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The Game Face

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Sometime around midnight last night, I reckon, the face went up. Ryan Vogelsong reportedly switches into competitive mode far earlier than other starting pitchers, and he's not much fun to be around. Before bed, perhaps, his wife asked him to pass the Colgate and got instead a brushful of stank-eye. Do plaque-removal crystals help paint the outside corner at the knees? No, they do not. Game face.

He's not the most dominant pitcher. He averages 90 with the fastball, doesn't go much above 91 or 92. None of his off-speed pitches are Diamond-Certified filthy, like a Romo slider or a vintage Lincecum change-up. But the game face abides. In all 13 starts this year, Vogelsong has thrown at least six innings. Ten times he's gone at least seven innings. If it weren't for a fourth earned run against Cincinnati on April 26, Vogey would be working on a season-starting streak of 13 straight quality starts (at least six innings, at most three earned runs). It's a laughably crude stat for a single game, but when the quality starts pile up, it's fair to say they're meaningful.

What's the record for most quality starts to kick off a season? Bob Gibson, with 22 in 1968. If you ever meet Bob Gibson, don't bring up "quality starts." He'll rip your nose off your face and throw it past you for strike three.

After Gibson, Dwight Gooden (1985) and Hal Schumacher (1935) are next with 17. If not for the extra run in Cincy, Vogey would be at 13, tied for 12th all-time with Tim Lincecum (2008), Brandon Webb (2003), Tom Seaver (1968), Dock Ellis (1971) and Pedro Martinez (2000). The Cy Young finishes for those pitchers in those years were, respectively, first, N/A, N/A, fourth, and first. Webb was a rookie and finished third in the ROY voting with a 2.84 ERA (165 ERA+) and 172 Ks in 180 IP. Seaver in 1968 threw 278 IP with a 2.22 ERA (137 ERA+) and 205 Ks.

Vogelsong is one run away from excellent company. It's hard to get this deep into the season and be this good without it carrying all the way through. But Vogelsong won't hear of it. If he finishes the year with 30 quality starts in 31 games, he'll obsess about that extra run in Cincy. (It came on a Jay Bruce home run that barely cleared the fence.)

So away we go. Game two. Clayton Kershaw is pitching for the Dodgers, which means 36 hours ago Dodger fans were fantasizing about Game 3, with the first two games of the series already under mental lock and key. Knock Zeets around in Game 1, then Kershaw the heck out of 'em in Game 2. That was the plan. But Barry Zito had other plans. And Barry Zito with other plans is like Ryan Vogelsong the night before he pitches. Don't even try to touch his toothpaste.   


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