When you're past the All-Star break and you're leading your division by 15.5 games, these summer days are supposed to be relaxing. Monday was anything but for the Houston Astros.
It all started with a little bit of good-natured frivolity. After all, Houston is 10.5 games better than anybody in the American League. And when you're cruising like that, you've got to mix it up. So the Astros decided to stage a funeral for Carlos Beltran's glove. He hasn't played in the field for two months and, well, why not?
If you think the ceremony might have been just a tad premature, then you're in agreement with Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who told MLB.com, “I've not quite given up on the glove, even though they're going to bury it in the outfield today.”
You can't beat fun at the old ballyard. When the day began, it seemed like the more interesting ballpark in the Astros organization was Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, Texas, where ace Dallas Keuchel was making a rehab start. (It was a good night for high-profile rehab starts, with the Chicago Cubs' Kyle Hendricks throwing five perfect innings for Double-A Tennessee.)
Keuchel did fine, throwing three scoreless frames with two hits and a walk. He threw 45 pitches, 29 for strikes. Keuchel, 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA, has been out since June 2 because of a pinched nerve in his neck. He's likely to have a couple of more minor league outings, if only because there is exactly zero reason to rush him back to The Show.
After all that, the Astros had a game to play, and it was a doozy. The opponent was the hard-charging Seattle Mariners, whom some like as a wild-card contender. It's not a stretch to say that the Mariners' series in Houston is a much bigger deal to Seattle than it is for the Astros.
Seattle jumped to the early lead, but Beltran tied it the sixth with his 433rd career homer. While the teams were trading runs to set up a dramatic finish, alarm bells were sounded all over Houston when MVP candidate Carlos Correa had to leave the contest with a wrist injury that is becoming a little too pesky. The team announced he'll be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and while the Astros have that gargantuan buffer in their race to the AL West title, things might feel a little tense as their fans look ahead to October.
The game was tied 7-7 entering the bottom ninth, when Houston's Josh Reddick doubled to start the inning. But then, Seattle shortstop Jean Segura put on a defensive show to get the game to extra innings. It was an amazing sequence. Ozzie Smith couldn't do it any better.
Jean, Jean the incredible-game-saving-putout machine. pic.twitter.com/BgzC2HBwDe— Mariners (@Mariners) July 18, 2017
On the flip side, Seattle moved within 1.5 games of the New York Yankees for the second wild-card slot in the AL and climbed back to the .500 level for the first time since June 25.
Fearsome foursome in D.C. While the focus on the Washington Nationals temporarily shifted to its bullpen after this weekend's move for Oakland Athletics relievers Sean Doolittle* and Ryan Madson, the offense just keeps mashing. Especially the heart of the lineup, featuring a murderers' row of Bryce Harper (1.038 OPS), Anthony Rendon (1.012), Daniel Murphy (.985) and Ryan Zimmerman (.965). These sluggers, as a group, are headed for rarefied air.
After Monday's matinee against the Cincinnati Reds, in which Harper hit his 23rd home run, Zimmerman hit his 20th homer and Rendon reached base three times on the day he was named National League Player of the Week, all four have an OPS of at least .965.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, only one team in major league history has had four qualifying players in the same lineup post an OPS at least that high -- the 1929 Cubs, with Rogers Hornsby (1.139), Hack Wilson (1.044), Riggs Stephenson (1.006) and Kiki Cuyler (.970) finishing over the threshold. The National League's aggregate OPS that season was .783, the second highest of the modern era, behind 1930. The NL's OPS this season (.749) ranks 11th in the post-1901 period.
By the way, the Astros also are in position to potentially join that short list. Through Monday, George Springer (.977), Jose Altuve (.970) and Correa (.966) are all above the threshold. So too is superutility guy Marwin Gonzalez (.973), but he doesn't quite have enough plate appearances to qualify. He's on pace to finish about 30 plate appearances shy of the 502 minimum needed to count for rate stats.
* No known relation to the author, despite identical surname and similar encyclopedic knowledge of the "Star Wars" universe.
You be the judge. The real-life back story of Yankees phenom Aaron Judge and that of fictional phenom Roy Hobbs doesn't exactly line up, but there are similar narrative shapes to their respective tales. Both emerged from relative-ish obscurity to capture everybody's imagination with the frequency and ferocity of their home run balls. And then, when they get a chance to show off their arm, they amaze us anew.
The best part of it was the broadcaster assuming the throw was to the cutoff man, only to be caught off guard when Judge's throw sailed right into the eager glove of catcher Austin Romine. Good stuff.
Nevertheless, the Yankees would love to see Judge get back to what lifted him into the stratosphere: Slugging balls out of the park. Judge went 0-for-3 on Monday and, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, he has gone a season-high 35 appearances without a dinger. Judge's average has dropped to .311.
Biggest fish catches two. Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton hit two more runs in a 6-5 win against the Philadelphia Phillies, giving him an NL-high 28 on the season. That puts Stanton on pace to hit 50 homers for the season. Judge, by the way, is on pace for 53 homers, despite his current struggles.
Stanton made a bid for a third homer, but it was flagged down by ... somebody who plays outfield for the Phillies. OK, it was Cameron Perkins. But for a second, you couldn't tell.
I'd like to report a robbery...— CSN Philly (@CSNPhilly) July 18, 2017
Cameron Perkins steals extra bases from Giancarlo Stanton with this amazing catch. pic.twitter.com/e8LdUkdf21
First of all, that's terrible communication by outfielders on a team on pace to lose 109 games. Second of all, that was awesome. It was like the next generation of the old Fun Bunch celebration by the Washington Redskins wide receivers back in the 1980s. Only it's on a live ball, so it counts.
Miami won the meaningless game on Dee Gordon's base hit, beating a team that apparently is interested in every decent player the Marlins have, including Gordon, which for a number of reasons makes little sense. Here are two: Cesar Hernandez and Scott Kingery.
According to ESPN Stats & Information data, the Phillies now have nine walk-off losses this season. No other squad has more than six.
That's right, Rick -- relax. The Chicago White Sox had a day off on Monday. On Tuesday, they begin a two-game set against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will send Clayton Kershaw to the mound. Meanwhile, Chicago's manager, Rick Renteria, has forged a reputation as the neo-Earl Weaver by getting kicked out of games. A lot. It's a potentially combustible set of circumstances.
Renteria was tossed from Saturday's loss to Seattle, his sixth ejection of the season and 12th of his relatively young managerial career. Based on this piece from Beyond the Box Score, the late Hall of Famer Weaver entered this season as the all-time leader in ejection rate among the top 30 “leaders” in total heave-hos at 3.7 percent.
Renteria has amassed his dozen ejections in just 252 games through Sunday for a rate of 4.8 percent. In other words, Renteria makes Weaver look like a baseball pacifist. So whether it was because of doctor's orders, a suggestion by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf or simply because he likes to do it, this is how Renteria spent part of his day off.
The skipper in action. 🏌️ pic.twitter.com/WPTNeOERfv— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) July 18, 2017
Actually, it was a White Sox charity event, and it was a beautiful day in Chicago. You can't blame Renteria one bit.