This looked like one of those games that gets away. The Minnesota Twins led the San Diego Padres 1-0 in the eighth behind six scoreless innings from Ervin Santana, but then Austin Hedges homered in the eighth off funky sidearmer Trevor Hildenberger. The Padres left two runners stranded in the eighth and two in the ninth, Jason Castro nailed a runner trying to steal, Matt Belisle escaped one jam and pitched a 1-2-3 10th inning and then Eddie Rosario swung from the heels on a 2-0 fastball from Phil Maton -- falling backward after the swing -- and made Twins fans happier than a 36-degree day in January:
Despite blowing the save in this game, the Minnesota bullpen has been very good since the beginning of August. It had a 4.83 ERA through the end of July, 28th in the majors. Since Aug. 1, it has a 3.73 ERA, eighth best in the majors. The veteran Belisle has seven saves replacing the traded Brandon Kintzler, but three others have picked up one as well. Hildenberger has been a key weapon in Paul Molitor's no-name group, appearing in 18 of 42 games since Aug. 1 with a 1.86 ERA. The star of Wednesday's game was Rosario, and he has been one of several Twins hitters tearing it up the past six weeks. He has 23 home runs, but 12 of them have come since Aug. 6 -- he's hitting .308 with 33 RBIs in 36 games since that date. Rosario has always had power potential since coming up in 2015, but he was undone by a poor approach that led to sub-.300 OBPs his first two seasons. While he's still not exactly Joey Votto at the plate, he has cut his chase rate by 4 percent from last season while also cutting down his swing-and-miss rate. Against Maton, he laid off two pitches just off the outside corner to get into a favorable hitter's count. With Miguel Sano out since Aug. 20, Molitor has even entrusted Rosario to bat cleanup at times, as on Wednesday. He's a big reason why the Twins lead the majors with 6.07 runs per game since Aug. 1 and why they have a good chance to become the first team ever to make the playoffs after losing 100 games the previous season. In fact, with seven of their final 17 games against the counting-down-to-the-season's-end Detroit Tigers, I'm calling it: The Twins will win that second American League wild card. Will the Cleveland Indians ever lose again? The Indians beat the Tigers 5-3 in an afternoon affair in Cleveland, moving past the 2002 A's with their AL-record 21st consecutive victory. I covered that game and the highlights of their magical run in an earlier post. Up next: Four games at home against the Royals, a team the Indians have already shut out six times this season. The scheduled pitching matchups:
The Indians are heavily favored in all four of those games:
The obvious trap game here is Thursday. Now that the Indians have the AL record, I can see manager Terry Francona sitting a couple of regulars. Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana, for example, played 20 of the 21 games. With a 5.13 ERA, Tomlin has been the one weak Indians starter, although he has pitched twice in the streak and given up only three runs. Junis is a rookie but has been solid of late with a 3.26 ERA and a 37-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his past 38 innings (his one bad outing, however, was a relief appearance against Cleveland). Anyway, here's a piece to check out: As good as the Indians have been, FiveThirtyEight's Neil Paine reports that they've actually underperformed over the season. Wild-card winner of the night. Besides the Twins, let's go with the Los Angeles Angels, who pounded the Houston Astros to remain two games behind Minnesota. Mike Fiers was the fill-in starter for Lance McCullers Jr., who couldn't go because of arm fatigue, and the Angels jumped on him for five runs in the first. Thank you very much. Wild-card loser of the night. The Texas Rangers had a chance to gain some momentum with a four-game series at home against a Seattle Mariners team with a battered rotation. They won the first game, but the Mariners won 10-3 on Tuesday and 8-1 on Wednesday. Mike Zunino hit two home runs, including this 470-foot blast:
So the Mariners have leapfrogged the Rangers, with Mike Leake winning his third game in three starts since coming over from the Cardinals. Their very slim hopes get a possible boost as Felix Hernandez returns Thursday for his first start since July 31 (and he missed all of May as well) and James Paxton returns Friday against the Astros for his first start since Aug. 10. They'll need a winning streak and the Twins to suddenly fall apart, but in the AL wild-card race ... well, I guess you never know what will happen. Max Scherzer was good and then awful. I'll let Eddie Matz take over:
Very odd scene at Nats Park, where Dusty Baker leaves Max Scherzer - he of the recent neck injury - in the game to start the 7th inning of a meaningless game despite Scherzer's pitch count already being at 95. By the time Baker pulled Scherzer five batters (and no outs) later, Washington's ace had walked the bases loaded, given up the go-ahead hit, and thrown 116 pitches. Yikes.
A 2-2 game turned into an 8-2 victory for the Atlanta Braves. It not only hurts Scherzer's Cy Young chances and the Nationals' odds of catching the Dodgers for best record, but it points to a bigger question: Will Washington manager Dusty Baker trust Scherzer to go deep into a game in the postseason? Scherzer had given up runs in the fifth and sixth innings, so there were signs he was tiring a bit. Remember in Game 5 of the NLDS last season, Baker pulled Scherzer after six innings and 99 pitches and watched the bullpen immediately give up four runs to blow a 1-0 lead. Check back in October. For now, here's Matz's take. By the way, the winning pitcher for the Braves was Brazilian lefty Luiz Gohara, who earned his first major league win, becoming only the second pitcher from Brazil to win a game (joining André Rienzo). Gohara, just 21, has a chance to be one of the steals of last offseason. The Braves got him from the Mariners for Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons (the Mariners then flipped Smith for Drew Smyly, who got injured soon after pitching in the World Baseball Classic). Gohara always had big upside but still hadn't advanced beyond low Class A. With the Braves, he has jumped all the way from the Class A Florida State League to the majors, cutting down on the walks while striking out 147 in 123⅔ innings. One more Braves note: Jon Heyman reports that the front office is still mulling over whether to bring Brian Snitker back as manager. Ron Washington, a Braves coach, and Bo Porter, who works in the front office, would be candidates to replace Snitker, who is working with a team option for 2018. The Rhys Hoskins Show is still awesome. The Philadelphia Phillies rookie went 2-for-2 with a walk, sac fly and three RBIs in an 8-1 victory over the Marlins. One of those hits gave Hoskins 17 home runs in his first 33 games, with 37 RBIs -- matching two guys named Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams (and Zeke Bonura). He's hitting .310/.434/.784 with 24 walks and 26 strikeouts.
Signs of extraterrestrial life spotted in South Philadelphia. 👽 pic.twitter.com/46Ss0MqGsS— Phillies (@Phillies) September 14, 2017
Here's a fun list:
A list where Ryan Schimpf outperforms Aaron Judge and Mike Trout: pic.twitter.com/ctDEe51iI8— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) September 14, 2017
Hoskins' dynamic debut will come under a lot of scrutiny in the offseason: How good is he? Seventeen of his 21 extra-base hits have been home runs, which is an unsustainable ratio. His exit velocity on fly balls hasn't been elite. His average home-run distance isn't anything special (scroll down). That suggests good power more than Aaron Judge/Giancarlo Stanton kind of power. But he seems to have a terrific approach and does a nice job zeroing in on pitches he can drive (he has pulled all 17 of his home runs). It's a fun story and at least gives Phillies fans something to dream on for next season. Hey, how about that second guy on that list there? Hoskins has gotten plenty of attention, but Oakland Athletics rookie first baseman Matt Olson has been bashing in more obscurity. He's hitting .273/.364/.636 with 18 home runs in 154 at-bats. His extra-base ratio is even more extreme: He has only two doubles. Weird. Olson, who homered in a 7-3 victory over the Red Sox on Wednesday, has been even better after getting recalled Aug. 8, after a couple of trials earlier in the season. Since then, he has hit .311 with 14 home runs in 31 games (26 starts). Olson doesn't quite have Hoskins' eye at the plate and he owns a career .249 average in the minors (compared to Hoskins' .287 mark), so even though he's a year younger, I'd give the edge to Hoskins in future value. Still, in what has been a tough season for the A's, they've come up with a couple of potential foundation pieces in Olson and third base defensive whiz Matt Chapman.