Real or Not? Christian Yelich's MVP performance sets up Sunday showdowns

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I there anything more magnificent in baseball than when a hitter gets locked in and finds that zone where the sweet spot of the bat connects with the sphere of cushioned cork, winding fabric, cowhide and 108 stitches of yarn time after time after time?

When it happens in the finals days of a pennant race, as your team is attempting to dethrone the big, bad bullies a mere 90 miles to the south, it becomes a transcendent moment in a franchise’s history.

That’s where Christian Yelich is right now — the bat ripping through the zone with lightning ferocity, the spin of the ball appearing to him in slow motion. They say such a thing doesn’t really exist. This is not the time to discuss. The man has put the Milwaukee Brewers on his back and after hitting two more home runs in Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Tigers, the Brewers have won six games in a row and are now tied with the Cubs for first place in the National League Central as we head to the final day of the regular season.

All his second home run did was put the Brewers ahead in the bottom of the seventh, sending over 45,000 fans at Miller Park into a frenzied chant of “M-V-P! M-V-P!”:

Yelich has reached base in 46 of his past 88 plate appearances. In September, he’s hitting .360/.500/.826 with 10 home runs, 18 extra-base hits, 22 walks, six stolen bases and 33 RBI in 25 games. This is Yaz in ’67 or Bonds in ’92 or Chipper in ’99 or Giambi in 2000. Yelich’s last 14 plate appearances:

Remarkably, we still have a Triple Crown candidate — only it’s Yelich, not J.D. Martinez. Your NL leaders:

Batting average
Yelich, .324
Scooter Gennett/Freddie Freeman, .310
Home runs
Yelich, 36
Matt Carpenter, 36
Nolan Arenado/Trevor Story, 35
RBIs
Javier Baez, 111
Yelich, 109

At the All-Star break, Yelich was tied for 46th in the NL in home runs — 13 behind the league leader (teammate Jesus Aguilar). This is now the first time in his career Yelich has held at least a share of the NL lead in home runs.

MVP? Indeed.

Dodgers clinch sixth straight playoff trip: The Cardinals had defeated the Cubs 2-1 earlier in the day, but the Los Angeles Dodgers then knocked out the Cards when they beat the Giants 10-6 at AT&T Park, a rare high-scoring game between two teams who had averaged just seven runs per game in their previous 17 encounters. Even stranger: Clayton Kershaw started for the Dodgers. He entered with a 1.30 ERA in 21 career starts at AT&T. He left after five innings and five runs — the first time he’d ever allowed five runs at AT&T.

The Dodgers offense rescued Kershaw, breaking up a 5-5 tie with a run in the eighth and four more in the ninth. They celebrated in the clubhouse after the game, but then got even better news later in the night: the Rockies lost to the Nationals. Jon Gray had one of his bad games and lasted just two innings, clinching the award for Most Frustrating Pitcher of 2018. That meant the NL West, like the NL Central, is now tied heading into Sunday. Yeah, turn the remote away from those NFL games.

Setting up Sunday So, here’s the remarkable thing: No NL team is locked into its seed yet. Look at the potential seeds for each team:

Cubs: 1 or 4
Brewers: 1 or 4
Braves: 2 or 3
Rockies: 2, 3 or 5
Dodgers: 2, 3 or 5

The pitching matchups for Sunday:

• Cardinals at Cubs, Jack Flaherty versus Mike Montgomery
• Tigers at Brewers, Spencer Trumbull versus Gio Gonzalez
• Dodgers at Giants, Walker Buehler versus Andrew Suarez
• Nationals at Rockies, TBD versus TBD

As of Saturday night, neither the Nationals nor Rockies have announced Sunday’s starter. Max Scherzer could go for the Nationals on his regular turn of his rest. They had indicated earlier that they might skip him after he reached 300 strikeouts earlier in the week, but in the spirit of fair play, they may now run him out there, for a few innings at least. Scherzer sounds excited about the opportunity, saying, “Even though we’re playing for nothing, at least we can be able to toe the rubber knowing that the atmosphere here with the crowd and the other team would be playing at probably the highest level of any point I would face this year. Why wouldn’t I want to compete in that?”

In response, the Rockies could go with German Marquez on short rest, although you think they would want to preserve him for a possible tiebreaker game on Monday or the Wild Card Game on Tuesday. They could go with Tyler Anderson, who has struggled lately, but reportedly threw a good bullpen on Friday. Or they could start Antonio Senzatela. Or go with a bullpen game.

Of course, all this points to one of the flaws of the division and wild-card setup. The Braves have fewer wins the Cubs and Brewers and the same 90 wins as the Rockies and Dodgers, but because they play in a weaker division, they don’t have to worry about this mad scramble on the pitching staff the final days of the season.

We also have the potential for two tiebreaker games on Monday — and, remember, if the Brewers end up playing the Cubs, that counts as a regular-season game for Yelich (and Baez), in case the Triple Crown is still up for grabs. Those games would take play at Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium since the Cubs and Dodgers won the season series.

The four teams potentially involved would have to go with their best available pitcher — you have to avoid the Wild Card Game if possible. The Rockies are set up there with Marquez, assuming he doesn’t pitch on Sunday. The Dodgers used their three best starters this weekend, so they would presumably go with Rich Hill (and a lot of relievers). After pitching Hamels Sunday (and losing) and Montgomery Sunday, the Cubs could start Jose Quintana or go with Jon Lester on short rest, although they likely want to save Lester for the Wild Card Game or Game 1 of the NLDS. The Brewers could go with Jhoulys Chacin on regular rest or go with a bullpen game.

But all that is getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s get through Sunday first.

There is crying in baseball: David Wright played his final game for the Mets. One of the most beloved Mets in history, injuries wrecked the second half of what could have been a Hall of Fame career. Wright’s daughter threw out the first pitch and when he was removed from the game in the fifth inning, the fans gave him a standing ovation:

Some career highlights:

Yankees set single-season record for home runs: Let’s just say it was a tough season for the Mariners. They didn’t make the playoffs after a great start. Fans saw the sad spectacle of Ichiro Suzuki struggling and being removed from the roster and then the demise of Felix Hernandez. And now the Yankees have broken the single-season home run record held by the 1997 Mariners. Gleyber Torres did the honors with No. 265:

The Yankees beat the Red Sox for their 100th victory, giving us the first league with three 100-win teams. I’m guessing Aaron Boone would have taken that at the start of the season. Alas, the Yankees will have one game on Wednesday to save their season.



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