The 35 days of September: Race to the AL East title

Thirty days has September, April, June and November — except for when September has 35 days, like this year.

That’s right, for a limited time only, the baseball gods have extended September to give us 17 percent MORE (MORE, MORe, MOre, More, more …) pennant race baseball in the American League East. Or should I say, the AL Beast. Because starting on Aug. 29 and ending on Oct. 2, super-September is going to be a bear for the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles (and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, for that matter), as the three contenders in MLB’s most contentious pennant race will take turns bludgeoning each other repeatedly during the final megamonth of the season.

Stat that matters: .914. That’s the current OPS of Edwin Encarnacion, who’s on pace to finish above .900 again. If he does, he’ll join Mike Trout as the only AL players to do so (assuming Trout doesn’t go in the tank) in each of the past five seasons.

Over the next five weeks, Toronto plays a dozen games against Boston and Baltimore (six each), and Boston plays Baltimore seven times in what should be a supremely entertaining stretch run that will ultimately determine the division champion — and possibly a wild card or two.

Which brings us to Carlos Gomez. He had worn out his welcome elsewhere, but the Rangers promised him a fresh start on Aug. 20. Based on Gomez’s natural talent, it was possible to squint and see the upside, and in Gomez’s first at-bat in Texas, he ripped a home run. He hasn’t recorded a hit since (0-for-11, 6 strikeouts).

It was a terrible decision, even noting that Gordon subsequently scored from third when Paulo Orlando hit a sacrifice fly to center. A run expectancy chart and its derivative, a win expectancy chart, can display mathematically why it was the wrong decision, but relying on those cheat sheets, like a first-time blackjack player, vastly underestimates how poor the decision was. Expectancy charts are based on baseline, league-average situations, but this was not a baseline situation. The Royals were playing the highest-scoring team in the majors, in the American League’s highest-scoring run environment over the last three seasons. You cannot construct a situation in the American League in which a single run has less marginal value for winning a game than what the Royals faced Sunday night.

With 24 outs to go in the game, and two pitchers in the game with 2016 ERAs of 4.27 and 5.11 on the mound, bunting with a runner on first and second and nobody out is foolish.

Are Corey and Kyle Seager having the best brother season ever?

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is having an awesome rookie season, hitting .322 with 22 home runs and on pace to score more than 100 runs. Older brother Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners is having a terrific season as well, on pace to hit 30 home runs and top 100 RBIs — not that anybody is talking much about him. In fact, Kyle ranks seventh among all position players in WAR (5.7), and Corey (5.3) ranks 10th.

So, inquiring minds want to know: Where does this rank among the best brother seasons ever? Let’s do some digging. Note that some of the best brother combos never managed to align their best seasons — such as Pedro and Ramon Martinez — and I didn’t consider cases where one brother was a star and the other wasn’t, such as Cal and Billy Ripken.

Paul and Lloyd Waner (1927)

The only brothers in the Hall of Fame, Paul was a legitimate star, but Lloyd is one of the worst Hall of Famers, a singles-hitting outfielder who hit .300 in an era when everyone hit .300. They were longtime teammates with the Pirates, Lloyd in center field, Paul in right.

For their best season, I’d go with 1927, when the Pirates reached the World Series. Paul was in his second season and won NL MVP after leading the league in batting average and RBIs, and Lloyd was a rookie who led the league with 133 runs.

What makes the Seager brothers so impressive is that both are going to pass 6.0 WAR — the only other example I found was the Perry brothers in 1969 — with a chance to reach 7.0 WAR. It’s hard to beat what the Dean brothers did in 1934, teaming up to win a World Series, but Corey and Kyle might be having the best brother season ever.

But there are five other managers whose seats are hot, and the next five weeks may determine their futures:

Robin Ventura, Chicago White Sox

The White Sox’s front office was split at the trade deadline on whether it should buy, sell or stand pat. It selected the latter, with its only significant move being the trade of reliever Zach Duke. Ventura is 357-416 (.462 win percentage) in his five-year stint as White Sox manager with only one winning season, and that was back in 2012, his first year as skipper. The White Sox must decide if they’re going to sell and rebuild and have Ventura start again from scratch, or try to win with this team. If they decide the latter, they might decide to try a different voice in the managerial chair.

Fastballs, sliders, curveballs … who throws them best?

Dodgers stick to the plan and get offensive against Giants

LOS ANGELES — In the first meeting for the West Coast rivals in more than two months, the Los Angeles Dodgers showed their visitors from the north that new identity they have been working on.

“There is no pressure and [Roberts] throws you in situations where you have a good chance to succeed,” Toles said. “I don’t see any pressure or anything like that.”

Nobody looked pressured in what has been billed as a key late-season series, amid games that figure to weigh large when the division is decided on the first weekend of October. The Dodgers returned home from a productive road trip to deliver 14 hits after pounding out 21 on Monday against the Reds.

It might have been the first game of a showdown series Tuesday, but for the Dodgers it was simply a carbon copy of what they have been doing for some time now, all the way down to the five-inning outing from another starter.

Kenta Maeda was far from efficient in throwing 103 pitches over five innings of work, but it was plenty to outduel Bumgarner, who lasted only five innings himself while giving up five run and nine hits. The Dodgers have now won each of the last five times Bumgarner has pitched against them.

The question remains, how long can the Dodgers keep up their offensive sense of urgency? Their lead is only two games after all, with eight games remaining between these two teams, the last three of which are in San Francisco to end the season.

Can the Dodgers really run away from the competition on the back of a less-than-efficient starting staff? Or at the very least, can the staff, which has endured one injury after another, keep doing just enough until Clayton Kershaw is able to return?

“You know what, I just know that we will be ready to play tomorrow and ready to win a game tomorrow,” Roberts said. “That’s been our focus, to not try to get too far ahead of ourselves. I think people can ask questions like, ‘Can we sustain it?’ But I think that we can prepare to win a game tomorrow and after that we will be ready for the next day. That approach has worked up to this point, and that is what we will continue to do.”

And as long as Seager is on a 14-game hit streak, Gonzalez is on a 16-gamer and Turner has hit safely in 17 of his last 19, there are plenty of reasons to think the Dodgers’ current play is sustainable.

“We struggled early in the year and now we’re doing our part,” Gonzalez said of the offense. “The season has its ups and downs, and at the end of the season it will come together as a unit. Right now we’re swinging the bats pretty well.”

“He’s got one Thursday, so I’ll give him one on Thursday,” Girardi said before the Yankees’ 5-1 win over the Mariners, cracking one of his signature jokes, because the Yankees have no game Thursday.

Girardi had planned on giving Sanchez the day off Tuesday or Wednesday, but because Sanchez is so hot at the plate, the manager gave Sanchez only a half-day. Sanchez was the Yankees DH and — can you believe it? — didn’t homer. He did have a single in four at-bats.

“Defensively, he has been just as good as offensively,” Girardi said.

While he is the biggest reason to watch the Yankees on a daily basis, he is not the reason the Yankees won Tuesday.

The big-money guys, CC Sabathia and Jacoby Ellsbury, led the way on the field. Sabathia pitched seven innings of one-run ball, and Ellsbury hit a two-run homer. Sabathia improved to 8-10 with a 4.33 ERA.

“He’s pitched a lot better than his ERA,” Girardi said.

The Yankees needed to come in here and sweep to bolster their faint wild-card chances. They are five games out of the second spot.

Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen finishes off win with 3-run HR after father’s death

“Getting out of those situations had a lot to do with the defense,” Adleman said.

Bud Norris (6-10) gave up six runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings in his first start since July 31 because of a back strain. He struck out three and walked four while lasting fewer than five innings for the 10th time in 17 starts this season.

The Reds wasted no time pouncing on Norris, who had trouble with the pitching mound while warming up for the first inning and needed some maintenance. The first five batters reached base, four with hits, including Votto’s blast over the center-field wall for his 20th home run of the season.

“A big piece of clay came out,” Norris said about the mound issue. “They came out and fixed it. It was always there, but it’s not really an excuse. It didn’t go my way.”

The Reds sent nine batters to the plate while knocking Norris out in their three-run fourth. He walked Tucker Barnhart intentionally to get to Adleman with two outs and Eugenio Suarez on second. The pitcher crossed him up with a two-run double up the right-center field gap.

Lorenzen hit his first career home run in the seventh. He had to be prodded by his teammates as the crowd of 28,184 pleaded for a curtain call.

“The Lorenzen home run was emotional for all of us,” manager Bryan Price said. “If you stay in this game long enough, you still think you won’t see anything like that. It was so improbable. It was majestic and poetic The emotions were palpable and got stronger when he got to the dugout. The curtain call showed there was some awareness in the crowd.”

MYSTERY GUEST

LHP Julio Urias will start for the Dodgers in Sunday’s third game of the series. Urias is 3-2 with a 4.41 ERA in 12 overall appearances, including 10 starts, the last on Aug. 8 against Philadelphia in Los Angeles. Sunday’s starter previously had been listed as “to be announced.”

RAREIFIED AIR

Votto’s homer gives him seven 20-homer seasons with the Reds, tying him with Adam Dunn and George Foster for fifth on the Reds’ list of players with seasons of 20 or more home runs. His four RBIs give him 700 in his career.

HARD KNOCKS

The fans in the left field corner gave LF Tony Renda a standing ovation after he slammed into the wall on consecutive fly balls in the second inning. The ball was knocked loose for a double the first time, but he hung on to the second drive, earning the applause.

TRAINING ROOM

Dodgers: LHP Rich Hill, on the disabled list since July 18 with a left middle finger blister, threw 75 pitches in a simulated game on Thursday at the Dodgers’ spring training facility. Roberts said Hill most likely will be activated next week.

Reds: OF Adam Duvall missed his fourth consecutive start on Friday after fouling a ball off of his left instep on Monday. He was available to pinch-hit.

UP NEXT

Dodgers: LHP Brett Anderson (0-1) is scheduled to make his second start of the season after making his 2016 debut last Sunday after recovering from herniated disk surgery. He is 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA in two career starts against Cincinnati.

Reds: LHP Brandon Finnegan (7-9) lost a complete-game 1-0 decision to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on May 23 in Los Angeles.

CINCINNATI — Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw missed his teammates so much that he flew from Los Angeles to Cincinnati just to work out with them.

The injured left-hander threw on flat ground Friday before their game against the Reds, the last step before he throws off a mound in the bullpen for the first time in more than a month.

“I feel good so far,” said Kershaw, who has been sidelined since June 26 with a herniated disk. “It’s a one-step-at-a-time thing. I throw a bullpen [session] tomorrow. That’s another step. I’ve been throwing for the last week and a half, and I haven’t had any problems.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was as happy to see Kershaw as Kershaw was to be with the team.

“He’s in good spirits,” Roberts said. “Part of it is because he’s healthy and part of it is getting back with his teammates and getting reacquainted.”

The three-time National League Cy Young Award winner and 2014 Most Valuable Player is expected to pitch off a mound Saturday for the first time since throwing in a simulated game July 16. That step followed an aggressive rehab program and aggravated his symptoms, leading to a complete shutdown.

Tigers trending upward in Power Rankings

Power Rankings Top 5:

1. Cubs

They’ve won nine of 10, their lead in the NL Central is back to double digits and they’re on pace for 102 wins. We’ve talked extensively about why the Cubs are so good — they’re loaded, everywhere, and then they added the most impressive bullpen arm in baseball in Aroldis Chapman. But let’s use this space to send kudos toward Kyle Hendricks, who is quietly putting together one of the best seasons of all Cubs starters. He’s allowed one run in two August starts and has the leagues’ second-lowest ERA (2.17). He’s allowed five runs since July 1, and three earned runs or fewer in his last 14 starts, dating back to May 22.

2. Nationals

The Nats have put themselves in a good spot, winning eight of 12 against two tough opponents in the Giants and Indians and sweeping the last-place D-backs. They spend the rest of August playing lots of games against the Braves, Phillies and Rockies (although the Rockies aren’t to be taken for granted anymore, having jumped into the Wild Card race with a nice start to the second half). The Nats have the fourth-highest slugging percentage and OPS in the NL, the second-lowest ERA and the third-lowest WHIP. They also have a very comfortable seven-game lead in the NL East and the second-best record in baseball, behind only the Cubs.

3. Rangers

Yu Darvish is slowly becoming the Cy Young-contending Darvish from a few of years ago, which bodes well for a Rangers rotation that is slowly — very slowly — putting itself back together again. They’re not quite there yet and they’ll still have to piece things together a little longer with Lucas Harrell and Co. while they wait for Derek Holland and Colby Lewis to return. But the Rangers are stronger after improving in other areas at the Deadline, and Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy both contributed favorably to the Rangers’ recent series win in Houston.

4. Orioles

The O’s recovered from a rather uninspiring end to July with a strong start to August, winning series over the Rangers and White Sox. Not surprisingly, the offense continues to reign supreme — over those six games, they outscored their opponents, 30-19. Manny Machado put the cherry on top of the fabulous week with a three-homer game Sunday against the White Sox.

5. Blue Jays

The AL East race is likely going down to the wire and will involve three teams, including the Blue Jays, who had an interesting week — they took three of four in Houston against an over-.500 Astros team, and then lost two of three in Kansas City, where the Royals are well below .500. The Jays’ offense has taken a hit recently, but the pitching, for the most part, has been steady — a good sign when a contending team hits a road block here and there.

1. Rizzo, 1B, Cubs
Piniella wasn’t just sold on Griffey’s seniority over Rodriguez. He explained that Junior was the cornerstone piece in the Mariners’ lineup, the guy who carried the burden of having every pitching staff work the hardest to neutralize him. Day in, day out, Griffey made it easier for his teammates to succeed.

That sounds a lot like Rizzo. He hasn’t just been a middle-of-the-order presence, but he’s also the Cubs’ helpful older brother, ushering in newcomers like Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras and then helping make them comfortable. Rizzo has saved infielders errors and pitchers runs with defense worthy of NL Gold Glove Award consideration, and he’s hitting .286 with 24 homers, 80 RBIs and a .962 OPS. He’s the lead dog in a clubhouse full of alpha dogs.

Anthony Rizzo goes a perfect 3-for-3, falling just a home run short of the cycle and reaching base in all five plate appearances
2. Bryant, 3B, Cubs
Bryant was a unanimous pick as the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2015, finishing with 26 home runs and 99 RBIs. Everyone knew he had more in the tank as a hitter, but did you see it coming this fast?

It took only until July 27 for Bryant to match his home run total from last season. In his age-24 season, he’s raised all of his counting stats — batting .285 with 27 homers, 69 RBIs and a .928 OPS — while reducing his strikeout rate significantly (from 30.6 percent to 23.7). Bryant has played well defensively whether he’s at third base or in the outfield corners, and he has even filled in for Rizzo at first. Bryant is a sensational baserunner with above-average speed in full stride.

On numbers alone, Bryant deserves to win the NL MVP Award. He’s leading the NL in WAR as figured by both FanGraphs and baseball-reference. But Rizzo has an advantage in OPS and leadership. It’s too bad, really, that they can’t share the award.

Kris Bryant lifts a solo home run over the left-field wall in the 6th inning to break a scoreless tie

While this has been a roller-coaster ride of a season for Washington’s main man, Murphy has built off the strides he made working with hitting coach Kevin Long last year in New York. He’s motoring toward a batting title because he’s as hard to strike out as he’s crushing the fat pitches. It took Murphy only until July 7 to hit his 15th homer, setting a career high, and he’s on pace to hit 31 homers, drive in 118 runs and strike out only 64 times.

Murphy has worked hard to remain adequate at second base after some American League teams viewed him as a first baseman or even a designated hitter. He’s been essential for the Nationals with Harper hitting .132 with one home run in 76 at-bats since July 8.

Trailblazer Tony Dungy heads into Hall of Fame

Also not to be discounted: Dungy made the NFL relevant in Tampa again. When he was named head coach in 1996, the Buccaneers had made only three postseason appearances in their first 20 years of existence, with the most recent appearance in 1982. The Bucs went 6-10 in Dungy’s first year, but then enjoyed a four-game improvement the next, making the first of four postseason appearances in his six seasons as coach.

Case against his bust in Canton

Longevity and lack of rings. Dungy was a head coach for just 13 seasons; of the other 22 men in the Hall as coaches, there are seven who made it having spent fewer years as a head coach than Dungy. But five of those men won multiple NFL championships and/or Super Bowls. The only exceptions are John Madden, who won one title in 10 years with the Raiders and also has the highest regular-season win percentage in the modern era (post-1970), and George Allen, who spent 12 years coaching the Rams and Redskins but never won a title.

Case for his bust in Canton

Dungy may have coached only 13 years, but his teams were in the postseason 11 times, including all seven years he helmed the Colts. He had an impressive .668 regular-season win percentage, the sixth-highest mark of the modern era, and was the second-team coach (behind Bill Belichick) for the NFL’s 2000s team of the decade. And as mentioned, Dungy was a pioneer as the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl; Art Shell and Dennis Green each brought their teams to two conference championships but not the Super Bowl.

Memorable quote

“When I came into the league as a player, there were not a lot of African-American coaches, but the guys who were there were role models for us. So I did realize the significance of becoming a head coach, going to the Super Bowl, coaching in the Super Bowl as an African-American head coach, and now going into the Hall of Fame, you just feel like you’re representing a lot of men, and a group of men who put a lot into this league and helped make it what it is.” – Tony Dungy

Youth is running rampant in the Bears’ backfields. Both offensive and defensive. While Stan Drayton’s group of runners consists primarily of backs with no more than two years of NFL experience in hopes of replacing Matt Forte by committee, Ed Donatell’s group on the last line of defense at least has a couple of graybeards by comparison.

Antrel Rolle was supposed to come in and lead a year ago, but it was more vocal than on the field. Tracy Porter was the guy brought in just 14 months ago, and after one of the best seasons of his eight-year NFL career, he is back to play mentor, stay healthy, and drape the opposition’s top wideout. But besides Sherrick McManis (seventh year) and Chris Prosinski (sixth season) — neither are locks to make the final 53-man roster despite their special teams capabilities — every other defensive back in camp right now has no more two years’ experience at this level. And while there are expected improvements from offseason additions in the defense’s front seven, many eyes now turn on the defensive back corps — shy on experience, and creating turnovers a year ago.

“It’s a big challenge, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Donatell after Thursday’s two hours of practice in 90-degree temperatures in Bourbonnais. “These guys are so willing. They’re wide open to learning and they work together, and I think we’re gonna be able to grab an energy from us all working together. That’s going to make us a pretty solid group.”

Despite the turnover deficiency (a franchise record-low eight interceptions, only four by defensive backs), the unit also ranked just 22nd in sacks last season, which doesn’t help. The good? The defense still somehow rose from 30th in 2014 to fourth in pass defense (a bend-don’t-break 224.6 yards per game). So now it’s up to Donatell, who molded a quartet of young defensive backs in San Francisco to six Pro Bowl appearances in his four years there with Vic Fangio, to get this group to walk the fine line between aggressiveness and discipline.

“We want to come out with disciplined play. We don’t believe it’s an either/or — that you have to be unsound and leave your technique to produce takeaways,” Donatell explained. “There’s times when you have a non-aggressive angle we want you to go for the ball. When you don’t, we want you to go for the tackle. When you have a deep zone, stay deep, when it’s short, stay short. So stay within the defense. That’s a non-compromising principle for us, and good things will happen.”

Hammel, Chapman pitch Cubs past Fernandez, Marlins 3-2

Fernandez (12-6) allowed three runs and eight hits over six innings, losing consecutive starts for the first time since his 2013 rookie season.

”This may sound funny, but I felt strong today,” Fernandez said. ”I was making good pitches. This is a good team.”

Fowler was his nemesis. He led off the first with a triple and scored on catcher Willson Contreras’ single. Batting Contreras second worked for Maddon, as Fowler and Contreras had consecutive hits again in the third to produce another run.

”He was involved in almost everything tonight,” Maddon said of Fowler.

The center fielder added an RBI single in the fifth off Fernandez, who fanned eight and took over the major league lead with 192 strikeouts.

Adeiny Hechavarria and J.T. Realmuto each hit an RBI single in the seventh off Strop, who also committed a throwing error. Travis Wood replaced him and Chris Coghlan’s diving catch of Christian Yelich’s looping liner to left field with two on ended the threat.

Former Cubs closer Hector Rondon picked off pinch-runner Dee Gordon from first in a scoreless eighth.

Then Chapman entered and used his blazing fastball to strike out one and earn his second save in three tries since being acquired from the Yankees.

”It’s coming out hot, but it’s easy when you have that kind of guy throwing a fastball straight,” Contreras said. ”It’s harder when you have 97 (mph) with sink. But I mean, it’s unbelievable.”

Ichiro Suzuki struck out pinch-hitting for Fernandez in the seventh, leaving him at 2,998 hits. Suzuki is expected to start Wednesday’s series finale against RHP John Lackey. Suzuki’s 37 hits against Lackey are his most off any pitcher.

Marlins: 1B Justin Bour (ankle) went 0 for 3 for Triple-A New Orleans was expected to play one more minor league rehab game Wednesday before returning Friday at Colorado.

Cubs: Second-year slugger Kris Bryant wasn’t in the lineup. ”It didn’t matter who was pitching today as long as he was right-handed,” Maddon said. ”I wanted to give him the day off.”

Not only did new Cubs reliever Joe Smith go from the struggling Los Angeles Angels to a contender, he’s now just a short flight or 4 1/2-hour drive from his ailing mother in Cincinnati. Lee Smith, 56, is battling Huntington’s disease, an inherited, fatal disorder that causes cognitive and physical impairment.

”It’s nice,” Joe Smith said. ”Traveling is hard and those flights take a lot out of her.”

RHP Spencer Patton was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room for Smith, acquired Monday.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly said RHP David Phelps will move into the rotation and start Friday against the Rockies. He’ll replace RHP Colin Rea, who was traded back to San Diego on Monday.

Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (8-8, 4.18 ERA) returns from a pectoral injury and faces Lackey (8-7, 3.69) to close the season series.

The 2016 Major League Baseball trade deadline has passed. For a while, it looked as though the deadline might be quiet this season, but all hell broke loose in the final minutes. The Milwaukee Brewers found a taker for Jonathan Lucroy, the Chicago White Sox held on to Chris Sale and the New York Yankees continued to sell.

That was just a taste of the action. Overall, 18 deals were made on the final day. To read about every single one of them, go here.

If you would prefer the cliff notes version, you’ve come to the right place. We live in a society where everything is instantaneous. The MLB trade deadline is not exempt to that. So while many of these trades are still just hours old, we here at The Stew have already declared our winners and losers of the deadline.

Keep in mind, none of the players involved in these trades have played a single game for their new clubs yet. Some won’t even make an impact until years down the road. That won’t stop us from bringing you the hot takes.

Without further ado, here are the winners and losers of the 2016 MLB trade deadline.

The Rangers were an obvious winner on deadline day. The 39-year-old Carlos Beltran is well past his prime, but he’s been effective this season. He owns a .304/.344/.546 slash line, with 22 home runs, over 387 plate appearances. By comparison, Rangers’ designated hitters have “hit” just .205/.285/.331, with nine home runs, this year.