• Losers of seven straight, are the Cardinals already playing themselves out of the playoff hunt? Plus a big night for Gary Sanchez, Astros ace Dallas Keuchel heads back to the DL and more.
By Connor Grossman
June 09, 2017

A look at the current MLB standings reveals both of the last year’s pennant winners are sitting outside of playoff position, meaning there are a handful of pleasant (and unpleasant) surprises across baseball. From the surging Diamondbacks to the struggling Cardinals, here’s what you need to know from Thursday’s action.

What you might’ve missed

1. It’s already strange seeing the Cubs out of first place on June 9, but what’s more puzzling about the National League Central standings is how the Cardinals have fallen. St. Louis lost its seventh straight Thursday—a 5–2 defeat by the Reds, who swept the four-game series—dropping the 26–32 Cardinals to fourth place in the division.

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Look no further than the Cardinals’ pitching to discover a large chunk of the team’s trouble. St. Louis failed to receive a quality start during its seven-game road trip, and the bullpen has yielded 11 runs in its last 8 1/3 innings. The bats have gone quiet, too, with the Cardinals averaging less than three runs per game during this losing streak. With more than 100 games to go, time is precisely what the Cardinals have. What they don’t have is a weak division. The Brewers and Reds are playing much better than expected, leaving the Cardinals no clear and easy path to October.

2. Gary Sanchez hasn’t picked up where he left off last season—blasting 20 home runs while hitting .299 in 53 games—but you wouldn’t know it watching the swings he took off David Price in the Yankees’ 9–1 win on Tuesday. Sanchez homered twice off the Red Sox ace and is now 4-for-7 in his career against Price with four home runs.

He even piled on to his highlight reel by cutting down Mookie Betts trying to steal second base. Sanchez gave batterymate Michael Pineda more help than he probably needed, as the right-hander allowed one unearned run while scattering four hits in seven innings. New York took two of three from Boston in the series to widen its AL East lead to three games.

3. Milwaukee and Cincinnati aren’t the only two teams raising eyebrows around the National League. Take a glance at the National League West, where the first-place Rockies are 16 games over .500 and the Diamondbacks trail by only a couple games. At 24–8, Arizona holds the best home record in baseball and just finished off a sweep of the Padres in a 15–3 thumping on Thursday.

Coupling an offense fueled by Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb with a pitching staff that’s proven to be one of the most reliable in the NL has translated to plenty of results like Thursday’s. But instead of Lamb or Goldschmidt jump-starting the offense against the Padres, Chris Iannetta took the reins. The veteran catcher tallied seven RBIs from a pair of doubles and a go-ahead two-run home run. The victory was needed to keep pace with the Rockies—winners against the Cubs—in what’s shaping up to be an entertaining pennant race out west.

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What you shouldn’t miss

4. There’s been very little concern surrounding the Astros this season. Winning 12 of 13 games and owning the best record in baseball alleviates most issues. But feelings can change quickly, especially when ace Dallas Keuchel ends up back on the disabled list with neck issues for the second time in two weeks. Keuchel was initially scratched from his start Wednesday with an “illness” until the team announced his placement on the DL.

Keuchel appeared to have regained his Cy Young form this season, flashing a 9–0 record and MLB-best 1.67 ERA. But Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said there’s no immediate timetable for his return, leaving the Astros’ immediate future a bit uncertain despite another win on Thursday night. They’ve called up top pitching prospect Francis Martes to pitch out of the bullpen in the meantime, and he’s even a possibility to join the rotation if Joe Musgrove can’t go on Monday.

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5. The Cubs aren’t sure the next time Addison Russell will be their starting shortstop. Amid domestic violence accusations centered around comments on an Instagram post by Russell’s wife, the Cubs are holding their young shortstop out of the lineup for now as Major League Baseball proceeds with an investigation of the allegations. Russell has struggled to find consistency this year, cycling on and off the bench recently while trying to improve on a .209 batting average, three home runs and 19 RBIs.

Expect Javier Baez to hold down shortstop for the immediate future, a position he’s more than capable of handling defensively. He chipped in a hit Thursday but it wasn’t enough in the Cubs’ 4–1 loss to Colorado.

6. The Twins entered Thursday clinging to a one-game division lead thanks in large part to the team’s success on the road. Minnesota upped its road mark to 18–8 after beating the Mariners, 2–1, and heads to San Francisco hoping to continue its upward trajectory. Ervin Santana and his 2.44 ERA should give the Twins an edge in Friday’s series opener, and they’ll take any victory they can with the Indians battling the last-place White Sox.

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