Sunday was quite a day: There was Adrian Beltre‘s 3,000th hit; Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown for Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez (plus John Schuerholz and Bud Selig); trades and trade rumors; and a full slate of games, including one doubleheader.
On the heels of Monday’s trade deadline, however, my big takeaway from the day’s action is this: Do the Houston Astros need a starting pitcher?
All-Star Lance McCullers Jr. had his fourth straight poor start in a 13-1 loss to the Tigers, lasting five-plus innings and allowing eight hits, four walks, two wild pitches, two hit batters and five runs. It was ugly. Really, he was lucky to have given up only the five runs with that many baserunners crowding the bases. He has a 9.64 ERA in those four July starts, including 32 hits and 11 walks in 18⅔ innings pitched. His strikeout rate of 29.1 percent entering the month has plummeted to 15 percent and batters have hammered him for a .386 average.
Here’s what the Astros have to decide between now and 4 p.m. ET on Monday: Is this just a little slump for McCullers, something he’ll resolve over the next two months? Is it a simple temporary loss of fastball command? Or is it a sign of a young pitcher hitting the wall at 100 innings after throwing just 81 last year? To make that decision even more problematic, staff ace Dallas Keuchel just returned from a lengthy DL stint and pitched three shaky innings in his first start back.
Even with Mike Fiers pitching so well after a shaky start — he has a 2.74 ERA over his past 13 starts — general manager Jeff Luhnow has to be concerned about his rotation, since he doesn’t know for sure what to expect from his one-two punch the rest of the season and in the postseason. The starters had a 3.49 ERA in April and May, but that has jumped to 4.75 in June and July.
I think fear of the unknown means Luhnow makes a deal for a starter. He doesn’t have to play in the Sonny Gray game, since the A’s are likely to demand outfield prospect Kyle Tucker, but he could opt for a rental such as Yu Darvish or Lance Lynn to provide a strong alternative for October. Besides Tucker, the Astros had three other prospects in Keith Law’s midseason top 50, plus there’s hard-throwing Francis Martes, now in the majors but a top-40 prospect entering the season. There’s enough talent for the Astros to make a trade and keep the talent pipeline flowing. What deal will Luhnow make?
Kyle Farmer will always remember his first at-bat. This is the kind of season the Dodgers are having. They trail the Giants 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth. They tie it up, with help from Chase Utley‘s stolen base. The Giants take the lead in the 11th. Up steps pinch-hitter Farmer for his major league debut, with runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the 11th, and he lines a double off the chalk in right field for the walk-off hit.
When the rookie becomes the HERO. 👌
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 31, 2017
Farmer received a curtain call as the Dodgers, who are a mind-blowing 39-6 in their past 45 games, celebrated their eighth win in a row as they improved to 74-31. This epic run has them on pace for 114 wins, which would shatter the National League record in the 162-game era. No matter who manager Dave Roberts inserts in the lineup, something special happens.
Farmer is a great story, a senior drafted out of Georgia in 2013 who turns 27 in a couple of weeks. At Double-A Tulsa and then Triple-A Oklahoma City, he played catcher and third base (and even started two games at shortstop), hitting .326 with nine home runs between the two stops. He’s the kind of organizational depth that winning teams have sitting down in the minors, and he provided Dodger fans with another memorable moment in this season of magic.
Actually, maybe they don’t need to add anyone tomorrow
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) July 31, 2017
Adrian Beltre becomes 31st player with 3,000 career hits. Getting to 3,000 hits is a testament to greatness, good health and a lot of line drives. I wrote earlier that Beltre did it his own way, and he certainly has made baseball fun throughout his career.
Here’s the hit, Beltre swinging on a 3-0 pitch from Wade Miley:
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) July 30, 2017
And here’s former teammate Michael Young, now in the Rangers’ front office, apparently predicting Beltre will play 10 more years:
Can’t wait to be in the crowd for your 1st ballot induction to the HOF in about 15 years.
— Michael Young (@MikeyY626) July 30, 2017
Your pitcher of the month is James Paxton. The Mariners are hanging on the fringes of the AL wild-card race of late, primarily due to Big Maple, their Canadian lefty who is quietly having a dominant season. The Mariners rank 23rd in the majors in runs per game in July, but with six shutout innings on Sunday in a 9-1 victory over the Mets, Paxton finished July 6-0 with a 1.37 ERA, the first pitcher to go 6-0 in a month with a sub-1.50 ERA since the late Jose Fernandez last May, and the first to do it in July since Steve Carlton in 1972. That was the season the Hall of Fame lefty went 27-10 on a Phillies team that finished 59-97.
Paxton is now 11-3 with a 2.68 ERA, including 125 strikeouts in 107⅓ innings and just five home runs allowed. If he hadn’t missed nearly a month with a forearm strain, he might be right behind Chris Sale in the Cy Young race. He even has that sub-3.00 ERA despite posting a 7.20 ERA in June. Paxton has seven starts with zero runs allowed, tied with Alex Wood and Ervin Santana for most in the majors.
The Mariners have needed Paxton to do this, not just because of all the injuries to the rotation, but because the big three of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager haven’t been as good as in 2016. Cano, in particular, has really struggled of late and is hitting just .211 in July. He’s on pace for 57 extra-base hits after drilling 74 last season. Seager’s OPS is down 80 points even as offense has increased across the league. Cruz does lead the American League in RBIs, although his slugging percentage is down 59 points.
Last year, those three accounted for 18.9 WAR via Baseball-Reference.com. This season, entering Sunday, they had combined for 5.6 WAR through 105 games — a pace of 8.6 over 162 games. That the Mariners are .500 with the injuries and decline from those three is actually a testament to the deeper roster general manager Jerry Dipoto has built. It also suggests the Mariners’ best chances of reaching that wild-card game isn’t making a trade on Monday, but Cano, Cruz and Seager playing better the final two months — especially considering their brutal August schedule that includes a 12-game road trip to Tampa, Atlanta, New York and Baltimore.
So Steve Pearce did this. and it was awesome. Two walk-off grand slams in one week? Are you kidding?
— Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 31, 2017
Pearce joins Jim Presley of the 1986 Mariners and Cy Williams of the 1926 Phillies as the only players with two walk-off slams in a season. Baseball is awesome.