Shohei Ohtani returned to the Los Angeles Angels lineup at a much-needed time, with the Angels scuffling at a game over .500 and beginning a must-win series against a team they have to chase down for a playoff spot. When Ohtani last pitched on June 6, the Angels were 35-28, four games behind Seattle and three games behind Houston. FanGraphs didn't give them much chance to win the division but tabbed their playoff odds at 35 percent.
It has been a long month since for Angels fans, however. While the Angels went 8-14 without Ohtani, the Astros went 17-6, and the Mariners went 16-8. The Angels had fallen to 11 games behind Seattle.
So Ohtani to the rescue -- well, half of him -- except he wasn't able to solve Wade LeBlanc or Edwin Diaz as he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in Seattle's 4-1 victory on Tuesday, and the Mariners ran their win streak to eight games. Ohtani struck out looking at a 1-2 slider in the second, swung at the first pitch in his second at-bat and fouled out to left field, struck out looking again at a 1-2 fastball on the outside corner in the seventh inning and struck out against Diaz for the final out, flailing at a slider at the knees.
Is it too late for the Angels to mount any kind of run? It feels like it. There's the simple matter of the vast ground they have to make up on Seattle. Even if the Mariners collapse, there are the A's to contend with. Oakland beat San Diego 6-2, and the A's have won 13 of their past 16 to climb eight games over .500. The Angels still have too many holes in the lineup, and the rotation continues to dig deep for healthy arms. The Angels have started 12 pitchers, five of those guys are currently on the DL, and that doesn't include Ohtani.
Ohtani remains a fascinating story, and his return indicates the urgency of the Angels to win now. It seems that they've basically decided to postpone surgery to let him hit -- which makes sense, since either way he might not return to pitching until 2020 -- and there was some criticism of how they handled him. That doesn't seem fair; heck, he averaged less than a start per week until he landed on the DL, and they gave him plenty of days off around his pitching assignments. For now, he'll hit. The Angels have five more games against Seattle before the All-Star break. They pretty much need to win all five.
And their playoff chances now? Down to 1.8 percent.
It's Max Muncy's world, and we're all living in it: The guy is incredible:
Muncy's 20th home run came in his 183rd at-bat, the fewest ABs to reach 20 home runs in Dodgers history (Cody Bellinger needed 189 last year). Heck, if he keeps it up, Muncy has a chance to become just the fifth player in Los Angeles Dodgers history to hit 40:
Shawn Green, 49 (2001)
Adrian Beltre, 48 (2004)
Gary Sheffield, 43 (2000)
Shawn Green, 42 (2002)
Mike Piazza, 40 (1997)
The Dodgers have been pretty incredible as well. They hit six home runs in an 8-3 win over the Pirates, giving us this factoid:
The Dodgers now have hit 66 home runs since June 1.— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) July 4, 2018
The Royals and Marlins both have hit 68 home runs all season.
Since June 1, the Dodgers have hit .263/.345/.529 and averaged 5.90 runs per game, most in the majors. Their two best All-Star candidates are Muncy and Matt Kemp. You can't predict baseball.
Weird game of the year: The Rays beat the Marlins 9-6 in 16 innings, but here was the fun part: After the Rays scored five runs in the top of the 16th, Kevin Cash brought in backup catcher Jesus Sucre to pitch, even though Jose Alvarado had been warming up in the top of the inning. Alvarado was warming up because Vidal Nuno injured his hamstring on a base hit and had to be removed from the game.
Excuse me? pic.twitter.com/7MXJ2XhUoi— Kate Feldman (@kateefeldman) July 4, 2018
It nearly led to the managerial blunder of the year. The first three Marlins reached on ground ball singles. Cash then apparently wanted to remove Sucre, but he had made two mounds visits with Sucre facing a batter, so Sucre pitched to Bryan Holaday, who hit a deep fly ball that Kevin Kiermaier chased down. Only then did Alvarado come in, and the Marlins got the tying run to the plate.
Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise: How do you sum up the misery that is the 2018 New York Mets? Well, there's this:
The Mets are 11-15 when their starter goes at least 6 and allows 2 ER or fewer.— Mark Simon (@MarkASimonSays) July 4, 2018
The 11 wins are the fewest such wins
The 15 losses are tied for the most such losses.
The Yankees are 28-1 in those games entering today
Mark then updated his post to reflect that the Mets are now 11-16 in such games. Knowing this, you won't be surprised that the bullpen is last in the majors in Win Probability Added. I guess Mickey Callaway was a lot smarter when he could give the ball to Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
On Tuesday, the Mets led the Blue Jays 5-0 and found a way to lose. Let's just say the bullpen was rather ineffective, as Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a two-run homer in the eighth off rookie Tim Peterson for a 7-5 victory for Toronto. That 11-1 start for the Mets feels like it happened in another century; they have gone 22-48 since. I don't think Mets fans will take solace in the fact that that's a better win percentage than that of the Orioles or Royals.
I'm not sure this is a good thing: The Brewers blanked the Twins 2-0 as Junior Guerra tossed five scoreless innings and the wonderful and amazing Josh Hader tossed three hitless frames in relief. Eric Thames' two-run homer held up. But get this: The Brewers struck out 16 times in just eight innings and had seven fly outs and one liner to third base. That means there wasn't a single groundout or out at first base. It was the sixth time in the past 20 years that a first baseman didn't record a putout or assist.
The three innings from Hader might seem a little surprising, but he hasn't pitched a whole lot of late. He hadn't gone more than three outs or 18 pitches in an appearance since June 11, so Craig Counsell simply calculated the score of the game and the lack of pitches of late and let Hader go a little deeper. He's up to 83 strikeouts in 44⅔ innings and has struck out 50.9 percent of all batters faced.