched well against his former team as well and left with the lead only to see Philly rally in the bottom of the ninth off the Astros bullpen.

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

The Blue Jays are at it again. After leading the Majors last year in team home runs with 257, the Jays blasted four home runs in a 13-3 blowout over the Twins in Toronto. Jose Bautista started early to quiet his critics about a ridiculous 2010 fluke year with his first home run of the season.

ANSWER:

Arriba! Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente was the first Pirate to hit a grand slam on Opening Day when he accomplished this feat on April 10, 1962 in a 6-0 victory over the Phillies at Forbes Field. Clemente ripped the blast off Phillies starter Jim Owens in the bottom of the third inning.

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