Brewers continue surge, Carpenter returns and Sabathia dominates
This is happening, people. By tagging Nationals closer Tyler Clippard for three runs in the ninth inning and winning 4-2, the Brewers extended their most recent winning streak to six games. They are now 24-6 since Aug. 19, a scorching .800 clip that is the best in baseball in that time. They are now just 1½ games behind the Cardinals for the second NL wild-card slot.
Last night in D.C., the Brewers got yet another quality start, this time from Shawn Marcum (6 IP, 2 ER), and ninth-inning RBIs from Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez. The pitching has been the key: the Brewers have a 3.25 ERA in their last 30 games and the bullpen has been lights-out in September, with a 2.70 ERA. Closer John Axford, out of his job five weeks ago, has closed out 10 consecutive save opportunities since nearly blowing a game on Aug. 24.
Underrated hero? Stealth Rookie of the Year candidate Norichika Aoki, who has solved the team's leadoff problem with a .420 OBP and 15 runs scored in September. It was Aoki's bunt single kicked off the ninth-inning rally Friday night. This isn't a cute story any longer; this is a team with a real chance to be 2012's Cardinals -- by beating out the 2012 Cardinals!
One of the best stories of the season was unveiled Friday afternoon, as Chris Carpenter, not three months removed from surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome (a circulatory problem), returned to the mound. The results were fine -- five innings, two runs allowed -- but Carpenter was far from the ace the Cards last saw pitching them to a World Championship. He topped out at 91 mph and mostly worked in the high 80s, and he did not have the command we've come to expect of Carpenter (47 strikes, 30 balls).
If it were July, Carpenter would likely be rehabbing in the minors, but with the minor-league seasons complete, and the Cardinals' clinging to playoff position, Carpenter will have to heal on the big stage. His efforts might have been enough Friday, but with Jason Motte unavailable off three straight days of work, Mike Matheny called upon Fernando Salas to protect a two-run, ninth-inning lead at Wrigley. The Cubs, twice down to their final strike, tied the game on a two-run homer by Darwin Barney and won it in the 11th on a single by David DeJesus. The loss was costly for the Cards, as all four teams chasing them -- the Brewers, Dodgers, Phillies and Diamondbacks -- all won. The Cardinals' hold on the second wild card is just 1½ games tight.
The Reds couldn't get anything going against Joe Blanton and five Dodger relievers, losing 3-1 in 10 innings as Matt Kemp capped a three-hit night with a two-run tiebreaking single in the 10th. However, the Cardinals' loss earlier in the day meant that the Reds clinched no worse than a tie for the NL Central title before they took the field, and they can still lock up their second division crown in three years on Saturday.
The games will matter after that, though; the Reds are a half-game behind the Nationals for the No. 1 seed in the NL, which comes with home-field advantage for as long as you survive and a date with a theoretically-hindered wild-card round survivor in the Division Series. Reds manager Dusty Baker missed a third straight game due to an irregular heartbeat, staying behind in Chicago as his team went home to Cincinnati.
A good week got even better for the Yankees, who got eight scoreless innings and 11 strikeouts from CC Sabathia in a 2-1, 10-inning victory over the A's. It was Sabathia's best outing of the season, with a Game Score of 85, and helped the Yankees -- who also watched Andy Pettitte return this week -- feel better about the state of their postseason rotation.
Sabathia's heroics weren't quite enough, though. After Rafael Soriano allowed a solo homer in the ninth to Brandon Moss to tie the game 1-1, Russell Martin won it in the bottom of the 10th with a walk-off blast off Sean Doolittle. The win, the Yankees' sixth in a row, helped the team maintain its one-game edge over the Orioles in the AL East and its 5½-game edge over the Angels for a berth in the postseason.
In the only other AL game between two contenders, the Angels rode clear-cut AL MVP -- accept no substitutes -- Mike Trout to yet another win, 6-2 over the White Sox. Trout doubled, homered and drew a walk in five plate appearances, as the Angels improved to 73-54 (.575) in games he's started, and 82-69 overall, 3½ games behind the A's for the second wild-card spot.
Ervin Santana allowed a leadoff homer to Alejandro de Aza ... then just one more hit in his seven innings of work. Santana struck out 11 and walked just one in an outing right out of his excellent 2011 season. The White Sox lost their third straight game and watched their AL Central lead dip to a game-and-a-half over the Tigers, who had their game rained out. The Sox have not been out of first place since July 23.