Just another night in baseball: The Royals suffered their worst home shutout loss since 2002 (which meant catcher Drew Butera made another pitching appearance); Francisco Liriano homered off Felix Hernandez, who scuffled through six innings but still managed to get the win as Seattle beat Pittsburgh; Joey Gallo was called up by the Rangers and promptly homered; Ichiro Suzuki singled for career hit No. 2,997. But none of those items made our top five.
1. Does anyone want to win the AL Cy Young Award? Danny Salazar of the Cleveland Indians, Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox and Chris Tillman of the Baltimore Orioles entered Wednesday's action as three of the leading Cy Young candidates in the American League. All three struggled Tuesday, and we now have a race that is kind of like a bunch of pigs playing in the mud: Nobody is clean here. Salazar pitched just four innings, his shortest outing of the season, and gave up four runs to the Nationals as he threw 85 pitches, unable to command his fastball or get ahead of batters. Meanwhile, Wright gave up eight runs for the second time in 2016 and saw his league-leading 2.67 ERA rise to 3.12. Tillman, who led AL starters in WAR entering the day, gave up six runs in five innings and saw his ERA rise to 3.47.
The favorite today might be Aaron Sanchez of the Toronto Blue Jays. Sanchez is now the ERA leader, the owner of a shiny 11-1 record and unbeaten in his past 16 starts. However, Sanchez might see his innings limited in some form down the stretch, as the 24-year-old has already matched his professional career high. Cole Hamels of the Texas Rangers is 11-2 with a 2.87 ERA, but he doesn't rate as high in any of the peripheral numbers voters might consider. He is 11th in batting average allowed, 13th in strikeout rate, 25th in OBP allowed and 23rd in home run rate. Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox is tied with Tillman for the lead in wins, with a 14-3 record, but his 3.18 ERA ranks just eighth in the league and he has struggled of late after a hot start. Salazar is third in ERA and second in strikeout rate but just 25th in innings. Wright's ERA masks 16 unearned runs allowed, some of his own cause because of passed balls created by his knuckleball. Detroit Tigers fans will point to rookie Michael Fulmer and his 2.41 ERA, but he has pitched just 89 2/3 innings and has relied on what might be an unsustainable average on balls in play.
It's a fascinating race in many ways, even if nobody is having a lights-outs kind of season. Five guys are on pace for 20 wins, which hasn't happened in the AL since 1980 (Tommy John, Dennis Leonard, Scott McGregor, Mike Norris, Steve Stone) -- not that pitcher wins matter! Historically, playing well down the stretch can influence the MVP vote if a player leads his team to the playoffs, while the Cy Young vote usually places less emphasis on a team's final place in the standings, but this looks like a season in which team success might come into play if somebody has a big run in the final two months.
2. The Blue Jays win, and it will be dramatic! Tuesday saw a fun game in the stadium formerly known as Skydome, as Matt Kemp hit a two-run home run in the 12th inning for the Padres, only to see the Blue Jays score three times in the bottom of the inning, with the winning run in a 7-6 game scoring on a wild pitch:
The Padres, by the way, have homered in 24 consecutive games, just three shy of the 27 straight by the 2002 Rangers. Their home run leader in this stretch? Ryan Schimpf. I did not make that up! That's a real name. Get this: The 28-year-old rookie second baseman, who is listed at 5-foot-9, has nine home runs in July and is slugging .608. He's an interesting story: He had been in the Blue Jays system since he was drafted in 2009, he spent parts of four seasons at Double-A New Hampshire, and he became a minor league free agent the past offseason. The Padres signed him, he hit .355 and slugged .729 at El Paso, and now he's hitting a lot of home runs in the majors.
3. The Blue Jays are wheeling and dealing. First, the Jays acquired Melvin Upton Jr. from the Padres in the morning, which meant Upton only had to switch clubhouses (though you wonder how the whole visa thing works). After the game, they announced a swap of relievers with the Mariners, trading Drew Storen for Joaquin Benoit. That's a trade of two struggling relievers, with both teams hoping a change of scenery will help turn things around. Storen was supposed to be in the closer mix when the Blue Jays acquired him from the Nationals, but he has a 6.21 ERA and has been buried as the mop-up guy lately. He had a career hit rate of 7.6 per nine innings before this season, but that has rocketed to 11.6. Benoit has a 5.18 ERA in just 24 innings, with a stint on the DL in May. Benoit had a 2.35 ERA from 2010 through 2015 but hasn't had the same success in Seattle, with command issues and a changeup that is a little more hittable.
4. Jonathan Papelbon is making Nationals fans want Andrew Miller. They should want Miller! It's hard to imagine the Nationals winning the World Series with Papelbon as their closer. On Sunday against the Padres, Papelbon allowed three runs and got the loss. On Tuesday, he blew a 6-4 lead by facing five batters without getting an out as the Indians scored three runs to win 7-6. He has faced 12 batters his past two outings, and 10 have reached base (one via error, if you want some sympathy). Francisco Lindor singled in the winning run off Oliver Perez.
Indians manager Terry Francona, on Tribe's comeback win: "I know this going to be a shocking announcement: That's not how we drew it up."— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) July 27, 2016
5. We have to talk about Jedd Gyorko. The Cardinals and Mets split a doubleheader, but the interesting thing (other than Carlos Martinez's beating Noah Syndergaard in the opener) was Gyorko's homering in both games -- after he did the same thing in a doubleheader last week. Baseball! The most recent Cardinal to homer in both ends of a doubleheader twice in the same season was some guy named Stan Musial. The most recent player on any team to do it was Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox in 2011, and the most recent player to do it in a shorter span between games than Gyorko was Bobby Bonilla of the Pirates in 1990. Whew!