NL leaders lose, Arrieta nearly perfect to set up wild final week
The Dodgers had a chance to wrap up the NL West over the weekend in Colorado. The Cardinals could have put a little more space between themselves and the Pirates in the NL Central on Sunday.
Instead, Los Angeles got swept in the Mile-High City and St. Louis was doubled-up by the lowly Brewers at home on Sunday.
And now, both division races will get a little more interesting on Monday when the first-place teams travel to play their pursuers in a pair of series, the Dodgers playing in San Francisco for a four-game set, the Cardinals traveling to Pittsburgh for three.
As for how we got here on Sunday, here's the day's recaps:
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Cubs 4, Pirates 0
CHICAGO -- The numbers are growing more ridiculous with each start, and the Chicago Cubs are running out of ways to describe the brilliance of Jake Arrieta.
The ace right-hander pitched seven dominant innings and homered in his major league-best 21st win, and Chicago stopped Pittsburgh's eight-game win streak with a 4-0 victory over the Pirates on Sunday night.
"No doubt in my mind he's the best right-handed pitcher in the game right now," catcher Miguel Montero said.
Arrieta (21-6) retired his first 18 batters before Gregory Polanco grounded a leadoff single into left field in the seventh. He struck out nine and walked none while improving to 15-1 with a dazzling 0.89 ERA in his last 19 starts.
"The finish on the pitches from the side is incredible," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, "meaning the carry into the catcher's glove, the carry on the fastball, the break on the cutter-slider -- whatever he wants to call it -- it's just the finish on the pitch and you can see the hitter's reaction, it's incredible to watch."
Pittsburgh (95-61) and Chicago (90-65) each have clinched a playoff spot and lead the NL wild-card standings, so the Pirates could see Arrieta again in the first game of the postseason on Oct. 7. But they likely would have Gerrit Cole for that one -- the All-Star pitched seven crisp innings in a 3-2 victory over the Cubs in the series opener on Friday.
Arrieta improved to 6-1 with a 1.68 ERA in nine career starts against the Pirates.
"I think I feel the same way against any team," he said. "I don't put a lot of emphasis on who it is."
Of course, Pittsburgh still has a chance to catch St. Louis for the NL Central title. The Pirates trail the Cardinals by three games heading into a three-game set against the division leaders beginning Monday night in Pittsburgh.
A.J. Burnett (9-6) pitched six effective innings in the season finale against the Cubs, but Arrieta shut down the Pirates right from the start. Pedro Alvarez's leadoff fly ball to left in the sixth was Pittsburgh's first ball to leave the infield.
Kris Bryant had an RBI single in the first for Chicago, and Arrieta made it 2-0 with a one-out drive to right-center in the second. Arrieta's second homer of the season led to a curtain call for the crowd of 40,617 at Wrigley Field.
"He can hit. I left one over and he hit it," Burnett said. "The ball came right over the plate, and he put a good swing on it."
The Pirates threatened after Polanco's single in the seventh. Arrieta hit Andrew McCutchen with one out, putting runners on first and second, but Ramirez bounced into an inning-ending double play.
Starlin Castro hit a two-run double in the bottom half, and Travis Wood finished the one-hitter for his third save in three chances. Castro, Bryant and Montero had two hits apiece for the Cubs.
Ramirez received a standing ovation when he was recognized by the Cubs during a pregame ceremony. Ramirez played for Chicago for nine years, batting .294 with 239 homers and 806 RBIs, and plans to retire after this season.
Castro, who played with Ramirez, presented the slugger with the No. 16 from the Wrigley Field scoreboard.
Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo has missed just one game this season, and Maddon is weighing the value of a day off.
The regular-season finale is next Sunday at Milwaukee, and then there are two off days before the wild-card game on Oct. 7.
"Before you get to that game, he's going to have plenty of rest," Maddon said. "So, again, I don't want to take him out of a rhythm of sorts."
Burnett struck out Jorge Soler in the first for the 2,500th strikeout of his career.
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Brewers 8, Cardinals 4
ST. LOUIS -- Jason Rogers feels right at home in the spoiler role.
The Milwaukee rookie hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the ninth inning off St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal to lift the Brewers to an 8-4 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday.
The Cardinals' NL Central lead was cut to 2 games over Pittsburgh. The Cardinals' magic number for clinching the crown remains at five.
St. Louis has lost two of three heading into a three-game showdown in Pittsburgh starting Monday.
"It's always good to beat guys at the end and maybe try and ruin their season," Rogers said. "It was special, a grand slam off a tough righty, one of the best in the game."
Khris Davis homered twice and drove in four runs for the Brewers, who scored seven runs in the ninth.
"This was a great come-from-behind win," Davis said. "We were all having fun out there. It was just a great feeling."
All four Milwaukee batters reached safely against Rosenthal (2-4), who had converted 47 of 49 save opportunities. His last blown save came July 12 at Pittsburgh.
"I can't explain how it happened," Rosenthal said. "Everything felt fine. I tried to get in a groove and couldn't quite get there. Just one of those days."
Rogers, who is 13 of 48 as a pinch hitter, ripped his second pinch-hit homer of the season and first grand slam of his career.
Davis added a three-run homer later in the ninth off Seth Maness for an 8-3 lead.
"In the ninth, we just tried to give it our best chance with good at-bats," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. "Everything fell into place. Got some good pinch-hit efforts."
David Goforth (1-0) picked up the win with one inning of relief.
Francisco Rodriguez recorded his 37th save in 39 chances. He retired Brandon Moss with two on to end the game.
Matt Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty hit back-to-back homers in the seventh to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead.
Hernan Perez then started the Milwaukee ninth with a single. Martin Maldonado was hit by a pitch and Jonathan Lucroy walked to load the bases for Rogers.
St. Louis starter John Lackey allowed one run on five hits over seven innings for his 26th quality start in 32 outings this season.
"It's one game, we can't get too crazy about it," Lackey said. "We've just got to play better on the road."
Carpenter slammed a one-out home run off Jeremy Jeffress to break a 1-all tie. Piscotty followed with his seventh homer of the season.
Despite the loss, the St. Louis players realize they are still in the driver's seat in the division race.
"Every loss has the same feeling, we're not going to dwell on it," Carpenter said. "We've got a chance to go out and win the division in the next few days. That's all we can ask for."
The Cardinals hit back-to-back homers for the third time this season.
Davis, who has a team-high 26 homers, gave the Brewers a 1-0 lead with a home run off Lackey in the second. Davis has three homers in 17 career at-bats against Lackey.
The Cardinals tied the game in the fourth on singles by Matt Adams and Kolten Wong and an RBI groundout by Tony Cruz.
The Cardinals recorded their 37th sellout of the season and finished with 3,520,889 in attendance, an average of 43,468 per game. It is the second-highest attendance in the majors behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Cardinals: INF Carpenter returned to the lineup after leaving Saturday's 5-1 win with tightness in his left hip. * * * * *
Rockies 12, Dodgers 5
DENVER -- The Los Angeles Dodgers came into Coors Field fully anticipating a clinch. They leave a little clenched.
Being swept by a last-place team will do that.
Nolan Arenado homered and drove in a career-high five runs as the Colorado Rockies beat Los Angeles 12-5 on Sunday, keeping the Dodgers from moving closer to a third straight NL West title.
The magic number for Los Angeles (87-68) remained at two after San Francisco (81-74) beat Oakland. The Dodgers open a four-game series against the defending World Series champion Giants on Monday at AT&T Park, where they are 0-6 this season.
"It's pretty embarrassing to come in here and get swept this late in the year," pitcher Alex Wood said. "If you look at the two teams today and don't know anything about baseball, I think you would've guessed the Rockies were about to head to the postseason and we weren't."
"We'll get a real big wakeup call here (in San Francisco)."
The Dodgers do have this going for them in that pivotal series by the Bay -- Zack Greinke is starting on Monday and Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday.
"Bet a lot of teams that would trade spots with us right now," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "I like where we're at. I don't like we've lost three straight games. But at this point, you can't do anything about it."
Arenado hit his 41st homer in the fourth. He also had a sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single, giving him a major league-leading 126 RBIs this season.
"It means a lot (to sweep LA)," said Arenado, whose team finished 36-45 at Coors Field to avoid tying their worst home record, 35-46 in 2012. "We didn't quit. We're not quitting. We never have."
Chris Rusin (6-9) surrendered four runs -- three earned -- in 5 1/3 innings as Colorado swept Los Angeles for the first time since 2007.
Wood (11-12) couldn't hold a 4-1 lead, allowing eight runs in 5 1/3 innings. He limited Colorado to one hit over eight scoreless innings two weeks ago.
Arenado gave the Rockies the lead for good when he lined a fastball from Wood into left-center bleachers.
But it was a slide that set up Arenado's theatrics. DJ LeMahieu hit what looked like an inning-ending double play, only to have a hard-charging Charlie Blackmon cause second baseman Howie Kendrick to throw high and allow LeMahieu to beat the throw.
"This a tough time of year, honestly," Mattingly said. "It's tough to win games. It's tough to beat people. It's just tough."
Now, it's off to San Francisco.
"They're a good ballclub," Wood said. "I know the last thing on anybody's minds in the San Francisco's clubhouse is losing to us and letting us clinch on their field."
Mattingly wouldn't rule out Yasiel Puig (hamstring) from playing in the postseason -- should the Dodgers qualify, of course -- but acknowledged it may be difficult since the outfielder hasn't played in a month.
"Right now, it's not part of the equation," Mattingly said. "When it becomes part of the equation, then we can think about it a lot more."
Dodgers: 1B Adrian Gonzalez (pinched nerve) feels better but was kept out of the lineup as a precaution. Mattingly is hopeful Gonzalez can play Monday. ... INF Corey Seager didn't start because of heavy legs. He entered as a pinch hitter in the seventh and struck out. ... OF Kike Hernandez (hamstring) is expected to join the team in San Francisco.
Rockies: SS Cristhian Adames left the game after the second when he bruised his neck and right index finger on a collision with Joc Pederson while covering third base. Rafael Ynoa took his place and had an RBI double.
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Giants 5, A's 4
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Following Chris Heston's first win in two months, the San Francisco Giants enter the final week of the regular season with a slight chance to reach the playoffs.
Heston gave up four runs and six hits over five-plus innings Sunday in a 5-4 win over the Oakland Athletics.
The defending World Series champion Giants (81-74) closed within six games of the NL-West Dodgers (87-68) with seven games left. The rivals open a four-game series Monday night in San Francisco, where Los Angeles is 0-6 this season.
"I wish we were in a little better position, but the standings are what they are," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We'll go in and try to win a game. Whatever happens, happens."
Heston (12-10), who pitched a no-hitter at the New York Mets on June 9, had been 0-5 with a 4.90 ERA in nine starts since beating Milwaukee on July 27. He retired his first 10 batters Sunday, then allowed Oakland to load the bases when Mark Canha doubled, Josh Reddick walked and Danny Valencia was hit by a pitch. Stephen Vogt then grounded into a 3-6-1 double play.
"It felt great. It's been a while," Heston said. "I feel like I am right where I want to be. I was in the zone better today and got some ground balls."
Santiago Casilla pitched the ninth for his 37th save in 42 chances and 10th in a row.
A day after hitting three home runs, rookie Jarrett Parker had a pair of singles and a walk for the Giants, who built a five-run lead. Trevor Brown drove in two runs.
Sean Nolin (1-2), in his fifth start with the A's, gave up five runs - three earned - and seven hits in a season-low 2 1-3 innings.
"We got behind big today. Our fans tried to pick us up and carry us through," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It would have been nice to win the series here, definitely, to end the season for them. Because they came out really enthusiastic for us. It's disappointing we couldn't get one more win out of it."
Brown, Angel Pagan and Kelby Tomlinson drove in runs to give the Giants a 3-0 lead in the second. Mac Williamson and Brown had RBIs in the third for a 5-0 advantage.
Billy Burns hit a two-run double in the fifth, and Max Muncy tripled in a run and scored on Vogt's single in the sixth.
George Kontos replaced Heston following Muncy's triple and allowed his 12th inherited runner of his last 27 to score. None of his first 26 came across the plate.
THE BIG THREE
The A's honored LHPs Mark Mulder and Barry Zito and RHP Tim Hudson in a pregame ceremony, when the trio threw out simultaneous ceremonial first pitches. The three went a combined 275-144 (.656) for the A's between 1999-2006. They were teammates 2000-04 and went to the postseason four times together. Each recorded a 20-win season for the A's. Hudson and Zito also pitched for the Giants, combining to go 80-101. Each won a World Series ring with the Giants.
Giants: RHP Tim Hudson will likely get one more start this season. His lack of location Saturday had nothing to do with previous injuries. ... The Giants are ending the season without 10 players from their opening-day roster, and that does not include OF Hunter Pence, who started the year on the DL, or C Andrew Susac, who had worked his way into the backup spot during the season.
Athletics: RHP Sonny Gray is unlikely make another start this season due to hip soreness. A's manager Bob Melvin said a decision will be made Monday. ... C Bryan Anderson is expected to make at least one start in the Angels series. ... INF Danny Valencia left following the fourth inning after getting hit on the left elbow by a Heston pitch.