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Image credit: USA Today Sports
 

The Thursday Takeaway

After 3 1/2 innings between the Athletics and Astros, in what has quickly has become “the most compelling division” in baseball, it seemed like we were going to get another example of just how strange this series has been between the two red-hot teams from out West.

The Astros were up 2-0 with two outs in the bottom of the fourth Thursday, and Tony Kemp was at-bat against Chris Hatcher when this happened:

While Statcast shouldn’t be cited as the “end-all, be-all” when it comes to things such as Hit Probability, it’s still fun and borderline hilarious to point out that Kemp’s pop fly to the opposite field had only a 6 percent Hit Probability—and not only was it a hit, it was a two-run dinger. Hooray for short porches!

If you’ve been watching the Astros closely this year then you probably would’ve expected Houston to take this gift and cruise to yet another victory. However, if you’ve been following the A’s as well then you’d know that they have a penchant for making late surges. So we were going to see one of these things yesterday afternoon and it ended up being the latter. As if they were incensed by the Kemp homer, Oakland ran Charlie Morton from the game after getting three of those runs back in the fifth inning.

Then the eighth inning rolled around and it was officially time for the A’s to take over. Sure enough, they led off with three straight hits to tie the score, and Mark Canha managed to drop a fly ball in the left-field corner to bring in two more runs and put Oakland in the lead. The eighth inning has indeed been nice to Oakland this season.

So despite one of the most unlikely home runs you will see putting them into a four-run hole against the defending World Series champions, Oakland made another late push to take the game and the four-game series. There’s no telling how long this run of form will last for Oakland but here’s hoping that it goes for as long as it can. I’m down for a three-horse race in the AL West if you are, too.

Quick Hits

For 12 pitches, Mookie Betts and J.A. Happ were locked into an intense battle at the plate. The stakes were even higher since there were two outs and the bases were loaded. One perfectly placed pitch could end the inning in disappointment for the crowd or one swing could send them into delirium. The fans at Fenway Park ended up getting the latter.

We’ll talk more about Boston, later.

***

So when you talk about the Red Sox, the natural progression after you’re done with that is to go see what the Yankees are up to. They were involved in the night’s premier pitching matchup as Luis Severino got the start and Cleveland countered with Corey Kluber. Didi Gregorius must have been excited to get reacquainted with his old buddy from last year’s ALDS because they picked up right where they left off.

The game went into the eighth inning tied at four but unfortunately for Cleveland, their late-game pitching ended up coming back to haunt them. Kluber’s probably earned the trust of the manager to stay in a game late but he’s also human and humans get tired. So Aaron Hicks took advantage of Kluber’s fatigue and knocked the 114th pitch of his start into the wall in left-center for a go-ahead double.

***

Going back out West, it’s taken a long time but it’s finally happened: The Dodgers are in first place. They’ve had to wade through a bit of muck and mire and have also benefited from the Diamondbacks coming back down to Earth from the pace that they were on earlier in the season but they’re back on top of the NL West. They broke out for three runs to break a scoreless tie in the seventh inning and this knock from was what started the three-run waterfall for the Dodgers.

***

Meanwhile on the red side of Los Angeles, the Angels picked up a surprisingly comfortable victory over the Mariners. Seattle had the lead after the top of the first, then the Angels scored three runs in the bottom of the third and never looked back. This included Albert Pujols hitting the 630th home run of his career, which means that he and Ken Griffey Jr. are now sharing bunk beds in the all-time home run list.

It sure helped the Angels that James Paxton exited the game shortly after giving up the historic home run. Fortunately for Mariners fans, it appears to only be “lower back tightness” and nothing serious for now but as Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times put it, it was definitely a bit of a scare for Mariners fans.

***

The Phillies needed to win on Thursday if they wanted to wake up today in first place in the NL East and for a while, it seemed as if they were going to comfortably take care of business against the struggling Orioles. After Jorge Alfaro hit one to dead center, it was 5-0 Philly and everything was sunny for Philadelphia.

Nick Pivetta had a nice night on the mound but it ended on a sour note as he gave up a two-run shot to Trey Mancini to make things interesting.

Tommy Hunter came on as the reliever but Jace Peterson didn’t care about the new face on the mound and decided that he was going to follow Mancini’s lead no matter who was pitching.

Losing a five-run lead to the worst team in baseball would have been a bit of a backbreaker but fortunately for Philly, their bullpen restored order for the final two innings and the Phillies will indeed go into today’s action on top of the NL East.

Defensive Play of the Day

This is going to go down on the scorecard as a simple 5-2 putout, but watching the actual play unfold is proof that it was anything but simple and in fact, it was a spectacular display of defensive skill on the part of Nolan Arenado.

He has to use an absurdly-quick reaction time to field the pitch, which caroms off of his glove and forces him to barehand the ball. He then uses that cannon of an arm to fire it off to home plate to get the out. Arenado makes it look easy but this was some sorcery.

What to Watch on Friday

We’ve discussed the Astros, who are sitting on 61 wins at the moment. We talked a bit about the Yankees, who are also on 61 wins after they beat Cleveland. It’s time to talk about the insane pace that the Red Sox are on. They beat Toronto 6-4 last night and they’ve now won 10 straight games. They could very well go into the All-Star break with a winning percentage in the .700 range, which is the ultimate sign of a team being in the zone.

So now it’s time to see if they can actually do it by taking care of business against the Blue Jays over the weekend. It may not be a concrete omen of good things to come in October for Boston, but it would still be neat to see a team reach that arbitrary mark before we have to go into the break. Plus, with the way the Yankees are playing, it’s clear that they actually need every one of those victories that they currently have in the bank.

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