Saturday was one of those days when baseball fans looked at MLB’s schedule, perused the pitching matchups and more than likely became very excited because a bunch of aces were slated to start. So in case you missed what happened, here is your roundup:
• Chicago’s Chris Sale was simply dominant against the sliding Minnesota Twins en route to a 7-0 win at Target Field. It was the 10th win of the season for White Sox’s ace, and it makes him the first Sox starter to win 10 of his first 11 starts since Mark Buehrle accomplished the same feat back in 2005. Sale lasted eight innings, gave up five hits -- all singles -- and walked two while collecting 12 strikeouts.
The biggest threat from Minnesota’s offense came against Sale during the second inning, after he walked Kurt Suzuki, who advanced Josh Willingham to second base. After that, Sale barely broke a sweat. He had three innings in which he set down the batters in order, and he recorded at least one strikeout in every inning he pitched.
According to Brooks Baseball, Sale was averaging 95.3 mph on his fastball while dialing it up to 97.3 mph when needed. He threw his two-seamer 63 times while sprinkling in his changeup (30) and slider (19). Seven of Sale’s 12 strikeouts were of the swinging variety. He got nine swings on misses on his changeup, and four of the singles came off his fastball, while one came off his changeup. The Twins could not do anything against his slider.
• Sonny Gray, the ace of the Oakland Athletics, faced the lowly Texas Rangers in Arlington. While he picked up the win, which was Oakland’s 64th of the season, Gray wasn’t as dominant as you’d want your ace to be against the worst team in baseball. Gray lasted 6 2/3 innings and surrendered one earned run on seven hits, but he walked four and struck out five. His season ERA is now 2.65.
Gray favored his fastballs (two-seam, four-seam) and curveballs equally and got the most swings on the four-seamer. He also got the most strikes on the curve. It was his 12th win of the season, and he moved his strikeout total up to 121 on the season.
• Longtime Cy Young front-runner Justin Verlander didn’t fare well against the resurgent Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He picked up his ninth loss of the season but wasn’t exactly that bad. For other pitchers, a seven-inning, three-run performance could earn them a victory, but that didn’t happen for Verlander. Unfortunately for him and the Tigers, they ran into Matt Shoemaker, who pitched a gem -- seven innings, three hits, five strikeouts and no walks.
Verlander’s record is now at .500 (9-9), and his ERA is a robust 4.79. While he’s been struggling to put something good together all season, Detroit fans should be relieved about his velocity going back to more Verlander-like levels; on Saturday night his fastball was sitting around 96 mph.
• In Cincinnati, Johnny Cueto and Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals were locked in a pitcher’s duel that was ultimately won by the Reds’ ace thanks to a seven-inning, four-hit, nine-strikeout performance. Cueto, who saw his season ERA drop to a 2.08, threw 103 pitches -- 67 for strikes. The 28-year-old Cueto now leads the National League in innings pitched (155.2) and looks to be a front-runner for the NL Cy Young. He also has held opponents to a .184 batting average and has a WHIP of 0.93. He has 163 strikeouts on the season along with 11 wins.
Unlike Sale, Cueto used a bigger variety of pitches to get to the Nationals. According to Brooks, while Cueto favored his four-seamer -- he threw it 36 times -- he also sprinkled in 21 two-seamers, 16 cutters, 13 sliders and 11 changeups. He recorded a three-up, three-down inning in the third and struck out all three batters (two swinging).
• Last, but certainly not least in any sense of the word, we have another NL Cy Young front-runner, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, who did Clayton Kershaw things against the San Francisco Giants in one of those games you don’t want to say is big because it’s still only July, but in actuality, it is pretty big.
So what exactly did Kershaw do? He only pitched a complete-game shutout while giving up two hits and striking out seven. The poor Giants just didn’t have an answer for Kershaw, who picked up his 12th win of the season and lowered his ERA to 1.76. He favored his four-seam fastball and threw 68 of them while tossing 113 pitches overall. He set down the Giants in order during the first four innings of the game. The win helped the Dodgers pull ahead of the Giants in the NL West standings.