Joe Torre failed to start Matt Kemp for three straight games this week, and when he was asked about it he was kind of coy. The impression given was that he was giving Kemp some time off in order for him to regroup and find a way out of his season-long slump. Dylan Hernandez reports, however, that it was much less zen than that: Kemp was being punished.
Why? Because during Saturday’s game with the Yankees he failed to back up second base when Russell Martin threw to try and nail and Derek Jeter, whole was stealing on the play. When the throw skipped, Kemp wasn’t there and Jeter scampered on to third base.
The problem came after the inning when bench coach Bob Schaefer tried to remind Kemp of his defensive responsibilities on steals, Kemp was dismissive and Torre subsequently decided that Kemp needed some time off.
True Blue L.A. had a great post recently analyzing Kemp’s struggles this year, and determined that they were mostly a function of speed: he’s getting caught stealing, he’s hitting into double plays, he’s not getting infield hits and he’s not tracking down fly balls.
One possibility is that he’s lost a step or has an injury or something. Another possibility — made more likely in my mind given Hernandez’s story — is that Kemp just isn’t all that motivated to bust his ass like he has in the past.
No surprise here: The Astros are headed back to the postseason to defend their title following a landslide 11-3 win over the Angels on Friday. This figures to be their third playoff run since 2015, though they have yet to wrap up the AL West with a division title.
First baseman Yuli Gurriel led the charge on Friday, smashing a grand slam in the first inning and tacking on a two-run homer in the second and RBI single in the fifth to help the Astros to a seven-run lead. The Angels eventually returned fire, first with Mike Trout‘s 418-foot homer in the sixth, then with an RBI hit from Francisco Arcia in the seventh, but they couldn’t close the gap in time to overtake the Astros.
On the mound, right-hander Gerrit Cole clinched his 15th win of the year after holding the Angels to seven innings of three-run, 12-strikeout ball. His sixth strikeout of the night — delivered on an 83.1-MPH knuckle curveball to Kaleb Cowart — also marked the 1,000th strikeout of his career to date. He was backed by flawless performances by lefty reliever Tony Sipp and rookie right-hander Dean Deetz, both of whom turned in scoreless innings as the offense barreled toward an 11-3 finish with Jake Marisnick‘s sac bunt and George Springer‘s three-run shot in the eighth.
Despite having qualified for the playoffs, the Astros still carry a magic number of 6 as they look to clinch a third straight division title. They’re currently up against the Athletics, who entered Friday’s contest against the Twins just four games back of first place in the AL West.