As every participant in the MLB The Show Players League nears double digits in games played, the elites have started to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Some, like the beastly Joey Gallo, might just be deities of the virtual realm. Other mortals are grinding their way to success.
Perhaps some of these competitors just want it more? Tommy Kahnle of the Yankees and Josh Hader of the Brewers hopped on their Twitch streams early to take several rounds of batting practice in the game's "practice mode" before their first matchups. Arizona's Jon Duplantier even did some pitching practice as a warmup. Now that's determination.
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All that work paid off pretty well for Kahnle and Hader, who went 4-0 and 3-1, respectively, to pace the group of 11 players who were in action on Friday night. Kahnle's night ended in dramatic fashion with a three-run walk-off homer against Lucas Giolito and the White Sox in a closely contested matchup that pitted the evening's two unbeaten players against each other.
Perhaps most impressive of all, though, was Dwight Smith Jr. of the Orioles, who also went 3-1 for the evening without the luxury of, say, having MVP-caliber Christian Yelich or, well, the entire Yankees juggernaut at his disposal. Smith is in strong position in the American League East at 9-3, one game behind Blake Snell for the division lead.
Heck, he's already thinking about playoff seeding.
"I need to go 4-0 one of these days," Smith said. "I've got to get my seeding up. I've been grinding, though."
Where there's victory, there's also defeat. Niko Goodrum and his Tigers couldn't muster a single run in losses to the White Sox, Yankees and Mets, while Carl Edwards Jr. of the Mariners had the roughest night of all, finishing his 0-3 evening on the losing end of back-to-back no-hitters by Giolito and the Mets' Jeff McNeil.
"Bro, I got no-hit two games in a row," Edwards said as he couldn't help but chuckle at his misfortune. "That's crazy. Bad."
Chin up, Carl. As they say, the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.
It just ... really wasn't Edwards' night.
He had some juice at the plate in his first game, a 4-3 loss to Kahnle's Yankees, but he ran into buzzsaws in Giolito and McNeil, who each blanked Edwards in the hits column in their subsequent matchups. Giolito only allowed one baserunner on a hit batter, while McNeil walked the leadoff batter of the game before plowing through the rest of the lineup.
Giolito knew exactly what was going on thanks to the help of White Sox play-by-play broadcaster Jason Benetti, and he was clearly thrilled when a grounder to second ended the game.
"That's the perfect game! That is a perfect game! Let's go!" Giolito said as he raised his arms, flexed and pounded his chest.
Not exactly, Lucas. Fortunately, Benetti was there to offer the correction before the celebration got too out of hand.
"That's the no-hitter! That is a no-hitter!" Giolito said, correcting himself. "We've got two no-hitters! Two no-hitters! One with myself now! I can pitch with other people besides Dallas Keuchel! That is good for the rest of this tournament."
McNeil, on the other hand, had no idea of his feat when he finished things off with a popup to shortstop. You've got to respect his focus on the game.
"What a game! Wait, was that a no-hitter?" McNeil asked his stream chat. "That's a no-hitter, boys. Love that. My one walk kind of screwed us. No-hitter. Jacob deGrom. Edwin Díaz was filthy."
Something's brewing in Baltimore
There's nobody in this tournament doing more with less than Smith, who has taken the Orioles' roster to new heights with his clutch hitting, on full display in a pair of third-inning comebacks to force extra innings and also in two seven-run frames that led to big wins over Duplantier's D-backs and Ian Happ's Cubs.
"No lead is safe in Camden [Yards]!" Smith yelled in his first game. "You know it. You know the drill."
A clutch two-out RBI single by Chris Davis forced extra innings against Amir Garrett and the Reds in his first matchup of the night, which allowed him to hit a walk-off single with himself in the fifth inning. He also mounted a third-inning comeback against Hader before losing that game in the fifth.
While a pair of big innings in the final two games pushed him to easy wins, Smith knows he needs some work on his in-game defense, a point that came to a hilarious head when his real-life outfield coach with the Orioles, Anthony Sanders, called him to check in after an outfield mishap nearly led to disaster against the Cubs.
"It's ironic, he called me just after I missed that fly ball," Smith said.
Saturday's games to watch
Not too many of the game's power players will be in action on Saturday night, with most of the competitors scheduled for action currently ranked relatively low in their respective divisional standings. The one exception? Snell (Rays), who will enter the evening with a 10-2 record and could extend his lead in the AL East.
On the other hand, the lack of big favorites could make for a strong chance for some of those competitors to get hot and make a move up the standings. Look for Fernando Tatis Jr. (Padres) or Rhys Hoskins (Phillies) to possibly take advantage in a group that will also include Ty Buttrey (Angels), Matt Carpenter (Cardinals), David Dahl (Rockies), Jesús Luzardo (A's), Lance McCullers Jr. (Astros), Brett Phillips (Royals), Eduardo Rodriguez (Red Sox), Juan Soto (Nationals) and Cole Tucker (Pirates).
Where to watch
Over the next few weeks, the league will be livestreamed on MLB social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch), MLB Network's Twitch site, "MLB The Show" social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch), the clubs’ social media accounts and MLB.com. Each player will also stream it from their individual Twitch or YouTube accounts.
Aside from those streams, in order to provide a full gameday experience, MLB Network will provide a livestream in which it will select the best one-on-one matchups and look into other game results and friendly banter.
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.