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The Weekend Takeaway

Last year, the Marlins finished the regular season with a no-hitter by Henderson Alvarez. This year, with Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals doing the honors, the shoe was on the other foot.

Alvarez gave up lots of hits on Sunday, 11 to be exact, but he scattered them nicely to hold the Nats to one run. That run came on a second-inning solo shot by Ian Desmond. It was all the support Zimmermann would get.

Fortunately for the home team, Zimmermann was nearly perfect for 8 2/3 innings. He struck out 10 and walked only one. When one of his strikeouts came on a wild pitch, he forwent the opportunity to fan four in one inning and instead promptly picked the runner, Garrett Jones, off of first.

Twenty-three of 28 Marlins saw first-pitch strikes. Seventy-eight of Zimmermann’s first 103 total offerings either found the zone or were close enough to coax the Fish into swinging. The Marlins swung 47 times at the right-hander’s mid-90s fastball, and they hit nothing but air on 11 of their attempts.

Heading into the ninth, Nationals skipper Matt Williams made one substitution: He brought rookie Steven Souza Jr. in to play left field, replacing Ryan Zimmerman, still a relative novice in the outfield with limited range.

The inning began with a groundout by Adeiny Hechavarria and a fly out to center field by pinch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Since Zimmermann had faced one more than the minimum, the only man who stood between him and the no-no was Christian Yelich, who’d led off the game with a line out, one of the few hard-hit balls allowed by the 28-year-old to that point in the afternoon.

As he’d done repeatedly throughout the game, Zimmermann started Yelich off with strike one, a fastball right down the pipe. But he missed high to even the count, and then failed to get on top of a curveball, which also stayed well above the letters. Yelich was in a fastball count, and the fastball is Zimmermann’s bread-and-butter, so there was little reason to doubt that a fastball was on the way.

Yelich sat dead red and got the heater he wanted: down the middle at 94 mph. He smacked it into the left-center field gap.

Zimmermann thought it was all over:

But then, he was like:

Because

Souza saved the day with The Defensive Play of the Weekend.

No hit for Yelich. No tying runner in scoring position for the Marlins. And a no-no for Zimmermann, the first in Nationals history, to close out the season.

The Nationals can savor it until Friday, when either the Giants or Pirates will come to Washington, D.C., for Game One of the NLDS.

Quick Hits from the Weekend

Back-to-back doubleheaders are a bear for any pitching staff, even with expanded rosters, so there’s nothing Matt Williams wanted more from Doug Fister on Friday than his first complete-game shutout of the season.

Wish granted.

Fister efficiently hooked every Marlin not named Donovan Solano on Friday, firing 25 first-pitch strikes in 30 tries to get ahead and stay ahead all afternoon. He struck out nine without walking a batter, threw 77 of 104 pitches for strikes, and did not allow a Miami runner to reach second base before Solano tripled in the ninth. The next batter, Casey McGehee, lined out, officially booking Fister’s first shutout since September 22nd, 2012.

You might say that the 30-year-old right-hander pounded the zone on Friday, but that wouldn’t precisely describe his methods.

More accurately, Fister aimed for targets on the arm side of the plate, whether the batter was a lefty or righty. All of his 14 whiffs came on pitches over or to the left (from the catcher’s perspective) of the midpoint of the dish, nine of them on the hard stuff and five on the curve. With Fister hitting Jose Lobaton’s desired spots, the Marlins’ dead-red approach—17 of their 20 balls in play came on two- or four-seam fastballs—did them no good.

Meanwhile, Miami’s starter, Jarred Cosart, also chucked a slew of pitches to his arm side in the first game of the doubleheader:

Problem is, up and a foot to the left of the strike zone is not where he was aiming. And for a groundball pitcher like Cosart, the utter inability to find the lower half of the hitting area was a fatal flaw.

The 24-year-old walked eight and gave up four hits, one of them a first-inning homer by Anthony Rendon. It’s a minor miracle that he was only charged with two earned runs.

In fact, according to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Cosart is the first pitcher to hold an opponent to no more than a pair of earned runs while walking eight or more and allowing four-plus hits in five or fewer innings since Mike Hampton did it on March 29th, 2000. Even more impressively, he’s the first to do so while serving up a long ball since Bo Belinsky on June 14th, 1962, and only the third in at least 100 years.

If there’s one thing you can say for Cosart, it’s that he chose good times to dole out bases on balls: Five of the eight walks came with two outs, and one of the others immediately preceded a double play. On the other hand, since the Marlins could scarcely reach base, let alone get into scoring position, against Fister, the Nationals could have stopped with Rendon’s tater and been just fine.

Washington would ultimately win 4-0, rendering its subsequent three games meaningless. With the best record in the senior circuit and home-field advantage through the NLCS in hand, Williams and his club could kick back and enjoy the rest of the weekend.

And that’s a good thing, because Friday night’s 15-7 mess would otherwise have been difficult to stomach.

***

The Blue Jays had only pride to play for on Friday, plus a chance to spoil the Orioles’ hopes of stealing home-field advantage away from the Angels. Thanks to a couple of rookies, the 27,037 in attendance at the Rogers Centre had plenty to be proud of, and the O’s will have to play four of seven in Anaheim if those clubs meet in the ALCS.

Dalton Pompey ended the top of the second, with this sliding catch, and he got the offense started in the bottom half with a rocket into the right-center field gap that one-hopped the wall for his first career triple:

Pompey scored on a well-executed base-hit bunt by Munenori Kawasaki. He was right back at it in the third inning, when he yanked one down the right-field line for an RBI double and showed off his speed by scoring on Kawasaki’s ensuing infield single, which was magnified by a throwing error by Jonathan Schoop.

Fast-forward to the fifth, and you’ll find another Pompey gapper, good for his second triple of the day. The 21-year-old left fielder joined Devon White (April 8th, 1994) as the only players in franchise history to crank a pair of three-baggers and a double in the same game. Kawasaki couldn’t bring him home this time, but the Blue Jays led 4-2, and that was all the scoring they’d need.

In what ended up a tandem-starter pitching arrangement, Drew Hutchison did a five and dive, holding the Orioles to two runs on five hits in as many innings while walking one and striking out eight, but John Gibbons only used one reliever. He has Marcus Stroman to thank for that.

Removed from the rotation at the beginning of last week, Stroman came on in relief of Drew Hutchison to begin the sixth and went 12 up, 12 down, with a little luck and a lot of filth. He got through his first frame in no time and completed the seventh just as quickly. A leadoff single by David Lough in the eighth quickly disappeared on a line-drive double play off the bat of Nick Markakis. And the ninth inning breezed by in nine pitches.

That’s a four-inning save for Stroman, the first of his career and the first of that length by any Blue Jay since Brandon League did it on August 7th, 2006. Stroman threw 44 pitches, 31 of them for strikes, and he missed above the zone a grand total of one time—by about three inches.

The 23-year-old’s outstanding relief work coupled with Pompey’s career day at the plate, on the bags, and in the field locked the O’s in as the no. 2 seed in the American League playoffs.

***

The Royals took the field on Friday a win away from their franchise’s first playoff berth in 29 years. When Kansas City last hosted a postseason game, the nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 hitters in manager Ned Yost’s starting lineup had not yet been born. This year’s first-round pick and bullpen godsend, Brandon Finnegan, would not see the light of day for another seven-and-a-half years.

But Jeremy Guthrie, Yost’s starting pitcher against the White Sox, was six at the time. He might have remembered the George Brett-led 1985 club that captured the pennant and downed the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series. And on the biggest night in recent franchise history, the 35-year-old turned in one of his best starts of the season.

The visitors’ offense made things easier for Guthrie by handing him a three-run lead before he took the hill.

Alcides Escobar got the Royals going with a leadoff single, and Norichika Aoki got them on the board with a triple:

Two singles later, it was 3-0 Kansas City.

Guthrie was much sharper than his counterpart, Hector Noesi, who allowed hits to the first two batters he faced. The White Sox didn’t get their second knock off of Guthrie until the fifth inning, and they didn’t move a runner into scoring position until there were two away in the frame. Michael Taylor got no closer to the plate, as Adam Eaton grounded out, and no South Sider would get to within 180 feet until Guthrie was through.

Seven innings, four hits, no runs, one walk, six strikeouts. That’ll do.

Setup man Wade Davis wasn’t his typically dominant self, coughing up a three-bagger to Adam Eaton and a run-scoring single to Alexei Ramirez, but the Royals had two runs to spare. And closer Greg Holland wasn’t in a giving mood. With two outs, Taylor popped up between the plate and the right-side fungo circle, Salvador Perez made the catch, and the party was on:

***

But a wild card, along with the chance to host the one-game playoff, wasn’t all the Royals had in mind. They had their sights set on a division title. And the Twins were bent on helping them out.

Ron Gardenhire’s club pounded Tigers starter Rick Porcello to the tune of six runs (four earned) in 3 2/3 innings, with the big blows coming on long balls by Oswaldo Arcia and Brian Dozier. Minnesota starter Anthony Swarzak endangered his team’s early lead by giving up three runs in the fourth and fifth, but the Twins had plenty left in the hopper.

Dozier tacked on a couple of RBI singles to his third-inning blast, and Danny Santana, batting directly in front of him, went 3-for-6 with a double. Along the way, Santana became the first Twin to pick up a hat trick and three hits in the same nine-inning game since Jason Bartlett on August 14th, 2007.

The Twins bullpen, which gobbled up 4 2/3 innings while permitting only one run, was much stingier than the Tigers’, who surrendered five in relief of Porcello in the 11-4 defeat. As a result, the Royals moved to within one game of a first-place tie in the Central.

***

Also having their sights set on a division crown were the Pirates, who began play on Friday a game back of the Cardinals. Their matchup with the Reds, in which Vance Worley and Mike Leake each kept the opposition to one run, also came down to the bullpens.

Moments after Leake hit the showers, Pedro Villarreal gave it away.

A two-out rally kickstarted by—who else?—batting-title hopeful Josh Harrison produced two runs, with the help of an embarrassing misplay by right fielder Jay Bruce. That ugly effort yielded a go-ahead double for Travis Snider, and he came around to score on a cleaner two-bagger by Andrew McCutchen.

Tony Watson and Mark Melancon closed it out, and the Pirates huddled in the clubhouse to watch the Cardinals take on the Diamondbacks.

***

Things didn’t go Pittsburgh’s way for the bulk of the game at Chase Field, as the Redbirds led 6-2 at the seventh-inning stretch. But then the desert winds changed course, as Arizona scored once in the seventh and thrice in the eighth, knotting it up on a ground-rule double by Rookie of the Year candidate Ender Inciarte.

Alas, the spirited comeback wouldn’t suffice to give fired-bench-coach-turned-acting-manager Alan Trammell a win in his first game at the helm. A Matt Adams double and Jhonny Peralta single foiled those plans in the top of the 10th, as the Cardinals bounced back to win 7-6 and retain their one-game lead in the Central.

The night ended with good news for both the Cardinals and Pirates, as the Giants fell, 4-1, to the Padres. That loss ensured that the NL Central runner-up would host the one-game wild-card playoff.

***

All three active races stayed active through Saturday, setting up the potential for as many as three games 163 on Monday.

The Tigers opened the door for the Royals to draw even in the division by flubbing their middle match with the Twins. Kyle Lobstein was hammered for six runs on seven hits and two walks in just 4 2/3 innings, and the Detroit lineup had trouble breaking through against Ricky Nolasco. The Tigers ended up 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position while Eduardo Escobar had three times that allotment by himself. Minnesota’s third baseman went 4-for-6 with six RBI, including this three-run shot

to lead the Twins to a 12-3 rout.

But the Royals, gifted an opportunity to draw even in the Central division, couldn’t take advantage. They struggled to solve White Sox lefty John Danks, as the South Siders plated four early runs off of Danny Duffy on homers by Jose Abreu and Josh Phegley. The latter’s second big fly of the day secured Chicago’s 5-4 win.

***

While the Tigers gave the Royals a chance to earn a first-place tie, the Pirates offered the Cardinals an opportunity to put the NL Central away.

Cincinnati and Pittsburgh were knotted at 6-6 heading into the 10th, when the Bucs did not score and Clint Hurdle’s bullpen management became the topic of the afternoon. A tie game on the road kept closer Mark Melancon planted on the bench, as John Axford gradually melted down.

A sequence of walk, single, lineout, walk loaded the bases for pinch-hitter Brayan Pena, and Hurdle pulled Axford in favor of Bobby LaFramboise,

who missed with a 3-1 pitch to end the game fill the count. The slightly generous strike-two call by home-plate umpire Jim Joyce kept the Pirates alive, and Pena lined out, leaving it all up to Ramon Santiago.

Grand slam. Ballgame. 10-6 Reds. And the Cardinals’ magic number was one.

But the Diamondbacks were in a spoiling mood, and David Peralta and Mark Trumbo launched back-to-back jacks in the opening frame. The Cardinals drew even 2-2 in the top of the third. Unfortunately for Mike Matheny’s bunch, Trumbo had another dose of thunder left in his bat. That three-run job buried St. Louis for good.

***

The A’s, who could have eliminated the Mariners on Saturday, caught a break when Rangers starter Derek Holland was scratched with a migraine. Seemingly. But aside from Josh Donaldson’s first-inning solo homer, emergency fill-in Scott Baker was solid for four innings. And even when he departed with two men on in the fifth, Alex Claudio got Nate Freiman to hit into a double play, which helped the Rangers to stay up 3-2.

Bob Melvin’s club would score twice in the eighth inning. Trouble is, the Rangers preempted them with this 431-foot, two-run blast by Robinson Chirinos in the last of the seventh. Chirinos would later gun down Billy Burns attempting to steal in the ninth, and Neftali Feliz slammed the door to keep the Mariners on life support.

Through the seventh-inning stretch at Safeco, that appeared moot, because C.J. Wilson had the M’s flummoxed and the Angels were up 1-0. But Logan Morrison squared the score

and Mike Scioscia pulled most of his regulars as extra innings approached.

Bonus baseball would in fact be in store, after Jason Grilli walked a tightrope in the bottom of the ninth. After an infield single by Kyle Seager, Grilli walked Morrison to put two on with nobody out. Endy Chavez tried to sac bunt Seager to third, and catcher Chris Iannetta’s throw wasn’t in time, so everyone ended up safe on the play. Two straight strikeouts left it all up to Austin Jackson, who took three pitches out of the strike zone to put Grilli’s back against the wall. But the ex-Pirate fought back and ultimately got Jackson to line out to right.

The Mariners had just one walkoff win under their belts this year, three shy of the next-lowest total in the majors, and after Grilli wriggled out of the ninth, fans could have been forgiven for thinking that the club was doomed.

But there was another ray of hope, as the Angels stranded Efren Navarro on second after a two-out double in the top of the 10th, and the Mariners once again had a runner in scoring position, following a Dustin Ackley single and a slow groundout by Robinson Cano that functioned as a sacrifice. Alas, Scioscia elected to intentionally walk Kendrys Morales, setting up Humberto Quintero and Morrison… who struck out and grounded out, respectively.

Good news, though: Another inning meant another chance, as Iannetta singled to begin the 11th and was stranded aboard. A double by Brad Miller and a single by Chris Taylor left the winning run 90 feet away with one out. The next batter, Jackson, hit a groundball to a drawn-in second baseman. Grant Green had two options: a force out at home or a possible double play, but he’d need to hurry to execute the latter, given Jackson’s speed. Green chose to go the twin-killing route. But he didn’t hurry

and in doing so, the former Athletic handed the Mariners the walkoff win they desperately needed.

***

Fans of Team Entropy woke up Sunday rooting for the following scenarios:

· Royals win, Tigers loss

· Mariners win, Athletics loss

· Pirates win, Cardinals loss

Did they get what they wanted? Nope, nope, and nope again.

David Price eliminated option no. 1 with 7 1/3 scoreless innings. He gave up just four hits and two walks, struck out eight, and handed off a 3-0 lead to Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan, who did the rest. The Royals’ 6-4 win over the White Sox served no purpose other than pride.

Sonny Gray had A’s nation breathing a collective sigh of relief, both because the team is postseason bound and because the right-hander is back in tip-top form after a brief rut. The Vanderbilt product fired a six-hit shutout in Arlington, where the Athletics got two runs in the second and two more in the ninth. Josh Reddick went 2-for-4 with a triple, and then celebrated in NSFW fashion. Oakland will travel to Kansas City for the American League’s one-game playoff, in which Jon Lester and James Shields will lock horns for the right to play the Angels.

With the Cardinals in Arizona, the Pirates had a chance to put some pressure on their division rivals before their first pitch. Gerrit Cole—seven innings, four hits, one run, no walks, and a career-high 12 strikeouts—was very much on par with the likely Cy Young Award runner-up, Johnny Cueto, who hurled eighth one-run frames and fanned seven without issuing a free pass.

Tony Watson took over for Cole in the eighth and promptly surrendered a leadoff triple to Jason Bourgeois. After Zack Cozart lined out, unproductively, Reds skipper Bryan Price had a tough decision. He could let Cueto bat, in hopes of getting the righty his 20th win of the year, or pinch-hit and improve his chances of scoring the go-ahead run. Price chose the former. And Cueto did not let him down:

With that run in, Price pulled Cueto to a rousing ovation at Great American Ball Park, where pinch-runner Yorman Rodriguez rounded the bags shortly thereafter on a two-run tater by Kris Negron.

Reds 4, Cardinals 1, Aroldis Chapman 3—strikeouts, that is, in a scoreless ninth that secured the win and his 36th save. The southpaw ends the year with 202 batters faced and 106 strikeouts, a record 52.5 percent K rate (min. 200 BF) if you’re dividing at home.

And the Pirates end the year as the National League wild card. They’ll welcome the Giants to Pittsburgh on Wednesday for a duel between Madison Bumgarner and Edinson Volquez, of which the winner will play the Nationals. The Cardinals, who won 1-0 in Arizona, will travel to Los Angeles for Game One of their NLDS on Friday.

***

The Mariners’ elimination was by no fault of Felix Hernandez, who certainly did his part to keep Seattle alive if Oakland completed its collapse. King Felix’s closing statement in his bid for the Cy Young Award: 5 1/3 innings, one hit, no walks, seven strikeouts, putting the M’s en route to a 4-0 win.

Tack on seven groundball outs, and the ball scarcely left the infield versus Hernandez, who elicited eight swings and misses in 68 pitches before taking a seat when the A’s clinched. Michael Saunders and Mike Zunino each drove in a pair to boost the Mariners to 87-75.

***

Had Lloyd McClendon allowed Hernandez to keep going, he might have surpassed the strikeout total of his chief adversary in the Cy Young Award race, but as it stands, Corey Kluber’s final performance might end up being more memorable.

In a 1-0 battle with Chris Archer, whose only blemish was a first-inning bomb by Jose Ramirez, Kluber was unscathed through eight, adding 11 strikeouts his back-to-back 14-punchout efforts preceding Friday’s game. The righty walked two and permitted five hits—four singles and a Kevin Kiermaier triple—but he attacked the hitting area, mainly with fastballs and cutters, and came away with 74 strikes in 106 tries.

Kluber finished the year with 269 strikeouts in 235 2/3 innings, good for sixth on the Indians’ single-season K list behind five Sam McDowell campaigns and Bob Feller’s crown jewel: a 348-strikeout 1946. Of course, it took Feller 371 1/3 innings to amass that total, and only two of McDowell’s years featured more strikeouts than innings pitched.

As far as closing statements go, Kluber’s stands alone in another department: He is the first pitcher in at least 100 years to cap his season with three straight 11-plus-strikeout outings. No one else has even finished with two.

***

Speaking of finishing with a flourish, the Astros were bent on denying Jose Altuve the opportunity. They wanted the second baseman to sit out, figuring that doing so would improve his chances of fending off Victor Martinez for the batting title.

But Altuve—perhaps aided by the flurry of angry tweets sent at general manager Jeff Luhnow—talked his way into the lineup. And then, in his first at-bat, he tied a franchise record with his 224th knock, a ground-rule double:

As it turned out, Martinez went 0-for-3, so Altuve could’ve stopped there and cruised to the crown. Instead, he picked up an RBI infield single in the fifth, padding his hit count to 225. Altuve’s final batting average: .341.

But Altuve’s efforts weren’t good enough to down the Mets on the last day of Bobby Abreu’s major-league career. The outfielder singled to spark a two-run rally in the fifth inning, and got plenty of love on his way to the dugout as Eric Young Jr. came on to pinch-run:

Lucas Duda capped that frame with a double and blasted his 30th homer of the year in the eighth to pave the way for an 8-3 Mets win.

What to Watch on Monday

Uhhh… football? Fear not, though: While WYNTK is done for the season, baseball returns tomorrow with the American League wild card game.

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jfranco77
9/29
Awful, awful weekend by the Pirates. Axford and Bobby LaFramboise get to blow the game on Saturday while Melancon watches. They give up a game-winning hit to Johnny freaking Cueto on Sunday... Cole couldn't bunt Chris Stewart over to 3rd in the 5th inning on Sunday... honestly I'm not sure why Cole even started on Sunday in the first place.
buckgunn
9/29
Sure seems like the Pirates miscalculated by having Cole pitch on Sunday. For them to win the division they would have had to (a) beat Johnny Cueto on the road, (b) hope that Wainwright and the Cardinals lose to the Goldschmidt-less D'backs, then (c) beat the Cardinals on Monday in Busch with Jeff Locke on the mound. Let's just say there's a 50/50 chance of each of those things happening (which is extremely generous to Hurdle), that still means there's an 88% chance the Cardinals win the division and Hurdle is stuck with Volquez rather than Cole for the winner-take-all play-in game. Just seems like the wrong chess move. (To be fair, Hurdle said he didn't make the decision based on the math, but rather the competitive desire to "go for it.") At least they'll be playing at home for the wild-card game.
pdelacorte
9/30
"No one else has even finished with two" 11-plus strikeout outings. Not so. Karl Spooner struck out 15 Giants and 12 Pirates in his final (and only) two starts of 1954.
statsrath
9/30
Huh, not sure why the Play Index (http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/fxa62) didn't turn that up, but the game log checks out. Thanks for the heads up!