Elias Says: October 1, 2017

Red Sox win division title, end 100-year curse

Drew Pomeranz’s 17th victory of the season was his biggest. He allowed one run over six innings and earned credit for the Red Sox’ 6-3 victory over the visiting Astros, clinching the American League East title. It marked the first time since 1915 and 1916 that the Red Sox had finished in first place in each of two consecutive seasons, ending the longest drought without first-place finishes in consecutive years by any team in the history of Major League Baseball. (The Red Sox’ span without consecutive first-place finishes lasted one year longer than the second-longest stretch of that type, which was produced by the Cubs: After winning the National League pennant three years in a row from 1906 to 1908, they next linked first-place finishes in 2007-08.)

Pomeranz (17-6) tied Chris Sale (17-8) for the team high in victories. Boston is the first major-league team on which a pair of left-handed pitchers each produced 17 victories in the same season since Barry Zito (23-5) and Mark Mulder (19-7) did that with the Moneyball Athletics of 2002 – but were barely mentioned for such excellence in either the book or the movie!

Judge breaks a record; CC passes HOFer, Robertson keeps getting outs

Aaron Judge’s record-breaking 52nd home run of the season opened the scoring while CC Sabathia and the bullpen preserved a thin lead in the Yankees’ 2-1 victory over the visiting Blue Jays. A few minutes after the game ended, however, the Bombers were consigned to wild card status when the Red Sox finished off their victory over the Astros.

Judge’s wallop was his 33rd homer at Yankee Stadium this season, breaking the franchise record for single-season home runs hit at home. The record that Judge broke had stood for 96 years, since the Bambino himself, Babe Ruth, smashed 32 homers in home games back in 1921 (two years before the original Yankee Stadium opened), when the Yankees played their home games at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan.

Sabathia earned the 237th victory of his major-league career, eclipsing Hall-of-Fame Yankees lefty Whitey Ford, who won a franchise-record total of 236 games from 1950 to 1967. (Sabathia has earned 120 games with the Yankees, after winning 106 with Cleveland and 11 with Milwaukee.) CC’s career victory total stands as the 16th-highest by a left-hander in major-league history.

David Robertson inherited a two-on, none-out situation in the top of the eighth, and escaped surrendering just one run. He struck out lefty batters Ryan Goins and Justin Smoak, extending a pair of impressive streaks. Robertson has held opponents hitless in their last 27 at-bats, the longest current streak for any pitcher in the majors, and he has held left-handed batters hitless in their last 33 at-bats, tying the Cubs’ Wade Davis for the longest streak by a right-handed pitcher in the majors this season.

Brewers lose after leading, 6-0, ceding last playoff spot to Rockies

The heartbreak of two extra-inning losses to the Cubs last weekend turned out to be an appetizer of the agony that Brewers fans felt on Saturday. Milwaukee’s 6-0 lead evaporated and its 7-6 loss at St. Louis eliminated Craig Counsell’s squad from playoff contention, allowing the Rockies to claim the final invitation to MLB’s postseason party. Milwaukee became the first major-league team to hold a lead of six-or-more runs but then to lose its 161st or 162nd decision of the season, with that loss resulting in its elimination from playoff contention.

In its final game of the 2006 season, the Tigers blew a 6-0 lead and lost to Kansas City, 10-8, with that result costing them the American League Central title, which went to the Twins. Nevertheless, Detroit reached the playoffs as a wild card and went on to reach the World Series. And back in 1984, on the final Friday of the season, it was the Twins who frittered away a 10-0 lead and lost, 11-10, at Cleveland. Coupled with a victory by the Royals later that night, Kansas City won the A.L. West title and the Twins were eliminated. But Minnesota’s loss came in its 160th decision of the season, as opposed to the 161st-game loss by the Brewers on Saturday in St. Louis.

The curious case of Mad Max

Max Scherzer threw the first three and one-third innings against the Pirates on Saturday evening at Nationals Park, before abruptly leaving the game following a mound conference and causing panic throughout the nation’s capital. Dusty Baker later attributed the right-hander’s exit to a cramp in his right hamstring. And the District of Columbia exhaled; sort of.

But then there’s this. Scherzer entered the game having amassed 263 strikeouts over 197⅓ innings, an average of 11.995 strikeouts per nine innings. Only three pitchers in MLB history averaged as many as 12 strikeouts per nine innings over a season of 200-plus innings: Randy Johnson did it six times (1995 and from 1997 to 2001), and Pedro Martinez (1999) and Chris Sale (2017) once each.

Scherzer would need two and two-thirds more innings to reach 200 innings, and would need four strikeouts over those two and two-thirds innings to average 12 strikeouts per nine innings for the season. And he did exactly that. He reached the 200-inning mark when Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon bunted foul on the third strike for the second out in the third inning. In addition, Taillon was his fourth strikeout victim of the night, lifting his strikeouts-per-nine average to 12.015.

But then Adam Frazier flied out for the third out of the inning, and with it, Scherzer’s strikeouts-per-nine average fell back to 11.995. Scherzer then came out for the fourth inning and fanned Starling Marte to put his average at 12.02 strikeouts per nine innings. On a 2-2 pitch to the next batter, Josh Bell, Scherzer delivered ball three, did an unusual-looking hop as he followed through, and after a consult with Baker, called it a night. (Had Bell made an out other than a strikeout, Scherzer’s strikeout rate would have rested at exactly 12; but had Bell reached base, a double play by the next hitter, Jordan Luplow, would have lowered it to 11.98. As it was, A. J. Cole relieved Scherzer with a 3-2 count on Bell, delivered ball four, and got Luplow to hit into a double play.)

Pittsburgh won, 4-1, reaching Brandon Kintzler for four runs in the ninth inning.

Archer joins The Big Unit and Mad Max

Chris Archer struck out six Orioles batters over a five-inning scoreless appearance and earned his elusive 10th win of the season. Archer, 10-12, had lost his last five starts and had last earned a win on August 22. He lifted his totals to 249 strikeouts in 201 innings, achieving a career-high average of 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings. It was the third successive season in which Archer has thrown at least 200 innings while maintaining a double-digit strikeout rate. Only two other pitchers in major-league history have had streaks like that. Randy Johnson had two such streaks (three years, 1991-1993, and a major-league-record six years, 1997-2002); and Max Scherzer extended his streak to five years (2013-2017) on Saturday night.

No homers for Stanton, but a neat achievement for Dee

Giancarlo Stanton produced only one hit, a single, in five at-bats as the Marlins defeated the Braves, 10-2, leaving him one home run shy of 60 for the season going into Sunday’s season finale. Manager Don Mattingly had mused about placing Stanton in the leadoff spot, to maximize the number of trips to the plate for the big slugger, but the skipper left Stanton in his customary number-two hole. Ironically, the Marlins sent 46 batters to the plate, with Ichiro, who had replaced Dee Gordon in the leadoff slot, making the final out in the bottom of the eighth inning, leaving Stanton on deck. Some thought that Stanton might have also taken that extra at-bat had he not been thrown out on the bases in the fifth inning, with Miami leading, 7-0. Stanton did drive in a run with his hit, taking the major-league RBI lead, 131-130, over Nolan Arenado.

Gordon did a bit of business of his own during the game, getting three hits and stealing two bases, giving him 200 hits and 60 steals for the season, a rather rare combination. Ty Cobb had five seasons of 200-plus hits and 60-plus steals over the first two decades of the 20th century; Benny Kauff did it in 1914 and Sam Rice in 1920. Thereafter, no major leaguer did it again until the expansion era began in the 1960s. Since then, exactly one player has done it in the ’60s (Maury Wills, 1962), in the ’70s (Lou Brock, 1971), in the ’80s (Willie Wilson, 1980), in the ’90s (Kenny Lofton, 1996), and in the ’00s (Juan Pierre, 2003), and Gordon is the first to do it in the ’10s.

Gordon also took the major-league lead in steals this season, 60-59 over Billy Hamilton, going into the season’s final day.

Dodgers win ultimate home-field privilege, Kluber takes MLB ERA lead

The Rockies, who had earlier clinched a playoff spot, took an early 3-0 lead against Clayton Kershaw, only to see the Dodgers, who had earlier clinched home-field advantage throughout the postseason, come away as the 5-3 winners at Coors Field.

Kershaw, allowing three earned runs over four innings, saw his ERA rise from 2.21 to 2.31, still the lowest in the National League, but no longer the best in the majors. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber lowered his ERA from 2.27 to 2.25 while allowing one earned run over five innings against the White Sox. But when Chicago finished off its 2-1 victory in Cleveland, that result secured home-field advantage for the Dodgers throughout the postseason.

Schwarber makes history, twice, in Chicago

It was all about round numbers for the Cubs in a 9-0 victory at Wrigley Field on Saturday. Kyle Schwarber’s second-inning homer (off the Reds’ Jackson Stephens) was his 30th this season and his sixth-inning strikeout (against Ariel Hernandez) was his 150th, while Jon Lester pitched five scoreless innings.

Schwarber joined Anthony Rizzo (32 home runs) in the Cubs’ 30-homer club (Kris Bryant has 29), and this marks the first season in which the Cubs have a pair of left-handed-hitting 30-homer hitters in the team’s 142-year history. The strikeout made Schwarber the 25th major-leaguer to punch out 150 times this season, breaking the previous high of 24 such players, set last year.

For Lester, Saturday’s start was only his second this season in which he did not allow a run, and the other one came against the Pirates back on April 16, in his third start of the season.

Cain’s finale: nothing if not familiar

Matt Cain tossed five scoreless innings against the Padres in what he had earlier announced would be his final start in the major leagues. Though Cain left with the Giants leading, 1-0, the Padres rebounded to take a 3-2 decision. It was a bittersweet, although predictable, end to Cain’s career.

Cain finished with a won-lost record of 104-118 (.468), but over the years, San Francisco’s offense and its bullpen had a hand in that. Saturday’s start was the 40th in which Cain was in line to earn a win (that is, he pitched at least five innings and left the game with the Giants leading) but saw the lead erased with a relief pitcher on the mound. That total of 40 “blown wins” tied Dan Haren for the most by any pitcher in the majors since 2005, Cain’s first year in the majors. In addition, over that same span, the Giants averaged 3.87 runs in Cain’s 331 starts, the lowest run support afforded any of the 81 big-league pitchers with made at least 200 starts from 2005 to 2017.

Gallo belts 40th and 41st

Joey Gallo smashed his 40th and 41st home runs of the season in the Rangers’ 8-4 victory over the visiting Athletics. Gallo became the fifth major-league player to reach the 40-homer mark this season, and, at 23, he’s the youngest of the bunch, more than 18 months younger than sensational Yankees rookie Aaron Judge, who turned 25 in April. Gallo, at 23 years, 315 days, became the second-youngest player in Rangers history to connect for 40 big ones in a season; Juan Gonzalez hit his 40th at 22 years, 331 days, in 1992. The only big-leaguers in this century to hit their 40th homer of a season at a younger age than Gallo were Albert Pujols in 2003, Prince Fielder in 2007 and Bryce Harper in 2015.

Trout 0-for-5, but qualifies

The Mariners erupted for five runs in the eighth inning and defeated the Angels, 6-4. The American League’s RBI leader, Nelson Cruz, drove in one of the runs in that inning, lifting his total for the season to 119 RBIs and maintaining a lead of five RBIs over Aaron Judge, 119-114, going into the final day of the season.

Mike Trout went hitless in five trips to the plate for the Angels, a hard 0-for-5 with no walks or times being hit by a pitch. It marked only the second such game for him this season (at least five plate appearances without a hit, a walk or a HBP); he went 0-for-5 like that on August 20, in a game that the Angels won at Baltimore. Even so, Trout did reach one milestone, as he reached the total of 502 plate appearances required for consideration among season-end league leaders. Trout will go into the final day leading the American League in slugging average, .630 to .627, and in on-base percentage, .442 to .422, over Aaron Judge in each case.

Will Ferrell not impressed: Romine did it in just one uniform & one ballpark

The Tigers’ idea of entertaining Minneapolis fans on Saturday night was to move Andrew Romine around the diamond until he had played all nine positions. He did, and the Tigers won, 3-2. Romine finished the night apparently none the worse for the wear, which is more than could be said about the first of the five players who executed the nine-positions stunt in a major-league game. When Bert Campaneris became the first big-leaguer to do it, while playing for the Kansas City A’s against the Angels in 1965, he coursed through the infield and the outfield in innings one through seven, pitched the eighth and caught the ninth. What he wasn’t counting on was being flattened by big Ed Kirkpatrick, who was trying to score on an attempted double-steal, in the ninth inning. Campy blocked the plate, tagged Kirkpatrick out and held the ball after the collision, but left the game with an injured shoulder and was taken to the hospital. The Angels won, 5-3, in 13 innings. Campaneris started only one of Kansas City’s next 14 games before returning to the lineup to stay on September 25—the night that ageless Satchel Paige started and threwv three scoreless innings for the A’s against the Red Sox.

Cabrera’s HR wins it in Philly, extends Mets streak

Asdrubal Cabrera’s three-run homer in the 11th inning, his fourth hit of the game, was the deciding blow in the Mets’ 7-4 win at Philadelphia. Cabrera delivered that round-tripper of Phillies lefty Adam Morgan, and it lifted his season batting average vs. left-handed pitchers to .392, second-best among National Leaguers who faced lefty pitchers at least 100 times, behind Nolan Arenado (.423). Cabrera’s shot also extended a Mets streak: They have hit at least one home run in all nine games that they have played at Philadelphia this year.

Junis puts down D-Backs

Rookie Jake Junis limited the Diamondbacks to two runs and five hits over six innings, picking up deserved credit for the Royals’ 4-3 victory. Junis has gone 7-1 for the Royals since the All-Star break, despite a brief assignment to the minor leagues during that time. The only other MLB pitchers who have as high a winning percentage (.875) in eight-or-more decisions since the break are Corey Kluber (11-1, .917) and Robbie Ray (like Junis, 7-1).

Strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts

Finally, as a fitting coda to the all-time major-league record for strikeouts in one season falling on Wednesday, and as a prelude to the season’s 40,000th strikeout sometime on Sunday, we note that September set MLB-wide records for both total strikeouts (6,941) and strikeouts per game (16.69). The top five months in MLB history in terms of strikeouts per game all took place during the 2017 season: April’s record of 16.39 strikeouts per game was supplanted in May (16.47), June (16.53), July (16.67) and September. (August was a bit out of step: its average of 16.25 strikeouts per game puts it in seventh place all-time, following the five other months from this year and last September, when the average was a then-record 16.34 strikeouts per game.)