Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Rejuvenated Phillies keep Dodgers stumbling towards NL West crown

Hoskins four RBI pace Phils past Dodgers (Photo: LA Times)
I had the pleasure of taking in the Philadelphia Phillies 6-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.

Let me tell you, this was not the same Phillies team that sputtered through the 2017 season's first four months. It also was not the same Dodgers team that ran away and hid in the NL West race.

The win was the fifth in the last seven games for the once-again Fightin' Phils. Since just after the MLB All-Star Game break back in mid-July, the Phillies have a 31-31 record. They have been competitive for months.

"It was nice to beat the Dodgers with Kershaw and Darvish pitching," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said per Ben Harris for MLB.com following the game. "It's a great way to start the series. The guys have come alive."

The once dominant Dodgers are in free-fall coming down the stretch. Los Angeles has won just five of it's last 15 games.

On a night made extremely windy and at times wet thanks to Hurricane Jose spinning off the east coast, the Phillies got off to a cold start.

Dodgers' starter Yu Darvish shut the Phillies lineup down over 5.1 innings, allowing no earned runs on four hits. He struck out seven and walked just one batter.

The recent trade acquisition from the Texas Rangers was staked to a 2-0 lead. Yasmany Grandal pushed a wind-aided home run just over the left field wall in the top of the 3rd inning. In the very next inning, Curtis Granderson was robbed of a home run by that same wind, but his double scored Cody Bellinger for that 2-0 cushion.

The Phillies finally got to Darvish in the 6th, and as usual of late, it was rookie sensation Rhys Hoskins doing the damage. Hoskins slashed an RBI down the left field line to score Cesar Hernandez, cutting the lead to 2-1 and chasing Darvish from the game after 97 pitches.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

MLB postseason races: your team is probably out

Showalter's O's are all but eliminated from postseason race
There are now less than two weeks remaining in the 2017 Major League Baseball regular season. In fact, two weeks from today the American League Wildcard Game will take place, kicking off the October madness of postseason baseball.

While the two teams who will face one another in that game, or in the following day's NL Wildcard Game, are yet to be determined, one thing can likely be said with confidence. Your favorite team is likely not taking part in the MLB postseason.

For most of this season, that was not the case. Until the last couple of weeks, there were anywhere from 8-10 teams involved in the American League Wildcard race.

Over in the National League, while the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies have controlled the two slots for months, four or five other clubs were legitimately alive into August.

But now, three of the six divisional races are settled. The Houston Astros clinched the AL West on Sunday. They joined the Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals, repeat winners in the AL Central and NL East respectively.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Houston Astros win their first American League West Division crown

Verlander celebrates with Houston fans (photo: ESPN)
For the first time since the 2001 season, the Houston Astros are division champions.

For the first time in franchise history, they are the champions of the American League West Division.

The Astros drubbed the visiting Seattle Mariners by a 7-1 score on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park to clinch the crown.

The victory was made possible by a tremendous outing from newly acquired ace Justin Verlander, and four home runs from the team's powerful lineup.

Verlander, picked up in an August 31 trade with the Detroit Tigers, allowed just a single earned run on three hits over seven innings. He struck out 10 and walked just one batter in raising his overall record to 13-8 on the season.

The 33-year old veteran right-hander has won all three of his starts since moving to the Astros. He has yielded just two earned runs on 10 hits over 21 innings in those starts, with a dominating 26/3 K:BB ratio.

This was Verlander's first start in an Astros uniform in front of the home crowd in Houston. Per Brian McTaggart for MLB.com, clinching the division with this kind of performance made the experience all the more special:

"No matter what, whether it's two weeks to go in the season or the last day in the season, these games, you can feel it," Verlander said per McTaggart. "You know there's a little more at stake. Yeah, it was a lot of fun to be out there. I don't know if you could ask for more for your home debut for a chance to clinch the division. I don't know how often that happens, but it's pretty special."

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Cubs ground rival Cardinals, lower magic number

Hendricks was in control in beating the Cards on Saturday
The Chicago Cubs downed their historic arch-rival Saint Louis Cardinals by a 4-1 score on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

With the victory, the Cubbies lowered their 'Magic Number' to clinch their second consecutive NL Central Division crown to 10 over the Cards, and to 11 over the second place Milwaukee Brewers.

The Brewers were dumped by the host Marlins down in Miami by a 7-4 score. Combined with a huge 16-0 destruction of the San Diego Padres by the Colorado Rockies, the Brewers now trail the Rockies by 3.5 games, and the Cardinals trail Colorado by 4.5 in the race for the final NL Wildcard berth.

The Cubs fifth straight win was made possible largely thanks to a brilliant outing from starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks. The 27-year old righty allowed just six hits over 7.2 innings, striking out five and walking just one.

Albert Almora singled home the game's first run in the bottom of the 4th, then doubled home another in the home 5th inning that made it a 3-0 game.

After Matt Carpenter's solo homer put the Cards on the board in the top of the 8th, Addison Russell responded with one of his own in the bottom of the frame to provide the final margin of victory.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Red Sox continue fighting off Yankees, who lower own magic number

Pedroia scores tie-breaking run in Boston's victory
The Boston Red Sox took 15 innings to gain a win on Friday night over the host Tampa Bay Rays. But win they did after scoring seven times in the top of the 15th, going on to a 13-6 victory.

The victory lowered Boston's "Magic Number" for clinching the American League East Division crown to 13 over the New York Yankees.

The Yankees had earlier kept the pressure on their longtime arch-rivals with an 8-2 win in the Bronx over the Baltimore Orioles.

With that win, New York remained three games behind Boston. However, the Yanks also lowered their own "Magic Number" to just 10 in order to clinch at least an AL Wildcard playoff berth.

In Tampa, Dustin Pedroia led off the top of the 15th for Boston by reaching on an error. The result left him as only the third batter in the history of the Red Sox to go 0-9 in a game. Three singles, a double, and another error later, and the Bosox had completed their seven-run outburst.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts had four hits for Boston. Mookie Betts and Mitch Moreland each had three, while four other Red Sox registered multi-hit games.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Brewers and Cardinals cut NL Wildcard deficit to just two games

Godley's gem beat Rockies to tighten NL Wildcard race
The Milwaukee Brewers made the Pittsburgh Pirates walk the plank by an 8-2 margin on Wednesday at Miller Park. Meanwhile in Saint Louis on Thursday, the host Cardinals flew past the Cincinnati Reds for a 5-2 victory.

With their respective wins, both the Brew Crew and the Cards have now pulled within just two games in the loss column of the final NL Wildcard playoff berth.

That spot has been held for months by the Colorado Rockies, who were shut out by the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday. The Dbacks control the top NL Wildcard, with their Magic Number down to 8 in order to clinch an MLB postseason berth.

A two-run homer off the bat of Eric Thames in the bottom of the 3rd inning broke a 1-1 tie for Milwaukee. Brett Phillips added a two-run single later in the frame as the Brewers chased young Pirates starter Tyler Glasnow.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Philadelphia Phillies are no longer a pushover

Williams (L), Hoskins (R) keys in Phillies new lineup
For a fifth consecutive season, the Philadelphia Phillies will finish at or near the bottom of the overall Major League Baseball standings.
But over the past month, something is obviously different. What had become a doormat team is once again beginning to live up to the “Fightin’ Phils” moniker.
Since breaking out for a dozen runs on Saturday night, August 19 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the Phillies have a 12-12 record.
On Wednesday night, manager Pete Mackanin‘s suddenly revitalized lineup thrashed the visiting Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park by an 8-1 score. It marked the 11th time since that explosion against the Giants nearly a month ago that the club has scored at least seven runs.
The reason for the dramatic turnaround in the Phillies offensive attack is as obvious as the results. The lineup has been infused with a handful of talented rookies, all of whom have made a difference. That difference is finally bringing back hope to the fans after a half-decade of suffering.

Twins win in wild walkoff to maintain AL Wildcard cushion

Twins fans react to Rosario's first career walkoff homer
Into the 8th inning on Wednesday night, the Minnesota Twins clung to a 1-0 lead over the San Diego Padres. 
The game meant nothing to San Diego, fifteen games below the .500 mark and eliminated from postseason consideration almost from the moment the season opened.
But for the Twins, every game means something. Minnesota finished with the worst record in Major League Baseball a year ago. Now in this magical 2017 season, Hall of Famer Paul Molitor‘s club has turned it around.
Coming into this Wednesday night affair at Target Field, the host Twins were in control of the second AL Wildcard playoff berth with less than three weeks remaining. There have been a half-dozen teams chasing them for weeks. Every victory is precious now.
So when 24-year old Padres catcher Austin Hedges blasted his 16th home run of the season off Twins reliever Trevor Hildenberger in that 8th frame to tie the game, it was huge.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tampa Bay Rays successfully transition Alex Colome to the closer role

Colome (L) leads the American League in Saves
Way back on July 28, 2000 the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays completed a trade with the Oakland Athletics. The D-Rays sent away a pair of arms in Jim Mecir and Todd Belitz, and in return received a Double A right-hander named Jesus Colome.
Colome had a big arm, with pitches clocked at over 100 miles per hour. He made his big league debut with Tampa in June of 2011 as a reliever, beginning what would be a 10-year career in Major League Baseball.
Colome left via free agency, signing with the New York Yankees. He would end up pitching again in the big leagues with the Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Seattle Mariners. Jesus retired following the 2010 season at age 32, but would show up for a 2012 stint in the Mexican League.
A year later, the Rays would debut another Colome at the big league level. This one was Alex Colome, the nephew of Jesus. The younger Colome had signed out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year old in March of 2007.

Blue Jays play spoiler in walkoff win over Orioles

Richard Urena mobbed after walkoff pushes Jays past O's
The season has long been over for the Toronto Blue Jays, as far as their own contending status. But for a second straight night the Jays played the role of spoiler perfectly.
On Tuesday night at Rogers Centre, the host Blue Jays rallied against Baltimore closer Zach Britton. Toronto scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning to walkoff the Orioles by a 3-2 score.
It marked the second straight night that Toronto registered a one-run victory over Baltimore. the loss also extended Baltimore’s recent untimely swoon to six consecutive defeats. As a result, the O’s are now 4.5 games out in the race for the final American League Wildcard playoff berth.
Just as importantly, there are five teams now sitting between Baltimore and Minnesota. The Twins currently hold possession of that final postseason slot.
Tim Beckham‘s 21st home run of the season, a solo shot, had put Baltimore in front by 2-1 in the top of the 8th inning. That blast somewhat spoiled an impressive outing by Jays’ starting pitcher Joe Biagini. The righty allowed just two runs on six hits across eight innings.
Biagini had been matched by O’s starter Dylan Bundy, who lasted just six frames, but struck out eight and surrendered just one run on five hits.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pirates ready to see the real Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow ready for his second chance in 2017
It might seem as though Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tyler Glasnow has been around in the prospect game for a long time. In fact, he has indeed.
He has steadily climbed the MLB Pipeline pre-season rankings. Prior to the 2014 season he was ranked as the 27th overall prospect. In 2015, he moved up to #12, then to #10 in 2016. Finally, prior to this season, Glasnow was ranked as the #9 overall prospect in the game.
For the last three years, Glasnow has been a Top 25 prospect in the rankings as presented by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.
Selected by Pittsburgh with their 5th round choice in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft out of a California high school, Glasnow turned 24 years old just three weeks ago.
He was called up for his first taste of life in the big leagues in July of 2016. Then in September, Glasnow re-joined the Bucs to finish the season.
Overall in 2016 he appeared in seven games, making four starts. He allowed 22 hits over 23.1 innings while striking out 24 and walking 13 batters. The right-hander threw just 59% of his pitches for strikes.
While it was a largely inauspicious beginning, it was a beginning. Most prospects struggle during their first go-around in Major League Baseball. Glasnow had at least gotten his feet wet. It was hoped the experience would serve him well entering 2017, when he was expected to fill a rotation spot with the Pirates.

Texas Rangers ride back into AL Wildcard race

The Rangers have ridden back into the AL playoff race
The Texas Rangers have been champions of the American League West Division in four of the last seven years. In eight of the last nine they have either won the division or finished as the runners-up.
But for much of the 2017 campaign, the Rangers struggled. Jeff Banister‘s squad sat with a 13-20 mark just a little more than one month into the season.
Since then this has been a roller coaster ride of a year for the ball club. Texas ran off 10 straight wins to get back on the winning side of the ledger. But then the Rangers followed that winning streak up by losing 12 of their next 16 contests. That was followed by eight wins in the next 10 games.
Back and forth it has gone like that all year. Just three weeks ago, on August 27, Texas was 64-66 and appeared headed towards a long off-season. The Rangers were just three games off the AL Wildcard pace at that point. But there were also four other teams in front of them vying for that same final playoff berth.
Flash-forward three weeks. Following Monday night’s 5-3 victory over the division rival Seattle Mariners, the Rangers sit just two games off that postseason pace.
Wins in eight of their last 11 games have Texas now at 72-71. They are two games behind the Minnesota Twins in the race for the final AL Wildcard. The AL West-rival Los Angeles Angels are the only other team ahead of them. The Angels sit just a game ahead of the Rangers.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Bud Black trying to guide Rockies back to the MLB postseason

Black and Rockies in control of a postseason berth
This is the first year as the skipper at the helm of the Colorado Rockies for former big league pitcher Bud Black.
Black has prior big league managerial experience, of course. For more than eight seasons, from 2007 through the opening months of 2015, he guided the San Diego Padres.
In that first season of 2007, Black succeeded Bruce Bochy. All Bochy had done was take the Friars to the postseason four times in a dozen years, including to the 1998 World Series. They remain the only postseason appearances in San Diego history, aside from the Fall Classic team of 1984.
San Diego would win 89 games that first year, but the team would finish in just third place. His 2010 Padres club won 90 games and finished in second. But neither of those teams, nor any of the others, would reach the postseason.
Those 2007 and 2010 clubs were the only in Black’s tenure to finish with a winning record. He was relieved of his duties 65 games into the 2015 season with the Padres languishing a game below the .500 mark. Overall he finished with a 649-713 mark as the manager in San Diego.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

J.P. Crawford becomes latest phenom promoted by Phillies

Crawford becomes latest Phillies phenom given a shot in 2017
At first blush, 2017 would appear to be yet another in a recent string of Philadelphia Phillies lost seasons. It has been six years since the last winning Phillies club. This will be the team’s fifth straight season finishing last or next-to-last in the NL East Division.
Any outsider who simply peers at the standings and sees their 52-85 record, the worst in Major League Baseball, could be excused for not realizing that something more is going on here. But it is.
While the Phillies are indeed 33 games below the .500 mark, a glance at their game results table reveals improvement. The club has registered a 23-25 mark since dropping the first two games out of the MLB All-Star break in mid-July.
On August 10, Rhys Hoskins was promoted from AAA Lehigh Valley. The 24-year old natural first baseman was hitting for a .284/.385/.581 slash line at time with the IronPigs. He would ultimately be named both the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player of the International League.
Three days after entering the lineup as a left fielder, Hoskins registered his first big league hit. A day later, he drove his first two big league home runs out of Citizens Bank Park.
The show was on. In 105 plate appearances over 25 games, the rookie has hit for a .307/.419/.750 slash. He has also bashed a dozen homers, driven in 25 runs, scored 22 times, and become the team’s cleanup hitter. Hoskins was named the National League Rookie of the Month for August.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Yankees, Brewers refusing to go away in MLB divisional races

Brew Crew hard for defending champion Cubs to shake
The New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers apparently didn’t get the memo. As Labor Day arrives across Major League Baseball, four of the six divisional races appear to already be settled.
The Washington Nationals have opened a massive 15-game lead in the National League East Division. Both the LA Dodgers and Houston Astros have huge 13.5 game cushions in the NL and AL West Divisions respectively. And the Cleveland Indians have run away to a 9-game lead in the AL Central.
In the AL East, the young and talented Boston Red Sox came into 2017 as favorites. And the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs were expected to run away with the NL Central crown.
However, a check of the standings as MLB games get underway on this Monday, September 4 holiday reveals that both teams are facing serious challenges.
The Yankees trail the Bosox by just 3.5 games. New York just won three of four games between the historic rivals at Yankee Stadium over this past weekend.
Whoever makes up the 2017 MLB schedule needs to be kept away from that responsibility in future seasons. With 26 games left to be played, nearly a full month, that series was the final one between the two rivals.