With more than half a season in the rearview mirror, the MLB wins leader is … Lance Lynn?
Wait, wait, wait … pump the brakes. You’re telling me Lance Lynn, a 32-year-old suiting up for his fourth team in three seasons, who makes his living pitching in a hitter’s paradise at Globe Life Park in Arlington, has more wins than Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw? Surely this can’t be the same Lynn who last made the All-Star team in 2012 and limped into free agency by faltering to a 4.77 ERA last season. Come on, guys. You can’t possibly expect me to believe that Lynn, whose ERA was hovering around six as recently as two months ago, ranks fourth among big-league hurlers in wins above replacement ahead of perennial Cy Young contenders Charlie Morton, Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg. I’ve had some unsettling dreams in the past, particularly after consuming large quantities of Taco Bell, but none as wild as this.
That’s MLB in a nutshell. Things are bound to get a bit screwy over the course of 162 games and the Rangers, a team Vegas pegged for a modest 71 wins (the fifth-lowest total behind Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City and Miami), are living proof of baseball’s unpredictability. The Rangers, led by first-year skipper Chris Woodward, were supposed to be pushovers, a ready-made snack for the likes of apex predators like the Astros and Red Sox. But thanks to surprising contributions from Lynn and others (Hunter Pence’s career was on life support before his Texas renaissance), the overachieving Rangers find themselves quickly gaining ground in the AL Wild Card chase.
Listed at a massive 6’5” and 280 pounds, Lynn could easily pass for a wrestling heel on Monday Night Raw, but instead of cracking skulls in the ring or hurling chairs at his opponents, the Rangers ace prefers to let his arm do the talking. Lynn’s arm had plenty to say Thursday against the division-leading Astros, who crumbled at his feet in a 5-0 Rangers victory. The former Ole Miss Rebel laid it on thick with 11 punch-outs, a season-high for the right-hander, over seven shutout frames as the upstart Rangers pulled within 2.5 games of Cleveland for the AL’s second Wild Card spot. Thursday brought Lynn his 12th win of 2019, breaking a tie with Lucas Giolito for the league-lead in that statistic. Of the six hits surrendered by Lynn, only one—a seventh-inning gapper off the bat of George Springer—went for extra bases.
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The Astros aren’t exactly playing with a full deck right now. Shortstop Carlos Correa is still on the mend after broken ribs were the result of a massage gone terribly wrong while All-Star Alex Bregman bowed out of Thursday night’s game with a lacerated chin (it took four stiches to close the gash) stemming from a grounder that took a bad hop on him. But even at less than full strength, the ‘Stros are still a tough code to crack, though apparently not for Lynn, who overcame blistering 90-degree heat to claim his fifth win in as many starts. The eight-year vet has taken his game to new heights over his eight-start unbeaten streak, compiling a superb 2.49 ERA during that span. While others get by on smoke and mirrors, Lynn prefers to attack with his mid-90s cheese. That proved to be a recipe for success on Thursday as Lynn sliced the Astros into bite-size pieces, devouring them whole while only mixing in a handful of curveballs (the final tally was five, according to Andrew Simon of Statcast).
Lynn, one of the few fantasy investments who’s actually panned out for me in the Rotoworld Friends and Family league (don’t ask me what place I’m in), has been an absolute horse for Texas, but how long can he keep this up for? As breathtaking as his past two months have been, there’s reason to believe the clock will eventually strike midnight on Lynn’s Cinderella season. For one, he’s already logged 2,021 pitches, third-most in the majors behind Scherzer and Trevor Bauer. Lynn might be more equipped to handle that workload than most—he’s the pitching equivalent of a Ford F150. But even at that size, fatigue can still be a factor, especially for a player just three years removed from Tommy John surgery. Though Lynn has been a maestro of late, the ex-Cardinal is still inviting plenty of contact (his .254 BAA ranks 49th out of 78 qualified starters) and it’s likely just a matter of time before Globe Life Park, a stadium that has always belonged to hitters, finally bears its teeth. At least he’s found a strong ally in battery mate Jeff Mathis, who seems to bring out the best in Lynn (3.26 ERA, 10.69 K/9, 8.64 K/BB in games he’s caught for him).
The All-Star break seemed to do the Rangers some good as Texas ambushed rookie Framber Valdez, chasing the left-hander after just 2/3 of an inning. The bats got busy for Texas as the Rangers sent 10 men to the plate while tallying four runs in the opening frame. The first-inning onslaught included four hits, none bigger than Joey Gallo’s RBI double to drive in Delino DeShields. Gallo—who homered on the only pitch he saw in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in Cleveland—has tried to distance himself from his previous all-or-nothing plate approach, instead putting a greater emphasis on contact. That change in philosophy has been evident in his improved average—Gallo’s current .275 clip is miles ahead of his embarrassing career mark of .215.
Ironically, after all that’s been made of MLB’s home run boom including a “ball juicing” conspiracy popularized by Justin Verlander (whose bitterness could stem from the league-high 26 long balls he’s allowed this year), not a single ball left the yard Thursday night. That will change Friday, of course, as the rest of the league returns from its All-Star hiatus.
AL Quick Hits: Jake Marisnick was hit with a two-game suspension for his role in injuring Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy in a home-plate collision on Sunday. The Houston outfielder plans to appeal the ban. … The Astros received encouraging injury news Thursday as manager A.J. Hinch announced that Carlos Correa (ribs) will begin a rehab assignment next week along with teammate Aledmys Diaz, who has been out with a strained hamstring. Brad Peacock (shoulder) is also nearing a return as the right-hander is expected to slot into the Astros’ rotation Monday versus the Angels as long as he avoids a setback during Friday’s bullpen session. … Hunter Pence began a rehab assignment with Double-A Frisco on Thursday and could be activated from the injured list at some point during the Rangers’ weekend series with Houston. The 36-year-old was voted in as an All-Star starter at DH but had to miss the Mid-Summer classic due to a nagging groin injury. … Mitch Moreland (quad) went hitless in four at-bats Thursday in a rehab appearance for Triple-A Pawtucket. With Moreland and Steve Pearce (back, knee) both hurt, rookie Michael Chavis has been holding down the fort at first base for Boston. … The Padres have emerged as a suitor for Matthew Boyd, who is a near lock to change uniforms at the July 31 deadline. The left-hander has had a breakout year in Detroit, tying for sixth in the majors with 142 strikeouts. … Eddie Rosario worked out on Thursday and will likely be activated ahead of Friday’s series opener in Cleveland. The Twins outfielder needed just two weeks to recover from a sprained ankle. … Bubba Starling, who the Royals selected fifth overall in the 2011 Draft, will finally make his big-league debut this weekend when Kansas City hosts Detroit. The 26-year-old earned his long-awaited promotion by batting a robust .310 with seven homers, 38 RBI and nine steals for Triple-A Omaha.
NL Quick Hits: It doesn’t sound like the Mets are too keen on trading Noah Syndergaard. Per Mike Puma of the New York Post, it would take an “overwhelming” offer to pry Thor away from Queens. The same goes for left-hander Steven Matz, though Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas and Zack Wheeler figure to be goners come July 31. … Will Smith’s trade market is heating up as St. Louis has reportedly joined the left-hander’s growing list of suitors. Carlos Martinez has impressed since spelling Jordan Hicks (who was lost to Tommy John surgery last month) in the ninth inning, though the Cardinals could certainly benefit from adding a bullpen arm. … Yadier Molina landed on the injured list Thursday with a strained thumb tendon. Manager Mike Shildt estimates he’ll need about three weeks to recover. Meanwhile Molina’s Cardinals teammate Matt Carpenter is due back for Friday’s second-half opener against the Diamondbacks. Carpenter had been out with a lower back strain. … Kyle Freeland will rejoin the Rockies’ rotation Saturday against the Reds. The left-hander was one of the top pitchers in the National League a year ago (17-7, 2.85 ERA) but was demoted to Triple-A after getting off to a poor start this season (2-6, 7.13 ERA). … Yonder Alonso has joined the Rockies on a minor-league contract and has already begun play for Triple-A Albuquerque. The one-time All-Star was released from the White Sox earlier this month after batting just .178 with seven homers and 53 strikeouts in 219 at-bats for the Pale Hose. … Despite a down year, Starlin Castro is drawing trade interest, according to beat reporter Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald. The Marlins infielder has hit a disappointing .245 with only six jacks this year. … The independent Atlantic League made headlines by having a robot call balls and strikes during Wednesday night’s All-Star Game. The league plans to experiment with more changes beginning Friday including permitting one foul ball on bunts with two strikes and allowing players to steal first base on balls that get away from the catcher.