Where the Wild Card Things Are

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The penultimate week of the 2021 Major League Baseball season has passed, with plenty of great stories to go around as a handful of teams head to a thrilling postseason push -- with interesting Wild Card runs in both the American and National League.

The Yankees had themselves an excellent weekend, finishing a sweep of the Red Sox on Sunday with a 6-3 victory at Fenway Park. Aaron Judge knocked in a double that plated two runs, and Giancarlo Stanton demolished a two-run homer to help the Yankees to their sixth straight win, for the lead in the American League Wild Card race. Stanton also hit a go-ahead grand slam in the 8th inning on Saturday night, lifting the Yanks into what was then a Wild Card tie with the Red Sox.

Stanton has now smashed 18 home runs since August 1 to surpass Judge for the team’s RBI lead: Stanton now has 93 RBI, Judge has 92. Saturday’s grand slam by Stanton was the ninth career grand slam, and second of the season for Stanton. Also gunning for a Wild Card spot, the Blue Jays, at 87-69, sit two games back of New York and one game back of Boston, after their 5-2 victory over the Twins.

Meanwhile, in the National League, the Wild Card race has been shaping to be nothing short of dramatic. The Cardinals’ historic winning streak rolled into Sunday, with their 4-2 victory over the Cubs on Sunday. This is the first 16-game winning streak in the history of their franchise - a long standing history, considering the Cardinals joined the National League in 1892. It’s also the longest by any National League team since 1951. The Cardinals also manifested a come-from-behind 8-5 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon.

Whether or not you believe in Cardinals devil magic, the Cardinals are finding ways to win, and conveniently opportunistic of times - with a ticket to the postseason just within reach. The Cards have now swept four series in a row: that’s two straight series of four games on the road, the final sweep being the division-rival Cubs in their final homestand of 2021 at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals just need to win one more game to clinch the second Wild Card spot, or a loss from each the Reds and Phillies. Incredible, considering that FanGraphs had the Cardinals at a 2.8% chance to make the playoffs on September 7.

Notable Performances

With a spectacular 30 home run season accompanied by 30 stolen bases, Cedric Mullins became the first 30/30 player in Orioles History. He’s the first to accomplish the feat since Christian Yelich and Ronald Acuña Jr. did it in 2019. Mullins is also the first center fielder to record 30 homers and steal 30 bases since Mike Trout in 2012. Though the Orioles’ ship sunk quickly in a strong AL East division, Mullins has had himself a wonderful season, carrying a .299/.369/.535 triple-slash line including 30 home runs, 30 stolen bases, 59 RBI, 36 doubles, and 89 runs scored.

This was a big week for Max Fried, as he tossed shutouts on September 19, and this past Friday. Fried’s Friday performance was also his second Maddux (a complete game shutout under 100 pitches) of the year. Fried yielded just three hits, and was heavy on the groundouts - 16 of them, to be exact. He threw 98 pitches, 66 of them for strikes. The 27-year-old southpaw earned his 13th win of the season and lowered his ERA to 3.12 over 158 2/3 innings. Going into Monday, the Braves have a 2.5 game lead over the Phillies in the National League East.

Marcus Semien had himself a three home run week, going deep on Monday, Friday, and Saturday. Now with 43 home runs on the season, he tied the MLB record for most home runs in a season by a second baseman, the last being Davey Johnson in 1973. He’s been a fantastic fantasy contributor, carrying a .268/.339/.543 triple-slash line with 43 bombs, 39 doubles, two triples, 111 runs scored, 99 RBI, and 15 steals. The Blue Jays have won two in a row, but are 5-5 in their last 10. They will start a tell-tale series with the Yankees this week, and close out the year facing Baltimore.

Ranger Suarez has a 1.69 ERA (2.45 FIP) in 11 starts since moving to the Phillies rotation on August 2. He tossed a gem on Saturday - a complete game shutout with just four hits allowed, as the Phillies defeated the Pirates, 3-0. That’s also seven consecutive starts with two or fewer runs allowed. The Phillies, who start a three game set with the Braves this week, are two games back of the Braves for the NL East title, and six games back of the surging St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot, with six games left in the regular season.

Wander Franco’s historic on-base streak is now at 41 straight games, after Sunday’s 2-for-4 performance, including a double and triple. He’s now two games shy of tying Frank Robinson for the longest on-base streak in AL/NL history, by a player younger than 21 years old. Franco was on the shelf with a right hamstring injury for a short stint, and seemed to pick up where he left off without missing a beat. The 20-year-old rookie has made fantasy managers very happy with his fantastic numbers: he carries a .287/.350/.476 triple-slash line with 51 runs scored, seven home runs, 36 RBI and two stolen bases across 280 plate appearances. The Rays were bestowed their second straight AL East title on Sunday, after their 3-2 victory over the Marlins.

Corbin Burnes recorded 9 K's across his 7 strong frames on Saturday, with the help of a devastating curveball. The 26-year-old is a strong contender for the NL Cy Young award, and he’s certainly deserving: Burnes improved to 10-4 with a 2.29 ERA and 0.93 WHIP over 165 innings, with 230 strikeouts. The Brewers also locked in the NL Central crown, after they defeated the Mets, 8-4, on Sunday afternoon.

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Injury Report

Mike Trout acknowledged that he will not play another game in 2021, and will now set sights on the 2022 season. The Angels superstar suffered his season-ending severe right calf strain on May 17. Before his calf injury, Trout had slashed .333/.466/.624 with eight homers, 18 RBI and two stolen bases in 146 plate appearances over 36 games.

Jameson Taillon, who had been on the shelf with a torn tendon in his right ankle, was activated from the 10-day injured list on Monday. Taillon had been travelling with the Yankees, and will return to the mound to face the Blue Jays on Tuesday.

Jonathan Loáisiga tossed in the bullpen at Fenway Park on Friday, and could return to the Yankees for this week’s crucial series versus Toronto. The 26-year-old has been sidelined since earlier this month, with a right rotator cuff strain.

Edmundo Sosa was hit by a pitch on the right wrist/hand area on Friday, but it looks as if he will avoid a trip to the injured list. X-rays taken at Wrigley Field returned negative; Sosa should be considered day-to-day. Paul DeJong has been filling in for Sosa at shortstop.

Jake Odorizzi took the mound on Sunday, and gave up one run on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts over four innings. Odorizzi, who had been sidelined with a right foot sprain, was activated from the injured list to start Sunday's series finale in Oakland. He’ll make one more start before the end of the regular season next weekend, once again versus the Athletics.

Zack Greinke was placed on the 10-day injured list with neck soreness on Friday, retroactive to Tuesday. He'll be eligible to return next weekend to make another appearance before the postseason begins.

Honor Roll

Ian Happ (2-for-4, R, HR, 3 RBI, BB on Saturday), Sean Manaea (7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K on Saturday), Eric Lauer (6 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K on Friday), Lars Nootbaar (3-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI on Friday), Patrick Corbin (6 2/3 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 7 K on Thursday), J.T. Realmuto (3-for-3, 3 R, 4 RBI on Thursday), Tim Anderson (3-for-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI on Thursday), Ian Anderson (7 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 8 K on Wednesday), Juan Soto (3-for-3, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB on Wednesday), Brandon Woodruff (6.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K on Tuesday), Shohei Ohtani (2-for-4, 2 R, HR, RBI on Tuesday), Tyler Anderson (7 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 K on Monday), Salvador Perez (3-for-6, HR, 2B, BB, 2 RBI, 2 R on Monday)

The final week of the 2021 Major League Baseball season is upon us! Though division titles are being locked up, players will still look to make a name for themselves before the sun sets on the season. Join us for next week’s column -- the final for the year, for more updates, accomplishments, and stories from around the league.