A fun Colorado Rockies fact: They've been in a playoff position every day this season except one. After losing April 14, they were 7-5. They won seven of their next eight games, however, led the National League West most of May and last held first place June 20. The Dodgers surged past them, and then the Diamondbacks, and things looked nervous Sept. 3 when the Diamondbacks beat the Rockies 5-1 and Colorado's lead over the Brewers for the second wild card had fallen to a mere half-game.
The Rockies saved their season by winning two of three against the Giants and then improbably sweeping the Dodgers in a four-game series at Dodger Stadium. On Wednesday afternoon, they jumped all over Marlins starter Adam Conley in an eventual 15-9 victory -- Ian Desmond, owner of a minus-1.2 WAR, was temporarily forgiven for his bad season with a three-run homer to kick off a six-run second inning. Later, the Cardinals lost, and then the Brewers lost, and Colorado's lead is now 2½ games over the Brewers and 3½ over the Cardinals. FiveThirtyEight gives the Rockies a 95 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Those odds are high in part because the Brewers play the Cardinals this weekend in St. Louis, so one team will eliminate another there. But how do the Rockies not make the playoffs? Four possibilities:
1. They lose all three to the Dodgers. The Brewers beat the Reds on Thursday and sweep the Cardinals. Final standings: Brewers 87 wins, Rockies 86 wins.
2. They beat the Dodgers once, the Brewers win all four games. Final standings: Rockies 87 wins, Brewers 87 wins. Milwaukee wins the tiebreaker game Monday.
3. They lose all three to the Dodgers. The Brewers beat the Reds and take two of three from the Cardinals. Final standings: Rockies 86 wins, Brewers 86 wins. Milwaukee wins the tiebreaker game.
4. They lose all three to the Dodgers. The Cardinals beat the Cubs on Thursday and sweep the Brewers. Final standings: Rockies 86 wins, Cardinals 86 wins, St. Louis wins the tiebreaker game.
So things look good. The pitching matchups against the Dodgers will be Hyun-Jin Ryu versus Chad Bettis on Friday, Clayton Kershaw versus German Marquez and then Yu Darvish versus Tyler Chatwood. Hmm, maybe it won't be so easy. That leaves Tyler Anderson or Jon Gray for a potential tiebreaker game, plus the wild-card game Wednesday, but I don't think we get there.
Of course, there's still that 5 percent chance that something bad will happen ...
Cubs clinch division as Mike Matheny falls asleep. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered. After all, the Cardinals scored only one run. But in a desperate, all-hands-on-deck game and leading 1-0 entering the top of the seventh, Matheny somehow let starter Michael Wacha allow six consecutive baserunners before removing him from the game. Addison Russell's three-run homer gave the Cubs the lead, on a 92 mph slider that didn't slide:
It's easy to understand why Wacha was in the game. He'd thrown 60 pitches, hadn't given up any runs, and Matheny probably didn't have a lot of trust that his bullpen would deliver three scoreless innings. Still, how can you leave him in for six batters? Even the local St. Louis media questioned the move:
Everyone knows Wacha's terrible numbers the third time through the lineup. Well ... not everyone. #Mathenaging— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) September 28, 2017
What baseball people will say is, "How can you take him out? He hadn't allowed any runs!" Or they might say, "You have to trust your eyes." So even if the eyes said Wacha was dealing, the numbers say to watch out when he's going the third time through the order. Actually, in Wacha's case this season, he's dominant once through the order and then hits shaky ground:
First time: .577 OPS
Second time: .839 OPS
Third time: .831 OPS
Actually, I'm pretty sure Matheny knows this. Wacha had pitched more than six innings only three times in 29 starts all season entering the game. So Matheny went with his gut and the gut failed.
Anyway, congrats to the Cubs for winning their second straight NL Central title. I found this surprising: They're the first reigning World Series champ to win a division title since the 2009 Phillies and only the seventh team of the wild-card era (since 1995): the 2002 Diamondbacks, the 1999-2001 Yankees and 1996 Braves. The previous four World Series winners all missed the playoffs entirely the following season. So while it wasn't an easy road in 2017, that's because it rarely is an easy road.
While the Cubs won't come close to the Dodgers or Nationals in season victories, remember that they were two games under .500 at the All-Star break. They're 46-24 in the second half, however, the second-best record in the majors behind only the Indians. They lead the NL in runs and lead the majors with 5.80 runs per game in the second half. Cubs-Nationals? Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo versus Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg? Yes, please.
AL East update. The Red Sox and Yankees both won, so Boston's lead remains at three games with four games remaining. Luis Severino was really good again to improve to 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA. His next start, barring a crazy turn of events this weekend, will be in the wild-card game against the Twins (who officially clinched when the Angels lost in extra innings to the White Sox).
Two random thoughts:
• Is it just me, or has Severino's season flown a bit under the radar, lost a bit in the great seasons of Corey Kluber and Chris Sale, but also in the exploits of teammate Aaron Judge? Anyway, he'll be the first qualified Yankees starter to finish with an ERA under 3.00 since David Cone and Andy Pettitte in 1997. After that 10-run start against Boston on Aug. 12, he has a 1.99 ERA with 64 K's in 49⅔ innings. Even though it's his first full season in rotation and is close to 200 innings, he's finishing strong. Impressive.
• Boston's starters, meanwhile, are not finishing so strong. Rick Porcello gave up five runs and two home runs Wednesday, a night after Sale got bombed for four home runs. Drew Pomeranz lasted only two innings Monday. It's only one turn through the rotation, and the good news is that David Price came on and fanned three in 1⅓ innings (entering in mid-inning for the first time). I get the feeling Price is going to play a huge role out of the pen, as Red Sox manager John Farrell simply can't count on Porcello or Pomeranz going deep into games.
From worst to the playoffs! The Twins lost 103 games last season. So this is one of the unlikeliest playoff teams in a long time:
An A's-plus ending. Sleeper team for 2018: the Oakland Athletics. Mark Canha hit the walk-off home run to beat the Mariners, Oakland's eighth such homer -- making the A's only the third team in MLB history with at least eight walk-off blasts in a season (the 1986 Padres had eight and the 1995 Indians had nine).
They're 34-35 in the second half, with rookies Matt Chapman looking like Nolan Arenado in the field and Matt Olson looking like a middle-of-the-order hitter. The Sonny Gray trade added some depth to the farm system, although it left them lacking a top-of-the-rotation starter. They'll need Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton to improve, and some young pitchers to step up, but the future looks a lot brighter than it did in April and May.
A Joey Votto highlight just because. Votto isn't going to win the NL MVP award because his teammates aren't good, but what a season with 36 home runs and a .454 OBP:
My favorite stat: He has 53 more walks than strikeouts. Tim Anderson has 144 more strikeouts than walks. Matt Davidson has 143 more strikeouts than walks. Trevor Story has 140 more strikeouts than walks. You get the idea. There is only one Joey Votto.