2018 Division Series will be one to remember

Gerrit Cole
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It’s only the fourth day of Division Series play, but the eight remaining contenders are already closing in on a number of franchise and MLB playoff records. Here are just a few of the ways the Astros, Indians, Braves, and Yankees are setting themselves apart this postseason:

The starting pitchers in the first two games of a postseason series each racked up 200+ strikeouts during the regular season — a first in MLB history.

In Game 1 of the ALDS, Astros ace Justin Verlander (290 strikeouts) went up against the Indians’ Corey Kluber (222 strikeouts), while Game 2 featured a matchup between Gerrit Cole (276 strikeouts) and Carlos Carrasco (231 strikeouts). Both times, the Astros’ strikeout leaders came away looking far more dominant: Verlander whiffed seven batters across 5 1/3 innings in Game 1, while Kluber made his exit in the fifth with just two strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. During Game 2, Cole recorded his first postseason win for Houston while tossing seven innings of one-run, 12-strikeout ball — just a smidgen better than Carrasco’s two-run, three-strikeout performance through the first 5 1/3 innings of the Indians’ eventual loss.

José Altuve and Alex Bregman tied Carlos Beltrán for most postseason home runs in franchise history.

Both Altuve and Bregman have the chance to pull ahead as the franchise leader in postseason home runs: Thanks to Altuve’s fifth-inning solo home run off Kluber in Game 1 of the ALDS and Bregman’s 396-foot blast off Trevor Bauer in Game 2, they’ve each logged eight home runs in their postseason careers, the same as longtime slugger Carlos Beltrán accumulated during his first career postseason run. Beltrán set the record back in 2004, when he decorated his NLCS campaign with a solo shot off of the Cardinals’ Julian Tavarez.

The Braves were defeated in back-to-back postseason shutouts for the first time in franchise history.

Not only is this an unfortunate first for the Braves — it’s also just the second time it’s happened in MLB history. The Braves will enter Game 3 of the NLDS on Sunday night with just nine hits (and zero runs) to their name after getting blanked by the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu in Games 1 and 2, respectively

No other playoff team has been shut out in the first two games of a playoff series since 1921, when the Giants opened the 1921 World Series with an 0-2 record against the Yankees. While the Giants eventually staged a massive five-game comeback to take the Series, it’s not certain that the Braves will be able to muster the same kind of strength to overpower the Dodgers for the next three games and advance to the NLCS — let alone the Fall Classic.

Gerrit Cole recorded the second-most strikeouts in an ALDS game.

Not only did Cole take the edge over Carrasco during Game 2 of the ALDS on Saturday; he nearly tied the all-time record for most strikeouts in an ALDS game to date, too. The current record is held by Hall of Fame southpaw Randy Johnson, who delivered 13 strikeouts for the Mariners in the 1997 ALDS. Cole came just one strikeout shy of that mark after he was pulled in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game, making his exit from the mound with three hits, one run, zero walks, and 12 strikeouts over seven innings. He also placed second to Hall of Fame hurler Tom Seaver, who was the first to strike out at least 12 batters with zero walks during a postseason performance.

Gary Sanchez crushed the longest Division Series home run in the Statcast era.

The Yankees held their own hit parade during Game 2 of the ALDS on Saturday night, led by Aaron Judge‘s 445-foot homer off of Red Sox southpaw David Price in the first inning. Sanchez tacked on two more home runs to become the first Yankees’ catcher since Yogi Berra to record a multi-home run performance in the postseason (Berra earned his stripes during Game 7 of the 1956 World Series).

His second long ball of the evening registered 479 feet — longer than any home run Statcast has tracked in the Division Series since 2015. The current record-holder for longest postseason home run still belongs to the Cubs’ Willson Contreras, however, who clubbed a 491-footer off of Dodgers lefty Alex Wood in the 2017 NLCS.

Entering Sunday and Monday’s games, three of the eight playoff teams are poised for a Division Series sweep. While the Rockies, Braves, and Indians don’t exactly have history on their side, they wouldn’t be the first to claw their way back from an 0-2 deficit. Eight teams have worked their way back from an 0-2 start to the Division Series: the 1981 Dodgers, 1995 Mariners, 1999 and 2003 Red Sox, 2001 and 2017 Yankees, 2012 Giants, and 2015 Blue Jays. Perhaps less encouraging: Only the Dodgers and Giants pushed through their initial disadvantage to lay claim to a World Series.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.