Nationals first to clinch, but more will follow soon
The Washington Nationals became the first major league team to clinch a postseason spot when they wrapped up the NL East on Sunday.
They’ll have plenty of company in the playoff picture soon enough.
The Nationals lead their division by 20 games, but three other teams have also turned their races into routs. The Cleveland Indians, winners of 18 straight , lead the AL Central by 13 games, and the Houston Astros are ahead by the same margin in the AL West.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a nine-game lead in the NL West, and that’s only after a 10-game losing streak quashed any chance they had of setting a major league record for victories.
Anticlimactic races are nothing new in the six-division era – in 1995, the Indians won the AL Central by a staggering 30 games – but it is somewhat unusual for so many first-place teams to have leads this comfortable. The last time four of the six divisions were decided by double digits was back in 2002, when the Braves, Twins, Cardinals and Yankees won by 19, 13 1/2, 13 and 10 1/2 games. This season could end up looking similar.
The gold standard for lopsided division races may have come in 1998. That year, five of the six divisions were decided by at least nine games, with the Yankees winning by 22 and the Braves by 18.
Cleveland and Houston enter this coming week with magic numbers of seven to clinch their divisions. The number is 11 for the Dodgers, barely down from 14 at the beginning of the month.
Some more developments from around baseball:
CUTTING IT CLOSE
The one really close division race right now is in the NL Central, where the Chicago Cubs are two games ahead of both Milwaukee and St. Louis. With a talented, young nucleus returning from last year’s World Series victory, the Cubs figured to be in charge of that division for a while, but it’s been a struggle all season. Chicago has been good but not great, and even if the Cubs do make the postseason, they could finish with a worse record than both National League wild cards.
The Brewers have typified the all-or-nothing approach that seems prevalent throughout baseball these days. They have struck out more times than any team in the majors, but they’re also second in the NL in homers. The quartet of Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton has combined for 101 homers – only one fewer than Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez.
St. Louis dropped nine of its first 12 games back in April and was seven games out of first place on the morning of Sept. 3. The Cardinals have won seven of eight since then.
Fans in Washington and Toronto saw both ends of the defensive spectrum Friday night. Michael Taylor of the Nationals ended up with an inside-the-park grand slam when Philadelphia’s Odubel Herrera misjudged his line drive to center field. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, were victimized by a gem of a play when Detroit’s Jeimer Candelario backhanded a grounder and started a 5-4-3 triple play .
LINE OF THE WEEK
J.D. Martinez of Arizona contributed to the Dodgers’ slump by hitting four home runs Monday night. His last three homers came in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
An honorable mention goes to Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, who hit for the cycle Saturday night.
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