Whacky night for the good guys with two great outcomes and some very eerie similarities. Right out of the gate, the O’s got off to a preposterous start making three errors and yielding a run on a passed ball, and hanging out their starter Wei-Yin Chen to dry, but they came back to beat the Red Sox in Fenway, 6-4 in 13 innings. The O’s never led in this one until Chris Davis plated the go ahead run with a single in the 13th and Jimmy Johnson came in to slam the door.
Johnson has just been fabulous this season despite suffering a debilitating bout with food poisoning. He’s 8 for 8 in save opportunities and has not yielded an earned run in 11 appearances. The O’s AL-best bullpen shut out the Red Sox with eight innings of spectacular work
Closer to home, the Nats, in a major statement game, “Took back the park” from the Phils and knocked them out 4-3 in 11 innings. This one also started off poorly with the Nats booting three, and trailing the entire game until Wilson Ramos’ bases loaded walk-off single. Sure there were Phillies fans who came out, but they were in the clear minority with the park being dominated by the locals. Perhaps the ticket selling strategy worked, perhaps the Phillies sub .500 record dampened the enthusiasm of their faithful, perhaps the Nats fans are starting to feel it after a 16-9 start with the lowest staff ERA in the National League.
Some early trends for both clubs:
- Adam Jones is hitting with a better approach than last year. His off-season work with Tony Gwynn in San Diego has definitely helped. Strikeout percentage per at bat is down to 15% from 20% last season. Adam still chases the low and away slider with two strikes but not as much as before.
- Despite his first homer of the season last night, Mark Reynolds strikeout percentage is up to 46% from 37%. How can you go higher than 37%? Lord only knows. Clearly, Reynolds mechanics are the issue. He’s always dropped his head on his forward stride changing the plane of his swing. This makes consistent contact extremely difficult. The O’s are prepared to take his 30 homers and 200 Ks but he’s way off that pace and something needs to change.
- Brian Matusz has only allowed one earned run in his last 12 1/3 innings, over his last two starts. While the sample size is small, the anecdotal evidence for improvement is there. He’ll be on the hill for a major test against the Rangers next week.
- Bryce Harper’s on base percentage is a team leading .417 after 23 appearances. Again, small sample size but I loved the three walks in last night’s game against Philadelphia. His approach at the plate seems polished and mature; way beyond his 19 years of age. The Nats have definitely found their man.
- The team is first in the NL in team ERA but second to last in homers, second to last in steals, and second to last in runs scored. If there is any doubt that good pitching beats good hitting there shouldn’t be, but is a team that is slow on the base paths and weak at the plate capable of sustained success?
- The team is fifth in defense with a .984 fielding percentage and first in home runs allowed with only nine balls leaving the park in 26 games – outstanding.
Both clubs appear to be vastly improved over last year primarily due to better pitching. The Nats have the higher profile starting rotation and the energy Bryce Harper brings has the team ready to explode. The O’s are clearly more power oriented but speed and poor defense remain a concern. Either way, this has been a great first month for Beltway baseball fans.