Starting Nine: Chris Sale whiffs another dozen, proves he can outpitch Jon Jay
All is not well with the reigning pennant winners. The Cubs’ woes were reflected Thursday as their starting centerfielder moonlighted as a late-game reliever. The Indians, meanwhile, are continuing to play without ailing manager Terry Francona. Those storylines make up only two of the nine items you need to know going into Friday’s action.
What you might have missed
1. The Cubs have been meandering through this season for a while now, but the highlight from Thursday’s 11-4 loss to the Brewers provided the lowlight of an underwhelming 2017. Manager Joe Maddon tapped centerfielder Jon Jay to pitch the ninth inning, where he chucked 46-mile per hour “changeups” en route to a scoreless frame. The hilarious stunt can’t be overlooked as at least a small indication about where the Cubs are at.
Sitting 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Brewers, it’s Chicago’s largest NL Central deficit since the penultimate game of the 2015 season according to ESPN Stats & Info. The starting rotation has been far less effective than last season, an issue that’s only amplified by the Cubs’ inconsistent offense. Team president Theo Epstein spoke to reporters before the game and essentially shut down the possibility of a blockbuster trade deadline move to give his club a boost.
Theo: There won’t be a fundamental shift in the player personnel we have.We really like our club.We don’t like the way we’ve played to date.— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) July 6, 2017
2. Even in a losing effort, Chris Sale continued to a trudge toward a little bit of history. He punched out 12 in a 4-1 loss to the Rays, notching his 12th double-digit strikeout start of the first half. His 178 Ks through 18 outings have him on pace to become the American League’s first pitcher with 300 strikeouts since Pedro Martinez whiffed 313 in 1999.
Additionally, he’s making a forceful case to start the All-Star Game for a second straight season. Sale trails only the Royals’ Jason Vargas in wins (11) and ERA (2.75) while leading the league in WHIP (0.90), strikeouts (178) and K/BB (8.09). It’s definitely a bit of an oddity that Sale could start the Midsummer Classic in consecutive years as a representative of different teams. Safe to say Boston’s offseason blockbuster has worked out just fine.
3. Here’s a tidbit that sits below the cliché umbrella of “You never know what you’ll see when you come to the ballpark:” Pirates rookie outfielder Jose Osuna recorded three outfield assists against the Phillies on Thursday, including assists on back-to-back plays at second where hitters tried stretching singles into doubles. In Pittsburgh’s 6-3 win, Osuna cut down Philadelphia’s Aaron Altherr and Odubel Herrera at second on consecutive plays in the second inning.
Per Elias, Gary Alexander was the last Pirates outfielder with back-to-back outfield assists in the same inning since 1981. The team also announced Osuna as the Pirates’ first outfielder with three assists in one game since Cecil Epsy last accomplished the feat in 1991.
What to watch for
4. In a year many thought the Royals might slam their championship window shut by trading off assets like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and others, baseball’s hottest team appears willing to be buyers at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Kansas City didn’t play Thursday, but FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported that the team is eyeing the starting pitching market.
The Royals have won 22 of their last 32 games to vault into playoff position, sitting in the second Wild Card spot with a 44-40 record. It’s possible the team could be limited in its moves given a record $145 million payroll, but this much is clear: It’s not time to give up on the Royals.
5. After Xander Bogaerts missed out on winning the All-Star Final Vote to Moustakas, he then missed out on most of Thursday’s game after taking a pitch to his right hand. X-Rays came back negative, meaning the shortstop is listed as day-to-day, but hand injuries can certainly be finicky.
Tzu-Wei Lin moved over from third base to cover Bogaerts’ spot in the field, but it’ll be difficult to replace his production as a .308/.363/.455 hitter if he has to miss significant time. Certainly an injury situation worth keeping an eye on for the first-place Red Sox.
6. Clinging to a one-game division lead over the Royals, the Indians crushed the Padres 11-4 on Thursday at home. That much was normal for the defending American League champions against one of the NL’s most inexperienced clubs. What’s been abnormal is the absence of manager Terry Francona, who missed another game as he continues to get his health issues sorted out.
Team president Chris Antonetti offered an ambiguous update on Francona’s condition Wednesday, saying he’s still undergoing tests to determine the cause of his light-headedness. It’s unclear at this juncture whether Francona will be able to manage next Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Miami.
What you need to watch
7. Keep your eye on the ball. Always.
8. Josh Donaldson fired a rocket across the diamond.
9. It’s not often a triple lands two feet off the pitcher’s mound.