The Astros took the field on Sunday needing a victory to clinch their first ever division title in the American League West. Previously, they had captured six division titles in franchise history, twice doing so in the National League West and four times in the National League Central, most recently in 2001.
To do so, they would have to get past the Mariners with recently-acquired right-hander Justin Verlander pitching in front of the home faithful in Houston for the first time.
The debut went exactly as anticipated.
Verlander scattered three hits and racked up 10 strikeouts over seven innings of one-run baseball as the Astros crushed the Mariners 7-1.
The atmosphere of Sunday’s start wasn’t lost on Verlander, "No matter what, whether it's two weeks to go in the season or the last day in the season, these games, you can feel it… You know there's a little more at stake. Yeah, it was a lot of fun to be out there. I don't know if you could ask for more for your home debut for a chance to clinch the division. I don't know how often that happens, but it's pretty special."
Through three starts, he has been everything that the Astros were hoping for when acquiring him from the Tigers, going 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA, 0.62 WHIP and 26/3 K/BB ratio across 21 innings.
In addition to his veteran leadership, Verlander adds a wealth of postseason experience to the Astros’ rotation, having registered a 3.39 ERA and 1.09 WHIP across 98 ⅓ innings in 16 career playoff starts.
With the division sewn up, the Astros will now turn their focus to securing home field advantage throughout the American League playoffs. They currently trail the Indians by 1 ½ games for the best record in the league.
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Missed it by that much
Matt Boyd entered Sunday’s start against the White Sox with a career 5.69 ERA and 1.52 WHIP across 269 innings at the big league level.
Those numbers are actually a shade better than the 5.75 ERA and 1.68 WHIP that he owns in 114 ⅓ innings across 22 starts this season.
So naturally, the 26-year-old southpaw made a bid at etching his name in the record books on Sunday, because that’s where we are at in Major League Baseball 2017.
Boyd was attempting to become the first left-hander in the history of the Detroit Tigers to throw a no-hitter. He was oh so close.
The White Sox had entered Sunday’s game having scored 29 runs over the first three games of their series against the Tigers. Those red-hot bats were stifled by Matt Boyd.
Aside from a two-out walk to Rob Brantly in the third inning, Boyd had been perfect through the first eight innings. He then got Adam Engel on a foul pop out to lead off the ninth inning and induced a ground ball to second base from Kevan Smith.
That put Boyd just one out away from history.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards for him on Sunday. After falling behind 2-0 to Tim Anderson, the White Sox’ shortstop lined a double over Nicholas Castellanos and into the gap in right-center field.
While he wasn’t able to complete the no-hit bid, Boyd did record the first complete game and the first shutout of his big league career. He struck out five and walked just one over his nine magnificent innings.
Keep on Swinging
Another day, another home run by Athletics’ rookie slugger Matt Olson.
It’s astonishing to me how little publicity he has received for his recent home run barrage, especially considering how much hype Rhys Hoskins seemingly received for doing similar things in the National League.
Olson tagged Phillies’ starter Henderson Alvarez for the solo shot in the fourth inning on Sunday. It was the third consecutive game that Olson has homered in, and his sixth long ball in his last eight games.
Unbelievably, this marked the fourth time in the last 32 games that Olson has homered in three consecutive games.
He has now clobbered 21 home runs in just 192 plate appearances in his 53 games this season. 17 of those long balls have come in his last 32 contests, including an astounding 13 in his last 19 games. For comparisons sake, Hoskins has 18 homers in 37 games this season.
The 23-year-old looks like a legitimate middle-of-the-order slugger and should be an extremely popular commodity heading into next season’s fantasy drafts.
Scoreless Streak Snapped
Nationals' star right-hander Stephen Strasburg had his scoreless innings streak snapped in unfortunate fashion on Monday. With two outs in the second inning, Logan Forsythe hit a fly ball to center field that glanced off the glove of Michael Taylor, allowing Yasiel Puig to score from third.
It was the first run that Strasburg had allowed since the first inning against the Padres on August 19. For the next 35 innings of work, he would go unscored upon, setting a new franchise record. It was also the longest scoreless streak in the big leagues this season.
That would be the only run that Strasburg would allow over six innings in Sunday's victory over the Dodgers. He struck out eight in the process while allowing three hits and walking three.
On the season, Strasburg now sits at 14-4 with a stellar 2.60 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 190/44 K/BB ratio across 162 2/3 innings in his 26 starts.
American League Quick Hits: Salvador Perez missed his third straight start due to an intercostal injury, but he’s expected to return to the lineup on Tuesday… Hanley Ramirez (biceps) was able to hit in the batting cages on Sunday and is on track to rejoin the Red Sox lineup early this week… Indians’ president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said Sunday that the club still has no clarity on a possible return date for Michael Brantley (ankle)... Andrew Heaney (shoulder) threw off flat ground without issue on Saturday, but the Angels still aren’t sure when he’ll be ready to return to the mound… Mookie Betts was removed from Sunday’s game against the Rays with a bruised right thumb. He’s considered day-to-day… Jeimer Candelario went 3-for-3 with a homer, three runs scored and four RBI in a rout of the White Sox… Nicholas Castellanos crushed his 23rd homer in plated four runs in that victory as well… David Price struck out a pair over two scoreless innings out of the bullpen against the Rays… Alex Colome locked down his major league-leading 45th save on Sunday… Corey Kluber strengthened his Cy Young resume, striking out nine over seven shutout innings in a victory over the Royals… Ubaldo Jimenez fanned 10 over five innings of one-run ball to beat the Yankees...Didi Gregorius swatted his 24th home run, tying the all-time record by a Yankees’ shortstop, in a loss to the O’s… Joe Mauer went 3-for-5 and blasted a grand slam as the Twins topped the Blue Jays… Eddie Rosario homered twice, and now has 26 on the season, in that win… Joey Wendle hit the first grand slam of his career in Sunday’s win over the Phillies… Mike Trout hit his 29th homer in a loss to the Rangers… Joey Gallo blasted his 38th homer, a 490-foot moonshot, in a win over the Angels.
National League Quick Hits: Koji Uehara admitted Sunday that he still is unable to throw due to his back tightness. There’s an increasing likelihood that he could miss the remainder of the season… Starling Marte sat out his fourth straight game due to finger and left shoulder injuries… Matt Kemp missed his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury… Drew Storen will undergo Tommy John surgery and is expected to miss the entire 2018 season… Adam Wainwright (elbow) threw a live batting practice session without issue on Sunday and is expected to be available out of the Cardinals’ bullpen beginning on Tuesday… Willson Contreras had his suspension reduced from two games to one… Buster Posey sat out Sunday’s game due to a sore toe on his left foot… Robert Stephenson allowed just one hit over six shutout innings in a victory against the Pirates… Scooter Gennett clubbed his 25th homer in a win over the Pirates… J.D. Martinez crushed his 40th homer of the season (in only 108 games) in a losing effort against the Giants… Pablo Sandoval homered from the right side of the plate for the first time since the 2014 season in a victory over the Diamondbacks… Jon Gray fanned seven over five shutout innings in a no-decision against the Padres… Wil Myers swiped his 20th base of the year, joining the 20/20 club for the second consecutive season… Dexter Fowler crushed a three-run homer in his return to the Cardinals lineup, though it wasn’t enough to beat the Cubs… Kyle Schwarber launched his 27th bomb in that victory, giving the Cubs a six-game advantage over the Cardinals in the National League Central… Bryce Harper (knee) took batting practice on the field prior to Sunday’s game against the Dodgers. He’s hopeful for a return to the Nationals’ lineup for the National League Division Series... Ryan Zimmerman crushed a pair of home runs and drove in four in Sunday night's victory over the Dodgers.