Three Strikes: Red Sox clinch AL East title; Mets wild-card chances, more
- Despite losing to the Yankees on a Mark Teixera walk-off grand slam, the Red Sox clinched the AL East title. The Mets continue to roll without their big name pitchers and the Braves get a glimpse of the future.
The season is winding down, but the storylines are heating up. Here are three thoughts and observations from a Wednesday night in baseball.
A Slip, but Feeling Fine
The last two times the Boston Red Sox were AL East champs, they won a World Series. Is that in the offing this year? They’re on their way, as they clinched the AL East title Wednesday night due to the Blue Jays' loss to the Orioles. Even though they backed in, giving up a three-run lead to the Yankees in the ninth inning and losing 5–3, clinching was only a matter of time.
Of the teams in the AL, the Red Sox are probably best suited to make the World Series. Their offense is electric. Mookie Betts is a legitimate MVP candidate. David Ortiz is a real, if not sentimental, MVP candidate as well. And that’s not to discount Dustin Pedroia (.320), Jackie Bradley (.272) and Xander Bogaerts (.295). That Hanley Ramirez is the fifth best player on this team speaks to their depth.
And their pitching isn’t half bad either. Rick Porcello is probably the Cy Young favorite, with a stellar 22–4 record. David Price has been okay (223 hits in 225 innings) and his poor playoff track record is concerning (career 5.12 ERA) but with a high-octane offense, it might not matter.
An ALCS between the Rangers and Red Sox would be ideal, if not irritating to traditionalists who like pitching duels. Texas’s offense is pretty close to Boston’s, and a ring would look mighty nice on Adrian Beltre’s finger. But Boston’s incredible offensive depth and experience might give it an edge.
The Mets are the weirdest, most dangerous team in recent memory. No Matt Harvey. No Jacob DeGrom. No Steven Matz. And yet they continue to roll, beating the Marlins 5–2 on Wednesday. The win knocked Miami out of playoff contention.
Perhaps most important is that Jay Bruce hit a home run. After a rough start to his tenure in Queens, Bruce has turned it on as of late. The outfielder has five home runs this month and is on a quiet five game hitting streak. It might not be enough to justify the deadline deal, but it’s better than nothing.
The Mets are a team kept together by band-aids. They are driven by the wonderfully erratic Yoenis Cespedes, the rejuvenation of Jose Reyes (only 33, somehow) and the top-notch play from Asdrubal Cabrera. They have leaned on the impossibly effective Bartolo Colon, the big-time performances from youngsters Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, and an improved bullpen led by Addison Reed (2.05 ERA).
Terry Collins got a lot of flack after the Matt Harvey incident in last year's World Series. But they are in prime position for the playoffs, helped by the Cardinals' 2–1 loss to the Reds. And given their unpredictable nature, no team wants to face them in the playoffs.
The Atlanta Braves are so hot right now. Wait, what? Yes, the Braves, who beat the Phillies Wednesday night 12–2, are 65-95. Not good. But they have won nine of their last ten games. This comes after winning six straight in the beginning of September.
They are doing it behind Freddie Freeman, one of the most unappreciated players in baseball. The first baseman extended his hitting streak to 30 games with a sixth-inning singles Wednesday night. On the season, he’s batting .307/.404/.576 with 33 home runs.
It’s not just Freeman. Matt Kemp, a deadline acquisition, has been good, with a .286/.339/.505 line and 10 homers in 51 games. Nick Markakis has a .270 average and 88 RBIs. Dansby Swanson, their 22-year-old top prospect, has been good with a .289/.336/.386 line.
This season is lost, but next season is not. They’ll have a full season of Swanson and they could see lefty Sean Newcomb, righty Lucas Sims and third baseman Rio Ruiz. And that’s added on to the presence of Freeman, Kemp, Markakis and Julio Teheran. After a brutal few years, things are looking up in Atlanta.