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The Wednesday Takeaway

The Yankees are one of the hottest teams in baseball, making a final push to overtake the Red Sox in the AL East by sweeping the Twins en route to a sixth straight series win. With a strong front three in the rotation, a lethal bullpen, and a lineup that’s finally firing on all cylinders, the Bronx Bombers could be a nightmare to face in the postseason. Unfortunately for the 85-67 club, a Wild Card spot is looking more likely than a division win as their rivals in Boston have been just as hot, matching the Yankees win-for-win and maintaining their three-game lead as of Thursday.

It’s looking increasingly likely that New York will be stuck in the Wild Card play-in game, but if the current standings hold steady going into October, there’s good reason for the Yankees to be confident: they’ve thrashed their prospective opponent in that game, the Twins, to begin this week.

While ace Luis Severino stumbled out of the gate, lasting just three innings and ceding a trio of runs, New York bats stayed hot against Bartolo Colon, uncorking 11 unanswered runs from the third to sixth innings. The offensive attack began, as customary, with a big fly from Aaron Judge, who launched his 45th home run in a historic season.

The first rookie ever to hit 45 home runs, drive in 100 runs, and walk 100 times in MLB history, Judge seems to have recovered from a suspected nagging shoulder injury and found his stroke yet again, now holding a 172 wRC+ in September.

Gary Sanchez, having a season to remember of his own, decided to build on an impressive resume by going back-to-back with Judge and tying the game up at three in the third inning, smacking his 32nd dinger in just 115 games this season.

New York didn’t let up the next inning, with Notable Dinger No. 3 coming from Didi Gregorius’ bat.

Smacking his 25th bomb of the year, Gregorius now has the most home runs ever by a Yankees shortstop despite missing the first month of the season. Oh, and he also had the most polite home run trot of the season, apologizing to Twins catcher Jason Castro for a misplaced bat-drop before rounding the bases.

Unfortunately, many fans and players left the stadium on Wednesday shaken up following a scary moment in the bottom of the fifth inning, when a line drive from Todd Frazier struck a young girl on the third base side of the field. Fans nearby said she was responsive while being carried from the stands, but it’s an extremely scary situation and her condition remains unknown.

It’s as good a time as ever to remind fans that protective netting going down both foul lines are essential to fan safety, regardless of whatever negligible impact it may have on the "viewing experience." The teams that have yet to extend their netting, such as the Yankees, need to immediately implement the safety measure before an incident like this, or worse, occurs again.

Quick Hits

After blasting 30 home runs between July and August, Giancarlo Stanton’s unbelievable pace has slowed down in the final month of the season. With just four round-trippers and a .186 batting average in September entering Wednesday’s game, it was looking unlikely that he’d be the first hitter since 2001 to reach the 60-homer plateau.

But here’s some good news: Stanton may be heating up again. At 55 home runs following a blast on Monday, Stanton looked to build upon his league-leading total against the Mets and did exactly that, going deep against reliever Erik Goeddel in the eighth inning to come within four home runs of 60 with 13 games left.

Can Stanton reach 60? It won’t be easy, but if he’s hot again, the only thing holding the slugger back will be pitchers afraid to throw him strikes.

***

Daniel Mengden may have been born in the wrong era. Armed with a mean handlebar mustache, a rickety delivery that puts Alex Cobb’s start/stop motion to shame, and a sneaky plan of attack that relies on trickery rather than pure power, Mengden isn’t your typical 21st century pitcher. This profile hasn’t exactly suited him well thus far, as the 24-year-old has an unsavory 5.97 ERA in 18 big-league starts, but he had one of the best outings of his young career on Wednesday against the Tigers.

Going seven scoreless frames, Mengden allowed seven hits with no walks and four strikeouts. Mengden doesn’t exactly have strikeout stuff, but his pitches are tough to pick up and his changeup has been excellent this season: batters are slugging just .200 on the pitch in 2017. Still, he only threw the change 11 times in this one and it remains limited in his current repertoire. If Mengden can expand its usage past stealing some early-count strikes, while also capitalizing on his curveball’s above-average whiff rate, we could be looking at a solid back-of-the-rotation starter.

***

It’s been a hell of a season for Brewers fans, and things aren’t slowing down any time soon. In a dogfight for both the lead in the NL Central and a place in the NL Wild Card, the Brewers have caught fire at the perfect time. Alas, so have the Cubs, leaving the club three games down in the division and half a game out of the second Wild Card spot. Wednesday’s game proved to be especially important with the Cubs and Rockies both losing earlier in the day, giving Milwaukee a chance to gain ground in both races. Could they snag that final spot in the Wild Card, even for just a day, and inch closer to the division lead? It all came down to a battle with the Pirates.

The Brew Crew leapt to a 2-0 lead through three innings after solo home runs from Jesus Aguilar and Domingo Santana. In the bottom of the third, though, the Pirates took the lead: Adam Frazier drove in two with a triple before being brought in by Starling Marte. The score held steady until the top of the seventh inning, when early-season hero Eric Thames sought to reclaim said role with an RBI double to tie up the game. Soon after, a bases-loaded double by Stephen Vogt brought home another run, giving the Brewers a one-run lead.

To the Brewers’ chagrin, the advantage would only last an inning—Anthony Swarzak allowed a double to Andrew McCutchen, and with two outs Cory Knebel came in to face David Freese. Freese, always the clutch hitter, hit one into no-man’s land, and it was thrown down the right field line by Knebel, allowing McCutchen to score.

The Brewers failed to capitalize with runners on first and second in the top of the ninth, and in the bottom half of the frame … well, Frazier had himself a day, I’ll say that much.

***

In a decade where Ks are king, Chris Sale has established himself as baseball’s best strikeout pitcher. Year after year, he’s whiffed the opposition at unfathomable rates, and the talents he’s been honing since his debut in 2010 have finally come together to give us a historic 2017. Posting the third-best strikeout rate of all time (only Pedro Martinez’s 1999 and Randy Johson’s 2001 rank higher), Sale passed a major milestone in his incredible campaign on Wednesday night.

In a characteristic Sale outing, the southpaw breezed through eight shutout innings, striking out 13 while allowing just four hits. His last at-bat of the day was a strikeout, but not just any strikeout: it was his 300th of the season, an achievement last accomplished in the American League in 1999 by Martinez.

***

While we’re on the subject of milestones, let’s pour one out for Mr. Steve Balboni, whose long-standing Royals single-season home run record of 36 was finally surpassed on Wednesday. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City’s former second overall pick in the 2007 draft, has finally found the pop in his bat scouts once dreamed of—he’s now at 37 home runs on the year, and a few more home runs may be enough for him to stand alone at the top of the Royals’ home run leaderboard for as long as Balboni’s 32-year reign.

***

On August 17, the Padres sent Hunter Renfroe to Triple-A after he hit .230/.285/.443 in his rookie season. On the bus ride to the team’s minor-league affiliate, Renfroe accidentally ingested a magical fairy dust. He proceeded to hit .509/.557/.891 over the next three weeks in the minor leagues, and was called back up two days ago to put his newfound magical powers to use. Since being called up, he has four home runs in three days, underscored by a huge day at the plate on Wednesday, which included this …

… this …

… and this …

Defensive Play of the Day

If you’ve been keeping up on my writing this year, you may know by now about my love for the walk-off catch. Yes, I’m aware that the vast majority of games end with a walk-off catch, but … well, never mind, just watch the clip.

What to Watch Thursday

Late this afternoon, the Angels will try to salvage one game of a three-game series against the Indians, with Parker Bridwell taking on Danny Salazar (4:07 pm ET). Minnesota will be watching that one with great interest, because a few hours later the Twins will send Adalberto Mejia to the mound against Jordan Zimmermann and the Tigers (7:10 pm ET). Neither the Twins nor the Angels have exactly taken hold of the second Wild Card spot, but there's plenty of drama.

Cubs vs. Brewers is tonight's headliner, with Jake Arrieta matched up against Zach Davies (8:10 pm ET). Milwaukee trails Chicago by 3.5 games in the NL Central, but also has a path to the second Wild Card spot if Colorado falters down the stretch.