1. Giants did what they had to do: Scrambling to remain close to the Los Angeles Dodgers -- not to mention holding on to a wild card -- the San Francisco Giants went into Phoenix and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks, beating Zack Greinke on Sunday. Matt Moore fanned 11 in seven innings and Hunter Strickland recorded a four-out save, which could make him the new closer. Even after this modest three-game win streak, the Giants still have the majors' second-worst record since the All-Star break. The Dodgers still have a three-game lead and, according to FiveThirtyEight.com projections, own an 83 percent chance of winning the division compared to 17 for the Giants. So the odds say the Dodgers will win a fourth straight division title. But I don't think it will be quite so easy. Consider:
The Giants are due to play better. Maybe they weren't actually the best team in baseball when they ended the first half with a better record than the Chicago Cubs, but clearly they're not the second-worst team in baseball.
Baseball teams are streaky. While the Giants' extreme splits are abnormal, a bad stretch doesn't necessarily predict more losing. They're just as likely to go on a nice winning streak now. That's baseball.
The Dodgers play 13 of their remaining 20 games on the road, and they're 47-27 at home and just 33-35 on the road.
The teams have six games remaining against each other, including the season-ending series in San Francisco.
Strickland, if he does win the closer's role on a regular basis, will be fine. He has a 2.41 ERA in his major league career and has held opponents to a .202 average (.213 this season). He has been the Giants' best reliever over the past two seasons. So why has Bruce Bochy been so hesitant to name him the closer? It probably goes back to the 2014 postseason, when Strickland, with just seven innings of big league time, allowed six home runs in eight appearances. It's tough to trust a guy in close games after seeing that, but Strickland is a solid reliever and has earned the opportunity. (As a bonus, rookie Derek Law, with a 1.94 ERA and excellent peripherals, is due to come off the DL this week.)
Hunter Strickland definitely wore his big-boy pants to the ballpark, and should probably be doing this the rest of the year.— Edgar Allan Posey (@alexrlively) September 11, 2016
2. Big return from Chris Tillman: Making his first start since Aug. 20 (discomfort in shoulder), Tillman outpitched Justin Verlander in a 3-1 victory as the Baltimore Orioles took a two-game lead in the wild-card race over the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees. While the outing was promising, the Orioles stressed after the game that Tillman isn't out of the woods with his shoulder issue. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow and the next day, and whether we need to give him an extra day next time out," manager Buck Showalter said. With the Toronto Blue Jays losing to the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles also caught the Jays in the wild-card race (both are two games back of the Red Sox in the American League East). Next up for Baltimore: a three-game series at Fenway, four at home against the Tampa Bay Rays and then at home against Boston.
3. Catch of the year, at least by a non-uniformed personnel: Yoenis Cespedes' grand slam helped the New York Mets beat the Atlanta Braves 10-3 (and reclaim the second wild card from the St. Louis Cardinals), but it's what happened after the ball cleared the fence that was pretty sweet:
Yoenis Cespedes declined comment on his grand slam. "His bat will do his talking," a team spokesman said. https://t.co/KBZK9wt4oF— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) September 11, 2016
The Mets are only a half-game up on the Cardinals, but FiveThirtyEight projects their playoff odds at 77 percent versus the Cardinals' 40 percent, mostly stemming from the difference in remaining schedule strength that heavily favors the Mets.
4. Mariners refuse to lose: It's still an unlikely bid for the franchise that has gone the longest without punching a postseason ticket, but the Seattle Mariners have won five in a row to at least give themselves a chance (13 percent according to FiveThirtyEight). They swept the Oakland A's with a 3-2 victory as Mike Zunino hit a two-run homer and started the winning rally in the ninth with a leadoff double. The M's are 3.5 games back -- pretty remarkable considering they've used 13 starters and 32 pitchers all told; only Hisashi Iwakuma has remained in the rotation all season. They've tried eight leadoff hitters, and they've lost seven games they led entering the ninth inning. Jerry Dipoto's revolving door of a roster has been amusing at times; he has been like that guy in your fantasy league who makes eight trade offers a week. The one constant has been the big three in the lineup: Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, who have combined for 95 home runs.
Their schedule helps and hurts: They're done with the Texas Rangers (they went 7-12 against them) but will need help. The M's have only one series left against a team ahead of them (Toronto), plus two against the Houston Astros, with whom they're tied. But the Mariners also have series against the Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins and A's, and if they clean up in those games, well ... anything can happen.
5. Yankees' streak ends at seven: Next up: A big series at Yankee Stadium against the Dodgers, who will start rookies Jose De Leon and Julio Urias in the series. I remember another Dodgers rookie who faced the Yankees in an even bigger game.