We're working our way toward the middle of September, which means that stretch-drive baseball is in full effect. So let's dive into what you need to know about this weekend's MLB action.
Highlight of the weekend: C.J. Cron goes (way, way) deep
That act of war, which came at the expense of Keynan Middleton, is tied for the second-longest home run ever registered by StatCast. That Toyota Tundra, which thought itself safe from such assaults deep in its left-field perch, has now been put on notice. C.J. Cron is coming for you.
Coming into Friday, the Mets had occupied first place in the National League East for almost the entire season – April 11 was the last time they weren't at the top of the NL East heap. On Friday, however, the Mets fell to the Marlins, and the Braves bested the Mariners. Those outcomes pushed Atlanta into first place by a half-game. Then on Saturday, the Mets prevailed while the Braves lost, and that pushed the Mets back into first place. On Sunday, the Mets beat the Marlins again to take a one-game lead, temporarily, pending the result of Braves-Mariners.
That one did not disappoint in the least. The Mariners took a 6-2 lead to the top of the ninth. Michael Harris' three-run homer cut the lead to one and then Robbie Grossman's two-run home run gave the Braves an incredibly improbable 7-6 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, Mariners wunderkind Julio Rodríguez hit a rocket to tie the game:
And then Eugenio Suarez hit a walk-off homer.
That means the Mariners took two of three from the Braves in an amazing series. The Mets now have a 1 1/2 game lead after the Braves took over first place Friday night. The Mets have only been out of first place for two days all season, but the Braves remain hot on their tail.
This is probably a sign of things to come over the next three weeks or so, as we could be in for a photo finish in the division. The stakes are very high, as the eventual NL East champ will almost certainly join the Dodgers in enjoying a first-round bye in the playoffs. The runner-up, meantime, will be forced to play a best-of-three in the opening Wild Card round. What makes all this doubly intriguing is that the Mets at one point held a 10 ½-game lead in the division.
Dodgers clinch playoff spot
We've known for quite a while that the playoffs would include the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it became official on Sunday. With the Dodgers' victory, they moved to 96-43 and it is now mathematically impossible for them to fall out of the playoffs. It won't be long until they clinch the NL West (the magic number is three) and then shortly after that they'll wrap up the top seed in the NL and later, likely, the best record in baseball. For now, though, they have clinched a spot in the postseason.
Pujols blasts Nos. 696 and 697
That homer pulled him into a tie with Alex Rodriguez for fourth place on the all-time home run list. However, that tie didn't last long, as on Sunday Pujols in the ninth inning hit a go-ahead bomb to right center for career home run No. 697:
He's now alone in fourth place. High-level mathematics reveals that Pujols is also now just three home runs shy of 700 for his career. If he gets there, he'll join Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth as the only sluggers to reach that lofty threshold.
It remains worth noting that this is no "charity" pursuit on the part of the Cardinals. Pujols has been highly productive in this, his age-42 campaign, and he's been one of the most dangerous hitters against left-handed pitching for the first-place Cardinals. Pujols has repeatedly emphasized that this will be his final MLB season.
Zac Gallen's scoreless innings streak comes to an end
Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Zac Gallen – one of the most underrated hurlers in the game today – entered Sunday's start against the Rockies with a scoreless innings streak of 41 ⅓ innings. He kept Colorado off the board for the first three frames on Sunday to push his streak to franchise-record territory (Brandon Webb in 2007 had held the D-Backs' mark with a streak of 42 innings), but the Rockies pushed across three runs in the fourth to end Gallen's run. However, it still stands as one of the longest scoreless streaks in MLB history:
Longest single-season scoreless IP streak, live-ball era (1920):— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) September 11, 2022
1988 Orel Hershiser: 59 IP
1968 Don Drysdale: 58 IP
1968 Bob Gibson: 47 IP
2015 Zack Greinke: 45 2/3 IP
1933 Carl Hubbell: 45 1/3 IP
1950 Sal Maglie: 45 IP
2022 Zac Gallen: 44 1/3 IP
Those runs on Sunday were the first that Gallen has allowed since Aug. 2 against the Guardians.
Mike Trout homers in sixth straight game to set franchise record
Mike Trout remains Mike Trout. On Saturday, he homered in his sixth straight game, which was good for an Angels franchise mark:
That homer means that Trout is just two games shy of the all-time record of eight straight games with a home run. That record is shared by Ken Griffey Jr. (1993), Don Mattingly (1987), and Dale Long (1956). Trout, who's still very much in vintage form, entered Sunday with 34 home runs in 99 games. As usual, though, the Angels have managed irrelevancy despite the elite contributions of Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
Trout had a scheduled off day on Sunday and wasn't in the Angels' lineup.
Rays at Blue Jays (five games beginning on Monday): Both teams are still alive in the AL East race, and they're almost neck-and-neck for the top wild-card position in the AL. That's significant because the top wild-card seed earns the right to host all games of the Wild Card Series against the No. 2 wild-card team.
White Sox at Guardians (one game on Thursday): This one's a makeup of the Aug. 21 contest that was rained out. Yes, it's only one game and not an actual series, but in the tight AL Central race every game matters. This contest between the first- and second-place teams could wind up mattering quite a bit.
Twins at Guardians (five games beginning on Friday): Speaking of the tight (but roundly underwhelming) AL Central, the heretofore disappointing Twins get a chance to reassert themselves with this big five-game set against the current division leaders. This will be Minnesota's last head-to-head encounter with the Guardians during the regular season, so they badly need to take advantage. The series features a Saturday doubleheader.
Phillies at Braves (three games beginning on Friday): The Braves and Mets figure to be in a down-to-the-wire struggle for the NL East crown, so in that sense, every game the Braves and Mets play matters, regardless of the opponent. In this series, though, we also have the Phillies, who are trying to maintain a grip on wild-card position and make the postseason for the first time since 2011.