August 21, 2017
What You Need to Know
Return of the Baby-Faced Assassin
The Weekend Takeaway
Manny Machado came out swinging on Friday night; that is, he grounded out in his first at-bat, but came out swinging for the second, battling through seven pitches before lifting a sinker to center field for a two-run homer.
Now, to be fair, it’s entirely plausible that Angels starter Andrew Heaney simply didn’t know what he was getting himself into. The southpaw was activated from the disabled list prior to Friday’s series opener and had recently completed the requisite 12-month recovery period after undergoing Tommy John surgery last July. He recovered nicely from Machado’s blast and struck out the bottom of the order in the fourth inning.
Heaney induced three quick outs to bring his outing to an end, scarring his pitching line with five runs and four homers in an underwhelming season debut. The rest of the Angels, meanwhile, backed the lefty’s performance with five home runs, including Albert Pujols’ 609th career blast and Mike Trout’s 24th dinger of the year. They cruised into the ninth inning with a 7-5 lead, and this time, it was Keynan Middleton who made the unfortunate error of underestimating the Baltimore star.
The walk-off grand slam capped a career-best game with three home runs and seven RBIs. With the win, the Orioles halted their two-game skid and moved within two games of a Wild Card berth. Baltimore skipper Buck Showalter took a more measured perspective on the collective 10-homer, 16-run affair: “It’s like a game where everybody’s dunking,” Showalter told reporters. “No [jump] shots tonight in the field, everybody dunk[ed].”
Quick Hits from the Weekend
It took all of eight hours for the Angels to recover from Machado’s monster performance on Friday. Mike Trout and Luis Valbuena supplied all four of the home runs on Saturday, going deep twice to lift the club to a 5-1 lead.
Trout extended his second-half surge with his sixth home run of the month, clobbering a 1-1 fastball from Kevin Gausman to put the Angels on the board in the first inning.
Even in an injury-shortened season, the homer was historic. Trout has now produced 25 or more homers in six straight seasons, tying Hall of Famers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson as the only players with six consecutive years of 25-plus dingers before their age-26 season. Mathews was 25 years and 318 days old when he accomplished the feat, while Robinson hit his milestone at 25 years and 317 days. Trout turned 26 on August 7, but is still rounding out the end of his age-25 year in the majors.
The Angels’ bats didn’t rest for long. Valbuena cranked a solo shot in the second inning ...
... followed by Trout’s second solo homer in the third ...
... followed by the fourth and final knock of the evening, a two-run tater that forced Gausman off the mound after just four frames.
Oftentimes the best gimmicks, theme nights, and weird baseball are left to the minors, where sweater drives are held during Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood-themed games and Tommy John statues (the surgery, not the pitcher) are distributed to avid, if small, fan bases.
The Cardinals and Pirates embraced some of this minor-league wackiness on Sunday night, playing the first-ever MLB Little League Baseball Classic in the 2,366-capacity BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field. The only attendees were this year’s Little League World Series hopefuls, as well as their family and friends, making it the smallest at-capacity crowd in major-league history.
Tommy Pham and Carlos Martinez got into the spirit of the event, purchasing over 200 snowcones for the Little League players (and, inadvertently, some of their own teammates), while Josh Harrison collected autographs from the kids on a special pair of cleats.
As for the baseball, the Pirates beat the Cardinals 6-3 to even the four-game series.
Josh Bell put up the go-ahead run and then some with a two-RBI single in the third inning, quickly followed by another insurance run from Adam Frazier. That signalled the end for opposing starter Mike Leake, whose 4.75 DRA took another hit after he issued six runs, eight hits, and three strikeouts over three innings. Fun and games aside, it was a tense finale for both sides, who currently stand a better chance of upsetting the NL Central standings than claiming a Wild Card spot.
After the Cubs’ wild finish on Sunday, there’s a case to be made for changing the textbook definition of “hustle” to a simple GIF of one Javier Baez.
The Blue Jays’ troubles started in the 10th inning, when Roberto Osuna lost complete command of his pitches while trying to defend a 5-3 lead. Kyle Schwarber struck out swinging, then reached first base on a wild pitch, then scored on another wild pitch during Anthony Rizzo’s at-bat.
Following Rizzo’s groundout, Baez came to the plate with a runner on third and one out. His at-bat went the way of Schwarber’s, beginning with a strikeout and ending with a fielder’s choice after Toronto backstop Raffy Lopez failed to make a timely throw to first base.
Osuna, meanwhile, continued to wrestle with the strike zone, sleeping on Baez’s stolen base and plunking Jason Heyward to load the bases for Alex “.291 TAv” Avila. Avila lined a single into right field and scored both Zobrist and Baez for the walk-off, ending the game with an appropriate, albeit dramatic, flourish.
For those in the thick of the American League Wild Card race (and at this point, we may as well be referring to half the teams in the league), every run and strikeout seems to carry even more weight. That’s why, when Justin Upton cleared the left field fence with a 340-footer on Friday night, he decided to double-check his work as he rounded the bases.
To be sure, a 9.5-game deficit is a big undertaking with just six weeks remaining in the regular season and six rival teams within five games of a Wild Card berth. It’s not insurmountable, however, and if the Tigers can’t secure a playoff spot by October, it won’t be for Upton’s lack of thoroughness.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Alex Bregman is living up to the hype and then some. Dwarfed by talents like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, the rookie third baseman has still managed to make a name for himself in Houston, following a modest 2016 output with a .275/.357/.483 batting line and 3.1 WARP through 466 plate appearances in 2017.
Even the best players have their moments of weakness, however, and this was Bregman’s:
The Astros, being the Astros, went on to blank the Athletics 3-0, but didn’t try any more funny business while Boog Powell and his 96 mph cannon patrolled center field.
What to Watch on Monday
There are nine contests scheduled today, and at least seven of them have ramifications for the division and Wild Card races. The Brewers will try to inch closer to the NL Central title when they take on the last-place Giants, sending Zach Davies (4.90 DRA, 111 cFIP) up against Chris Stratton (5.35 DRA, 103 cFIP) as the Cubs enjoy an off day (10:15 ET). Albert Pujols will make another attempt to go for his 610th career home run, bringing him two dingers shy of the next rung on the all-time home run list when the Angels host the Rangers (10:07 ET). The American League Wild Card race, still very much in flux, will see the Mariners try to narrow their 1.5-game gap for the second spot with Andrew Albers (7:35 ET), while the Twins will look to break their second-place tie with the Angels as they take on the White Sox in a doubleheader (5:10 ET).
Monday will also play host to the first solar eclipse in 99 years, and while the path of totality doesn’t intersect with any scheduled major-league games, there are a few minor-league matchups you may not want to miss. The eclipse will be visible sometime during three games: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes vs. Hillsboro Hops (12:35 ET; eclipse peaks at 1:17 ET), Bowling Green Hot Rods vs. West Michigan Whitecaps (11:35 ET; eclipse peaks at 2:37 ET), and Columbia Fireflies vs. Rome Braves (1:05 ET). For those attending Bowling Green’s matinee, complimentary eclipse glasses will be distributed to fans and both teams will don commemorative jerseys. Columbia, which expects to see an eclipse delay around 2:41 ET, will wear glow-in-the-dark uniforms as they celebrate “Total Eclipse of the Park.” Honorable mention goes to the Nashville Sounds, who will host a special pregame viewing party for the eclipse prior to their set against the Iowa Cubs at 4:05 ET.