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MLB — Milwaukee Brewers-St. Louis Cardinals series could be doozy

The Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals played a fascinating game Monday in St. Louis, complete with plot twists, a 31-minute rain delay in the seventh inning, some ugly mistakes and a surprise ending.

The Brewers won 6-4 and combined with the Pittsburgh Pirateswin over the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee ise once again 1½ games back in the NL Central. Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ lead over the Rockies for the second wild card shrunk to a half-game. The NL playoff picture just got a lot more cozy.

Anyway, notes from this game:

— The Brewers started reliever Dan Jennings, but Craig Counsell didn’t even deploy him in the way these “openers” typically have been used. Jennings just faced Matt Carpenter for a lefty-on-lefty matchup and got him to ground out. Freddy Peralta then came on and would pitch the next 3⅔ innings, allowing one run on Carpenter’s RBI double.

— In the bottom of the fifth, Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty singled with two outs off Taylor Williams. That didn’t make Counsell happy because, with the game tied 1-1, he had to bring in lefty Josh Hader to face Carpenter. Hader struck him out.

— In the top of the sixth, the Brewers scored two runs without a hit — three walks, a hit batter and a sacrifice fly.

— Hader returned to the mound in the bottom of the sixth. Obviously, he has used to pitching multiple innings, so he’s had many appearances in which he came in, sat as the Brewers batted, then returned to the mound. This time, Jose Martinez homered to center, Paul DeJong walked and Marcell Ozuna lined a rocket out to left-center for a 4-3 Cardinals lead. Both home runs came off 93-mph fastballs.

— The Brewers came right back and tied it up with the help of two walks by Jordan Hicks. Did I mention the Cardinals played a lousy game?

— Carpenter led off the bottom of the inning and Counsell turned to another lefty, Xavier Cedeno. (You have to love September rosters. Or hate them.) Carpenter flew out.

— In the eighth, the Brewers had three straight lefties due up. Mike Shildt went with Bud Norris, who has been mostly awful in the second half, including allowing six runs and seven walks in three innings in September. To be fair, Norris does have a big reverse platoon split this season. Still, it seemed like a questionable decision. With one out, Eric Thames hit a soft liner to right that Martinez, a bad right fielder, turned into a triple. Mike Moustakas then was intentionally walked. Norris decided to throw to first base — the slow-running Moustakas wasn’t going anywhere — and threw it away. Thames scored the go-ahead run. The Brewers tacked on another run.

— With Jeremy Jeffress unavailable due to neck spasms, Counsell turned to former closer Corey Knebel, his ninth pitcher of the night. September baseball, everyone! Knebel hit Carpenter but struck out the side. It was only a few weeks ago that Knebel was exiled to the minors to basically get a mental break after struggling. In September, he has pitched 12⅓ scoreless innings and struck out 24 batters. The slider is back and he’s dominating again like he did in 2017. The way he’s going, he might pitch every game this week.

So, big night. Got all that? Let’s do it again Tuesday.

Rockies club Phillies: The Colorado Rockies10-1 win behind Jon Gray kept the heat on the Los Angeles Dodgers, plus Trevor Story returned to the lineup and went 2-for-5 with two doubles. Story became just the fourth shortstop to reach 80 extra-base hits and 25 steals in a season, joining Hanley Ramirez (2007), Jimmy Rollins (2007) and Alex Rodriguez (1998).

The takeaway from this game: The Phillies look absolutely cooked and they’ve dropped to .500 after sitting 14 games over .500 on Aug. 17, when they were just a half-game out of first place. Obviously, they’d like to finish over .500, so I don’t think they’ve packed it in effort-wise, but they haven’t won a game this month against a winning team. It wouldn’t shock me if the Rockies sweep this four-game series at home.

You won’t believe this … The Arizona Diamondbacks‘ bullpen couldn’t hold a 3-2 lead against the Dodgers, as L.A. scored two runs in the seventh and three in the ninth to pull out a 7-4 win, rescue Clayton Kershaw and remain 1½ up on the Rockies.

Speaking of openers: I’m a little surprised teams haven’t tried that trick against the Dodgers to mess up Dave Roberts and his platoon-heavy lineup. The Diamondbacks could have started a right-hander — say Archie Bradley, who pitched the sixth inning — and then brought in Robbie Ray. Of course, a good manager would see around the strategy, and I guess you wouldn’t use it with Ray or Zack Greinke (who starts Wednesday), but it would make sense to do it with Tuesday starter Matt Koch and see what Roberts does.

Anyway, leaving out the Atlanta Braves, here’s how the NL playoff picture looks (five teams for four spots):

Kluber wins 20th: It seems weird to suggest Corey Kluber has flown under the radar this season, but that has kind of been the case. In the first half, the talk in the American League was about Chris Sale, Luis Severino, Justin Verlander and Kluber’s Cleveland Indians teammate Trevor Bauer. Kluber was great — he made the All-Star team — but a lot of AL pitchers were great.

In the second half, the National League Cy Young race received a lot of attention and Blake Snell made a run in the AL. Kluber kept doing his Kluber things, however, and here he is, winning 20 games for the first time in his career after striking out 11 in seven scoreless innings in a 4-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Kluber becomes the first Indians pitcher to win 20 since Cliff Lee in 2008 (and just the second since Gaylord Perry in 1974) as he adds to an amazing five-year run that began with his breakout Cy Young season in 2014.

Check out the best five-year stretches (by WAR) for some great Cleveland starters:

Bob Feller*, 1938-46: 42.5 (not including partial season in 1945)
Stan Coveleski*, 1917-21: 40.2
Corey Kluber, 2014-18: 32.2 (entering Monday)
Addie Joss*, 1905-09: 30.6
Sam McDowell, 1966-70: 26.7
Early Wynn*, 1952-56: 23.8
Mike Garcia, 1951-55: 21.0
Bob Lemon*, 1948-52: 20.7
(* denotes Hall of Famer)

The question heading into October: How much has Kluber benefited from a weak division? He’s 15-2 with a 2.25 ERA against sub-.500 teams (including 7-0 against the White Sox and Tigers) and 5-5 with a 3.81 ERA against winning teams.

Red Sox set franchise mark for wins: The Boston Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-2 to win their 106th game and clinch the best record in the majors:

Mookie Betts went 2-for-5 with his 32nd home run to raise his slash line to .343/.434/.639. It feels like he’s pretty much wrapped up the AL MVP. Mike Trout is closest in WAR, but the Los Angeles Angels aren’t making the playoffs and that will hurt him (unfairly) in the voting. J.D. Martinez‘s case seemed to rest on his winning the Triple Crown and that’s not going to happen, plus Mookie has the higher OBP and slugging percentage. Really, Mookie’s season is one of the best in Red Sox history.

Via, the 10-WAR position players in Red Sox history:

Carl Yastrzemski, 1967: 12.5
Ted Williams, 1946: 10.9
Mookie Betts, 2018: 10.6 (entering Monday)
Ted Williams, 1942: 10.6
Ted Williams, 1941: 10.6
Carl Yastrzemski, 1968: 10.5
Tris Speaker, 1912: 10.1
Rico Petrocelli, 1969: 10.0

Betts, of course, benefits from a great defensive rating, with plus-21 defensive runs saved. Remember, DRS is a reflection of skill and opportunity. Because he’s so good, Betts can go deep into right-center at Fenway and make plays that he may not available in other parks that don’t have the same space. It’s a park that allows guys who are already good to be rewarded, and that’s part of the reason DRS loves Betts so much.

Congrats to King Felix: Felix Hernandez became a U.S. citizen on Monday:

Since he passed the citizenship test, he knows we don’t allow kings in this country. We’ll let him keep the nickname anyway.

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