MLB

Cardinals break record amid 15-game winning run, Rays clinch back-to-back AL East titles

By Sports Desk September 26, 2021

The streaking St Louis Cardinals made history with their 15th successive victory, an 8-5 win against the Chicago Cubs in MLB action on Saturday.

St Louis set a franchise record by extending their winning run to 15 games behind a rallying effort, eclipsing the 14-game streak in 1935.

Harrison Bader, Tyler O'Neill and Paul DeJong homered for the in-form Cardinals, who hold the second National League (NL) Wild Card spot.

The Cubs led 4-2 after four innings before a three-run seventh ignited the Cardinals away at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

"It's an incredible feeling. It's a complete elation of knowing every time we come to the field that we're going to win," said Cardinals centerfielder T.J. McFarland said.

"It's that confidence – I don't want to say arrogance – but it's almost that motivation every time we come to the field, we're expecting to win, and we're rising to the occasion when we need to."

 

Rays crowned AL East's best again

For the second straight season, the Tampa Bay Rays clinched the American League (AL) East crown. The high-flying Rays made sure of the title via a 7-3 victory at home to the Miami Marlins.

Shohei Ohtani became just the second player in history with at least 45 homers, 20 stolen bases and six triples in a season, after Willie Mays in 1955. Ohtani hit consecutive triples to inspire the Los Angeles Angels to a 14-1 demolition of the Seattle Mariners, who had their six-game winning streak snapped.

Brandon Belt homered twice as the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants set a franchise record for home runs in a season during their 7-2 win over the Colorado Rockies. The Giants have homered 236 times in 2021, surpassing the 235 hit in 2001. San Francisco hold a two-game lead over World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were upstaged by the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-2.

The Toronto Blue Jays – two games adrift in the AL Wild Card chase – beat the Minnesota Twins 6-1 behind Marcus Semien. The Blue Jays star tallied his 43rd home run of the season – tying the record for most single-season homers by a second baseman in MLB history, alongside Davey Johnson (1973).

 

Padres eliminated from playoff contention

Fernando Tatis Jr. and the San Diego Padres will not feature in the postseason following a 10-8 loss to the Atlanta Braves after 10 innings. Jorge Soler's go-ahead double eliminated the Padres from playoff contention. San Diego held a one-game lead for the second NL Wild Card berth on September 9 before spiralling out of form and out of the playoff mix.

 

Stanton slam boosts Yankees in Wild Card race

The New York Yankees moved into a tie with the Boston Red Sox for the AL Wild Card lead after Giancarlo Stanton's grand slam fuelled a 5-3 victory.

 

Saturday's results

St Louis Cardinals 8-5 Chicago Cubs
Philadelphia Phillies 3-0 Pittsburgh Pirates
Oakland Athletics 2-1 Houston Astros
New York Yankees 5-3 Boston Red Sox
Detroit Tigers 5-1 Kansas City Royals
Tampa Bay Rays 7-3 Miami Marlins
Baltimore Orioles 3-2 Texas Rangers
Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 New York Mets
Toronto Blue Jays 6-1 Minnesota Twins
Cincinnati Reds 7-6 Washington Nationals
Atlanta Braves 10-8 San Diego Padres
Cleveland Indians 6-0 Chicago White Sox
Arizona Diamondbacks 7-2 Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants 7-2 Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Angels 14-1 Seattle Mariners

 

Blue Jays at Twins

The Blue Jays (86-69) will continue their Wild Card quest away to the Twins (69-86) on Sunday. Toronto ace Alek Manoah is set to start, with Minnesota's Jax Griffin to toe the mound.

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  • Gerrard riled by questions over his integrity ahead of Man City showdown Gerrard riled by questions over his integrity ahead of Man City showdown

    Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard has been disappointed by questions over his side's integrity ahead of their season-ending clash with Manchester City.

    It means Gerrard, a Liverpool great, has the chance to do his old club a huge favour. Should City drop points against Villa on Sunday, then a win for the Reds over Wolves would ensure the Premier League title is theirs.

    Villa hosted Liverpool last week, with some doubts raised over how Gerrard would approach that game, but the Reds were pushed hard before ultimately triumphing 2-1. 

    Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings started on the bench on Thursday in Villa's final home game of the season – a 1-1 draw with Burnley – with both players coming on in the final 20 minutes.

    Those questions, however, have frustrated Gerrard.

    "In terms of Liverpool, I totally understand and respect the external noise and the questions that have been coming my way for some time," the former England midfielder told a news conference.

    "They're involved in a title race, and I spent a lot of time there. It is disappointing when people mention integrity and aim it towards me or Aston Villa or any of my players.

    "We'll go out at the weekend and give it everything we've got to try to get points for Aston Villa and our supporters. If that inevitably helps Liverpool, fantastic."

    City have won nine of their last 10 Premier League games against Villa (D1), including the last six in a row, while Villa have lost 15 of their last 16 trips to the Etihad Stadium in the league, losing each of their last 11 on the bounce since a 2-0 win in 2007.

    Speaking of facing City and Liverpool, Gerrard said: "In terms of my experience being back in the Premier League, they have been the two best sides by far that we have faced.

    "Very different – one tries to hurt you with positional play and possession and one tries to hurt you with speed and intensity.

    "They are both extremely consistent and have got top managers. They have both recruited extremely well over a period of time and had a lot of time to work with the team so it is no surprise that they get the results that they do."

  • Alexander-Arnold: Liverpool's quadruple hunt 'special', regardless of Premier League outcome Alexander-Arnold: Liverpool's quadruple hunt 'special', regardless of Premier League outcome

    Trent Alexander-Arnold says Liverpool's quadruple tilt represents one of the greatest seasons from a Premier League side, regardless of the outcome of their final-day title tussle with Manchester City.

    Jurgen Klopp's team remain in contention for the second top-flight title of his tenure when they host Wolves at Anfield, having already won the EFL Cup and FA Cup, while reaching the Champions League final.

    With Liverpool one point behind City and possessing an inferior goal difference, the Reds will need Pep Guardiola's men to slip up in their home game against Aston Villa to preserve their hopes of an unprecedented quadruple.

    Liverpool and City have set a relentless pace at the top of the Premier League table this season with the Reds winning 15 and drawing three of their last 18 league games, while City are unbeaten in 11 league outings after rescuing a 2-2 draw at West Ham last Sunday (eight wins, three draws).

    Alexander-Arnold was part of the Liverpool team that finished as runners-up despite amassing 97 points in the 2018-19 season as City finished one point clear of the Reds.

    The England international believes Liverpool's effort on four fronts this term represents a historic achievement amongst Premier League sides, whatever the outcome of Sunday's title fight.

    "I think back in March, or April I was thinking 'this is going to happen again', but when there are seven or eight fixtures to go you think 'surely someone has got to drop a few points'," the full-back told Sky Sports.

    "We have [a 1-1 home draw with Tottenham last month], but it's been quite even and it's all we could do. You think back to January and we were miles behind them, and we fought back and got ourselves into an amazing position.

    "I think, to push the way we have in all competitions this season, it's got to be, for me, one of the best team performances over the course of a season in Premier League history.

    "We've taken every trophy to the last game, that's all you can really ask for, and I think it's been a special achievement no matter what happens on Sunday."

    Liverpool will be supremely confident of doing their part after going unbeaten throughout their last 22 home Premier League games (17 wins, five draws).

    If the Reds avoid defeat against Wolves, they will have gone unbeaten through an entire home Premier League campaign for a fifth time, the joint-most of any club (alongside Chelsea).

    However, rivals City have ended 10 of their last 13 campaigns with a victory (two draws, one defeat), not losing on the final day since suffering a 3-2 reverse against Norwich City in 2013, while the defending champions have won nine of their last 10 Premier League games against Villa.

  • The Numbers Game: Manchester City ready to disappoint Steven Gerrard and Liverpool The Numbers Game: Manchester City ready to disappoint Steven Gerrard and Liverpool

    Look away Liverpool, this may make for painful reading. Manchester City are not quite home and hosed in the Premier League title race, but all signs point to them brushing off Aston Villa on Sunday to clinch the trophy.

    Another gripping race for domestic dominance culminates in City hosting Villa, while rivals Liverpool face Wolves at Anfield.

    If City drop points, a Liverpool win would make Jurgen Klopp's team the champions. Yet recent history shows us that City rarely stumble against Villa, so a slip-up in the clash with Steven Gerrard's side would be a monumental shock.

    A sixth title in the Premier League era beckons, which would rank City outright second behind Manchester United's haul of 13 championships.

    Stats Perform takes a look here at key Opta numbers ahead of the final-day showdown

    Saving the best for last

    Pep Guardiola has repeatedly denied City lost their nerve against Real Madrid, when they remarkably surrendered what should have been a match-winning lead in the Champions League semi-finals.

    Such wild things happen in football, Guardiola has reasoned, which is why he will take a meticulous approach to preparation for the Etihad Stadium clash with Villa. There could yet be an extraordinary finish to the season, but not if Guardiola can help it.

    City have kept running through the tape in each of Guardiola's seasons in England, winning all five of their final league games under the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss. That ranks as the best such 100 per cent record for a manager in the competition's history.

    Going back even further, to the start of the Abu Dhabi ownership era, City have lost just one of their final league games in the last 13 campaigns (W10 D2). That loss came when they went down 3-2 at home to Norwich City in 2012-13 when Brian Kidd was in caretaker charge for the last game. A year previously, they famously beat QPR by that same scoreline to clinch a first Premier League title.

    This season, City have lost just one of their last 27 Premier League games (W22 D4), and are unbeaten in 11 since losing 3-2 at home to Spurs in February.

     

    What it would mean for Guardiola

    The City manager, who reports have claimed is ready to extend his contract until 2025, stands on the brink of Premier League history.

    Should his side keep Liverpool at arm's length, Guardiola will become the outright leader for English top-flight titles among non-British managers, going one clear of both Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho.

    This would be his fourth such Premier League title success in England, with only Manchester United's Alex Ferguson winning more. Guardiola has no intention of staying long enough to match Ferguson's staggering stack of 13 titles.

    City have won 168 of the 227 Premier League games they have contested in the Guardiola era, scoring 562 goals in that time. Those are inevitably league-best figures, and it would be hideously out of character for them to crack against Villa.

    A one-sided rivalry

    It was not always this way, of course. Villa finished ahead of City as recently as the 2008-09 season (finishing sixth to City's 10th), but the tables turned in the dynamic between the teams when the Abu Dhabi investment began at the Etihad Stadium.

    In recent years, this has been almost a formality victory for City, who have won nine of their last 10 Premier League games against Villa (D1), including the last six in a row.

    City's last defeat to Sunday's opponents was a 3-2 loss at Villa Park in September 2013.

    It is even more of a grim story when the focus falls solely on the games in Manchester. Villa have lost 15 of their last 16 away league games against City, losing each of the last 11 in a row since a 2-0 win in April 2007. This run of 11 is Villa's longest away losing streak against an opponent in their league history.

    What's more, Villa's record when facing any league-leading team is unimpressive. They have won just one of their 21 Premier League away games against league leaders (D3 L17), beating Leeds United 2-1 in January 2000, and have lost the last seven by an aggregate score of 21-1.

    Villa pulled off a shock of sorts when beating fourth-placed finishers Chelsea on the final day of last season, but they have not won their last game of a league campaign in consecutive seasons since the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons. The second of those wins came against champions Arsenal, but that is almost a quarter of a century ago.

     

    Doubling up on the last day?

    City will have Erling Haaland on board next season, so a flip of tactics seems inevitable to accommodate the prolific striker. This term, City have tended to rely on their midfield and attacking wide players to deliver in front of goal, and three players have reached double figures: Kevin De Bruyne (15 goals), Raheem Sterling (13) and Riyad Mahrez (11).

    Now it could be Phil Foden's turn.

    Foden has scored nine Premier League goals this season, and if he scores against Villa it would make this season the first for City with two English players (Foden and Sterling) scoring at least 10 goals in a league campaign since 2004-05, when Robbie Fowler and Shaun Wright-Phillips were the pair.

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