It was yet another victorious slate of games for the cream of the crop in the National League Central.
The division-leading Cardinals cruised to an easy 6-2 win over the visiting Marlins, with Mark Reynolds slugging a three-run home run and John Lackey pitching into the eighth inning. The second-place Pirates came out on top 5-3 in a 14-inning affair with the Mets, the go-ahead RBI coming from the bat of backup catcher Chris Stewart. And the third-place Cubs took care of the crosstown White Sox by a score of 6-3 for their ninth straight win. That’s the longest current winning streak in the major leagues and it has given the Northsiders a big 4 1/2 game cushion for the second National League Wild Card spot.
All three of those NL Central clubs are currently locked into postseason spots.
And they will all be looking to complete series sweeps on Sunday.
Your box scores and AP recaps from Saturday …
Yankees 4, Blue Jays 1
Mariners 10, Red Sox 22
Athletics 3, Orioles 4
Cubs 6, White Sox 3
Angels 4, Royals 9
Phillies 2, Brewers 4
Indians 1, Twins 4
Diamondbacks 8, Braves 4
Tigers 4, Astros 2 (11 innings)
Marlins 2, Cardinals 6
Pirates 5, Mets 3 (14 innings)
Rays 4, Rangers 12
Padres 7, Rockies 5
Reds 3, Dodgers 8
Nationals 6, Giants 12
What a night it was at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.
The host Pirates were down 2-0 to the visiting Cardinals after the top of the third inning and 3-0 after the top of the fifth, but Bucs starter A.J. Burnett hit a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth and then Jung Ho Kang and Pedro Alvarez tied the game with back-to-back RBI singles in the bottom of the eighth.
The score would remain 3-3 until the 10th, when Cardinals first baseman Mark Reynolds slugged a go-ahead solo homer — his second homer of the game. But then Pirates catcher Chris Stewart answered with an RBI single in the bottom half.
Jhonny Peralta put St. Louis back on top once again in the top of the 14th on an RBI single that scored Matt Carpenter, but that just set up Andrew McCutchen to play the hero with this walkoff blast …
Pittsburgh has won two in a row and now stands just 3 1/2 games back of first place.
Your box scores and AP recaps from Saturday …
Blue Jays 6, Royals 2
Tigers 5, Twins 9
White Sox 5, Cubs 1
Diamondbacks 2, Mets 4
Braves 2, Rockies 3
Reds 3, Marlins 14
Astros 0, Rays 3
Athletics 5, Indians 4
Nationals 7, Orioles 4
Yankees 3, Red Sox 5
Cardinals 5, Pirates 6
Padres 6, Rangers 5
Phillies 5, Giants 8
Angels 0, Mariners 5
Brewers 7, Dodgers 1
Francisco Cervelli has a new backup, as the Pirates activated catcher Chris Stewart from the disabled list and demoted Tony Sanchez to Triple-A.
Sanchez was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft, but the Pirates have never felt comfortable turning to him as a regular (even though Sanchez tweets about being ready for an expanded role every year, like clockwork).
He’ll be 27 years old next month, yet Sanchez has logged just 155 plate appearances in the majors spread over three seasons and now rather than keep him a backup role over a light-hitting journeyman like Stewart the Pirates are sending him to Triple-A for a fourth season.
The Pirates aren’t known for opening their wallets, but they’ll have to dig deep this winter to keep Russell Martin, arguably their second most important player in their last two postseason runs.
Martin is coming off the best offensive performance of his career, a .290/.402/.430 campaign in 111 games. However, it could prove to be an isolated performance. Martin had similar seasons in his first three years with the Dodgers from 2006-08, but since then his OPSs read: .680, .679, .732, .713, .703 and .832. The last mark sticks out like a sore thumb, and Martin has quite a bit of mileage on his soon-to-be 32-year-old body.
Making things more problematic for the Pirates is that not only is Martin the best catcher available in free agency, he completely laps the field. The fallbacks as potential starters are Nick Hundley, Geovany Soto and A.J. Pierzynski.
The Pirates don’t have a quality internal solution either. Former first-round pick Tony Sanchez isn’t known for his defense, and it’s not like he really makes up for it with his bat, either. Light-hitting Chris Stewart remains under control, but the backup role is all he’s really suited for.
If the Pirates can’t get a deal done with Martin in the coming weeks, the Rockies and Rangers figure to target him in free agency. Other suitors could also emerge, with the Dodgers, Angels, Cubs and Astros possibly jumping into the mix.
Besides Martin, the Pirates face losing starters Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez in free agency this winter, which would leave them looking at more buy-low candidates to go along with Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton in next year’s rotation. They’ll also have to make a decision on how to handle first base, which will probably involve non-tendering either Ike Davis or Pedro Alvarez.