I’m sure at least some percentage of the 35,397 fans at Nationals Park had somewhere to be Sunday night. Dinner plans, watching Game of Thrones, catching the end of that crazy Hawks/Celtics game.
Woody Allen once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I’m not saying Bryce Harper is God, but he certainly doesn’t care about your plans.
The funny thing is, Harper wasn’t even supposed to play Sunday against the Twins. For the first time all season, the reigning NL MVP was not in the Nationals’ starting lineup. Over the course of a five-hour, 56-minute game, the longest in team history, Harper saw all of seven pitches. Fortunately for the Nats, he knew just what to do with them.
Pinch-hitting for Michael Taylor in the ninth inning, Harper deposited Kevin Jepsen’s 96 mph offering into the center field seats, tying the game at four and ruining any chance you had of having a productive Sunday.
We can probably end the Harper/Trout debate right now (I’ll scroll through the angry comments when I wake up in the morning). While you could argue Mike Trout’s overall body of work is more impressive than Harper’s, there’s no doubt who the best hitter in baseball is right now. Hint: it’s not Trout. Since the start of 2015, Trout has hit .299 with 44 HR, 98 RBI and a robust .579 slugging percentage. Those are fine numbers but look what Harper has done over the same span: a .329 average, 51 HR, 122 RBI and a .671 slugging percentage. We’re just counting down the days until Harper becomes the league’s first $500 million player. Yankees GM Brian Cashman probably has an alarm set for the exact moment Harper reaches free agency, but that’s an article for another day.
Anyway, back to that really long baseball game I was discussing earlier. The game mercifully ended on Chris Heisey’s walk-off home run in the 16th inning, giving Washington a 6-5 victory in the series finale. It came on the 516th pitch of the afternoon. The first-place Nats have won 14 of their first 18 games. That’s a much better start than last year when Washington limped to a 7-11 record out of the gate.
Sunday featured another masterful showing from Stephen Strasburg, who Drew Silva famously picked to win the National League Cy Young award. So far, so good, Drew. Strasburg’s ERA actually increased from 1.25 to 2.17 after allowing four runs in 7 1/3 innings Sunday, but he racked up 10 strikeouts, pushing his season total to 31. That’s two behind league leader Drew Smyly (insert surprised emoji face). Three of the four runs came across on a three-run homer by Brian Dozier, who is starting to show signs of life with two round-trippers over his last four contests. He’s still hitting just .192, so his fantasy owners aren’t out of the woods yet.
Ervin Santana had been scheduled to start Sunday but he bowed out because of back stiffness. With Santana shelved, the Twins promoted Tyler Duffey from Triple-A Rochester to start in his place. Things were going smoothly for Duffey until outfielder Matt den Dekker began the fifth by slicing a line drive back to the pitcher’s mound. The ball hit Duffey square on the shoulder, forcing him to leave the game. Duffey has since been diagnosed with a right arm contusion. He scattered five hits and one run over four innings, walking two with one strikeout. With Santana only expected to miss one start, Duffey is probably headed back to Rochester.
If you’re one of those weirdos who scours the box scores looking for cool stat nuggets (yup, that’s me), Sunday’s Twins/Nationals marathon should be right up your alley. Nationals starter Joe Ross singled off Fernando Abad in a pinch-hitting appearance while another pitcher, Oliver Perez, extended the game with a game-tying sacrifice bunt in the 15th inning. Meanwhile Johnny Jonathan (that’s what Jonathan Papelbon goes by now) barely broke a sweat. While everyone else was out busting their hump, Papelbon threw just two pitches before calling it a day. At least he was efficient, getting Eduardo Nunez to fly out and Dozier to pop up on consecutive pitches.
There wasn’t much offense Sunday in our nation’s capital—both teams combined for a .231 average. But nobody had a worse day than Twins left-fielder Eddie Rosario. He finished with four strikeouts over seven hitless at-bats. At least he had company in the strikeout department. Six batters went to the plate in the 11th inning. All six of them struck out.
You can’t win them all, right? That seems to be the Twins’ motto this year. Out of the 30 teams in MLB, only the Braves have a lower winning percentage than Minnesota (.263). That comes as a mild surprise after Minnesota finished with a respectable 83-79 record last year. Call it a case of growing pains. Miguel Sano is having a sophomore slump while top prospect Byron Buxton still doesn’t look comfortable in the big leagues. Maybe the Twins will get hot at some point but right now they face long odds to compete in the difficult AL Central.
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Dodgers Win Slugfest at Coors
Baseball in Denver is still kind of a ridiculous concept but sometimes you just have to embrace the sheer lunacy of it. Sunday’s meeting between the Dodgers and Rockies was the quintessential Coors Field game. Runs, comebacks, drama—all the anarchy you could ever ask for.
The Dodgers jumped out to an early 7-1 advantage with Yasiel Puig (two-run double in the second inning) and Corey Seager (two-run triple in the third) doing most of the heavy lifting. That lead dwindled to 7-5 as the Rockies began to rally against ineffective starter Alex Wood (5 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 3 BB).
But the real fireworks didn’t start until the eighth when the Rockies used a five-run explosion to regain the lead. The floodgates opened on a throwing error by Yasiel Puig that allowed Trevor Story to score from second base. Nolan Arenado and Matt Reynolds followed with back-to-back walks, loading the bases for Gerardo Parra. He clubbed a single to center, plating two runs to pad the Rockies’ lead.
Jake McGee’s first blown save as a Rockie was a doozy. Colorado’s lead crumbled as the Dodgers sent nine men to the plate in the ninth inning. Trayce Thompson, younger brother of Warriors star Klay Thompson, scored the game-tying run on McGee’s wild pitch to Chase Utley. The lead disappeared once and for all on Utley’s double to right field, which scored Charlie Culberson from second base. Los Angeles added an insurance run on Seager’s double to left center to go up 12-10.
McGee allowed five hits, one walk and five earned runs before finally getting the hook with two outs in the ninth. His ERA skyrocketed from 1.80 to 9.53 as a result of Sunday’s implosion. Welcome to the NL West, Jake.
Colorado brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth but closer Kenley Jansen ended the threat by striking out Story. Even the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field were no match for the National League’s best closer. Jansen leads the majors with nine saves and hasn’t allowed a run all season.
Quick Hits: So what’s going on with Craig Kimbrel? He’s 0-1 with a blown save and a 5.00 ERA. Keep in mind Kimbrel also got off to a slow start last season (4.74 ERA in April/May) … Eduardo Rodriguez (knee) will begin his rehab assignment with High-A Salem on Thursday. He’ll be going against Frederick, a team he made 14 starts for in 2013. That was back when Rodriguez was in the Orioles’ farm system … Jacob deGrom was a little rusty in his return to the mound Sunday (5 2/3 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 3 Ks) but was good enough to earn his second win of the season. DeGrom had a 16-day layoff while dealing with a lat injury and the birth of his son, who spent almost a week in the hospital because of a breathing issue … Aaron Blair made his big league debut Sunday against the Mets. The top prospect let up three runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings and was charged with the loss. He’ll get another crack at it Friday against the Cubs … Eric Hosmer extended his hitting streak to 14 games Sunday in a win over Baltimore. That’s the second-longest streak in the majors this year. Manny Machado’s 16-game streak ended on Sunday … Carlos Carrasco strained his right hamstring while running to cover first base Sunday against Detroit. He’s headed for the disabled list … Alex Avila was placed on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Dioner Navarro will take over at catcher in his absence with Kevan Smith handling backup duty … The hamstring epidemic continues. Charlie Morton was placed on the disabled list Sunday with a strained left hamstring. He suffered the injury Saturday while running to first base … Carl Crawford finished his rehab with High-A Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday and will be activated from the disabled list ahead of Monday’s game. Crawford has been out with a lower back injury since April 8 … Justin Turner has missed the last two games with a bruised toe but should be back for Monday’s series opener against the Marlins. Utility man Howie Kendrick has been filling in at third base … Cole Hamels had been scheduled to pitch against the Yankees on Monday but he’s been scratched with left groin soreness. Cesar Ramos will start in his place … Alex Rodriguez exited Sunday’s game with left oblique stiffness. He’s headed for an MRI … Drew Smyly was lights out in Sunday’s victory over the Yankees (7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 6 Ks). Over his last three starts, Smyly is 1-1 with 28 strikeouts and a 1.23 ERA … Albert Pujols snapped out of an 0-for-26 funk by launching his 563rd career homer Sunday in a loss to Seattle. That ties him with Reggie Jackson for 13th on the all-time home run list … Charlie Blackmon is expected to return next weekend. He’s been out with turf toe since April 13 … Don’t look now but Mat Latos is 4-0 with a 0.74 ERA. Sunday he limited Texas to one run over 6 1/3 innings … Paul Goldschmidt bopped two homers Sunday in a loss to Pittsburgh. It was Goldschmidt’s eighth career multi-homer game … Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale got a little creative when Sunday’s game went into extra innings. Zack Greinke was used as a pinch-hitter (he singled!) while Shelby Miller got an at-bat and played an inning in left field … I didn’t know proms happened this early but apparently a high school in Denver had theirs over the weekend. Yasiel Puig crashed it, of course.