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Launch angles — September 16, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-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

Kevin Kiermaier puts the Rays on his back — .441 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

Last year, when Kiermaier went down, the Rays plummeted out of contention. During the 48 games he missed, Tampa Bay went 14-34, eventually finishing last place in the AL East. But Kiermaier’s club stuck around while he was on the DL this year, and while they’re slumped recently, they’re still hanging on by a thread in the race for the second AL Wild Card spot.

On Friday against the Red Sox, Kiermaier did everything in his power to keep the Rays in the game. In the ninth inning, Boston put two runs across to bring the score to 5-4. Jackie Bradley Jr. stepped in against Alex Colome and proceeded to send a screaming liner to the left-center gap. Kiermaier was having none of it:

GIF via MLB.com

Colome would eventually blow the save, but he didn’t let the Sox pull ahead, so the game went to extras. In the tenth, Mookie Betts turned on a Jose Alvarado fastball, whacking it to the deepest part of the ballpark. And again, Kiermaier was there:

GIF via MLB.com

The score remained knotted at 5 until the 14th inning, when Rafael Devers brought around Betts to make it 6-5 Boston. Tampa Bay had three outs to work with, and KK was set to lead off the bottom of the inning. He wasted no time:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Brandon Workman started Kiermaier out with a fastball on the outside corner, then came in with a knuckle-curve. The third pitch, another heater, caught a little too much of the plate, and Kiermaier yanked it down the line in left to make the score 6-6, giving the home team another shot.

In the end, none of it made a difference. Austin Pruitt and Chase Whitley imploded in the 15th, and the Red Sox turned the tie into a 13-6 laugher. But you have to admire Kiermaier’s devotion to the Rays — both on the field and at the plate, he tried his damnedest to help them win. Tampa Bay’s playoff odds are still less than 1 percent, though. Evidently, Kiermaier’s best isn’t good enough.

Yesterday’s best game score

Daniel Mengden — 97

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 MLB.com

Before yesterday, Daniel Mengden had started 17 games in the majors. His lifetime ERA was 6.59. Now, he’s started 18 games, and his lifetime ERA is 5.97. The Philadelphia Phillies: turning around opponents’ careers for 134 years!

In fairness to the Phils, they haven’t been irredeemable on offense this year. As a matter of fact, they ranked ninth in the majors with a 102 second-half wRC+ before this game. That renders Mengden’s outing all the more impressive: He blanked Philadelphia for his first career shutout, allowing just two baserunners — both singles — and facing 28 hitters, one over the minimum.

Mengden had all four pitches — his four-seamer, slider, curveball, and changeup — working against the A’s; each appeared at least 13 times. And while Mengden’s not a hard thrower, he maintained his velocity throughout the night:

Image via MLB.com

The shutout took 118 pitches, the most of Mengden’s career by a long shot. That wasn’t for lack of effort on his part — he threw 74 of those pitches for strikes, with 19 called strikes and 20 whiffs mixed in. That helped him pick up seven strikeouts; 14 ground balls (out of 20 balls in play) took care of the rest.

After four straight years of an above-average ERA, Oakland’s rotation has struggled in 2016 and 2017. Mengden’s track record was part of that, but this game shows his potential to make the leap from “terrible pitcher” to “mediocre pitcher who dominates crappy opponents.” (And who knows? Maybe he’ll become an ace someday! Crazy stuff always seems to happen to the A’s.)

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Matt Olson — 483 feet

GIF via MLB.com

I spend a lot of time thinking about announcer reactions to home runs. When a guy hits a real moonshot — like, the fourth-longest home run of the year, for anyone — how do you call it? Does the fact that you’re covering a last-place team damper your enthusiasm? Do you remember the context and discuss what this means for the team? Do you make the broadcast about you, or about the dinger?

Here, the A’s booth has a pretty perfect reaction. What follows is a rough transcript:

Ray Fosse: …but, in the case of Olson, he’s handled the [swing] offspeed …pit…ches… wow.

Glen Kuiper: Wow. Look out, downtown! Second deck, [ball lands] in the back!

RF: Wow.

GK: 2-0, Athletics.

[pause for a few seconds to take in the scene]

Genuine enthusiasm, such that you haltingly interrupt the tangent you were on? Check. Description of where the ball lands and the score? Check. Silence, to reflect on the magnificent tater? Check and check, as both Fosse and Kuiper quietly observed part of Olson’s trot. You can’t ask for much more out of a booth.

Nor can you ask for much more out of Olson, he of the absurd batting stance and surprising clout. The A’s slugger worked a deep count against Mark Leiter, taking some borderline pitches and fouling off a few before finally getting one to hit:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Somehow, Olson has mashed 19 home runs in just 184 plate appearances. He’s now slashing .267/.359/.634, for a 159 wRC+. (Aaron Judge is at 160, just FYI.) Even if Mengden and co. melt down again, Olson and his young teammates can pile on the runs to make victory a certainty.

SABRy tidbits

Today’s best pitching matchup

Rich Hill (3.59 projected ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (3.24 projected ERA)

There’s another quality pitching matchup today, too: Out west, Zack Greinke takes on Madison Bumgarner. Those pitchers fall ever so short of the standard, though, so we’ll focus on these two. Hill has rebounded smoothly from a rough start to the year, with a 3.05 ERA and 3.41 FIP in his last 14 outings. Strasburg, meanwhile, has embarked on an unbelievable scoreless streak — 34 innings and counting. This game pits a hot hurler against a scorching one, meaning we should see a pitching duel in the nation’s capital.


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.