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Johnny Cueto bests Cubs for NL-leading 16th win

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Johnny Cueto continued to bolster his case for the National League Cy Young award this afternoon against the Cubs, giving up two runs over eight innings as part of a 5-3 victory in the first game of a doubleheader. Cueto is now the National League’s first 16-game winner. David Price of the Rays got there on Thursday in the American League.

Cueto gave up just three hits while striking out eight, walking one and hitting a batter. The 26-year-old right-hander served up a two-run home run to Alfonso Soriano in the top of the first inning, but he held the Cubs scoreless the rest of the way, including retiring 19 out of the last 20 batters he faced. He’s now second in the National League behind Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann with a 2.44 ERA and owns an excellent 135/37 K/BB ratio over 169 2/3 innings.

Cueto got his help on offense from Todd Frazier, Xavier Paul and Miguel Cairo, who all launched homers off Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija. Frazier later added a sacrifice fly for some insurance in the bottom of the eighth inning. The 26-year-old rookie is on an incredible roll right now, hitting .515 (17-for-33) with four home runs and 11 RBI over his last night games.

Things got a little tense in the ninth inning, as Aroldis Chapman gave up his first run since June 24 on a two-out bloop single to left field by Welington Castillo. However, he was able to bounce back to strike out Joe Mather swinging to strand the tying runs on base and notch his 29th save of the season. The hit by Castillo ended a scoreless streak of 23 consecutive outings for Chapman. The hard-throwing left-hander also had a 33-game scoreless streak earlier this season.

The National League Central-leading Reds will look for their third straight victory tonight when they send the newly-promoted Todd Redmond to the hill against Cubs left-hander Brooks Raley. As Peter Gammons noted earlier this afternoon, this will be the first time that the Reds have used someone other than Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey or Mike Leake to start a game this season.

Wade Davis? Greg Holland? Who needs ’em?

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 21: Joakim Soria #48 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on August 21, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The story of the two-time defending AL champion and current defending World Series champ Kansas City Royals cannot be told without talking at length about their bullpen.

In 2014, Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera formed a shutdown brigade that not only made it next to impossible for the opposition to mount late rallies, but managed something which seemed utterly impossible before 2014: they turned Ned Yost into a tactical genius. Indeed, the only time Yost got criticism at all that fall was when he messed with the autopilot formula that had that three-headed monster handling the 7th, 8th and 9th innings.

Much the same happened in 2015, of course, despite Holland’s sharp decline and eventual injury. Davis and Herrera continued their dominance. They were joined by Ryan Madson and a cast of other effective relievers who, along with timely hitting, great defense and good health, helped propel the Royals to the title.

This year had not been quite the same story. Holland has been out all year and Davis, while effective when he’s pitched, has missed time due to injury. As has longtime contributor and presumptive next-man-up Luke Hochevar. Herrera is basically still Herrera, but Ned Yost has been presented with a decidedly different set of choices. Lots of choices and Ned Yost don’t always go together well, but lately that hasn’t mattered.

Last night the Royals’ bullpen came in to a close game and tossed three scoreless innings. That set a franchise record with 32 straight scoreless frames, besting the previous record set back in the club’s inaugural season in 1969. The streak is a huge part of why the Royals have won nine games in a row.

Unlike the success of 2014-15, the streak is not a three-man show. As Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star notes, eight different relievers have appeared for Kansas City during the streak, with Joakim Soria and Matt Strahm leading the crew with five and a third innings pitched. Herrera has tossed five scoreless. Otherwise it’s been a group effort with even Peter Moylan offering a couple of scoreless frames. And here you thought Moylan was, I dunno, gearing up for the upcoming Brisbane Bandits season. Nope.

The Royals are still not, in my view anyway, a lock to make the postseason. It’s a a crowded field right now. They’re seven and a half back in the AL Central and four back in the Wild Card with a bunch of teams in front of them. But they’re certainly playing themselves back into the conversation. They’re interesting. And they’re doing it in much the same way they’ve done it the past two years. Only with different dudes doing the do.

Video: Mookie Betts made a ridiculous throw last night

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Mookie Betts was an infielder once upon a time and the knock on him both then and since his move to the outfield was that maybe his arm was not fantastic. As an infielder there was talk that he was better suited to the right side than the left. As an outfielder people were saying that, with work, his arm could be average and/or serviceable. Not bad, of course, but not anything to write home about.

Maybe we need to reassess that, because last night he uncorked one from right field that would make Dwight Evans says “dang, man.”

 

And the throw mattered, as Kiermaier represented the tying run in a game that, at the time, the Sox were leading 2-1.

Betts is a dangerous middle-of-the-order bat at age 23. And now he shows that he’ll nail a fast runner with a frozen rope if he has to. The guy is going to win an MVP award some day. And maybe not just one.