Semien Swats Two More Dingers

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After Marcus Semien flopped in 2020, his breakout campaign during the heightened offensive environment in 2019 was looking like it might be a career outlier.

So much for that.

Semien continued his monster showing in 2021 on Monday in the Blue Jays’ 8-0 win over the Yankees. The veteran infielder ripped a solo home run to get the scoring started in the first inning before later in the ninth providing some cushion with a grand slam. It was his fifth career grand slam and his third multi-homer game of the season.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also hit one of the Jays’ four dingers in this one, bringing his total on the season to 40. That trails only Shohei Ohtani (43) and Salvador Perez (41) for the major league lead.

Semien isn’t far behind, as he’s now tied for fourth in baseball with Fernando Tatis Jr. with 37 round trippers. Five of those home runs have come in five games this month. He’s slugged at least .500 in every month but April.

Perhaps now is a good time to point out that Elvis Andrus is batting .226/.272/.303 this season. Among 138 qualifiers, only Kevin Newman’s .558 OPS is worse than Andrus’ .575 mark. Semien’s OPS is .875, exactly 300 points higher than Andrus’. You think the Athletics wish they hadn’t low-balled Semien last winter?

Semien certainly isn’t going to have to worry about being low-balled this offseason as he hits the free agent market again. He’ll turn just 31 later this month and, in addition to his massive year at the plate, has shown he can be a plus defender at second base in addition to shortstop.

As for the Blue Jays, they’ve won five straight and eight of their last nine to move to 12 games over .500, their high-water mark for the season. They sit just three games behind the Red Sox for the American League’s second Wild Card Spot and only 3.5 games behind the Yankees for the top Wild Card position. Toronto’s plus-136 run differential is tied with the White Sox for the fifth-best mark in baseball.

Starting Pitchers with an EDGE

Max Scherzer vs. STL – 8 IP, 1 R (0 ER), 6 H, 0 BB, 13 K

Scherzer dominated his hometown team on Monday, inducing 25 whiffs on his 103 pitches while notching his sixth double-digit strikeout game in the Dodgers’ 5-1 victory. The only run to score while Mad Max was in the game did so on a passed ball in the sixth inning. In seven starts since joining the Dodgers, Scherzer boasts a 1.05 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 63/5 K/BB ratio over 43 innings. Unsurprisingly, the Dodgers have won all seven of those tilts.

Zack Wheeler vs. MIL – 6 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 0 BB, 9 K

The Phillies gave him plenty of run support and Wheeler cruised Monday in Milwaukee, bouncing back from a streak of four straight non-quality starts. The five hits the veteran right-hander yielded were all singles, and for the seventh time this season he recorded at least eight strikeouts while not issuing any walks. Wheeler leads all of baseball this season in innings (188 2/3) and strikeouts (217).

Hyun-Jin Ryu vs. NYY – 6 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 6 K

It’s been a bit of an up-and-down season for the veteran left-hander, but Ryu was masterful in the Bronx on Monday, limiting the Yankees to just three singles and never letting a runner advance past second base during his six innings. The only downer is that he was removed from the game early due to some tightness in his throwing arm. Ryu insists that it’s no big deal and he’ll be fine for his next start, but obviously his status should be watched closely.

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Hitters with an EDGE

Thairo Estrada vs. COL – 3-for-5, 2 HR, 3 RBI

The Giants have received unexpected contributions from everywhere during their surprisingly great 2021 season, and Estrada is just the latest to join the list. The two-homer game was the first of the utility player’s career, which is no surprise considering he now has just 10 long balls across parts of three major league seasons. Estrada has driven in 20 runs on the season, which is a pretty nice number considering he’s made just 25 starts and tallied 119 plate appearances.

Jean Segura vs. MIL – 3-for-5, HR, 4 RBI, BB, 2 R

Segura hit one of six home runs for the Phillies on Monday as they blew out the Brewers 12-0. It was a grand slam in the eighth inning off of Daniel Norris, which was the first grand slam of the 10-year veteran’s career. Brad Miller (two), Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Freddy Galvis had the other long balls for the Phils.

Nelson Cruz vs. BOS – 3-for-6, HR, 3 RBI, 3 R

It was a comeback for the ages for the Rays on Monday at Fenway Park. After falling behind 7-1 after two innings with Chris Sale on the mound for the Red Sox, Tampa Bay stormed back to eventually tie the game in the ninth on an Austin Meadows inside-the-park home run before winning it in the 10th. Cruz played as big a part as anyone, singling in a run in the first inning, clearing the bases and scoring himself on a “little league grand slam” in the fourth, homering in the eighth and finally putting the Rays ahead for good with an RBI single in the 10th.

Priority Pickup

Lane Thomas, OF, Nationals – available in 95 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues

Thomas wasn’t one of the bigger names the Nationals picked up as one of the more active teams at the trade deadline, but he’s making arguably the biggest impact thus far. Acquired from the Cardinals for Jon Lester, Thomas has taken over as the Nats’ everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter over the last two weeks. He’s batting .333 with three home runs, 11 RBI, one stolen base and 12 runs scored over his first 20 games with his new club. That includes going 10-for-26 in his first six contests in September.

Closing Time

After the Cubs took a 4-3 lead with a run in the bottom of the eighth inning, they turned to Adam Morgan to close things out against the Reds in the top of the ninth. He did so without a sweat, retiring three straight lefties on a total of 13 pitches. It’s the second save in the last two weeks for Morgan, who could continue to see the occasional save chance when the opposition has lefties due up. Rowan Wick was surely unavailable after throwing 37 pitches Sunday and still looks like the best bet for saves in the Cubs’ bullpen for the rest of the season.

David Bednar struck out the side to preserve the Pirates’ 6-3 win over the Tigers on Monday. Pittsburgh doesn’t afford a ton of save opportunities, but Bednar has converted all three of his since the trade deadline. He’s unscored upon in his last nine appearances and boasts a 0.68 ERA and 34/6 K/BB ratio over 26 2/3 innings since the beginning of July.

Scott Barlow picked up his 11th save of the season on Monday in Baltimore, holding a 3-2 Royals edge over the Orioles. He allowed a two-out single to put the winning run at the plate but set Jahmai Jones down swinging to end it. Manager Mike Matheny had seemed to prefer earlier this season using Barlow in high-leverage situations earlier in the game and sometimes for multiple innings. However, he’s been deployed like a traditional closer the last several weeks, having picked up each of the team’s last five save chances.

Tuesday’s Matchup of the Day

Steven Matz (TOR) vs. Gerrit Cole (NYY)

It’s a matchup of teams that have been going in the wrong direction of late. The Blue Jays shut out the Yankees 8-0 on Monday in the series opener, giving them five straight wins and eight victories in their last nine tries. Meanwhile, the loss for the Yankees was their third straight and seventh in their last nine contests. The Bombers certainly have the right guy on the mound to reverse their recent fortunes. Cole struck out a season-high 15 over seven innings of one-run ball against the Angels his last time out and has allowed just two runs with a ridiculous 39/4 K/BB ratio over 24 2/3 frames covering his last four starts. Matz has been on a roll himself with a 1.65 ERA since the start of August. His best start of the season came back on May 25 at Yankee Stadium when he fanned 10 while yielding just one run over 6 2/3 innings.

American League Quick Hits: Jorge Polanco hit three doubles and a home run Monday as the Twins defeated the Indians … AJ Alexy yielded one hit over six shutout frames Monday in Anaheim … Carlos Rodon will not make his next start until at least this weekend as he deals with some renewed fatigue and soreness in his left shoulder … Wander Franco extended his on-base streak to 36 games with a 4-for-6 day in Boston on Monday … Cedric Mullins homered for the second day in a row and added a double Monday against the Royals … The Red Sox are expected to get Enrique Hernandez back from the COVID-19 injured list Tuesday … Joey Gallo wore the golden sombrero Monday and Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that he’d “consider” moving the slugger down in the lineup … Byron Buxton singled and hit a solo homer Monday in Cleveland … Jake Meyers homered and plated four runs Monday versus the Mariners …

National League Quick Hits: The Braves signed Charlie Morton to a one-year, $20 million contract extension with a $20 million club option for 2023 … Jack Flaherty (shoulder) resumed playing catch Sunday, but there remains no timetable for his return … Brad Miller went 3-for-5 with a couple solo home runs Monday in the Phillies’ blowout win over the Brewers … Darin Ruf homered, tripled and drove in three runs Monday as the Giants won in Colorado …