Cubs rally late, prevent the Braves from clinching the NL East for at least a little while

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The Braves entered the day with a magic number of one to clinch the NL East and eliminate the Washington Nationals from division title contention. If they could overcome Cubs starter Travis Wood, they could bust out the bubbly at Wrigley, but the Cubs had other ideas.

Wood surrendered a run in the fourth on an Evan Gattis RBI single to right, but other than that, he was very sharp. The lefty allowed just the one run in seven-plus innings of work, allowing five hits and walking four while striking out seven. Braves starter Kris Medlen was even better, however, holding the Cubs scoreless through seven innings. He took the mound for the eighth and even got the first out of the inning, but he was pulled after allowing a single to Starlin Castro. Lefty reliever Scott Downs came in but promptly gave up a single to Donnie Murphy and an RBI double to Anthony Rizzo, allowing the Cubs to tie the game at 1-1. David Carpenter replaced Downs, but wasn’t any better, allowing an RBI single to Dioner Navarro and a sacrifice fly to Nate Schierholtz, giving the Cubs a 3-1 lead entering the ninth.

Pedro Strop tossed an impressive ninth inning, striking out the side to wrap up the 3-1 victory and stave off the Braves’ celebration until at least the end of tonight’s Marlins-Nationals game. If the Marlins win, the Braves will clinch the East. Otherwise, the Braves will attempt to clinch tomorrow afternoon behind rookie starter Julio Teheran.

Hunter Pence is mashing for the Rangers

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Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.

Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.

Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.

What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.