The Weekend Takeaway
You don’t need to have followed most of the 2017 season to know that the Astros have taken the American League by storm. Their 65-33 record is second only to the 68-31 Dodgers, and they maintained a hefty 17-game lead over their AL West competitors with a 5-4 run to start the second half.
Winning, however, was the last thing on anyone’s mind when Colin Moran took a foul ball to the face on Saturday night.
Down 4-3 in the sixth inning, Moran approached the plate with two outs and runners on first and second. A foul ball from Orioles reliever Darren O’Day ricocheted off his bat handle and into Moran’s left cheek, narrowly missing his left eye and causing immediate bleeding and bruising as he crumpled to the ground. Manager A.J. Hinch and members of the team’s athletic staff attended the rookie, helping him to stand for a moment until he felt faint and had to be carted off the field.
While Moran was treated at a nearby hospital with a facial fracture and concussion, the Astros turned to veteran pinch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez to finish the at-bat. Gonzalez labored through eight pitches from O’Day before finding one he liked, and smashed it out of Camden Yards to give Houston a two-run lead.
The three-run, 387-foot blast cleared the foul pole in right field and found a final resting place on Eutaw Street for the Astros’ first go-ahead, pinch-hit homer of the season. It was just enough to power the club’s 65th win of the season; Luke Gregerson and Joe Musgrove induced six straight outs from the Orioles, while Evan Gattis and Carlos Beltran propelled the team to a respectable 8-4 finish with an RBI single and sac fly in the ninth.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
There’s nothing like trade rumors to light a fire under a player. Jaime Garcia was in the middle of long and convoluted trade discussions with the Twins last week, and appeared to be on his way to Minnesota before unforeseen complications caused the deal to fall through at the last minute.
He went ahead with his scheduled start against the Dodgers on Friday, locking down his fourth win of the season with seven innings of three-run, four-strikeout ball. It was his fourth consecutive quality start and, more notably, the first career game in which he also muscled a 399-foot grand slam:
The slam may not have done much to accelerate negotiations between the Twins and Braves, but it certainly seemed to put Garcia on the radar of several other contenders, including the first-place Brewers.
It took Yoan Moncada a little time to warm to major-league competition, but once he got going, he couldn’t stop. The White Sox prospect helped the club to an early lead on Friday night, producing an RBI groundout in his first at-bat and returning in the third with a bases-clearing triple for his first major-league hit with Chicago:
Per Statcast’s calculations, it took Moncada just 11.24 seconds to sprint from home to third, the fastest such run by a White Sox baserunner all season. This is, of course, the exact thing the team was hoping to see when they recalled him from Triple-A Charlotte last week, but a four-RBI performance was a nice little bonus nonetheless.
Unfortunately for Chicago, Moncada’s ministrations weren’t quite enough to take the lead. Alex Gordon knotted the game 6-6 with a two-run double in the fifth inning, while Whit Merrifield provided the walk-off sac fly to secure the Royals’ win in the 10th.
It’s been over nine years since Jon Lester recorded his last no-hitter, and on Saturday, he took another one into the sixth inning. The Cubs southpaw fired 5 2/3 perfect frames against the Cardinals, retiring 17 consecutive batters as he crafted a season-best performance in honor of his late uncle.
Lester looked masterful on the mound as he fanned Yadier Molina on three straight pitches and stifled rookie first baseman Luke Voit in three hitless at-bats, but in the end it was opposing starter Adam Wainwright who brought the perfecto to an early end. Wainwright plucked a first-pitch cutter out of the upper corner of the strike zone and maneuvered it just past Kris Bryant’s outstretched glove for the Cardinals’ first hit—and first base—of the afternoon:
Lester stayed in the game long enough to see the Cardinals take a two-run lead on back-to-back homers from Paul DeJong and Randal Grichuk in the eighth inning. The Cubs answered with a three-run spread in the bottom of the inning, giving their starter the edge he needed to claim his seventh win of the year and bring a victorious end to his emotional tribute.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Sometimes, we watch defensive highlights to affirm what we already know about great defenders, like this smooth warning track snag by Jackie Bradley Jr.:
Other times, we wait for the thrill of the rare or unusual play: Ichiro Suzuki tracking down a fly ball in center field, perhaps, or Asdrubal Cabrera fielding the odd grounder at third base. Or, in Dee Gordon’s case, a swift and unexpected pregame kick to the knee:
What to Watch on Monday
The Royals and Rays finished the weekend tied for the second Wild Card in the American League. They’ll each face relatively easy competition as they make a push for sole possession of a playoff berth on Monday night, when Blake Snell (4.75 DRA, 102 cFIP) hosts Kevin Gausman (5.79 DRA, 104 cFIP) and Jason Hammel goes head-to-head against Justin Verlander (3.89 DRA, 92 cFIP) to open a nine-game road trip. The Tigers, like the Orioles, aren’t as well-positioned for division or Wild Card contention right now, but they still have plenty to prove as they continue fielding trade offers for their ace (7:10 ET).
Over in the National League, there’s only one division race worth talking about. The Brewers stumbled out of the All-Star break to a 3-7 record, skidding on six straight losses to give the second-place Cubs a fighting chance. It’s an opportunity the Cubs have capitalized on over the last week and a half, finally tying for first place after sweeping the Orioles and Braves and taking two of three from the Cardinals. They’ll try to one-up the Brewers with Kyle Hendricks (4.90 DRA, 110 cFIP), who will make his first start against the White Sox’s Miguel Gonzalez (6.31 DRA, 115 cFIP) on Monday after recovering from a bout of inflammation in his pitching hand (2:20 ET).
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