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.