Mike Fiers
Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

Bracket: Best individual pitching performances of 2019


It may be March, but sadly there will not be any March Madness to watch due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Filling out brackets is always such a fun part of the experience. This is a baseball blog, but I thought I’d create my own bracket fun. Today, I’ll go over the best individual pitching performances of the 2019 regular season. As usual, I don’t expect everyone to agree with my picks, so feel free to fill out the bracket how you see fit in the comments. I will also inevitably miss some moments that might have merited inclusion, so be sure to mention those as well.

1. Justin Verlander achieves third career no-hitter (September 1)

Verlander joined rarefied air after no-hitting the Blue Jays to kick off the month of September. The veteran added a third no-hitter to his career résumé, becoming the sixth pitcher with that many or more no-nos. The others: Nolan Ryan (seven), Sandy Koufax (four), Bob Feller (three), Cy Young (three), and Larry Corcoran (three). Though the Jays finished 67-95, their lineup was no joke, featuring Bo Bichette leading off and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the No. 3 spot. Nevertheless, Verlander limited the opposition to one walk while striking out 14 across nine innings. It was his best performance among his no-hitters. He walked four and struck out 12 against the Brewers on June 12, 2007. On May 7, 2011 in his first no-hitter against the Jays, Verlander struck out only four while walking one.

2. Mike Fiers claims second career no-hitter (May 7)

It turned out to be fitting, for many reasons, that Verlander and Fiers both threw no-hitters in the same season. Fiers, after all, was the whistleblower that got the ball rolling on uncovering the Astros’ cheating ways. Fiers also become one of the rare pitchers with multiple no-hitters to his credit, having also no-hit the Dodgers on August 21, 2015 when he was with the Astros. Fiers had everything working on this particular night, but he also benefited from a couple of incredible defensive plays. He finished the night having just walked two while striking out six on a very memorable evening in Oakland.

3. Chris Sale fans 17 Rockies over seven innings (May 14)

We will always wonder if Chris Sale might have been able to break the single-game, nine-inning record of 20 strikeouts. But the lefty, who we would later learn was ailing, was at 108 pitches after seven innings, having struck out 17 batters — a record itself for seven innings of work. It was obvious from the start that Sale had his nasty stuff, striking out the first six batters he faced, and eight of the first nine. Sale became the first pitcher to strike out 17 or more batters in a single game since Max Scherzer struck out 20 against the Tigers on May 11, 2016. Despite the many strikeouts, Sale was not perfect as he allowed a pair of runs on three hits and no walks in a game the Red Sox would go on to lose. Both runs Sale allowed came on a Nolan Arenado homer in the seventh.

4. Shane Bieber breaks out with 15 strikeouts against Orioles (July 24)

Though Bieber had shown the potential for greatness, he hadn’t yet put together a marquee pitching performance in his young career. He broke out on a big way on this afternoon in Cleveland against the Orioles. While the offense assaulted the Orioles’ pitching for 10 runs, Bieber scattered five hits with no walks and 15 strikeouts in a 107-pitch shutout. By game score (92), it tied for the sixth-best-pitched game of the season, even coming a notch ahead of Fiers’ no-hitter (91). Bieber would go on to post an even better performance later that season, at least by game score (94), with 10 strikeouts in a one-hitter against the Blue Jays. He finished fourth in AL Cy Young balloting.

5. Max Scherzer fans 15 Reds (June 2)

At this point, even Scherzer’s objectively great pitching performances feel pedestrian because he does it so often. He is one of the four pitchers tied for the single-game, nine-inning strikeout record as he struck out 20 Tigers on May 11, 2016. Striking out 15 doesn’t feel quite as impressive, but it’s still a relatively rare feat. On this afternoon in Cincinnati, the right-hander allowed a lone run on three hits and a walk with those 15 punch-outs. He accrued a game score of 86, tying for the 31st-best-pitched game of the season, but he was one of only six pitchers to record 15 strikeouts or more in a game in 2019.

6. German Márquez one-hits the Giants (April 14)

Expectations for Márquez were high after posting a 3.77 ERA in 2018 despite pitching half his games at Coors Field. Márquez, in fact, allowed two or fewer runs in 20 of his 33 starts last year, 17 of those 20 outings went six innings or longer. He didn’t have that same consistency in 2019, though he got off to a great start, including this performance against the Giants on April 14. To be fair, the Giants’ lineup was, well, not great, but even subpar hitters can sneak a grounder through the hole every once in a while. Márquez allowed only one hit, a single to Evan Longoria in the eighth, walking none and striking out nine on 105 pitches. Unfortunately for Marquez, he ended the month with a 2.93 ERA and would go on to put up a 5.41 ERA the rest of the way before arm inflammation ended his season in late August.

(The description for the video below is incorrect, by the way.)

7. Gerrit Cole strikes out 15 in Astros’ 21-1 rout of Mariners (September 8)

It should be illegal to have to continue facing Cole if your team is behind 13-0, which the Mariners were against the Astros on this afternoon in September. Félix Hernández just didn’t have anything working, nor did anyone that came in after him. The Astros would tack on an additional eight runs from there. Cole, meanwhile, was dominant aside from allowing a solo home run to Shed Long in the fourth inning. It would be the only hit he would allow while walking none and striking out 15 over eight innings. Chris Devenski worked the ninth with a pair of strikeouts to close out the rout.

8. Lucas Giolito notches second shutout of season, blanking Twins (August 21)

Giolito earned his first shutout of the season, holding the Astros’ mighty offense at bay back on May 23. In that performance, he scattered four hits and a walk while fanning nine. He was even better on this afternoon in Minnesota in August. The Twins boasted baseball’s most powerful offense, as the club would go on to lead the majors with a record 307 home runs. Jonathan Schoop, however, was the only Twin able to reach second base when he doubled in the eighth inning. In his dominant performance, Giolito held the Twins scoreless over nine innings, striking out 12 and walking none while allowing only three hits. Giolito earned a 93 game score, tying for the fourth-best of the season behind only Verlander, Bieber, and Márquez.

. . .

Onto the bracket. While I had Verlander’s no-no advancing past Giolito’s shutout, I found Bieber’s performance against the Orioles to be better. Verlander, of course, was on the cheating Astros, but he had also achieved a no-hitter twice already, so a third one at this point is old hat while Bieber is just now coming into his own. On the other side of the bracket, I had Fiers the heralded whistleblower advancing through.

Who did I miss and what did I get wrong? Let us know in the comments.

Today in Baseball History: The Yankees become The Yankees

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the Cubs became the Cubs. In the course of that post I talked about how fluid and casual team nicknaming was in the early 20th century. Sometimes the press named a team, informally, and it stuck. Sometimes the team’s owner switched the name back and forth multiple times. It was sort of all over the place.

That was true, too, of baseball’s most storied and, let’s be honest, stuffy organization, the New York Yankees. Rather than proclaim, from on high, what their name — what their brand — would be, they got their name through the same haphazard way so many other teams did. But, on this date in 1913, they became the Yankees for good. Let’s talk about how they finally got there.

They didn’t start in New York, actually. They started in Baltimore, as the Orioles. But they weren’t even the original Baltimore Orioles. That ream was a National League club — led by John McGraw — that the National League contracted along with the Cleveland Spiders following the 1899 season. McGraw cooled his heels in St. Louis In 1900 but then, the following year, the upstart Western League, led by Ban Johnson, upgraded itself to self-proclaimed major league status and reformed as the American League. They put a team in Baltimore, called itself the Orioles and brought John McGraw back via the offering of an ownership stake.

Ban Johnson and McGraw didn’t get along too well and they were in pretty constant dispute. Johnson also didn’t think too much of Baltimore as an AL city and wanted to move the team to New York — Manhattan, specifically — to compete head-to-head with the New York Giants. McGraw, seeing the writing on the wall, but not wanting to let Johnson tell him where to go, left the Orioles in the middle of the 1902 season and joined the New York Giants as their manager and part-owner. Ever the pain-in-the butt, he gave his ownership interest in the Orioles to the Giants, which was a problem given that they were a member of the rival league which wanted to see the AL crushed and eliminated. Add that to the list of many AL-NL disagreements bubbling up at the time.

It was all solved, for the most part, after the 1902 season when the AL and NL entered into what amounted to a peace treaty. They stopped the widespread practice of teams poaching each other’s players and settled various ownership and territorial disputes like the one between the Giants and the Orioles. Finally, as a part of that agreement, the NL agreed to let Johnson to move the Orioles to New York for the 1903 season. What the Giants would not permit, however, is the new AL club to play in the Polo Grounds, so they had to find a new ballpark.

The New York club hastily constructed a new wooden park seating about 16,000 fans on the west side of Broadway between 165th and 168th streets. It was originally called American League Park and housed The New York Americans Baseball Club. The place would eventually be nicknamed Hilltop Park because of its relatively high elevation compared to the rest of Manhattan. The Americans eventually came to be called the Highlanders. For years most people believed that that was solely because they played on literal high land, but more recent research reveals that it was at least in part a play on the last name of the team’s president, Joe Gordon, combined with a reference to the famous British military unit, the Gordon Highlanders. Either way, the Highlanders they were throughout the oughts.

The Polo Grounds was devastated by a fire in 1911 and needed to be rebuilt. Despite their past disagreements, the Highlanders generously allowed the Giants to share their home at Hilltop Park while the Polo Grounds were being rebuilt. McGraw and his club remembered this kindness two years later when they allowed the Highlanders, who were looking for a new place to play given that Hilltop Park was already falling apart, to move into the rebuilt Polo Grounds.

By then the whole “Gordon Highlanders” thing was no longer as amusing as it had initially been. Between that and the team literally abandoning the high ground between 165th and 168th streets, the name “Highlanders” was not really apt. As noted above, teams often had a lot of nicknames, and the Highlander’s third name — apart from that and “Americans” — was the “Yankees.” With a new home in 1913, the club decided to formally adopt it. They played their first game as The New York Yankees on April 10, 1913. 107 years ago today. They lost to Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators (Americans? Nationals? It was confusing!) 2-1.

What’s a “Yankee” anyway?

In the 19th and early 20th century it referred broadly to residents of New England those descended from the original English settlers of the region. This is how Mark Twain used the word in his novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” During the Civil War it was used broadly to anyone from up north and, when not referring to the baseball team, is still used that way today. But where did the word actually come from?

Most people who think they have an idea about it are wrong. It’s often told that the word “Yankee” is an anglicization of any number of Native American words — like “eankke” or “y’an-gee” or some such — with the story often having it be an honorary term bestowed by Native American warriors on European settlers who fought bravely. Not surprisingly, linguists have debunked that self-serving notion. There is no evidence for it at all, actually.

The best accepted theory, among linguists and historians anyway, is that it’s of Dutch origin. Sometimes used as a term of derision toward Dutch colonists after England took possession of what is now New York or, possibly, a term of derision used by Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam toward English colonists in neighboring Connecticut. From Wikipedia:

Michael Quinion and Patrick Hanks argue that the term comes from the Dutch name Janke, a diminutive form of Jan (John) which would be Anglicized as “Yankee” due to the Dutch pronunciation of J as the English Y. Quinion and Hanks posit that it was “used as a nickname for a Dutch-speaking American in colonial times” and could have grown to include non-Dutch colonists, as well. Alternatively, the Dutch given names Jan and Kees have long been common, and the two are sometimes combined into a single name (e.g., Jan Kees de Jager). Its Anglicized spelling Yankee could, in this way, have been used to mock Dutch colonists. The chosen name Jan Kees may have been partly inspired by a dialectal rendition of Jan Kaas (“John Cheese”), the generic nickname that Southern Dutch used for Dutch people living in the North.

The Online Etymology Dictionary gives its origin as around 1683, when English colonists used it insultingly in reference to Dutch colonists (especially freebooters). Linguist Jan de Vries notes that there was mention of a pirate named Dutch Yanky in the 17th century. The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (1760) contains the passage, “Haul forward thy chair again, take thy berth, and proceed with thy story in a direct course, without yawing like a Dutch yanky.” According to this theory, Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam started using the term against the English colonists of neighboring Connecticut.

That’s a lot to take in, but know that the name “Yankees” can, basically, be traced back to people calling each other names. Which, with all due respect to my Yankee fan friends, I must say is not the most inappropriate baseball team name out there.


Also today in baseball history:


1947: Jackie Robinson becomes the first African-American in the modern major leagues when the Dodgers purchase his contract from Montreal. He’ll make his big league debut five days later.

1962: Dodger Stadium opens in Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles. The Dodgers lose to the Reds 6-3.

1962: The Houston Colt .45s play the first major league game in Texas, beating the Chicago Cubs 11-2.  Of note:

1964: With the Mets having moved to Shea Stadium, demolition begins on the Polo Grounds to clear the way for a housing project.

1971: Veterans Stadium in Philly sees its first game ever played. The Phillies beat Montreal 4-1.

1973: Kansas City’s new Royals Stadium — now Kauffman Stadium — debuts as the Royals beat the Rangers 12-1.

1981:  In his first game for Chicago, Carlton Fisk hits a three-run home run in the eighth inning to lead the White Sox to a 5-3 victory over his his old team, the Red Sox, at Fenway Park.

1989: Ken Griffey, Jr. hits his first major league home run in Seattle’s 6-5 win over the White Sox.