And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Orioles 6, Red Sox 3Yankees 9, Blue Jays 6: 159 games and NOTHING has been decided in the AL East. And, say what you want about the new playoff setup, but the fact that it matters so much who wins the division makes this a fantastic final three days. The Yankees close things out with the Red Sox at home. The Orioles go on the road to face that buzz saw.

Tigers 2, Twins 1; Rays 6, White Sox 2: That’s the sound of the AL Central title being all but sewn up. Anibal Sanchez with another solid start. If Max Scherzer is good to go in the playoffs, the Tigers’ rotation — despite all of the kicking and stumbling they’ve done all year — should make them a team no one wants to face.  As for the White Sox: bad time to run into a buzz saw Rays team.

Reds 4, Pirates 3: And with that the Pirates ensure their 20th straight losing season. The just stepped off the ledge and hit terminal velocity once the second half got going.

Cardinals 10, Nationals 4: Carlos Beltran went three for five with a couple homers and five driven in as St. Louis moves a step closer to icing the final playoff spot in the NL. Washington is all clinched for a playoff spot, but it’s probably worth noting that they still haven’t clinched the NL East.

Braves 6, Mets 2: All the Braves do when Kris Medlen pitches is win. That’s 23 straight of his starts in which Atlanta has prevailed, which is a new major league record. It’ll all be so much noise, however, if he does’t win his next start: the one-game wild card playoff.

Dodgers 7, Rockies 1: L.A. retains dim hope, two back with three to play. Josh Beckett tossed six innings of one run ball. Matt Kemp and Luis Cruz each hit two-run homers.

Astros 7, Brewers 0: And with that the Brew Crew is officially eliminated. It was a nice late run but the whole they dug for themselves earlier in the season was too great.  Watch out for next year, though: this team reminds me an awful lot of that 2010 Diamonbacks team that had the crap-awful bullpen and then the next year, when it wasn’t crap-awful, made the playoffs. Not that Milwaukee has to make up 30 games or whatever the hell it was the Dbacks did to turn things around.

Phillies 4, Marlins 1: Cole Hamels wins his 17th. The Phillies need one win in their final series to finish at .500. So that’s something to shoot for as they play the Nats this week. Well, that and the improbable sweep of the Nats while the Braves sweep the Pirates, resulting in a tied NL East and bonus tie-breaker baseball, which would be pretty fantastic.

Angels 5, Rangers 4; Rangers 8, Angels 7: The Angels rallied past the Rangers in the first game when Joe Nathan couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the ninth. In the nightcap Texas got ’em back, with Mike Napoli homering twice and driving in six. The Rangers clinch at least a wild card, but will have the west with one win over the A’s in the season’s final three.

Athletics 5, Mariners 2: Yoenis Cespedes hit an RBI triple and an eighth inning, game-tying go-ahead homer. Then Josh Reddick hit a two-run shot to put the A’s up for good give them some breathing room. The A’s solidify their wild card position, the AL West is not yet out of reach, but they gotta win out.

Indians 15, Royals 3: It’s the second Sunday in a row where the Tribe scored 15. This time, however, they did not outscore the Browns. The Browns scored 16 this week. Four driven in for Asdrubal Cabrera.

Cubs 7, Diamondbacks 2: I’ve stared at this box score for close to five minutes and can’t for the life of me think of anything interesting to say about it. Sorry, folks. That’s game 159 between a couple of also-rans for you.

Giants 7, Padres 5: A Xavier Nady homer tied it in the ninth and a Hunter Pence gave the game to the Giants in comeback fashion. Tim Lincecum continues to be exceedingly meh, giving up five runs — four earned — in six innings. He ends the season with a 5.18 ERA which, if someone would have bet you about it before the season began, you’d never have bit.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.