I love the unsung heroes in a baseball season. These are the guys who aren't going to get MVP votes or Cy Young votes. They might not be flashy, but they've had great seasons that fly under the radar.
For the Rockies, that guy has been German Marquez. The 23-year-old righty took the mound Wednesday at Coors Field with the Rockies a half-game behind the Dodgers in the NL West. Here's what the first eight Phillies batters did against him:
SO, SO, SO, SO, SO, SO, SO, SO
That's eight strikeouts in a row. Opposing pitcher Nick Pivetta broke the string, reaching on Marquez's error, but after a walk, Marquez struck out his ninth batter in three innings. He joins an underrated pitcher named Don Wilson as the only pitchers since 1961 to start a game with three no-hit innings and nine strikeouts, and he tied a modern record with eight straight K's to start a game.
It was all Rockies after that, as they cruised to a 14-0 win for their sixth straight victory. They scored seven runs in the fifth inning, when they hit three home runs, including David Dahl slugging his third in as many nights, with each one coming with two strikes.
But the star of the game was Marquez, who finished with 11 K's over seven innings. He has been doing this the entire second half. In 13 starts, he's 6-2 with a 2.55 ERA, 115 strikeouts and 18 walks in 88⅓ innings, with just five home runs allowed.
A year ago, Marquez was primarily a fastball/curveball guy, mixing in a few changeups and mediocre sliders. His big surge has come with the refinement of the slider, which he has thrown about 15 percent of the time (and slightly more often in the second half). Batters are hitting .147 against his slider and .157 against his curve, giving him two wipeout pitches for strikeouts.
When the Dodgers lost 7-2 to the Diamondbacks, the Rockies moved a half-game ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West, and they're 1½ games ahead of the Cardinals for the second wild card. The Rockies might not lose again this season, given that they have one more game against the Phillies and then three against the Nationals (and Max Scherzer has already been scratched from a Sunday start). If all this feels familiar, you might recall the Rocktober run of 2007, when the Rockies won 13 of their final 14, won a tiebreaker game against the Padres and then swept the Division Series and NLCS -- an incredible run of 21 wins in 22 games -- before finally being swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.
With Marquez, Kyle Freeland (who should finish fourth in the Cy Young voting) and Jon Gray (who can be as good as anybody when he's on), the Rockies have a 1-2-3 top of the rotation that matches up with that of any team in the NL. They haven't clinched a playoff spot just yet, but I can't foresee a collapse these final four games. The Rockies are headed to the playoffs. Will it be as the surprise champs of the NL West?
Brewers clinch, sweep Cardinals: The Brewers beat the Cardinals 2-1 as Jhoulys Chacin pitched five solid frames and four relievers threw the final four scoreless innings. The game will be remembered -- at least by bitter Cardinals fans -- for an epic pinch-running blunder:
Incredible: It looked like Cardinals pinch-runner call-up Adolis Garcia was going to score on a throw that got away -- and he lost his balance rounding third and stumbled, fell... and was tagged out to end the bottom of the eighth. Crazy. 2-1, Brewers.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) September 27, 2018
One Cardinals fans summed it up this way:
2011 Game 6 was the game-version of the entire 2011 Cardinals season— Nick (@FWBluesFan) September 27, 2018
Adolis Garcia's baserunning was the baserunning-version of this entire season
Of course, it wasn't Garcia's fault that the Cardinals played so poorly the first two games of the series and could knock out only two hits in this game. Kolten Wong got picked off first base on Wednesday. Cardinals pitchers, apparently afraid to challenge Christian Yelich, walked him five times. Guess who scored both Brewers runs? Still, the rookie Garcia was so distraught after the loss that he turned down requests to speak to the media.
While MVP favorite Yelich knocked in eight runs and scored four in the series, Craig Counsell kept Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals' best hitter, in check with some creative usage. Carpenter batted 13 times in the series, and eight of those plate appearances came against left-handers (including one against Dan Jennings, who started Monday and faced only Carpenter before being removed). Carpenter did reach base five times, but he had just one hit, one RBI and one run. His teammates didn't pick him up when he did get on.
Cubs survive a Bartman play, win in 10: The Cubs remained a half-game up on the Brewers with a 7-6 win over the Pirates, but that was only after they blew a 6-4 lead in the top of the ninth. With a runner on, Francisco Cervelli lofted a foul pop that Anthony Rizzo reached around the net behind home plate to grab -- only to have a fan get in his way. Cervelli then doubled, and with two outs, Starling Marte smacked a line drive off Rizzo's glove for a game-tying, two-run double.
Imagine if that play had knocked the Cubs out of first place? Instead, Albert Almora walked if off:
Cy deGrom: It's no surprise that the Mets' current Twitter banner is three photos of Jacob deGrom. He has earned them all. He finished a remarkable campaign with eight scoreless innings against the Braves -- all their regulars played, by the way -- with 10 strikeouts and two hits. He even finished over .500, as his record improved to 10-9. Most impressively, he lowered his ERA to 1.70. As great as Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola have been, deGrom is the clear favorite for the Cy Young Award:
Entering 2018: 7 instances of a pitcher with an ERA of 1.70 or lower since the Cy Young was 1st awarded in 1956 (min 150 IP).— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) September 27, 2018
Only 2 of those did not win the Cy Young:
- 2015 Zack Greinke, 1.66 ERA; won by Arrieta (1.77 ERA)
- 1968 Luis Tiant, 1.60 ERA; won by McLain (1.96 ERA)
Here's deGrom after the game:
You can come up with all sorts of impressive numbers. He has held opponents to three runs or fewer in 28 straight starts -- something nobody else has ever done. As Mark Simon pointed out, the past four pitchers with ERAs as low as 1.70 and at least 269 strikeouts were Dwight Gooden in 1985, Bob Gibson and Luis Tiant in 1968 and Walter Johnson in 1912. DeGrom should join Gooden, R.A. Dickey and three-time winner Tom Seaver as Mets Cy Young winners.
Your Willians Astudillo note of the night: You gotta love this guy:
Willians Astudillo is now hitting .350 with more homers (3) than strikeouts (2) in 25 games, and tonight is his 15th straight game without a strikeout. https://t.co/J621Y9NA4g— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) September 27, 2018
So long, Bryce? The Nationals played their final home game -- which means Bryce Harper might have played his final home game in a Nationals uniform. He received a standing ovation in his first at-bat from a pretty sparse late afternoon crowd in what was a 9-3 win over the Marlins. Harper went 0-for-4, and in a preview of the future, Victor Robles went 4-for-5 with five RBIs. It is certainly possible that the Nationals will be content to go with an outfield of Juan Soto, Robles and Adam Eaton next year, with Michael Taylor as a backup, and use Harper money to strengthen the pitching staff.
Eddie Matz has the report from D.C. on what the game meant to Harper.