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.
After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.
The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).
Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.
With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.
Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.
With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:
So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).
Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.