Mondays are awful. Mondays where you don’t have to work, though? Those are awesome. Standing Room Only is here to make your Labor Day even better with our weekend recap. Here is a six-pack of major storylines from the weekend in baseball.
No Michael Brantley. No Andrew Miller. Two doubleheaders in three days. No problem for the Cleveland Indians, who have put together an eleven game win streak.
During the streak, which started against Boston and rolled through series against the Royals, Yankees, and Tigers, the Tribe have outscored their opponents 79-18, scoring first in every contest. Four of the victories have been shutouts.
Back in July, this team looked out of sorts. Injuries threatened to derail the season, especially in the outfield, and the pitching staff was wildly inconsistent. The addition of Jay Bruce and strong play from younger role players like Diaz, Erik Gonzalez, and Giovanny Urshela gave the offense a new spark of energy. The continued success of Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle of the lineup ensures those lead-off base hits turn into runs on the board.
The pitching has been even better. Corey Kluber is a serious Cy Young contender (2.27 ERA, 99 strikeouts since the All-Star Break). After an up-and-down start to the season Trevor Bauer seems to have turned things around (2.31 ERA in 7 August starts). More impressive have been the outings turned in by the pitchers at the back of the starting rotation: Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger, and Ryan Merritt. In their combined five starts during the win streak, the trio have given up just two earned runs across 29.2 innings.
All win streaks end, but don’t expect Cleveland to drop off much as the season moves through September. They don’t have to play any division leaders, and get the privilege of beating up on the White Sox, Tigers, and Royals four more times. Add Brantley, Miller, and Danny Salazar back into the fold when they return from the DL, and you might have the hottest team in baseball when the postseason begins.
Speaking of the Indians…
Once Good, Twice Lucky
11-game win streaks don’t happen without a little bit of luck. Take Jose Ramirez’s day yesterday. Comerica Park can be a tough spot to hit a homer. Sometimes, you need a little help from your friends–or, in this case, the opponents’ left fielder Mikie Mahtook.
But watch the video to the end; later in the game, Ramirez hit another deep ball, this time to right field. Outfielder Alex Presley went back to make the play, but the ball bounced off his glove and over the fence to give Ramirez his second round-tripper on the day.
Weird baseball is awesome. Unless you’re a Tigers fan (like me), and you just want to hang your head in shame and eat a whole tub of chocolate frosting while watching the 2006 ALCS on repeat.
History Out Of Reach
Two teams have gone 2-8 over their last ten games, the worst mark in MLB over that span. The San Francisco Giants, unsurprisingly, are one. The other? The Los Angeles Dodgers.
Only a few weeks ago it feels like we were discussing whether the Dodgers could challenge for the best record in baseball history by amassing 114 wins. They hadn’t lost a series since before the All-Star Break. The rotation looked deeper than any of their competitors, and their offense was consistent enough to back up the staff.
Now? Los Angeles has lost three series on the trot, dropping two of three to the Brewers, getting swept by the surging Arizona Diamondbacks, and going 1-3 in an embarrassing weekend series against the Padres.
To best the 2001 Mariners record of 116-42, the Dodgers would need to finish the season 25-1. Fuhgeddaboudit.
The pitching has been the problem. Alex Wood gave up two homers yesterday in his first start back from the DL. Darvish has given up 8 earned runs in his last two starts. Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu both got shelled for six runs in their last starts; Kenta Maeda got whacked with seven.
Bad weeks happen. The Dodgers will still get home field through October, and they still have one of the best rosters in baseball. Manager Dave Roberts and his crew just needs to make sure a bad week doesn’t turn into a bad month, or they could be in for a short postseason.
Your Weekly Giancarlo Blast
Yup. He went yard again, on Tuesday against the Nats:
And then again on Saturday against the Phillies, giving him 52 on the season.
Giancarlo’s got 26 games left, and on his current season-long pace, he’ll hit 63 home runs, the most of any player since the early 2000s, when Barry Bonds had the best offensive season ever in baseball. 63 wouldn’t be the record…but it’s still a big number, and impressive all the same.
Angels in the Outfield
Much of the buzz after Friday’s waiver-trade deadline followed Houston’s blockbuster acquisition of Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander, but lost in the shuffle were major trades pulled by Billy Eppler and the Los Angeles Angels. They shuffled Cameron Maybin off to Houston and replaced him by acquiring Justin Upton from the Tigers for a pitching prospect. Then, they struck a deal with the Braves to acquire 2B Brandon Phillips for minor leaguer Tony Sanchez.
The Angels sit just 1.5 games back of the Twins for the second wildcard spot in the AL, and these moves are a clear signal that they’re going for it this season. It seems a bit overeager–yes, anything can happen in the playoffs, but these are big moves for a team that doesn’t look like a genuine World Series contender.
When you consider the state of the farm system, though, these trades make sense. The Angels have nobody of note in their system; they aren’t going to get any better down the road without going through a long, arduous rebuild. Why not roll the dice and go all-in this season, when you still have the greatest baseball player of his generation in his prime?
The outfield of Upton, Trout, and Calhoun now becomes one of the best in baseball (at least offensively), and the middle infield combo of Andrelton Simmons and Brandon Phillips is sure to provide highlight-reel material. But the Angels are only going to go as far as their pitching staff can take them, and a potential wild-card starter of Ricky Nolasco doesn’t give me any confidence.
Hinch For Houston
In the wake of tragedy, sports can provide uplifting moments and an escape from the horrors that become the everyday. The devastation of Hurricane Harvey has hung on the hearts of everyone in the baseball community, none more so than the members of the Astros organization. Before their first game back home, manager AJ Hinch addressed the crowd with his heartfelt thoughts to the city.
Houston would go on to win the game against the New York Mets, but the score didn’t matter. Being able to carry on in the face of adversity and enjoy an afternoon at the ballpark was a victory for the whole city of Houston.
The Next Round:
Tuesday, September 5: Astros at Mariners, 10:10 EST. Justin Verlander makes his first start as the Astros look to solidify home-field advantage in the American League.
Midweek: The Diamondbacks head to Los Angeles to take on the Dodgers. The D-Backs swept the Dodgers last week at Chase Field; will the Dodgers return the favor?
Weekend: Two series should help provide some clarity to the AL Wildcard race when the Mariners host their division rivals Los Angeles and the Twins travel to Kaufmann Stadium to take on the Royals.