Real or Not? MadBum’s return makes NL West a four-team race

Madison Bumgarner was back in action Tuesday and that’s good for baseball fans everywhere (even you, Dodgers fans):

Bumgarner gave up two runs in six innings against a particularly weak Diamondbacks lineup (John Ryan Murphy hitting cleanup, three others with sub-.275 OBPs, plus journeyman Kristopher Negron just up from the minors). Really, opposing starting pitcher Patrick Corbin was one of the better hitters in the lineup. He didn’t dominate with three strikeouts but also wasn’t hit as hard as the eight hits might indicate. He gave up both runs in the second inning and escaped a first-and-third, no-out jam in the third with an out at home plate and a double play.

If anything, Bumgarner will be more perturbed about striking out with the bases loaded in the fifth inning than anything that happened on the mound. All in all, just having him back out there has to be a huge lift for a rotation that has Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija still on the DL.

It’s a minor miracle the Giants entered this game at .500. Cueto was great in his five starts before getting injured, but the rotation has otherwise been mostly terrible, ranking 22nd in the majors with a 4.56 ERA. Factor in their pitcher-friendly home park, and the Giants ranked 23rd in FanGraphs rotation WAR and 26th in Baseball-Reference entering the game.

Madison Bumgarner threw six innings and gave up two earned runs in a loss in his return from the DL. Ben Margot/AP Photo

Is the NL West going to remain a four-team race? It seems like it, especially if Clayton Kershaw remains out for a lengthy period. One minor advantage the Giants might have is at the trade deadline. With the Diamondbacks and Rockies probably unwilling to add much payroll, and the Dodgers apparently determined to remain under the luxury tax threshold, the Giants could make an impact trade or two while their rivals remain quiet — though the Giants are so close to the threshold that almost any move of any size will push them over. Given the age of some of the key players — and Bumgarner’s contract that expires after 2019 — the Giants also might have the desire to go all-in for this season if they’re in the hunt.

  • Nats ace Max Scherzer struck out three Rays batters on nine pitches in the sixth inning Tuesday, joining Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers in MLB history to record multiple immaculate innings.

  • Jake Arrieta got a standing O in his return to Wrigley Field and chalked up his decision to leave Chicago to “business on their end, business on our end.”

  • From mock drafts to rankings, check out ESPN’s coverage of the 2018 MLB draft.

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The other trouble for the Giants if they’re all-in: There might not be any impact starting pitchers available. The meaty position will be third base, but the Giants are locked in with Evan Longoria. There will be relievers, but the bullpen has been excellent (and Mark Melancon just returned). That leaves outfield, where Austin Jackson hasn’t done anything and Hunter Pence is washed up. Gorkys Hernandez has been a life-saver, but he also has nine walks and 45 strikeouts. Good luck with that.

So the Giants probably will seek at least one outfielder and hope to find some rotation help. And hope for a dominant four months from their ace.

Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber are awesome! I mean, we know that. Both now have ERAs under 2.00 after Scherzer fanned 13 in eight innings in a 4-2 win for the Nationals over the Rays — and had his second career immaculate inning — and Kluber gave up one run in seven innings in the Indians’ 3-2 win over the Brewers. Their season stats:

• Scherzer: 10-1, 1.95 ERA, 133 SO in 87⅔ IP, .171 average
• Kluber: 9-2, 1.96 ERA, 95 SO in 91⅔ IP, .203 average

Those are some fancy numbers, obscured maybe only by Justin Verlander’s 1.24 ERA so far. Scherzer’s strikeout rate of 39.3 percent would be the highest ever for a starter — Pedro Martinez was 37.5 percent in 1999 (Gerrit Cole is at 38.2 percent this year as well). Kluber, meanwhile, has simply decided to stop walking batters. He had no walks again versus the Brewers, giving him five straight starts without and he has only 10 all season.

It all means both are in great position to make another run at the Cy Young Award. The only time both reigning winners took it again was 1999 and 2000, when Martinez and Randy Johnson did it. Scherzer would be aiming for a third in a row — the only pitchers to do that have been Johnson and Greg Maddux (who both took four straight).

Of course, we’re barely a third of the way into the season, but the Cy Young races look spectacular so far with the likes of Verlander, Cole, Luis Severino in the AL, and Jacob deGrom and Aaron Nola, not to mention pop-up candidates like Blake Snell and Mike Foltynewicz. Maybe it’s not the Year of the Pitcher, but it’s maybe shaping up as the year of the dominant pitcher.

Mariners make statement: OK, let’s not get carried away here. It’s June 5. One game isn’t really a statement. Still … the Mariners beat the Astros 7-1 and it was a very big win as everyone doubts the legitimacy of their early success. Count me in that group: It’s not the Mariners’ record in one-run games, but their relatively easy schedule so far. They hadn’t played a game in Houston, they haven’t played a game in Anaheim, they haven’t played the Red Sox or Yankees. (The Astros have played 11 games against the Red Sox and Yankees and took three of four in Seattle in the only previous series between the two clubs.)

The Mariners jumped all over Dallas Keuchel with the four runs in the first — well, to be fair, “jumped” isn’t the best description. Dee Gordon reached on an infield single and so did Nelson Cruz. Kyle Seager then hit this three-run homer:

Two infield hits and a Crawford Boxes home run. That’s how it goes sometimes, although Mike Zunino’s two-run homer in the second and Jean Segura’s homer in the fifth were much more decisive. James Paxton, meanwhile, gave up two deep fly balls with runners on that were caught at the wall and another triple that went off the wall. That’s also how it goes.

The best moment in watching this game, however, came in the bottom of the eighth. Paxton had the cushy lead and retired the first two batters and then gave up singles to Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve. When Scott Servais came out for the hook, Paxton slammed his glove in frustration — not at getting taken out of the game, but in failing to finish off the inning. That’s the kind of intensity Mariners fans haven’t necessarily seen from their team in recent seasons. It’s the intensity of a first-place team.

Ross to the rescue: Last year, surprise performances from guys like Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger and Brandon Morrow helped the Dodgers to 104 wins. This year, surprise performances from Matt Kemp, Max Muncy and Ross Stripling have helped keep the Dodgers afloat. On Tuesday, Stripling tossed five scoreless in a 5-0 shutout over the Pirates, which gives us this:

The Dodgers have clawed back to .500 after sitting at 16-26 on May 16, going 14-4 since then. Stripling has been a huge key, winning four starts in a row in this stretch while giving up only three runs over 24⅔ innings. He lowered his ERA to 1.52, although he’s seven innings short of qualifying for the leaderboard.

Stripling came up as a starter, but only two of his 49 appearances last year came as a starter, even as the Dodgers churned through arms in the rotation. He struck out 24.3 percent of batters last year, but is now at 30.7 percent, with 66 K’s in 53⅓ innings. His pitch selection hasn’t really changed — a few more changeups, fewer sliders, but that’s probably simply a reflection of facing more left-handed batters as a starter. One possible change: An Andy McCullough story the other day in the Los Angeles Times reported that pitching coach Rick Honeycutt told Stripling, as he was sent back to the rotation, “Why don’t just throw [your curveball] as hard as you can?”

(Read the whole piece. Stripling also works as a stockbroker, scanning financial news most mornings.)

So, what happened? His curveball numbers:

2017: .500 OPS, 37.3 percent K rate, 80.4 mph, 1481.5 spin rate
2018: .289 OPS, 65.8 percent K rate, 80.7 mph, 1559.3 spin rate
2018 since May 12: .258 OPS, 67.7 percent K rate, 80.8 mph, 1547 spin rate

What he has done is accelerate his arm speed. He’s not throwing the pitch a lot harder, but it’s getting a higher spin rate (which is good) and, according to McCullough’s article, made it harder for batters to differentiate his fastball from his curveball since the arm speed now approximates his fastball delivery.

In other words, Stripling is better and there’s a clear reason why he’s better.

Oh, shift: Ken Rosenthal posted this tweet:

The video is a good discussion about the defensive shift in response to Manfred’s comments — the same discussions we’ve had for a few years now about the rise in home runs and strikeouts and the decrease in singles and balls in play. That’s worth a much more involved piece than a quick blurb here.

I did want to point this out, however: Other sports have changed their rules in response to a perceived problem of offense. To counter the neutral-zone trap that developed in the mid-1990s, the NHL started cracking down on all the clutching and grabbing and removed the red line to allow two-line passes to help increase offense. When scoring ebbed in the NBA in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the league instituted a hand-checking foul rule (and has long had rules against zone defenses).

Not saying I necessarily want rules against where a defense can stand. Just pointing out that isn’t some alien concept.

Your token great catch/spilled beer highlight of the night: Javier Baez takes a tumble:

www.espn.com – MLB

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