Three strikes: Chris Sale misses a record, while Rockies keep rolling Wednesday

Thursday May 25th, 2017

What you missed Wednesday night in baseball

1. The Rockies keep rolling

Surprise: The pitching performance of the night belonged not to the AL ace on the cusp of history (more on Chris Sale below) but to a Colorado Rockies pitcher with a 5.09 ERA entering Wednesday. Tyler Chatwood tossed seven scoreless innings, allowed one hit and struck out eight on a dreary evening at Citizens Bank Park where nothing went right for the spiraling Phillies—not even the Phanatic’s attempts at lightening the mood.

Yes, Colorado was a popular sleeper pick before the season. And yes, we’re barely a quarter of the way into the season—still plenty of time for the Rockies to resemble the Rockies. Still, it’s somewhat jarring to see Colorado at 31-17, atop the NL West and with the league’s best record, after a 7-2 win over Philadelphia. They’re now 18-7 away from Coors, the best road record in the majors. They’ve done it with the youngest roster in the majors, and with their ace, Jon Gray, having made just three starts (he’s expected to return from his foot injury in late June).

Chatwood’s performance keeps the storyline front and center that the Rockies are for real because of an improved pitching staff under pitching guru Bud Black, in his first season as manager in Colorado. (The team’s 4.20 ERA ranks sixth in the NL.) Tuesday in Philly, I asked reliever Adam Ottavino—in his sixth season in Colorado, the longest tenured Rockies pitcher—about the Buddy effect.

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“Being that he’s a pitcher, it’s a different perspective,” he said. “Buddy’s very in tune with all of his pitchers, whether they’re young or they’re old—very quickly he’s able to put himself in each pitcher’s shoes and that’s been very good for us. We have a lot of young starters but he’s been able to kind of pull them out when they need to come out and leave them in when things are going good, he’s got a really good sense of that. I think that’s hard to do if you’ve never done it, as a pitcher. And he pitched a long time. The other thing is that he had a team in San Diego that needed to win a lot of close games, so he’s been doing that type of managing for a long time.”

Last season, Rockies were 12-20 in one-run games. Colorado’s record this year is 9-0—evidence that they have benefited from some good luck. Or that Buddy Black is doing something.

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2. Jake Lamb, MVP Candidate?

Speaking of emerging NL West teams with color schemes that cause a traditionalist’s stomach to churn...

… out in that space-age launching pad in the Arizona desert, Jake Lamb ripped his 13th home run of the season—his sixth in eight games—as Arizona rolled to a 8-6 win over the White Sox. For the first time since 2011, the Diamondbacks are 10 games over .500.

Lamb’s scorching start isn’t a mirage. He broke out last season, slashing .249/.332/.509 with 29 home runs in his first full season, as the Diamondbacks’ inspired push to get Lamb into the All-Star game fell just a bit short. Lamb has always struggled against lefties, and, despite his big numbers, this season has been no different: entering Wednesday night, Lamb’s splits were .342/.435/.701 against righties and a ghastly .152/.250/.261 against lefties. That’s why his homer off lefty Jose Quintana was particularly noteworthy.

The 26-year-old third baseman, who has eight home runs in May, still has a ways to go before becoming a legit MVP candidate, of course. For starters, he’s not even the best position player on his own team. (Paul Goldschmidt is off to the best start of his career.) But if tonight is a sign that Lamb is beginning to figure out how to hit lefties, you can be sure the D-backs' media relations team will be feverishly pushing a different kind of campaign for him come September.

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3. Chris Sale is good (still)

The stars were aligned for a history-making night at Fenway Park, where Sale took the mound with the chance to become the first pitcher in the modern era to strike out 10 batters in nine straight games. He seemed to be on his way to owning the night, striking out four through his first three innings. Sale still had not allowed a hit when the Rangers scored their first run in the top of the fourth, on an Elvis Andrus sac fly.

But then this happened:

Mike Napoli’s fifth-inning home run—Sale’s first hit allowed—gave Texas a short-lived lead. With a seven-run onslaught in the bottom of the seventh, the Red Sox turned the game into a rout, and writers held off on those John Farrell job security stories—for one day, at least.

Sale, now 5-2 with a 2.34 era and 101 strikeouts on the season, did become the fifth pitcher since 1900 with 100 Ks in his first 10 starts. The Red Sox are now 7-3 in games he’s started, 17-18 otherwise. In his first season in Boston, he’s still having the kind of year that will garner him some AL MVP votes at season’s end. In a universe without Mike Trout, the AL’s best pitcher—it’s not even close right now—might even have a chance winning it.

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