The Blue Jays beat the Nationals 8-6 on Sunday with back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the eighth inning from Teoscar Hernandez and Yangervis Solarte off Ryan Madson, who hadn't allowed a home run all season and just two in 2017 and 2018 combined:
Bryce Harper did not have a good day for the Nationals, going 0-for-5:
• Struck out swinging in the first inning on three pitches.
• Grounded out to second base leading off the third.
• Flied out to right field leading off the fifth.
• Struck out swinging leading off the seventh.
• With the game tied 6-6 in the eighth, flew out to center field with two outs and the bases loaded.
He failed to get on base three times while leading off an inning and missed an opportunity to deliver the go-ahead hit. He's now hitting .217/.355/.479 and ranks 53rd out of 159 qualified hitters in wOBA. Look, it has hardly been a disaster of a season. He still leads the National League with 19 home runs, is second in the majors to Mike Trout in walks and is on pace for 98 runs and 102 RBIs.
Nonetheless, $400 million ballplayers shouldn't hit .217. And remember, this is all after a blazing start in which he hit .315 with eight home runs in his first 17 games. Since then, over two months, he has hit .188/.308/.392.
Meanwhile, the Nationals have lost five out of six to fall from a first-place tie to 3 1/2 games behind the Braves. The Nationals need Harper to be Bryce Harper, face of baseball, not Bryce Harper, just another guy in the lineup.
What's going on? For starters, he's getting killed on ground balls:
2015: .257 average on ground balls
2016: .213 average
2017: .359 average
2018: .171 average
That's 12-for-70 with just one extra-base hit. And, yes, that's a lot of grounders pulled into the shift -- in part because he's pulling a lot more grounders. Check his percentage of ground balls to the right side:
2015: 54.6 percent
2016: 51.2 percent
2017: 48.1 percent
2018: 72.9 percent
Just 4.3 percent of his ground balls have gone to left field, compared to 18.3 percent last season. Of course, Harper isn't trying to hit grounders to left field; he's trying to hit home runs. When he does manage to lift the ball, he has been amazing, with an OPS over 2.000 (compared to 1.006 last season). He has certainly hit into some bad luck on line drives, hitting .465 with a 1.096 OPS compared to .722 with a 1.895 OPS over the previous three seasons on line drives.
Some have suggested that Harper's swing, with all that coiled violence, makes it easy for him to fall into bad habits, especially pulling off the ball. One thing that's interesting to me, however, is that Harper's slump coincides with less plate discipline. Harper sees the fewest percentage of pitches in the strike zone of any hitter in the majors, but check the decline in his walk rate:
Through April: 29.0 percent walk rate, 25.1 percent chase rate
Since May 1: 7.7 percent walk rate, 30.6 percent chase rate
The walk rate isn't all related to the chase rate; as he has struggled, pitchers are throwing more pitches in the zone (38.8 percent in April, but over 46 percent so far in June). Maybe that's the biggest concern of all: Pitchers are less afraid of Harper than they were two months ago.
Happy Father's Day to Jose Trevino: Rangers backup catcher Jose Trevino had a week to remember. First, the former fourth-round draft pick was called up to the majors from Double-A. Then his son was born. And on Sunday, he delivered a two-run walk-off single -- his second major league hit -- in a wild 13-12 win over the Rockies, leading to an emotional postgame interview:
Two takeaways from this game concerning the Rockies:
1. Rockies starter Jon Gray continues to rack up the strikeouts -- nine in five innings -- but also the runs allowed, as he gave up six to see his ERA balloon to 5.89. This isn't just a Coors Field thing, as his road ERA is 5.40. He's averaging 11.1 K's per nine innings, but when he's not striking batters out, he's getting hammered. His rate stats also take a huge dip with runners on base:
Bases empty: .718 OPS, 36.0 percent K rate, 5.0 percent BB rate
Runners on: .873 OPS, 17.3 percent K rate, 10.5 percent BB rate
Gray didn't have this problem last year (his OPS against actually was lower with runners on), so you have to wonder if there's some sort of mechanical issue he has fallen into.
2. The Rockies' bullpen has some issues. Wade Davis was the goat on Sunday, with four walks in the ninth, but the entire pen minus Adam Ottavino (0.89) has struggled ... and remember where the Rockies spent their money in the offseason:
The Rockies spent $106 million between Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw this offseason. Colorado's bullpen has a collective 5.49 ERA, 2nd-worst in MLB.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 17, 2018
The trio mentioned above has a 5.75 ERA this season.
Worst bullpen ERAs, Rockies history:
So we have this season and four years from the pre-humidor days. The bullpen had a 4.40 ERA last season. Davis now has four blown saves, matching his combined total over the past two seasons.
Billy Hamilton with a catch of the year candidate: According to Statcast metrics, this play had a 2 percent catch probability:
The Reds beat the Pirates 8-6, and while Hamilton had three hits, he's still hitting just .197/.285/.282. With that kind of offensive production, Hamilton simply isn't viable as a regular center fielder. He could be an attractive bench player come October, however, especially since teams can in theory carry one fewer pitcher and add an extra position player. Hamilton could serve as a pinch runner extraordinaire or defensive replacement. I could see the Mariners or Indians being interested in getting him at the trade deadline. (It's a little harder for an NL team to carry him because you need pinch hitters off the bench.)
Astros' winning streak up to 11: Houston beat the Royals 7-4 with three runs in the eighth inning and another in the ninth, with Carlos Correa hitting a game-tying homer in the eighth and red-hot Evan Gattis singling in the go-ahead run. Oh, this 11-game streak: The final 10 wins all came on the road as the Astros completed a perfect road trip to Texas, Oakland and Kansas City. It's the sixth perfect road of at least 10 games in the past 65 years (although the Indians had an 11-0 road trip just last season).
The Mariners have gone 10-3 since they split a two-game series with Houston last week -- and have gone from a game up in the AL West to 1½ behind. The Astros return home for nine games against the Rays, Royals and Blue Jays. Can you say 20?
Comeback of the day: The Diamondbacks led the Mets 3-1 in the top of the ninth, two outs, nobody on base, Brad Boxberger trying to close it. Then this happened:
Jose Reyes: Bunt single
Jose Bautista: Double
Brandon Nimmo: Three-run homer
Asdrubal Cabrera: Home run
Brandon Nimmo: "I was thinking before this game like that scene from 'Major League' where they're like, 'You win two games in a row. It has been done before. It's called a winning streak.' I was kinda thinking that. Man, it's been a while."— Tim Healey (@timbhealey) June 18, 2018
Nimmo is what we all strive to be internally. #benimmo— Noah Syndergaard (@Noahsyndergaard) June 17, 2018
Nimmo has been one of the few bright spots in a tough season for the Mets, and he's now hitting .274/.402/.565 and adding power to his good eye at the plate. He's starting to look like the real deal, has quickly become a fan favorite, is regarded as one of the nicest guys in the game and could be developing into a team leader. Now the Mets just have to turn this two-game winning streak into three, then into four, then into ...