On the heels of a five-game winning streak, the Nationals were three outs away from reaching the .500 mark for the first time since July 19 when Rafael Soriano took the hill with a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning this afternoon against the Giants. After allowing a lead-off single to Buster Posey, Soriano got two quick outs, striking out Hunter Pence and getting Pablo Sandoval to fly out. Soriano prolonged the inning by walking Roger Kieschnick, bringing up Hector Sanchez with the tying run on first base.
Sanchez entered the pinch-hit at-bat with no home runs and a .501 OPS in 51 plate appearances so far this year. Soriano threw him nothing but fastballs. After falling behind 0-2, Sanchez admirably took a couple close pitches and worked the count back up to 3-2. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Sanchez took Soriano’s offering deep down the right field line for the go-ahead three-run home run. Prior to the at-bat, the Nationals were 93 percent favorites. After the at-bat, they were 18 percent underdogs, something best illustrated, as FanGraphs as has done.
The Nationals fall back to 59-61, 14.5 games behind the Braves in first place in the NL East. The Giants improve to 53-67, but they are 17 games behind the Dodgers in last place in the NL West.
Brewers closer Corey Knebel set a modern major league record for relievers to start a season, as Thursday’s appearance marked his 38th consecutive appearance with a strikeout. He set down the side in order in the ninth inning, striking Josh Bell out to start the frame.
Aroldis Chapman held the record previously, recording a strikeout in his first 37 appearances of the season in 2014 with the Reds.
Knebel, 25, has flown under the radar despite having an incredibly good season. He moved into the closer’s role in mid-May when Neftali Feliz, now a free agent, struggled. After Thursday’s appearance, Knebel is 12-for-15 in save chances with a 0.96 ERA and a 65/17 K/BB ratio in 37 2/3 innings.
Despite having hit at least 20 home runs in eight of his 11 seasons in the majors, Reds first baseman Joey Votto has never participated in a Home Run Derby. Currently, he’s tied for the National League lead in home runs with 20, and he hasn’t been invited to this year’s festivities at Marlins Park.
In the event he is invited, Votto said he thinks he can win it, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto likened himself to Ichiro Suzuki, a player known more for his contact abilities and mastery of the strike zone than power. “Just think of me as the Canadian Ichiro — Japan has theirs and Canada has theirs,” Votto said. “I could pull homers into the seats at will.”
Along with the 20 homers, Votto is currently hitting .306/.419/.601 with 53 RBI, and 52 runs scored in 313 plate appearances.
Teammate Scott Schebler also has 20 home runs at the moment and Adam Duvall, who made it to the semifinals of the Derby last year, has 16. Neither of them have been approached about participating in the Derby, either. Per Rosecrans, in the event each was invited, Duvall said he would consider participating if he wasn’t an All-Star and Schebler would participate regardless. Votto said he would only participate if he made the All-Star team.