This Saturday slate features one ace matchup and a few solid starters out on their own. Check ’em out:
Francisco Liriano (PIT) vs. Max Scherzer (WAS)
4:05 p.m. ET
Liriano dominated the battle of the sliders last time out, taking down Carlos Rodon with an eight-inning shutout performance. Liriano allowed just two hits, fanned 12 and walked just one as the White Sox dominated the Pirates 11–0 as Rodon was dusted up early and often. It’s been repeated numerous times in this spot, but Liriano has been on point since his old friends the Minnesota Twins knocked him around in mid May. The Twins got to him for seven earned in just two innings; he’s allowed just five earned runs in the subsequent five starts (1.29 ERA) with 47 strikeouts and six walks in 35 innings. Opponents have hit just .161/.200/.210 in that time frame as well. Whatever it was plaguing Liriano against the Twins, he seems to have it in check.
After a couple of outings in a row with four earned runs pushed Scherzer’s ERA above 2.00 for just the second time all season, he went rogue on the Brewers and took no prisoners. Scherzer had 16 strikeouts and just one walk in a complete game one-hitter. The no-hitter watch was in effect, as Carlos Gomez singled to right to break it up with nobody out in the bottom of the seventh. Scherzer went back to work, setting down nine of the next 10 batters with just a walk to Scooter Gennett keeping him from being perfect the rest of the way. That brought Scherzer’s ERA back down to 1.93, and he now ranks fifth overall in MLB in ERA behind Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, and A.J. Burnett. He’s given the Nationals all they could have expected.
Here’s a peek at today’s “aces in isolation:” Corey Kluber (opposed by Tampa Bay’s Erasmo Ramirez), Noah Syndergaard (Atlanta’s Williams Perez), and Dallas Keuchel (Seattle’s Taijuan Walker). Kluber has lost his last three games despite allowing just eight runs over 20 innings (3.60 ERA). His strikeout pace has slowed considerably—just six in his last two starts—and he’s induced more than 10 grounders in just one of his last four starts. Overall it’s been a somewhat disappointing season for Kluber, who is 3–8—not his fault—with a 3.54 ERA. Thor bounced back from his two toughest starts of the year—11 earned in a combined 10 innings—to stymie the Blue Jays—his original organization—with an 11-strikeout performance in six innings.
Syndergaard allowed just a pair of hits, including a home run to Jose Bautista, but ultimately silenced the bats of the best offense in baseball by a number of measures, including team wOBA. Finally there’s Keuchel, whose ERA swelled above 2.00 for the first time all season as he allowed three earned runs over 6.2 innings in a win over the Rockies.
Keuchel moved to 8–2 with the win, and the Astros are 10-4 in his starts. As one might expect, Keuchel’s gameplan is some strikeouts (6.8 K/9 is good, but still below league average) with an insane number of grounders (64.2 percent ranks second in MLB) and virtually no walks (2.3 per nine innings). He’s benefitted from an extraordinarily low BABIP (.232), but he’s also a good bet moving forward because his groundball penchant neutralizes extra-base power that he faces. Opponents have hit just .193/.247/.251 against him.
Nick Martinez versus Rodon pits a lesser-known righty against one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in the game. Martinez has been strangely good for the Rangers this year (2.76 ERA), though he’s also evading some scary-ish peripherals (4.22 FIP, 4.80 xFIP). It’s been a rough go in June for Martinez (5.51 ERA) after an insanely good April (0.35) and a solid May (3.25), but he’s ramped up the strikeouts in each month. Rodon got pummeled for seven earned runs in 3.2 innings last time out, which nearly matched the offensive output of his previous five starts combined (eight). After walking 15 batters in a three-game span in mid May, the slider specialist has walked just six batters in his most recent four outings, though that has also meant reduced strikeouts in three of those four starts. He’s a work in progress, but he’s insanely talented.
Jon Lester versus Trevor May is another matchup of a lefty and a righty, with Lester being very established and May still working to create his own identity. Lester bounced back from a couple rough starts to shut down the Reds last time out by allowing just five hits and one earned run over seven innings. Lester only had four strikeouts, but walked none and helped the Cubs win for the first time in his last four starts. May got roughed up a bit against the Cardinals last time out—two home runs for three earned over five frames—but has been far more good than bad in his first full big league season. May’s changeup has been the highlight, with a 16.1 percent whiff rate that is nearly double his next best pitch. May is also pounding the strike zone for the first time in his career—minors and majors—and while he’s seeing some of the downfalls, he’s still taken a huge step forward. He looks a little like the 2014 version of Phil Hughes right now.