Here are three storylines that stood out from Friday night in baseball:
The American League Pitcher of the Month for May has kept rolling into June. Dodgers lefty Alex Wood won the award on the strength of five strong, if short (an average of 5 2/3 innings) starts. He allowed no runs in any of the last four, striking out 41 and walking only seven. A season after missing nearly four months to a series of elbow injuries, he began the year in the bullpen before his strong performances forced L.A. to find room for him in the rotation.
Although he only fanned five Reds tonight, this start was the most impressive of all, because he found the longevity he’d lacked. In fact, he was chasing a “Maddux”—a complete game shutout in fewer than 100 pitches—until Cincinnati catcher Devin Mesoraco deposited a two-seamer over the centerfield fence in the eighth. In the end, Wood threw 89 pitches, finished eight innings and allowed only one run to earn the win. It was just the second time he’d gotten that far in a game since the Dodgers traded for him at the 2015 deadline. Wood brought his record to 7–0 and his ERA to 1.90. It was a good evening all around for him—he also singled in a run.
Don't Call It A Comeback
Don’t look now, but the Cubs’ season may not actually be over. Sure, they’re sitting at 33–33, 2 ½ games out of the playoffs entirely, but whatever championship hangover or new curse or simple luck regression is making Northsiders nervous took the night off. Trailing by a run entering the top of the ninth, Chicago batted around and eventually plated six to beat the Pirates 9–5. It was no rain delay speech, but maybe if they go on a tear, the Cubs can look back at this moment: Just as in November, Jason Heyward got things going, although this time it was with a leadoff double.
Friday was a big night for pitchers. They pitched, of course: The Nationals’ Max Scherzer struck out 10 for a personal-record fifth straight start. Wood allowed that one run in eight innings. But dominance from the mound is a regular occurrence these days, with league-wide batting average among the lowest it’s been in more than four decades (at .254, it barely surpasses 2014 and ’13 for worst since the DH was introduced in 1973), so it’s much more fun to watch pitchers do something at which they tend to be less good. For example, fielding. Padres righty Craig Stammen entered the game with one out and a man on third in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Brewers, and promptly made what may be the play of his career: Shortstop Orlando Arcia tapped a two-seamer back to Stammen, who let his follow-through spin him around far enough to casually backhand the ball, then fired home to nail the runner.
And over in Colorado, Giants righty Jeff Samardzija found time in between allowing eight runs in six innings to slug a home run of his own.