The three best pitchers in the American League this year all took the mound on Tuesday night. If that’s not enough of a coincidence, all three faced division rivals in games featuring two teams occupying two of the top three spots in their division, all within 4 1/2 games of the division lead. If you’re still not impressed by the coincidence, all the pitchers threw complete game shutouts, the first time this season that three pitchers have thrown shutouts on the same day. And they all won, 4-0.
We’ll start out west, where Jered Weaver has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball this season. Weaver was even better than advertised, holding the Mariners to five hits and a walk while striking out six for a Game Score of 82.
In the Central, Justin Verlander was even better, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning and finishing with just two hits and a walk while striking out 12 for a remarkable 94 Game Score, the top mark of the season in either league. Add in the significance of the Tigers wrestling first place away from the Indians for the first time this year, and you can make a good case for Verlander’s outing as the best individual accomplishment of the season.
You could probably make that same case for James Shields’s dismantling of the Red Sox. While Shields’s final line (five hits, three walks, five strikeouts, 79 Game Score) pales in comparison to Verlander’s and falls short of Weaver’s, his narrative is compelling. The Red Sox came into the Trop riding a nine-game winning streak in which they’d scored 83 runs. They had hung 30 on Toronto over their last two games before a day off on Monday. And they loaded the bases in the top of the first inning. There may be no more daunting task in baseball than facing an offense this hot with the bases loaded in the first, where a walk is not an option and a bases-clearing double could set the wrong tone to open a key series. Shields got former teammate Carl Crawford to ground out to first to end the inning and retired 24 of the last 29 Red Sox he faced, giving up just two hits against the non-Adrian Gonzalez portion of the lineup (Gonzalez went 3-for-4).
After last night, Weaver leads the AL with a 315 Season Score (the sum of all his Game Scores, adjusted for replacement level). Verlander is second at 309, and Shields is third at 258. Fourth-place Josh Beckett is 25 points behind Shields.
One thing missing from Game Score is the quality of a pitcher’s opponent. Weaver was brilliant last night, buf he pitched agsinst the weakest lineup in the American League. Verlander was transcendent in beating a then-first-lace team, but the Indians had scored two or fewer runs in eight of their last ten games. Shields shut down a scorching lineup and perhaps reestablished his Rays as a contender in the AL East, now just 3 1/2 games back and having won all three of their matchups with Boston in 2011. Quality of opponents tends to even out over a full season, so a Season Score is relatively unbiased. I expect these three pitchers to battle for AL Season Score supremacy all year.