1. Troy Tulowitzki, Toronto Blue Jays: The drama of sorting out who’s going to win the AL West and the last remaining wild-card invite remains after Friday -- unless you’re the Twins, whose fun run is nearly done. So for my money, the biggest deal on Friday night as far as telling us what the postseason might have on tap was seeing how Tulo would fare in his return to action. The result, after almost three weeks away while recovering from a crack in a shoulder blade? He looks ready to roll again after ripping a pair of hits, both on fastballs, the first a single pulled through the left side of the infield, the second an eighth-inning double to right field off a 94 mph fastball from Matt Andriese. And he also started a double play off an Evan Longoria smash.
So as first days back in action go, it provided happy answers to the first few questions. We’ll know more about how his recovery is going if he’s able to execute on Saturday and Sunday, as well. And all that’s kind of a big deal, not just for the Blue Jays, but also for everyone who’s going to have to play them in October. Not so much because of Tulo’s performance in his brief stint as a Blue Jay in isolation (with just a .682 OPS in 39 games), but because of his career performance and what that tells us he can be capable of, which is a bit better than what any 39-game stretch is likely to tell you about any position player. And because having him in the lineup means the Jays won’t have to start veteran infielder Cliff Pennington (or his .574 OPS). And it tightens up their middle infield D with Tulo back at short and Ryan Goins slotting back at second base, which helps their pitching. And it helps them potentially clinch home-field advantage through the postseason, even without using David Price this weekend.
And most of all, it means that the Blue Jays, win or lose, are prepped to go as far as their best will take them, and that might be a scary-good thing as far as the rest of the league is concerned.
2. The Los Angeles Angels are stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive: With apologies to the BeeGees, this was another very typical Angels win -- if not for a grinder's start from Jered Weaver and Mike Trout and Albert Pujols combining to plate the deciding run in the ninth, they’d be in the same shape as the Twins. But because Trout and Pujols provided four of the Angels’ seven baserunners, the Angels eked out a 2-1 win, delayed the Rangers’ division title celebration by at least a day, kept pace with the Astros in the wild-card race and still have a chance of playing play-in baseball on Monday and/or Tuesday.
3. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros: Backed by the boys with the boomsticks scoring a franchise-record 21 runs in the always-cozy confines of homer-happy Chase Field, Keuchel spun a nice, brief, quality start to notch his 20th win of the season and reinforce his compelling case for the AL Cy Young Award. Will he beat out David Price? It’s going to be close, and ultimately it’s going to depend on which 30 voters have ballots this year, which is to say that not even a clear statistical advantage might help. And because their ERAs, FIPs and WHIPs are all close, while somebody’s going to use wins or WAR (advantage Keuchel) and somebody else might use strikeout rate (advantage Price) or quality starts and innings pitched (advantage Keuchel), let’s just say you shouldn’t envy the voters in the AL any more than in the NL, because there’s no wrong choice between the two -- but one will have to be made.
As for the Astros keeping control of their own destiny as they near clinching their upset invite to the postseason as a wild card, if nothing else: If there was an interesting wrinkle to this game, it was the Astros' scoring “just” five runs on their four homers, plating the other 16 almost every other way you can score. And that’s interesting only if you’re looking at the Astros’ “Guillen number” -- how many of their runs they’ve scored on home runs.
Before this game, the Astros ranked second all time for scoring the highest percentage of runs on homers at 48.5 percent, but this blowout dropped them to third this season (behind the Yankees and Orioles) and sixth all time. According to Baseball Prospectus, the all-time mark was set in 2010 by the Blue Jays, when they scored 53.1 percent of their runs on homers. So yes, a reliance on the long ball is more of a feature of the game today than ever before, and the Astros, fun as they’ve been, are just one among many when it comes to that.
4. Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs: It’s gotten to the point where, if you’re making the mistake of just scoreboard-watching an Arrieta start and you see anything other than a zero up there, you pretty much know he must have been pulled. The Brewers can chalk it up as a moral victory that they got three baserunners against the Cubs’ ace as Chicago cruised to a 6-1 win. In his final tuneup for the NL wild-card game and for his last entry into his case to win the NL Cy Young Award, Arrieta added another six scoreless innings to his season tally while lowering his ERA since the All-Star Game to 0.75. Opponents haven’t scored on him in nine of 15 starts in that stretch, and he’s held them to a .409 OPS while striking out 28.3 percent of all batters.
If there’s any drama for the Cubs between now and Wednesday’s showdown with the Pirates -- beyond the shrinking chance that game might be played in Wrigley Field -- it’s probably be over who’s going to be in Joe Maddon’s lineup.
5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: Sale’s seven whiffs against the Tigers pushed the lefty’s season tally to 274 to beat out Ed Walsh’s franchise mark of 269 set in 1908 -- Big Ed’s big year, when he threw 464 innings and 42 complete games with 11 shutouts, all franchise records, as well, set back in the low-scoring deadball era. Seeing Sale get this mark is especially nice, as it’s part of the payoff from seeing Sale make more than 30 starts in a season for the first time, helping answer those doubters wondering if he was going to be durable enough given his funky mechanics and unusual build. By the power of Herm Schneider and his staff, pitching coach Don Cooper and Sale’s left arm, you can fret a little less about “inverted W’s” and just enjoy another great year from the South Side’s southpaw.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.