The Cubs needed a win plus a loss by Colorado to Philadelphia to assure a franchise-record fourth straight trip to the playoffs, a run that includes a drought-busting World Series championship in 2016. Closing in on a third straight NL Central title, the Cubs began the night with a 2 1/2-game lead over second-place Milwaukee, then lost for the third time in five games.
Taillon (14-9) gave up one run and five hits in seven innings, improving to 5-0 in his past seven starts. The right-hander has not allowed more than three earned runs in his past 21 outings.
Hamels (4-2) hit his second career homer but he lost his second straight start after going 4-0 in his first nine following a trade from Texas. The left-hander gave up three runs – two earned – and five hits in six innings.
Cervelli hit a two-run homer in the first after missing the previous two games because of gastrointestinal discomfort. He also reached on an infield single in the sixth and scored on Jose Osuna’s second double.
Pablo Reyes added an RBI single in the seventh and a solo homer in the ninth against Brian Duensing. A day after they were eliminated, the Pirates won for the seventh time in nine games.
Pirates: CF Starling Marte (left calf) was out of the lineup after leaving Pittsburgh’s loss to Milwaukee on Sunday.
Cubs: 3B Kris Bryant was back in the lineup after being held out of Sunday’s win over the crosstown White Sox because of fatigue in his left shoulder. The 2016 NL MVP was on the disabled list from July 26 to Sept. 1 with left shoulder inflammation and missed time earlier in the season because of the same issue. … RHP Pedro Strop (strained left hamstring) played catch. The reliever hopes to pitch in a game prior to the playoffs after being sidelined since Sept. 13, when he was hurt running to first on a double-play grounder at Washington.
Pirates: RHP Chris Archer (5-8, 4.49 ERA), coming off a 2-1 win over Kansas City last week, has a 3.38 ERA in four starts this month after posting a 6.45 ERA in his first nine outings with Pittsburgh following a trade from Tampa Bay.
Cubs: LHP Mike Montgomery (5-5, 3.75) looks to win his second straight start after throwing six solid innings at Arizona last week. He has won all three career starts against the Pirates and is 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA in nine outings against them.
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Those who follow the Tigers baseball firmament had a hunch last March playoff tickets would not stress their autumn 2018 budgets.
But there was enough vigor and enough new blood — and often sufficient pitching — to have made this year’s Tigers more entertaining, perhaps, than would be suggested by their final record, which could be as bad as 63-99 or as good as 69-93, with Ron Gardenhire’s team heading into its final two series at Minnesota and Milwaukee.
A review of Tigers forecasts confirmed, as well as surprises unseen, would include some of the following players and moments:
►Best blindside from a position player: Niko Goodrum. He was signed last autumn as a minor-league free agent after his former team, the Twins, had not regarded him overly seriously. Goodrum was supposed to go to Tigers spring camp and contend for a bench job. He instead made the team and stayed with it the entire year. He has smacked 16 home runs. He has 29 doubles, a .748 OPS (plus-102) and a 1.6 WAR. He has played every position except catcher and center field. He is 26. This was good scouting and analytics work by the Tigers.
►Biggest jump anticipated by a position player in 2019: Jeimer Candelario. This was his first full season in the big leagues. And as first full seasons go for lineup regulars, it was a pogo-stick campaign, up and down, with one number overriding any others: 19 home runs. Candelario will be better in all phases, almost assuredly, in 2019. His batting average (.226 today) will rise, maybe by a lot. He will draw more walks as his strikeouts drop. And he could crowd 30 homers in 2019, all as he gets a bit smoother at third base. At some point, maybe in 2020, he’s got a shot at becoming the Tigers’ new first baseman. For now, he’s evolving into a better hitter and infield fixture.
►Most talented mystery player from 2018: JaCoby Jones. You’re forgiven for believing Jones will never hit much higher than the .213 he has shown in 2018, with a .268 on-base average. He is 26 years old. But he was better, significantly better, in each category during five seasons in the minor leagues. If he can make any meaningful progress in 2019, oh, have the Tigers a potential weapon here. Jones has 23 defensive runs saved in 2018 and a 2.6 defensive WAR. He also has ripped 11 homers. If he makes any — any — progress in swinging at strikes, he becomes a heavy plus player.
►Biggest tumble, position side: James McCann, in terms of offense. He has a .569 OPS on the season and a negative-0.6 WAR. He has improved markedly on defense and still ranks as a good bet to win a contract next season as the Tigers wait on Jake Rogers.
►Player who showed in September he probably belongs: Christin Stewart. Power and a batting eye — check, check. He sees nearly five pitches per at-bat and probably will hit 20-30 homers next season if he plays regularly in left field. His defense is, as was known, so-so. But he has gotten better and will improve. What’s clear even after two weeks is that Stewart can handle big-league pitching. Expect him to be Opening Day’s starting left fielder. And if you want to project that a year from now he might be earning a vote or two for Rookie of the Year, your call.
►Pitcher whose stock was a smart buy in April: Matthew Boyd. Take a gander at his jump in strikeouts. He’s at 11.4 per nine innings during four September starts and 8.4 on the year, with a 3-to-1 ration on whiffs to walks. He has four pitches and a better fastball than some imagined. He is the team’s present-day rotation ace.
►Reliever who came around, pleasingly: Joe Jimenez. Everyone wants kids to perform during those early weeks and months as if their skills alone can make them instant big-league weapons. Doesn’t work that way, even when you have Jimenez’s palette of pitches. He’s durable and can blow away three batters with 10 pitches. Tigers were so smart to have followed him in 2013 and signed him post-draft.
►Most confounding pitcher in 2018: Shane Greene. Simply shouldn’t have so many rough innings. Something isn’t clicking, and it isn’t that his slider too often gets hammered. Greene’s fastball also has lost some gyration. The Tigers were counting on more three years ago when they dealt Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba in a three-way deal that brought Greene from the Yankees. Greene’s ERA a year ago: 2.66. His ERA in 2018: 5.20. Not a lot of big-league closers with those latter digits.
►Player most likely to not be back who could be back: Jose Iglesias. It’s assumed Iglesias will move elsewhere once free agency arrives in a few days. But where is he relocating? There has been no market for him the past two years. The Tigers need a shortstop in 2019 and Iglesias will want full-time work. It makes sense the two parties might re-up for a one-year deal, even if Iglesias and agent Scott Boras almost certainly will insist, at least initially, on something lengthier.
►Player with most potential outcomes in 2019: Nick Castellanos. He could be a force in 2019. Or he could put up numbers on par with his 2018 score. Say it’s the former, which would be a personal pick, and a guy who turns 27 in March hits .300-plus with 30 homers. He then would acquire trade gloss for July or become the brand of bat a team might want to sign next autumn as a free agent. The Tigers, of course, hope he explodes like Mount Vesuvius when such fury will benefit all parties in the short and long term. If he hits furiously next season but eludes a mid-summer trade, the Tigers can afford next fall to make a qualifying offer that will earn a decent draft pick if another team plucks him.
That’s a best-case scenario for Castellanos, and for the Tigers, who won’t care to pay him nearly $20 million in QO money in 2020, but who neither will want to say goodbye minus compensation. In their rebuilding phase the Tigers aren’t likely to pay for an expensive extension. Nor are they moving him to first base. Castellanos needs to tear pitchers to pieces in 2019, for his and his team’s benefit.
►Player who changes everything if he stays healthy in 2019: Miguel Cabrera, of course. I’d still bet on him. He has had a steady stream of ills, yes, and in six months he will be a few weeks from birthday No. 36. But he is Cabrera. And he will remain Cabrera, with a deadly bat, for probably the brunt of his remaining five years in Detroit. Some who haven’t had the benefit of medical school insist Cabrera will annually break down and spend his months in Miami healing from various tears and fractures and trauma. The wager here is he’ll bounce back in 2019, and a year from now be a most appealing candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.
►Best pitching candidate to have a Cabrera-like revival in 2019: Daniel Norris. Again, there’s a sense Norris has had his quota of weird ailments and will snap together a sturdy year in 2019. He has looked like a different pitcher in September, even with a sub-prime fastball that next year should be back to its 94-mph norm. He has too much talent. And there’s no reason to believe he’s an injury waiting to happen. This is the guy a team has waited for, patiently. Don’t be shocked if he becomes one of spring camp’s big stories and carries it into a full season. He’s due. Overdue, in fact.
►Relievers who prove a bullpen’s unpredictability: Drew VerHagen and Daniel Stumpf. VerHagen remains the waiver wire’s missed lottery ticket after he was shunned in April when any big-league team could have grabbed him. Big mistake. The man’s 27. He pitched at Vanderbilt. Fourth-round draft pick by the Tigers, with an arm waiting to be toned and unleashed. Looks as if it has happened.
Stumpf, it sometimes is forgotten, was a Tigers Rule 5 pick who didn’t want any further contact with the Royals after a second Rule 5 tryout had fizzled. He instead signed with the Tigers. Now he’s a deadly lefty with a big fastball and a deep zeal for his role. Not a lot of bullpen bettors would have selected this pair as Relievers Most Likely To Surprise in 2018. But they have been difference-makers during the second half and look as if they should be pluses in 2019.
►Still trying to find a home after a mixed 2018: Mikie Mahtook. He’s a lot like Jones in that (a) he covers tremendous patches of ground, (b) has power (five homers in the last month), and (c) isn’t much into taking walks (.284 on-base percentage). These gents presumably will duke it out next spring to decide who starts and who works primarily as a fourth outfielder — assuming Stewart ascends as a daily choice in left field.
It’s not a bad combo from which to choose, Jones and Mahtook. But it would be nice in a team’s eyes if one decided to chop down that strike zone and became the regular a team waits to anoint in center field.
The Rockies, whose season nearly ended last week after being swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers, trail them by just 1½ games entering Monday night. They need the Dodgers to lose just once this final week to control their fate.
They’re looking for another incredible finishing kick, just like 2007 when they won 13 of their last 14 games to earn a play-in game against the San Diego Padres, and ran the table in the National League playoffs before losing to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
Fresh off a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks, giving them the finest record in the National League (47-28) since June 28, the Rockies are believers again.
“I believe for sure,’’ veteran outfielder Gerardo Parra said. “I believe we are going to make the playoffs. You never know for sure what’s going to happen, but we believe.
“We have a great opportunity here, and we know it.’’
Carlos Gonzalez, one of the remaining players from Rocktober, said: “We need to keep winning and have those other mothers … to lose. We’re ready to make history.’’
The Rockies have been around for 25 years and reached the postseason four times, but they have never won a division title.
It would seem the Rockies have the edge. Their final seven games are at Coors Field, against two teams who already have been eliminated (the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals). They won’t have to face Cy Young candidates Aaron Nola or Max Scherzer. Meanwhile, the Dodgers play their remaining six games on the road against two teams (the Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants) who would throw a champagne party if they could ruin their season.
“All we wanted was a chance,’’ says outfielder Matt Holliday. “Now, we got it.’’
It was Holliday, drafted and signed 20 years ago by the Rockies, who slid across home plate in the 13th inning of Game 163 against the Padres, leading the Rockies into the playoffs. Rockies manager Bud Black, who was in his inaugural year as manager of the Padres then, still believes Holliday never touched the plate.
“That one hurt,’’ Black said, “but that’s OK, he’s on my side now.’’
Holliday, 38, never imagined he’d have another chance. He sat home all summer, unsigned, until Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich called in July to offer him a chance to come home. Holliday signed a minor-league contract July 29, and three weeks later, was back in the big leagues.
“This team, in a lot of ways, is similar to 2007,’’ Holliday said. “There’s a lot of young guys who came up together, and are coming together at the same time. You see all of that energy.
“Now, we’re kind of in the same situation as ’07. We need to keep winning, get a little help, and do this all over again.’’
Who knows, it may take another Game 163, with the tie-breaker at Dodger Stadium. The Rockies also sit just 1½ games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild-card spot.
“It’s going to be tough,’’ says catcher Chris Ianetta, who also was on the 2007 team, “but we have a chance here. And we’ve got the experience because these guys went through the same thing last year when they (got) the wild card.’’
The Rockies, perhaps just in the nick of time, also are expected to have their MVP candidate back in the lineup. Trevor Story, who has been out for a week after suffering an inflamed elbow, could play as early as Monday night.
“The timing couldn’t be worse,’’ Story said. “It’s really tough to stay patient. I know we have to be smart about this, and I don’t want to hurt it further, but I need to get back out there.
“I want to be part of this.’’
Story, hitting .288 with 33 homers and 102 RBI, was just a sophomore in Irving, Texas, when Rocktober swept the country, but remembers the drama. Cy Young candidate Kyle Freeland, who grew up just 13 miles from Coors Field, was glued to the TV like every other Rockies fan.
“I was following the Rockies like everyone else in Colorado, and going nuts,’’ said Freeland, 16-7 with a 2.84 ERA, including a stunning 2.36 ERA at Coors Field. “It was fun being a fan back then, but I’d sure love to experience what those guys went through now.’’
Now, they have a chance to live it for themselves.
“We’ve got a chance to do something special ourselves now,’’ says center fielder Charlie Blackmon, hitting a league-leading .363 in September. “It would be nice to make our own memories.’’
Every week of the regular season, columnist Peter Schmuck will grade the performance of the Orioles in five categories. The letter grades are not directly tied to any particular statistic, but are representative of a cumulative evaluation of everything — tangible or intangible — that falls under that particular category.
Click through the gallery above to see the grades in each category.