September 18, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Catch 22!! Indians set AL winning streak record
Thanks largely to Francisco Lindor, who hit a game-tying RBI double off the left field wall with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Cleveland Indians extended their historic winning streak yet again last Thursday night. In the 10th inning, Jay Bruce hit a walk-off RBI double to the right field corner, thus sparking yet another burst of euphoria. Indians 3, Royals 2. Almost the same situation arose the following night, when Francisco Lindor was up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on first. But this time he struck out, and thus the Great Streak of 2017 came to an end. The previous AL winning streak record (20 games) was held by the Oakland A's, in 2002. And it's not like the Indians just squeaked by with some of those wins, they were totally dominant: From August 24 through September 14, they scored 142 runs (average 6.4 per game) while their opponents scored just 37 runs (average 1.7 per game). For more, see MLB.com.
There has been some discussion about whether the New York Giants' 26-game winning streak in 1916 should be counted, since there was an intervening tied game during that streak. I was originally inclined to say that the tie would invalidate the winning streak. If I understand correctly, however, that tied game was not officially counted, being replaced in effect by the game played the next day.
Indians win AL Central
On Sunday afternoon, the Indians beat the Royals 3-2, taking three out of four games in that series and clinching the American League Central Division title. Thanks to their big winning streak, they are now 1 1/2 games ahead of the Houston Astros in the race for best record in the AL. They had a rather lackluster first half of the year, but since the All-Star break they have been charging ahead, motivated to get back in the World Series and make up for that oh-so-close defeat versus the Cubs last year.
Astros win AL West
In Houston, meanwhile, the first home start for newly-acquired pitcher Justin Verlander was a momentous one, as the Astros clinched the AL West Division with a 7-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners. It's the Astros' first division title since 2001, when they were in the National League Central Division. In 2005, when they went to the World Series, they qualified as a wild card team. They were also a wild card in 2015, when they were beaten in the ALDS by the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals. To complement their slugging power, they have a solid and well-balanced pitching staff, led by Dallas Keuchel, now in his sixth year.
To refresh your memory, see the Postseason scores page.
Dodgers' losing streak ends at 11
Meanwhile, the L.A. Dodgers put an end to their 11-game losing streak on Tuesday by beating the Giants in San Francisco by a score of 5-3 -- but just barely! The Giants had the bases loaded with only one out in the bottom of the ninth, but closing pitcher Kenley Jansen (whose usual role was obviated by circumstances for most of the month) struck out Buster Posey and Nick Hundley to end the game. The Dodgers won again on Wednesday night, and then had a day off while traveling to Washington.
Dodgers take two from Nats
The Dodgers-Nationals series in Washington was being hyped for weeks in advance as a preview of the postseason, but it didn't really live up to the promise. In the first two games, the Nats had lower-rung starting pitchers, part of the new six-man rotation aimed at preserving those precious throwing arms for the games that really count in October. On Friday night, Edwin Jackson (who has been surprisingly effective in some games) gave up a solo home run in the first inning, and six more runs over the next two innings, and that was pretty much it. The Nats' bats were virtually silent, and the final score was 7-0. On Saturday afternoon, A.J. Cole took the mound and promptly gave up three early runs before he settled down. Anthony Rendon homered, and the Nats had a rally going in the ninth inning, but fell short. Dodgers 3, Nats 2.
Then on Sunday night, broadcast nationwide on ESPN, Stephen Strasburg was the starting pitcher, and tensions were high as the Nats badly needed to avert being swept at home. In the second inning, Michael A. Taylor misplayed a long fly ball to center field, and the Dodgers scored a run. Strasburg was nearly flawless for six full innings, but his streak of consecutive scoreless innings pitched ended at 34. What a pity. In the bottom of the sixth, Anthony Rendon drew a walk, Daniel Murphy smashed a single up the middle, and Ryan Zimmerman came up to the plate. In one of the most clutchest of clutch situations all year, he got hold of one and put that ball over the scoreboard in right center field. Three-run homer! In the seventh inning, Anthony Rendon drove in Jayson Werth on a double, and in the eighth, Ryan Zimmerman homered again (solo), and then Adam Lind hit a two run homer! It was Zimmerman's 32nd and 33rd homer of the year, tying his career-best year of 2009. What an inspiring comeback win that was! Nats 7, Dodgers 1.
Overall, it was an evenly matched series, with an aggregate score of 11-9 in favor of the visiting team. The Nats wasted an opportunity to close in on the Dodgers in the race for the best record in the National League. Once Bryce Harper* returns to the lineup in October, the balance will shift in the Nationals' favor. They have three rock-solid starting pitchers plus a vastly improved bullpen, while the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw (who lost tonight pitching against the Phillies!) and a few others who are question marks. That concluded the Nats' ten-game home stand with an even 5-5 record. It was the Nats' 90th win of the season, and with a record of 90-59 right now, their chances of reaching 100 wins for the season are less than 50-50, despite the fact that all their remaining opponents have records well below the .500 mark.
* Bryce took some batting practice swings on Sunday, and has been jogging around the outfield track, which is a very good sign. No need to rush him back into action. When he returns, it will have a positively electrifying impact!
Braves take two from Nats
When the Braves arrived in Washington last week, it seemed like a meager challenge for the Nats. Oops! On Tuesday, Gio Gonzalez made a couple bad pitches and paid dearly for it, giving up five runs over five innings. The Braves tacked on three more runs later on, and won 8-0. The next day Max Scherzer was pitching, so you had to figure that was an easy win. Wrong! Despite a growing pitch count, he insisted on staying on the mound into the seventh inning, and before you knew it, a tight 2-2 game had turned into an 8-2 blowout. (One of those runs was charged to Brandon Kintzler.) Ugh. After the game, Max tried to rationalize his stubbornness by saying he needed the experience of going deep into a game. Frankly, I don't buy it. Then on Thursday night, Tanner Roark got things back on track, pitching into the sixth inning before the Braves scored any runs. Clutch hits by eldster Jayson Werth and youngster Victor Robles proved decisive in the Nats' 5-3 win. And that's how the Nats averted a sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves.
Michael Taylor, deja vu
Michael A. Taylor's recent inside-the-park grand slam (see September 10) reminded me of similar occurrences in which he was involved two years ago. On September 8, 2015 he smashed a bases-loaded single up the middle, but the Mets' center fielder muffed it, and Michael made it all the way home. (The Nats lost the game, however.) Then at a game I attended on September 25, 2015, the Phillies' Aaron Altheer did the exact same thing to center fielder Michael Taylor that Michael Taylor had done to the Mets two weeks earlier: a four-run single / E-8!
To add to the chain of amazingly eery coincidences, it was Aaron Altheer who hit the grand slam against Clayton Kershaw tonight, helping the Phillies beat the visiting L.A. Dodgers!
Almost a no-hitter!
You can't get any closer than this: In Detroit yesterday, Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd went for 8 2/3 innings before the first White Sox player got a hit: Tim Anderson doubled to the gap in right-center field, spoiling the fun for the home crowd. Boyd's statistics are only fair: a 6-10 record this year with a 5.33 ERA. The last Tigers pitcher to throw a no-hitter was Justin Verlander (traded to the Astros on August 31), which was six years ago.
Football in southern California
Both of the recently-relocated pro football teams in Los Angeles lost yesterday, and both were playing at home. At Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the L.A. Rams (which moved there last year from St. Louis) lost to the Washington Redskins 27-20. In the industrial suburb of Compton (as in "Straight Outta"!), meanwhile, the L.A. Chargers (which just moved there from San Diego) lost to the Miami Dolphins, 19-17. In both games, there were many empty seats, but the Chargers at least filled a greater proportion of the 27,000 capacity of StubHub Center, which is the home of the L.A. Galaxy Major League Soccer team.
The departure of the other pro sports team suggests that QualComm (Jack Murphy) Stadium has entered "Limbo," according to my criteria. Or maybe not! Over 43,000 fans watched the San Diego State Aztecs (now ranked 22nd in the country) defeat Stanford, and according goaztecs.com, their home is now called "San Diego Stadium." According to the usually-reliable wikipedia.org, in contrast, it is supposed to be called "SDCCU (San Diego County Credit Union) Stadium." Go figure.
More hurricane havoc
More baseball "fallout" from Hurricane Irma: The Miami Marlins played a "home" series against the Milwaukee Brewers in Miller Park, after it was determined that their own city was not yet ready for a big sporting event. The Marlins were playing as the "home team," batting last, very weird. Apparently Miami received more damage than St. Petersburg, the opposite of what I had expected. I had thought that the Tampa Bay Rays would have to relocate their series, since that urban area was almost directly in Irma's path of destruction. The dome at Tropicana Field looks rather flimsy to me, and I thought some repairs to it might be necessary. The Marlins are out of postseason contention, whereas the Brewers are in hot pursuit of the Cubs, so from their point of view, this uncompensated series relocation was a big gift.
NOTE: I recently realized that the playing field in Marlins Park is essentially on the same level as the ground outside. That should have been a no-brainer. Most of Miami is flat and very low elevation, and because of the risk of flooding, basements are virtually non-existent. That means I need to update the profile portions of the diagrams for that stadium soon...
In any event, I had to update the Anomalous stadiums page once again, adding a new line for Miller Park.
Finally, I updated the Baseball home (intro) and the My ballpark visits pages with an account of my 2017 activities, along with new jumbo-sized photos of Marlins Park and Wrigley Field.