September 20, 2013
What You Need to Know
A Couple of Clinchers
The Thursday Takeaway
Los Angeles’ ticket to October is stamped with the National League West title, the product of a spending spree that was accelerated by the blockbuster trade with Boston in August 2012. Boston’s pass, currently general admission but soon to be marked with the American League East crown, was paid for with a more methodical offseason shopping trip enabled by that very same deal.
The Dodgers grabbed a 3-0 lead in the top of the third inning yesterday, only to have the Diamondbacks counter with a six-spot off of Ricky Nolasco in the home half of the frame. But Nolasco navigated his way through a scoreless fourth and fifth, and as soon as Wade Miley hit the showers, the floodgates opened. Will Harris coughed up two runs on three hits without recording an out, and Chaz Roe and Josh Collmenter were charged with one each. Meanwhile, Brandon League, J.P. Howell, Brian Wilson, and Kenley Jansen kept the Snakes off the board.
Jansen induced a fly out from Aaron Hill to finish off the Dodgers’ 88th win of the season and complete their worst-to-first climb, which began on July 1. As Bob Nightengale of USA Today pointed out, Don Mattingly’s club is just the third to enjoy such a dramatic second-half bounce since 1913. And the Dodgers, who were involved in a brawl with Kirk Gibson’s club on June 11, relished the chance to deliver the finishing touch at the Diamondbacks’ expense.
Whatever your thoughts on the unique celebration, the Dodgers’ march up the standings has been remarkable. Hanley Ramirez, one of the leaders in the climb, homered twice on Thursday to raise his season total to 20 and his triple-slash line to .351/.403/.656.
“He makes us so much better when he’s in the lineup,” Clayton Kershaw told reporters, about his shortstop, an indisputable statement considering that Ramirez has been worth nearly five wins in just 81 games. The key word in that quote, though, is “when.”
If Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp are in the lineup, and Hanley is doing Hanley-in-his-prime things, the Dodgers will be a force in October. But injuries set them back during the first half of the season, delaying their surge until the summer, and there’s little time to waste in October. A healthy Dodgers roster is the most talented in the senior circuit. With the division title in hand, Mattingly’s task over the next month will be doing his best to keep all the vital pieces in place.
Quick Hits from Thursday
The Red Sox did their clinching in front of the home crowd at Fenway Park, and they nearly did it in style, as John Lackey carried a no-hitter into the seventh. Adam Jones took care of that and the shutout with one swing of the bat, but his solo shot was all the O’s could muster in the 3-1 Boston win.
Stephen Drew, one of the items on the aforementioned winter shopping list, turned in a triple and a home run in support of Lackey, but the right-hander didn’t need much to secure the victory in his first complete game of the year.
Essentially a two-trick pony, Lackey stymied the Orioles with his heater and slider, each of which drew eight swings and misses. He threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 31 hitters who dug in. And the two-hitter, in which he walked a pair and struck out eight, earned a game score of 85, Lackey’s highest since June 29, 2008.
Two dreadful seasons and a Tommy John surgery into his Red Sox career, the right-hander is in the midst of a renaissance and finally living up to his five-year, $82.5 million contract. He has gone from goat to fan favorite in Boston.
There will soon come a time when it will no longer be easy for Gerrit Cole to keep setting new single-game highs in strikeouts. But the rookie, who started slow in that area before finding a bat-missing groove in recent weeks, is still doing it with ease.
When he went out to the mound to take on the Padres yesterday, Cole’s target was nine—a personal best that he’d set just two starts earlier while tossing seven scoreless innings in Arlington. He reached that target with the first out he recorded in the fifth. And he still had three more strikeouts in the tank.
The UCLA product’s curveball was a menace on Thursday, inducing five whiffs in 16 tries without ever being put in play. Combine that with a fastball touching triple digits, not to mention a changeup that notched eight strikes in nine offerings and a slider that can be as electric as any of those pitches, and it’s no surprise that the punchouts are coming in bunches for Cole.
Eighteen starts into his big-league career, Cole’s strikeout rate now stands at 21.1 percent, on par with the 2013 clips of Matt Cain and Hisashi Iwakuma. But in four September starts, it has shot all the way up to 35.6 percent, two percentage points better than Yu Darvish’s league-high rate.
Cole probably won’t keep whiffing opponents at that pace for long, but a few short weeks ago, we were still worried that he wouldn’t fan enough of them. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, it’s just about time to put those concerns to bed.
Defensive Play(s) of the Day
Prince Fielder earned a snack:
I was going to leave it at that, but then Todd Helton executed a hidden-ball trick. So here’s his extraordinary effort, too:
What to Watch for This Weekend