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The Braves are struggling (by Braves standards, anyway — they’re probably fine). Meanwhile, we got a pitching lesson from Tanner Bibee, and Tommy Pham gets a Lindorsement. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!
Nothing is perfect, it’s gorgeous
Nobody’s invincible. Not even the Atlanta Braves, who hold the biggest division lead in the game, at 9 1/2 games over the Phillies in the NL East.
At the All-Star break, the Braves were 60-29, on pace to win roughly 109 games. Since then, they’re just 12-12 — hardly a collapse, but a cool down, for sure.
The issue appears to be almost exclusively pitching-related.
In the second half, Braves starters have a 6.15 ERA, the second-worst in the game, trailing only the Pirates (with whom the Braves just split a four-game series). Nine different pitchers have started games for Atlanta since the break, and only two have an ERA under 5.00 in that time (Allan Winans, 4 1/3 innings, 4.15 and Max Fried, 10 innings, 3.60).
Only one pitcher’s numbers really stand out as a case of bad luck: Spencer Strider (5.86 ERA, 3.34 FIP). He’s still striking out 14.64 hitters per nine innings over that stretch, so he’s probably OK.
And with Strider and Fried atop the rotation, they’re still a dangerous postseason team — especially when you consider that the offense has scored the third-most runs in the sport (145) and has the best OPS (.880) and most home runs (48) over that period.
OK, so they’re not invincible, but even with this slump for the rotation, they still don’t look perilously “vincible,” either.
Ken’s Notebook: Francisco is a fan of Pham
Francisco Lindor wasn’t so sure about Tommy Pham, thinking the outfielder’s intensity would be maybe a bit much.
“When he showed up, that was the thought a lot of players had,” Lindor said of Pham, who signed with the Mets just before spring training. “They were concerned. ‘Here comes this guy.’”
Most fans, and even most players, know Pham from The Slap Heard Round the World, his beef with Joc Pederson over a fantasy football dispute that boiled over in May 2022. But Lindor, during his brief time as Pham’s teammate, developed a completely different opinion of the 10-year veteran, whom the Mets traded to the Diamondbacks Aug. 1.
“Day in and day out, he works as hard as anybody I’ve seen in my career, to the point where I told him before he left, ‘Hey man, thank you for teaching me how to work hard again,’” Lindor said.
Lindor, 29, has never been known as a slacker, so what was it, exactly, that Pham taught him?
“The details. The details,” Lindor said. “It wasn’t the amount of swings. It wasn’t the amount of fly balls that he took. He paid attention to the details. Where I’m going to hit the ball. How I’m going to hit the ball. My launch angle and the exit velo I want, off the tee, off flips, batting practice, off the machine.
“Base running, the same thing. The little details. If the pitcher was going to slack just a bit, he was going to get him. He was going to try to steal the base.”
Pham, 35, batted .268 with an .820 OPS, 10 homers and 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts during his time with the Mets. He is only 3-for-21, all singles, since joining the Diamondbacks, with two stolen bases in three attempts. No matter; Lindor continues to hold him in high regard.
“He posted up every single day. He took a lot of pride in his craft. To me, that’s a great teammate,” Lindor said. “You didn’t have to tell him what to do. He was going to go out there and do his job, whether it was as a pinch runner, pinch hitter, starting left fielder, starting right fielder. Wherever they put him, he was going to get the job done.
“Arizona has him. They’re going to see how good he is. Whoever gets him next year is going to see that as well.”
History has its eyes on you
A day removed from Michael Lorenzen’s no-hitter against the Nationals in Philadelphia, we have a few follow-up stories.
• Every no-hitter seems to have at least one small-but-pivotal moment that sprinkles the night with just the right amount of pixie dust to make it truly soar. Reading Matt Gelb’s comprehensive column on the no-hitter, this one starts to feel like a veritable Neverland haboob.
• We also got a special-edition “Weird and Wild” column from Jayson Stark. I always love the tidbits Stark pulls out, but here’s one that blew my mind: Fullerton Union High School in California has produced exactly four big leaguers: Walter Johnson, Mike Warren, Steve Busby and Lorenzen. The other thing those four have in common? They’ve all thrown a no-hitter in the big leagues. If you’ll permit an emoji: 🤯
• Lorenzen’s unique Vans spikes are making the trip to Cooperstown. The shoe brand is known almost exclusively for its presence in the skateboarding and punk rock music scenes. Evan Drellich, C. Trent Rosecrans and Cody Stavenhagen teamed up to tell the story behind the shoes, including a conversation with the guy responsible for converting them into baseball spikes.
Show me show me show me how you do that trick
It’s always a little treat when players are willing to dig into nitty-gritty strategic details. Tanner Bibee did just that with Zack Meisel for this morning’s story about the pitch selection process for an at-bat against George Springer (which came with the bases loaded and one out in a one-run game).
Pitchers are often hesitant to publicly give too much information on things like this, worrying that revealing their strategy will give the hitter an advantage the next time they meet. But in this case, maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, how many at-bats go slider-slider-slider-slider-changeup?
“I’m thinking that he hasn’t been good on sliders all year, so I don’t want to do him a favor,” Bibee told Meisel. “Make him prove that he can hit the slider. Keep throwing it. After he’s seen four in a row, he’s like, ‘Is he going to throw a fifth? Is he going to throw a fastball?’”
It’s definitely worth a read, just to hear Bibee (and catcher Bo Naylor) talk about the cat-and-mouse mind game that goes into determining which pitch should be thrown next. Kudos to Zack (and Tanner) for letting us in on it.
Handshakes and High Fives
Bruce Bochy returns to San Francisco tonight. Andrew Baggarly did us all the favor of collecting a few Bochy stories from those who know him best.
The Cubs fought to keep the band together as the trade deadline approached. In Ken’s column today, he surmises: now they have to prove it was worth it.
José Bautista will be inducted into the Blue Jays Level of Excellence (that’s how Canadians spell “Hall of Fame”) on Saturday. Kaitlyn McGrath delved into what made him such an important figure in Toronto.
Stark gives us some bonus Weird and Wild: Can you guess the last pitcher to be intentionally walked? OK, yes, it’s Shohei Ohtani. But before that?
Ethan Salas is just 17 years old, but he’s in High A now. It’s unusual for a player so young to be promoted to that level, but he was hitting .267/.350/.487 (.837 OPS) with nine home runs in 48 games at Low A.
Eno Sarris looks at 20 pitchers who are over- or under-performing their stuff (and explains what that means).
Clayton Kershaw returned from the IL and pitched five innings, allowing just one run on three hits, no walks, and four strikeouts as the Dodgers beat the Rockies 2-1. Kershaw apparently broke out a brand new(ish) pitch.
The Windup Playlist
Every day, we borrow a song lyric or three for our subheaders, and each Friday we reveal if your guesses were right or wrong by sharing the weekly list and adding the songs to our monthly Spotify playlist.
- “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” — Elton John
- “Light Me Up” — Illiterate Light
- “Cheerleader” — Liza Anne
- “Infatuation With a Ghost” — P.O.S.
- “Wrong Feels Right” — Dum Dum Girls
- “Curse Your Branches” — David Bazan
- “Hope the High Road” — Jason Isbell
- “Help Me Understand” — Hank Williams
- “out of sight” — Run the Jewels (feat. 2 Chainz)
- “Untouchable (Taylor’s Version)” — Taylor Swift
- “Give Me Just A Little More Time” — Chairmen of the Board*
- “Monster – Album Version (Edited)” — Kanye West, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver
- “Nothing is Perfect” — Metric
- “History Has Its Eyes On You” — Cast of Hamilton
- “Just Like Heaven” — The Cure
*(Note: Spotify does not have the original recording, so we begrudgingly went with the version by The Lost Generation.)
(Top photo of Spencer Strider: Justin K. Aller / Getty Images)