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Real or not? Zack Greinke is an ace again, the AL is still better

Believe it or not, we're in a no-hitter drought. We've gone more than a year since Jake Arrieta's no-hitter last April, the longest span since Randy Johnson's perfect game in May 2004 and Anibal Sanchez's no-hitter in September 2006.

I was watching Dodgers-Rockies on Thursday night, but once the Rockies took a 7-0 lead, I flipped over to Pirates-Diamondbacks. Zack Greinke was doing some serious dealing, and as he rolled through six and then seven innings without a hit, it seemed like it was going to happen. David Peralta had made a diving catch in the first to help Greinke get to this point, but he had 10 strikeouts and an efficient 75 pitches through six innings, 11 K's and 90 pitches through seven.

Gregory Polanco led off the eighth. He'd battled Greinke in an 11-pitch at-bat in the second before bouncing back to the mound. In this at-bat, he yanked a 1-0 fastball down the right-field line; home-run distance, but a few feet foul. Greinke then got a swinging strike on a hard slider -- a dominant pitch all night for him -- and then threw a 1-2 slider in the dirt for ball two. What to throw next? He threw another slider: "a pretty good pitch" Greinke would say, but admitting it was probably one inside pitch too many. Polanco again yanked it down the line, this time fair for a home run and the only hit of the game.

Fernando Rodney would close out the 2-1 victory as Jeff Mathis delivered a perfect throw to nail Josh Harrison stealing to end the game.

Some notes on Greinke's performance from researcher Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Information:

  • He used his slider 37.4 percent of the time, his highest usage rate with the pitch within the past nine seasons.

  • Eight strikeouts on his slider, his most in a game since July 3, 2011, at the Twins as a member of the Brewers (also eight).

  • Got swinging strikes on 35 percent of his sliders, his second game this season with a 35 percent or higher swinging-strike rate on the pitch. He had one such game all of last season.

That last note is the key. The slider was huge for him in 2015, when he held batters to a .381 OPS with it. Last season, that jumped to .541. In 2017, his 43.7 percent strikeout rate with the slider is his highest since 2012, a key reason Greinke's ERA is down to 2.79 and he has a 38-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio his past four starts.

The American League is still better

We had two interleague games Thursday and both ended up as dramatic victories for the AL team.

In Texas, the Rangers trailed the Padres 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth. After Rougned Odor tied the game with an RBI single -- he actually shortened his swing and slashed a ball past the third baseman into left field -- Mike Napoli sat on a 3-1 fastball from Brandon Maurer and did this:

For the struggling Napoli, who entered the game hitting .160, it was second homer in two innings after he slammed another long one off Clayton Richard in the eighth. They were measured at 436 and 437 feet. You can't really fault Maurer for trying to throw a 95-mph fastball past Napoli, given his troubles against good velocity. Since 2015, he's hitting .155 against 95-plus. Good idea, better swing.

In Milwaukee, the Red Sox and Brewers were tied 1-1 in the ninth when Mookie Betts did his thing with a three-run homer off Neftali Feliz:

And Craig Kimbrel's ninth inning was just as impressive, as he had a nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning to close out the game.

We tie these games together to provide you this public-service announcement: The American League leads in interleague play 33-20. The American League has won interleague play the previous 13 seasons, including 165-135 last season. The American League is, apparently, still the stronger league. In the offseason I speculated that the Cubs' success should make the National League better, since the rest of the league will have to push harder to beat the Cubs.

It's still early, and it's important to note that the AL East has played the majority of the AL's interleague games, with the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles a combined 18-8, playing primarily against the NL Central. The Twins, White Sox, A's and Angels have yet to play any interleague games while the Dodgers and Rockies have yet to play any from the AL.

An interesting statistical quirk: Eight of the top 10 starting pitchers in ERA are from the AL. That doesn't really mean anything at this point, but then I noticed this:

AL: 4.39 runs per game

NL: 4.62 runs per game

Since the AL introduced the designated hitter in 1973, it has scored more runs per game than the NL every season except 1974. It was close last season -- 4.52 in the AL, 4.44 in the NL -- but the NL is significantly ahead right now. Maybe this all because of the production at first base. Maybe the AL has gone for pitching and defense over offense, or the NL has developed more offensive players or AL teams have deeper bullpens. Anyway, there's one interleague series this weekend: Padres at White Sox.

The throw. Great game at Yankee Stadium in the first of a four-game showdown between the Astros and Yankees. Jake Marisnick is on the Astros' roster because he can play defense and he ended the game with an assist at home to cut down Jacoby Ellsbury, the tying run:

Two keys on the play: Marisnick did a great job charging the ball, so he wasn't that deep when he fielded it. He didn't rush the throw, knowing he had time even with the speedy Ellsbury running. Note as well that he was pretty shallow to begin with, even with Gary Sanchez at the plate. Great positioning, smart play, terrific throw.

Oh, and another superb effort from Dallas Keuchel, who allowed only an unearned run in six innings. The Yankees went 0-for-6 with five strikeouts against his slider.

Quick thoughts ... The Rockies jumped all over Hyun-Jin Ryu in the first game of the big NL West series in Denver. A throwing error by Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes on a sacrifice attempt by the pitcher led to five unearned runs in the second. If they're going to give you an out at Coors, you have to take it. ... The one negative was the Dodgers rallied back and Greg Holland had to come on in the ninth with a 10-6 lead and two runners. He closed it out for his 15th save. ... The one bright spot in Kansas City has been Jason Vargas, who tossed seven scoreless against the Rays to lower his ERA to 1.01. He's going to draw some trade interest. ... Tough day for injuries as Trevor Story (strained left shoulder), Kenta Maeda (hamstring), Ryan Braun (calf) and Francisco Liriano (shoulder inflammation) all landed on the disabled list or, in Braun's case, appear headed there. ... Maybe a DL stint will help clear Story's head, as he's hitting .180 with an awful 37.5 percent strikeout rate. ... Welcome back, Mike Trout. After missing the past four games and six of seven with a tight hamstring, he returned as the DH, but went 0-for-4 to snap a 17-game hitting streak. ... Finally, Thursday was a happy birthday for Miguel Sano, who homered and walked twice in the Twins' 7-6 victory. He's at .304/.441/.667 and you can pencil him in as the Twins' All-Star rep.