The Weekend Takeaway
There are a few narratives worth delving into this weekend. Divisions were won; walk-offs were celebrated, champagne bottles were popped. Bryce Harper wore Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky’s swim cap. Vin Scully spent his last few hours quipping in the Dodgers’ broadcast booth, his last weekend announcing a Dodgers home series, ever.
I can’t stop thinking about Jose Fernandez, though, and I’d imagine I’m not the only one. I woke up Sunday morning to multiple messages about his sudden and tragic death, and it took me a moment before I registered the name. When I did, my stomach dropped. Jose Fernandez, Cuban defector, wunderkind, bright star of the Marlins’ rotation, was killed in a terrible accident. Mauricio Rubio wrote about Fernandez’s legacy beautifully, chronicling the rise of a pitcher who was consistently, ridiculously good, with an infectious personality that only amplified his excellence.
Baseball is exhilarating and baseball is sobering, and this weekend, it encompassed both ends of the spectrum. On Friday, the Rangers clinched the AL West division by spoiling Kendall Graveman’s bid for a perfect game, which seems like a double blow to the ego after Graveman retired 18 batters in a row on three strikeouts, a working sinker, and a sharp Oakland defense.
Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran combined for a three-run lead in the seventh inning, scoring the only runs of the night as Cole Hamels strung seven scoreless frames against the Athletics. The next day, while Beltre orchestrated an elaborate infield defense routine from the dugout (only half as absurd as his bad baserunning on Sunday.
The Nationals clinched the NL East behind an abbreviated start from right-hander Joe Ross. Ross was limited to 63 pitches through 2 â…” innings after getting shut down with shoulder inflammation in August, and while Dusty Baker claimed to be keeping the righty on a “performance limit” rather than a pitch limit, his leash was pulled short as the Nationals fought for the division title.
The Nationals barreled over the Pirates with a 6-1 finish, but because their magic number was two, not one, they had to wait an additional 25 minutes for the result of the Mets-Phillies game. The unsung hero of the NL East turned out to be Philadelphia left fielder Darin Ruf, whose three-run homer propelled the Phillies to a 10-8 win and secured the Nats’ title.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
The day after Clayton Kershaw threw his fastest pitch of the season, the Dodgers clinched the NL West. There’s no correlation between the two, save the inherent Cool Factor of pitching a 96.1 mph fastball at Gerardo Parra and winning a second consecutive division title on Charlie Culberson’s walk-off home run.
By the by, that was Culberson’s sixth career home run and his first in two years. This weekend, at least, the 27-year-old had impeccable timing.
The Dodgers entered Sunday’s series finale against the Rockies needing just one win to secure the NL West. The win could have come via Dodgers’ victory or Giants’ loss; coincidentally, both happened within five minutes of each other.
With the win, the Dodgers will face the Nationals when Game 1 of the NLDS kicks off next week. What happens between now and then has little to no impact on Los Angeles’ playoff schedule, and if the Giants manage to sneak their way past the wild card tiebreaker (assuming the Mets or Cardinals flop out of contention), they’ll be met by a force of nature more commonly known as the Cubs.
As Clayton Kershaw fired bullets at Rockies hitters and postseason berths were gobbled up left and right, Nelson Cruz made a concerted effort to bring the Mariners within reach of a wild card spot. In true Nelson Cruz fashion, he did so by hitting a triple-deck 493-footer off Twins right-hander Tyler Duffey.
Unsurprisingly, the home run was catalogued as the second-longest of 2016, just shy of the 504-foot no-doubter off Giancarlo Stanton’s bat earlier this season.
Not one for moderation at the plate, Cruz recorded four home runs before the weekend was up, including a pair of long balls in Sunday’s finale against the Twins. His last shot marked no. 41 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers. The last Mariner to log three consecutive seasons of 40 home runs? Alex Rodriguez, who hit a combined 125 dingers for Seattle between 1998 and 2000, and went on to extend that streak in three more seasons with the Rangers. (Cruz, it should be noted, has accomplished the feat while splitting time between the Orioles and Mariners.)
If only the rest of the rest of Seattle’s lineup had that kind of fire lit under their bats. As it stands now, Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds have the club with just a 7.5 percent chance of making the postseason.
Over in this corner, you’ll see a man who didn’t clinch a postseason berth this weekend. If you peer closely at his pinstriped uniform, you’ll notice that it belongs to a team far removed from either a division lead or a wild card spot. If you have your smartphone handy, and Baseball Prospectus’ player cards at the ready, you might even notice that this man has never seen a playoff finish in his career.
But, if you were also watching Saturday’s soiree between the White Sox and Indians, you might have realized the implications of this man’s three-hit night. With three consecutive singles, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu joined Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols as just the third major leaguer to log at least 175 hits and 25 home runs in each of his first three seasons.
Of all the ways to close out a losing season, drawing comparisons to Joltin’ Joe isn’t a bad way to go.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Wherever you go, whatever you do, Eduardo Nunez will be right there, waiting for you.
What to Watch on Monday
Heading into Monday, only two divisions have yet to crown their champions. While the Red Sox reserved a spot in the postseason with their 6-4 win over the Rays on Saturday, they’ll have to put off any division clinching behavior for a bit.
Over in the AL Central, the Indians need just one win to secure the division. On Monday, they’ll send Corey Kluber against the Tigers’ Buck Farmer to kick off their last road trip of the regular season. Kluber has been lights out for the Indians again this season, posting a sub-3.00 DRA and 5.9 WARP over 211 innings. Farmer, meanwhile, will make his first start of the season for the Tigers after pitching 24 â…“ innings out of the bullpen. His 3.80 DRA and 0.3 WARP are the best marks of his three-year career to date, which isn’t saying much on a team that boasts top-end hurlers like Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer (7:10 ET).