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Launch angles — August 18, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB season lasts half the year, and it can be hard for the average fan to keep up. That’s where we come in. Every day during the 2017 regular season, Beyond the Box Score will be recapping all the biggest action from the previous day — with a sabermetric slant, of course — and looking ahead to what today will bring.

Yesterday’s biggest play

Dexter Fowler smashes a go-ahead triple down the line — +.393 WPA

Gif via

The Central is the only competitive division in the National League. With the Cubs unexpectedly not world beaters, the Brewers, Cardinals, and Pirates are all legitimately still in the race. The series between the Cardinals and Pirates that started on Thursday has big implications.

Entering the seventh inning, the Cardinals trailed the Pirates by a score of 5-4. Pittsburgh reliever Joaquín Benoit took the mound and promptly got Matt Carpenter to fly out. That is all the success Benoit would be able to muster. Tommy Pham followed with a single to right and Paul DeJong then took a 94 mile per hour fastball to the armpit to put runners on first and second for Dexter Fowler.

Benoit got ahead on Fowler with two quick strikes, but followed with three straight balls in roughly the same place below the strike zone. Not wanting to load the bases with just one out, Benoit made sure to throw a strike with his next pitch. Unfortunately for the Pirates, it was a two-seam fastball right down the middle of the plate.

Zone via MLB Gameday

Fowler crushed the pitch down the right field line with an exit velocity of 106 miles per hour. Pham and DeJong scored easily and Fowler made it to third with a nice slide and the help of a lackluster route and throw from right-fielder Adam Frazier. Reaction among the Cardinals fans in attendance was split; some stood to applaud, while others just needed to hydrate after all of that excitement.

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St. Louis would not relinquish the lead after Fowler’s triple. The win, combined with the Cubs loss, moved the Cardinals to just 1.5 games back of the NL Central lead. The loss dropped the Pirates to 5.5 games back in the division, and made the remaining three games of this series that much more important for Pittsburgh.

Yesterday’s best game score

Patrick Corbin — 89

GIf via

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance, and recently updated by Tom Tango. The score begins at 40, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, runs, and home runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

The Astros are the best offensive team in baseball. Their 127 team wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) is way ahead of the Dodgers, who sit in second place at 111. As a team, Houston has baseball’s lowest strikeout percentage, along with the highest batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, isolated power, and weighted on-base average. All of this is meant to emphasize how impressive it is when a pitcher shuts them down, which is exactly what Diamondbacks starter Patrick Corbin did on Thursday.

Corbin delivered 8 23 shutout innings, allowing just four hits and one walk. He struck out seven and generated 11 groundouts. According to Brooks Baseball, Corbin threw his slider 60 times, and it was responsible for 11 of his 12 swinging strikes. Normally a southpaw who throws 54 percent fastballs and 36 percent sliders, Corbin flipped the script and threw 41 percent fastballs and 57 percent sliders against the Astros on Thursday.

Corbin’s change in approach proved the perfect recipe to shut down baseball’s best offense, for one day at least. It was just the second time all season that the Astros have been on the receiving end of the day’s best game score. To quote the great Carl Weathers, “you take ground balls, whiff-inducing sliders, and put those together — baby, you got a stew going!”*

*Carl Weathers did not say this, but I think he’d agree with the sentiment.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Ian Happ — 443 feet

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The ball was flying at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon as the Cubs and Reds combined for eight long balls. Ian Happ accounted for two of those, his 16th and 17th of the season. Happ’s second dinger was the longest of the day, hit to deep center field where it hopefully found refuge in the brush with other home run balls that have been banished from Wrigley’s field of play. Time to start your new life, Ian Happ’s second home run ball.

The 0-1 splitter from Scott Feldman wasn’t in a terrible spot, but it looks like Reds catcher Stuart Turner may have wanted it down just a touch from where it ended up. Not a perfect pitch, but far from a meatball that deserved to be crushed. It’s a testament to Happ’s strength and plate coverage that he could hit that ball as far as he did. Watch in slow motion for the extremely slight delay in Happ’s swing after foot strike as he has to adjust to correctly time the breaking pitch.

Gif via

He waits on the pitch and still drives it 443 feet. Impressive.

Happ is carrying a nearly 30 percent strikeout rate in his rookie campaign, but the power is playing and has made him an above average offensive player (112 wRC+). He turned 23 years old just six days ago, so there’s still room for improvement. It appears that the Cubs have another good young hitter on their hands.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Corey Kluber (3.15 projected ERA) vs. Ian Kennedy (4.61 projected ERA)

If you look at fWAR — FanGraphs’ iteration of Wins Above Replacement — Chris Sale is leading Corey Kluber by a healthy 2.4 wins. But fWAR uses FIP as it’s primary measure, which is the only metric that Sale leads Kluber in by a large amount. It you look at the other versions of WAR — bWar and WARP — the two aces are neck and neck. My point is that the American League Cy Young Race is closer than you might think. Kluber missed time to injury, so the innings difference between he and Sale might ultimately prove to be the deciding factor; but other than FIP, all of the important measurements of a pitcher’s success are close between the two.

Kluber looks to improve his Cy Young case and, more importantly, Cleveland’s 5.5 game lead in the AL Central over the Royals on Friday. Ian Kennedy will toe the rubber for Kansas City. He is not in contention for the Cy Young.

Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.