The third weekend of August is now freshly behind us, which means stretch-drive action in Major League Baseball. Now let's get caught up on this weekend's action.
Highlight of the weekend: Arenado's latest miracle
The Cardinals' Nolan Arenado remains one of the top defenders at any position, and in Saturday's blowout win over the Diamondbacks he reminded us of his standing. In the sixth inning, Arizona's Alek Thomas hit a high chopper up the middle, and Arenado charging in from third bare-handed it and pulled this off:
Thomas has excellent speed, so the margin for error was approaching nil. Also, let's note that without Paul Goldschmidt's deft scoop we wouldn't be talking about this play.
As for Arenado, the nine-time Gold Glove winner is now 31 years of age, but the eye test and the best advanced metrics suggest he's still best in class when it comes to fielding at the hot corner. This play on Saturday night served as an acute reminder of that fact.
The New York Yankees avoided what would've been a crushing four-game sweep at the hands of the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays with a 4-2 win at home on Sunday. The Yankees held a 2-1 lead until the seventh, thanks largely to the strong pitching of starter Nestor Cortes, but the Jays were able to push across the tying run versus the bullpen. In the home half, however, deadline acquisition Andrew Benintendi went upper-tank for a two-run, go-ahead homer:
That well-timed blast was not only Benintendi's first home run as a Yankee, but it was also his first in 50 games (!). Fellow deadline addition Lou Trivino pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings to end the game and pick up the win for New York.
Maybe looking back, Saturday will mark the low point for a team that was once on pace to set the all-time record for wins in a season. Following yet another listless offensive performance by the Yankees – in a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays – manager Aaron Boone voiced his mounting frustrations:
That loss dropped the Yankees to an MLB-worst 4-14 in August, and at the time it meant they were 9-20 since the break after going 64-28 in the first half. That outcome also meant that the Yankees had lost six consecutive series for the first time since 1995. More to the point, what had been a 15 ½-game lead in the American League East on July 8 had been whittled down to a seven-game lead.
As for the Yanks' struggles on offense, there's this Saturday nugget:
Over their last 11 games, the New York Yankees have scored 21 runs while batting .178.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) August 20, 2022
Prior to that, the last time the Yankees had so few runs while having such a low batting average for an 11-game span was in May 1914.
The win on Sunday improves all those indicators, but the Yankees are still seeking a sustained run in which they look like the team that barged to such an impressive start earlier in the season. Perhaps unfortunately for the Yankees, the crosstown Mets are up next on the schedule, and they'll have Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom lined up to start.
Pujols continues assault on 700
Coming into 2022, veteran cloutsman Albert Pujols seemed to have little chance of making it to 700 career home runs before his planned retirement after this season. He was 42, caught in a general pattern of deep decline, and facing an uncertain and likely very limited role in St. Louis. He was also 21 home runs shy of the mark that just three players have reached – a somewhat lofty total considering all of the preceding.
As we work our way toward September, however, Pujols has forced the issue in remarkable fashion. His latest bit of odds and age defiance came on Saturday against the Diamondbacks, when he hit his 12th and 13 home runs of the season and the 691st and 692nd of his career. Here's No. 692:
Pujols is going to be in the lineup any time a lefty starts for the opposition, and he's going to be Oli Marmol's pinch-hitter of first resort when he's not in the lineup and a lefty reliever enters the game. He'll also occasionally get looks against right-handed pitching. In other words, he'll get some opportunities. As well, this isn't idle compiling by Pujols – he's been a highly productive hitter so far in 2022, and his strong batted-ball metrics suggest he can continue being just that. There's a real chance he gets there.
And if he doesn't? Don't bet on his coming back in 2023 for a run at the benchmark of note. "I'm still going to retire, no matter whether I end up hitting 693, 696, 700, whatever," Pujols told Bob Nightengale on Saturday. "I don't get caught up in numbers. If you were going to tell me 22 years ago that I would be this close, I would have told you that you're freakin' crazy. My career has been amazing."
Eight to go. With right-hander Merrill Kelly on the mound for Arizona in the series finale, Pujols was not in Marmol's starting lineup on Sunday.
Mets continue dominance of Phillies with comeback win
Sunday's Mets-Phillies game was one of the craziest we'll see all season. The Phillies had a 4-0 lead after the first inning and led 7-4 after the fourth. There was a rain delay. In the seventh, Mark Canha hit a three-run shot to tie the game at 7. Jean Segura put the Phillies up with a solo shot in the eighth. In the top of the ninth, Canha homered again, this time a two-run shot to give the Mets a 9-8 lead.
Brandon Nimmo would follow with an insurance home run, and they'd need it as the Phillies got a run in the ninth. The Mets would hold on by the skin of their teeth, 10-9.
This means the Mets took three of four in the series and added to their lead in the NL East, when paired with the Braves' loss. It's now a four-game Mets lead.
The Mets and Phillies are done playing each other for the regular season, and that seems to be good news for the Phillies. The Mets took 14 of 19 in the season series, outscoring the Phillies 100-63.
Dustin May sparkles in 2022 debut
The Jazz Chisholm-less Marlins are one of the worst offenses in baseball, but May's results are still highly impressive considering it was his first big-league start in 476 days. While command is often the last thing to return to a pitcher coming off Tommy John, the 24-year-old May showed very little rust, especially after the opening frame. May wound up striking out half of the 18 batters he faced and retired 13 in a row to end his evening. He also touched 99 mph with both his four-seamer and sinker and no doubt could've worked deeper had he not run up against the 75-pitch limit imposed for his first start back.
While the Dodgers are far and away the best team in baseball right now, the rotation needs what May can give it. The club recently learned that ace Walker Buehler will miss the rest of the season, and franchise legend Clayton Kershaw is still working his way back from a back injury.