If the season ended today, we'd get a rematch of last year's American League Division Series between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians, which would be pretty awesome because that would mean the show of shows: Chris Sale versus Corey Kluber for a likely battle of aces in the series opener, followed by a second potential showdown in Game 5.
With the way these two guys are pitching, this would be like both teams flying in on their own personal fire-breathing Drogon, laying waste to enemy batters. Tuesday was one of those nights that makes you forget the barrage of home runs and all the talk about juiced balls, launch angles and exit velocity to appreciate greatness and enjoy two artists at their peaks.
Sale threw eight scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, striking out 13 and allowing two hits. His Game Score of 90 was his highest of the season. Kluber had an even more dramatic result, allowing one run with 11 strikeouts in nine innings against the Colorado Rockies but trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth before the Indians rallied for a 4-1 victory on Yan Gomes' two-out, walk-off home run off Greg Holland.
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) August 9, 2017
Kluber is on a run of dominance since June 1 that matches the best of Pedro Martinez or the best of Clayton Kershaw or the best of Sandy Koufax or the best of pretty much any other great you want to bring up. In his past 13 starts, Kluber is 7-1 with a 1.70 ERA, a .472 OPS allowed and 142 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings. He has fanned at least eight batters in each of those starts, and only Randy Johnson, with two streaks of 15, has done that.
Kluber's curveball was unhittable on Tuesday -- as it usually is -- as the Rockies went 0-for-12 against it with seven strikeouts. That marks the best 0-for that Kluber has had with any pitch in his career. His 102 strikeouts with his curveball lead the majors, as batters are hitting .093 against the pitch.
The thing I liked best about this game was manager Terry Francona's leaving Kluber in to throw his second complete game. He finished with 116 pitches -- nothing extreme about that -- but I think most managers still would have gone to the bullpen for the ninth. Francona clearly wanted to give Kluber a chance at a win. Of course, Kluber isn't your normal starting pitcher.
"It's fun to watch," Francona said after the game. "It'd be nice to score some runs so he could really enjoy it. He spent two-and-a-half hours being grumpy, then you win."
Sale was also in a bit of a mood for his game. He gave up seven runs in five innings in his previous start -- against the Indians -- and after this game, he told reporters, "To be honest, I was flat-out embarrassed the last time I was on a baseball field." With six days off between starts, he threw two bullpen sessions to get his mechanics back in sync.
They were. He went heavy with his slider, throwing it 44 percent of the time, the second-highest rate of any start in his career. The Rays went 0-for-8 against it with five strikeouts, and as Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Info noted, Sale often followed a slider with another one. He did that 44 percent of the time, to be exact. It was a different approach that clearly befuddled the Rays. As for his previous outing, it was clearly a one-game slump: Sale has now thrown zeroes in four of his past five starts.
Start counting the days to Oct. 5. Obviously, neither team is locked into its current position, but we can dream of these two squaring off -- something that, remarkably, has happened just one time, despite their pitching in the same division until this year. In that game in May 2015, Kluber gave up one run in nine innings with 12 strikeouts, and Sale allowed one run in eight innings.
Stop the presses. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost. The Dodgers lost a game in which Justin Turner hit two home runs. They lost a game they led 2-0 and 3-1. This feels weird. The hero was Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb, who belted a grand slam off Tony Watson in the seventh inning.
— MLB (@MLB) August 9, 2017
If there's one concern in Dodger Nation, it's the quality of the left-handed relief. Luis Avilan has been tough on lefties, but he's a true LOOGY you don't want facing right-handers in a key moment. That's why the front office acquired Watson and Tony Cingrani at the trade deadline, but neither was having a good season.
Manager Dave Roberts brought in Pedro Baez in the sixth inning to face the 3-4-5 hitters for Arizona: Lamb, Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez. That made sense. Baez has been tough all year, especially on righties, so you want him facing the meat of the order. It was a good idea ... until Lamb homered off him. Roberts then split the eighth between Brandon Morrow, who has been throwing smoke of late, and Watson. The weird thing was pulling Morrow after a single and strikeout and having Watson come on to face righty pinch hitter Adam Rosales. Watson hit Rosales, David Peralta grounded out, A.J. Pollock was intentionally walked, and then Lamb homered.
By the way, lefties are 1-for-34 against Morrow, so there wasn't really a need to pull him just to match up Watson with Peralta and Lamb. Right now, Morrow is simply the superior pitcher. At the same time, Roberts has to see what he has in Watson. This is a guy who has been a stellar reliever for the Pirates in the past. Can he pitch his way to Roberts' trust in the postseason? The early return is a resounding no.
Here's where the Dodgers stand after the loss:
Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb's second career grand slam prevented the Dodgers from reaching the 80-win mark on Tuesday. Justin Turner hit 2 home runs. He has 6 career multi-homer games, 5 with the Dodgers. The Dodgers' win pace is now at 114, which would easily be a franchise record.
Engel in the Outfield. pic.twitter.com/0U4FyV1QV7
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) August 9, 2017
Was it even the best catch of the day, however? Check out Billy Hamilton's grab:
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) August 9, 2017
I mean, does anybody here want to make the playoffs? The Chicago Cubs lose, and the Milwaukee Brewers lose, but the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Kansas City Royals, and the Cardinals are just 2 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the National League Central. They have a plus-49 run differential compared to the Cubs' plus-38. Entering the day, FanGraphs gave the Cubs 86 percent odds of winning the division, the Cardinals 10 percent and the Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates 2 percent. That's because the computers are still projecting the Cubs as the superior team and the best bet to play better the rest of the season (plus, they already sit in first place). But ... man, they're making it difficult to believe they're all that much better. The door has been left ajar. Will the Cardinals take advantage? Or, heck, even the Pirates, who are now just 3 1/2 back?
We can dream of a four-way tie for the division title.