On the day where the big news should be a staggering group of pitchers (Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz) and a sneaky-great infielder (Craig Biggio) entering the Hall of Fame, the Reds dealing Johnny Cueto to the Royals, right after Cueto knocked down health concerns with eight shutout innings against the Rockies in a park that normally vaporises pitching, threatens to equal it.
If it’s true that the Reds dealt Cueto to the Royals, the Royals become secured in a position to run for the postseason. Neither team nor Cueto’s agent has confirmed the deal as I write, but the Reds in need of a rebuild knew they wouldn’t be able to afford Cueto as a free agent this coming winter, it’s been said, and the Royals knew they needed an established ace to conquer the American League Central.
The word at this writing is that the Royals were willing to part with young promising reliever Brandon Finnegan and minor league pitching prospect John Lamb to get Cueto after all, following talk that a Saturday deal collapsed because another Royal prospect to be part of it turned up with health issues. That deal was first so close to being done that the Reds had Michael Lorenzen, another righthander, warming up pre-game in the event Cueto would change addresses Saturday night.
Cueto tied for the National League strikeout championship in 2014 (his 242 matched the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg), led the league in innings pitched (243.2) and hits per nine (6.2), and won 20 while he was at it. His Saturday night performance put to rest any alarm about his health, the gem coming after he’d walked six in his previous start and missing a 31 May start with elbow stiffness that since seems to have alleviated.
The Cueto deal probably means a big ramp-up in the attention paid Cole Hamels, particularly after Hamels put on a Saturday show for one of his possible suitor and threw a no-hitter against the Cubs—in Wrigley Field. The lefthander has been a trade rumour subject for months, the Phillies seem at last to be admitting they need to begin rebuilding like a year and a half ago, and Hamels just made part of that job a lot easier.
He got a lot of help from some defensive virtuosity out of Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera late in the game, too. Herrera dove for David Ross’s eighth inning drive to the back of center field, and he held onto Kris Bryant’s drive despite sliding on the warning track in the ninth. And, as striking as it is to believe, Hamels is the first pitcher to no-hit the Cubs since Sandy Koufax threw a perfect game at them almost half a century earlier.
Landing Hamels would fortify the Cubs for a run to the postseason. Whether the Mets landing Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe means a continuing run of their own remains to be seen in full, but the pair figured big enough in the Mets’ absolute bushwhacking of the Dodgers Saturday, 15-2. And all it cost the Mets to get them from the Braves was a pair of minor league righthanders who weren’t quite as glittering-to-be as the Mets’ vaunted young major league rotation.
It didn’t exactly hurt that the Mets only had to face Zach Lee in his major league debut Saturday, but they nuked the kid for seven earned runs before abusing the Dodgers’ bullpen for eight more until Joel Peralta and J.P. Howell finally put an end to the barrage in the final inning and a third. Welcome to the Show, kiddo.
Johnson said when learning he’d been traded that it felt “weird” being a Met. Yet it felt so weird that Johnson’s first plate appearance as a Met was a base hit to load the pads right after Daniel Murphy drove in Curtis Granderson for the first Met run in the bottom of the first, amidst a four-run inning. He opened the third with an infield out, but he faced Lee again in the fifth with one out and ripped one into the upper deck in right to make it 6-1, Mets.
The other newcomer, Juan Uribe, himself a former Dodger, picked up a hit after spelling Murphy at third in the late innings. And the other Mets wanted in on the fun as often as possible. First baseman Lucas Duda blasted a pair of solo bombs. Murphy drove in three before his day’s work of play was done including a two-run homer. Rookie Michael Conforto drove in four while doubling twice, Kirk Nieuwenhuis drove in four with four hits. The only Mets position players not to pick up hits were catcher Kevin Plawecki and pinch-hitter Juan Lagares.
Matt Harvey had the Dodgers shut out until the fifth. After the Dodger sixth, all Harvey had surrendered was a pair of solo homers and, otherwise, he could have dared the Dodgers to hit it off a tee. Harvey even got in on the batting fun, banging Lee for an RBI double in the three-run Met fifth and slashing reliever Josh Ravin for an RBI single in the middle of the five-run Met sixth sixth.
The Mets even impressed the hell out of Jimmy Rollins, long their nemesis as the Phillies’ shortstop and now with the Dodgers. “Babe Ruth could have come and tried to get those boys out, but it wasn’t going to happen, not tonight,” said the man who once made his living predicting Met futility and Phillie onslaughts. ”They didn’t really miss pitches, they were barreled, loud, good thing for us it was only one loss.”
Good thing, too, that the Dodgers sent Zack Greinke and his scoreless innings streak out to face the Mets Sunday. Their odds of ducking a back-to-back massacre were a lot better.
Their odds of Greinke shaking hands with Orel Hershiser in the record book, alas, disappeared when Mets starter Jacob deGrom’s fielder’s choice grounder sent home Nieuwenhuis in the bottom of the third. The run was earned because Greinke opened the inning by plunking Nieuwenhuis on 0-1, though Nieuwenhuis moved up on a followup quail of a single and took third on an outfield error.
It ended Greinke’s streak at 45.2 innings, impressive work no matter how far from the record book you finish it. The Dodgers, alas, couldn’t win it. deGrom outpitched Greinke in a duel between the National League’s ERA leaders, and old teammate Uribe, the new Met arrival, finished it off with an RBI single in the bottom of the tenth. Them’s the breaks.