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Launch angles — September 12, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

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

Nolan Arenado gives the Rockies a crucial victory — .411 WPA

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It’s true, as they say, that a win in April counts as much as a win in September. But this close to the end of the regular season, with the playoff races heating up, every game feels more important. A win gives you a leg up in the standings, while a loss increases the chances you’ll spend October on your couch.

Their recent slump notwithstanding, the Dodgers have a pretty much insurmountable lead in the NL West, so the other contenders in the division will need to advance out of the one-game Wild Card playoff to earn a full postseason series. The Diamondbacks and Rockies are in the lead for those Wild Card spots, and games like this will determine who gets home-field advantage should they both make it in.

Through seven innings, this game was deadlocked at 2-2. No one wanted to give in, and it looked like the western rivals would head into extra innings. But after DJ LeMahieu lined a two-out triple and Carlos Gonzalez worked a walk, Arenado had a chance to deliver a pivotal hit for Colorado. He came through:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Arizona’s Jake Barrett kept Arenado on his toes — first came a heater down the middle for a called strike, then a low slider, then another fastball on the outer part of the plate. But the 2-1 slider went high, despite Chris Iannetta’s call, and Arenado wasn’t fooled.

After this 5-4 win — Greg Holland made things interesting in the ninth — the D-backs and Rockies remain in control of the two NL Wild Card spots, with the Snakes four games ahead of the Rox. An elimination game in Denver is very different from an elimination game in Phoenix; whichever club has more clutch hits like this during the regular season could have a leg up in the postseason.

Yesterday’s best game score

Steven Brault — 78

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance. The score begins at 50, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, and runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

GIF via

The Pirates aren’t creating pitchers out of thin air like they used to; evidently, though, Ray Searage still has some magic left. Brault was stupid lucky in his first start of the year — against the Cubs last week, he somehow gave up only three runs on eight hits and two walks — but his second outing was all skill. The Brewers tallied one hit and one walk against Brault, who required only 92 pitches for six shutout frames.

Brault has five pitches in his repertoire — a four- and two-seam fastball, plus a slider, curve, and change. But against a lineup with seven right-handed hitters, the southpaw ditched his secondary pitches in favor of a fastball-heavy approach. Seventy-six of his pitches were heaters, and those accounted for 53 strikes, 13 called strikes, 11 swinging strikes, and 10 outs on balls in play.

With his twin heaters, Brault attacked the Brewers over the plate (as he noted after the game, he “wasn't afraid to just be in the zone and let them hit the ball”). That approach contrasted with the scant breaking balls and offspeed pitches he threw, which were usually outside the zone:

Images via Baseball Savant

Searage shouldn’t get all the credit for this performance. In Triple-A this season, Brault posted a 1.94 ERA and 3.29 FIP over 120 13 innings, so he clearly has some ability. And this approach — fastball command and the occasional breaking ball — is a time-tested one. Even though the Pirates are no longer in contention, pitchers like Brault could help them return there in a hurry.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Adam Engel — 426 feet

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We usually don’t see players of Engel’s ilk in this section of the recap. He’s best known for doing stuff like this:

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And this:

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Taking away home runs is one thing. Hitting a moonshot yourself is quite another. While Engel has a lengthy defensive highlight reel, he brought a pathetic .176/.248/.301 slash line into this game, making him one of the worst hitters in the majors (yet somehow not the worst on the White Sox — thanks, Tyler Saladino!).

Still, Engel is a big-league hitter. He’s a better baseball player than 99.999 percent of the planet, which means when he gets a hanging breaking ball in a hitter’s count…

Image via Brooks Baseball

…he’ll probably swing, and he’ll probably do some damage.

As far as long home runs go, though, this one isn’t too noteworthy. Monday was only the eighth day this season in which no hitter launched a 430-foot tater. Engel got doubly lucky: Not only did Brandon Maurer groove a pitch to him, he played on a day with minimal competition. If he keeps on getting good breaks, maybe we’ll start calling this series “Launch Engl—” * booed off stage *

SABRy tidbits

  • As we advance further into September, the race for the second AL Wild Card will begin to thin out. Some teams will go on losing streaks and see their playoff hopes fade. The O’s appear to be one such club; after a 4-3 defeat Monday, they’ve dropped five straight games. Camden Chat’s Mark Brown thinks this is the beginning of the end.
  • Meanwhile, over in the NL, some teams are beginning to re-insert themselves in the race after an up-and-down season. The Cardinals have gotten hot recently and could feasibly catch the Rockies for the second Wild Card spot — or the Cubs for the NL Central crown. BtBS’s Audrey Stark, writing for Viva El Birdos, still has faith in St. Louis.
  • I mean yes, I think the Astros’ last few weeks have been horrible and ALSO that they have a great chance at an awesome and historic playoff run. Both can be true. (For more perspective on Houston’s recent struggles, check out CRPerry13’s take over at The Crawfish Boxes.)

Today’s best pitching matchup

Clayton Kershaw (2.61 projected ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (4.52 projected ERA)

Since coming off the DL, Kershaw has made two starts, each of them against one of the worst offenses in baseball. The Padres didn’t present much of a threat, as he blanked them over six sterling innings; the Rockies, though, knocked him around for four runs in 3 23 frames. Against the Giants — who have also hit rather poorly this year — he’ll look to return to his acedom.

Cueto is also trying to become a No. 1 starter again, but his issue is a subpar season, rather than one bad outing. Through 126 innings this year, he’s tallied a 4.43 ERA and 4.60 FIP; even when adjusted for the leaguewide run environment, those are among the worst numbers of his career. As the Giants wrap up a miserable campaign, Cueto will try to go out on a high note.

Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, sometimes. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.