The Astros' clinching of their third-straight American League West title has long seemed to be more a question of "when" than "if."
The "when" was answered Sunday.
The Astros, on the back of George Springer's three-homer game, rolled to their third consecutive division title with Sunday's 13-5 win over the Angels.
“I’m happy for the fans, happy for the city and happy for us a team,” Springer said. “A lot has to go right for us to do this and a lot of hard work has to get put into it. It did, and we’re starting to see it.”
It's fitting that Sunday's stars were also the stars who have carried the Astros all season long. Justin Verlander started and went five innings, earning his 20th win of the season -- the first pitcher this year to get to 20 wins. AL MVP candidate Alex Bregman hit a two-run homer. Rookie sensation Yordan Alvarez had four hits. Springer had three homers.
The division is now locked up, but the Astros still have some things left to play for in the season's final week. They are currently a half-game up on the Yankees for the best record in the American League, and the winner of that race is likely to be the difference between playing the Twins and playing the winner of the Wild Card game.
The team is built to go well beyond the first round, though. With Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, the rotation for a five- or seven-game series has no weaknesses. A stout bullpen led by Roberto Osuna can plug any leaks in the rotation. And the lineup is potent from top to bottom.
They know that, too. Bregman said Sunday's celebration was nice but that the team has its sights set on higher goals.
“That’s our first goal is winning the division,” Bregman said. “Everyone that’s in here is happy about that, but nobody’s satisfied.”
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Bryant Suffers Sprained Ankle
The insult was worse, but the injury was pretty bad for the Cubs on Sunday, too.
The team suffered another difficult loss, falling 3-2 to the Cardinals after the visitors scored two runs in the top of the ninth, but they also might have lost third baseman Kris Bryant for a while after he sustained a sprained right ankle. Bryant hurt his ankle when he stepped awkwardly on first base while trying to beat a double play in the third inning.
"It's tough," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "I talked to him. He's feeling OK. Hopefully it's not too long, but it's just a tough series."
The Bryant loss would compound the Cubs' health issues in recent weeks. Rizzo is back in the lineup but in a limited capacity after he sprained his ankle a week ago. Javier Baez is being used as a pinch-runner but can't hit or play in the field due to a fractured left thumb. Cole Hamels missed his scheduled start over the weekend with left shoulder fatigue.
If the team doesn't turn it around soon, they'll have plenty of time to rest and recuperate as they wait for spring training to begin. After Sunday's loss -- their sixth in a row, including a four-game sweep at the hands of the division-rival Cardinals -- the Cubs are mathematically eliminated from winning the NL Central and are four games back of the second Wild Card spot with a week to go.
Now, they might have to make the uphill climb without a few of their best hitters.
Severino is Back
Luis Severino made his return to the Yankees rotation last week.
But on Sunday, he announced that he's back.
The distinction came after the right-hander dominated the Blue Jays on Sunday, striking out nine over five scoreless innings of work.
“Our ace is back,” Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said. “I’m excited about it; just at the right time. He’s coming back, he’s healthy and that’s the most important thing. I really don’t care what he’s doing right now on the mound but just as long as he’s healthy and we have him for the postseason, I think we’ll be in a good spot.”
Severino was impressive in his 2019 debut against the Angels, working four scoreless innings on Tuesday. With Sunday's outing, he became the first Yankees pitcher to throw at least four scoreless innings in his first two appearances of the year since Pascual Perez did it in 1991, per MLB.com.
The 25-year-old's rounding into form comes at just the right time, too, as the Yankees head into October with a championship run on their mind. A healthy and effective Severino heads up a rotation that also includes James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka, allowing them to match up with the Astros' three-headed monster for what could be a potentially must-see ALCS showdown.
We're ready. And now, so is Severino.
National League Quick Hits: Freddie Freeman (elbow) will remain in Atlanta while the Braves travel to Kansas City for their two-game series next week. Freeman will remain at home and receive treatment, with the expectation that he'll rejoin the team in New York on Friday. It sounds as though they're just playing things cautiously here, and had this been a playoff situation Freeman would have remained in the starting lineup. ... Max Muncy (quad) remained out of the Dodgers' lineup Sunday. Muncy has now missed two straight starts after being lifted from Friday's game with a tight quad. The ailment is considered minor, but the Dodgers can afford to play it safe. ... Kolten Wong has been diagnosed with a Grade 2 left hamstring strain. Wong is hoping to be ready to play by next weekend, although that wouldn't seem to be a given since he'll be just a week removed from a moderate strain at that point. The Cardinals have shifted Tommy Edman over to second base and re-installed Matt Carpenter at third base with Wong on the shelf. ... Seth Mejias-Brean went 3-for-4 and hit a two-run, walk-off home run in the 10th inning Sunday to lead the Padres to a 6-4 win over the Diamondbacks. The homer was the second for the 28-year-old since he was promoted by the Padres earlier this month, and he's hitting .300/.364/.700 in a very small sample size. Sunday was surely a day Mejias-Brean won't forget. ... Cody Bellinger hit a grand slam as the Dodgers bested the Rockies 7-4 on Sunday. Rockies reliever Jake McGee made a mistake where you don't make mistakes to Bellinger, and the 24-year-old knocked it over the right field wall in the fifth inning to break a 1-1 tie. The homer was the 46th of the year for Bellinger, who's got 114 RBI and 118 runs scored while hitting .302/.404/.628 in 151 games this year. In an offensive environment unlike anything we've ever seen, Bellinger is still having a massive year by any standards. ... Eric Thames homered twice to help the Braves complete a three-game series sweep against the Pirates with a 4-3 victory on Sunday. The last time he accomplished the feat was on June 17, 2018. The 32-year-old first baseman has re-emerged as an everyday contributor and a key component in the Brewers’ lineup, hitting .250/.352/.503 with 63 runs scored, 23 home runs, 59 RBI and three stolen bases in 438 plate appearances.
American League Quick Hits: Royals manager Ned Yost confirmed Sunday that Adalberto Mondesi's shoulder injury on Sunday will sideline him for the remainder of the season. Mondesi had his shoulder pop out and pop back in while making a diving stop in the field on Sunday. It's a tough way to end the year for the 24-year-old, who slashed .263/.291/.424 with nine homers, 62 RBI and 43 stolen bases in only 102 games during an injury-plagued campaign. ... Jose Ramirez (hand) is expected to return to the Indians' lineup on Tuesday. Ramirez has been taking batting practice for a few days now and on Saturday faced live pitching for the first time since he had hamate bone surgery in late August. It's a quicker than expected return and will certainly be welcomed by the Indians as they fight for an AL Wild Card spot. ... Rays activated 2B/OF Brandon Lowe from the 60-day injured list. Manager Kevin Cash announced exactly a month ago that Lowe was done for the season with a strained left quad, but Lowe managed to work his way back more quickly than expected and will look to give the club a boost in the final week. He certainly could be rusty, but the 25-year-old is worth using in fantasy leagues. ... Willie Calhoun hit two of the Rangers' five home runs Sunday in a 8-3 win over the Athletics. The homers gave him 20 on the year, an impressive feat considering he's played in just 77 games with the big club. Having gotten the chance to show what he can do, Calhoun's natural hitting ability has shone through this year, batting .269/.317/.531 in 290 at-bats this season. ... Miguel Sano homered twice to power the Twins to a 12-8 blowout victory over the Royals on Sunday. The 26-year-old slugger is now up to 33 round-trippers on the season after recording his fifth multi-homer effort of the year. He’s been sizzling at the dish recently, leaving the yard six times over his last nine games. He owns a .248/.347/.580 triple-slash line with 72 runs scored, 33 homers and 77 RBI in 424 plate appearances. If he stays healthy, he has a chance to contend for a home run title next season. It’ll be fascinating to see where he ends up being selected in fantasy drafts next spring.