The Blue Jays are just going through the paces right now. Absent Jose Bautista, they’ve lost seven in a row and fallen to 57-73 on the season. The year’s most disappointing team, they have nothing left to play for.
Just don’t tell Edwin Encarnacion that. He’s homered three times during the current seven-game losing streak. Tonight’s was his 33rd of the year. He also walked three times, and he’s now sporting an outstanding 55/71 K/BB ratio for the year. Since the beginning of June, he has 18 homers, 47 walks and just 22 strikeouts.
Encarnacion is currently on pace to finish the season with 41 homers and 69 strikeouts. Just two different players since 2001 have managed to have 40-homer seasons while striking out less than 80 times: Albert Pujols did it six times, the last in 2010, and Barry Bonds did it three times (plus twice more in the 1990s).
This is Hall of Fame-type territory, for sure. Not that every player who has done it has gone on to the Hall of Fame, but almost everyone to accomplish it is at least a fringe candidate. Besides Bonds and Pujols, the last to get there were Gary Sheffield, Vladimir Guerrero, Todd Helton, Rafael Palmeiro and Mike Piazza. The exceptions to the fringe-HOFer rule in the last 40 years are Tino Martinez in 2007, George Bell in 1987 and Ben Oglivie in 1980.
Obviously, Encarnacion currently rates a lot closer to Martinez than Pujols, but he’s far from a flash in the pan. He was an underrated hitter in his early years in Cincinnati, with his poor glove holding him back and getting him sent to the bench whenever he had a few bad games in a row. He’s been one of the AL’s best hitters the last two years now and he’s still just 30. He should have at least another two or three big years in front of him.
Lost in the nifty base running by Dustin Pedroia that won Sunday’s game against the Rays, the Red Sox set a new major league record by striking out 11 batters in a row, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. Starter Eduardo Rodriguez struck out the final six Rays he faced and reliever Heath Hembree struck out five Rays in a row after that. Tom Seaver had the previous consecutive strikeout streak of 10, set on April 22, 1970 against the Padres.
The Red Sox also set a team record with 23 strikeouts in total: 13 by Rodriguez, five by Hembree, one by Matt Barnes, and four by Joe Kelly. Per Abraham, that’s the most strikeouts in a 10-inning game since at least 1913 and the most in a game of any length since 2004.
For Rodriguez, Sunday marked the first double-digit strikeout game of his career. He has pitched quite well since returning to the rotation at the start of the second half. Over 13 starts, the lefty has a 3.10 ERA with a 70/23 K/BB ratio in 72 2/3 innings.
Dodgers second baseman Charlie Culberson delivered a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the 10th inning, clinching the NL West for the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon. What a way to celebrate Vin Scully’s final home game behind the microphone.
The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, but shortstop Corey Seager tripled in a run to tie the game. Rockies outfielder David Dahl untied the game in the top of the ninth with a two-out solo home run off of Kenley Jansen. But Seager once again rose to the occasion, blasting a game-tying solo shot in the bottom half of the ninth against Adam Ottavino. That would set the stage for Culberson in the next frame.
Culberson, a former Rockie, came into the afternoon with a .591 OPS and zero home runs in 53 plate appearances. He finished the afternoon 3-for-5 with the homer.
It’s the fourth consecutive season in which the Dodgers have won the NL West. The Cubs have clinched the best record, which means they’ll play the winner of the Wild Card game. The Dodgers will play the Nationals in the NLDS. The Nationals have a 1.5-game lead over the Dodgers for home-field advantage, so both teams are still playing for something of importance in the regular season’s final week.