Game of the Week: 5/4-10

Thanks in large part to a very entertaining season so far, choosing which game to highlight each week proves to be quite difficult. Once again, the slate of games on the docket this past week was comprised of some absolute gems, some thrillers, and another position player finding his way onto the mound. Though a few others could give our winner a run for its money, the top game last week saw the Angels and Royals square off on Saturday in the best pitching duel this season.

The Angels bested the Royals, 1-0, behind a strong Joe Saunders outing, beating up on Zack Greinke in the process. Seriously… his ERA entered at 0.40 and left at an uglier 0.51.

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While complete games are rare these days, both Saunders and Greinke went the distance in this instant classic. Greinke has now completed four of his seven starts, not necessarily reminiscent of Warren Spahn or Robin Roberts, but still pretty incredible in the present context. Greinke has also been the deserving recipient of an ample supply of attention this season for his absolutely dominant efforts. After “losing” on Saturday, Greinke’s statline looks like this: 7 GS (4 CG/2 SHO), 53.0 IP, 34 H, 0 HR, 8 BB, 59 K, 0.51 ERA, 1.46 FIP.

His counterpart on Saturday has also been doing well albeit with much less attention. Last season, Saunders broke out with a solid campaign; however, he also became the consensus pick for the pitcher with a good 2008 season that will regress pretty significantly the next year. After all, sub-5.0 strikeout rates are generally not that appealing unless the pitcher induces groundballs with the greatest of ease and posts Maddux-esque walk rates. Saunders issued around 2.4 walks per nine last season but he did record grounders on 47% of his balls in play. His +2.8 wins pegged him as a good, but not-as-great-as-a-3.41-ERA-in-31-starts-suggests pitcher.

Following his shutout on Saturday, Saunders has a 2.66 ERA and 4.23 FIP in 47.1 innings of work. His strikeout rate remains unworthy of boasting, but the BB/9 has dropped a bit. At right around +1 win this season, Saunders is once again looking good. Despite a large disconnect in his ERA and FIP, perhaps portending that teams are going to figure him out sooner of later, the Royals looked hopeless on Saturday, much like other teams look when facing Greinke.

The lone run of the game occurred in the bottom of the third on some small ball courtesy of the Scioscia-bunch. Gary Matthews Jr led the inning off with a double. Erick Aybar sacrificed him over to third. Chone Figgins hit a sac fly to rightfield. No other runs would cross the plate though not for a lack of trying as several of the runners who did manage to reach base in this game found themselves in scoring position.

In the top of the fifth, Saunders walked Billy Butler and allowed a single to Alberto Callaspo to start the frame. Runners on first and second, nobody out, and Saunders escaped unharmed thanks to three straight outs at the expenses of Willie Bloomquist, Miguel Olivo and Mike Aviles.

In the bottom of the sixth, Aybar doubled and moved to third two batters later when Maicer Izturis grounded out. The power-sapped Bobby Abreu couldn’t drive him home, though, ending the inning with the 1-0 score in tact.

Erick Aybar made an errant throw on a Bloomquist-grounder to start the top of the eighth, allowing Willie to reach base. Miguel Olivo then singled, moving Bloomquist up to second. Aviles sacrificed both runners into scoring position, leaving Saunders with one out and runners at second and third. Coco Crisp then grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Olivo being retired at third base and Bloomquist moving up to take over that same spot. Now with runners on the corners and two outs, a 4.38 Leverage Index, Saunders got David DeJesus to groundout to third.

The remaining two half-innings went by quickly, with each pitcher retiring the three batters they faced. Four of those struck out and Billy Butler flied out to center to end the game. Two complete games, nine total hits, one total walk, and nine strikeouts. Best duel of the season so far and last week’s top game.





Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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Aron
13 years ago

What’s particularly impressive is that for the first time this year, Greinke didn’t have very good control of his fastball, slider, or curve for that matter, and yet he still turned in an impressive performance.