This is a weekly column aimed at discovering the best pitching matchups of the week ahead. Using the projected probables listed atop every team’s page, we have pinpointed the five pitching matchups most likely to become “appointment television.”
These probables are subject to change, as even the best plans can be washed away.
One of the key purposes of the Probables column is to identify pitchers having under-the-radar good seasons. Hence, Mike Foltynewicz in last week’s column (he got the win vs San Francisco, by the way). Foltynewicz is also the first pitcher to hit the DL the week of his column appearance, bone chips in his elbow have sidelined him for at least a few starts. This writer wishes Foltynewicz a quick and full recovery. On to the next hurlers to be hit by the curse…
As always, these matchups are subject to the whims of front offices, manager’s discretion, and, of course, rain. All stats are as of June 5th.
5. Archie Bradley vs Jake Odorizzi
(Diamondbacks vs Rays; Wednesday June 8, 9:40 PM ET)
Arizona’s starters have been largely disappointing this season. Shelby Miller, who cost Arizona a truckload of talent, currently sits on the disabled list with a 7.09 ERA. Patrick Corbin (4.96 ERA) and Robbie Ray (4.74 ERA) have taken steps back after showing progress last season. Rubby De La Rosa has arguably been their best starter, but he’s also hurt; he’s out with an ominous-sounding elbow sprain. Even Zack Greinke, the $206M dollar man, currently owns a 4.29 ERA, though recent trends show his struggles might be a thing of the past. So let’s just lump Archie Bradley, he of the 4.94 ERA into that group, yes? Not so fast. Bradley, after all, is a former top prospect, so maybe he’s figured something out. In two starts since his recall, Bradley, 23, holds a 2.70 ERA, striking out 19 batters in 13 1/3 innings. One of those starts came against the vaunted Cubs offense in Wrigley Field. Bradley went six innings of one-run ball, striking out ten. When Bradley’s on, he generates whiffs with a fastball that rams up to 96, a curveball that flashes above average, and the occasional changeup.
For three seasons running, Jake Odorizzi has resided on the outer edge of good American League pitchers, his name only being seriously considered when it was being tossed around as a trade candidate for the Dodgers, or the Cubs, or whatever contending team du jour. Let’s learn a little more about Jake Odorizzi while he’s still hidden away in Tampa Bay. The 26-year-old right-hander has already been traded twice, and in dramatic fashion. In 2010, Odorizzi was traded by Milwaukee to Kansas City in the Zack Greinke deal. After making his Major League debut in 2012, Odorizzi was traded that offseason in the famous “Wil Myers” trade, shipped with Myers (and others) to Tampa Bay for Wade Davis and James Shields. Now in his fourth season with Tampa Bay, Odorizzi has settled in. He holds a 3.33 ERA across his first twelve starts, striking out 57 batters in 67 2/3 innings. Odorizzi relies on a fastball he can throw four ways; he can throw it four-seam, sink it, throw it two-seam, and, on occasion, cut it. These four fastballs are paired with an above-average slider.
4. James Shields vs Max Scherzer
(White Sox vs Nationals; Wednesday June 8, 8:10 PM ET)
Through his first ten starts in 2016, James Shields held a 3.06 ERA. After an inconsistent 2015, Shields had finally started to deliver on the $75M deal San Diego signed him for. Then came (arguably) the most tumultuous week of Shields’ career. On Tuesday, Shields allowed ten earned runs in 2 2/3 innings, a career-worst start. The next day, Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler lambasted the team’s quality of play, singling out Shields by name. Let it also be noted that the Padres blew a ten-run lead the day of Fowler’s tirade, but that’s not particularly about Shields. Lastly, on Saturday, Shields was traded to the White Sox in exchange for two prospects. While the rest of the Padres will have to slog through another listless season, at least the 34-year-old righty gets a new start in Chicago. This’ll be Shields’ first start for the South Siders, and his 12th total in US Cellular Field. Shields holds a 6.00 ERA in only three starts versus Washington.
Home runs have been Max Scherzer’s bugaboo this season. The 31-year-old has allowed 16 of them, only two less than during his Cy Young season in 2013. That, of course, is in only two months compared to a full season. Scherzer has allowed a home run in six consecutive starts, a streak started with a four-homer game in Wrigley Field. While Scherzer’s the type of pitcher who could turn that trend around immediately, it’s surely an alarming sign. After all, a homer-happy pitcher in the second year of a $210M deal isn’t exactly what a team wants. For now, Scherzer is still very good. He’s only a month removed from striking out 20 Tigers in a single game, after all. Still, even in that game he allowed two home runs. Scherzer will look to continue righting the ship in his return visit to Chicago, this time versus the White Sox. Scherzer has extensive experience versus the White Sox from his days in Detroit, he has a 2.54 ERA in 23 starts.
3. Madison Bumgarner vs David Price
(Giants vs Red Sox; Wednesday June 8, 10:15 PM ET)
There’s a commercial in the Bay Area that stars Madison Bumgarner and his Ford truck. An attentive wife alerts her overzealous husband about Bumgarner (and his truck) nearby. The man puffs his chest out, looks over the truck, and gives some sort of convoluted compliment to the truck, oblivious to the Postseason hero standing next to it. Walking away now, the wife (once again) tells her husband that Bumgarner was there. The man runs back, smashing his face on Bumgarner’s driver window (leaving an awful stain), begging for an autograph. This is a fairly good way to describe Bumgarner’s career to date. After spending his early 20s as a slightly above-average innings eater, the 26-year-old has become the type of player (on the mound and at bat) that sane people smash their heads into car windows to meet. This will be Bumgarner’s second career start versus Boston, his first start was back in 2010 against a Red Sox lineup that featured Kevin Youkilis and pre-fame Marco Scutaro, among others.
Boston was somewhat of a dark horse to sign David Price in the offseason. Sure, Boston had (and has) a need for frontline pitching, but they needed a lot of things in the offseason. One good starter couldn’t fix every crack. Plus, St. Louis made a very competitive offer for the 30-year-old left-hander, surely Price would chase the ring, right? Then the season started. St. Louis currently sits in third place in the NL Central, and Boston finds themselves atop the AL East. Here’s the kicker: David Price hasn’t even been DAVID PRICE, the all-caps world-beater Toronto traded for last year and Boston thought they signed this offseason. Sure, a lot of this is bad luck, as Price’s FIP (3.35) is in line with his career average (3.20), and his 84 strikeouts lead the American League. Still, Price carries an ugly 4.88 ERA into June. Price still has yet to record a scoreless outing this season, but he’s still on a solid stretch. In his last five starts, he’s won four times, and has a 2.62 ERA. Batters are hitting a mere .216 off Price in this stretch.
2. Cole Hamels vs Dallas Keuchel
(Rangers vs Astros; Tuesday June 7, 8:05 PM ET)
Cole Hamels has an air about him, and I’m sure it’ll last most of his career, that he’s a lot younger than he actually is. Maybe it’s the San Diego-bred boyish charm, maybe not. What matters to this column is the fact that Hamels is 32 years old, and finds himself atop the rotation of the best team in the American League. A year ago, Texas was surprisingly decent, three games above .500, but still giving the likes of Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez starts. Even when Hamels arrived in Arlington, Texas wasn’t being viewed as a contender, the trade was generally considered a move for the 2016 Rangers rather than the 2015 Rangers.
Then something clicked, Texas ended the season on fire, and was one game away from the ALCS. Life moves pretty quick. Here we are, 23 innings into Hamels’ Texas career, and he’s already delivered on his promise; first as an anchor to a Rangers rotation in need of stability, and now as the head man with Yu Darvish as his sidepiece.
Let’s rewind to a week ago when your affable writer proposed that Dallas Keuchel wasn’t good anymore, not broken, just not good. Maybe Keuchel heard me somehow, or maybe we should forget it ever happened. His duel versus Zack Greinke was all as advertised, the reigning AL Cy Young winner allowing only three runs through six innings, striking out six and walking one. Keuchel took the loss, but it continued a good trend for the 28-year-old. In his last two starts, Keuchel has posted a 3.46 ERA, limiting batters to a .191 average. Not exactly his Cy Young form, but a definite improvement. Keuchel’s velocity, which has been a concern all season, saw an uptick this game as well. Keuchel’s first start of the season featured an 87.5 MPH fastball, his start versus Arizona saw Keuchel slinging a 90.9 MPH fastball. If Keuchel wants to keep up this trend, he’ll have to take down division-leading Texas on the road, it’s the same Texas team that has tagged Keuchel for 13 earned runs in 12 innings this season.
1. Johnny Cueto vs Clayton Kershaw
(Giants vs Dodgers; Friday June 10, 10:15 PM ET)
Your writer finds himself writing about the Giants constantly. This is not by design; it’s just that San Francisco has three of the best starters in the National League. The aforementioned Bumgarner is flanked by Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, both acquired this offseason from AL Central teams. Samardzija was a candidate for the Top 5 this week, his matchup with Scott Kazmir just missed the cut. All the better for Cueto, he’s been great for the Giants this season. As of 6/5, his 2.16 ERA ranks 7th in all of the Majors, and his 2.5 WAR ranks 4th. Cueto has approximated his 2014 form, and then some. That season, Cueto posted a 2.25 ERA, made the All-Star team, and finished second in Cy Young voting behind his opponent in this matchup, Clayton Kershaw. Funny how any discussion about great modern pitchers circles back to Kershaw, isn’t it? No matter, as Cueto is well-equipped to take down the ungodly left-hander.
As a writer, I feel it is my duty to inform you, the reader, of when Clayton Kershaw pitches as many times as possible. Because while many of the arms featured might be good in the moment, or on the verge of being good, Clayton Kershaw is great, and great now. He’s the closest approximation to Sandy Koufax or Lefty Grove since the originals themselves, and he’s right in the middle of his prime. Watch him. Even if you hate the Dodgers, watch him. He’s the best pitcher of this generation, a fierce competitor who will (someday) find himself among Koufax and Grove in Cooperstown. There’s another reason to watch Kershaw: someday he’ll be gone. After all, they all go eventually. If we’re lucky, we’ll get some funny pictures of Kershaw struggling in Mariners teal, or Astros orange, or A’s green. And then that’ll be that. Nobody will want to touch Kershaw with a ten-foot pole. So watch him now, watch him buzzsaw through lineups, enjoy it! You’re seeing something legendary.