The Weekend Takeaway
The Indians finally, predictably proved themselves fallible this weekend. After 22 straight wins, including Jose Ramirez’s five extra-base hits in an 11-1 stunner, a hair-raising walk-off against the Royals, and each of Cody Allen’s six slam-dunk saves, the little cracks in their armor started to show. On Friday, they lost the battle.
Jason Vargas took the bump for Kansas City, sputtering to a career-best 16th win as he littered five hits, three runs, and four strikeouts over five innings. Edwin Encarnacion broke through in the first inning with a sac fly and was backed by a two-run shot from Ramirez in the third, his 27th blast of the season. (It was hardly a cheap shot, either, registering an estimated 425 feet as it sank into the left-center bleachers.)
Behind Vargas, the Royals put on a laser show of their own. Alcides Escobar grabbed a 2-2 cutter from Trevor Bauer, yanking it to right field in the third inning, while Brandon Moss engineered a game-tying two-run blast in the fourth.
Eric Hosmer’s go-ahead RBI single, while decidedly less flashy, gave Kansas City an advantage in the sixth, but it was Mike Minor’s performance that really sealed the deal. Minor dealt two scoreless frames against the Indians, who reached base just four times in the final four innings of the game.
In the ninth, Yandy Diaz got on base with a bloop single, but there would be no heroic, off-the-wall double to send the game to extras this time. Minor settled into a groove, striking out the side and toppling the Indians’ record-setting streak with it.
No matter how invincible the Indians appeared, their dominant run carried an expiration date from the get-go. Winning streaks, especially those that come anywhere near to challenging the incredible range of 1916 Giants’ 26-game unbeaten stretch, always come to their natural end.
That’s not to say the Indians’ weekend was a total waste or that their one loss spoiled the electric, playoff-like atmosphere created by their historic run. They rebounded with a stellar performance on Saturday, fending off the Royals with an eight-run barrage and a three-hit effort from Francisco Lindor.
Coupled with the Twins’ loss to the Blue Jays on Saturday night, the Indians traded in their 22-game winning streak for something even better: an AL Central championship.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
Speaking of division champions, the Astros sewed up the AL West with an outstanding performance from Justin Verlander on Sunday. This, one would imagine, is exactly the kind of scenario the Astros planned to reserve for their newfound ace, and he didn’t disappoint.
The powerhouse righty went seven strong against the Mariners, whiffing 10 of 23 batters and allowing a single home run to Ben Gamel in the third inning.
The Astros’ bullpen took care of the rest, closing out the win with a pair of scoreless innings while Derek Fisher, Marwin Gonzalez, George Springer, and Carlos Correa homered their way to a six-run lead.
The only questionable moment came in the ninth inning, when Ken Giles loaded the bases with three consecutive base hits to set Seattle up for a late-game rally. He was able to locate his slider against Nelson Cruz, however, and caught the slugger on a three-pitch strikeout before clinching the win with a Kyle Seager pop out.
In the immortal words of Houston skipper A.J. Hinch: “Did you expect anything less?”
With the Nationals, Indians, and Astros safely ensconced in this season’s playoff bracket, the Dodgers are the next team closest to clinching their division. They came within three games of locking down the NL West this weekend, helped in part by Cody Bellinger’s 38th home run of the year:
The blast, a second-inning 431-footer off of the Pirates' Gerrit Cole, tied an NL record as Bellinger became just the third hitter to notch at least 38 dingers in his first big-league season. No one else has managed as many since Wally Berger first established the record with the 1930 Braves and Frank Robinson replicated the feat for the 1956 Reds.
While the 22-year-old slugger stands a good chance of beating that mark, it would take considerable effort to rewrite the all-time rookie home run record, which is still held by Mark McGwire and his 49-homer campaign with the 1987 Athletics.
He lost the bid on a two-out Tim Anderson double in the ninth. Ain’t that always the way it goes.
Without the double, Boyd would have been the first left-handed hurler to toss a no-hitter in franchise history.
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) September 15, 2017
The pitch, which should have ended the Cardinals’ threat in the fifth inning, instead opened the door for Carlos Martinez’s RBI single. Both Contreras and Cubs starter John Lackey lost their tempers, but things didn’t get out of hand until the backstop flung his mask to the ground and watched it ricochet into Baker’s leg.
Contreras was quick to make up with Baker the next day and received a reduced one-game suspension on an appeal. He sat out of the lineup on Sunday. The Cubs won, 4-3.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Aaron Judge can do more than just hit 400-foot lasers, guys.
Jayson Werth, on the other hand, looks like he could use a refresher course on defensive maneuvers, or maybe just a pair of good sunglasses.
What to Watch on Monday
This week, it’s not really a question of what to watch on Monday as it is how to watch so many games simultaneously. The Dodgers are rapidly approaching their fifth consecutive division title and will turn to Clayton Kershaw (2.71 DRA, 77 cFIP) as they try to reduce their magic number to three against the Phillies (7:05 ET).
Neither the Cubs nor the Red Sox are anywhere close to locking down their respective divisions, meanwhile, which should make for some interesting shenanigans when the Yankees’ Jaime Garcia (5.08 DRA, 101 cFIP) takes on the Twins’ Ervin Santana (3.63 DRA, 100 cFIP) and the Brewers’ Brent Suter (6.11 DRA, 112 cFIP) attempts to narrow Milwaukee’s 2.5-game deficit with his first quality start since July (7:10 ET).
Playoff ramifications aside, Matt Harvey (5.52 DRA, 113 cFIP) still has something to prove this season, as does the Tigers’ Buck Farmer (5.95 DRA, 105 cFIP), who is scheduled for his first appearance since plunking umpire Bob Wolcott last Wednesday (7:10 ET).
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