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With so many possible tie-breaker scenarios entering the final day of MLB action on Sunday, there was a strong possibility that the regular season could be extended an extra day or two just to determine which teams would eventually make the postseason.
Thanks to a walk-off victory and a late rally, things did indeed come to an unlikely close on Sunday.
The Yankees, needing to win to clinch a Wild Card berth in the American League went toe-to-toe with the Division-leading Rays, carrying a scoreless battle into the ninth inning. The Yankees had flashed plenty of leather along the way -- with Gleyber Torres making a terrific play at second base to save a run or two, and Gio Urshela selling out and going face first down the stairs into the Rays dugout to catch a foul pop up.
Aroldis Chapman was called upon to pitch the ninth inning, and while he allowed a two-out walk (and subsequent stolen base) to Joey Wendle, he reared back and struck out Manuel Margot to end the inning. In the home half of the frame, Rougned Odor got things started with a single. Pinch-runner Tyler Wade then advanced to second on a fly ball by Torres, moved up to third on a single by Anthony Rizzo and then dashed home with the winning run on a soft dribbler off the bat of Aaron Judge.
It was around this point that the Red Sox rallied back in their game against the Nationals. Things didn’t start out well for the Red Sox in that one, as Chris Sale lasted just 2 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits and three walks -- though all seven outs he recorded were via the strikeout.
The Red Sox would get a run back in the fourth inning on a solo blast by Rafael Devers, but the Nationals were relentless -- scratching out three runs against Garrett Richards in the fifth inning, the last two on a two-run double by Alex Avila in his final big league game.
The Red Sox would get one back in the sixth inning on an infield single by Christian Vazquez where Jordy Mercer tried to get a force out at second base instead of qualifying the speed of the opposing catcher and gunning him out at first.
They then broke free and tied it in the seventh inning on an RBI single by Devers and a clutch two-run double by Alex Verdugo off of Erick Fedde. The game would remain in that 5-5 deadlock until the ninth inning. There, Devers played the role of hero once again, this time crushing a two-run blast off of Nationals closer Kyle Finnegan to put the Red Sox ahead to stay.
Nick Pivetta then came on to pitch the ninth inning (after Eduardo Rodriguez had worked a scoreless eighth inning), and he shut down the Nats in order to earn his first save and send the Red Sox to the postseason.
It was a tough break for the Blue Jays after a wild day of emotions. They jumped out to a big early lead against the Orioles and cruised to a 12-4 victory behind a pair of homers (including a grand slam) from George Springer and long balls from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien as well. All they needed was either the Yankees or Red Sox to lose to force a tiebreaker game on Monday, but sadly it was not to be.
The Mariners entered Sunday in the same spot as the Blue Jays -- needing a victory and either a loss by the Yankees or Red Sox to force a tiebreaker game. Unfortunately for one of the best stories in all of baseball this season, the Mariners were unable to take care of their own business, falling to the Angels 7-3. Nothing to hang their heads about there though, as this upstart ballclub finished the season an impressive 90-72 and isn’t going away any time soon.
On the National League side of the ledger it was a bit more straightforward. The Giants entered the day with a one game lead over the Dodgers in the National League West. All they needed was a victory, or a Dodgers loss, to claim the division title and the best record in all of baseball.
That one wasn’t close, as the Giants jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning, increased it to 7-1 in the fourth and coasted to an 11-4 victory to secure their 107th victory of the season. Logan Webb struck out eight over seven innings to earn a victory in that one, and also slugged his first career home run to help pace the offense.
The Dodgers, to their credit, took care of business as well -- beating the Brewers 10-3 to finish the season 106-56. Next up for them, is a date with Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card Game on Wednesday.
Starting Pitchers with an EDGE
Aaron Civale - 6 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 27% CSW, 7 swinging strikes
Civale finished his season on a high note on Sunday, firing six scoreless innings in a victory over the Rangers. He finishes the year 12-5 with a 3.84 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 99/31 K/BB ratio over 124 1/3 innings in his 21 starts. He isn’t the biggest strikeout artist in the world, but don’t forget about the Guardians’ right-hander in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts next season.
Walker Buehler - 5 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 11 K, 48% CSW, 20 swinging strikes
In a must-win game for the Dodgers as they were still competing for a division title, Buehler went out and did what aces are supposed to do, shut down the opposition. He racked up 11 strikeouts over five innings of one-run baseball, padding his resume for the National League Cy Young Award in the process. Buehler generated a whopping 20 swinging strikes in the game and posted an other-worldly CSW of 48 percent. The 27-year-old hurler finishes the season with a 16-4 record, 2.47 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 212/52 K/BB ratio over 207 2/3 innings in 33 starts.
Reiver Sanmartin - 5 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 11 K, 32% CSW, 9 swinging strikes
No one gave 25-year-old southpaw Reiver Sanmartin much attention when he was promoted to make his big league debut earlier this week, and all he did was strike out five over 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a victory over the Pirates. He was even better in his second start against them on Sunday, striking out six over six innings of one-run ball to improve to 2-0. He finishes the year with a 1.54 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over his two starts and may have opened some eyes heading into the 2022 season.
Hitters with an EDGE
Rafael Devers - 4-for-5, 2 HR (38), 4 RBI, 3 R
No hitter in baseball had a bigger or more important day on Sunday than Devers, who nearly single-handedly powered the Red Sox to a victory over the Nationals to earn a Wild Card spot. The 24-year-old superstar wraps up a brilliant regular season hitting .279/.352/.538 with a career-high 38 homers and 113 RBI.
George Springer - 3-for-4, 2 HR (22), 5 RBI, 3 R, BB
Springer also had an absolutely monster game in a must-win scenario on Sunday, but unfortunately for he and the Blue Jays, Devers’ heroics made it so the Blue Jays would not make it to a tiebreaker game on Monday. Springer crushed a solo homer and a grand slam to lead the Blue Jays attack in a lopsided victory over the Orioles. He finishes the season hitting .264/.352/.555 with 22 homers and 50 RBI in just 78 games.
Seth Brown - 2-for-4, 2 HR (20), 3 RBI, 2 R
Seth Brown finished his season on a high note on Sunday, smacking a pair of home runs and driving in three in a losing effort against the Athletics. The 29-year-old finished the season hitting .214/.274/.480 to go along with a career-high 20 long balls and 48 RBI in 307 plate appearances.
Dylan Floro vs. Phillies - 1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K (15th save)
Floro needed just eight pitches (seven strikes) to retire the Phillies in order in this one -- including a strikeout of Andrew Knapp. After a mid-season trade sent closer Yimi Garcia to the Astros, Floro seized the closer's gig and ran with it for the remainder of the season. He finishes the year with a stellar 2.81 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 62/25 K/BB ratio over 64 innings. It's likely that he has shown enough to begin the 2022 season in the ninth inning role once again for the Marlins.
Michael Fulmer vs. White Sox - 1 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 K (14th save)
The right-hander allowed a one-out single to Cesar Hernandez, but battled back to get Gavin Sheets to foul out to third and Billy Hamilton on a fielder's choice to end it. While he flashed some inconsistency in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Fulmer pitched well out of the Tigers bullpen, registering a 2.97 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 73/20 K/BB ratio over 69 2/3 innings.
Aroldis Chapman vs. Rays - 1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 2 K (6th win)
Chapman came on and fired a scoreless ninth inning in a must-win game against the Rays on Sunday, then was credited with his sixth victory of the season after the Yankees walked it off in the bottom of the inning. He struggled badly for a couple of weeks midseason, but overall Chapman got the job done more often than not this season, registering a 3.36 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 97/38 K/BB ratio over 56 1/3 innings while converting 30 of his 34 save chances. Typically drafted among the elite options at the closer position, it’ll be interesting to see if Chapman’s draft stock slides a bit heading into the 2022 season.
Tuesday’s Matchup of the Day
Nathan Eovaldi (BOS) vs. Gerrit Cole (NYY)
There aren’t any MLB games being played on Monday, but we get a whopper of a pitching matchup for Tuesday’s Wild Card Game in the American League.
The Yankees and the Red Sox will meet up at Fenway Park in Boston to determine which team gets to go on to battle the Rays in a best-of-five series that will begin on Thursday.
Gerrit Cole is one of the front-runners for the American League Cy Young Award after compiling a 16-8 record, 3.23 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 243/41 K/BB ratio over 181 1/3 innings in his 30 starts. He struggled down the stretch though, giving up 15 earned runs over 17 2/3 innings in his final three starts (7.64 ERA).
He has also struggled against the Red Sox this season -- posting a 4.91 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 22 frames in four starts against them this season.
On the other side, Nathan Eovaldi finished the regular season with an 11-9 record, 3.75 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 195/35 K/BB ratio over 182 1/3 innings in his 32 starts. In contrast to his counterpart, Eovaldi has pitched well against the Yankees this season. In six starts against the Bombers, he owns a 3.71 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 34/4 K/BB ratio across 34 innings. That includes a disaster in his last outing though where he surrendered seven runs on seven hits in just 2 2/3 innings on September 24.
Since the season is over and we don’t have a priority pickups segment today, I thought that I’d share my thoughts on the upcoming awards season. Here’s who I think should take home the hardware:
American League Cy Young Award: Robbie Ray
National League Cy Young Award: Corbin Burnes
American League MVP: Shohei Ohtani
National League MVP: Bryce Harper
American League Rookie of the Year: Randy Arozarena
National League Rookie of the Year: Jonathan India
American League Quick Hits: The Yankees placed DJ LeMahieu on the 10-day IL with a hip injury. He’s also dealing with a sports hernia that will require surgery after the season. As of now, there’s no timeline for a potential return this season. … The Yankees also transferred Luke Voit to the 60-day IL, ending his season. … The Red Sox activated Garrett Whitlock from the 10-day IL for Sunday’s regular season finale. … J.D. Martinez was pulled from Sunday’s battle against the Nationals with a left ankle sprain, as he tripped over second base while taking his place in left field. … Shohei Ohtani slugged his 46th home run of the season as the Angels defeated the Mariners. … Luis Robert swatted his 13th long ball as the White Sox fell to the Tigers. … Vladimir Guerrero Jr. swatted his 48th homer in a win over the Orioles -- tying him with Salvador Perez for the MLB home run crown. … Marcus Semien slugged his 45th home run in that one as well. … Hyun-Jin Ryu allowed just one run over five frames in a victory over the Orioles. … Kyle Tucker clubbed his 30th home run as the Astros eked out a one-run victory over the A’s. … Jorge Polanco blasted his 33rd home run to lead the Twins past the Royals. … Myles Straw swiped his 30th base of the season in a victory over the Rangers.
National League Quick Hits: The big injury news to come out of Sunday is Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy left their game against the Brewers with a right elbow injury. He’s “highly unlikely” to play in Wednesday’s Wild Card Game against the Cardinals, and also unlikely to play in the NLDS should the Dodgers advance. … The Nationals placed Luis Garcia on the 10-day IL with a strained oblique. He should have no problem recovering in time for the start of spring training. … The Cubs placed Willson Contreras on the 10-day IL with hip tightness after exiting Saturday’s game with the injury. … The Phillies fired hitting coach Joe Dillon and infield coach Juan Castro. … Noah Syndergaard allowed two runs on three hits over one inning in a loss to the Braves. … Trea Turner belted a grand slam as the Dodgers crushed the Brewers. … Pablo Lopez struck out four over 1 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a no-decision against the Phillies. … Buster Posey had two hits and drove in three runs as the Giants beat the Padres to secure the National League West crown. … Joan Adon allowed just two runs over 5 1/3 innings in his big league debut against the Red Sox. … Matt Duffy had two hits, two RBI and a stolen base as the Cubs topped the Cardinals. … Joey Votto slugged his 36th home run as the Reds defeated the Pirates. … Oneil Cruz smacked the first (of what will likely be many) home run of his big league career on Sunday -- a 408-foot moonshot off of Reds closer Mychal Givens.