Reviewing Fight for the Fallen and Marveling at the G1 Climax

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This is my first G1 Climax and it hasn’t disappointed one bit.

Yo! On today’s show, I get into the awkward psychology of Brandi Rhodes’ work at Fight for the Fallen, the somewhat flat babyface run of Hangman Page, Chris Jericho’s good but familiar heel work, the astonishing Dustin Rhodes and more. Then, I gush over my favorite wrestler, Kazuchika Okada, and look forward to his battle with Will Ospreay. Finally, I ponder the possibilities with Jay White and grin at the zaniness of Jon Moxley.

You can find the show on iTunes and the below links.

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Ode to a Pitcher: With the velocity still strong, Aroldis Chapman finds his slider

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Power.

Aroldis Chapman throws the baseball very hard. At his hardest, maybe no ever has thrown one harder. Now, as mileage and innings take their toll, he doesn’t throw quite as hard, but make no mistake, he’s still a flamethrower.

It’s become a bit of a topic de jour for the YES Network to mention Chapman’s declining velocity. It’s true. He doesn’t throw as hard as a 31-year-old as he did as a youngster, especially in Cincinnati. I don’t mean to pick on the broadcast team — hey, you gotta fill time — but Chapman’s velocity is hardly a cause for major concern. Among qualified relievers, his average fastball velocity is fourth-best.

Ah, heavy is the head that wears the crown.

The thing is, Chapman does seem aware that he’s lost just a bit of velocity, and that’s where this story picks up steam. Because he perhaps doesn’t feel as safe just blitzing every opposing batter with heat, he’s turned to his slider more and more the last two seasons. It was always at least a tantalizing pitch, but as we’ll see in the breakdown, when he is commanding the zone with the slider, he remains as lethal as ever.

Consider Fangraphs’ pVal metric. It tells us that for the last two seasons, Chapman’s most valuable pitch has been the breaking ball, not the well-known heater. The fastball remains quite a handful — and when Chapman is on his sequencing game, probably lifts the slider. The combination of the two, mixed around the zone with confidence and command, have kept Chapman among the game’s elite relievers even as age tries to draw its fee.

Chapman closed out the 2019 All-Star Game with epic flair. Let’s take a look.

Chapman’s slider can be downright filthy

When you’re nicknamed the Cuban Missile and you’ve been known to touch 105 MPH, people just expect to see the fastball. It’s electric in the stadium with Chapman on the mound; partly because of his stuff, partly because he gets tons of strikeouts and, well, because he’s a little wild.

Chapman still throws his heater a lot — over 60 percent of the time — but he’s begun to use the slider to change eye level and add some timing wrinkles to his approach. No matter if you’re throwing pure gas like Chapman or junk balling like Jason Vargas, the name of the game never changes: pitching is disrupting timing. That’s it.

Chapman’s delivery is breathtaking, a powerful unfurling of bat-breaking heat. The way he is able to bend his shoulders back right after separating his hands never ceases to amaze me. Chapman’s velocity doesn’t just happen; he wrenches it out of his body with every pitch. It truly is a sight to see Chapman arch back and unfurl those long arms in person.

Up first for the NL is J.T. Realmuto. Chapman starts the Phillies catcher off with a fastball belt high and away for called strike one. 97 MPH.

Realmuto Pitch 1 FB

Chapman moves down in the zone but stays on the outside corner with another fastball, this one also a called strike.

Realmuto Pitch 2 FB

Being down 0-2 to Aroldis Chapman a few years ago meant you could pretty much expect a hard fastball up. Maybe it would be in the zone; maybe not. Good luck figuring it out in enough time.

The 2019 version of Chapman still has enough power to beat you with the heat, but now he can twist you around with the slider, too. Realmuto surely knows this, and while he probably wanted to resist the shoulder-high fastball, it’s damn near impossible.

Classic Chapman. 100 MPH. One down.

Realmuto Pitch 3 FB

Don’t be too hard on Dodgers infielder Max Muncy for this flinch. Do you know how scary it must be to think for even a second that an Aroldis Chapman fastball might be bulldozing its way to your head?

Yikes. Oh, and Chapman has a reputation for wildness. Great! Alas, no worries here: Chapman tilts a slider into the zone for ball one. All humor aside, this is exactly how tunneling works. Muncy has every reason to believe this is a high-and-tight fastball … until it isn’t.

Muncy Pitch 1 SL

Chapman wisely continues to use the whole strike zone by dropping a slider down and away. You can see the ball plummet from the top-left corner of the zone right into catcher James McCann‘s glove. Unbelievable.

Muncy basically had two options. One, hope it misses for a ball or two, foul it away. It’s not going to be easy at all to drive this.

Note too that Chapman’s showing confidence in his own stuff by going slider here. If he misses, Muncy has the count advantage at 2-0. Then again, when you’re Aroldis Chapman the count is really always in your favor, isn’t it?

Muncy Pitch 2 SL

Chapman fools Muncy again, throwing a third consecutive slider, this one in the zone for a called strike. The location isn’t great, but because of the tunneling, Muncy flinches again. This is easily the best pitch to hit in the at-bat, but because Muncy has to respect the fastball he isn’t ready to pounce.

Muncy Pitch 3 SL

Chapman has two strikes on Muncy and can expand the zone to his heart’s content. Maybe another fastball above the belt, like with Realmuto?

Nah. All sliders. Chapman spins another, moving around in the zone again, this one right at the knees for a beautiful swinging strike three. This was a pitching clinic; Muncy absolutely had to be ready for the fastball, and because of that he was never prepared to handle the slider, which Chapman moved around the zone with confidence.

Brilliant. Two down.

Muncy Pitch 4 SL

Look at the tilt on this thing. (Also: Chapman finishes his delivery so well. It’s picturesque.)

Muncy Pitch 4 SL slomo

The last hope for the National League is Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal. Chapman greets him with a slider that Grandal bounces foul.

Grandal Pitch 1 FB

Still leaning on the breaking ball, Grandal swings and misses at a slider down and away to run the count 0-2. I hate to sound like a broken record, but when Chapman is locating his pitches around the zone and in sequence, he’s darn near impossible to beat. Tonight, he has his command and we see the results.

Grandal Pitch 2 SL

We’ve seen Chapman climb the ladder and work below the knees in 0-2 counts. What will he do with Grandal? The former, and Grandal just barely holds up his swing for ball one. Smart pitch and a great take.

Consider what the pitcher has done here. By going above the belt, you give Grandal the chance to swing and miss. That’s the optimal outcome. But if he doesn’t, you’ve still shown him a high fastball that he has to be worried about with the next pitch. This is why so many pitchers go hard inside and soft away.

Grandal Pitch 3 FB

Grandal has a lot of strike zone to cover as Chapman readies the fourth pitch of the exchange. However, he doesn’t have to do much more than keep the bat on his shoulder as Chapman air mails a fastball to bring the count to 2-2. Chapman’s first real miss of the evening.

Grandal Pitch 4 FB

Will Grandal get a pitch to drive? We haven’t seen anyone make anything resembling hard contact off the Yankees closer.

Aaaaaaaaand … we won’t. Chapman unleashes an incredible slider that Grandal can’t resist. Strike three. Inning over.

Grandal Pitch 5 FB

Chapman’s slider might help him age gracefully

Aroldis Chapman is signed for two more years with the Yankees. If his velocity continues to hold and the slider proves to be this lethal, the Bombers will have a tough question on their hands that winter. Aging closers are usually not good bets for long term deals, but if you’re going to push your chips in, might as well be for one of the true greats.

Chapman’s velocity will like always be an asset for him, but the emergence of his slider gives him new ways to attack hitters. Any pitcher can benefit from that.

All-Star Game, Pondering Red Sox Moves, the Future for the Nationals and More With Dan Szymborski

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Rangers slugger Joey Gallo made the most of his chance to shine in the All-Star Game.

Fangraphs Senior Writer Dan Szymborski joins me on the latest episode of The Adam Adkins Show. We discuss the 2019 MLBAll-Star Game, wonder how the Red Sox might try to improve, ponder how fun the trade deadline might be if the Nats blew it up, shake our heads at the Indians and celebrate the glory of Mike Trout.

You can find the show on iTunes and the below links.

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Ode to a Pitcher: Tyler Skaggs, 1991-2019

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Rest in peace.

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve nothing more than a glove, a ball and a wall. I would conjure up fun scenarios — two on, no out, bottom of the ninth! — find my favorite patch of grass and get to work. Sweat pouring down my face on those hot summer afternoons, I’d start attacking imaginary hitters with my vast repertoire. I did this frequently; as it turns out, I would wear out patches of dirt all over the place.

As a youngster, like 7 or 8, I convinced myself that if I put three fingers — index, middle and ring — on the ball I’d be throwing a curveball. And it was a good one. (Don’t fact check that.) It doesn’t have to make sense when you are a kid, it just has to keep up the dream.

As I grew up, I tried to simulate actual pitching motions and again found myself plucking baseballs off walls. I never had much interest in actually going out for the team — that wasn’t my crowd, plus I had a job and cash was nice — but I had plenty of fun spinning wiffle balls in the backyard. I tried to throw sinkers and sliders; the results were mixed.

What joyous memories. My love of baseball was cemented.

I say all this because, in many ways, Tyler Skaggs was living the dream of 18-year-old me. He wasn’t just throwing wiffleball curves in his backyard; he was twisting big league hitters into knots with the real thing. He was able to do things I can’t imagine. Skaggs had the talent to succeed and the drive to put it all together. He was doing it. He was pitching in the Major Leagues. How freaking cool. I hope he was living his dream; it isn’t an easy life, but it sure must be a memorable one.

As you probably know, Skaggs died last week in Texas. He leaves behind a wife; they were married last offseason. Not a single word I type here can do anything for Skaggs’ family, but what I can do is celebrate a young man — younger than me — who loved the game I also love.

Maybe in a different life we could have shared a coffee and talked about baseball. I would have liked that. (I also would have almost certainly annoyed him with incessant questions. Alas.)

Today, we are going to look at Skaggs’ final start, which came on Saturday, June 29 against the Oakland Athletics.

Skaggs could spin a gorgeous curveball

The majesty of this sport is incomparable. Football, basketball and hockey have nothing like a well-spun curveball and let me tell you, Tyler Skaggs could spin one, man. It was a beauty. We’re gonna see it in full glory here, and we’re going to celebrate it.

Up first for the A’s is Chad Pinder. Skaggs starts him with a fastball on the inner half for a called strike. Notice how Skaggs comes up and over with his delivery; beautiful curveballs that way come.

Pinder Pitch 1 FB

My goodness. What a beauty of a pitch. Skaggs drops a hammer on the outside corner and Pinder swings right over it for strike two. That’s how you draw it up, man; this breaking ball is a whopping 17 MPH slower than the fastball before it. Dominant. Sequencing, kids!

Pinder Pitch 2 CRV

It’s 0-2. Skaggs has options. He’s already shown Pinder he can work both sides of the plate, and his curveball just ate the poor guy’s lunch. Oh, what to do, what to do.

Why not the hammer?

Skaggs returns to the curve and buries it inside, drawing another feeble swing. I’m not sure what Pinder could have done in this at-bat; Skaggs has it working, man. This was clinical.

Pinder Pitch 3 CRV

Look at that tilt! Damn thing just falls right out of the sky. Are we sure Dr. Strange didn’t drop this out of a different dimension or something?

Pinder Pitch 3 CRV slomo

Ramon Laureano is up next. Skaggs goes back to this magical hammer — when it’s working, why go away? — and spins it in for strike one. Just as an aside, Skaggs reminds me of Washington Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin. Similar motion — ball hidden below the back, high-arching release — and a gorgeous breaking ball.

Laureano Pitch 1 CRV

Skaggs moves to the outside corner with the changeup and earns a whiff. Both Pinder and Laureano have just been flat out fooled by the Angels lefty. They look like hitters who don’t have a clue what’s coming.

Laureano Pitch 2 CH

If Laureano had whiffed on a curveball in front of home plate, we might have had to just shut down Ode to a Pitcher. The rest of the piece would just be garbled nonsense as I went delirious with utter bliss.

Alas, the A’s outfielder takes it for ball one.

Laureano Pitch 3 CRV

Well sequenced here. Skaggs has worked every which way but up to Laureano, so he wisely goes with the high heat in the 1-2 count. The fastball ends up at shoulder level, but this was a good pitch. Look beyond the count and consider the tactics. With firm control of the count, Skaggs bounced a curveball and fired a fastball above the wrists; in other words, the hitter has a whole lot of strike zone to think about. That’s always good.

Laureano Pitch 4 FB

Skaggs decides to go off-speed but leaves the changeup over the plate for Laureano to bounce foul. This is a healthier swing than before; I’m sure Skaggs realizes this. Probably time to go for the punchout, and that means one thing.

Laureano Pitch 5 CH

The hammer of the gods
Will drive our ships to new lands
To fight the horde
Sing and cry
Valhalla, I am coming

Laureano Pitch 6 CRV

On we sweep with threshing oar
Our only goal will be the western shore

Ahh! Ahh!
We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow

(Sorry — just felt like I had to get the Led out after that curveball. Good heavens.)

Laureano Pitch 6 CRV slomo

Because Skaggs was evidently a merciful hurler, he walks the next batter — Stephen Piscotty — on four pitches. We’re skipping right past that to watch him attack Jurickson Profar.

The Angels lefty comes inside with a very well-located fastball for strike one. Working inside like this against righties is absolutely critical for any lefthander. Yankee fans will no doubt remember Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia bashing hitters with cutters on their hands. Well, they did so for good reason. If the hitter has to watch the inside of the plate and be conscious of not getting jammed, suddenly the pitcher has a bounty of options. Against talents like Skaggs, that’s no bueno. Remember, disrupting timing is the name of the game.

Profar Pitch 1 FB

Skaggs returns to the changeup and gets another whiff in the zone. The A’s hitters are having serious trouble picking up what he’s throwing, a testament to his delivery and the quality of his stuff. Good stuff and consistent deception make for a quality big league starter.

Profar Pitch 2 CH

With Profar 0-2, what are we hoping for? Well, I can’t speak for you, I guess, but I’d like a hammer, please.

Mr. Skaggs delivers, channeling the power of Thor and punching out Profar on a curveball well below the zone. Profar tries his damnedest to hold back but can’t. Punchout.

Profar Pitch 3 CRV

Rest in peace, Tyler.

Ode to a Pitcher: Walker Buehler strikes out sixteen Rockies

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Walker Buehler makes fools of anyone who dares miss his starts.

It’s a real treat to face the Los Angeles Dodgers lately, ain’t it? A real picnic. First, you have to hope your pitching isn’t lit up by Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Justin Turner and the rest of the boys in blue. In the somewhat unlikely event you don’t give up six homers, your offense has to face what’s becoming a rather frightening collection of starters.

First, you have the current favorite for the National League Cy Young, Hyun-Jin Ryu. (We profiled him a few weeks ago. Spoiler: He’s awesome.) Ryu will carve you up with every trick and technique in the book; he changes speeds, moves around the zone, messes with timing and generally gives batters fits. But hey, maybe you avoid Ryu. Great!

Clayton Kershaw is a future Hall of Famer and is coming off one of the greatest peaks a hurler has ever had. Uh oh! But, by the grace of the scheduling gods maybe you avoid him too. Phew!

Enter Walker Buehler. Your luck has probably just run out. Buehler, on the later side of 24, flashed elite potential in his nearly 130 innings last year, punching out more than a man per nine and pitching to a 3.04 FIP. Pretty darn good. The stuff is special; his fastball sits in the upper 90s and has elite spin. He throws it a lot and hitters are managing a meager .217 batting average against it. That heater elevates two pretty damn good breaking balls to elite status, especially the curve; hitters are missing 45 percent of the time against it.

Buehler took to the Dodger Stadium mound on Friday, June 21 and turned in an epic performance against the Colorado Rockies. Let’s study that ninth inning, where Buehler managed an epic climax to his evening.

Buehler’s velocity opens the plate, provides him nasty options

Up first for Colorado in this 2-2 game is Raimel Tapia. Buehler starts him with a fastball that misses for ball one.

Tapia Pitch 1 FB

Buehler’s next pitch is a fastball that clips the bottom of the strike zone for strike one.

Tapia Pitch 2 FB

Buehler hangs the 1-1 slider but manages to keep it just enough inside to stop Tapia from driving it. The count now swings firmly in the favor of Buehler, who has plenty of options for a strikeout. Like most of the pitchers we detail in this series, being down 1-2 to Buehler is not a fun predicament.

Tapia Pitch 3 SL

This is a heck of a pitch in sequence. Buehler worked up for ball one, down for strike one, middle-in for strike two and now goes back up and away to try for the strikeout. Credit to Tapia for slapping it away, but note that desperate swing. Analysts talk a lot about velocity and spin rate; here they are in action. Buehler, in a pitcher’s count, threw a pitch that Tapia could do nothing with. That’s smart.

Tapia Pitch 4 FB

Buehler hangs another slider, this one outside of the previous fastball to run the count 2-2. It’s possible he thought Tapia would chase, especially because fastballs and sliders tend to look similar out of the hand. Good take by the Rockies outfielder.

Tapia Pitch 5 SL

Wow. Buehler decides to go right back to the fastball and eats Tapia up with it for the punchout. Located belt high but snug on the outside corner, Tapia’s only hope is to squib it foul and step in again. But no dice; velocity and spin rate, my dude. Velocity and spin rate.

Oh, and this is Buehler’s 102nd pitch of the night and his 13th strikeout.

Tapia Pitch 6 FB

With one down, up steps Charlie Blackmon and his lovely beard. Blackmon drove a fastball in just about the same spot as the one Tapia whiffed on over the right field wall for a homer in the sixth. Perhaps knowing this, Buehler goes to the slider to open the at-bat but again leaves in a rough spot and allows a single. Blackmon reaches with one out.

Blackmon Pitch 1 SL

That baserunner changes the calculus. Buehler was working carefully with the score tied but could still try for strikeouts if the opportunity arose. Now, though, with the Rockies best hitters coming and Blackmon on base, he can’t get cute. The object is to win, not to strike out as many as you can. (Obviously, sometimes those two objectives intersect.)

Up steps David Dahl. He’s greeted with a cutter on the black for strike one. This is a really well-located pitch; the movement at least opens up the chance for Dahl to bounce into a double play.

Dahl Pitch 1 CT

Excellent sequencing. Buehler climbs the ladder with a nasty fastball that Dahl slaps foul. The Dodgers righty has now shown him heat in two different spots and has the count firmly in his favor. Because Buehler has worked the at-bat to his advantage, he can safely reach for a strikeout here, likely by going out of the zone (in any direction).

Dahl Pitch 2 FB

Searching for a strikeout, Buehler turns to that ridiculous curve and dismantles Dahl. Going below the zone like this was wise; it’s a change in eye level, for one, and for two by burying it so low, the risk of hanging it is mitigated — plus, Buehler knows he can trust Russell Martin to smother the ball if Dahl had taken it.

But alas, Dahl can’t resist, and who could blame him. Buehler drops a hammer here, a perfectly executed curve in an essentially perfectly executed at-bat.

Dahl Pitch 2 CRV

Nolan Arenado, the Rockies best player and perhaps the best third baseman in the world, is Colorado’s last chance in the ninth. Arenado took Buehler deep earlier in the game too, hammering a slider — left smack dab in the middle of the zone — past the left field wall. Arenado can make this game 4-2 in a heartbeat.

Sitting at 106 pitches, Buehler goes with his best to open the at-bat, drilling the top of the zone with a 95 MPH fastball for strike one.

Arenado Pitch 1 FB

Buehler runs the 0-1 fastball way up and in for a ball. Unlikely he wanted to put the ball there, but maybe. It would seem to open up the lower half of the strike zone.

Arenado Pitch 2 FB

Whattaya know. Buehler places a cutter down and in for called strike two. Arenado glances back at the umpire, but come on. That’s a strike.

Arenado Pitch 3 CT

Buehler has worked the Rockies slugger inside with each pitch in the at-bat. With a fastball like his, who can blame him? Buehler comes high and tight with another fastball and Arenado pops it foul. It’s possible Buehler wanted this one a touch higher, but it’s still a good pitch.

Arenado Pitch 4 FB

This is a brilliant pitch. Buehler unleashes a hard 97 MPH fastball well above the zone and Arenado can’t resist, swinging right under it to end the inning and give the Dodger righty a whopping 16 strikeouts on the night. Arenado knows he swung at Buehler’s pitch and can’t be pleased with himself about it.

All credit to Walker Buehler, though. His approach to Arenado showed pitching insight to go with his impressive stuff. Russell Martin, a veteran behind the plate, surely helps with that, but ultimately Buehler delivers the pitches. Heck of a performance.

Arenado Pitch 5 FB

Ryu, Buehler and Kershaw form quite a rotation

I looked and looked for reasons to bet against the Dodgers coming into the season. I’m glad I didn’t, though, because they’re excellent again. This team is primed for another trip deep into October, led by an excellent rotation and perhaps the MVP, Cody Bellinger.

Make no mistake, the baseball playoffs are random, but throwing those arms and that slugger at an opponent has to breed at least a little confidence.

 

Ode to a Pitcher: Broken nose and a black eye can’t stop Max Scherzer

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Pity the poor batters facing this surly dude.

There’s nothing cool about bunting a ball off your own face. It doesn’t matter who does it. Robert Downey Jr couldn’t make that suave. Max Scherzer is about as smooth as sandpaper, so you can imagine how it looked.

This all occurs the day before Scherzer is due to make his next start. We learned Tuesday night that the Nationals ace broke his nose and developed a nice black eye. Lovely. You’ll be shocked — shocked — to know that Scherzer wasted no time telling his manager he’d be missing no time. A few reporters mentioned that he even pantomimed his pitching delivery in the skipper’s office to drive the point home.

There were some legitimate concerns about whether the swelling would spread or his breathing compromised, but come on. This is Max Scherzer. There’s no stopping him.

Just ask the Philadelphia Phillies. Scherzer dominated them earlier this week, throwing seven shutout innings and punching out ten. We’re going to examine that final at-bat in this week’s Ode to a Pitcher.

No safe place facing an angry Scherzer

A man steps onto his mound, near the end of a hard night’s labor, feeling it throughout his body. The arm is a little tired and the legs are sore, but the first wound we notice is right below his eye — odd for a pitcher, but alas. A black eye. Hmm. That guides our attention right to the scowl on his face, a picture of determination and anger.

As fans, we love a pitcher who doesn’t want to exit the game. We love those hard-nosed competitors who snort at umpires, gesture away coaches and stare down batters. History is replete with aces who acted this way: Bob Gibson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, etc. Those narratives are so easy to latch onto. We find them irresistible.

Max Scherzer pitches with men on base like someone just spat on his wife. His intensity is palpable; he works angry. It’s hard not to be enthralled by it (or terrified, if your team is in the crosshairs.) The Nationals ace entered the seventh inning at just below 100 pitches, carrying a one-run lead. The Nats bullpen has looked better lately but still sits just above the ghastly Orioles in bullpen ERA. Yikes. Scherzer knows he needs to carry the ball as far as he can before risking this win to fate.

So, imagine his reaction after hanging a 1-2 slider to Phillies infielder Cesar Hernandez, who promptly lined it to the right-field wall for a double. Runner on. No out. Scherzer now over 100 pitches, bearing a damn black eye.

Doesn’t this feel like a movie? The camera zooms in on Scherzer’s growling face as the announcers ponder the situation. It’s perfect, really, because this is ace time.

Scherzer immediately does his part, grinding through tough at-bats to strike out Brad Miller and Andrew Knapp. It must be noted that Scherzer missed with three straight fastballs and still finished Miller and bludgeoned poor Knapp with fastballs up in the zone to finish him.

Now he’s one out away with the pitcher’s spot in the batting order up. Jake Arrieta was never facing Scherzer here, but rather than pinch-hit with a bench guy, the Phils send up J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto is no slim challenge; he’s been one of the best hitting catchers in baseball the last few years, and he has a chance to ruin a potentially epic night for one of the sport’s premier hurlers.

Scherzer, sitting at 113 pitches, starts the Phillies catcher with a slider up and in for a called strike one. This is a borderline strike at best.

Notice where Kurt Suzuki sets up; he hung it and had Scherzer left it over the plate, it was potentially a disastrous mistake. Note that is a particularly humid Washington D.C. night, and fatigue isn’t just a mental issue. You can’t always just power your way through it. Tired muscles do things you don’t want them to do, and even with unsafe-for-normal-humans amounts of adrenaline thundering through his veins, Scherzer bears the weight of a hard night’s work.

Realmuto Pitch 1 SL

Working with the advantage in the count, Scherzer attacks Realmuto with a 96 MPH fastball that misses high. Suzuki does a great job of bouncing up to snag this; otherwise, Hernandez trots to third. Tactically that isn’t a big deal with two outs, but it would further convey that the Nationals ace might be out of gas.

Realmuto Pitch 2 FB

The count now sits 1-1, yes, but he’s missed both times. A mistake over the plate ties the game. Scherzer has to make a good pitch here.

And oh, does he ever.

Given the circumstances, Scherzer’s 1-1 fastball to Realmuto is one of the nastiest of the year. The location is perfect, right under the hands, nestled there with some smooth run at the end. It’s hard, too, 97 MPH; pretty darn impressive for your 116th pitch on a muggy evening.

Realmuto loosed a healthy hack and came up with air, and note how he looks back at the zone with almost befuddlement. That’s what a great pitch will do to you. Unless Realmuto was sitting dead-red on a fastball in that spot, doing anything with it would seem almost miraculous. It happens, of course. MLB hitters are awesome. But driving a well-located Max Scherzer fastball isn’t the start of a great plan.

Realmuto Pitch 3 FB

Ah, what to do now? The count firmly belongs to the pitcher, and Scherzer has tons of options. He could run the same fastball another few inches inside and try to tie Realmuto up, or he could venture back up above the zone. Unless the pitcher sees something I don’t, it’s unlikely Realmuto can catch up. Ah, but what about the breaking ball, perhaps out of the zone? Seems like a good idea, but remember — I assure you, Scherzer hasn’t forgotten — that a flat 1-2 slider put Hernandez at second base. That doesn’t predict the future, but it informs the present. It’s part of the decision.

Realmuto, meanwhile, now must cover the entire plate while also being ready to knock another up-and-in heater foul. At this point, against someone like Scherzer, unless Realmuto went up to the dish looking for something specific, you have to just keep the fight alive and hope for a mistake. That means a short swing, hoping for a mistake, ready to bounce balls foul. And hey, Scherzer already missed twice in this at-bat. It can happen.

But then again … you’re facing a three-time Cy Young winner; he’s pissed; he has you in a 1-2 count with a chance to emphatically close out seven shutout innings … and he’s pissed. There is no great option here. We’re hanging on for dear life.

Scherzer chooses the slider and drops it right under the lip of the strike zone. It looks just like a fastball until it isn’t, and Realmuto’s off-balance hack misses. The crowd erupts, Suzuki pops up to show the umpire he caught it and Scherzer slaps his glove and lets out a roar.

Scherzer’s fastball-slider combination to close the inning was classic. There’s nothing fancy about it, nothing revolutionary, but my God does it ever work. Change the eye level, change the speed, voila. Scherzer dominated Realmuto with a fastball on his hands and then spun him in a circle with a slider in the exact opposite quadrant of the strike zone.

Masterful.

Realmuto Pitch 4 SL

Don’t grow bored: Mike Trout continues on his all-time path

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Mike Trout deciding whether to smack another home run or simply take the walk.

In early March, I sent a message to my wife at work. I had something important to say. After scouring the Reds calendar to see who’d be coming to town — an annual tradition for me — I stumbled upon a team that shook me.

The Los Angeles Angels.

But not at first. You see, it happened in a flash. I was originally thinking about contenders — oh, hey, the Houston Astros are coming, hmmm — and nearly skidded right past the Angels. But then, something hit me. Wait. The Angels.

That’s Mike Trout’s team.

I must admit with a degree of shame that as big of a baseball fan as I am, I’ve never seen the world’s greatest ballplayer in person. Just hasn’t happened. Some of that was being a poor college student; some of it was being a poor dude trying to plan a wedding. Don’t hold it against me.

So I grabbed the keyboard and pounded away a message of tremendous importance to my wife. Being the kind and reasonable angel she is, I did not receive a laugh at my insistence, but rather excitement. Sure! Let’s see Mike Trout!

Yes, this August, I will see Mike Trout, live and in person. My wife and I will head to Great American Ballpark, swipe our tickets, buy a brat and a beer and sit down to watch the world’s greatest ballplayer do his thing. (We even got centerfield bleacher seats.)

Trout continues to chart an unfathomable course

I wrote about Trout in the offseason. The premise was the looming asteroid that was his free agency and what he and the Angels might do about it. Ultimately, the Angels ponied up the biggest contract in baseball history; fitting, given that Trout is undeniably the best player alive and a serious candidate for the best player who ever lived. And so it was settled; Trout will play his entire career in an Angels uniform. He will have a statue or two outside the stadium, his uniform retired, etc.

Whether or not he retires as a World Series champion remains to be seen, but I must say, even as a fan of a team in his potential warpath, seeing Trout tear a hole through October is a fantasy of mine. I want this. The sport needs this. I want to see a postseason where Trout hits .360, bashes a handful of home runs and carries the Angels to a title. The sport makes its memories in October.

I appreciate Mike Trout, and so should you. His incredible run cannot be written about enough. Just for example, consider this. Do you know who leads MLB in walk rate? Mike Trout. 20.8 percent. Look at that number — 20.8! A fifth of his plate appearances end in a walk. That’s Barry Bonds territory, and yes some of that is the fear of pitching to Trout, but part of it is his incredible command of the plate.

(For all the potential Shohei Ohtani has shown, he’s not quite terrifying enough yet to warrant pitching to The Man. But he might! Ohtani is fascinating.)

Cody Bellinger is having the best half-season of his life. He’s carried the Dodgers to a healthy lead in the NL West and set himself up for a hell of an NL MVP battle with Christian Yelich later in the summer. (I actually saw Bellinger wallop a home run against the Reds in May; it was an early Father’s Day gift for my Dad.)

Cody Bellinger is riding a surge of batting average that is almost certainly unsustainable. His batting average on balls in play is .355; his career average is .317. (Trout’s 2019 number is actually fifty points below his career average. Could … he actually get hot in the second half? Yikes. There’s a scary thought.)

Bellinger has been hot as fire and has emerged as a superstar. And yet, despite battering the baseball world, Bellinger still doesn’t have an on-base percentage above Trout (CB: .451; MT: .461) and is only barely ahead of him by wRC+ (CB: 193; MT: 187).

Think about the absurdity in this. Bellinger could very well be riding one of the best streaks of his career and is well on his way to perhaps claiming an NL MVP, and he’s basically only eye-to-eye with Mike Trout. That, my friends, is dominance. Last year it was Mookie Betts; before that, Josh Donaldson and Miguel Cabrera. Some people can swim in the deep water with Trout — no pun intended — for a bit, but no one sustains excellence like the Angels center fielder.

On the all-time Wins Above Replacement leaderboard, Trout just passed Hall of Famers Ivan Rodriguez and Eddie Murray, and has drawn equal to Robinson Cano.  Current or future Cooperstown enshrinees Tony Gwynn, Tim Raines and Miguel Cabrera are on the dinner menu next. Derek Jeter might become the second unanimous inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame next winter; Trout could pass him this year or early next. That’s a lot of greatness that Trout is gobbling up like Pac-Man.

Through age 27, Trout is tied for the most Wins Above Replacement ever with Ty Cobb. Ty. Freaking. Cobb. We’re talking about the highest point of the ceiling here, kiddos. Air doesn’t get more rarefied than this. This brings to mind how other sports tend to do a better job in the moment of recognizing their greats. Basketball realized quickly that LeBron James was special; it’s all ESPN has talked about since 2004. Football is still under the boot of Tom Brady. Hockey played up the rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

Baseball, though, doesn’t always do that. Oh, we obsess, but usually only over Yankees or Red Sox, Cubs or Dodgers; or, mmm, a nice tasty scandal. We don’t necessarily focus on greatness the same way. Some of that is the very nature of the sport; baseball tends to generate less national conversation. So while I understand that Trout plays for non-contender on the wrong coast and barely ever creates any stir on social media or in interviews, it’s well past time that we start to obsess over what he’s doing.

This is ‘tell your grandkids about it’ stuff, right here and now. Greatness, smack dab in front of us, of a kind rarely seen. That’s why a couple Yankee fans will go to Great American Ballpark to see the Angels.

Because Mike Trout will be there.