Home Featured Extra Innings: Historic offensive outbursts, MLB’s postseason plan taking shape, NL Cy Young race going down to the wire

Extra Innings: Historic offensive outbursts, MLB’s postseason plan taking shape, NL Cy Young race going down to the wire

by Chris Brown

Just over two weeks remain in the 2020 MLB season and 12 National League teams still have at least a realistic chance of playing into October. On the AL side, poor play from the Astros and Yankees has opened the door just enough for three rebuilding clubs — the Orioles, Tigers and Mariners — to potentially make things interesting. 

The final few weeks of the regular season will feature plenty of key storylines to follow. Here’s 110 Sports’ look at this week’s top MLB storylines and a preview at what’s ahead in this week’s edition of Extra Innings:

The Braves and Brewers made history this week with huge offensive outbursts.

I usually focus more on bigger trends and storylines than individual games, but the offensive outbursts from the Braves and Brewers on Wednesday were just so incredible that I feel like they deserve some recognition. Milwaukee entered their Sept. 9 game against the Tigers ranking 28th in the majors in runs scored this season — they’ve been a really bad offensive team. So naturally the Brewers proceeded to tally a franchise record 13 extra-base hits in the contest, defeating Detroit 19-0 for their second-largest shutout win in franchise history. Milwaukee moved to 19-22 with the win and entered Sept. 10 action two games back of St. Louis for the second spot in the NL Central and 1.5 games back of an NL Wild Card spot.

On nearly every other day, a 19-run performance would have been the big story. But then the Braves, led by Adam Duvall, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman, went off for a modern franchise record 29 runs, topping the Marlins by two touchdowns, two extra point conversions and two field goals — 20 runs. Acuña became the first NL player with three hits, three walks and three RBI in a game since Todd Helton in 2003. Freeman notched his 1,500th career hit with a third-inning homer. And Duvall capped off his second three-homer game in an eight-day stretch with a seventh-inning grand slam. The 32-year-old became the first player in Braves history with multiple three-homer games and the first Atlanta player with 9 RBI in a game since 1966. 

With NL Cy Young candidate Max Fried on the IL and Mike Soroka out for the season, there’s good reason for concern about the Braves’ rotation. But as Wednesday’s performance illustrated, there’s no disputing the talent in the team’s offense, which now ranks first in MLB in OPS, second in runs scored and third in home runs this season. 

A few other wild stats that illustrate just how rare what took place between these two games is: Wednesday marked the first time in the modern era (and second time ever) that two MLB teams won by 19+ runs on the same day. And per MLB.com’s Sarah Langs, the 48 runs scored between the Braves and Brewers were the most combined runs in a day by two teams in different games since 1891. How about that?

MLB’s plan for the postseason is taking shape.

We’ve known for a while now that Major League Baseball has been exploring possibilities for some sort of bubble/hub structure for the postseason, and now a more concrete plan appears to be taking shape. The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that the league is close to finalizing a postseason plan that would have all Wild Card series hosted by the higher-seeded team and all other postseason series held at two different bubbles, one for the AL and one for the NL. 

As an example, let’s assume the Dodgers end up as the No. 1 seed in the National League field (which appears almost certain to happen). The team would host the No. 8 seed in the best-of-three first round at Dodger Stadium, with the winner then advancing the divisional series held in the NL bubble in Texas, where games would be played at the Rangers’ Globe Life Field and Astros’ Minute Maid Park. The American League bubble would be in Southern California, at Dodgers Stadium and the Padres’ Petco Park. That system would be in place through the league championship series, and the World Series would take place entirely at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. 

The motivations for such changes have always made sense: MLB wants to complete the postseason without any health or safety issues, and any type of bubble system would figure to reduce the odds of an outbreak like the Cardinals and Marlins experienced earlier this season. As for why the Padres and Dodgers would be traveling to Texas for divisional series games while the Astros would be traveling to Southern California, the goal there is to remove any potential home-field advantages for any teams within the bubbles.

It’s important to note that nothing is official at this time, but recent reporting and the fact that Wild Card series are slated to begin in two and a half weeks suggests confirmation of a plan should be coming soon.

The 2020 season is highlighting an important pitching trend that’s changing baseball.

Most MLB teams are a little over 40 games into their regular season schedule, which is the equivalent of roughly one quarter of a normal, 162-game regular season slate. Despite this, 2020 has already featured the sixth-most pitchers used in a season in MLB history. The total entering Sept. 10, 696, is more than that of each season from 2010-14. 

First off, it is important to note that expanded rosters and increased injuries this season likely played a significant role in producing that high number. But we’re also talking about roughly seven weeks of baseball compared to six months in all the normal seasons we’re comparing this to. In reality, this is part of a much bigger trend: the top three seasons in terms of most pitchers used across the majors also happen to be the most recent three years. 

This trend isn’t particularly surprising given what baseball fans have observed themselves. Starters simply aren’t going as deep into games as they once did with regularity. But as there are all these concerns today about the pace of the game, and various efforts to speed it up, this is one area that must be examined. All the pitching changes involved are undoubtedly playing a big role in slowing down the game.

I don’t have any great answers here. A more stringent pitch clock, a limit on the number of active pitchers, a change to the strike zone or ball or mound. Perhaps one or more of those measures could make an impact. One thing is for sure, though: The way the game is being played is changing drastically, and this season is only a small part of that.

It looks like the NL Cy Young race will go down to the wire.

With a 7-0 record, 1.25 ERA and 94/14 K/BB ratio in 57 ⅔ innings, the Indians’ Shane Bieber is running away in the American League Cy Young race. The NL race, though, features a number of pitchers seemingly neck-and-neck. Right now, three players seem to have a slight edge over other contenders: the Cubs’ Yu Darvish, the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and the Reds’ Trevor Bauer. 

Darvish is third in the National League in ERA (1.77) but is tied for the league lead with seven wins and leads the NL with 72 strikeouts. deGrom, the two-time reigning NL Cy Young winner, leads the league with a 1.69 ERA and would become just the third pitcher in MLB history to win three Cy Young awards (joining Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux). Bauer, meanwhile, outdueled Darvish on Sept. 9 to lower his season ERA to 1.74. Entering play Sept. 10, he leads the NL in WHIP (0.79) and is second in ERA, strikeouts (71) and batting average against (.155)

Those three are by no means the only contenders for the award, though. Braves lefty Max Fried is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA but recently landed on the IL due to a muscle spasm in his lumbar spine. Zac Gallen has been incredibly steady for the Diamondbacks, posting a 2.29 ERA, while Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes (1.99 ERA) and San Diego’s Dinelson Lamet (2.24 ERA) have also really impressed. Then there’s Clayton Kershaw, who’s logged a sensational 1.98 ERA in 41 innings for the Dodgers. 

My pick if the season ended now would be deGrom, though the sheer number of outstanding NL pitchers this year means the final few weeks of the regular season could be key in deciding who wins the award.

One final, unrelated note before we preview upcoming matchups: just days after the passing of legendary Met Tom Seaver, the baseball world is also mourning the deaths of Hall of Famer Lou Brock and former American League president Gene Budig. Learn more about their careers and legacies here and here.

What’s on Deck?

With increasing clarity regarding which teams are in the playoff hunt comes the ability to focus on series that are more likely to matter. Among this weekend’s notable matchups: the Phillies and Marlins began a stretch of seven games against each other in five days on Thursday, and the Yankees, trying to get back on track after a disastrous stretch, began a four-game series against the Orioles on Sept. 10 as well. The Giants are playing in San Diego and the Reds in St. Louis this weekend in other series with potential postseason ramifications.

Photos by “slgckgc” / Flickr (deGrom) and Ian D’Andrea / Flickr (Acuna)

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