MLB

Cardinals extend streak, benches clear but Rays clinch playoff berth

By Sports Desk September 23, 2021

The streaking St Louis Cardinals won their 11th consecutive game after easing past the Milwaukee Brewers 10-2 in MLB action.

Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O'Neill homered as the Cardinals extended their lead for the second National League (NL) wild-card spot by downing the division-leading Brewers on Wednesday.

The Cardinals – enjoying a four-and-a-half-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies for the final NL wild-card berth – are in the midst of their best winning streak since an 11-game run in 2001.

"We grow from the previous days. We grew from today, we'll get after it tomorrow," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "One of the biggest things this team does is just stay present, so it's just about staying present, keep playing, getting after it."

 

Rays clinch in fierce battle with Blue Jays

The benches cleared between the American League (AL) East-leading Tampa Bay Rays and playoff-chasing Toronto Blue Jays, but the former went on to seal a postseason spot for the third campaign in a row with a 7-1 rout. Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier was hit in the back with a pitch from Blue Jays reliever Ryan Borucki in the eighth inning.

"Oh yeah, it was intentional. I thought it was a weak move, to be quite honest," said Kiermaier. "It's over. It didn't hurt by any means, so I don't care. Whatever. We move on. We got a series win, and I hope we play those guys, I really do."

Kyle Schwarber led the way as the Boston Red Sox crushed the New York Mets 12-5. Schwarber homered twice and scored four runs. According to Stats Perform, the Red Sox star is the second player in MLB history to homer in both the first and second innings of a game three different times in the same season, after Mookie Betts in 2016. He is also the first player in MLB history to hit nine-plus home runs in a five-game span against a single opponent.

Juan Soto claimed the NL batting lead behind three hits and three RBIs in the Washington Nationals' 7-5 win over the Miami Marlins. Soto's 27th homer helped raise his average to .321.

 

Rockies get on top of Buehler

Walker Buehler had a rough outing as World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers lost 10-5 at the Colorado Rockies. The Dodgers starter gave up five runs on seven hits over 3.2 innings, including a homer.

 

Tatis hits homer number 40

The San Diego Padres went down to the high-flying San Francisco Giants 8-6 but star Fernando Tatis Jr. hit his 40th home run of the season. He joined Johnny Bench as the only players aged 22 or younger to hit 40 homers in their first 119 games of a season.

 

Wednesday's results

Atlanta Braves 9-2 Arizona Diamondbacks
Seattle Mariners 4-1 Oakland Athletics
San Francisco Giants 8-6 San Diego Padres
Tampa Bay Rays 7-1 Toronto Blue Jays
Washington Nationals 7-5 Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies 4-3 Baltimore Orioles
New York Yankees 7-3 Texas Rangers
Boston Red Sox 12-5 New York Mets
Minnesota Twins 5-4 Chicago Cubs
St Louis Cardinals 10-2 Milwaukee Brewers
Colorado Rockies 10-5 Los Angeles Dodgers
Houston Astros 9-5 Los Angeles Angels
Pittsburgh Pirates-Cincinnati Reds (postponed)
Chicago White Sox-Detroit Tigers (postponed)
Kansas City Royals-Cleveland Indians (postponed)

 

Dodgers at Rockies

The Dodgers (97-55) face the Rockies (71-80) on Thursday, with their three-game series on the line. Dodgers ace Max Scherzer is set to start, while the Rockies are poised to send Kyle Freeland to the mound.

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  • Red Bull closing on Ferrari as F1 returns to Europe ahead of Spanish GP Red Bull closing on Ferrari as F1 returns to Europe ahead of Spanish GP

    The drivers' and constructors' championships both heating up as Formula One makes its seasonal return to Europe seems fitting. 

    After legs in the Middle East, Australia and North America, Red Bull are comprehensively in the fight against Ferrari heading into this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

    With consecutive race wins at the Emilia Romagna GP and Miami GP following DNFs in Bahrain and Australia, Max Verstappen has closed the gap to standings leader Charles Leclerc to 19 points.

    After coming perilously close to such an error at Imola, a single mistake or DNF for Leclerc and a full points haul for Verstappen could see momentum in the drivers' championship completely shift.

    Barcelona is a happy hunting ground for Verstappen, who claimed victory there in 2016 in only his first drive for Red Bull.

    It could continue if the reigning world champion secures pole position, having converted 14 career poles into 10 race victories, the best rate of any driver in F1 history.

    Meanwhile, with Sergio Perez also contributing with solid driving and good race pace on Sunday, Red Bull have cut the gap in the constructors' standings to only six points.

    Only in Monaco have the team collected more points than in Spain, with 332 compared to 312, but that could change this weekend.

    With a fifth consecutive top-four finish, Perez could equal his best such run of results, recorded between Turkey and Qatar last season.

    Ferrari set for upgrades

    The gravity of Red Bull's resurgence could arguably be crystallised in the likelihood Ferrari will have upgrades installed for this weekend after only tinkering and researching on race weekends to this point.

    Leclerc will be looking to lead from the front, with all four of his race wins in F1 coming from pole position.

    Carlos Sainz will also be hoping for a strong finish at his home grand prix, where he has accumulated the most points (40) in his career alongside Monaco.

    Can Mercedes challenge?

    While they might not be a championship contender in either the drivers' or constructors' standings, Mercedes have at least shown improved performance to potentially challenge for podiums and race wins.

    The Silver Arrows come into this contest having taken the past nine pole positions in Barcelona, and they will likely need to make it another to challenge on Sunday.

    Lewis Hamilton is still waiting to surpass Michael Schumacher for the most consecutive seasons with a race win.

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 104
    2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 85
    3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 66
    4. George Russell (Mercedes) 59 
    5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 53

    Constructors

    1. Ferrari 157
    2. Red Bull 151
    3. Mercedes 95
    4. McLaren 46
    5. Alfa Romeo 31

  • Europa League final: Rangers success surely hinges on halting Eintracht's flying wing-backs Europa League final: Rangers success surely hinges on halting Eintracht's flying wing-backs

    In a pre-match news conference lacking much talk of the opposition, there was one question that stood out in that regard ahead of Rangers' Europa League final clash with Eintracht Frankfurt.

    Gers captain James Tavernier was pointedly asked for his opinion on Eintracht wing-back Filip Kostic, given the pair are likely to see a lot of each other on the flank they'll share.

    "Obviously I respect how he's been playing, he's a top player," Tavernier said. "But, I've just got to bring the best version of myself when the game starts and try to cause him all the problems, try to make him deal with me for the majority of the game. That's all I can really do."

    Tavernier's response didn't offer any particularly great insight, but his mentality of wanting to cause Kostic as many problems was at least another identifier of how their duel could be such a key battle.

    Of course, it's worth pointing out that Tavernier, a right-back, remarkably heads into Wednesday's game as the Europa League's top scorer on seven goals, and realistically – or, unrealistically – only a hat-trick from Eintracht's Daichi Kamada can prevent the Englishman from at least ending the season with a share of the competition's golden boot.

    Further to that, he netted 19 times over the course of the 2020-21 season and could yet match that figure this term – he also has an impressive assists haul of 17.

    If it needs reiterating, he's a huge contributor for Rangers in the final third.

    So, given he's technically a right-back, there's obviously an element of Tavernier needing to be solid defensively on Wednesday, but some might suggest it's even more essential he's as sharp as ever going forward as that would not only give Rangers a credible threat on the right, but it would potentially keep Kostic occupied in a deeper position.

    Granted, Eintracht's set-up with a back three should always ensure they have an extra man to cover for Kostic's runs forward, while the two attacking midfielders supporting Rafael Borre up top often occupy narrow, deeper berths in order to maximise the space out wide for their biggest threat.

    Yet there's always the possibility of an overload in behind Kostic if the conditions are right, such is his attacking influence.

    After all, the frequency at which Kostic delivers into the box is frankly astonishing. This season, he has been the executor of 519 crosses and corners, 140 more than any other player in the top five leagues – Trent Alexander-Arnold is second with 379.

    Kostic's 78 successful crosses from open play is also a season-high. Of course, you would expect him to lead the way given he's attempted so many more than anyone else, but his 26.8 per cent accuracy (crosses/corners) is right in line with the average (among players with at least 100 attempted). That in itself is impressive given his greater frequency.

    Another way of looking at it is, he is producing one accurate open-play cross every 45.4 minutes. While that may not sound incredible on the face of it, his 12.4 expected assists (xA) is the 10th highest among players in the top five leagues, highlighting just how much of a weapon he is in terms of his creative quality.

    So, while he may be classed as a wing-back in terms of his position on a team line-up graphic, the Serbian is there for his attacking tendencies.

    A cursory glance at his map of open-play chances created proves that point.

    But Rangers must also be aware of the danger posed on the opposite flank.

    Ansgar Knauff has been one of the stars of Eintracht's journey to the final, with the 20-year-old becoming something of a revelation in the past few months.

    As recently as mid-January he was turning out for Borussia Dortmund's second team in the third tier. Then he joined Eintracht on loan and has since scored important Europa League goals against Barcelona and West Ham.

    His impact on the road to Seville has been significant, with his brilliant athleticism, bravery and confidence on the ball making him a real asset on the right-hand side.

    Before Knauff's arrival, Eintracht were rather lopsided, with their other options on the right far from convincing. Sure, Kostic remains their main outlet, but Knauff's emergence has provided them with another – albeit stylistically different – threat on the other side, giving them greater balance.

    Across all competitions since his Eintracht debut in early February, only Kostic (5.6) and Jesper Lindstrom (2.6) have amassed better xA records than Knauff, who is also fifth to those two, Borre and Kamada in terms of xA and xG (expected goals) combined.

    He may not be their deadliest weapon, but he's proven he can offer them a lot, and his team-high 61 dribble attempts in that period proves he's happy to make his markers work for their money.

    Oliver Glasner's team is full of neat, technical players and is also blessed with fine work ethic, as it would need to be to play their high-pressing football.

    But their width and desire to attack from the flanks is fundamental to how they play – while it may be easier said than done, limiting their effectiveness out wide would go a long way to ending Rangers' 50-year European trophy drought.

  • Eovaldi's unwanted history as Astros blast five homers in an inning, Judge continues hitting form Eovaldi's unwanted history as Astros blast five homers in an inning, Judge continues hitting form

    Boston Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi made unwanted history after becoming the third pitcher in major league history to allow five home runs in an inning as the Houston Astros won 13-4 on Tuesday.

    Eovaldi allowed homers to Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley, Jeremy Pena, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez in the second inning as the Astros raced to a 9-1 lead.

    The 32-year-old Red Sox right-hander lasted only one and two-third innings, allowing eight hits and six earned runs with no strikeouts.

    It was the first time in Astros franchise history that they have had a five-homer inning.

    "They did an outstanding job hitting mistakes," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.

    "We didn't get any swings and misses. Obviously, it's surprising. Now, we just have to move onto the next one."

    Cora added on Eovaldi: "He's a strikethrower, right? He was in the zone, and they had a gameplan. They got good pitches to hit. I think that's the bottom line."

    Eovaldi has allowed 14 homers this season for the Red Sox, who have a 14-22 record.

     

    Judge takes season HR tally to 14

    Aaron Judge continued his big-hitting form with two homers taking his season tally to 14 in the New York Yankees' 5-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

    Judge homered in both the third and fifth innings, finishing the game with four hits and three RBIs. The game marked Judge’s third multi-homer game of the season and the 19th of his career.

    It could have been three homers for Judge, with his first-inning drive smacking into the top of the 13-foot barrier, before he was thrown out at third base.

     

    Rookie Morel blasts first at-bat

    Rookie Christopher Morel created some positive history when he became the first Cub to homer in his first big-league at-bat since Willson Contreras in 2016 in the Chicago Cubs' 7-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    The prospect added an exclamation point to the big win when he was sent in for a pinch-hit with his side 6-0 up in the eighth inning, delivering a blast over left field from Chase De Jong.

    "I've known this guy for a really long time, and he makes me proud," Contreras said. "It was amazing. He told me [he would homer], and I felt like he was going to get something done… Once I saw the ball going out, I was like, that was a no-doubt. That kid has some pop in his bat."

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