The trade deadline was fun, but not as fun as everything that unfolded Tuesday night. I don’t even have the space to mention Evan Longoria‘s cycle or Joey Gallo‘s 456-foot home run or Charlie Blackmon‘s great catch and worst throw ever or Howie Kendrick‘s 5-for-5 night.
Let’s start with the hottest team in the majors. Baseball is not supposed to be this easy, but the Los Angeles Dodgers are making it look like it. They beat the Braves 3-2 on Tuesday as Cody Bellinger slammed his 29th home run and Kenta Maeda tossed seven scoreless innings. They’ve won nine games in a row for an absolutely crazy 40-of-46 and 53-of-66. They’re 75-31 and only two teams in the past 70 years have won 75 games in 106 or fewer decisions: the 1998 Yankees (75-27) and the 2001 Mariners (75-29).
This team is so good that at the deadline it acquired Yu Darvish, who would arguably replace Maeda in the potential playoff rotation, except Maeda is suddenly pitching his best baseball of the season with a 1.23 ERA over his past four starts. He has lowered his mark from 5.16 on June 4 to 3.79. While Maeda pitched seven innings against the Braves, manager Dave Roberts has been generally very conservative with his innings, as he went only five innings each of his previous three outings. Maeda acknowledged that he realizes he’s potentially pitching to keep his spot in the rotation.
“Yes, I do feel the pressure,” Maeda said through an interpreter after the game. “That’s the reality right now. We have a lot of really good pitchers who are producing.”
Maeda is set for now, with Clayton Kershaw and Brandon McCarthy on the DL, but that’s the kind of depth Roberts has. Over the final months he’ll have the luxury of waiting for everyone to get healthy, giving the starters rest as needed and enter October with the freedom to pick from the guys with the hot hands — a far cry from last season when he had to use a gassed Maeda and rookie Julio Urias.
If the Dodgers keep winning, the other interesting scenario is, as the team approaches the Mariners’ modern record of 116 wins, how hard they’ll push to beat the record. That’s something to worry about in September. For now, we can only sit back and admire one of the greatest stretches in major league history.
Max Scherzer‘s good night and bad night. It was a wild second inning for the Washington Nationals‘ ace. He hit his first career home run in the top of the inning, a three-run blast off Marlins’ lefty Chris O’Grady, but left in the bottom of the inning because of neck spasms. Scherzer said he couldn’t turn his neck to the left. The excuse: the proverbial old slept wrong. You’d think those five-star hotels major league teams stay in would have better pillows.
“It hurt when I turned to look left,” he said. “In the first inning I could tell I wasn’t right. It was hard for me to pick up the target. When I went out in the second inning, I could tell it had tightened up even more, and I knew it was time to pull the chute.”
As always, it’s a good idea to play it safe, and you know Scherzer didn’t want to come out with a 6-0 lead and a sure win on the ledger. Neither he nor the team seemed to believe the injury is anything serious. He was even able to joke about his home run, saying, “I’ll probably have a shirt made.”
Game of the year. When you get Chris Sale facing off against Carlos Carrasco, you expect a tense pitcher’s duel. Instead it was one of the craziest games of the year. Scott Lauber has the full rundown here, but to briefly recap: both starting pitchers got pounded, Craig Kimbrel blew a lead in the top of the ninth and then Cody Allen blew a lead in the bottom of the ninth as Christian Vazquez hit the two-out, three-run walk-off home run — just his second of the season:
🚨 CHRISTIAN. VAZQUEZ. WALK. OFF!!!! 🚨 pic.twitter.com/TBSzxhztOJ
— Red Sox (@RedSox) August 2, 2017
The Red Sox’s win was even more improbable because Mitch Moreland struck out for what would have been the third and final out of the game, only to reach on a wild pitch and score what would be the decisive run. According to Elias, the last time a player reached on a two-out strikeout and score the winning run was 1961. I love baseball.
If there’s a takeaway from this game, however, it’s the Indians might have a little issue at closer. Allen is now 0-6 and his ERA since May 10 is 4.45. He’s not looking like the dominant closer of last October who shared the limelight with Andrew Miller as that shutdown duo out of the pen. It’s something to watch these final two months.
(Heck, even Kimbrel, as dominant as he has been with 81 strikeouts in 44⅔ innings, has four blown saves, all in games in which he has served up a home run.)
Oh, that game also featured the potential catch of the year. Austin Jackson‘s catch was so amazing that the Red Sox fans gave him a standing ovation. Some called it one of the best ever at Fenway. Longtime Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes called it the best by an Indians center fielder since Kenny Lofton robbed B.J. Surhoff in 1996. OK, enough with the chit-chat, here’s the highlight:
There are no words to describe this catch.
👏👏👏, Austin Jackson. pic.twitter.com/SzrL7AwqXK
— MLB (@MLB) August 2, 2017
And because I’m your faithful correspondent, I’ll do extra work for you. Here’s Lofton’s catch:
I give the edge to Lofton. Jackson’s catch is dramatic with the tumble over the short wall, but I give Lofton’s play a much higher degree of difficulty.
Dallas Keuchel is not happy. Players rarely say — at least for public consumption — they’re displeased when their front office doesn’t do anything splashy at the trade deadline, so give the Houston Astros ace credit for his honesty:
When asked about Trade Deadline, Keuchel said: “I’m not going to lie. Disappointment is a little bit of an understatement.” pic.twitter.com/hUgk3M45jg
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) August 1, 2017
Look, the actual impact of the trade deadline is generally overblown, which isn’t to say that it’s meaningless. Adding a player of the caliber of Sonny Gray or Darvish doesn’t really increase a team’s chances of winning the World Series all that much.
Of course, playoff games aren’t won on calculators, and Astros players have seen both the rotation and bullpen fall off the past two months, so you can understand why Keuchel would want the front office to make a deal. On the other hand, it’s Jeff Luhnow’s job to balance the present while protecting the future as well, and not trading Kyle Tucker — if, say, that’s who the Rangers or A’s demanded — was absolutely the right thing to do.
Astros owner Jim Crane later made it sound as if the Astros had agreed with the Orioles on a deal for Zach Britton, including the exchange of physicals, before Orioles owner Pete Angelos either vetoed the deal or asked for more. Luhnow instead acquired Francisco Liriano for left-handed bullpen help.
— Mariners (@Mariners) August 2, 2017
The Mariners have clawed their way back from eight games under .500 on May 27, when they had the worst record in the AL, to just 1½ games behind the Royals for the second wild card. A big key has been the outfield defense. The Mariners entered Tuesday tied with the Red Sox at plus-30 defensive runs saved, tied for best in the majors. Dyson leads center fielders with eight assists, and while he’s known for his range, he also has a plus arm. Don’t sleep on the M’s.
And then Jon Lester hit his first career home run. Opposite field no less — one of five the Cubs hit in a 16-4 slugfest at Wrigley:
— MLB (@MLB) August 2, 2017
I’m just impressed that he managed not to smile until he crossed home plate, as if he has done this a hundred times. He also became the 25th lefty in major league history with 2,000 strikeouts — although he also threw 104 pitches in only four innings and didn’t last long enough to get the win. Here’s guessing he still enjoyed a night out on the town after the game.