I don't think this is the lineup Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle envisioned running out on June 12:
-- Max Moroff leading off and playing second base
-- Josh Harrison in left field
-- Jose Osuna at first base
-- Andrew McCutchen playing center field and hitting sixth
-- Elias Diaz behind the plate
Needless to say, not much has gone right for the Pirates. Starling Marte was suspended for PEDs. Gregory Polanco is hitting .250 with three home runs. McCutchen didn't do much for two months. Gerrit Cole hasn't been that good. Tyler Glasnow has simultaneously been hit hard and struggled with his control.
That's baseball stuff. Seasons like this happen. Then there's life stuff. In early May, Jameson Taillon was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Just 25 years old and one of the team's budding young stars, it was a cruel blow to a pitcher who had returned last season after missing two full minor-league seasons with injuries.
Five weeks after surgery, Taillon was back on the mound, throwing five scoreless innings as the Pirates beat the Colorado Rockies 7-2 on Monday. He threw 82 pitches, hit 97 mph multiple times, escaped one jam with a double play and retired Nolan Arenado with two on for his final out.
Before his Monday start, Taillon talked about his cancer scare with Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"I've had a lot of time to think," Taillon said. "It's pretty natural to ask something like, 'Why me?' Almost in a selfish way. 'Why did this have to happen to me? Other stuff has happened too. I deserve a break.' But life doesn't really care what's happened to you."
With help from his older brother Jordan, a pulmonary and critical care specialist, Taillon navigated through his recovery, undergoing MRIs, ultrasounds and biweekly blood tests while making three rehab starts. For now, the cancer is contained, although he'll continue to be closely monitored.
Jameson Taillon: "It was pretty similar to my debut. Shaky legs. I was excited." Said emotions hit when he walked out to bullpen pregame.— Stephen J. Nesbitt (@stephenjnesbitt) June 13, 2017
Across the field in the Rockies dugout, Chad Bettis watched Taillon's performance with hopeful eyes. Bettis also is recovering from testicular cancer. He's finished chemotherapy and has started throwing again.
"I guess it was meant to be for me to be here to see his first start back," Bettis said. "It's a very positive step forward for him and I'm very happy."
As for the Pirates, they're still six games under .500 at 29-35. FanGraphs has their playoffs odds at about 5 percent. One good sign is the improved performance from McCutchen, who has hit .393 since dropping to .200 on May 23. Getting him out of center field, where his range is lacking, will help, although Marte won't be eligible to return until May 18. The biggest key will be Taillon and Cole at the top of rotation alongside Ivan Nova. Maybe the playoff odds are slim, but it's just baseball. As Taillon has shown, there are more important battles to overcome.
I think the Nationals just may need a closer
The Atlanta Braves clubbed five home runs -- three off Stephen Strasburg -- in an 11-10 win over the Washington Nationals. Think the ball was carrying on a 91-degree game-time temperature in D.C.? The biggest was Tyler Flowers' go-ahead, three-run homer off Matt Albers in the ninth:
That's three straight games the Nationals' bullpen has yakked up. On Saturday, Koda Glover -- who later admitted he'd hurt his back taking a shower before the game (hockey players these guys are not) -- allowed two runs in the ninth and the Texas Rangers won in 11. On Sunday, Max Scherzer left in the eighth in a 1-1 game with two runners on, and the Rangers ended up scoring four runs in the inning. Now this game, which was the fifth loss for the Nationals after leading entering the ninth inning, most in the majors. Their 5.11 bullpen ERA is the worst in the National League and third-worst in MLB. Only three teams in the divisional era have made the playoffs with a bullpen ERA over 5.00: the 1987 Minnesota Twins (5.11), 1997 Seattle Mariners (5.47) and 2005 Boston Red Sox (5.17). This is what you call a mess. Time to make some moves, Mike Rizzo. (Thanks to Mark Simon and Sarah Langs for research help.)
Tune in tomorrow for the first bullpen exorcism in Washington Nationals history.— Church of Scherzer (@ChurchOfScherz) June 13, 2017
When a complete game isn't a good thing or maybe is a good thing
Considering I just wrote about the death of the complete game, I should be happy Jacob deGrom tossed a 6-1, complete-game victory over the Chicago Cubs. Still, it seemed strange to see him out there to throw 116 pitches with a five-run lead in the ninth. Then again, he threw just 69 pitches in his last outing and was working on five days' rest. Plus, there's that little thing known as the Mets' bullpen that has been nearly as bad as Washington's. We're just so conditioned to seeing pitchers removed soon after 100 pitches -- and not seeing complete games -- that it felt like Terry Collins was pushing deGrom an extra inning when 116 pitches actually is reasonable given the circumstances.
Via Sarah Langs, how deGrom beat the Cubs, after allowing 15 runs his previous two starts:
-- Threw 48 percent fastballs, second-lowest rate this season. He threw more changeups and curveballs.
-- Had a swing-and-miss rate of 57 percent on his fastball, highest this season.
-- Cubs were 0-for-9 with two walks with men on.
With four straight wins and four straight losses by the Nationals, the Mets have made up four games in four days, cutting their deficit from 12.5 to 8.5 games. I don't see them chasing down the Nationals, as I'll go with the projections that say their odds of winning the division are about 4 percent.
Twins take Royce Lewis with the top pick in the MLB draft
Most of the mock drafts had the Twins taking Louisville LHP/1B Brendan McKay (and using him on the mound), but they instead went with Lewis, a high school shortstop from California who is projected to end up in the outfield as a power/speed combo. Money demands may have had something to do with the pick, with the Twins perhaps hoping to sign Lewis to a below-slot bonus and using the extra money elsewhere. Sports Illustrated cover kid Hunter Greene and his 100-mph fastball went second to the Cincinnati Reds, so he just missed becoming the first prep right-hander selected first overall. Get complete draft coverage here.