Daily Dose: Back injury shuts down Morneau

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Justin Morneau captured the AL MVP in 2006 largely because of the perception that he carried the Twins down the stretch, but for the most part his career has been filled with strong starts and poor finishes. In seven seasons Morneau has batted .297 and slugged .543 in April, May, June, and July compared to just .250 and .429 in August and September, and this year he’s gone 21-for-121 (.174) since August 1.
For once there’s an explanation for his slump, as the Twins announced Monday that Morneau will miss the rest of the year with a stress fracture in his back. Minnesota’s playoff hopes have already faded, so the good news is that the injury doesn’t require surgery and he should be able to resume baseball activities in three months. Michael Cuddyer will play first base, with Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young gaining value.
While the Twins unraveling around Joe Mauer could cost him a much more deserved MVP than Morneau’s in 2006, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Coming into the year Carlos Marmol was one of my favorite breakout picks, but Lou Piniella going with Kevin Gregg at closer ruined those plans. Piniella finally switched from Gregg to Marmol last month and since then he’s converted nine saves in a row with 18 strikeouts in 12 innings, which was enough for the Cubs skipper to announce Monday that Marmol will have the job all to himself in 2010. Count on that breakout.
* Brian Fuentes remains the Angels’ closer despite a 5.60 second-half ERA, but Mike Scioscia said Monday that rookie Kevin Jepsen could be given save chances down the stretch in “advantageous” matchups. That likely means mixing and matching the left-handed Fuentes and right-handed Jepsen, who has a 2.61 ERA and 39/9 K/BB ratio in 41.1 innings since being called back up from Triple-A in mid-June.
* Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Diamondbacks are not planning to exercise next year’s $8.5 million team option on injured ace Brandon Webb, who had shoulder surgery last month after being sidelined since Opening Day. Arizona will no doubt try to re-sign Webb to an incentive-laden deal, but if he hits the open market it could be tough to fight off bids from high-payroll teams willing to take a gamble.
* I’m a huge fan of WhatIfSports.com’s excellent Hardball Dynasty game, which is an incredibly detailed and time-consuming simulation of running a fictional organization from rookie-ball to the majors. One of my private leagues is starting a new season this week and we have a couple franchise openings, so if you have some experience playing Hardball Dynasty and want to join us, drop me an e-mail with your details.
AL Quick Hits: Joe Mauer went 3-for-3 with a walk Monday and is hitting .371, giving him an 18-point lead over Ichiro Suzuki for his third batting title in four years … Brett Tomko hurled a complete-game shutout Monday and has somehow gone 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA since joining the A’s … Joe Crede (back) is not expected to play again this year and is probably finished in Minnesota … Brian Matusz has been shut down after logging 157.2 innings between the majors and minors, with Mark Hendrickson taking his rotation spot … Nate Robertson and Armando Galarraga have been relegated to the Tigers’ bullpen, so Eddie Bonine will stay in the rotation down the stretch … Reid Brignac went 4-for-4 with a homer and two doubles Monday, raising his OPS by 150 points … Jeremy Sowers threw seven scoreless innings Monday before the bullpen turned a 3-0 lead into a 6-3 loss … Vince Mazzaro has been shut down for the year because of shoulder problems.
NL Quick Hits: Out since mid-July with a fractured wrist, Jay Bruce returned from the disabled list Monday after hitting .212 on a 10-game rehab assignment … Clayton Kershaw (shoulder) remains at least 10 days from seeing game action … J.A. Happ (oblique) tossed a bullpen session Monday and hopes to rejoin the rotation later this week … Derrek Lee homered Monday for the seventh time in 10 games … Tony La Russa indicated Monday that the Cardinals may skip Kyle Lohse’s scheduled turn in the rotation this weekend … Jose Valverde was not with the Astros’ on their road trip Monday thanks to a 101-degree fever … Bronson Arroyo turned in seven innings of one-run ball Monday for his 10th straight Quality Start … Huston Street (biceps) will throw a bullpen session Tuesday, but is unlikely to immediately resume closing once he returns … Randy Johnson (shoulder) tossed a 53-pitch simulated game Monday with an eye toward joining the Giants’ bullpen.

Blue Jays clinch 1st playoff spot since 2016, beat Yanks 4-1

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Barred from playing in their own ballpark this year because of COVID-19, the vagabond Toronto Blue Jays have found a home in the playoffs.

The slumping New York Yankees, meanwhile, look likely to play on the road in the postseason, where they’ve struggled all year.

Hyun Jin Ryu pitched seven shutout innings and the Blue Jays clinched their first postseason spot since 2016, beating the Yankees 4-1 Thursday night and further damaging New York’s chances of hosting a first-round series.

New York lost for the fourth time in five games following a 10-game winning stretch and remained two games behind the slumping White Sox for the fourth seed. Chicago lost 5-4 at Cleveland, its fifth straight defeat.

“We’ve got to get it rolling again, obviously, if we’re going to get to where we want to go,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I’m confident we can do it.

New York went 21-7 at home this season but was 11-18 on the road. Boone said he’s not concerned about that split even as a potential road playoff series looms next week.

“We’ve got to get ourselves in order and start playing really good baseball if we’re going to give ourselves a chance,” Boone said.

Toronto secured at least an AL wild-card spot and ensured its eighth trip overall to the postseason. The Blue Jays had endured three losing campaigns since their previous playoff trip, going 67-95 last season.

“I’m just so proud of my club and everything we’ve gone through all year,” second-year manager Charlie Montoyo said.

Canada’s federal government refused to allow games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre this season, citing the closed Canada-U.S. border and the travel risk associated with the pandemic. Stuck on the road to start the season, the Blue Jays eventually ended up at their Triple-A ballpark, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, but didn’t gripe about their fate.

“They never complained,” Montoyo said. “They had their mind set on getting to this moment right now.”

Blue Jays players embraced after Rafael Dolis struck out Aaron Hicks to end it, donning blue T-shirts that said “Respect Toronto.”

“This is something we want to make an every year thing,” infielder Cavan Biggio said. “For us, we’re happy, we’re excited we’re able to put ourselves in this position, but this is only the start of hopefully something special for a long time.”

The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by two games for second place in the AL East. Both teams have three games remaining. Toronto hosts Baltimore in Buffalo this weekend while the Yankees host the Marlins.

New York failed to hit a homer for the fourth straight game, matching its longest streak since June 2016. It’s the first time the Yankees have failed to homer in a four-game series since doing so at Texas in July 2013.

“I’m concerned with the way we’ve played recently,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Any time you’re not playing your best baseball and the postseason is right around the corner, something needs to be corrected rather quickly.”

New York loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez flied out to deep center, where Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch at the wall.

“It’s good to see him get a really good swing off in a big spot,” Boone said of Sanchez. “Just unfortunately, that short.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for Toronto, his eighth.

Ryu (5-2) scattered five hits, walked two and struck out four. Luke Voit and Hicks hit back-to-back singles to begin the sixth but Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out, and retired Gio Urshela on a groundball.

“He’s an ace and he did what an ace does,” Montoyo said.

The left-hander lowered his ERA from 3.00 to 2.69.

Dolis got four outs for his fifth save in six chances.

Guerrero opened the scoring with a solo homer off left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-3) in the second.

The Blue Jays extended their lead when Biggio and Bo Bichette hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third.

Toronto made it 4-0 in the sixth. Grichuk chased Montgomery with a single and Guerrero singled off Adam Ottavino before rookie Alejandro Kirk hit a two-out, two-run double.

Montgomery lost for the first time in four starts. He allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The Blue Jays finished 5-5 in their 10-game regular season series against the Yankees.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) was activated off the injured list and RHP Wilmer Font was designated for assignment. . RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a second bullpen session Friday.

Yankees: Aaron Judge came on as a pinch-hitter but is expected to start all three remaining regular season games, Boone said.

SHARED DUTY

Boone said he expects to use both Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka at catcher in the postseason. Higashioka has hit well while working with ace Gerrit Cole, while Sanchez has struggled with both offense and his defense down the stretch.

SEVEN UP

Ryu became the first Blue Jays starting pitcher since Aug. 22, 2019, to pitch into the seventh. It had been an MLB-record 88 games since RHP Jacob Waguespack pitched into the seventh at Dodger Stadium last year.

UP NEXT

Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.25) starts Friday as New York returns home to begin a three-game series against Miami. RHP Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12) starts for the Marlins.

Blue Jays: RHP Taijuan Walker (4-3, 2.86) starts Friday in the opener of a three-game series against Baltimore. The Orioles have not named a starter.