How did the Twins get to another one-game playoff?

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When the Twins lost in Detroit last Wednesday it looked (to me at least) like their season was over. They were three games back in the AL Central with four games left, which put their playoff odds at around five percent with a deficit that no team in baseball history had come back from.
So naturally they won the next four games while the Tigers went 1-3 and now the Twins are the only team in baseball history to be in a one-game playoff in back-to-back seasons.
Not only did the Twins erase the Tigers’ three-game lead in four days to force a Game 163 for the second straight year, they’ve won 16 of 20 games since Justin Morneau was shut down with a back injury and are 30-14 since falling a season-worst six games below .500 at 56-62 in mid-August.
Some of the individual performances during their dramatic team-wide turnaround are mind-boggling. Michael Cuddyer was already having a very solid year when Morneau went down, but since replacing him at first base he’s hit .333 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 20 games. Delmon Young became the everyday left fielder when Cuddyer shifted to first base, and has hit .363 with four homers and 17 RBIs in 20 games after previously batting just .265/.287/.387.
Joe Crede’s season-ending back injury opened a hole at third base and Ron Gardenhire decided to fill it with utility infielder Matt Tolbert, who’d posted a dreadful .234/.300/.307 career line. Since then he’s started 17 of 20 games while hitting .306/.338/.452 with Crede-like defense. Orlando Cabrera batted .237 with a putrid .268 on-base percentage through his first 43 games with the Twins, but over his last 15 games has hit .433 while scoring a run in all but one of them.
Toss in the continued season-long excellence of Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, and Denard Span, and the Morneau-less Twins’ lineup has been on absolute fire with 127 runs over 20 games. That works out to 6.4 runs per game after the offense averaged a modest 4.8 runs through the first 142 games. And the pitching staff that fell apart thanks to injuries in the rotation and shoddy relief work has experienced a similar turnaround, allowing 20 percent fewer runs during the 30-14 stretch.
The rotation’s new front four of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and Brian Duensing were a combined 17-9 with a 3.76 ERA over that 44-game stretch and relievers Jesse Crain (1.37), Jon Rauch (1.80), Matt Guerrier (2.00), Ron Mahay (2.08), and Jose Mijares (2.45) each had ERAs under 2.50. In fact, the only relievers to post an ERA above 2.50 while appearing in at least 10 of the 44 games were Joe Nathan at 3.22 and Bobby Keppel at 6.61.
Apparently when fourth-fifths of the rotation is humming along, the lineup is filled with guys hitting .350, and every reliever coming out of the bullpen has a 2.00 ERA … well, some crazy things can happen.

Albert Pujols is eighth on the all-time home run list

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Albert Pujols kicked things off for the Angels in dramatic fashion on Friday night, cranking a two-RBI home run off of the Orioles’ Jeremy Hellickson to give the club an early lead in the first inning. The 350-footer was his 18th home run of the year and No. 609 in his 17-season career, tying Sammy Sosa on the all-time home run list for eighth overall and most home runs hit by a player born outside of the United States.

With the home run, Pujols sits just three homers shy of tying Jim Thome’s 612-home run record for seventh on the all-time list. That figures to be the last major milestone still ahead of the designated hitter this season, with Ken Griffey Jr.’s 630-home run mark still a distant 21 blasts away.

The Angels, meanwhile, ran with Pujols’ lead, collecting home runs from Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, Kaleb Cowart and Mike Trout. It wasn’t quite enough to quash the Orioles, however, who surged to a 9-7 finale after Manny Machado went 3-for-5 with three home runs and struck a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.

Nationals place Max Scherzer on 10-day disabled list with neck inflammation

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The Nationals placed right-hander Max Scherzer on the 10-day disabled list with left neck inflammation, the team announced Friday. Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start against the Padres and replaced by left-hander Matt Grace, though an official roster move has yet to be made to fill his spot on the roster. The assignment is retroactive to August 15.

Scherzer experienced a similar pain on the right side of his neck at the start of the month, though this is the first official stint he’ll serve on the disabled list in 2017. While comments from club manager Dusty Baker suggest that the injury wasn’t caused by any particular trauma, it seems likely that the ace right-hander will be sidelined for at least one more start.

It’s a terrible time to lose a star pitcher, especially with the Nationals positioned to make a deep run in the postseason, but their 14-game cushion in the NL East should buy them some time while Scherzer’s on the mend. Prior to his bout of inflammation, the 33-year-old looked remarkably healthy this season. He pitched through his fifth consecutive All-Star campaign and currently boasts a 12-5 record in 24 starts, complete with a 2.25 ERA (good for second-best among qualified starters), 2.2 BB/9 and 12.3 SO/9 in 160 1/3 innings.