Hit and Run: Blue Jays' winning streak ends; Astros' Springer heats up
1. This one only goes to 11
The Blue Jays were one strike away from a bit of history—as well as bragging rights—on Monday night, but an 11th-inning rally by the Mets left them short on both fronts. At stake was not only Toronto's first ever win in Queens, where the Jays had gone 0–9 since interleague play began in 1997, but also the team's 12th straight win, which would have set both a franchise record and a 2015 major league high. But the Jays fell short, 4–3, in a loss that left their streak tied with New York's 11-game jag in April for the season’s longest. The ties between the two teams were further underscored via a strong start by former Toronto farmhand Noah Syndergaard and a key error by ex-Mets star Jose Reyes.
A key piece in the December 2012 R.A. Dickey trade, the 22-year-old Syndergaard labored through the first inning, burning 32 pitches—roughly one-third of his typical pitch count—to get through the frame. After striking out Reyes to end a seven-pitch battle and then inducing Josh Donaldson to fly out, he fell behind Jose Bautista, 3–1, then served up a 98-mile-per-hour inside fastball that the slugger simply crushed:
Via StatCast, the blow left Bautista's bat at 109 mph and traveled 449 feet into the second deck. It was his 12th homer of the season and his first since hitting a pair on June 7 against the Astros. After that homer, the Jays sent three more batters to the plate, as Edwin Encarnacion walked and Chris Colabello singled before Dioner Navarro struck out.
From there, however, both Syndergaard and opposite number Mark Buehrle cruised. Buehrle was typically economical, retiring the first 12 batters he faced while using just 41 pitches, with no more than 12 in any inning. His streak of perfection ended when he yielded a double to Lucas Duda to lead off the fifth, and while he worked around that, he got into trouble in the sixth when Kevin Plawecki reached on a throwing error by Reyes, took second on Syndergaard's sacrifice and scored on a double to left by Juan Lagares, who came home just one pitch later via a Ruben Tejada double to right, giving the Mets a 2–1 lead.
After his rocky first inning, Syndergaard allowed just one other base runner, sensibly walking Bautista on four pitches in the third, and he added nine more strikeouts, including seven of the final nine batters faced from the fourth through sixth innings. That ran his pitch count to 109, the highest of his seven major league starts and enough to spell the end of his evening after the aforementioned sacrifice.
A ninth-inning homer by Bautista on the first pitch from Jeurys Familia tied the score at 2–2, but the Mets' closer—pitching on his fourth day out of five, interrupted by a day off for the birth of his son—managed to strand two other runners. The Jays scored a run off Hansel Robles in the 11th via a walk, a single and a sacrifice fly and had New York on the ropes once Brett Cecil induced Michael Cuddyer to hit into a force out, erasing Tejada in the bottom of the 11th for the second out. With the infield and outfield both shifted to counter Duda, the lefty slugger worked the count full; Cuddyer lit out from first base, and Duda's pop fly into shallow leftfield fell in, allowing Cuddyer to come around to score on a single. One pitch later, Wilmer Flores singled up the middle off righty Liam Hendriks to bring Duda home with the winning run.
The win, the Mets' fourth in their last five games, lifted their record to 35–30 and extended their NL East lead to 1 1/2 games. The loss, the Blue Jays' first since June 2 against the Nationals, left Toronto tied with New York's streak, which ran from April 12 to 23, as well as three previous streaks by Toronto:
Even with the loss, the Blue Jays are 34–31; they hadn't been three games above .500 at any point this year prior to the streak. They're now just two games out of first place in the AL East and one game out of a Wild Card spot, thanks largely to an offense that cranked out 8.0 runs per game during the tear and leads the majors at 5.52 per game overall. Given a rotation that lacks a single pitcher preventing runs at a better-than-average clip since Aaron Sanchez hit the disabled list—Buehrle's 97 ERA+ and 4.01 ERA are the best among the current unit—Toronto still has its work cut out to push even higher in the standings, but the team is heading in the right direction at least.
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2. Springer has sprung
The Astros' early-season hot streak had very little to do with George Springer. While the team went 27–14 through May 20, the 25-year-old slugger struggled to get off the interstate, hitting just .195/.331/.398 with six homers. While the team is just 10–14 since then thanks to a seven-game losing streak, Springer has sizzled, batting .366/.433/.570 with four homers. Two of those came in Monday night's win over the Rockies, part of a tour de force in which he made two highlight reel catches as well:
After singling and scoring in what became a four-run first inning—capped by Colby Rasmus's three-run homer—Springer extended the lead to 5–0 in the second via his first home run, at the expense of starter Chad Bettis. He followed that with a diving catch of Rafael Ynoa's liner in the top of the third, then laid out again for another diving catch on DJ LeMahieu’s liner in the sixth, though the two runners on base subsequently came around to score with back-to-back singles that cut the lead to 5–2. It was 5–3 when Springer greeted LaTroy Hawkins with his second homer of the night, a solo shot that capped the scoring at 6–3.
Including a rare 5–0–5–0 line in a loss to the White Sox on June 10, Springer is 16-for-32 with six extra-base hits over his last eight games, but it's fair to ask if he's being put to the best use. Manager A.J. Hinch moved him from third to first in the batting order on May 24, and since then, all four of his homers have been solo acts, accompanied by only three additional RBIs.
That said, the Astros' lopsided offensive performance—with a .306 on-base percentage (11th in the AL) and .416 slugging percentage (second)—means that somebody's power is going to waste somewhere in the lineup. Only four regulars—Springer, Jose Altuve, Chris Carter and Rasmus—have OBPs above .289, and that quartet accounts for 35 of the team's AL-leading 88 homers. Meanwhile, Houston's top two home run hitters, Luis Valbuena (14, with a .252 OBP) and Evan Gattis (12, with a .261 OBP), are basically feast or famine.
3. Another Cub coming
No sooner had Cliff Corcoran's rundown of the top 10 prospects still in the minors in the wake of the recent callups of Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton and Francisco Lindor been published than the news arrived that one of them—catcher Kyle Schwarber, the fourth overall pick of last year’s draft out of Indiana University—is headed to The Show.
Schwarber is currently hitting .320/.438/.579 with 13 homers at the Cubs’ Double A Tennessee affiliate. Once he debuts, he'll be the first position player from last year’s class to do so; pitchers Brandon Finnegan (Royals), Carlos Rodon (White Sox) and Jacob Lindgren (Yankees) have already gotten their feet wet. His stay isn't intended to be a permanent one, however. With five interleague games in Cleveland and Minnesota this week, the Cubs plan to use Schwarber as a designated hitter and bench option, then send him to Triple A Iowa following Sunday's game.
With Miguel Montero enjoying a resurgence at the plate (.250/.372/.459) and with backup David Ross owning a long track record of success even if his offense has abandoned him, the Cubs don't have an immediate need at catcher. Inside and outside the organization, many have their doubts that Schwarber will stick behind the plate; in ranking him fourth among the team’s prospects behind Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler, The Baseball America Prospect Handbook 2015 reported, “The Cubs intend to catch him, with some club officials giving him a 50/50 shot to stay there, while sources outside the system aren’t as sanguine.”
Schwarber has the leadership skills and the arm for the position, but his receiving skills are still a work in progress. He did play 36 games in leftfield last year, and while he has yet to play there this season, it wouldn't be a surprise if he sees time in the pasture at Iowa with designs on helping the team in that capacity later this season.