So, it turns out, if you can trade a few nice but not all that notable spare parts for this generation’s version of Young Andy Ashby, you probably should. Kevin Gausman continues to be the absolute gank heist of the season. One begins to suspect that Alex Anthopoulos and his team(s) are pretty good at this.
Back before the deadline, when we were all guessing and grasping and hoping and complaining about holes that needed to be filled, we often came back to the topic of a true “top of the rotation starter (TOR).” During one of those side bars, I did a quick and dirty mash-up (none dare call such a thing “analysis”) of the league’s leaders in bWAR and ERA. Just put the two lists side by side and made note of who was on both of them. It was a cheap and easy look into who in MLB 2018 might be reasonably considered a TOR.
The results were more or less what you would expect; Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola, Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom. Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander. Clayton Kershaw was missing mostly because he’s been injured and in and out of the lineup this year. But generally speaking, the superstar names popped up in the returns.
At same time, there were a few odd names in the list as well. Colorado’s Kyle Freeland in the middle of the WAR returns. Mike Foltynewicz sneaking into the ERA list. Gerritt Cole’s transformation since arriving in Houston. Guys that are having amazing 2018’s, who may in fact be poised to join the previous list as year over year superstar starters, but who are still working on some kinks and haven’t quite earned the assumption that they’re “here to stay,” so to speak.
It’s safe to add Kevin Gausman, as a Brave, to that second list. Since making the move to the NL, Gausman has absolutely dominated. His first start for Atlanta was a pedestrian 3-0 loss to the Mets, in New York. He’d been with the club all of four days at the time, so any adjustments Atlanta’s staff had for him probably hadn’t really taken yet. In his three starts since then, he’s undefeated, going 8 strong against Milwaukee, a workman 6 innings against Miami, and then last night’s gem in Pittsburgh.
Over that span his K/9 has actually dropped almost 2 full strikeouts per game. But his BB/9 has also dropped, from 2.3 to 2.0. His HR/9 has declined as well, from 1.5 to 0.3, and his H/9 has absolutely cratered. In Baltimore Gausman was giving up 10+ hits per game. In Atlanta he’s reduced that to the 6.7. Some of that is undoubtedly getting out of the firing lines of the AL East. It’s easier to limit hits against the Marlins and Pirates than it is against the Red Sox and Yanks. But some of it seems to be approach. He looks like he’s taken something off of his heater, and he’s pitching from the stretch exclusively, which I think is new.
Whatever it is, he’s dropped his WHIP from 1.379 to 0.963. That is an astounding adjustment. Clayton Kershaw’s WHIP in 2017 was 0.949. Max Scherzer’s was 0.902. Jake deGrom’s for 2018 is 0.958. We don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves of course. It’s a three game sample size after all. But if you were wondering, no; your gut isn’t wrong. Since joining the Braves, Kevin Gausman has in fact been the shut down, top of the rotation “ace” you’ve been hoping for. Whether that lasts is another question, but he’s been a hell of a pick up so far.
As for the game itself, the first three innings took approximately 12 seconds to play. Ivan Nova was actually more effective than Gaus to start. He sat the Braves down 1-2-3 three times in a row, averaging less than 10 pitches per inning to get through the order. After an uneventful first, Gausman gave up a single and a walk to start the second, but two consecutive ground balls kept his sheet clean, with an inning ending double play reducing his base runners by one as well.
The Braves finally got a couple of base runners or their own in the fourth, with Ender and Freddie slapping back to back singles with one out. But neither Neck nor Johan could cash them in. Pittsburgh went quietly in their half, bringing Atlanta back to the dish in short order. After an Ozzie ground out, Kurt Suzuki singled. Dansbo jumped all over the first pitch he saw, a 91 mph 2-seamer, and lashed it down the LF line for a laser beam HR. Braves up 2-0, and the way the Buccos’ offense has been struggling and half their starting lineup on the bench anyway, you felt pretty good about it. Pirates repeat the meekness bottom half, and the Braves go quietly top 6.
Bottom half of the sixth sees the first real danger for Gausman since the second, though it should have been easier. With one out Josh Harrison pinch hits for Nova and singles. Corey Dickerson follows that up with a single of his own. Adam Frazier steps in and chops a 1-2 fastball right back to the pitcher, who turns and fires to second to start the double play. Only Dansby and Ozzie aren’t on the same page as to who’s covering and both converge on the bag simultaneously. Albies manages to catch the throw and hold the bag with his toe before being body checked off of it by Swanson. The force out is confirmed on review, but what should have been another inning ending double play is reduced to just a very odd looking second out.
Gregory Polanco walks to load the bases, but Gaus gets Josh Bell to roll the first pitch to Swanson who steps on second to end the threat.
Braves break it open a bit in the seventh. Ozzie singles, which maybe starts something for him again. Kurt Suzuki, who was at least half of the offensive story of the night, doubles him home, and then trots home ahead of Dansbo’s second two-run jack of the night. Braves up 5-0. Gaus goes back out for an easy eighth. Atlanta tacks on an insurance run top of 9, but the cost is still pending as Suzuki is due to have a CT scan on his elbow this morning. It didn’t look good in real time.
Chad Sobotka closed out the ninth. Gregory Polanco ran into a 95 mph four seamer to lead off, ruining the shut out, but he came in throwing gas for strikes, being aggressive, and generally not screwing around. Precisely what you want to see from a reliever mopping up the last inning with a six run lead.
Interesting note there; the same scout who found Sobotka toiling away for the University of South Carolina-Upstate Spartans (Spartanburg, Atlantic Sun Conference) also found Evan Phillips (University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Colonial Athletic Association) and Bryse Wilson (Orange High School, Hillsoborough, North Carolina.) I propose that guy get a raise.
Anywho, I’m rambling and I’m already an hour past the time I promised Rob I’d publish this thing. To wrap it up, gNats beat the Phils 10-4 last night, Detroit beat the Cubs, Cincy topped the Brew Crew. St. Louis did win at LA, and the D’backs topped the Halos, so it wasn’t a clean sweep for all potential WC competitors, but we’re not shooting for the WC this year anyway. Atlanta sits 2 games ahead of Philly in the East, and Washington seems to be giving up the ghost at 7.5 back and selling off players.