Has Hochevar turned the corner with back-to-back strong starts?

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Prior to last week Luke Hochevar seemed destined for a career as a
solid but unspectacular mid-rotation starter, which while certainly not
a bad thing would qualify as a big disappointment for the No. 1 overall
pick in the 2006 draft.

Hochevar had a mediocre 92/39 K/BB ratio in 123 innings at Triple-A
and then went 11-16 with a 5.25 ERA through his first 33 starts in the
majors, managing a measly 4.7 strikeouts per nine innings. His average
fastball was just 90 miles per hour, he wasn’t missing any bats, his
control was shaky, and despite still being just 25 years old Hochevar
didn’t look like someone capable of becoming an elite starting pitcher.

That may still end up being the case, but he’s at least done a good
impression of an elite starter in his last two outings, racking up 22
strikeouts in 13 innings while handing out zero walks against two of
the AL’s best lineups. He had nine strikeouts in six innings against
Tampa Bay and then whiffed 13 in seven innings Saturday versus Texas,
which is remarkable for a guy who never had more than six strikeouts in
his first 33 starts.

Bill James once found that pitchers with even a single 15-strikeout,
zero-walk start were overwhelmingly destined for greatness. In fact, as
the always awesome Joe Posnanski points out
of the 21 guys to accomplish that feat 20 of them are “either Hall of
Fame quality or excellent pitchers” with Sterling Hitchcock being the
lone exception. Of course, Posnanski also notes that dropping the
threshold to 13 strikeouts produces “a significantly bigger group.”

The 13-strikeout group has 75 pitchers, to be exact, with
significantly more non-elite names mixed in with the Hall of Famers. In
other words, Hochever’s outstanding 13-strikeout, zero-walk performance
against the Rangers doesn’t really predict greatness so much as
goodness. After all, for one game to have that much meaning is
extremely difficult.

However, Posnanski’s findings got me wondering about Hochevar’s
two-game stretch with 22 strikeouts and zero walks. Or, put another
way, how many pitchers have had back-to-back starts where they didn’t
walk anyone and struck out at least nine batters? Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com,
I can tell you that Hochevar was just the 29th guy to do it since 1954
and no one has done it in three straight starts. Here’s the list:

Randy Johnson (x2)      Rich Harden             Oliver Perez
Pedro Martinez (x2) Dan Haren Steve Renko
Curt Schilling (x2) LUKE HOCHEVAR Nolan Ryan
Erik Bedard Fergie Jenkins Ray Sadecki
Kevin Brown Jon Lieber Johan Santana
Steve Carlton Jim Merritt Mike Scott
Roger Clemens Terry Mulholland Ben Sheets
Bob Gibson Mike Mussina James Shields
Dwight Gooden Roy Oswalt David Wells
Aaron Harang Camilo Pascual

Not all of those names are great pitchers, but an awful lot of them
are and most of the elite starters from the past five decades are on
the list. All of which isn’t to suggest that Hochevar is suddenly
destined to become a great pitcher, just that the possibility at least
seems a whole lot more plausible than it did a couple weeks ago.

Settling the Scores: Saturday’s results

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Denard Span #2 of the San Francisco Giants, right, is congratulated by Roberto Kelly #39 after hitting a two-run home run during the tenth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on September 24, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Amid the clash and clatter of division races, wild card nail-biters, and postseason finishes, the Giants and Padres played a baseball game.

It wasn’t a particularly brilliant game — Madison Bumgarner surrendered five runs and a season-high three homers over six frames, while the bullpen blew a one-run lead in the seventh — but it served its purpose in the end. Denard Span’s 10th inning home run cemented the Giants’ 82nd win of the season, scooting them half a game up in the wild card standings and keeping the Dodgers from clinching the division.

Granted, the Dodgers only need one more win (or, alternatively, a Giants’ loss) to lay claim to the division title, and it’s almost certain that they’ll take the NL West on Sunday. A division title may be out of reach for the Giants, but they’ll still face fierce competition from the Mets and Cardinals for a wild card spot heading into the last week of the season.

Here are the rest of the box scores from Saturday’s games. Keep an eye out for Dustin Pedroia‘s grand slam, Josh Reddick‘s grand slam, and Hunter Renfroe’s first career home run.

Royals 7, Tigers 4

Cardinals 10, Cubs 4

Rangers 5, Athletics 0

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 0

Red Sox 6, Rays 4

Orioles 6, Diamondbacks 1

Nationals 6, Pirates 1

Marlins 6, Braves 4

White Sox 8, Indians 1

Reds 6, Brewers 1

Angels 10, Astros 4

Phillies 10, Mets 8

Twins 3, Mariners 2

Giants 9, Padres 6 (10 innings)

Dodgers 14, Rockies 1

Dodgers move within a game of division win

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Josh Reddick #11 of the Los Angeles Dodgers (R) celebrates with Yasmani Grandal #9, Adrian Gonzalez #23, and Justin Turner #10 after all score on Reddick's grand slam home run in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.   The Dodgets won 14-1.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, the Nationals staked their claim in the NL East and the Red Sox secured a postseason berth. Today, the Dodgers stand on the cusp of their fourth consecutive division title, with only Tyler Anderson and Ty Blach in their way.

Any combination of a Dodgers win and Giants loss will secure the NL West for Los Angeles, who missed their opportunity to clinch last night despite a 14-1 drubbing at Dodger Stadium. In the end, it came down to the Giants, who pulled off an extra-inning victory against the Padres and delayed the Dodgers’ playoff revelry for another day.

In lieu of starter Rich Hill, whom manager Dave Roberts intends to reserve for next weekend’s set against the Giants, the Dodgers will go to right-hander Brandon McCarthy on the mound. It’s been a rough year for McCarthy, who has not made a regular season start for the club since August 13, when he left the game with stiffness in his right hip after 1  innings. According to Baseball Injury Consultants, the 33-year-old missed 179 days on the disabled list in 2016, due in large part to a prolonged recovery from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2015.

Thankfully for the Dodgers, their fallback is a good, old-fashioned offense. They’ve outscored their opponents 46-23 in the last week and are currently riding a five-game winning streak after taking back-to-back series against the Giants and Rockies. Should they win on Sunday, they’ll face off against the Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS on October 7.