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September 11, 2017

What You Need to Know

How the East Was Won

by Ashley Varela


The Weekend Takeaway

The Nationals wrapped up the National League East in superb fashion on Sunday, becoming the first team to officially enter their names in the postseason this fall. Unlike most other division leaders this month, the Nats have stayed hot, taking seven of their last 10 games and clinching a three-game set against the Phillies with an impeccable performance from Stephen Strasburg.

Strasburg had his own agenda set for Sunday; entering the series finale, he carried a scoreless streak of 26 innings and was looking to eclipse Arizona hurler Robbie Ray’s league-leading scoreless stretch, at 28 2/3 innings.

Strasburg being Strasburg, he did just that, quieting the Phillies’ bats through eight innings and distributing two hits, a walk, and 10 strikeouts en route to his 13th win of the year. He maintained a no-hitter through 4 1/3 innings and expended 57 pitches before Maikel Franco lashed a one-out base hit into left field.

An inning-ending force out removed Franco from the basepaths, however, and Strasburg kept cruising. Franco tried his hand again in the eighth with a leadoff base hit, but the Nationals’ ace fought back harder, inducing an Aaron Altherr double play to reset the bases before Jorge Alfaro grounded out to end the inning. He exited with his 34-inning streak intact, beating Ray’s mark by a mile and setting a new franchise record in the process.

With Strasburg gone, the drama was only beginning. Ryan Madson entered the ninth inning and promptly surrendered back-to-back hits. Nick Williams narrowed the Nats’ three-run advantage to one run with a two-run single, but Madson hung on to record the save after Rhys Hoskins bounced a first-pitch fastball straight to third base.

The stands started to empty, but the Nationals didn’t go home. They retired to the clubhouse, where they watched the Marlins slip in extra innings after the Braves’ Lane Adams crushed a walk-off home run in the 11th.

The home run handed the Marlins their second straight loss of the weekend and solidified the Nationals’ status as repeat division champs. Granted, they still have a ways to go if they want to give the 2007-2011 Phillies a run for their money, but right now, there’s no one better in the East.

Quick Hits from the Weekend

The Indians continued to steamroll their competition over the weekend, sweeping the Orioles to take their 16th, 17th, and 18th consecutive wins. Mike Clevinger crafted six scoreless innings against Baltimore on Friday, stretching his own scoreless streak to 18 innings and fanning seven of 23 batters.

Edwin Encarnacion powered the win with a massive three-run homer in the first inning, his 34th of the season, while the bullpen picked up where Clevinger left off and completed the shutout with three scoreless frames.

On Saturday, it was Josh Tomlin’s time to shine. Tomlin lasted just five innings against opposing starter Gabriel Ynoa, allowing an RBI single in the first inning that gave the Orioles their first and only lead of the series.

Giovanny Urshela tied things up with a double in the third, and despite a valiant late-game home run by Tim Beckham, the Orioles fell short against the combined power of a Carlos Santana RBI double and Francisco Lindor’s seventh-inning solo shot.

The Indians passed the ball to Trevor Bauer on Sunday afternoon as they looked for their fifth consecutive sweep. The White Sox had gone down in order; so, too, had the Tigers, Yankees, and Royals. Streaks are funny, fickle creatures. No matter how skilled the team, how masterful the pitching or bone-crushing the offense is, it only takes one wayward pitch or misplayed ball to ruin everything.

Luckily for the Indians, their moment hadn’t come quite yet. Bauer helped maintain the rotation’s collective 1.94 ERA during the streak, with two runs and seven strikeouts over seven innings. Like Tomlin before him, he was bailed out by another airtight performance from the bullpen.

Pitching alone isn’t enough to win a game, and back-to-back jacks from Roberto Perez and Francisco Lindor gave the Indians the one-run cushion they needed to absorb Chris Davis’ solo home run in the seventh.

With the win, the Indians moved within two games of the Athletics’ 20-win run in 2002 and became one of just five MLB teams to carry an 18+ win streak. Not only would a 21-win stretch set a new record in Expansion Era baseball, but it would help propel the club to a league-best record and, with it, an unfettered home-field advantage this October.

***

Aaron Judge scrawled his name all over the record books on Sunday, helping himself to a double portion of dingers as he clubbed his 40th and 41st home runs of the year. He topped off a six-run inning in the fourth with a 379-foot shot to right field, sinking the ball in the shadows just beyond Nomar Mazara’s reach.

Rookie southpaw Jordan Montgomery labored through his shortest start of the season with 3 1/3 innings of three-run, four-walk, three-strikeout ball. At least in the short term, his mistakes hardly mattered. The Yankees papered over the Rangers’ rally with 11 runs through the first five frames, leaving room for Judge to mash his second home run in the sixth:

Not only did Judge’s 463-footer help catapult the Yankees to their eventual 16-7 finish, but it also marked the second 40-homer campaign by a rookie slugger since Mark McGwire cranked out 49 homers for the 1987 Athletics.

Even his second-inning walk touched on something special:

Yankees skipper Joe Girardi told reporters that he sees the milestones as evidence of Judge’s staying power. “I look at the way he plays defense extremely well, he runs the bases extremely well. He’s a complete player,” the manager said Sunday. For now, however, the only thing the Yankees are guaranteed is another Rookie of the Year award. Should Judge run away with the voting, he’ll be the first Yankee to earn the accolade since Derek Jeter did it for the club in 1996.

***

Giancarlo Stanton still needs six home runs to reach the elusive 60-homer mark. On Saturday, his 456-foot blast off of the Braves’ Max Fried brought his season total to 54:

No major-league slugger has collected 54 home runs since Jose Bautista’s campaign in 2010, and no one’s topped 54 homers in any season since Ryan Howard produced 58 dingers for the 2006 Phillies.

Unfortunately for the Marlins, Stanton’s home run chase is one of the few bright spots in their season. They lost Saturday’s contest to the Braves by one run, an Ender Inciarte walk-off walk in the ninth inning, and fell to 2-8 since the start of September.

***

Sometimes, you have to know when to press “pause” on an argument:

The song spared Bryan Price an ejection, too. “’God Bless America’ gave me time to realize that was not the time to get ejected,” Price told reporters following the Reds’ 10-5 win over the Mets. “At that point in time, it’s a ballgame. We’ve got to do what we can to win the game. I wanted to be there for that. It was probably good timing for the song.”

Now, if only there were a way to work such peaceful timeouts into every managerial dispute.

Defensive Play of the Weekend

It’s safe to say Jeimer Candelario is fitting in well with the Tigers. Since his midseason jump to Detroit, the 23-year-old is mashing at a .385/.484/.500 clip through his first 31 plate appearances with the club. On Friday, he tacked another item to his resume: his first career triple play.

The gem was the first by a Tigers’ trio in 16 years, when Damion Easley, Deivi Cruz, and Shane Halter coordinated another triple play against the 116-win Mariners in 2001.

What to Watch on Monday

Putting aside all Wild Card shenanigans for today, let’s talk streaks and skids. The Dodgers are guaranteed an easy matchup when they send Kenta Maeda (3.89 DRA, 102 cFIP) up against the Giants’ Chris Stratton (4.61 DRA, 101 cFIP), and will try to break a string of 10 consecutive losses as they embark on their last road trip of the regular season (10:15 ET).

Elsewhere in the NL West, the Diamondbacks will look to reset their winning streak after spoiling the Padres’ sweep with a 3-2 win on Sunday. They’ll finish off their homestand with a four-game series against the Rockies, beginning with a Zack Greinke-Kyle Freeland contest on Monday (9:40 ET).

The Indians, meanwhile, are three wins away from a historic 21-win streak. First, however, they’ll need to record win no. 19 when Tigers rookie Myles Jaye (4.60 DRA, 103 cFIP) makes his first major-league start on Monday night (7:10 ET).

Ashley Varela is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ashley's other articles. You can contact Ashley by clicking here

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