Matt Chapman emerging as face of A's as they take on first-place Astros

Matt Chapman isn't going to win the MVP Award. He's not going to get any first-place votes -- and he doesn't really deserve any, not with the seasons we're seeing from Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez and Mike Trout and Francisco Lindor and J.D. Martinez.

But this guy is some kind of ballplayer. In his first full season in the majors, it feels like Chapman has become the heart of the Oakland A's, with his off-the-charts defense at third base and big hits in big moments. Against the Twins on Sunday in Minnesota, Chapman hit a first-inning home run off Jose Berrios, then went back-to-back with Jed Lowrie in the seventh to extend a 4-2 lead to 6-2.

Chapman's season line is up to .282/.366/.523 with 20 home runs and he's arguably been the best defensive player at any position, leading the majors with 26 Defensive Runs Saved. Add up the solid batting line with the Gold Glove defense and Chapman ranks fifth among American League position players in WAR and fourth in Baseball-Reference WAR. Chapman has thrived since Bob Melvin moved him to second in the lineup, where he's hit .317/.384/.634 in 30 games. Since July 27, the A's are 18-9 with Chapman batting second.

The A's took three of four from the Twins -- although they received some bad news as No. 1 starter Sean Manaea landed on the disabled list Sunday with left-shoulder impingement. Melvin said after the game that Manaea will see doctors Monday and hadn't been experiencing any pain, although his velocity has been down a bit. He played catch Sunday, but had to shut it down after a few throws.

Meanwhile, the Astros completed a sweep of the Angels to remain 1½ games ahead of the A's in the AL West. This sets the stage for the final showdown of the season between the clubs, three games in Houston beginning Monday. The scheduled pitching matchups:

Monday: Brett Anderson vs. Gerrit Cole
Tuesday: Edwin Jackson vs. Charlie Morton
Wednesday: Trevor Cahill vs. Dallas Keuchel

That looks like a big starting-pitching edge for Houston, but the three Oakland starters have combined for a 2.99 ERA since the All-Star break (although they've been more effective at home than on the road). You can expect to see a lot of innings, however, from that stellar Oakland bullpen. The Astros have a chance to get some breathing room with a sweep, but I suspect Chapman and the A's won't let that happen.

Snellzilla destroys all Red Sox: When Blake Snell landed on the DL with shoulder fatigue after pitching in the All-Star Game, there was a collective sigh of depression across Rays universe. The injury-riddled rotation was hit yet again, and now it was the staff ace, who was in the process of making The Leap.

Luckily, it appears the Rays were being more cautious than anything and after missing three weeks, Snell hasn't missed a beat. He allowed just two hits and one run in a 9-1 victory over the Red Sox, dominating with a fastball that hit 98 mph and a changeup/curveball combo that keeps hitters from sitting on the heater:

It was the eighth consecutive win for the Rays, and the impressive three-game sweep of the Red Sox -- they outscored Boston 24-5 in the series -- essentially shut the door on any chance the Sox had of chasing down the record for wins in a season. It was the first time the Red Sox have been swept all season and they'd now have to go 26-4 in their final 30 games to get to 116 wins.

As for Snell, in five starts since coming off the DL, he's 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 26 innings. The Rays have been careful with his pitch counts, although he did throw 101 in his previous start. This streak, combined with the DL stints of Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer, has pushed Snell into the thick of the Cy Young race:

The Red Sox are in no rush to get Sale back from his shoulder inflammation and Bauer is out a few more weeks with the stress fracture in his fibula. If Sale returns soon, he might still be the favorite due to his big edge in strikeouts, and while Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber have a big edge in innings over Snell, their run prevention hasn't been quite as good.

I love how Snell attacks hitters. In one at-bat in the fourth inning, he struck out Xander Bogaerts with three straight changeups and then two curveballs. The next time up, he started Bogaerts with three straight fastballs, then got him swinging on a curveball. Betts kills fastballs, but on this day Snell struck him out looking on a fastball in the first inning -- just the seventh time all season Betts has fanned looking at a fastball -- and got him to fly out in the sixth after throwing four straight fastballs. And Snell can simply blow away lefties with fastballs, as he did to Jackie Bradley Jr. in the third with four straight four-seamers.

The Rays are 70-61, an amazing achievement given all the injuries to their starting pitchers. Snellzilla has been a monster all season.

But his hat size isn't as large as Kevin Mench's: One of the delightful aspects of any season are the random hot streaks that can occur from any player at any time. Kendrys Morales is on one of those streaks, as he homered Sunday for the seventh consecutive game, just one game away from tying the MLB record held by Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly and Dale Long:

Morales joins Kevin Mench, Barry Bonds and Jim Thome with his seven in a row. Morales will have the opportunity to tie the record Monday in as good a circumstance as you could ask: at Camden Yards against Orioles rookie David Hess, who has allowed 16 home runs in 72 innings. That also means the switch-hitting Morales will be hitting from his strong side: He's slugging .549 against righties as opposed to .351 versus lefties. Morales has homered eight times in the seven games and increased his OPS from .741 to .827. In one week he's gone from a subpar season to an OK one.

The Phillies, however, won the game 8-3, bouncing back from a disastrous late-inning loss Saturday, when they blew a 6-3 lead. Wilson Ramos went 4-for-5 and Rhys Hoskins continues to rake in the second half, hitting .258/.361/.591 with 12 home runs in 35 games.

Double your fun: Matt Carpenter tied a major league record with four doubles in a game in the Cardinals' 12-3 victory at Coors Field -- according to Baseball-Reference.com, he's the 44th player to do it since 1908 (David Peralta was the most recent, in 2017). The only two players with two four-double games are Albert Belle and Billy Werber.

I heard somebody ranting the other day that Carpenter doesn't deserve MVP consideration because of (A) his slow start, and (B) he's slowed down in August. His "slow" August reads as a .253/.382/.593 batting line with eight home runs and 19 runs in 24 games. Some slump.

My favorite play of Sunday's game, however, was Harrison Bader scoring from second base on an infield chopper:

Bader's rookie season has been lost in the deserved attention given to phenoms Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto, but Bader has arguably been just as valuable as those two. As you can see from the highlight, he has blazing speed, which has translated to excellent defensive metrics (an insane plus-21 Defensive Runs Saved in what amounts to a part-time role). He's hit better than expected at .280/.349/.444. He obviously doesn't have the upside of Acuna or Soto, but he's proved that he looks like a long-term solution in center field as opposed to the fourth outfielder he projected as before the season.

The future is here: After a rain-shortened two-inning stint in his major league debut, Michael Kopech picked up his first career win in his second start, allowing one run in six innings as the White Sox beat the Tigers.

Kopech didn't hit triple digits, topping out at 99 mph with a first-inning strike three on the outside corner to Nick Castellanos while averaging 95.9 mph with his fastball. It appears he's scaled back on the velocity for better command -- absolutely the right decision given his high walk totals coming up through the minors. Against the Tigers, he threw 20 of 26 first-pitch strikes and didn't walk a batter, although he did hit two (Castellanos with an 0-1 fastball and Mikie Mahtook with a first-pitch slider).

What's the upside here? Given his velocity and breaking ball, there's certainly No. 1 starter potential. After all, he averaged 12.1 K's per nine at Triple-A Charlotte. The fastball does look pretty straight at times (he had just four K's on Sunday) and he had 73 walks/HBPs in 126⅓ innings at Charlotte, so the command is still a work in progress.

The kid is always going to have an impossible standard to meet since he was part of the Sale trade, but the early returns are the White Sox are going to have at least a solid rotation member for 2019 and maybe an ace down the road.

RIP, Neil Simon: One of America's great playwrights, Neil Simon, passed away Sunday at 91. His play "The Odd Couple" was turned into a movie starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon and includes one of the best baseball scenes ever in a non-baseball movie:

In the movie, Bill Mazeroski hits into the game-ending triple play. It was staged before an actual Pirates-Mets game played June 27, 1967 (which the Mets won 5-2).

Movie trivia: According to legend, Roberto Clemente was supposed to hit into the triple play, but he kept beating the relay throw and when he tried slowing down, it looked like he was walking, so with only 35 minutes to film the sequence, the filmmakers switched to the lead-footed Mazeroski.