Here are 10 moments from August that reminded us baseball is great
August is over. Kids are back in school, summer Fridays are a fading memory and it's about time to throw your back out carrying that air conditioner down to the basement again. So, with just five weeks of regular season left, it's time to look back on the hot, sweltering, wonderful month that was.
Here are the 10 moments from August that reminded us baseball is great.
All stats as of Aug. 31.
10. Justin Verlander is back
Last season, Verlander posted a 4.54 ERA (his highest since 2008), allowed more earned runs than any other AL starter and saw his strikeouts crater to 6.9 per nine innings -- his worst performance since his rookie season.
While he was still a useful starter thanks to his ability to throw a seemingly endless amount of pitches, it looked like time had caught up with him.
This year, a triceps injury kept the Tigers hurler on the shelf until June and the 32-year-old pitched to a 6.62 ERA through his first six starts. Time, cruel time, had snatched him.
Except the right-hander looked at Entropy and said, "No." Since that start, Verlander has a 1.38 ERA across 52 IP while striking out 49 batters and walking only eight.
That all culminated on his start on Aug. 26, as the righty tried to become just the sixth pitcher in Major League history with three-plus no-hitters -- taking a no-no into the ninth inning against the Angels.
But while Verlander can defeat time, he can't defeat the cruelty of physics. When Chris Iannetta laced a ball down the left-field line, it landed just fair, kicking up dirt along the way. Verlander was so disappointed he either couldn't hide his frustration or he just wanted to go play a therapeutic game of limbo:
But that's OK. Given the way Verlander's been pitching, he has roughly another 400,000 years to throw his third no-hitter.
9. When you swing like this, it's more like hardball
Home runs are nice, no matter the level -- or even if you're playing baseball.
Home runs are even better when they defy explanation, like when a man coils himself like a cartoon snake and still crushes a dingblast. Rene Lefort of the Globetrotters-esque Les 4 Chevaliers of Montreal pulled this off when he blasted this homer.
8. Major Leaguers can hit some wacky home runs, too
Inspired by Lefort's effort, Major Leaguers attempted to reach his unbelievable dinger-heights, too. Eddie Rosario decided to swing at a pitch that is supposed to be impossible to make contact with, much less swat into the stands:
Michael Taylor proved that his slight build is meaningless, for it's all about torque. Facing the Colorado Rockies, Taylor launched a home run a Statcast™-projected 493 feet, the longest home run this season.
That same night, Marcell Ozuna showed off his impressive aim. Not only did Ozuna hit the foul pole with his drive, he hit the top of the foul pole. If hitting the bull gets you a free steak, then hitting the top of the foul pole should be enough to get a peak at the new Star Wars film, right?
And who can forget about Kendrys Morales' blast that left Kevin Kiermaier hanging upon the outfield fence, the ball hitting the catwalk and dropping to the ground roughly 50 feet away?
Or even Blake Swihart's inside-the-park-home-run-that-maybe-wasn't-but-the-run-scored-anyway-so-let's-not-bother-with-semantics walk-off shot?
6. Witness the birth of the unstoppable human
While on the subject of home runs, we have no choice but to point out future pitcher/designated hitter/superspy to the stars -- Madison Bumgarner. In a month when the starter went 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA, striking out a dozen or more batters in three of his starts, Bumgarner also hit two home runs. In case you were curious, that's two more home runs than he gave up in the month.
The dingers also gave him five on the year, the most since Carlos Zambrano had six in 2006. Not only that, but the performances were enough to warrant two pinch-hit appearances for the bearded, burly human, who picked up a single along the way.
I'm not sure what to say about this other than this is clearly a new breed of human being that is far better and stronger than myself. And that this person will soon take over the world.
5. The Little League World Series shows us how to live in the moment
Now, if you're the pitcher giving up all those home runs, how should you respond? Grit your teeth and put your head down, like you were Clint Eastwood in a 1970s western? Yell out and stomp around the mound, like you were Clint Eastwood in a 1980s cop drama? Or, you could behave like Missouri's Mekhi Garrard. Already trailing 14-0, Garrard surrendered a grand slam.
Given that the ball broke off from this ethereal plane and traversed with the stars, the Missouri youngster could only look back in awe.
Because home runs are cool. And even the pitchers surrendering them should admit it.
4. Jackie Bradley Jr. makes all sorts of wacky catches
While Bradley's struggles at the plate kept his absurd glove off the field in the past, the outfielder hit .349/.409/.711 in the month of August with five home runs and three triples.
And when batters hit the ball anywhere near the fielder, it was a guaranteed out. Bradley made a great behind the back basket catch early in the month:
And later appeared to float across the Fenway Park outfield as if he was a puppet being pulled on a string (which, who knows, maybe that's all humanity is -- just characters on strings):
And even when he didn't make the catch, he showed that he'd make a good choice as an Olympic alternate in the hurdles as he leapt over the outfield wall.
3. If you throw it, Josh Donaldson will hit it
Josh Donaldson has had quite the first season for the now-first place Blue Jays. The third baseman has hit .301/.369/.584 with 36 HRs and 106 RBIs to go along with defense that shows little to no regard for his long-term well-being. Along the way, he also picked up some famous friends.
But even in a month when the Jays started playing with David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, Donaldson still shined. The third baseman firmly put himself in the American League MVP conversation with a .327/.408/.723 batting line and 11 home runs on the month.
That includes this massive Statcast™-projected 453.7-foot blast into the third deck. That's the type of home run that makes the computer simulating our reality stop and go, "Hold on. There's something wrong with our code. It's getting glitchy."
2. It's Jake Arrieta's world and we're just living in it
When Jake Arrieta was traded to the Cubs in 2013, he was a struggling pitcher with a strong pedigree. Through 358 innings with the Orioles, Arrieta had posted a 5.46 ERA, his career a series of fits and starts and moments of what could be.
As a Cub, Arrieta has turned the what-could-be into reality. His Chicago ERA is a sparkling 2.48, and yet Arrieta was somehow even better in August. The pitcher, whose beard, occasional high socks, flat-brimmed cap and finely tapered pants mark him as the Logan Square of Chicago ballplayers, went 6-0 with a 0.43 ERA in 42 1/3 innings, surrendering only 19 hits in the entire month. The last pitcher to give up so few hits with at least 40 innings in a month: Felix Hernandez in 2012.
Arrieta made sure to close the month on a high note. On Aug. 30, the right-hander took the hill in Dodger Stadium for Sunday Night Baseball, ensuring that there were no other games on television to compete with his gem. Mixing mid-90s fastballs with wicked breaking stuff while no-hitting the Dodgers, Arrieta allowed only two runners to reach base -- on an error and a walk.
Even better, after the game, the Cubs took the field in their favorite pajamas, hopefully bringing rise to a land of "Only pajamas all the time for every job, no matter what. Oh yeah, and that includes for the President."
Naturally, Arrieta's PJ's were a restrained and tasteful mustached varietal.
1. Watch out, hot teams coming
On July 28, the Rangers lost to the Yankees by a score of 21-5. The loss dropped the Rangers to 47-52, five games back of the second Wild Card, behind six teams for that last playoff spot. Their playoff probability was a slim-enough-to-be-impossible five percent.
So when the team acquired Cole Hamels and Mike Napoli at the Trade Deadline, many thought the team was merely preparing itself for 2016.
Instead, the Rangers have gone 19-9 since then, taking over the second American League Wild Card. Adrian Beltre has hit .317/.354/.538 with five home runs, which has led to a few too many moments like this for the famous head-touch-hating third baseman:
Of course, as a person with hands that may actually be human glue traps (or would they be human-hand-shaped baseball glue traps?), he never neglects his defense, either.
But they're not the only team getting hot at the right time of the year -- the Cubs are also reaching their peak just when it matters most. When it wasn't Arrieta surrendering zero runs, it was either Kris Bryant hitting seven homers, or that other rookie, Kyle Schwarber, hitting nine homers. Rookies are not supposed to do that, you know. It's why they're called rookies and not "demigods."
Meanwhile, the new-look Blue Jays rode Troy Tulowitzki's defense and David Price's 1.98 ERA since moving to Toronto to an 11-game winning streak during the month, rocketing the team past the Yankees for first place in the AL East.
Or the Mets, seemingly galvanized by Wilmer Flores' emotional non-goodbye and the acquisition of the canary-powered Yoenis Cespedes , who have now taken a commanding lead in the NL East over the Washington Nationals.
And the Pirates have been playing .671 baseball since June -- good for a 109-win pace across a full season thanks to Andrew McCutchen, the emergence of Gregory Polanco and the surprising fan favorite Jung-Ho Kang.
The point is, the season is winding down and teams are getting serious. With only a month and some change to go, now is the time to watch comebacks, collapses and, everyone's favorite: clinches.