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Launch angles — September 4, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-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

Welington Castillo keeps the O’s alive in the Wild Card chase — +.434 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

We’re a month away from the end of the season, and the AL Wild Card race is still packed. Take a look at FanGraphs’ playoff odds (which don’t include Sunday’s games):

Image via FanGraphs

Of the 15 Junior Circuit teams, only four — the Blue Jays, Athletics, Tigers, and White Sox — have no shot at the postseason. With the Red Sox, Indians, and Astros maintaining comfortable leads in their divisions, eight teams are jockeying for the remaining two playoff spots.

The Orioles are one such team. They came into Sunday 69-67, with about a 13 percent chance at a Wild Card berth, as the graphic shows. But the Jays had taken two of the first three games in this series, and with a 4-3 lead for closer Roberto Osuna, they looked ready to cruise to victory.

Beef wasn’t ready to let that happen. Leading off the ninth against Osuna, he looked over a fastball above the zone, swung through a cutter down and away, laid off a couple more heaters, and finally got a cut fastball he could handle:

Image via Brooks Baseball

“Might be the biggest hit of the season for the Orioles,” remarked MASN’s Mike Bordick. While that’s a tad hyperbolic — again, there’s still a month left in the season — this long ball did make a big difference. It made what looked like a sure victory for the Blue Jays a tight ballgame, one the O’s would eventually win on a walk-off single from Mark Trumbo.

More importantly, this is another victory in the books for Baltimore, which now trails Minnesota by 1.5 games for the second AL Wild Card spot. The Yankees are in control of the first one — we’ll get to them in a minute — which means anyone who wants to make it to the divisional round will need to go through the Bronx. Still, a playoff berth is a playoff berth, and with a clutch ninth-inning blast from Castillo, the O’s inched that much closer to October.

Yesterday’s best game score

Luis Severino — 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 MLB.com

It’s not every day a 23-year-old in his first full MLB season beats Chris Sale. Of course, it’s also not every day Sale gives up three home runs, as he did against the Yankees on Sunday. As his offense went to work, Severino diced up the Red Sox, allowing one (unearned) run on two hits and no walks in six innings while picking up nine strikeouts. It was a stark turnaround from his last outing against Boston, when the Sox tagged him for 10 runs in 4 13 frames.

What changed between then and now? Severino threw basically the exact same pitches on Aug. 12 (49 four-seamers, 26 sliders, 15 changeups) that he threw on Sunday (48 four-seamers, 25 sliders, 14 changeups). His velocity didn’t fluctuate much, either. For whatever reason, everything was clicking yesterday — Severino threw 59 of his 87 pitches for strikes, with 17 calls and 12 whiffs for good measure.

The formula is a familiar one. Pound the zone with the fastball, while elevating occasionally to get some swings-and-misses along the way:

Image via Baseball Savant

Then when you work the count in your favor, attack with a secondary pitch low to catch them off-guard:

Image via Baseball Savant

Severino has dominated overall this year — his ERA and FIP are now at 3.03 and 3.12, respectively. He racks up Ks, limits walks, and keeps the ball on the ground; you can’t ask for much else from your pitcher. While Sale has gotten deserving praise as he’s led the Red Sox toward the postseason, Severino’s anchored the Yankees staff in their playoff chase.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge — 469 feet

GIF via MLB.com

After Chase Headley, Matt Holliday, and Todd Frazier went yard against Sale, John Farrell yanked his ace and went to the bullpen. Joe Kelly pitched a scoreless frame, but after Robby Scott put Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner on base, another reliever came in.

Take a look at these two pitchers:

Pitcher A — 13 23 innings, 29.6 percent strikeout rate, 5.6 percent walk rate

Pitcher B — 13 23 innings, four home runs, 5.93 ERA

Pitcher A is Addison Reed since joining the Red Sox at the trade deadline. Pitcher B is Addison Reed since joining the Red Sox at the trade deadline. Sometimes the right-hander taps into his Jekyll, as he did by striking out Chase Headley with the bases loaded in the fifth. Other times, well, he makes you want to run and Hyde. [Editor’s note: Why not just say “he pulls a Hyde”? You’re really reaching here, Romano.]

Anyway! Judge has been slumping since the All-Star break, but he’s still one of the strongest baseball players on the planet. This 1-1 pitch from Reed was a fastball well above the strike zone, not an easy offering for a hitter to turn on:

GIF via MLB.com

Yet Judge had no problem depositing the ball several rows into the left-field seats. He’s now slashing .275/.407/.572 for a wRC+ of 156 — not the MVP-caliber production from the first half, but still a formidable presence at the plate.

SABRy tidbits

No more retools, no more selling at the trade deadline and buying again in the offseason. For the Tigers, the rebuild is fully underway, now that Justin Upton and Justin Verlander have hit the road. Over at Bless You Boys, Cameron J. Kaiser offers some perspective on what this all means, and where Detroit might go from here in the post-Ilitch era.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Robbie Ray (3.84 projected ERA) vs. Rich Hill (3.59 projected ERA)

As we head into September, we’ll see more and more intra-divisional games. The Dodgers aren’t on pace with the 2001 Mariners anymore, but they’re still on their way to at least 100 wins, with a solid shot at 110. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, are 79-58, three victories away from their first winning season since 2011. This NL West matchup is less about the postseason — L.A. and Arizona have all but clinched the division and first Wild Card spot, respectively — and more about the key component in any rivalry: bragging rights.

Ray and Hill won’t make it easy for their respective opponents. The two left-handers have each had strong years — both have tons of strikeouts to make up for a few too many walks and dingers. By ERA, Ray (2.97) is far superior to Hill (3.71); by FIP (3.87 and 3.95, respectively), they’re pretty much alike. The first contest of three in this series should be a low-scoring affair, with the winner lording it over the loser’s head until the playoffs come around.


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.