Houston Astros

Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game is the greatest pitching performance ever

Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game is the greatest pitching performance ever

The 1998 Cubs season was special in so many ways.

Obviously the historic Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home run chase was a huge part of that, but the team's foray into the playoffs also gave Cubs fans a lot to cheer about.

And then, of course, there was also the greatest pitching performance in the history of the game.
 
Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game, which he watched in our NBC Sports Chicago studio recently - the first time he ever saw the game broadcast from start to finish. 

It wasn't a perfect game or no-hitter, though it probably should've been at least the latter - there are plenty of Kevin Orie Truthers out there who think the then-Cubs third basemean should've been charged with an error on the lone hit by Ricky Gutierrez.

Since 1908, no pitcher has put up a higher Game Score than Wood's 105 from that day (among games that lasted only 9 innings). Game Score is a metric used to determine the overall effectiveness of a starting pitcher. A Game Score of 100 is incredible and has only happened 15 times in a 9-inning game in Major League Baseball history.

Here's how Game Score is calculated:

Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (or 3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.

Wood's performance came in over perfect games from Max Scherzer (2015), Clayton Kershaw (2014), Matt Cain (2012) and Sandy Koufax (1965), among others.

Curiously, Wood very nearly had some competition Friday night and the Astros were again involved. Houston pitcher Gerrit Cole turned in a 100 Game Score after striking out 16 Diamondbacks in a 1-hit shuout.

Current Cubs closer Brandon Morrow also came very near to Wood's outing with a 17-strikeout 1-hitter against Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 8, 2010.

The most incredible part about Wood's history-making outing in 1998 is that he was a 20-year-old rookie at the time. 

"I got to watch it on the big screen once and I thought, my god what a slider that was," Maddon said during last week's homestand. "It's incredible. Wow. I mean, I don't know that people really understand how good he actually was. That stuff there is cartoonish. It's that incredibly different. It's understandable why he's able to do that. 

"Great guy on top of it; I've gotten to know him the last couple years. My god, I mean, who's better than him? What stands out [about the 20 K performance] is that's a really difficult thing to do, but when you watch those pitches and how they were moving on that day, it's understandable. At that age, to have that kind of ability, he was sort of a prodigy."

He also did this all against an Astros lineup that finished with 102 wins and led the National League in runs scored.

Houston's starting 9 that day and their OPS at the time:

1. Craig Biggio - .856
2. Derek Bell - 1.062
3. Jeff Bagwell - .812
4. Jack Howell - .549
5. Moises Alou - .972
6. Dave Clark - .337
7. Ricky Gutierrez - .851
8. Brad Ausmus - .565
9. Shane Reynolds (pitcher)

Wood also remarkably did not walk a batter - the only outing he had in 1998 where he did not dole out at least one free pass. He finished that year with 85 walks in 166.2 innings.

He said he didn't throw a strike at all in warm-ups and then threw the first pitch off the mask of home plate umpire Jerry Meals.

Check out the in-depth look at the greatest-pitched game in baseball history above.

After Astros cruised past White Sox, Justin Verlander wasn't at all happy with Tim Anderson

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USA TODAY

After Astros cruised past White Sox, Justin Verlander wasn't at all happy with Tim Anderson

The Houston Astros put a pretty good beating on the White Sox on Friday night, waltzing to a blowout 10-0 victory.

So why was the Astros’ starting pitcher so steamed after the game?

Justin Verlander, the future Hall of Famer who took a no-hit bid into the fifth Friday, was vocally upset with Tim Anderson, the White Sox shortstop who has been playing with a totally different attitude this season after his on-field struggles last season and the emotional effects he experienced while dealing with the death of his best friend.

Verlander lost his no-hitter on Anderson’s one-out base hit in the fifth inning, to which Anderson, whose mission this season is to have fun playing baseball, celebrated. But that celebration wasn’t what peeved Verlander. Instead it was Anderson’s attempt at stealing second base on a 3-0 count — and the subsequent celebration when the steal didn't count because of a walk — and his attempt at stealing third base shortly thereafter. That play went haywire, as Anderson was picked off, caught in a rundown, safely made it back to second but just as Omar Narvaez was arriving, making an out. The two exchanged words on the field after that play.

But remember that that’s another one of Anderson’s missions this year: to steal more bases and get in opposing pitchers’ heads with what he's doing on the base paths.

Well, he sure got Verlander’s attention this time.

"I wasn’t upset with him being excited about getting a hit," Verlander told reporters after the game. "Hey, that’s baseball and you can be excited about getting a hit, he earned it. He steals on 3-0 in a 5-0 game, that’s probably not great baseball. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, I don’t know. But he celebrated that, though. And it’s like ‘Hey, I’m not worried about you right now. It’s 5-0, I’m giving a high leg kick, I know you can steal. If I don’t want you to steal, I’ll be a little bit more aware of you. But I’m trying to get this guy out at the plate.'

"Anyway, I walk (Narvaez), (Anderson) steals 3-0, kind of celebrates that at second base again. I don’t even know what he was celebrating, he didn’t even get credit for a stolen base. Maybe he thought he did, I don’t know.

"Then he makes, in my opinion, another bad baseball decision. Stealing third in a 5-0 game with two guys on in an inning where I was clearly struggling — I walked a guy on four pitches and went 1-0 to the next guy — and I pick you off on an inside move after the way he had kind of been jubilant about some other things, I was just as jubilant about that. Very thankful that he gave me an out. That’s what I said, and he didn’t like that comment but, hey, that’s not my fault, that’s his fault.

"I’m not going to let the situation dictate what I do out there, I’m going to slow everything down and that’s what veterans can do — see the game, play the game, play the game the right way. He was a little over-agressive and I let him know it. I took offense to it."

Why all this angered the Astros’ ace so much in the fifth inning of a 5-0 ballgame, that could be trickier to figure out. It sounds like another case of the “unwritten rules” of the game. But not being written down anywhere, it’s hard exactly to tell which rule or rules Anderson broke.

Told after the game that Verlander wasn’t very happy with him, Anderson didn’t seem to be too concerned about being on the wrong side of the all-time great hurler.

“That’s fine,” he said. “If that’s how I play, I’m having fun and it’s exciting.

“I don’t care what other people think, that don’t bother me.

“I’m out just playing and having fun. If he took it to heart, so what?”

If anything, it’s a sign that Anderson’s activity on the base paths could be working as intended, distracting opposing pitchers from what they’re trying to do to Anderson’s teammates at the plate.

But with the results what they were, it seems even more odd that Verlander would be so upset.

Whatever the reasoning, Anderson doesn’t care, so maybe we shouldn’t, either.

“No, it doesn’t bother me,” Anderson said before having a little fun with reporters who had him repeating his lack of concern. “Does it bother you?”

Where does the Cubs lineup rank in MLB?

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AP

Where does the Cubs lineup rank in MLB?

It's that time of the year — a week out from Opening Day where all the predictions and rankings come through.

The latest coming through the baseball world is MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince creating a list of the Top 10 lineups in baseball in 2018.

The Cubs come up lower than I expected — sitting sixth.

Here are Castrovince's rankings:

1. Houston Astros
2. New York Yankees
3. Washington Nationals
4. Boston Red Sox
5. Cleveland Indians
6. Chicago Cubs
7. Los Angeles Dodgers
8. Minnesota Twins
9. St. Louis Cardinals
10. Oakland A's

We broke down our own rankings of the Top 10 lineups in Major League Baseball:

Here's how I would rank the top lineups:

1. Houston Astros
2. Washington Nationals
3. Chicago Cubs
4. New York Yankees
5. Cleveland Indians
6. Boston Red Sox
7. Arizona Diamondbacks
8. Milwaukee Brewers
9. St. Louis Cardinals
10. Minnesota Twins

The Astros should be atop everybody's list.

The Nationals may actually be an underrated powerhouse offense, even with Daniel Murphy currently injured. Once he returns, you're looking at probably the best 1-6 of any lineup in baseball with Adam Eaton and Trea Turner (two premier leadoff-type hitters) setting the table for Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Murphy (three MVP candidates) and Ryan Zimmerman cleaning things up.

The Cubs may not have the sheer strength and power of the Yankees, but the Chicago lineup is deeper and more well-rounded. Regardless of who leads off and who plays on a given day, this Cubs team will batter opposing pitchers on a nightly basis and feature what very well could be three MVP candidates — Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras.

The Yankees would see a boost here if Brett Gardner shows no signs of aging at 34 and Greg Bird finally stays healthy.

The Indians are stacked, but don't quite boast as much depth 1-9 as the other lineups ahead of them with Tyler Naquin, Roberto Perez and Bradley Zimmer projected to make up the bottom-third of the order.

The Red Sox feature a dynamic young core despite a lineup that is coming off something of a down 2017 campaing. Adding J.D. Martinez to the mix is an incredible boost, as is a full season of phenom Rafael Devers.

The Diamondbacks have Paul Goldschmidt and a few question marks — including how the new humidor will affect the way the ball jumps in the dry Arizona heat. 

With new additions like Lorenzo Cain and former Marlins outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, the Cubs' main division rivals (Brewers, Cardinals) see a jump in lineup rankings.

The Dodgers are noticably absent given the injury to Justin Turner. Without him anchoring the order for the first month or so, this lineup absolutely needs Chris Taylor to turn in a repeat performance after a breakout 2017.