He didn’t join Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander in throwing a no-hitter, but James Shields may have turned in the most impressive start of the season yesterday by striking out 13 and walking just one in a three-hit shutout of the Marlins.
Based on “Game Score” it was the best start of the season, rating as a 93. Cliff Lee’s three-hit shutout of the Nationals in mid-April had ranked as the top start at 92, with outings from Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, Ian Kennedy, and Jaime Garcia plus Verlander’s no-hitter close behind.
Shields struggled last season as his ERA ballooned to 5.18 and he led the league in hits, runs, and homers allowed. However, his secondary numbers were still very strong with a 187/51 K/BB ratio in 203 innings and advanced pitching metrics like xFIP showed that an unsustainably high batting average on balls in play was largely to blame for the struggles. In fact, last season his xFIP was 3.55, which ranked seventh in the league.
He’s been even better this year, as yesterday’s gem brought his xFIP down to 2.68, and Shields’ batting average on balls in play has dropped from .341 to .249. In terms of turning balls in play into outs behind Shields the Rays’ defense has gone from one of the worst in baseball to one of the best in baseball, which along with excellent pitching equals a 2.00 ERA and MLB-leading three complete games.
For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:
The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).
It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: