Lester took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and even ended his career-long hitless streak at the plate, but he wound up falling to 4-7 on the season when the Cardinals tagged him for two unearned runs in the seventh and eventually went on to win 6-0. Lackey, meanwhile, made it through his seven frames unscathed with the help of a terrific double-play started by Kolten Wong in the sixth that allowed the righty escape a first-and-third, no-out jam.
Michael Wacha is headed to the All-Star Game and Carlos Martinez might be going there. Lance Lynn has put up a 2.53 ERA and Jaime Garcia has come off the injury scrap heap to post a 1.69 mark of his own. Lackey, though, might be the most overlooked part of what has been a historically good Cardinals rotation so far this season.
Lackey lowered his season ERA to 3.09 after Monday’s gem, and it’s come along with a 1.23 WHIP and 81 strikeouts over 110 2/3 innings. If you wipe out a clunker that the righty had at Coors Field in June, the ERA drops all the way to 2.53 and the WHIP to 1.16.
We’re about to enter trade season, so perhaps now is a good time to recall that the Cards picked up Lackey and his $507,500 salary from the Red Sox last July in exchange for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, both of whom are at Triple-A right now. It’s safe to say Boston is trying to avoid making another mistake like that later this month.
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Banged up Bucs
Josh Harrison was a first-time All-Star last season in the midst of his breakout campaign. This year, he’ll be on the disabled list during the Midsummer Classic.
Harrison injured his left thumb when he slid into second base in the seventh inning of Sunday’s win over the Indians, and subsequent tests revealed that he tore ligaments. More will be known about Harrison’s status later this week after he receives a second opinion, but the feeling right now is that he could be on the shelf for as long as six weeks.
"I'm still trying to figure out myself. It's pretty fresh," Harrison said. "Got to go through a few more tests with the training staff, see what I can do and what I can't, and we'll go from there."
Harrison got off to a painfully slow start this season, hitting an ugly .173/.209/.282 through his first 28 games. Since then, though, he’s been much more like last year’s All-Star version, sporting a .338/.370/.441 batting line across 47 contests.
With Harrison out, the Pirates were forced to put the struggling Gregory Polanco in the leadoff spot on Monday. Polanco entered the game batting just .148/.239/.222 over his last 25 games before picking up one single in four plate appearances.
Also moving into a more prominent role following Harrison’s injury will be Jung Ho Kang. Kang had seemed to have a good shot to overtake Jordy Mercer at shortstop earlier in the first half when his bat heated up, but, like, Polanco, his stick has been cooled off, as the Korean import was sporting an ugly .202/.292/.255 batting line over his last 31 contests going into Monday’s game. He batted cleanup Monday and went 1-for-4 with a single.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, Harrison’s ailment isn’t the only one they’re dealing with. Starling Marte left Sunday’s game with what the club is simply referring to as discomfort in his left side. It’s undoubtedly an oblique injury even if the Pirates aren’t calling it that, and that’s something that usually leads to a disabled list stint.
For now, the team is calling Marte day-to-day. The outfielder said Monday that he didn’t think he’d need a trip to the DL, but then he went on to describe how he feels and it sounded like, well, someone that is probably bound for the DL.
“We'll see in a couple more days,” Marte said. “It bothers me when I swing, when I run, when I breathe. Everything. It hurts.”
Keuchel with a K
Not only has Dallas Keuchel proved this season that last year’s breakout was no fluke, he’s taken his game to a whole other level.
The Astros’ ace has improved across the board in 2015. He’s put up a 2.14 ERA that ranks just behind Sonny Gray for second in the American League. His 0.99 WHIP is third in the AL behind Chris Sale and Chris Archer. His 11th win on Monday put him on top in the Junior Circuit.
The only thing that’s been missing from Keuchel’s repertoire, that you could say has kept him from joining the best of the best, is the lack of strikeouts. Well, guess what? He’s getting better at that, too.
In April, Keuchel struck out 22 over 37 innings for a 5.4 K/9 rate. In May, he improved to 38 whiffs across 44 2/3 frames for a 7.7 K/9 rate. Since the beginning of June, he’s punched out 50 over 48 2/3 innings, good for a 9.2 K/9 rate.
Keuchel struggles to crack 90 mph on the radar gun, which doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t pile up strikeouts but also gives him less margin for error in the category than the hard-throwers. It’s certainly possible that the southpaw’s recent upward trend in punchouts is a fluke and he will revert back closer to last season’s 6.6 K/9 rate. But, this is a guy who has defied expectations all along the way to develop into a true ace, so we can’t discount the possibility that he’s picked up more swing-and-miss skills.
National League Quick Hits: Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Monday that he thinks Hunter Pence (wrist) could return before the All-Star break ... Matt Garza was placed on the disabled list Monday with tendinitis in his pitching shoulder ... Denard Span left Monday's game against the Reds with more back spasms, while teammate Yunel Escobar exited the same game with a tight hamstring ... Jon Niese lowered his ERA to 3.58 after eight shutout innings against the Giants on Monday ... Kelly Johnson went 2-for-4 with an RBI single and a two-run home run in Monday’s win over the Brewers ... A.J. Burnett allowed a lone run in 7 2/3 innings of work in a no-decision against the Padres on Monday ... James Shields yielded only two hits and an unearned run in seven innings versus the Pirates ... Khris Davis (knee) is slated to return from the disabled list on Tuesday ... Cory Luebke will be examined in San Diego on Tuesday after feeling discomfort in his left elbow in his last rehab start ...
American League Quick Hits: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) is slated to return from the disabled list on Wednesday ... Lorenzo Cain will be sidelined for a few days after aggravating his left hamstring injury on Sunday ... Chris Sale kept it going Monday, allowing just two runs while notching a complete game win over the Blue Jays ... J.D. Martinez homered for the third straight game Monday as part of a three-hit night ... Nick Castellanos went 4-for-5 with a solo home run and four RBI in Monday's win over the Mariners ... Birthday boy Preston Tucker went 4-for-5 with a double and a home run in Monday’s victory over the Indians ... Manny Machado celebrated a birthday of his own with a single and a home run in Monday’s loss to the Twins ... Yordano Ventura (hand) will rejoin the Royals’ rotation on Thursday against the Rays ... Brian Dozier slugged a walk-off, two-run home run in the 10th inning of Monday’s win over the Orioles ... Josh Donaldson singled and belted a two-run shot on Monday versus the White Sox ... Ricky Nolasco underwent surgery on his right ankle on Monday. There’s no timetable for his return ... The Royals designated Jason Frasor for assignment ...