Little did I know a weekend trip to visit some friends just outside of D.C. would lead to me witnessing my first no-hitter. While out at happy hour on Friday, we were asked if we’d be interested in some extra tickets for Saturday’s game. With no definitive plans lined up for the next day we decided to give it a go. What a wise decision that turned out to be.
I’d be lying if I told you I knew Max Scherzer was pitching the night before. Hell, I didn’t even know the Nationals were playing the Pirates. My love for the Mets is pretty well documented at this point. But Mets or no Mets, there isn’t a baseball game I won’t go to. Although the Nationals are considered the Mets biggest rival given their current stature as “the team to beat” in the NL East, I have no real animosity towards them, yet. The Braves and Phillies are still the teams that bring out the worst in me. I guess most of that has to do with the fact that the two teams have never been contenders in the same season. That will probably change in the years to come, but not yet.
While most of our crew decided to extend the tailgate/pregame well into the 7th inning (really got their monies worth), I at least had the one other real baseball fan in the group to soak the day in with. It’s always important to have someone else who will have the same sort of appreciation for these type of events on hand. The first few innings moved along like any other ordinary game. The only real action that jumped out to me was a home run that Bryce Harper mashed into center field. You could literally hear the crack of his bat echo throughout the stadium. Love him or hate him, that guy can flat-out rake the baseball.
With two outs in the top of the sixth I finally noticed all the zeros on the scoreboard. I usually roll my eyes at pitchers comments when they claim to be unaware they were in the midst of throwing a no-hitter until the final few innings. I just assume things like that would be on your mind from the moment that first batter steps into the box. After all, we keep track of everything in baseball. I guess I was just too caught up in conversation to realize what was happening earlier. Or maybe that was just the subconscious Mets fan in me assuming things like this just don’t actually come to fruition.
Baseball is a funny game with plenty of odd superstitions both the players and fans alike follow. One of them being the unwritten rule that you don’t openly talk about or acknowledge the potential of a perfect game/no-hitter being completed. But I couldn’t help myself. I said something along the lines of “I don’t want to jinx it or anything, but Scherzer has a perfect game going.” I was immediately greeted with a turn of the head and a dead eyed stare of disapproval for what I just said. No words were spoken initially and none needed to be said. Her face said it all. Can’t say I blame her. My reaction probably would’ve been the same if she had done that to me.
From that point on I put aside any rooting interest and was cheering for the perfect game. I’m one of those guys that as soon as I get the alert on my phone about a no-hitter in action I immediately find a TV and throw on the MLB network to watch the live look in. Each inning brought about more tension as fans went from sitting, to the edge of their seats to rising to their feet with each two-strike count. The Nationals continued to tack on runs as they rode a 6-0 lead into the latter innings. With the games outcome never really in doubt, all eyes were on Scherzer and his bid for perfection.
In the ninth inning the entire crowd was on their feet in anticipation. Each foul ball brought a unison groan followed by a sigh of relief. After two rather easy outs, Jose Tabata stepped up to bat. Tabata battled Scherzer, fouling off several pitches while working his way to a 2-2 count after seeing seven pitches. Things got interesting on the eighth pitch. Scherzer spun a backdoor curveball that was hovering inside the plate that Tabata took off his protective gear covered elbow. I’ve watched the replay quite a few times and it looks pretty clear to me that he leaned into the pitch. Needless to say, the crowd (myself included) was not happy. I was angry I would no longer be seeing a perfect game and I was left doubting we would see the completion of a no-hitter. That just felt like one of those disaster turn of events that had me convinced the following batter, Josh Harrison, would break up the no-no.
Luckily, I was wrong. Harrison gave the ball a ride that put a bit of a scare into the crowd as Michael Taylor tracked it down just short of the warning track in left field for the final out. A collective roar erupted. Now I was nowhere near the level of the die-hard Nationals fans who were in a state of jubilation (very similar to my reaction to Johan Santana’s I watched in the bar a few years ago) but I certainly partook in my fair share as we embraced after watching our first in-person no-hitter.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness quite a few special moments at baseball games. This one is right up there behind only Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium as my favorite non-Mets related moment. No-hitter’s, especially in an era where pitchers struggle to get through six innings, are a rare occurrence. I hope it’s not the case, but that could very well be the only one I see in-person throughout my lifetime. Hopefully I’ll get to witness a no-hitter, or preferably a perfect game, at Citi Field. Fingers crossed it’s not the Mets on the receiving end of it though.
Side notes: I thought it was awesome to learn that Scherzer’s parents were in attendance from Missouri and he was able to treat his dad to an early fathers day gift. I always love those type of secondary story lines. Also, what was the deal with that chocolate syrup celebration? Is this a new trend that I’m only learning about now? I’m sure the equipment manager really appreciated this. Forget the water jug, whipped cream pies, bucket of sunflower seeds or chocolate syrup – go find a couple of cold ones from the fridge and let Scherzer down a few Stone Cold Steve Austin style.
The release of the MLB.com pitching prospect rankings should have been a good day for the Mets, and their fans, to boast about their pitching depth. But you didn’t have to look any further than the number one spot to be reminded that the Mets are still playing second fiddle to the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals 20-year-old right-hander Lucas Giolito was named the top pitching prospect in all of major league baseball. Noah Syndergaard, 22, of the Mets followed him in the rankings. Both Syndergaard (6’6″ 240) and Giolito (6’6″ 255) have big frames and are known for their power arms. Syndergaard is expected to start the season in Triple-A and could be promoted to the big leagues as soon as 2015. Giolito has never pitched higher than A-ball and is expected to start the year in Double-A. Although their timetables are slightly different, they will undoubtedly be compared to one another upon their arrival to the major league level.
Much has been made of the Mets young pitching. This is supposed to be the year they start to lead the organization back into relevancy and play meaningful games into late September, and then hopefully October. Although I don’t question the potential in the Mets rotation, the Nationals signing of Max Scherzer not only solidified themselves as the team to beat this year, but for years to come.
Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon is likely to be the Mets opening day rotation. I excluded Dillon Gee from this list because all signs point to him being traded in the near future. Minus Colon, this group is as young and talented as there is in the game. Harvey, before undergoing Tommy John Surgery, looked like a premier pitcher in the game. DeGrom was the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year. Wheeler has struggled with his command but showed his potential as a front-line starter in the second half of the season. Niese is a consistent lefty who provides stability. Colon will be the staffs innings eater who GM Sandy Alderson will likely look to trade come the All-Star break. Thus opening up a spot in the rotation for Syndergaard to make his debut sometime this summer.
Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez are projected to be the Nationals opening day rotation. That has the makings to be Atlanta Braves 1990’s good. In the event one of these starters is traded before the season, a more than formidable Tanner Roark will step right in. Giolito might be the top pitching prospect in the game, but the Nationals feel he is a year away. GM Mike Rizzo is well aware of what he has in Giolito and could be the reason why he would be okay with trading one of his soon to be free-agent starters. One hole that remains on the Nationals roster is their bullpen. Don’t be surprised if Giolito, assuming he continues to progress, is promoted to bolster the pen down the stretch. The more likely scenario would be Giolito joining the rotation in 2016 when a spot opens up due to trade or free agency.
There is no shame in having the second-best pitching prospect in baseball. These rankings are nothing more than someones personal opinion. And at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is how these pitchers perform on the major league level. Despite many off-season rumors of teams asking for Syndergaard, the Mets were unwilling to part with him. They clearly view him as a big part of their future. Only time with tell if Syndergaard, along with the rest of the Mets young pitchers, will be able to out-duel the Nationals rotation in the years to come.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman knows he still has work to do this off season. Missing the playoffs once in the Bronx? Okay. Two years in a row? Say your prayers that you still have a job. Three years in a row? Let’s just say no one wants to find out the answer to that question.
For me, I would be most concerned with the starting rotation. The Yankees took another blow with the news of Hiroki Kuroda returning to Japan. Since joining the Yankees in 2011, Kuroda has been their most reliable starter. Just have a look at his three year breakdown with the Yankees:
2012: 16-11 (33 Games started) 219 Innings pitched 3.32 ERA
2013: 11-13 (32 Games started) 201 Innings pitched 3.31 ERA
2014: 11-9 (32 Games started) 199 Innings pitched 3.71 ERA
The Yankees also lost Shane Greene (Traded to the Diamondbacks), and David Phelps (Traded to the Marlins). While neither were expected to play an important part in the Yankees future plans, they both figured to be in the rotation mix at some point throughout the year, due to injury or promotion.
The 2015 Yankee rotation projects to be the following:
- Masahiro Tanaka – The Japanese import quickly established himself as one of the games top starters. Tanaka went 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts. He was well on his way to winning AL Rookie of the Year honors and was going to be in the AL Cy Young award discussion before an elbow issue shut him down. After resting for two months, he was able to return briefly in September to show the Yankees he was good to go for 2015. If healthy, The Yankees have an ace for their staff. Tanaka has avoided the three ugliest words in the game, Tommy John Surgery, for now.
- Michael Pineda – After missing all of 2012 and 2013 to injuries, he looked sharp in his 2014 return. Pineda posted a fantastic 1.89 ERA and looked to be a front-end starter in the makings. However, he was only able to manage 13 starts and 76 innings due to continued health issues and a notorious suspension. Hard to say what the Yankees can rely on getting out of a pine tar less Pineda.
- CC Sabathia – 2013 was ugly but 2014 was just down right forgettable for Sabathia, He was only able to make eight starts and posted a 5.78 ERA before suffering a season ending knee injury. The once ace of the staff is now a huge liability on the Yankees books. With three years remaining (The third being a player vesting option that is likely to be picked up) Cashman has his fingers crossed Sabathia is able to reinvent himself. I have him in the #3 slot but that is based on reputation alone. His recent results barely warrant him a spot in the rotation at all. We’ll give him the benefit of doubt that some of his struggles were injury based, for now.
- Nathan Eovaldi – The trade for the young flame thrower was the most surprising move Cashman has made so far this off season. Eovaldi is among the hardest throwing starters in all of baseball. The Yankees desperately needed to get younger, especially in the rotation, and acquiring the 25-year-old helped solve that problem. This will be pitching coach Larry Rothschilds biggest project. Despite consistently clocking one of the hardest fastballs, he also gave up hits at an alarming rate. The Yankees hope that Rothschild can help fine tune this talent and that they found themselves a diamond in the rough.
- Chris Capuano – In my opinion, the Yankees are in serious trouble if they are relying on a full season of Capuano in the rotation. I do like Capuano for what he is and the price was right to retain him. The 36-year-old lefty made 12 starts with the Yankees after being acquired from the Red Sox last year and posted a 4.25 ERA. I would prefer to see him fill the void left by the Phelps and Greene combination – becoming the teams swing man, spending time in the rotation as needed and the versatile arm in the bullpen.
In house help
Ivan Nova – After undergoing Tommy John Surgery last year, he is expected to be ready sometime in May-June. After posting a strong 2013 campaign, he struggled in 2014 before going down for the season after just four starts. It’s hard to have high expectations for a pitcher returning from surgery but he could provide a mid season boost.
Luis Severino – The 20-year-old has quickly made a name for himself and is now the organizations top-ranked prospect. Severino has a fastball that sits in the mid-high 90’s but will still need a little bit more fine tuning in the minor leagues. Although he won’t be with the Yankees come April, he is worth keeping an eye on throughout the season. It’s only a matter of time before Severino is on the mound in Yankee Stadium.
Max Scherzer – The 2013 AL Cy Young award winner took a chance when he turned down a huge extension from the Tigers last off season. But it appears his gamble is going to payoff, he returned with an equally impressive 2014 season and remains the biggest name in this free agency class. Being the top starter on the market doesn’t come cheap these days. The 30-year-old is said to be seeking a 7-to-8 year deal north of $200 million.
James Shields – He has been the poster boy of reliability for starting pitchers. Since 2007, Shields has made 30+ starts and thrown 200+ innings in each season. Although he hasn’t lived up to the “Big game James” moniker in terms of his October performances, he is exactly what the Yankees are in dire need of. There is no injury history to speak of when it comes to Shields and given the question marks surrounding the rest of the staff, Joe Girardi desperately needs an arm he can count on to take the mound every five days.
Cole Hamels – Unlike Scherzer and Shields, he is not a free agent. But, the Phillies are set to go into full blown rebuilding mode and have put Hamels on the market. It has been reported that the Yankees are one of the teams on Hamels list that he would waive his no trade clause for. Hamels has made 28+ starts in eight straight seasons and posted a career low 2.46 ERA in 2014. The 31-year-old has 4 years and $94 million left on his contract with a fifth year option for another $20 million.
At the end of the day, I think the Yankees need to either sign Shields or try to trade for Hamels. Scherzer might be the sexy move, but that doesn’t make it the right move. He is a power pitcher who is now entering the wrong side of 30. The Yankees don’t have to look any further than within their own rotation (Sabathia) to see how the back end of a contract with that type of pitcher plays out.
Shields provides the type of stability that Kuroda gave these past three years. Although he might not have performed in October last year, he did help anchor a staff into October, something the Yanks haven’t done in two years. Given his age and the way the market seems to be unfolding – a 4-year-deal might be able to land him. Even if they have to overpay it’s better to do that than give out the years. That is something Cashman must deter away from doing.
Hamels would be the most ideal fit. He has proven to be as durable as anyone in the game today. Hamels would combine with Tanaka to make one of, if not the strongest, 1-2 punch in all of the American League. He already has a contract in place that while high, isn’t unreasonable given his production. There won’t be any questions about his ability to pitch in New York given he has already proved himself in Philadelphia, a tough town in its own right. Plus he has succeeded in Citizens Bank Park, a field as hitter friendly as Yankee Stadium. The fact that his contract doesn’t have him locked up too far into his twilight years makes him even more attractive.
I don’t know what the Yankees will do. But I do know there are too many questions surrounding that projected starting rotation for Brian Cashman to sit idle.