Mets rookie Matz looks for first win since May in Monday games
By Matt Kelly
One pitcher is on pace to post the third-highest strikeout rate in modern history. The other leads the Majors in wins.
The Marlins' Jose Fernandez and White Sox's Chris Sale were among the class of their respective leagues when it came to starting pitching in the first half. On Monday, the duo hopes to pick up where they left off before the All-Star break, with each making his second-half debut on games available on MLB.TV.
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Here is a look at what to watch for today in the Majors (all times ET):
Lots of K's for Jose: MIA@PHI, 7:05 p.m. ET
Fernandez's fastball-slider combination has been a nightmare for opposing hitters thus far in 2016. The Miami ace struck out 36.6 percent of the batters he faced in the first half, on pace to be the third-highest single-season rate by a qualified starter in MLB history, behind only Pedro Martinez in 1999 (37.5 percent) and Randy Johnson in 2001 (37.4 percent). Fernandez was especially brutal to right-handed batters, who struck out an incredible 44.3 percent of the time (90 times in 204 plate appearances) against him during the first half.
"I think it's just making pitches and not trying to make pitches," Fernandez said of his approach this year. "When the catcher calls a fastball away, it doesn't have to be 100 [mph], it can be 93 -- just down in the zone. I feel like I'm getting a lot better results like that."
Stat that matters: We'll see if Giancarlo Stanton's amazing performance in last week's T-Mobile Home Run Derby can jumpstart his season -- especially in this four-game set against the Phillies, a team he has gone just 1-for-18 (.056) against so far in 2016. For what it's worth, Stanton's lone hit against Philadelphia this year was a home run, and he has 10 career round-trippers at Citizens Bank Park -- the sixth-most of any visiting player since the stadium opened in 2004.
Sale goes for 15 in Seattle: CWS@SEA, 10:10 p.m. ET
Though his first All-Star Game start, which included a homer given up to the Cubs' Kris Bryant, didn't go as smoothly as he would have liked, Sale can still ride the momentum of being just the second pitcher in White Sox history to tally 14 wins before the All-Star break. The time off should also help Sale move past his last outing, in which he gave up eight runs on 10 hits to the Braves, baseball's lowest-scoring offense. Sale is a perfect 4-0 in his career against Seattle, including two wins at Safeco Field, where's tallied 27 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings pitched.
Stat that matters: Seattle's Nelson Cruz owns a career .438 average (7-for-16) against Sale with two home runs and four RBI. That's the third-highest average of any hitter who's recorded at least 10 plate appearances against the Chicago lefty.
Southpaws, old and new, square off: NYM@CHC, 7:05 p.m.
Cubs lefty Jon Lester was boasting a 2-0 career record with a 2.50 ERA against the Mets before July 3, when New York ambushed him for eight runs through just 1 1/3 innings in the shortest start of his career. He'll look to get revenge in the opener of this year's second meeting between the 2015 NLCS participants, after the Mets swept the first four games in Queens.
New York manager Terry Collins started Bartolo Colon and Logan Verrett in Philadelphia so that he could give rookie Steven Matz and fireballer Noah Syndergaard extra time to rest after the break. Matz, who will oppose Lester on Monday, still ranks third among MLB rookie starters with seven wins, but he hasn't seen a "W" on his scoreline since May 25. The first-year southpaw claims he has felt "more comfortable" after learning the bone spur in his left pitching elbow would not cause long-term damage, but his manager acknowledged that his talented young starter may be pitching on borrowed time.
"Physically, he was fine,'' Collins said after Matz's last start July 10. "But we're certainly aware there's gonna be a night when it's gonna flare up."
Stat that matters:Yoenis Cespedes, who returned to New York's lineup Sunday after a four-game absence due to a strained right quad, is just 3-for-18 (.167) with no extra-base hits in his career against Lester. He has collected 14 percent of the Mets' extra-base hits so far in 2016.
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Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.