Kang Out For Season

Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang is out for the season

Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang is out for the season

When you have a playoff race as entertaining as the one in the NL Central has been all season long, you hate to see this happen.

In yesterday afternoon’s game between the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Bucs lost infielder Jung Ho Kang for the season.

Kang’s knee bent the wrong way as Chris Coghlan came in for what appeared to be a clean take-out slide on the front-end of an attempted double play.  (Kang has said he doesn’t hold Coghlan responsible.)

While he won’t win the award, Kang was sure to get some votes for Rookie of the Year, batting .287/.355/.461 with 15 HR and a 123 OPS+.

Kang started the year as sort of a part-time player, starting in just 3 of the Pirates’ first 12 games.

When Josh Harrison went down with an injury, Kang became a more regular player.

During Harrison’s absence (July 6th – August 20th), Kang made 37 starts, batting a stellar .329/.401/.564.

He started that stretch replace Harrison at third base, then moved to short when the Pirates acquired veteran Aramis Ramirez near the trade deadline.

It’s a big blow for the Pirates, who now lead the Cubs by just 2 games after the North Siders took 3 out of 4 against them at PNC Park earlier this week.

Pittsburgh now trails the St. Louis Cardinals (winners of 4 straight) by 5 games in the NL Central and the chances of them getting back into that race seem pretty bleak at this point.

Stranger things have happened, but it’s starting to look more and more like the only race remaining is the one to see who hosts the NL Wild Card game.

How big of an effect Kang’s injury will be on the Pirates’ playoff run remains to be seen.

Jordy Mercer becomes the everyday shortstop now. In 100 games, he’s put up a slash line of .239/.289/.304, which is pretty much what you expect from him.

Both Kang and Mercer have comparable range factors per 9 innings, though Mercer is the surer-handed fielder (.984 fielding percentage versus .961).

Baseball Info Solutions has both shortstops with 0 defensive runs saved.

Even if Mercer is an upgrade defensive-wise, the bat is a definite step down. There’s no way to sugar-coat this thing. Losing Kang is a big deal. It’s just a question of how big of a deal.

If you watched yesterday’s sloppy loss, you know how desperate the Pirates are for better defensive play.

They rank 13th in the National League in Defensive Efficiency (balls in play turned into outs) and have committed more errors (113) than any team in the league. Mercer may help shore that up a touch, but not so much that it will make up for the loss of Kang’s bat.

Things don’t get any easier for them.  They now head out for a 7-game swing out West before 3 more road games at Wrigley Field.  Their first two match-ups are in Los Angeles against Cy Young hopefuls Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.

* * * * * * * * *

Remaining Games

Cardinals (16): @ Cubs (3), REDS (3), BREWERS (4), @ Pirates (3), @ Braves (3)
Pirates (16): @ Dodgers (3), @ Rockies (4), @ Cubs (3), CARDINALS (3), REDS (3)
Cubs (16): CARDINALS (3), BREWERS (3), PIRATES (3), ROYALS (1), @ Reds (3), @ Brewers (3)

* * * * * * * * *

Magic Numbers

The Cardinals’ magic number to clinch the playoffs is 2, so they’re in line to celebrate this evening.

The San Francisco Giants trail the Cubs for the 2nd Wild Card spot by 8 games, giving the Pirates a magic number of 7 and the Cubs a 9.

Tired Yet?

Michael Wacha is one of the young arms to keep an eye on in September.

Michael Wacha is one of the young arms to keep an eye on in September.

The final month of the 2015 season is upon us and I can’t believe it’s here already.

I’ve frequently written about a young pitcher who has struggled down the stretch and wondered if it didn’t have something to do with them hitting new career highs in terms of the number of innings they’ve pitched in any given professional season.

Here’s a look at some young arms who may be taxed in these last four weeks, not to mention the playoffs.

All Innings Pitched totals are rounded off and include totals from all professional leagues – Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, and International Leagues.

St. Louis Cardinals

86-47, 6.5 Games Ahead, 29 Games Remaining

Name Age 2015 IP 2014 IP High IP
Michael Wacha 23 157 109 150 (2013)
Carlos Martinez 23 155 112 114 (2013)
Jaime Garcia 28 107 51 195 (2011)

The Cardinals, it seems, might want to consider pumping the breaks a bit here. With 29 games left in their schedule, they have an 11 game lead on the #2 team in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers.


Even if the Cards go 14-15 in their final 29 games – and there’s little reason to believe they won’t do better than that – the Dodgers would need to go 25-4 to tie them.

Let that sink in.


Okay, now look at those innings pitched totals again.

Why would you put Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez or Jaime Garcia out there? It’s always a tricky thing, of course. You don’t want to use them so infrequently that they head into the playoffs rusty. But it’s also hard to justify putting them out there for long starts.

If I’m the Cardinals, I’m considering something like a 6- or 7-man rotation in this final month of the season. Rosters are expanded. There’s just no call for using those three guys named above in more than, say, 5 or 6 innings per week.

Keep an eye on them, for sure.

Pittsburgh Pirates

79-53, 6.5 GB, 4.0 Games Ahead for #1 Wild Card, 30 Games Remaining

Name Age 2015 IP 2014 IP High IP
Gerrit Cole 24 174 160 185 (2013)
Jeff Locke 27 145 187 187 (2014)

For the Bucs and Cubs, things are a bit different. They don’t have anything locked up yet. But they also have pretty nice leads and are pretty much fighting it out only to see who gets home field advantage in the NL Wild Card game. Which, of course, accounts for a swing of no more than 2% in your chance of winning, such is home field “advantage” in professional baseball…

Gerrit Cole has had less on his stuff, overall, in the second half. He’s 11 innings shy of his professional high (185), set in 2014. And he’s already 14 over his mark from last season. Again, this is tough, but I think you ease off on the 24-year old. He’s a power pitcher and I want to see that gas in the Wild Card game.

I admit I was surprised to see that Jeff Locke had thrown 187 last year. He’s been a bit up and down this season, having stretches of awful and stretches of really good.

Chicago Cubs

75-57, 10.5 GB, 4.0 GB #1 Wild Card, 7.0 GA for #2 Wild Card, 30 Games Remaining

Name Age 2015 IP 2014 IP High IP
Jake Arrieta 29 183 177 177 (2014)
Kyle Hendricks 25 147 183 183 (2014)

In Chicago, Jake Arrieta has hit his career high, with 6 more innings thrown than he did combined last season between the Majors and Minors. He’s obviously showing no signs of a tired arm yet, after a brilliant August. I know he’s also really gone crazy with conditioning this season and seemed headed into 2015 with a goal of proving that last season was no fluke. So who knows… Still, another guy worth keeping an eye on.

Kyle Hendricks is a bit like Locke, above, in that I was surprised to see how many innings he had put up last season at various levels of pro ball. He’s still 36 innings shy of last year’s total, so he should have plenty left in the tank. How much value he brings to the team is questionable right now, as he’s had an overall down year. But the Cubs need some help from the back end of their rotation if they’re going to hold on to the Wild Card spot.

* * * * * * * * *

Big Series this weekend between the Cardinals and Pirates.

Looking forward to that!

Game One Friday, 7:15 PM CT
(PIT) Happ: 7-7, 4.10
(STL) Martinez: 13-6, 2.91

Game Two Saturday, 3:05 PM CT
(PIT) Morton: 8-6, 4.22
(STL) Garcia: 7-4, 2.03

Game Three Sunday, 7:05 PM CT
(PIT) Cole: 15-8, 2.64
(STL) Lackey: 11-8, 2.87

Poz on Votto, SOE Worships Arrieta

Joe Posnanski did a column on Joey Votto.

Joe Posnanski did a column on Joey Votto.

No time for regular write-ups this week, as you may have noticed.

But did want to point folks to some goodies written by other folks.

Leading off is my absolute favorite sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, who had a nice column on Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto over at NBC Sports this week. Read it over there.

And also make sure to check out Joe’s Blog regularly. It’s worth it.

In light of a stellar August (6-0, 0.43, 9.1 SO/9, 0.69 WHIP) and his recent no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sports On Earth named Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta as “This Week’s Greatest Athlete on Earth”. Check out the video over there.

Arrieta Throws No-Hitter

Jake Arrieta threw a no-hitter for the Chicago Cubs last night.

Jake Arrieta threw a no-hitter for the Chicago Cubs last night.

Odds are that you heard about this already, but if not… Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta fired a 12-strikeout no-hitter last night.

I feel a bit guilty for thinking it, but there’s a part of me that’s always waiting for Arrieta to get busted for doctoring the baseball.

The movement on his pitches is consistently filthy. Something is up in the batter’s wheelhouse at 90 miles per hour and then suddenly drops three feet. It’s ridiculous.

Anyhow, kudos to Arrieta who was a highly-touted 5th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2007, then a bust, then dealt to the Cubs as part of their Sabermetric-driven sign-and-trade of Scott Feldman, and has since then been a stud.

In 63 starts in Baltimore, Arrieta was 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA. (Not a typo.) He had a 1.47 WHIP, allowing 9.3 hits per 9 innings and walking 4.

In 61 starts in Chicago, he’s 31-13 with a 2.48 ERA. (Also not a typo.) He has a 0.98 WHIP, allowing 6.3 hits per 9 and walking 2.5.

Night and day.

If not for guys in Los Angeles named Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, Arrieta might be the top name in the discussion for the National League Cy Young award. He might still be, with one more month to go.

LAD Greinke 14-3 1.61 8.2 6.7
LAD Kershaw 11-6 2.24 11.5 6.4
CHC Arrieta 17-6 2.11 9.3 5.9

(NOTE: WAR above is the average from BaseballReference and Fangraphs.)

The no-no wasn’t without controversy, of course, as Starlin Castro was charged with an error in the bottom of the 3rd inning when he was eaten up by a hard grounder that short-hopped him.

I’m going to refrain from voicing too strong an opinion one way or the other on that call. I’ve watched it four times and keep waffling on it. I’ve definitely seen it called both ways in the past.

One thing I definitely have an opinion on is something that I heard on sports radio this morning. “If it hadn’t have been a no-hitter situation, that would have been called a base hit.”

It was the 3rd inning. That seems a little premature to get excited about a no-hitter. It’s not like they originally scored it a single and then, after 6 innings, “changed their mind”. It was earlier. To that point he had thrown just 2.2 innings of no-hit ball, just like probably a hundred pitchers have done this season alone. Having a no-hitter after 2.2 innings of work is a pretty commonplace situation.

Also, the game was in Los Angeles, where the official scorekeeper would be more likely to score that a single so as to help pad the stats of a Dodgers’ player.

The story-line that he felt pressured to score it an error to keep the no-hitter intact? It makes no sense on several fronts. Let’s move on.

It was the first no-hitter for a Cubs pitcher since Carlos Zambrano‘s 2008 “road” game (played in Milwaukee) against the Houston Astros.

Here’s all 27 outs.

* * * * * * * * *

Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 84 46 W2
Pittsburgh Pirates 79 50 4.5 L1
Chicago Cubs 74 55 9.5 W1
Milwaukee Brewers 55 75 29.0 W1
Cincinnati Reds 53 76 30.5 L1

Wild Card Standings

Pittsburgh Pirates 79 50 +5.0
Chicago Cubs 74 55
San Francisco Giants 69 61 5.5
Washington Nationals 66 63 8.0

* * * * * * * * *


53-76 REDS Lorenzen (3-8, 5.46)
74-55 CUBS Hendricks (6-6, 4.117)
7:05 PM CT
66-63 Nationals Gonzalez (9-7, 4.11)
84-46 CARDINALS Lackey (11-8, 2.92)
7:15 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

National League Ranks

Batting Pitching
St. Louis 10th 1st
Pittsburgh 5th 2nd
Chicago 6th 6th
Milwaukee 11th 12th
Cincinnati 12th 11th

Lackey Leads Cards To 4th Straight Win

Kolten Wong celebrates with teammates after scoring to put them ahead by a pair of runs.

Kolten Wong celebrates with teammates after scoring to put them ahead by a pair of runs.

The St. Louis Cardinals were 3-1 winners over the Arizona Diamondbacks last night, running their winning streak up to 4 games.

John Lackey improved to 11-8, throwing a steady 7 innings of work, allowing 1 run on 7 hits and a walk. Lackey served up a solo homer to slugger Paul Goldschmidt in the 1st and then tossed 6.1 shutout innings to finish off his day.

Kolten Wong‘s RBI double in the 7th inning broke a 1-1 tie and Matt Carpenter‘s RBI single plated Wong to pad the lead.  Since taking three games off to get his head straight, Wong has three hits in the last two nights.

Trevor Rosenthal picked up his 40th save of the season, joining Pirates closer Mark Melancon in that club. Rosenthal is out this weekend on paternity leave with his wife scheduled to be induced into labor tomorrow.

The Redbirds got more solid defense, turning 3 double plays.


* * * * * * * * *

The Pittsburgh Pirates scored 6 in the 2nd inning en route to an easy 7-2 win over the Miami Marlins, winning for the 11th time in their last 14 games.

Andrew McCutchen had a pair of extra-base hits – his 20th homer and 32nd double – driving in 4 runs.

Jeff Locke (W 7-8) went 7 innings, allowing a pair of runs on 5 hits and a walk.  It snapped a 6-game streak in which Locke had failed to escape the 6th inning.  He had gone 1-2 with a 6.39 ERA in that stretch.

The Bucs remain 4.5 games back of the Cardinals in the NL Central.  September should provide plenty of drama with those two teams battling for the division title.


* * * * * * * * *

The Chicago Cubs fell back to even in their series with the San Francisco Giants, falling 4-2 and snapping a 6-game winning streak.

Buster Posey hit an RBI double over the head of Chris Coghlan in right field to break a 2-2 tie in the 6th.

Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant each had a double and single, with Bryant driving in a pair of runs to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the 1st.

Even with the loss, the Cubs are still 21-5 in their last 26 games.


* * * * * * * * *

Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett is feeling well after throwing a two inning simulated game and is hopeful to be back soon. He’s scheduled to throw another simulated game – this time three innings – on Sunday as he tries to work his way back into the rotation for the postseason run.

The often entertaining Adam Bittner of the Post-Gazette had a nice write-up on the use of Pirates “first baseman” Pedro Alvarez. Check it out over there.

Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs.com wrote up 23-year-old Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco, focusing on his improved handling of southpaws. Last year, Polanco had a slash line of .171/.222/.244 against left-handed pitchers. This year? .214/.275/.321. Still not great, but improving. FYI: His numbers against RHP are pretty similar between last year and this. By the way, both Polanco and Alvarez sat last night against the left-handed Chris Narveson. Read it.

Anthony Castrovince takes a look at 2015’s Most Impactful MLB Managers and, wouldn’t you know it, 3 of the top 6 are from the NL Central. The Bucs’ Clint Hurdle comes in at #6, the Cards’ Mike Matheny at #4 and the Cubs’ Joe Maddon is #1. Read it at Sports On Earth.

* * * * * * * * *

Joey Votto continues to have a monster season, upping his on-base percentage yet another 10 points this past week to hit .446 at the top of the NL Central Leader Board.

In 14 games played since August 12th, Votto has a .571 OBP to go along with a .372 AVG, .837 SLG, 1.409 OPS, 5 HR and 5 2B. That’s spanning 63 plate appearances. Unreal.

* * * * * * * * *

Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 81 45 W4
Pittsburgh Pirates 76 49 4.5 W1
Chicago Cubs 73 52 7.5 L1
Milwaukee Brewers 53 74 28.5 L4
Cincinnati Reds 52 73 28.5 L2

Wild Card Standings

Pittsburgh Pirates 76 49 +3.0
Chicago Cubs 73 52
San Francisco Giants 67 59 6.5
Washington Nationals 63 62 10.0

* * * * * * * * *


69-56 Dodgers Greinke (13-3, 1.67)
52-73 REDS DeSclafani (7-9, 3.97)
11:35 AM CT
73-52 CUBS Haren (8-8, 3.76)
67-59 Giants Bumgarner (15-6, 3.02)
2:45 PM CT
76-49 PIRATES Cole (14-7, 2.49)
51-76 Marlins Nicolino (2-1, 3.77)
6:10 PM CT
81-45 CARDINALS Martinez (12-6, 2.85)
62-64 Diamondbacks De La Rosa (11-5, 4.32)
8:40 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

NL Central Leaders

On-Base Percentage
Joey Votto (CIN) .446
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) .400
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) .396
Kris Bryant (CHC) .368
Jung Ho Kang (PIT) .364
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 0.93
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 0.98
Jason Hammel (CHC) 1.09
Michael Wacha (STL) 1.12
Gerrit Cole (PIT) 1.13

Top Three Winners Again

Kris Bryant hit another walk-off for the Cubs in a 2-1 win yesterday.

Kris Bryant hit another walk-off for the Cubs in a 2-1 win yesterday.

Well, this is starting to become quite routine, isn’t it?

I guess it shouldn’t surprise us, given that the top 3 in the division make up 3 of the top 4 teams in all of Major League Baseball, but still. Sometimes it seems ridiculous, but yet again we have The Big Three all coming out winners yesterday.

You start to wonder if the only time these teams lose is when they play each other.

Tell you what, let’s just throw the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs into the playoffs by themselves.

They can each play a 3-game home series against each other, making up a 12-game schedule. Whoever finishes with the best record advances to the World Series. We cool with that?

Sorry, I realize there’s no definite way any of these three teams even makes the National League Championship Series, let alone wins it.

The playoffs are such a crap-shoot. This is why you’ll hear folks who are a bit longer in the tooth complain about the de-valuing of the 162-game regular season that comes about by introducing more teams into the postseason.

Also, the fact that I just used the phrase “long in the tooth” should tell you something about my own age and feelings on the matter.

But I digress.

What I’m really trying to say is that it would be immeasurably fun to watch these three teams go at it, head-to-head, in the playoffs.

What we may very well end up with instead is one of them being eliminated immediately in a best-of-1 Wild Card game. And then the two survivors could get swept in a best-of-5 National League Divisional Series because, hey, it’s three games. That’s a small sample size. Even the 1927 New York Yankees had a pair of 3-game losing streaks. It happens.

I just don’t want this season to end, that’s all.


* * * * * * * * *

The Cardinals scored 3 in the 7th to snap a 2-2 tie, ending the Arizona Diamondbacks winning streak with a 5-3 victory.

Tommy Pham inside-outed a single through the right side with men on the corners to put the Cards ahead. Yadier Molina brought two more home with a base hit into right and the Cards didn’t look back.

Trevor Rosenthal picked up his 39th save while Lance Lynn improved to 10-8 on the season.

Lynn got some help on defense, turning 4 double plays to help limit the damage that could have been done by Arizona.

Injured first baseman Matt Adams (remember him?) is possible to return from the disabled list next week. He wasn’t exactly tearing it up when he was healthy (.243/.281/.375), so it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals handle his return, particularly when rosters are going to be expanding to 40-man soon anyhow. Then there’s still Matt Holiday, Randal Grichuk, Jordan Walden, Jon Jay


* * * * * * * * *

Jon Lester pitched brilliantly for 8.2 innings, only to be undone by his inability to field a ground ball as the Cleveland Indians tied up the Cubs 1-1 in the top of the 9th.

No matter.

Kris Bryant stepped up and hit the walk-off to right with two out in the bottom of the 9th. It was the highly-touted rookie’s 20th long ball of the season.

Also, props to Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo who seems to make a highlight-reel fielding play every week. Yesterday afternoon, with a man on 1st, he sprinted in on a bunt in front of the plate down the first base line. Seeing the ball was going to roll foul, he slid along the line, stopping it from rolling foul so that he could scoop it up in fair territory and start a 3-6-4 double play. Amazing.

At the plate, Rizzo also had an RBI triple.

The Cubs also got some pretty slick fielding up the middle on other double plays, with Starlin Castro getting a start at short.

Chicago put right fielder Jorge Soler on the DL.  He’s expected back before the playoffs start, should the Cubs get there.  Soler has hit .265 with 7 HR and 42 RBI, striking out 111 times in 378 plate appearances.  It’s been a disappointing season, though he’s shown signs at times of snapping out of it.

It’s go time for the Cubs now, with a chance to really put some distance between themselves and the San Francisco Giants – they start a 3-game series in ‘Frisco this evening.


* * * * * * * * *

The Pirates beat the Miami Marlins 5-2 with J.A. Happ putting up another strong outing since coming over at the trade deadline.

Happ (W 6-7) went 6 shutout innings, allowing 4 hits and a walk while striking out 6.

Gregory Polanco had a four-hit game, including a pair of doubles.

Mark Melancon notched his 40th save with a perfect 9th.

Things got a bit tense with Miami pitchers coming up and in on Pirate batters no fewer than 6 times. An ejection was eventually made with no apparent retaliation on the part of Pittsburgh’s pitchers. Just win, I guess.

It’s hard to know where to start when looking at the Pirates recent trends. They’ve won 6 of 7, 10 of 12, 14 of 18… Anyway you look at it over the past month or so, they’ve been hot.

Injured starting pitcher A.J. Burnett was scheduled to throw off a mound in a bullpen session yesterday in hopes of returning to the rotation.


* * * * * * * * *

The Cincinnati Reds snapped a 9-game losing streak and are back in a virtual tie with the idle Milwaukee Brewers for last place in the division.

* * * * * * * * *

Some Leaderboard trends for you today.

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli is up there now for the division batting title. Not so much that he’s been suddenly hitting the tar out of the ball. More that he’s playing so regularly that he now qualifies for the batting title. He has 382 plate appearances, exactly one more than he currently needs to qualify.

Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is on a 9-game hitting streak during which he’s hitting .375 with 6 extra-base hits.

And in his last 7 games, Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen has had five 2-hit games. He’s batting .357 over that time frame with 3 extra-base hits.

Those guys have been hot enough to push Rizzo, Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward and Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips down in the leader board, but all three have actually hit well over the past week.

In his last two starts (small sample size alert!), Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez has a 5.56 ERA, allowing 14 hits in 11.1 innings of work. Martinez is at 148.2 innings this season, quite a bit more than last year’s mark of 112. Could he be starting to fray at the edges a bit? Something to keep an eye on during this stretch run, for sure.

* * * * * * * * *

Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 79 45 W2
Pittsburgh Pirates 75 48 3.5 W3
Chicago Cubs 72 51 6.5 W5
Milwaukee Brewers 53 72 26.5 L2
Cincinnati Reds 52 71 26.5 W1

Wild Card Standings

Pittsburgh Pirates 75 48 +3.0
Chicago Cubs 72 51
San Francisco Giants 66 58 6.5
Washington Nationals 62 61 10.0
Arizona Diamondbacks 62 62 10.5

* * * * * * * * *


67-56 Dodgers Wood (8-8, 3.79)
52-71 REDS Lamb (0-1, 6.35)
6:10 PM CT
53-72 BREWERS Peralta (4-7, 4.48)
58-66 Indians Tomlin (1-1, 2.03)
6:10 PM CT
75-48 PIRATES Morton (8-4, 4.06)
50-75 Marlins Hand (3-3, 4.46)
6:10 PM CT
79-45 CARDINALS Garcia (5-4, 1.79)
62-62 Diamondbacks Ray (3-9, 3.38)
9:10 PM CT
72-51 CUBS Arrieta (15-6, 2.30)
66-58 Giants Cain (2-3, 5.66)
9:15 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

NL Central Leaders

Joey Votto (CIN) .309
Francisco Cervelli (PIT) .303
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) .297
Starling Marte (PIT) .292
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) .291
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 2.30
Gerrit Cole (PIT) 2.49
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 2.62
Michael Wacha (STL) 2.80
Carlos Martinez (STL) 2.85

Pirates Closing In On Cardinals

The Pirates' Gregory Polanco finished up a triple with style in last night's win over the Giants.

The Pirates’ Gregory Polanco finished up a triple with style in last night’s win over the Giants.

Things are getting more and more interesting as the St. Louis Cardinals‘ lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates has shrunk to just 3.5 games.

And National League fans living in the Midwest start to wonder about the possibility of the Chicago Cubs playing the Redbirds instead of the Bucs in the Wild Card game, which would be pretty amazing, particularly in central Illinois where allegiances to the two franchises are split more evenly.

Pittsburgh took care of the San Francisco Giants by taking 3 of 4 games against them, knocking the defending World Series champions a full 6 games back in the Wild Card race. The Pirates have now won 9 of their last 11 games and are the closest they’ve been in the division race since July 17th.

In the meantime, St. Louis somehow lost 2 of 3 against the San Diego Padres – a team that many thought looked really strong coming into the 2015 season.

I really didn’t understand the hype as they had invested in many high-priced free agents who were on the wrong side of 30 or hadn’t been particularly great for a few years.

There was a lot of fanfare surrounding Matt Kemp (age 30). He’s been pedestrian, hitting .267 with a .314 OBP and 15 HR. On the bright side, he’s been healthy for a second consecutive season. On the downside, his ability to take a walk has really nosedived and San Diego sucks all the power out of your bat, so… There’s that.

Then there’s James Shields, who is 33 years old this season. Shields is 9-5 with a 3.74 ERA which is nothing to get too excited about when you pitch half your games at PetCo Park. He’s FIP is 4.11, which helps explains why some teams may have been less than giddy about trying to acquire him at the trade deadline. Those 174 strikeouts in 158.2 innings of work are nice. Serving up 24 homers, though? Especially given your home park? Less nice.

That broke up a streak of six consecutive series victories for the Cardinals, their last loss coming when they dropped 2 of 3 against the Cincinnati Reds at the end of July.

The Cubs, meanwhile, rebounded from a 3-game losing streak and started up a new winning streak, sweeping the Atlanta Braves in a four-game series. Chicago’s offense has scored 5 or more runs in 6 straight games no, including 5 games with seven or more runs.

It’s probably a little ridiculous to consider them as contenders in the division race, but it’s worth noting that at 6.5 games games it’s the closest they’ve been since exactly two months ago.

In other big news in the NL Central, the Reds have now lost nine straight games, which pushed them into last place – a half game back of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Everybody in the division has some easier games coming up early this week, with the Cards facing the Arizona Diamondbacks (granted, they’ve won four straight and are back above .500), the Pirates facing the Miami Marlins (.403), the Cubs with a make-up game against the Cleveland Indians (.472), the Brew Crew also facing the Tribe, and the Reds matched up with the Detroit Tigers (.480).

* * * * * * * * *

Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 78 45 W1
Pittsburgh Pirates 74 48 3.5 W2
Chicago Cubs 71 51 6.5 W4
Milwaukee Brewers 53 72 26.0 L2
Cincinnati Reds 51 71 26.5 L9

Wild Card Standings

Pittsburgh Pirates 74 48 +3.0
Chicago Cubs 71 51
San Francisco Giants 66 58 6.0
Arizona Diamondbacks 62 61 9.5
Washington Nationals 62 61 9.5

* * * * * * * * *


58-65 Indians Kluber (8-13, 3.52)
71-51 CUBS Lester (8-9, 3.58)
1:05 PM CT
59-64 Tigers Farmer (0-2, 8.39)
51-71 REDS Sampson (2-2, 4.43)
6:10 PM CT
74-48 PIRATES Happ (5-7, 4.42)
50-74 Marlins Koehler (8-11, 4.02)
6:10 PM CT
78-45 CARDINALS Lynn (9-8, 2.94)
62-61 Diamondbacks Ray (3-9, 3.38)
9:10 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

National League Ranks

Batting Pitching
St. Louis 10th 1st
Pittsburgh 4th 3rd
Chicago 6th 6th
Cincinnati 12th 11th
Milwaukee 9th 12th

Pirates, Cubs Move Up In Wild Card

Charlie Morton led the Pirates to a shutout of the Giants.

Charlie Morton led the Pirates to a shutout of the Giants.

The Pittsburgh Pirates shut out the outside-looking-in San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs were dominant winners over the Atlanta Braves, giving both teams a bit more room in the National League Wild Card race.

Starting with Pittsburgh, Charlie Morton went 6.2 innings in a 4-0 win over the Giants, improving to 8-4 on the season.

Neil Walker hit his 13th homer of the season and had a pair of hits. Also joining in with multi-hit games were Starling Marte and Jung-Ho Kang.

It was the Bucs’ 7th win in their last 8 games as they moved within 4.5 games of the idle St. Louis Cardinals. That’s the closest Pittsburgh has been since July 29th.

It also gave them a full 8-game lead over the Giants in the Wild Card race. They remain 4 ahead of the Cubs.

Tonight will be tough for the Pirates as they have Jeff Locke going up against Madison Bumgarner (14-6, 2.98) who, besides being a good hitter, is also a decent pitcher.

Both 3B Josh Harrison (thumb) and SS Jordy Mercer (knee) are expected to return from the DL this weekend, with the team having survived thrived while missing the left side of their infield over the last five weeks.

Kang has excelled and 3B Aramis Ramirez looks rejuvenated since coming back to where his career started, so manager Clint Hurdle will have some tough decisions to make.


* * * * * * * * *

Jake Arrieta won his 15th game of the year with 6 shutout innings, striking out 7 as the Cubs pounded the Braves, 7-1.

Anthony Rizzo hit his 24th homer and Addison Russell his 8th as the Cubs scored 4 in the 3rd and came out to a 7-0 lead after 5 innings of play. That tends to hold up when Arrieta is on the bump.

In breaking their 3-game skid, Chicago moved 4 ahead of the Giants for the 2nd Wild Card spot.

The Cubs get a tough draw later this afternoon against Shelby Miller (5-9, 2.43) and the Braves.


* * * * * * * * *

The Cincinnati Reds lost their 6th straight and are now just a half game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers at the bottom of the division.

Or a half game away from tying them up for a higher draft pick, if you’re a “glass half full” kind of person.

* * * * * * * * *

Fangraphs has a Q&A with Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson. Check it out.

* * * * * * * * *

If you want to know why the NL Central is the most entertaining division in baseball, Anthony Witrado at Bleacher Report has an article explaining that. Go enjoy it.

* * * * * * * * *

Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 77 43 W1
Pittsburgh Pirates 72 47 4.5 W3
Chicago Cubs 68 51 8.5 W1
Cincinnati Reds 51 68 25.5 L6
Milwaukee Brewers 52 70 26.0 W1

Wild Card Standings

Pittsburgh Pirates 72 47 +4.0
Chicago Cubs 68 51
San Francisco Giants 65 56 4.0
Washington Nationals 60 60 8.5

* * * * * * * * *


53-68 Braves Miller (5-9, 2.43)
68-51 CUBS Hendricks (6-5, 3.97)
3:05 PM CT
52-70 BREWERS Nelson (9-9, 3.61)
60-60 Nationals Gonzalez (9-5, 3.86)
6:05 PM CT
65-56 Giants Bumgarner (14-6, 2.98)
72-47 PIRATES Locke (6-7, 4.31)
6:05 PM CT
59-61 Diamondbacks De La Rosa (10-5, 4.40)
51-68 REDS Holmberg (1-2, 5.95)
6:10 PM CT
77-43 CARDINALS Lackey (10-7, 2.87)
59-62 Padres Cashner (4-12, 4.20)
9:10 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

NL Central Leaders

WAR (fielders)
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) 5.7
Joey Votto (CIN) 5.2
Jason Heyward (STL) 4.0
Starling Marte (PIT) 3.9
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) 3.8
WAR (pitchers)
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 4.9
John Lackey (STL) 3.3
Michael Wacha (STL) 3.3
Gerrit Cole (PIT) 3.2
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 3.1

Power Surge: Yadi Makes History

Yadier Molina homered for the 2nd time in 3 nights.

Yadier Molina homered for the 2nd time in 3 nights.

Yadier Molina‘s 100th career homer lifted the St. Louis Cardinals as they took the rubber game against the San Francisco Giants with a 4-3 win at home.

In the 7th, Tommy Pham sped from 3rd base to score the tying run, getting in ahead of a throw home with the infield playing in.

Molina, batting cleanup for the first time in 2015, hit his 4th homer of the season in the 8th inning, breaking a 3-3 tie. After going much of the season without a homer, the thinner version of Molina homered for the 2nd time in the series. He went 3-for-4 on the night.

Trevor Rosenthal pitched a spotless 9th, striking out a pair for his 38th save.


* * * * * * * * *

J.A. Happ went 6 shutout innings to guide the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 4-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Mark Melancon had 3 strikeouts in the 9th (all on curveballs) to collect save number 38.

Sean Rodriguez went 3-for-4 with an RBI out of the #8 spot in the lineup, helping to atone for a big error in last night’s game.


* * * * * * * * *

Make it three straight losses for the Chicago Cubs, who allowed double digit runs for the second straight night – the first time that’s happened to them this season.

If you want to know how bad things went for the Cubs, the Detroit Tigers starting pitcher homered to center field in his first career at bat in the majors.

To be fair, the wind was blowing straight out to center at 15 mph, but still.

The 15-8 loss to the Tigers knocked the Cubs 9 games back in the division, although the Giants’ loss to the Redbirds kept them with the same lead in the Wild Card chase.

Jon Lester (L 8-9) lasted just 2.2 innings, allowing 7 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks, serving up 3 homers.

If you’re a Cubs fan with an eye on the future, it will please you to know that the kids were alright. Kris Bryant hit his 17th homer in a 4-for-4 night and Kyle Schwarber hit his 10th. It was Schwarber’s 2nd straight game with a long ball.

There’s always next year, folks.


* * * * * * * * *

Leaderboard Trends

In his last 12 games, Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli has a .429 on-base percentage.

In 16 August games, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant has a .463 on-base percentage.

In contrast, Pirates infielder Jung-Ho Kang has a .233 OBP in his last 6 games. Since ending a recent 10-game hitting streak, Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter has a .250 OBP in his most recent 5 games.

Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano has a 1.75 WHIP in his last 4 starts. In that timeframe, he has gone 2-0 with a 5.82 ERA, allowing 29 hits in 21.2 innings of work.

* * * * * * * * *

Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 77 43 W1
Pittsburgh Pirates 71 47 5.0 W2
Chicago Cubs 67 51 9.0 L3
Cincinnati Reds 51 67 25.0 L5
Milwaukee Brewers 52 70 26.0 W1

Wild Card Standings

Pittsburgh Pirates 71 47 +4.0
Chicago Cubs 67 51
San Francisco Giants 65 55 3.0
Washington Nationals 60 59 7.5

* * * * * * * * *


65-55 Giants Peavy (3-5, 4.18)
71-47 PIRATES Morton (7-4, 4.36)
6:05 PM CT
58-61 Diamondbacks Corbin (3-3, 3.43)
51-67 REDS Lamb (0-1, 7.50)
6:10 PM CT
53-67 Braves Foltynewicz (4-4, 5.61)
67-51 CUBS Arrieta (14-6, 2.39)
7:05 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

NL Central Leaders

On-Base Percentage
Joey Votto (CIN) .436
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) .401
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) .398
Francisco Cervelli (PIT) .375
Kris Bryant (CHC) .367
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 0.93
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 0.99
Jason Hammel (CHC) 1.09
Michael Wacha (STL) 1.11
Dan Haren (CHC) 1.12

Pirates Gain Some Ground Despite Fielding Gaffes

Pedro Florimon's 2nd hit of the season was a big one.

Pedro Florimon’s 2nd hit of the season was a big one.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks went 15 innings last night with the Bucs finally coming out winners.

The Pirates took an 8-3 lead into the 8th inning, only to allow ‘Zona to tie the game up and send it to extras.

Francisco Liriano went 7 innings, allowing 5 runs. He allowed the first two men to reach base in the 8th before turning the game over to the pen.

Mark Melancon entered the 9th with a 2-run lead going for the save, but errors at the corner infield positions (3B Jung Ho Kang and 1B Sean Rodriguez) led to a pair of unearned runs and the tie ballgame.

Pedro Florimon‘s two-out triple in the bottom of the 15th scored Francisco Cervelli to give the Pirates a game gained on the Cardinals in the division. Floimon had entered the game as a pinch-runner in the 8th. It was just his 2nd hit of the season.

Though he has excelled in other metrics, Starling Marte popped his first homer since July 1st.


* * * * * * * * *

The St. Louis Cardinals were shut out for the first time in three weeks, falling 2-0 to the San Francisco Giants.

The Cards managed just four base runners, with the top four in the order accounting for a double, single and pair of walks but nary a run.

The Giants picked up runs in the 6th and 7th, the latter coming in bizarre fashion as Madison Bumgarner was used as a pinch-hitter (and singled) and then Brandon Belt was hit on the knee by Randy Choate with the bases loaded, pushing a run across.

Lance Lynn fell to 9-8 after allowing 2 runs in 6.2 innings of work, striking out 6. Lynn allowed just 4 hits but also walked 5.

In four August starts, Lynn is 1-3 with a 4.58 ERA, walking 12 men in 17.2 innings of work.

Nursing a tight hamstring, Jason Heyward is expecting to return to the lineup for the Cardinals on Friday.

In possible good news for the Pirates and Cubs, the Giants’ Hunter Pence was put on the 15-day DL with an oblique strain. Pence has put up a slash line of .275/.327/.478 this year. After having appeared in every game during the last two seasons, he has played in just 52 games this year.


* * * * * * * * *

The Chicago Cubs played too late for me to pay attention in a rain-soaked suck-fest, losing 10-8 at home to the Detroit Tigers.

Starting pitcher Jason Hammel had a rough outing, allowing 5 runs on 9 hits and a walk in just 3 innings of work. He served up three long balls.

The Cubs trailed 6-2 early on but scratched their way back into a tie game, thanks in large part to rookie Kyle Schwarber‘s 3-run homer (9) in the 5th.

But reliever Pedro Strop imploded, allowing 3 runs in the 8th, and that was it for the Cubs who lost a game in the Wild Card race.

It was the first time the Cubs lost consecutive games since a 3-game skid from July 24th through 26th.


* * * * * * * * *

Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 76 43 L1
Pittsburgh Pirates 70 47 5.0 W1
Chicago Cubs 67 50 8.0 L2
Cincinnati Reds 51 66 24.0 L4
Milwaukee Brewers 51 70 26.0 L2

Wild Card Standings

Pittsburgh Pirates 70 47 +3.0
Chicago Cubs 67 50
San Francisco Giants 65 54 3.0
Washington Nationals 59 59 8.5

* * * * * * * * *


49-70 Marlins Koehler (8-10, 3.68)
51-70 BREWERS Peralta (3-7, 4.07)
1:10 PM CT
58-60 Diamondbacks Ray (3-8, 3.29)
70-47 PIRATES Happ (4-7, 4.64)
6:05 PM CT
72-46 Royals Guthrie (8-7, 5.63)
51-66 REDS Sampson (2-1, 3.18)
6:10 PM CT
65-54 Giants Cain (2-3, 6.05)
76-43 CARDINALS Garcia (5-4, 1.57)
6:15 PM CT
57-61 Tigers Norris (2-2, 4.24)
67-50 CUBS Lester (8-8, 3.21)
7:05 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

NL Central Leaders

Home Runs
Todd Frazier (CIN) 29
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) 23
Ryan Braun (MIL) 21
Joey Votto (CIN) 21
2-way tie 19
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 163
Gerrit Cole (PIT) 154
Francisco Liriano (PIT) 154
Jon Lester (CHC) 149
Carlos Martinez (STL) 144

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 103 other followers