A jam-packed weekend of MLB action says let's skip the meaty intro and just dive right in.
Highlight of the weekend: Freeman in ATL
Freddie Freeman returned to Truist Park to face the Braves for the first time as a player for an opposing team this weekend. In this case, the same team the Braves knocked out in the NLCS last season, the Dodgers. It was a nice ovation on Friday night and Freeman was clearly emotional.
In an extended highlight, you can see Freeman thank catcher William Contreras, who went out in front of home plate to purposely delay the game and give the crowd time to show Freeman their gratitude.
The teams had previously played a three-game series at Los Angeles, so Freeman's first visit to his old stomping grounds is the final series of the season between the two teams -- unless they meet in October again. They've already faced off in the past two NLCS.
Freeman would end up getting on base three times and scoring twice in a 4-1 win on Friday night. He drew a walk after that ovation as part of a two-run Dodgers first inning that ensured they led the entire game.
Saturday, Braves starter Max Fried went 6 2/3 strong innings, striking out nine. The Braves had a 3-0 leading heading to the seventh inning and the Dodgers battled back to tie it in the eighth, but then a two-run Marcell Ozuna home run put the Braves in position to use former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Jansen faced three former teammates and struck all three out for the save.
Sunday was a duel for a bit between starters Spencer Strider and Tony Gonsolin with Strider coming out on top (6 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K). It was 2-0 Braves heading to the ninth and Jansen struck out the first two hitters he faced. Then Gavin Lux singled. Then Chris Taylor did the same with Lux making it to third. That latter part loomed large when Taylor stole second, because a Trayce Thompson bloop single that ricocheted off the glove of Braves first baseman Matt Olson tied the game.
Freeman would drive home a run in the 10th but then Olson tied it in the bottom half. That was fun.
The Dodgers rallied for two in the 11th and Brusdar Graterol brought it home. The Dodgers took the series.
The two teams are done playing each other in the regular season with the Dodgers having won four of the six.
The Astros and Yankees played an unusual and entertaining four-game series in the Bronx this weekend. The Astros led most of the game Thursday to kick off a four-game series before the Yankees stormed back with a four-run ninth for an unlikely walk-off win via Aaron Judge.
The Astros would stifle the Yankees' bats the next two days behind dominant starting pitching. Justin Verlander allowed only one run on four hits in seven innings Friday night and he had the worst performance of the next three starters. Cristian Javier threw seven scoreless and hitless(!) innings with a career-high 13 strikeouts on Saturday. The Astros threw a combined no-hitter in this one.
It didn't stop there. José Urquidy had a no-hitter going through 6 1/3 innings on Sunday before a Giancarlo Stanton home run broke it up. , but it didn't really matter.
On the offensive side, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has been public enemy No. 1 in the Bronx ever since the sign-stealing scandal broke. There's that, his 2017 MVP over Aaron Judge and the walk-off homer in the 2019 ALCS when he was making sure his teammates didn't rip off his shirt (and all the accusations that came from that). He's serenaded with "F--- Altuve" chants and showered with boos every time he visits.
Altuve went 3 for 4 with two doubles on Thursday. Saturday, he hit a homer to provide some much-needed insurance late. Sunday, he led the game off with a home run. He now has 11 homers in his last 23 games against the Yankees, including the playoffs (via Katie Sharp).
Of course, the Yankees stormed back to win Sunday on a walk-off Aaron Judge home run in the 10th:
So after all that, it was a four-game split.
The Astros led at the end of 20 different innings in the series. The Yankees led in just the two innings in which they walked it off. That was it.
The Red Sox are surging
The Red Sox went into Cleveland and smacked around a previously hot Guardians team. The Guardians had actually won 17 of their last 22 and were tied for first in the AL Central heading into the series. Friday, Nick Pivetta threw seven strong innings while Rafael Devers continued to play at an MVP level with two hits, including a homer. Saturday, five pitchers -- starting with rookie Josh Winckowski for five innings -- held down the Cleveland offense and Alex Verdugo clubbed a big three-run homer to take the lead. Sunday, the ageless Rich Hill gave them quality work for six innings while the offense pounded out 15 hits -- Devers had three more and so did J.D. Martinez while Trevor Story ran his RBI total to 50.
Remember that 10-19 Red Sox start? They've been the second-best team in baseball since then, having gone 32-12 (the Yankees have gone 34-12).
Saturday night, a pitch buzzed by Angels star Mike Trout's head. Sunday, the same happened to Mariners youngster Julio Rodríguez. Next inning, Jesse Winker was hit with a pitch and then a big-time brawl happened:
Alejandro Kirk is on fire... but Brewers come back
Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk should be an All-Star starter next month. He's hitting .322/.409/.523 on the season and on Sunday homered for his fourth time in five games. It came in the first inning and it was a three-run shot, giving the Jays' a 3-0 lead before the Brewers even batted.
It would be short-lived due to former Blue Jays slugger Rowdy Tellez. A two-run shot from Tellez paved the way for a three-run Brewers' first and it was tied all over again. He would highlight a five-run second with another homer:
After that three-run Jays' first, the Brewers put 10 unanswered runs on the board. They took two of three in the series and have now won seven of their last 10 after a terrible start to the month.
Twins at Guardians (five games beginning Monday): Didn't they just play? Yes. Yes, they did. After the Guardians took two of three in Minnesota to start last week, these two teams are playing a five-gamer here in the first part of the week. The Twins bring in a two-game lead, but things could swing significantly with five head-to-head games.
Braves at Phillies (three games starting Tuesday): The Phillies are vulnerable here. They will return home after an 11-day road trip that concluded Sunday in San Diego and they'll be starting this homestand against what looks like a superior divisional foe without their best player and team leader in Bryce Harper, who fractured his thumb when hit by a pitch Saturday night. How will the Phillies respond? Can the Braves start burying them?
Red Sox at Blue Jays (three games starting Monday)/Rays at Blue Jays (five games starting Thursday): The Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays are right now occupying the three AL wild card spots and all are more than 10 games behind the Yankees for first in the AL East (the Red Sox are in second place, 11 back). This means the head-to-head games are important not only for jockeying within the wild card spots, but also for teams in other divisions hoping for an opening.
Astros at Mets (two games, Tuesday and Wednesday): Unfortunately, it's only two games. Still, it's a possible World Series preview.
Yankees at Guardians (three games beginning Friday): What a loaded week for the Guardians. After five huge games against the Twins with the Central lead hanging in the balance, they'll deal with the Yankees to start the month of July. We could be looking at them making a big statement as a team to be reckoned with, a team on the verge of a collapse or anything in between.
Padres at Dodgers (four games starting Thursday): The Padres have been pestering the Dodgers from the rearview mirror all season, as they've never been further than four games back and have even had the lead a few times. The Dodgers took the only series, so far, between these two teams. It was all the way back in April and the Dodgers took two of three in San Diego.