Was Triston McKenzie aware that he had history on the line when he came out to face the White Sox in the sixth inning Monday? As he puts it: no, not really.
“It’s not that big of a deal to me, personally,” McKenzie said when asked what it meant that he broke the club record for consecutive strikeouts, “It’s more just go out there and try to win games.”
Whether or not McKenzie particularly cared about striking out a franchise-record eight consecutive batters, and whether or not he was able to get that last strikeout in the sixth to officially take the title from Corey Kluber, he had an incredible stretch of domination over the White Sox, and it deserves a deeper dive. Cleveland ultimately lost the game, 8-6, but Sticks can sleep soundly knowing that he did his part to get them closer to winning over the late innings of the shortened game.
So, how did he do it? McKenzie credits his catcher, René Rivera, as well as getting ahead in counts and working his fastball and curveball off each other well. The numbers bear that out.
Before we get into those numbers, just enjoy the visual of one man utterly shutting down a lineup for eight-straight at-bats.
McKenzie’s strikeout streak lasted from José Abreu whiffing on a high four-seamer in the third inning to Jake Lamb watching a perfectly placed curveball go for strike three in the sixth. In that span, he came out ahead on the first pitch against six of the eight batters he ultimately struck out. One of the two he fell behind against was Abreu, when a low slider got away before he locked in over the next seven batters.
McKenzie used two sliders against Abreu, but beyond that, he relied almost entirely on his four-seamer up and curveball down in the zone. His three whiffs of Yermín Mercedes, Adam Eaton, and Leury García were all with that combination. Mercedes and Eaton each went down on three pitches, while García saw four pitches before being sent to the bench. By all measures, McKenzie cruised through the fourth inning.
The fifth was a bit more of a chore as the top of Chicago’s order — Tim Anderson, Zach Collins, and Nick Madrigal — form a much more formidable trio. Madrigal went down surprisingly easy on just four pitches to end the inning, but Tim Anderson refused to miss anything up in the zone, fouling off four fastballs before finally swinging and missing at one away. He also watched a slider, the only one McKenzie threw in the fifth, go for a ball.
Jake Lamb, the final victim of the streak in the sixth, put up a fight as well. McKenzie worked him to a full count with some balls that were just a bit off the plate, before finally placing a curveball right at the bottom of the edge for a called strike three.
Although it took a little longer than he probably would have liked, this was an ideal placement of his pitching for the most part. His three fastballs were up, his three curveballs lived at the bottom of the zone.
Thirty-eight of 41 pitches McKenzie threw during the streak were either fastballs (28) or curveballs (10). He may not have been aware that he was pitching with history on the line, but he was pitching like he was a man on a very impressive streak of strikeouts. The RPM on his curveballs and fastballs were both above his season averages, and his four-seamer was running 92 mph on average — a half-mile per hour above his season average.
This was pretty clearly peak Triston McKenzie. A well-located four-seamer, a dropping curveball that continued to find the zone, and perfect sequencing throughout. Over a full game, he’d want his slider working better and more effective against righties, but he is probably never going to experience a run of batters quite like this. Few pitchers ever will. He was aggressive, accurate, and at his best for eight straight batters. That alone is impressive.
Maybe he didn’t notice what was happening in the moment, but hopefully he can look back and enjoy it — and more importantly, build on it.