With just two weeks to play in Major League Baseball’s regular season, there is still a lot at stake. The most notable race to watch is the second American League Wild Card slot, with at least four teams (Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) in the hunt for that post-season ticket.
For our purposes, watch pitching match-ups closely from here until season’s end. Once teams clinch playoff spots they often shuffle their pitching rotations at the last moment. Clubs out of races often do the same as they want to give opportunities to young pitchers who might help the ball club in 2016. With that in mind, let’s discuss week 25:
The Price is right: Baseball history is full of examples of late-season pitching acquisitions who have been big-time game changers. Take Rick Sutcliffe who was traded in 1984 from the Cleveland Indians to the Chicago Cubs. After the mid-June deal, Sutcliffe went 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA and carried the Cubs to the post-season. This year’s version of said pitcher is David Price. While he was dealt later in the season than Sutcliffe, Price, who went from the Detroit Tigers to the Toronto Blue Jays, has been every bit as impactful. The former Cy Young Award winner is 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA since the move. Today, look for Price to continue that run of success at home versus the New York Yankees.
Quite simply, Price has been a consistent rock for Toronto. In his nine Blue Jay starts, Price hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any contest. He’s allowed two or fewer runs seven times. All this means virtually a victory lock for the Blue Jays, who are the League’s best-hitting team. Aiding in Price’s quest for glory here is the fact that Adam Warren gets the pitching assignment for the Yankees. Overall, Warren has been solid in 2015 (6-6 with a 3.33 ERA), but he’s just recently been transitioning from the bullpen into the starting rotation. His last outing was the first game he’s started since June 25. As a result, he threw just four innings in that recent start (he allowed six hits and two runs in that short outing). The upshot: He probably won’t last long and, while the back of the Yankees bullpen is terrific, the middle innings may be tough for New York.
A star is reborn: It seems like just yesterday that the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander was one of the game’s best pitchers. But last year, the former Cy Young Award winner appeared to falter (4.54 ERA). Then he began this season every bit as poorly. Through his first seven starts he was shackled with a 5.57 ERA. But as is often the case, the reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Since the second week in August, Verlander has been back. In his past eight starts, Verlander has delivered seven quality starts (six innings or more pitched; three earned runs or fewer allowed).
As a result, expect him to engage in a pitcher’s duel when he and his Tigers host Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. There are two reasons why I can’t endorse Verlander for the win. First, his Tigers are currently a weak side, sitting at the bottom of the AL Central. Second, Sale getting the start for Chicago means it’s very unlikely that Detroit will have an unexpected offensive outburst. Sale isn’t the pitcher he was last year, but he’s still been solid (3.47 ERA) and that should be enough under the circumstances for a pitchers’ duel.
Game Score: Here’s our weekly Game Score spotlight. Reminder: Game Score is a stat created by numbers guru Bill James; the statistic combines recent and historic statistic to project upcoming pitching performances. A score greater than 70 means you should expect domination. A number below 50 means a disaster is likely on the way. Based on these numbers, be prepared for a high-scoring affair on Friday when the New York Yankees host the Chicago White Sox. Both starters in this game – White Sox pitcher John Danks and Yankees’ starter C.C. Sabathia – project poorly for this contest. Danks has a 43 Game Score, while Sabathia brings a 48. These scores mean an offensive-oriented outcome is very likely.