The Colorado Rockies have never won a division title. If they keep winning games the way they did Wednesday night, it might finally happen. They beat the Diamondbacks 5-4 on DJ LeMahieu's one-out, two-run, walk-off home run:
It was LeMahieu's first career walk-off hit, let alone walk-off home run. It came after Charlie Blackmon had curiously bunted Gerardo Parra over to second (Parra had reached when Paul Goldschmidt couldn't handle his hard one-hopper, a play Goldschmidt usually gobbles up). Given that Blackmon has 26 home runs, you don't want to see him give up an out at Coors Field, even if it did put the tying run into scoring position.
But it has been that kind of season for the Rockies. Somehow, things are working out. They've been outscored by two runs, but they're 80-65 and are 1½ games up on the Dodgers. My editor Dan is a huge Rockies fan and he described their success the other day to me as, "It's a different hero every night type of lineup."
That's what we saw with LeMahieu on Wednesday. It was his 15th home run, a career high, and while he's one of the game's most extreme opposite-field hitters, he does usually pull his home runs -- Wednesday's winner was just his third opposite-field home run of the season.
Meanwhile, the bullpen was spectacular in relief of Jon Gray, who departed after four innings and an inefficient 94 pitches. Chris Rusin, Scott Oberg and Wade Davis threw five innings and retired all 15 batters they faced.
Not so spectacular is the Arizona bullpen. LeMahieu's home run came off Yoshihisa Hirano, installed Tuesday as the new closer. Back to the drawing board for Torey Lovullo. The Diamondbacks have played 11 games in September and this has happened:
-- Blew a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth
-- Blew a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth
-- Lost in the 10th
-- Lost again in the 10th
-- Blew a 4-3 lead in the ninth by giving up six runs
-- And now this game
The Diamondbacks are now 3½ games behind the Rockies, and it's going to be almost impossible to recover from this skid and pass both the Dodgers and Rockies to win the division. And they're even further back in the wild-card race.
Dodgers avoid sweep: The Reds entered Wednesday afternoon's game in Cincinnati with a 6-0 record against the Dodgers -- they improbably swept L.A. at Dodger Stadium back in May -- but the Dodgers finally pulled one out, winning 8-1 as seven pitchers combined for a five-hitter and 11 strikeouts.
The Dodgers can point to their mediocre record against the worst teams in the NL as a big reason they're still battling for a playoff spot:
That's 26-25 overall. The weird part is the Dodgers have outscored four of the five teams in their head-to-head matchups (all but the Reds) to the tune of 236-181. That run differential suggests they should be 32-19 in these games, so they've underperformed the expected win total by six wins. That aligns with what has happened all season. The Dodgers are plus-133 in run differential and have an expected record of 88-58, which would be the best in the National League. Instead, they're 79-67.
Yes, some of that is the bullpen's lack of success in close games. The Dodgers are 21-21 in one-run games. It's also a misnomer that good teams dominate one-run games. Sometimes they do. But what good teams actually do is dominate in blowouts. In games decided by five or more runs, the Dodgers are 25-8. They're 13-19 in games decided by two runs. So some of the blame goes to the offense. Check this out:
High-leverage situations: .642 OPS (29th in majors)
Low-leverage situations: .778 OPS (third in majors)
Dodgers hitters stink when games are close and pad their stats in blowouts. Blame the offense just as much as the bullpen.
If the Dodgers fail to make the playoffs, they're going to look back at a stretch from late April to early May. After starting the season 11-10, they went 5-16 to fall to 16-26. That included the sweep by the Reds, losing two of three twice to the Marlins, two of three to the Padres and three of four to the Giants. So the worst stretch of the season came against one of the easiest parts of the schedule.
AL Cy Young race is a Snell game: Blake Snell was at it again, giving up only one hit in seven innings -- a Jose Ramirez home run in the seventh -- as the Rays beat the Indians 3-1. Snell fanned nine and improved to 19-5 with a 2.03 ERA.
So, does this make Snell the front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award? With apologies to Gerrit Cole and a couple of relievers, the five contenders:
A few notes: 1. Corey Kluber is going to skip his next start. 2. Chris Sale is also on the slow mend and probably will make three more starts but might go only three or four innings in his next one. 3. Trevor Bauer is still out because of a stress fracture in his leg, although the Indians are hopeful he will pitch before the end of the regular season. 4. Yeah, Snell's FanGraphs WAR is a little low; it's kind of silly to think he's only four wins better than a replacement-level starter.
Anyway, I think we can eliminate the two Cleveland pitchers because they don't have any obvious advantage over the others and have benefited from an easy division (Bauer had a chance if he hadn't been injured).
The issue with Sale is that he won't even end up qualifying for the ERA title if he doesn't pitch 15 innings the rest of the season. Even if he does, that will mean he will have thrown 20 innings the final two months. You can argue that all that matters is what Sale has accomplished when he has pitched and that still makes him the favorite. Some voters, however, will understandably have trouble voting for a guy who barely pitched the final two months.
But Snell has only 17 more innings than Sale. That might give Verlander a chance, especially if he finishes strong. He has 48 more innings than Sale, although you could argue about the value of those innings. He has given up 28 more runs than Sale in those 48 innings (5.25 runs per nine), so he basically has been replacement-level over those extra frames. Still, he has gone out there every turn, helped save innings for the bullpen and pitched in a pennant race down the stretch while Sale has been resting for the postseason.
Then there's Snell's win-loss record. We all know W-L record isn't a key indicator anymore, but in a close race, it could be the difference-maker. If he ends up with 20 wins and Sale ends up with 13, that could push Snell to Cy Young honors.
The A's are good, the Orioles are not: The A's beat the Orioles 10-0. The Orioles got one hit. The A's scored all 10 runs in the third inning. Yes, the Orioles keep coming up with new ways to lose.
One quick highlight of Willians Astudillo that you will watch a thousand times: Make it two thousand:
The absolute unit that could. pic.twitter.com/r2a5uj9E7o— MLB (@MLB) September 13, 2018
OK, so who is Willians Astudillo? He's a rookie with the Twins, previously in the Phillies and Diamondbacks organizations. In his 17 big league games, he has played catcher, second base, third base, left field and -- get this -- one inning in center field (no putouts). He even pitched an inning.
The most remarkable thing to know about him, however, is that he rarely strikes out. In 48 plate appearances in the majors, he has only two strikeouts. At Triple-A, he fanned just 14 times in 307 PAs. In winter ball, he fanned four times in 204 at-bats. He's a modern-day Joe Sewell. There is nobody like him in the majors. I mean, there really isn't anybody like him in the majors. Did you watch that highlight?
What to make of him? He also rarely walks and doesn't really have a position (he mostly played catcher and third at Triple-A). He can hit a little (.276/.314/.469 at Rochester), but not a lot. Maybe there's a spot as a utility guy/third catcher. I hope so. Because we need Willians Astudillo in the majors, that's for sure.
Red Sox win 100th: David Price cruised in a 1-0 win over the Blue Jays, giving up three hits and no walks with seven K's in seven innings. That's two really good starts since that short DL stint, and he has 1.56 ERA in the second half. On Tuesday, Price said he does not plan on opting out of his contract (which has four years left). He also acknowledged that he has to prove himself in October, as he has never won a postseason start: "I could go 35-0 with a zero [ERA] and it wouldn't matter. I need to win in October."
A few notes from ESPN Stats & Information:
-- The Red Sox have 100 wins for the first time since 1946. Nineteen franchises have won 100 since the Red Sox last did it. (This is remarkable given the Red Sox have had so few losing seasons over the past 50 years.)
-- Alex Cora is the fifth manager to win 100 in his first season, joining Mickey Cochrane, Ralph Houk, Sparky Anderson, Dusty Baker.
-- The Red Sox could become the seventh team to win 110-plus games. Three of those won the World Series: 1998 Yankees, 1927 Yankees, 1909 Pirates. Two lost in the World Series: 1906 Cubs and 1954 Indians. One didn't reach the World Series: 2001 Mariners.
Not that I'm still bitter about that or anything.