Welcome back to "About Last Weekend …", which is Baseball Nation's weekly recap of the events, doings, and transpirings that happened over the weekend. There were more than 140 hours of baseball played this weekend, so this will always be an incomplete recap. As always, forgive me if I miss Shane Victorino tripping down the dugout steps or something. I'm only as good as my chronological MLB.com news archives.
Also, I have a Google News alert for "Shane Victorino tripping," so don't worry about that one specifically. But that was just a hypothetical scenario. On to the weekend news ...
The Blue Jays won their 11th straight
The Blue Jays are just five games out of first in the AL East, and they're three games back in the Wild Card races. Their win Saturday over the Orioles put them over .500 for the first time all season, and their win Sunday completed the sweep.
See, every other team in baseball? Just win 11 straight to feel better about yourselves. That's a pretty reliable panacea.
What amuses me about the Blue Jays' sudden rise to relevance is how it looks when contrasted with a team going in the other direction. The Giants lost three of four to the Marlins over the weekend. Jamber Pannally had a four-hit game, Farn Kenworth drove in four, and Mance Stemble stole four … okay, I'm not sure exactly how the Marlins won the games, nor am I entirely sure who is on the Marlins these days, but the Giants shouldn't have lost to them. They did, and there's a dark cloud over Giantsylvania right now.
The Giants are 38-37. The Jays are 38-36.
The Giants are three games out of the division lead. The Jays are five games out.
But the perception is so different. Toronto fans are thrilled about their team, fired up after the most discouraging start imaginable. San Francisco feel like defacing Abner Doubleday's grave, even if that would be historically incorrect and ethically inappropriate.
The moral of the story: When your team is suffering through a stretch of poor play, pretend they won 11 straight to get where they were. Have a team that just got swept to fall three games behind their division rival? Pretend they just made a miraculous, courageous charge from the bottom of the standings to claw within three games. When you put it like that, it sounds exciting. The Blue Jays sure know what they're doing, at least from an entertainment standpoint.
The Angels are bad, the Pirates are not
The Angels are a cool 10 games under .500, much closer to the Houston Astros than either of the Wild Card spots. And they lost the game on Sunday in one of the most aggravating ways possible: a closer blowing a three-run lead.
The Pirates won their fourth straight, and they have the second-best record in baseball. Gerrit Cole outpitched Jered Weaver on Friday, and Francisco Liriano throttled the Angels on Saturday. Or to break that down into simpler terms: A top pitching prospect did what the Pirates hoped he would, and a reclamation project continued to reward the Pirates for taking a chance on him. When you put it like that, isn't itcompletely stunning that the Pirates haven't had that in the last two decades? Not once? Even the Royals had 2003.
It's more than just Cole and Liriano, though. Russell Martin is living up to the pressure of the largest free-agent contract in Pirates history. Pedro Alvarez is rewarding the Pirates' patience. Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli have walked 11 and struck out 98 in 75 combined appearances. Jeff Locke is a dark horse to start the All-Star Game. So it's not just as simple as a prospect and reclamation project doing good things.
But the successes of Cole and Liriano are things that wouldn't have happened to any of the Pirates teams of the last 20 years. Instead of Cole, there was Bryan Bullington, John Van Benschoten, and Brad Lincoln. Instead of Liriano, there was Matt Morris, Ramon Martinez, and Mark Redman. Heck, Jonathan Sanchez was wearing a Pirates uniform a couple months ago. No, it's true, it's been confirmed.
The Angels, meanwhile, committed more money to Josh Hamilton this offseason than the Pirates have committed to free agents in the history of free agency. I haven't run the actual numbers on that. But eyeballing it … it's at least close. They were also spotted the best player in baseball -- we're okay calling Mike Trout that now, right? -- for close to the league-minimum salary, and they're still awful. I'm not sure if we could have seen it coming. But now that it's here, it sure didn't take too long to get used to it.
Max Scherzer won, moved to 11-0
A couple of my favorite Max Scherzer facts:
- He's never thrown 200 innings in a season
- He's 28
Okay, maybe you aren't as impressed with those two, but the first one tells me that he's been inconsistent, even while he's been successful. The second one reminds me that he isn't exactly a prospect on his way up; he's as old as pitchers already on their way down, like Tim Lincecum, or pitchers on their way back down and then back up again, like Scott Kazmir.
Another fun fact for good measure: At this time last season, we were talking about Max Scherzer because he was disappointing and enigmatic. His ERA in the first half was 4.72 despite gaudy strikeout and walk numbers. Which was fine -- that's why ERAs aren't exactly the most accurate measure of performance -- except the story was the same the previous season.
We're seeing more and more pitchers flaunt K/BB ratios of the gods without preventing runs. Joe Blanton and Aaron Harang come to mind this year, and Ricky Nolasco was one of the ones who started the dance craze. Maybe Scherzer was one of those types.
Or maybe he was just on his way to being something like the best pitcher in baseball, even though he was never in the running for the best pitcher on his team. Something clicked with him last year. It's satisfying to see the eyeball test and statistical indicators agree and finally tell us what we thought we already knew.
Quote of the first half, movie-reference division
Torii Hunter did this to Mike Napoli:
Here's how he described it:
"I was just kind of dekeing him a little bit, and when I caught the ball, I looked up and saw he was still off the bag," Hunter said. "And I just gave it my best effort on the throw and got him out. So he fell for the banana in the tailpipe."
He then spent the next 15 minutes quoting Norbit, but the reporters already had their story. Describing another player as falling for the banana in the tailpipe is perhaps the best thing I've read from a post-game interview all year. Either I'm easily amused, or post-game interviews are rarely interesting.