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The Weekend Takeaway

The Dodgers came to AT&T Park for a three-game showdown with a two-game lead in the West. A sweep would bump Los Angeles from the top of the standings. Any other outcome would keep the Giants in second place.

It began ominously for Don Mattingly’s side, as the skipper watched Hyun-Jin Ryu give up four first-inning runs, then depart with shoulder irritation, which will force him to miss at least his next scheduled start. Madison Bumgarner carved up the Dodgers for seven scoreless innings, permitting just three hits while striking out nine, to lower his ERA for the year to 2.92. The 9-0 drubbing brought the Giants to within a game of first place.

Saturday’s game two was another shutout, this time in the other direction, and much more lopsided than the opener. Nearly twice as lopsided, in fact, as the Dodgers slapped 17 runs on Tim Hudson and the Giants, with Zack Greinke contributing to both the 17 in the Dodgers run column and the zero in the Giants’.

Six of the first nine Dodgers to bat against Hudson got hits. Two of the other three struck out. Then, Hudson gave up two more hits to start the second, before Bruce Bochy spared him further damage and brought Tim Lincecum on in relief. That’s an .889 BABIP versus Hudson, if you’re dividing at home, and the first three hitters Lincecum faced went 3-for-3 with no homers. So, add it all up, and the first 14 Dodgers went a combined 11-for-12 on balls in play, including a span of 10 hits in 11 batters.

And that was before Greinke worked a walk, drilled a double, and clobbered a two-run home run:

Greinke became the first pitcher with a BB, 2B, and HR in the same game since another Dodger, Chad Billingsley, did it against the Reds on June 5, 2011. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, he’s also the first to do it while chipping in to a blanking since Warren Spahn on June 20, 1951.

Thus, the Dodgers were on their way to the biggest shutout in the 2,408-game history of the rivalry. The only saving grace for the Giants was a unique moment for Bruce Bochy, who became the first manager in major-league history to hand the ball to his son, September call-up Brett Bochy, who entered in mopup duty.

With first place firmly in their grasp, the Dodgers had a chance to pad their lead to three games on Sunday—and they had just the man for the job: Clayton Kershaw.

The Cy Young Award frontrunner had logged at least eight innings in each of his last 10 starts against the Giants, and he hadn’t given up more than three runs in any of his last 15. So when the Dodgers scored twice in the second and twice more in the sixth, the latter pair on Matt Kemp’s 20th big fly of the year, the rubber match was just about in the bag.

Yusmeiro Petit—seven innings, three earned runs, no walks, eight strikeouts—put up a valiant fight, but Kershaw—eight innings, two runs, one walk, nine strikeouts—was better, and two Giants errors widened the gap. Kenley Jansen slammed the door in the 4-2 decision with at two-strikeout ninth, and the Dodgers left San Francisco with their division lead exactly where it had been one week earlier.

That’s precious time squandered by the Giants in their bid to come back, though the rivals will meet once more, for three games at Dodger Stadium, in a series that begins one week from today.

Quick Hits from the Weekend

With 17 homers in 613 plate appearances, it’s been a down year in the power department for Matt Holliday. Just don’t tell that to Rockies lefty Jorge De La Rosa, a former teammate of Holliday’s in 2008.

The first two Cardinals to bat on Friday reached base ahead of Holliday, the no. 3 hitter in the order, who came up with runners at first and second. He got ahead in the count, 2-1, at which point De La Rosa was backed into a corner: throw a fastball, or risk falling into a three-ball count and loading the bases for Jhonny Peralta.

Given the circumstances, going with a fastball wasn’t a bad decision. Throwing it knee-high over the outer third, which was where catcher Wilin Rosario set up, was a safe plan:

The one place De La Rosa couldn’t miss was in. Sure enough:

Holliday’s 17th blast of the year was also his biggest, a 467-foot rocket into Big Mac Land that put the Cardinals ahead 3-0. On a night when the Rockies would only score once, thanks to eight fine innings by Adam Wainwright and a two-strikeout ninth from Trevor Rosenthal, De La Rosa’s first-inning mistake sank them for good.

The Cardinals won 5-4 on Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday to take care of business with a sweep. Their reward: a 3.5-game cushion in the Central.

***

Nate Karns had a 5.08 ERA in 27 starts at Triple-A Durham this year, but if the Blue Jays thought that spelled a night of batting practice at the Rogers Centre, they had another thing coming.

The 26-year-old right-hander, who debuted with the Nationals in 2013, was wild in his first major-league inning of the year. He walked Jose Reyes and plunked Jose Bautista to begin the bottom of the first. Then, after Edwin Encarnacion bounced into a double play, Karns walked Adam Lind, too. But Dioner Navarro grounded into a fielder's choice, as the Jays failed to take advantage.

That would prove costly, because in the last of the second, Karns carved up the bottom of the Toronto order for a strikeout and two more groundballs. And then, in the top of the third, Karns’ battery-mate, Ryan Hanigan, went yard.

One-nothing was the score at that point, and 1-0 it would stay. In his five remaining innings on the hill, Karns permitted one double and one single, and was the victim of a fielding error by Yunel Escobar. When Danny Valencia’s double gave the Jays a rare runner in scoring position, the Texas Tech product punched out Kevin Pillar to leave Valencia stranded on the keystone.

Karns was essentially a two-pitch hurler in his Rays debut, mixing 94-mph fastballs and sinkers with mid-80s power curves. That was enough to flummox John Gibbons’ lineup, even though Karns often found himself behind in the count, recording only 13 first-pitch strikes in 26 tries.

Hanigan steered his pitcher through those dicey situations, sequencing effectively to keep the Jays on their heels, and provided all the support he’d need in the 1-0 decision. According to MLB.com’s Stat of the Day feature, Hanigan is the first catcher in franchise history to supply a game’s lone tally with a long ball:

The Rays won, 6-5, in extras on Sunday to take two of three.

***

Amid the league-wide beanball wars on Thursday, an unlikely hero emerged for the Yankees. Scrap-heap addition Chris Young first broke up Alex Cobb’s no-hitter with an eighth-inning double and later delivered a walkoff home run.

Less than 24 hours later, in the first game of a Friday doubleheader at Camden Yards, Young did his best to stage a worthy encore. With nobody on and two away in the top of the 11th of a scoreless draw, Orioles reliever Brad Brach met his match in the former Met:

That was terrific news for the Yankees, but trouble was afoot. After getting seven scoreless innings from Brandon McCarthy that matched a similar effort by Kevin Gausman, manager Joe Girardi had used Dellin Betances and David Robertson to trade zeros with Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton. Credit Girardi for using his best bullpen arms, including his closer, in a tie game on the road. Unfortunately, that left the save opportunity in the hands of Adam Warren.

A converted starter, Warren had three big-league saves under his belt, the most recent one against the Blue Jays on June 19th. He’d permitted only one run in his last nine appearances. Whether Warren wilted under pressure or was merely due for a blowup, the fans who lingered at Oriole Park were pleased to witness the results.

Warren walked Nelson Cruz to begin the last of the 11th, and after David Lough supplanted Cruz, Ryan Flaherty moved the pinch-runner to second with a sacrifice bunt. The right-hander quickly filled the open base by hitting J.J. Hardy, but he atoned for that by striking out ex-Yankee Kelly Johnson. With two on and two out, Steve Clevenger worked a walk to load the bases for another pinch-hitter. And on the very first pitch, Jimmy Paredes sent the crowd home happy:

Back to the MLB Stat of the Day account for another franchise first:

The 2-0 matinee set the table for a more resounding, 5-0 Baltimore win in the nightcap, on the strength of seven shutout frames from Bud Norris. Alejandro De Aza tripled twice in the second of the two Friday meetings, raising his slash line with the O’s to .394/.459/.727. Thus, the former White Sox one-upped Young in the showcase of outfielders who’ve benefited from a late-August change of scenery.

Kelly Johnson turned in a walkoff double off David Robertson in a 3-2 Baltimore win on Sunday Night Baseball, which ticked down the O’s AL East magic number to three.

***

The next day, De Aza’s old club was down 6-5 after 8 1/2 innings in the second game of a doubleheader. The South Siders needed one to tie and two to complete the twin bill sweep when Glen Perkins came on for the Twins.

First and foremost, the White Sox needed a baserunner. Jose Abreu gave them one—eventually.

The rookie first baseman fought off a bevy of two-strike pitches, fighting Perkins in a 14-pitch battle of attrition. Pitch no. 14 was a fastball too far inside, and Abreu earned a hard-won base on balls.

Manager Robin Ventura’s next move was to take Abreu out of the game for pinch-runner Jordan Danks. The decision made sense as far as playing for the tie was concerned, though its merits were a bit more questionable in the grand scheme of the game, because the White Sox would be without their best hitter if extra innings ensued. To make matters worse, Avisail Garcia promptly derailed Ventura’s plan by hitting into a fielder’s choice on which Danks was retired at second.

Now Garcia was at first with one away. The next batter, Dayan Viciedo, worked a full count. By then, Perkins had thrown 23 pitches. Perhaps a bit fatigued, he left the payoff pitch to Viciedo belt-high. And Viciedo made him pay:

In a nightcap that featured five big flies, including Abreu’s 34th—which also gave him his 100th RBI—none loomed larger than Viciedo’s walkoff shot. The 417-footer capped the 7-6 White Sox win, hours after Jose Quintana fanned 13 to outduel Phil Hughes, who K’d 11.

To make the doubleheader demise a touch easier to swallow, it’s worth noting that the Twins did get a long-hanging monkey off their back. Hughes is the first Minnesota starter to reach double-digit punchouts since Francisco Liriano did it on July 18, 2012, a span of 379 games.

***

When you’re fighting for a division title and still not assured of a playoff spot, dropping three of four in a home series versus a last-place team isn’t a good idea. But that’s the fate the Royals suffered at Kauffman Stadium this weekend, after two critical swings of the bat by the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon.

Jason Vargas walked one and struck out eight, but he also allowed five runs in 5 1/3 innings, erasing an early, 4-0 Kansas City lead. Rookie Xander Bogaerts had the big whack off of the starter, a three-run yank into the home bullpen that brought the Red Sox to within a run.

The Royals’ bullpen has been one of their strengths this year, most notably at the back end, where Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera lock down the opposition. The front end is more vulnerable. And as Jonah Keri pointed out, manager Ned Yost’s unwillingness to use one of his dominant relievers to stem the tide in the middle innings may have cost Kansas City on Sunday.

With runners at second and third and one out in the top of the sixth, Aaron Crow got the call, because the Royals needed a strikeout. If that seems weird to you, you’re not alone:

Anyhow, the first three batters to step in against Crow wound up with each of the three true outcomes. First, Yoenis Cespedes walked to load the bases. Then, Allen Craig struck out swinging, giving Yost what he wanted. Unfortunately for the Royals, you already know what happened next:

That’s a first-pitch grand slam for Daniel Nava, and if that sounds familiar, it’s because his career began in the exact same fashion. This four-run crank put the Red Sox up, 7-4, and a Bogaerts sac fly in the seventh made it 8-4, the eventual final score.

Meanwhile, the Tigers, who took two of three from the Royals earlier in the week, swept the Indians out of Comerica Park. Join those two outcomes together and you get a 1.5-game Detroit lead in the Central.

***

What’s worse than losing three of four to a last-place club in the midst of a playoff chase? Getting swept by the team with the poorest record in the majors while facing an uphill climb. The Braves, paying a three-game visit to the Rangers, didn’t get the memo.

At the end of two innings on Sunday, Mike Minor and Atlanta were down 1-0. After four, it was 2-0. Still within striking distance. No reason to fret yet. Then the fifth inning happened.

It began quite well, with a strikeout and a foul pop to the catcher. By Ryan Rua doubled and came home on a single by Robinson Chirinos. Adam Rosales drew a walk to put men at first and second, prompting Fredi Gonzalez to go to the bullpen.

Bad idea.

The Rangers went single, double, single, double off of David Hale, and the 2-0 deficit ballooned to 8-0. The inning ended precisely the way it started, with a J.P. Arencibia whiff, but what happened in between doomed the Braves in the finale.

Atlanta would eventually get on the board with a Ryan Doumit solo shot in the seventh. Joey Terdoslavich drove in a pair with a double in the eighth. But by then, the Rangers had scored 10 times, so the three Braves who scored barely made a dent.

It’s the first time this season that the Rangers have tallied 10 without the benefit of a home run. Colby Lewis cruised through seven innings of one-run ball, with the Doumit long ball representing the only blemish on his line. And the Braves ceded precious ground, falling to four games behind the Pirates in the race for the second wild card.

***

Also unadvisable before securing your playoff berth is losing a September game to the Astros. But the Angels can be forgiven. After all, they’d won their previous 10, racing way ahead of the pack for the American League West crown and padding their cushion over the Orioles for the no. 1 seed.

Mike Trout went deep twice in Saturday’s romp, which secured the series win in Anaheim:

On Sunday, the team with the best record in baseball was nearly undone by its starting pitcher, Hector Santiago, who walked five in two-plus innings. Per the Baseball-Reference Play Index, the southpaw became the first starter to permit three or fewer runs while issuing five free passes and recording six or fewer outs since Collin Balester did it on August 19, 2009.

Somehow, despite throwing only 38 strikes in 82 pitches, Santiago didn’t fully bury his team. And given the Angels’ high-powered offense, there was reason to believe that they might battle back. Houston starter Dallas Keuchel, though, was in no rush to let them.

Keuchel tossed seven frames of three-hit ball, limiting Scioscia’s squad to just one run. His teammate, Collin McHugh, held the Halos to one run in 7 2/3 innings on September 3. The last non-Astro to do it was an ex-Astro, Jarred Cosart, in a Marlins uniform on August 25. The last left-hander to do it before Keuchel—notable because Sunday’s 2-3-4 hitters, Trout, Albert Pujols, and Howie Kendrick, all bat from the right side—was Jon Lester on August 23.

***

Speaking of Lester, he helped the A’s to take two of three from the Mariners the hard way. Losing Friday’s opener with Felix Hernandez on tap for Saturday was a bad strategy, but Bob Melvin’s team made it work, winning back-to-back games for the first time since August 22-23.

Saturday’s middle match was eventful early, as Logan Morrison was charged with interference on a takeout slide that was juuuuuust a bit offline:

Apart from that though, it was a good ol’ duel between Sonny Gray and Hernandez. King Felix was poised to come out on top. But then, MVP hopeful Josh Donaldson added this signature moment to his résumé:

Donaldson’s solo shot tied the game at 1-1. The A’s moved ahead by a run in the top of the seventh, when Josh Reddick doubled and Eric Sogard delivered an RBI single, his third hit of the night.

Robinson Cano wasn’t having it:

Two pitches after the seventh-inning stretch, he re-knotted the score at two runs apiece. It stayed there through the eighth and ninth, so the fans at Safeco Field would be treated to bonus baseball. Trouble is, for the Mariners, it was anything but a treat.

Fernando Rodney was a wee bit wild

and Coco Crisp kicked off the frame with a walk. Sam Fuld bunted a 1-0 pitch, a curious move following a base on balls, giving the M’s an out in exchange for a runner in scoring position. Rodney intentionally walked Josh Donaldson, and then he unintentionally walked pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo to load the bases, before striking out Brandon Moss.

Three on, two out for Jed Lowrie. And in that critical plate appearance, Rodney could not throw a strike. Lowrie picked up the game-winning RBI without taking the bat off his shoulder, and the A’s prevailed 3-2.

That set up Sunday’s rubber match, in which Lester was uncharacteristically erratic, but benefited from an early lead. Oakland’s second hitter of the day, Sam Fuld, launched a big fly that put the A’s up 1-0.

Lester walked four in six innings, and he needed 110 pitches to get that far. On the bright side, he blanked the home nine, and Brandon Moss chipped in some insurance in the top of the seventh. The solo homer was Moss’s first since July 24. He hit just .163/.297/.195 between blasts, dragging the offense down with him and earning a demotion to the no. 8 slot in the lineup.

Despite the extra run, nervous times ensued for Dan Otero, who began the last of the seventh by coughing up a pair of pinch-hit singles. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, but a ground out and a strikeout kept them there. After intentionally walking Cano, Otero wriggled away unscathed by getting Kendrys Morales to fly out.

The A’s added two in the eighth on RBI singles by Fuld and Adam Dunn, and Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle fanned five over the last two innings to wrap up the 4-0 victory and the series win. With it, Oakland reestablished its hold on the top wild-card spot, leading Kansas City by 1 ½ for the right to host the one-game playoff. The Mariners are a game behind the Royals for the chance to play as the visitors.

***

Jonathan Papelbon blew a 4-1 lead on Sunday and sent the Phillies plummeting to a 5-4 loss. As the boos rained down on the closer from the fans at Citizens Bank Park, he made what second-base umpire and crew chief Joe West perceived to be an obscene gesture:

Papelbon’s, um, jockstrap adjustment amid the ninth-inning carnage was more overt than usual, and West took it as an affront to the crowd, ejecting him from the game. The ejection was essentially a moot point, with Papelbon having thrown 38 pitches and unlikely to return for a possible 10th inning, but the fiery right-hander was incensed nonetheless.

He came after West, as you can see in the video embedded here, and the two had a face-to-face confrontation, which included the veteran umpire grabbing Papelbon’s jersey to push him away. Given the aggressiveness with which Papelbon pursued the argument, West’s actions might be understandable, and depending on the league’s view, the pitcher is more likely to face further discipline than the ump. Stay tuned, though, to see whether fines or suspensions are in store for either of them.

The Defensive Plays of the Weekend

First and second, nobody out, a sharp grounder right at the third-base bag. You know what that means:

Triple play!

***

Christian Yelich has played center field before, with 15 major-league appearances in the middle of the pastures, but he fits better at first or in left. That doesn’t mean he can’t range all the way to center when his teammate there is shaded toward right, though:

***

Finally, no weekend is complete without a dose of Andrelton Simmons, who also spared his center fielder some work by corralling this popup with his back to the infield:

What to Watch on Monday

The National League Rookie of the Year battle rages on between Billy Hamilton and Jacob deGrom, who welcomes the Marlins to Citi Field this evening. In 13 innings of work versus Miami this year, the 26-year-old deGrom has fanned a batter per frame without allowing an earned run—and that was with Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup. Tonight, the right-hander will face a Marlins lineup that’s without its most fearsome hitter, a golden opportunity to strengthen his case for the rookie hardware. Jarred Cosart is scheduled to go for the visitors (7:10 p.m. ET).

We’re halfway through September now, and Victor Martinez finally struck out on Sunday. His just-snapped K-less streak began in the second game of an August 30th doubleheader versus the White Sox, so it spanned more than two weeks before Cody Allen got him yesterday. No other player with at least 50 trips to the box this month has fanned fewer than two times. Tonight, Martinez will go to bat in support of Max Scherzer, who toes the rubber against Anthony Swarzak in the series opener at Target Field. The 35-year-old went 8-for-17 without a strikeout in the last Detroit-Minnesota series, a four-gamer on August 22-24 (8:10 p.m. ET).

The Angels have just about wrapped up the American League West, but as they do their best to hold off the Orioles for the no. 1 seed in the junior circuit, they might put a dent in the Mariners’ wild card hopes. Tonight’s best duel might come in the late slate in Anaheim, where Matt Shoemaker will host Hisashi Iwakuma. Shoemaker, who turns 28 on September 27th, is turning skeptics with every start, having allowed no more than one run in four of his last five outings. Mike Scioscia’s team has won seven straight behind the undrafted rookie and 10 of 12 dating back to the start of July. Meanwhile, Iwakuma will look to shake off a rough patch in which he’s given up 15 runs on 24 hits over his last four starts (10:05 p.m. ET).

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