Tied with the Cardinals at 78 wins and 56 losses, the Pirates defeated their NL Central rival tonight by a score of 7-1 to move into sole possession of first place. They will enter September in first place for the first time since 1992, the last year the Pirates made the post-season. (It was also Barry Bonds’ final season with the franchise.)
A.J. Burnett held the Cardinal offense at bay, allowing just one run on four hits and a walk while striking out six over seven innings. The offense was relentless early as Burnett and Jose Tabata each knocked RBI singles off of Cardinals starter Lance Lynn in the second. Then, in the third, Marlon Byrd hit an RBI single, Russell Martin crushed a three-run home run to center, and Neil Walker laced an RBI triple for a five-spot to go up 7-1. Vin Mazzarro pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth as the Pirates wrapped up an easy victory.
First baseman Justin Morneau, recently acquired from the Twins for outfielder Alex Presley, joined the team during the game but was not used.
In other debut news, reliever John Axford made his Cardinals debut, retiring the Pirates in order in the bottom of the seventh. The Cardinals acquired Axford from the Brewers yesterday for a player to be named later.
Kurt Suzuki will wear a Braves’ uniform through the 2018 season after signing a one-year, $3.5 million extension with the club on Saturday, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal adds that the two had been in talks for weeks and Suzuki made it clear that he wanted to remain in Atlanta for the foreseeable future. The team has yet to announce the extension.
Suzuki, 33, initially signed a one-year contract with the Braves back in January. The veteran backstop stepped into a backup role behind starting catcher Tyler Flowers, but still found a way to impress at the plate with a .271/.343/.525 batting line, career-best 18 home runs and an .868 OPS through 287 PA. According to FanGraphs, Suzuki’s 2.2 fWAR makes 2017 his most valuable season since his run with the 2009 Athletics.
It’s a prudent move for the Braves, who would have lost one of their most dynamic second-half hitters to the free agent market this offseason. Entering Saturday, Suzuki is second only to Freddie Freeman with 11 homers and 1.4 fWAR since the All-Star break. His stunning comeback also confirmed the team’s decision to look outside the organization for a backup catcher, rather than turning to fellow veteran Anthony Recker behind the plate.
“On a personal level, this season exceeded my expectations,” Suzuki told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s just one of those things I can’t explain. I put a lot of work in and really didn’t have a job until late January. I got an opportunity here and took advantage of it. It was definitely a good fit.”
Tigers’ outfielder Mikie Mahtook is unlikely to play again this season, club manager Brad Ausmus announced Saturday. Mahtook was diagnosed with a Grade 2 left groin strain following Friday’s series opener against the Twins, when he appeared to injure himself after chasing down Byron Buxton‘s two-RBI double in the fourth.
This is the second time Mahtook has sustained a groin injury over the past month. The 27-year-old exited Friday’s game with a .276/.330/.457 batting line, 12 home runs and a .787 OPS through 379 plate appearances with the team.
With the Tigers out of contention, there’s no reason to trot out Mahtook for the remaining eight games of the regular season. The club has yet to specify a timetable for his return, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in fine shape to compete for a starting role next spring.