Kings of the East
The New York Yankees defeated the Angels 9-1 on Thursday, claiming their first American League East Division title since the 2012 season. They did so behind a stellar pitching performance from veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and home runs from DJ LeMahieu, Brett Gardner, Cameron Maybin and Clint Frazier.
LeMahieu, who has been a catalyst atop the Yankees' lineup all season, delivered the biggest blow with a three-run blast in the second inning. He's now slashing a robust .329/.377/.518 with career highs in home runs (25), RBI (97) and runs scored (105).
It’s the 21st time in the last 25 years that the Yankees will be taking part in the postseason.
In addition to the Yankees clinching their first division title since 2012, Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone also made a bit of history on Thursday night. Boone notched his 200th career victory with the win over the Angels, but in doing so, he also became the first manager in Major League history to win 100 or more games in each of his first two seasons.
The front-runner for American League Manager of the Year honors, Boone made sure to let his players know that while winning the division is worth celebrating, there is still work to be done. He told his club before their postgame celebration started, “One of the things that we talked about in Spring Training was winning the division, and that’s a reality now,” Boone said. “You think of a lot of people that contributed to this. Obviously we have bigger goals, but this is an important step and I’m just proud of the guys and so many people – some that aren’t even in that room right now – that have contributed to us being here.”
Next on the docket for the Yankees will be attempting to lock up home field advantage throughout the American League playoffs. They’ll enter play on Friday just ½ game behind the Astros for the top record in the league.
While the day ended in a celebratory mood for the Yankees, there was unexpected turmoil in the afternoon when Major League Baseball announced that 18-game winner Domingo German was placed on administrative leave under the joint MLB-MLBPA domestic violence policy.
Bob Klapish of the New York Times reported that German allegedly slapped his girlfriend during an argument late Monday night and that the incident happened “in a public setting” and was “witnessed by an official from the Commissioner’s Office”. Lindsey Adler of The Athletic later disputed that report, saying that the alleged incident was not witnessed by an MLB official.
At this stage, it seems unlikely that German will throw another pitch for the Yankees this season, which leaves a rather large hole for them to fill as they plan how to align their postseason rotation.
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Cardinals vs. Cubs
The Cubs and Cardinals engaged in another classic division battle on Thursday night, with the Cubs desperately needing a victory to keep their postseason hopes alive, while the Cardinals were looking to lock down their lead in the National League Central Division and inch one game closer to claiming that title.
In a surprise move before the game, Anthony Rizzo (ankle) was a late addition to the Cubs’ lineup. Rizzo, who was supposed to still be in a walking boot, showed up in the field in full uniform during warmups and proved to the training staff that he's able to run the bases without issue -- talking his way back into the Cubs' starting lineup.
He wasn’t there just as an observer either -- Rizzo got the Cubs on the board when he smashed an opposite-field solo shot off of Cardinals’ right-hander Jack Flaherty in the third inning. That would be the only run -- and one of only three hits -- that the Cubs would muster against Flaherty over eight innings.
Speaking of Flaherty, can we appreciate this guy’s greatness for a minute? Some fantasy owners who invested an early-round selection in the 23-year-old hurler were probably willing to throw in the towel when after his first 17 starts he owned a miserable 4.90 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 101/31 K/BB ratio over 90 innings. Those who kept the faith have certainly reaped the rewards.
In 14 starts since July 2, he has been other-worldly. In that time, he owns a minuscule 1.07 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 113/21 K/BB ratio across 92 ⅓ innings. His season-long ERA that sat at 4.90 in early July now rests at a stellar 2.96.
Unfortunately for Flaherty -- and his fantasy owners -- he was denied what should have been his 11th victory on Thursday, despite exiting with his team leading 4-1 after eight innings. Carlos Martinez came on for the ninth and immediately got into trouble -- issuing a leadoff walk to Nicholas Castellanos and a single to Kris Bryant. He battled back to strike out Kyle Schwarber, but then Ben Zobrist laced an RBI double into right field and Willson Contreras followed with an RBI single, cutting the lead to one run. It was at that point that Cardinals’ manager Mike Shildt had seen enough and turned the ball over to Andrew Miller. He was able to get Jason Heyward on a ground ball, but that forced in the tying run and cost Flaherty his victory. Nico Hoerner then gave a ball a ride to deep center, but it was run down by Harrison Bader, bringing about extra innings.
It was in the 10th inning that Matt Carpenter -- who had only entered the game once Kolten Wong left due to a hamstring injury -- clubbed a go-ahead solo home run off of Cubs’ closer Craig Kimbrel to put the Cardinals back out in front. The Cubs were unable to score in the home half of the inning, ending in a heartbreaking defeat.
With the loss, the Cubs will enter play on Friday four games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central and one game behind the Brewers for the second and final Wild Card berth in the National League.
It’s not often that a manager who is in the midst of a 53-99 season, and who has seen his overall win totals drop in each of his four seasons at the helm of a big league club get a contract extension -- but that’s exactly what’s happening in Miami.
Daniel Alvarez Montes of ElExtraBase reported Thursday night that the club had agreed to an extension with the 58-year-old manager. Jon Heyman later added that the deal would be for two seasons plus a club option for a third season. Marlins’ CEO Derek Jeter will make a formal announcement with all of the details at 3:00 PM on Friday.
With this extension, Mattingly will become the first manager in franchise history to remain on the job for five seasons. Jack McKeon, John Boles, Fredi Gonzalez and Rene Lachemann each served as the Marlins’ skipper for four seasons.
While it seems crazy at first glance -- especially given Mattingly’s weaknesses as an in-game manager -- it does seem like the right move for the rebuilding Marlins at this time. In a full-blown rebuild, Mattingly has been able to keep the train on the tracks this season -- and has been able to get his players to buy into what they’re building there. Keeping the same staff, philosophy and voice in place seems critical during the third year of their rebuild, rather than blowing the whole thing up and attempting to start over from scratch again.
In addition to Donnie Baseball getting extended, the Marlins are also expected to announce a two-year contract extension for Miguel Rojas on Friday.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported Thursday that the two sides had agreed to a two-year deal that also includes a team option for the 2022 season. The pact will buy out one year of arbitration and at least one year of free agency for the 30-year-old .
Rojas has done a nice job as the club’s everyday shortstop this season, slashing .288/.338/.388 with five homers, 45 RBI and eight stolen bases in 123 games.
American League Quick Hits: Mookie Betts (foot) was absent from the Red Sox’ starting lineup again on Thursday. He’s expected to function as the team’s designated hitter at some point over the weekend... J.D. Martinez (groin) missed his third straight contest on Thursday. His status for the remainder of the season remains in the air as well… Michael Chavis (oblique, shoulder) has not responded well to baseball activities and looks unlikely to return to the Red Sox before season’s end… Dellin Betances (Achilles) is expected to be ready for the start of spring training… Alex Cobb (hip, knee) is expected to be ready for the start of spring training… Edwin Encarnacion (oblique) was able to run in the outfield and participate in agility drills prior to Thursday’s game… Jose Ramirez (hand) was able to take batting practice from both sides of the plate prior to Thursday’s game against the Tigers… Bo Bichette was removed from Thursday’s contest against the Orioles for precautionary concussion testing after he was hit on the brim of the helmet by a pitch… Eduardo Rodriguez picked up his 18th victory on Thursday, striking out 10 while allowing just an unearned run over six innings against the Giants… Kole Calhoun smacked his 32nd home run in a losing effort against the Yankees… Anthony Kay earned his first MLB victory, giving up two runs over four innings against the Orioles… Lourdes Gurriel clubbed his 20th home run in that victory… Trey Mancini went 4-for-4 with a pair of RBI in a losing effort against the Jays… Mike Clevinger struck out six over six scoreless innings against the Tigers to earn his 12th victory of the season… The Indians have now won 17 consecutive games against the Tigers… Nelson Cruz blasted a pair of home runs and drove in five as the Twins topped the Royals. He’s now just one long ball shy of another 40-homer season… Shed Long went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI as the Mariners topped the Pirates.
National League Quick Hits: Josh Bell (groin) was held out of the Pirates’ lineup again on Thursday and is looking more doubtful by the day to return this season. He has yet to attempt running since he tweaked his groin last Friday… Jean Segura was removed from Thursday’s game against the Braves with a left hamstring cramp. He’ll be sent for further testing to determine the severity of the injury, putting the remainder of his season in jeopardy… Felipe Vazquez is facing possible deportation if he’s convicted of the sex crime charges brought against him… Javier Baez (thumb) has begun hitting off a tee and has been cleared to begin light baseball activities… Cole Hamels was scratched from his scheduled start on Sunday due to shoulder fatigue… Kolten Wong was pulled from Thursday’s game with a left hamstring injury. He’ll undergo an MRI on Friday to determine the severity of the injury… Ronald Acuna Jr. blasted his 40th home run in a victory over the Phillies, becoming just the third player in MLB history to hit 40 or more home runs at age 21 or younger (joining Mel Ott and Eddie Matthews). He’s just three stolen bases shy of a 40 HR / 40 SB season… Lorenzo Cain was removed from Thursday’s victory over the Padres (after he had homered) due to left ankle discomfort. He’s considered day-to-day… Jordan Lyles struck out nine over 4 ⅔ innings of one-run ball in a no-decision against the Padres.