What a night. Two clinchers, a no-hit bid into the eighth inning from the Cubs' Jake Arrieta (for the second time this season), a benches-clearing incident between the Yankees and Rays after manager Joe Girardi went a little crazy when Derek Jeter got hit by a pitch, Jose Altuve breaking Craig Biggio's Astros club record for hits in a season. As always, check out the latest standings, playoff odds and upcoming schedule on the Hunt for October page.
1. The Nationals clinch the NL East behind Tanner Roark. That's one way of asking: Will Roark be in the Nationals' postseason rotation? He's 14-10 with a 2.85 ERA now after tossing seven shutout innings in the 3-0 clincher over the collapsing Braves. There's nothing fancy about him except he throws strikes, locates his two-seam sinking fastball and four-seamer on the corners and mixes in a slider, changeup and curveball, giving him a five-pitch repertoire. He's in his first full season in the majors, but don't worry about an innings limit here: Roark is 27, turns 28 in early October and still looks strong.
Starting Roark would bump Gio Gonzalez from the rotation, although, depending on the opponent, maybe having the lefty Gonzalez in there instead of four right-handers make sense. There's also an argument that Gonzalez -- despite a 3.79 ERA -- has actually been every bit as good as Roark. The fielding independent pitching numbers (FIP) have Gonzalez at 3.20 and Roark at 3.54 entering Tuesday. That's because Gonzalez has the better strikeout rate -- 9.0 K's per nine innings compared to 6.4 for Roark. But is that a deficiency for Roark? His two-seamer isn't a big strikeout pitch but gets ground balls. Yes, that means relying a little more on defense than Gonzalez does.
The difference in their ERAs stems primarily from results with runners in scoring position: Roark has allowed a .252/.310/.397 line, while Gonzalez has allowed a .281/.348/.465 line.
Of course, Gonzalez is the veteran, which might ultimately enter into manager Matt Williams' decision. Plus, Roark has more experience pitching out of the bullpen, having made 29 relief appearances between Triple-A and the majors last season. Either way, Williams has a nice luxury in that he can have a quick hook with any of his starters in the postseason if necessary.
2. Joe Nathan is starting to remind of 2009 Brad Lidge. Remember that year? Lidge was horrendous all season with the Phillies, going 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA and 11 home runs and 34 walks in just 58⅔ innings, and yet, Charlie Manuel stuck with him as closer all season and the Phillies still managed to reach the World Series. Manuel's loyalty finally burned him in Game 4, when Lidge entered in the ninth of a 4-4 tie and gave up three runs.
What does that have to do with Nathan? He hasn't been quite as bad as Lidge but inspires the same level of confidence in Tigers fans right now. After J.D. Martinez hit a dramatic three-run homer in the top of the ninth off Glen Perkins to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead over the Twins, Nathan coughed it up by allowing the Twins to score twice. It wasn't all his fault, although he did get the rally started with a one-out walk to Trevor Plouffe. Kurt Suzuki hit a liner to shallow left-center on which Ezequiel Carrera appeared to get a slow read and missed the diving catch. (Would Austin Jackson have made the play?) The winning run then scored with two outs on Aaron Hicks' infield chopper up the middle. Nathan is 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA and seven blown saves. Again, not quite as bad as Lidge, but still the symbol of a shaky Detroit bullpen.
3. Don't blame Ned Yost! Unfortunately for the Royals, they weren't able to take advantage of Detroit's loss and remained 1½ games behind the Tigers -- or two games behind, counting the suspended game they're losing to the Indians. (Yes, I'm required to mention that every night!)
Yost actually did what he didn't do on Sunday: bring in Kelvin Herrera in the sixth inning. And it worked, as Herrera got the final out to preserve a 4-4 tie. After the Royals then took a 5-4 lead, things were looking good, but Herrera gave up two singles in the seventh, and Wade Davis -- pitching in the seventh for the first time all season -- walked Jose Abreu, pitching him a little too carefully. Conor Gillaspie, after fouling off two pitches, then hit a 2-2, 97 mph fastball for a bases-clearing triple, and Herrera and Davis both saw their scoreless-inning streaks of more than 30 end.
Yost did the right thing. He brought in his two dominant relievers in crucial situations in a close game. On this night, they just got beat. Considering how dominant they'd been, they were probably due. But don't blame this one on Ned.
4. Steve Pearce, legend in the making. The Orioles clinched with an 8-2 win over the Blue Jays (good night, Toronto). The big blow was Pearce's three-run homer in the first. What a story he's been. The 31-year-old had spent parts of seven seasons in the majors but never batted more than 188 times. Pearce began the season with the Orioles but appeared in just three games before Baltimore designated him for assignment on April 27. The Blue Jays actually claimed Pearce on waivers, but Pearce had the right to become a free agent rather than accept the claim, which he did. Two days later, with Chris Davis injured, the Orioles re-signed Pearce to a major league contract. He hasn't stopped hitting and is now at .294/.371/.541 with 18 home runs, and he's hitting fifth for a division winner. Just another reason we love this game.
5. Brewers notch big comeback win. In the first of a three-game series in St. Louis, the Brewers tied it in the top of the ninth and won it in the 12th inning. They move up to four games back of the Cardinals and remained 1½ behind the Pirates for the second wild card. Good job by the Milwaukee pen with just two hits over five scoreless innings. Jhonny Peralta nearly tied it with a long fly in the 12th to the warning track, but Gerardo Parra hauled it in and Francisco Rodriguez escaped with a 1-2-3 save.