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First, a note of congratulations to Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, John Means and Wade Miley.
Pitching a no-hitter in the major leagues is a massive accomplishment, a glorious singular achievement that no historic offensive futility or pedantic statistician citing two-hitters that had higher Game Scores than their no-nos can take away.
Now, to confront the question in the back of so many minds when the euphoria dies down:
If a no-hitter occurs on a roughly weekly basis, is its magnitude somehow diminished?
That’s just one of many nettlesome questions facing Major League Baseball in a season where the pitcher-hitter relationship is overwhelmingly one-sided, as myriad batting benchmarks find a low-water mark not reached since 1968.
As you’re probably aware, batting average is at its lowest point in modern history - .234. For the fourth consecutive year, strikeouts are outpacing hits – a once-unheard concept that’s now occurring at a 16% rate.
The league average on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is a paltry .702, down 38 points from last year, 56 points from 2019 and at its lowest point since 2014.
In short, the conditions couldn’t be better to stifle opponents, evidenced by Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning no-hitter and the half-dozen other no-hit bids that penetrated the seventh inning.
Musgrove (April 9, at Texas), Rodon (April 14, vs. Cleveland), Means (May 5 at Seattle) and Miley (Friday at Cleveland) finished the job, justifying the no-hitter alerts on your mobile device and the live cut-ins on various sports networks.
Means debuted in Baltimore in 2018 and the rebuilding club had scant reason to celebrate in his two-plus seasons there. The on-field and clubhouse giddiness resonated even more for Means, an All-Star in 2019, and his mates.
Not two days after the water and beer showers dried, and only hours after Hall of Famer Jim Palmer – the last Oriole to throw a solo no-hitter – feted Means in a pregame video, Miley had his own slice of history, walking just one Cleveland batter over 114 pitches to hang a star on a career spent with seven teams.
Only in 2021 can pitching greatness – or offensive futility – feel outdated in 48 hours.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Means said Monday, a day before he takes the mound at Citi Field against the Mets for his first start since his no-hitter. “A former Oriole, also a lefty and doing it, I think he threw four pitches over 90 mph. So impressive by him and it’s crazy.
“Maybe we’ll have more. I don’t know. But we’ve had four in the first 40 days. It’s a long season, though.”
True, and in many parts of the country, the weather is still chilly, which doesn’t help the bats. A slightly modified baseball may be dampening offense more than the league intended. And seasons can turn on a dime: In 2015, there were zero no-hitters in the first two-plus months of the season.
From June 9 (Chris Heston) through Oct. 2 (Max Scherzer), there were seven, setting a standard even this season may be hard-pressed to match.
Yet it’s almost certain that elements of offensive futility will linger all season – such as the many holes in the lineups that our no-hit quartet happily exploited.
The lineups all feature one characteristic – just four of the nine batters are at least league average in OPS, which might seem, well, rather average since not everyone can rank in the upper half. Yet many of those hitters arguably have no business being in a big league lineup.
Cleveland has been no-hit twice, and it’s hardly shocking that the team that traded Francisco Lindor might have a few soft spots once you get past MVP runner-up Jose Ramirez and powerful Franmil Reyes.
Amed Rosario, acquired for Lindor, was in the lineup for both no-hitters and totes a .585 OPS, not much better than first baseman Jake Bauers (.580). Catchers Roberto Perez (.569) and Austin Hedges (.473) are offensive non-entities, and free agent signees Cesar Hernandez (.613) and Eddie Rosario (.662) have yet to find a foothold.
(In a testament to its excellent pitching staff and the offensive impotence crippling the league, Cleveland entered Tuesday’s play 18-14 and just one game out of first place).
The Mariners, meanwhile, offered little resistance to Means, who would have authored a perfect game save for a wild pitch on a swinging strike three.
First baseman Evan White has produced a .157/.219/.258 slash line, his adjusted OPS of 39 third-worst in the AL among hitters with at least 95 plate appearances. He has nearly five times as many strikeouts (28) than walks (six). Left fielder Sam Haggerty? He’s at .194/.239/.299, while Dylan Moore, a valued utilityman a year ago, is reaching base at a .274 clip.
The Mariners – who by American League rules are allowed to use a designated hitter - are batting .210 as a team, with a .288 OBP. You know it’s bad when they’re reportedly set to recall top prospect Jarred Kelenic, rather than put a deeper dent into his 2021 service time.
And while the Rangers received a recent jolt from center fielder Adolis Garcia, who now has 10 home runs, he was not among the group that faced Musgrove when the right-hander authored the first no-hitter in Padres history. Instead, Musgrove blew away several players who have since hit their way out of a regular role, though catcher Jose Trevino (.579) and outfielder David Dahl (.565) remain.
Credit Musgrove, though, for his growth as a pitcher, a guy who now combines power and precision and ranks sixth in the NL in WHIP, at 0.85. He struck out 10 Rangers on that April night in Arlington, the only batter reaching base on a hit-by-pitch.
Means and Miley, meanwhile, still have a shot to catch Johnny Vander Meer, the most recent pitcher – in 1938 – to throw consecutive no-hitters. Crazy?
“I’m just trying to pitch against the Mets tomorrow,” says Means of his Tuesday start, “and maybe get a hit.”
He ought not sell himself short: The Mets rank last in the majors in runs, 29th in in slugging, in this ultimate year of the pitcher.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB no-hitters are riveting, but offensive futility can't be ignored