Jon Lester struck out eight in seven innings and Koji Uehara picked up a five-out save Friday as the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays 6-3 on Friday and clinched the AL East title.
Lester allowed just one run in seven innings to improve to 5-1 in his last seven starts. He’s turned in nine straight quality starts, allowing one run or fewer in five of them.
After Junichi Tazawa gave up a two-run homer and a single in the eighth, Uehara was called on to get five outs and did so for his 20th save. He did give up two singles along the way; it’s the first time since July 6 that he’s given up two hits in an appearances. It was the fourth time in the last month that he’s pitched over an inning for a save. The only reliever with more than four such saves this season is the Angels’ Ernesto Frieri with seven.
For the Red Sox, the win culminates a worst-to-first season that’s seen them go from 69-93 to 94-61 and counting. It’s their first AL East title since 2007 and just their since since 1995. They currently have the best record in baseball, setting them up to have home-field advantage throughout the postseason. That’s pretty big considering that they’re 52-27 at Fenway Park this year. The Red Sox haven’t won a postseason series since 2008, when they beat the Angels in the ALDS before losing to the Rays. They were swept by the Angels in the 2009 ALDS and they missed the postseason the following three seasons.
The Dodgers have signed lefty Rich Hill to a three-year, $48 million contract.The deal was reported to be imminent over the weekend, but was finalized today following Hill’s physical.
Hill missed a good deal of time in 2016 with blister issues — and he’ll be 37-years-old on Opening Day — but when he was healthy he was fantastic, posting the best season in his 12-year career. He had a a 2.12 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 110.1 innings between the Athletics and Dodgers.
Along with a healthy Clayton Kershaw a maturing Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda, the Dodgers rotation looks to be a strength in 2017.
UPDATE: Buster Olney reports that a deal is in place pending a physical. The financial terms are not yet known. UPDATE: Joel Sherman of the New York Post hears it’s in the four-year, $62 million range. That will make him, temporarily at least, the highest-paid closer in baseball history.
12:15 PM: Ken Rosenthal reports that the San Francisco Giants are close to a deal with closer Mark Melancon.
Melancon had an outstanding 2016, posting a 1.64 ERA, 2.42 FIP and a 5.42 K/BB rate in 71.1 innings while saving 47 games for the Pirates and Nationals. You may recall that the Giants had a strong interest in Melancon last summer. It was a well-founded interest given the bullpen woes which waylaid San Francisco in the second half of last season and continued on into the playoffs.
The terms of the apparently impeding deal will be known soon enough, but Rosenthal reported yesterday that Melancon was fielding offers in the four-years, $60 million range. That’s a lot for a closer, but it’ll probably look like a bargain compared to the deals signed with the other two top closers on the market, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Some have speculated that Chapman could get a deal closer to $100 million than $50 million, though that seems optimistic.
What the past couple of seasons have shown, however, is that having a top bullpen will get you very, very far in Major League Baseball. Champan may have been gassed at the end of Game 7, but he was essential to the Cubs’ World Series title. Powerful bullpens gave the Royals a title in 2015 and the Indians an AL pennant this past year. A weak one was, obviously, the Giants’ achilles heel.
Their great need at the back end of the pen, according to Rosenthal’s report, is apparently about to be filled.