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The Weekend Takeaway

Some things never change. Stirrup socks never go out of style, there’s never a bad moment to enjoy GIFs of dogs at the ballpark, and Clayton Kershaw never fails to make a comeback*.

Kershaw returned triumphant to the Dodgers’ rotation on Friday, and not a moment too soon. Sure, the club still looks good on paper: they currently sit 13.5 games up on the second-place Diamondbacks and officially crested their 91-win total from 2016. On the field, they’ve looked anything but dominant, carrying a five-game skid into Friday’s series opener against the fourth-place Padres and taking their third series loss after the Friars trounced every non-Kershaw starter this weekend.

For a brief two hours and 57 minutes on Friday evening, however, the Dodgers looked every inch the World Series contenders everyone predicted they’d be. Kershaw was lights-out in his first start since July 23, dealing two hits and seven strikeouts over six frames for his 16th win of the season. He hit his stride in the fourth, whiffing Carlos Asuaje, Jose Pirela, and Wil Myers while coming just two pitches shy of an immaculate inning.

San Diego rookie Dinelson Lamet held his own, distributing six hits, three walks, and a career-high 10 strikeouts over six innings, but couldn’t keep the Dodgers at bay forever. Chase Utley kicked in an RBI single in the sixth …

… while Los Angeles’ bullpen picked up right where Kershaw left off, holding the Padres hitless through the final three frames of the game and handing Kenley Jansen his 36th save.

In the grand scheme of things, this series did little to change the fate of either team. The Dodgers will still sail into the postseason and the Padres will still slide to their seventh straight losing season. Such is life. Of course, life with a healthy Clayton Kershaw and his robust 2.59 DRA is that much sweeter.

*Knock on wood, pitchers are fragile.

Quick Hits from the Weekend

How’s life without Justin Verlander, you might wonder?

Well, if you’re the Tigers, not all that great. They’ve gone 0-4 since Thursday’s deadline deal, capped by a particularly ugly 11-1 loss on Sunday after Mikie Mahtook and Alex Presley helped the Indians’ Jose Ramirez to a pair of lead-boosting home runs.

Mahtook hustled for Ramirez’s 361-footer in the first inning, but was thrown by the ball’s peculiar hop off the fence and unintentionally batted it back over the wall.

Ramirez returned in the sixth inning for his second blast of the afternoon, this one a one-out, 341-foot drive to right field. Presley was on the case with a valiant leap at the wall, but his efforts were foiled after the ball tipped out of his glove and bounced back onto the field at the last second.

Perhaps the Tigers will have better luck on Monday, when rookie right-hander Artie Lewicki assumes Verlander’s spot in the rotation for a three-game set against the Royals. Regardless of how Lewicki’s debut turns out, it has to be some small consolation that they aren’t scheduled to meet the Astros again until 2018.

***

Just when you thought the Mets couldn’t Mets anymore this season, they did. In the fourth inning of Saturday’s nightcap against the Astros, Wilmer Flores had Brad Peacock just where he wanted him: a 2-2 count, no outs, and a runner on first. Then, this happened:

The ball ricocheted straight off of Flores’ bat handle and into his face, fracturing his nose and prompting his immediate exit from the game. Despite the blood gushing from his face, as well as the aforementioned broken nose, it didn’t look like the third baseman sustained any further serious injury in the incident. He’s scheduled to meet with an otorhinolaryngologist (say that five times fast) this week and could return to the field by Tuesday, assuming no further complications arise.

If you’ve lost track—and who could blame you?—the Mets currently have nine players benched with ailments ranging from a bruised finger to shoulder dislocation.

***

Back to the Dodgers for a minute:

Cody Bellinger pounced on a ninth-inning heater from Brad Hand on Sunday, bringing the Dodgers just two runs shy of a tie with his 36th blast of the season. As it turns out, that’s a pretty significant marker for the Dodgers’ rookie, who eclipsed the 35-homer rookie milestone set by Hall of Fame backstop Mike Piazza back in 1993.

Now take a glance at our preseason predictions for NL Rookie of the Year and marvel at how right … well, at least three of us were (this author not included).

***

Speaking of record-breakers, 23-year-old speedster Byron Buxton gave the Twins a helping hand on Saturday with the fastest triple of the year. According to Statcast, it took Buxton just 10.52 seconds to clear all three bases in the first inning, plating Joe Mauer and boosting the team to a two-run advantage over the Royals.

While no doubt deeply appreciated, Buxton needn’t have hustled quite so much. The Royals didn’t stand a chance against Minnesota right-hander Kyle Gibson, who engineered his ninth win of the season with six innings of five-hit, five-strikeout ball. An explosive offensive drive took care of the rest, mounting a 17-run lead to guide the Twins to their first—and only—win of the series.

Defensive Play of the Weekend

Ah, baseball. The gentleman’s game …

… that ballet without music …

… that drama without words …

… that delicate balance between those who make it happen …

… those who watch it happen …

… and those who simply wonder what happened.

What to Watch on Monday

We’ve been punching the same old song on the jukebox for weeks now, but it still bears repeating: The AL Wild Card race is nuts right now. Two weeks ago, the Twins finally gained sole possession of the second Wild Card spot, but they haven’t been able to build on a 1.5-game lead over the Angels and Orioles just yet. Four other teams are lingering within five games of postseason contention—the Mariners, Rangers, Royals and Rays—and all four are slated to make a play for the Wild Card on Monday.

Only two games will pit the contenders against each other, however, beginning with a Jordan Montgomery-Dylan Bundy faceoff at 2:05 ET and ending when the Twins’ Jose Berrios (3.26 DRA, 90 cFIP) takes on the Rays’ Alex Cobb (4.19 DRA, 101 cFIP) at 7:10 ET.

If, on the other hand, you’re angling for some solid pitching matchups and sturdy sluggers to while away the holiday weekend, Jake Arrieta (3.97 DRA, 90 cFIP) and Chad Kuhl (4.76 DRA, 93 cFIP) have you covered (4:05 ET). You also might want to peek in during the Dodgers-Diamondbacks matchup, when Cody Bellinger tries to best his own rookie home run record and the Diamondbacks look to lengthen a sizable lead in the Wild Card race after sweeping the Rockies last weekend (8:10 ET).