* Don’t look now, but the Toronto Blue Jays are turning the American League East into a potential all-out war to the wire. An eleven-game winning streak approaching the All-Star break does that for you. And don’t discount the morale boost when that streak includes thumping the Texas Rangers 24-4 over four games, the Colorado Rockies 15-5 in three, and the Baltimore Orioles, a division rival, 24-13, in three, including that 13-5 fricaseeing Sunday. And to think Sunday’s carnage only began when Edwin Encarnacion scored with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the first after Freddy Garcia plunked Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia on the first pitch. Encarnacion got his payback an inning later, driving one over the left field fence with Jose Bautista aboard—and two out.
* While you’re looking eastward, note that the New York Mess (er, Mets) have won six of nine, including three out of five (which itself includes a doubleheader sweep paced by child prodigies Zack Wheeler—how good will that Carlos Beltran trade look in the long run, I wonder?—and Matt Harvey) from the Atlanta Braves and two out of three from the Philadelphia Phillies at the Bank, finishing the job with an 8-0 shutout in which the Phillies couldn’t get David Wright out with a court order and Harvey got bigtime help from relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Brandon Lyon to finish the shutout. How badly were the Phillies manhandled by Wright? Wright became only the third Met to batter them for four extra-base hits in a game and the first to do it against the Phillies since Miguel Cabrera (then a Florida Marlin) in 2005. Nothing the Phillies threw at Wright worked. Fastballs? One flyout but two subsequent doubles, including the RBI double that put the Mets up 4-0 in the fifth. Changeup? One-out triple in the seventh, after which Marlon Byrd doubled him home. Slider? Two-out, two-strike bomb in the ninth. Games and strings like those are why some optimists think the Mets may yet have hope of salvaging the season respectably, even as deeper thinkers understand Harvey and Wheeler are powerful enough indications that the Mets other than Wright need to get younger sooner.
* After the Mets finished off the Phillies, the speculation became even more rampant that Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel’s days may be numbered, and not just by way of his contract expiring at season’s end . . . and that his successor may be found no further than the third base coaching lines, where Ryne Sandberg works these days after an impressive first year managing the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (AAA). That, of course, came after the Chicago Cubs—for whose farm system Sandberg toiled long and successfully as a manager—bypassed him in favour of first Mike Quade and then Dale Sveum, a bypass that still drops jaws in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune‘s analysis today all but says the Phillies’ job will be Sandberg’s to turn down if Manuel is gone, especially considering three of Manuel’s coaches were putsched when Sandberg was promoted up from Lehigh Valley. The Trib even suggested Manuel could “do the right thing,” avoid forcing GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. to execute him, and “say he has had a great run and it’s time to move into a different role. That’s when Sandberg steps in and we find out if (former Cubs GM Jim) Hendry and (incumbent president Theo) Epstein were right not to make the easy decision.”
* Bad enough: the Washington Nationals looking like anything but the team for whom everyone was printing World Series tickets before spring training let out. Slightly worse: Michael Cuddyer fattening his season-longest hitting streak to 21 at their expense, flattening Ross Detwiler’s 3-1 service over the right center field fence Sunday, opening himself up for a four-RBI day as the Rockies won 7-6. Cuddyer’s final two steaks gave the Rockies a 7-0 lead, but the Nats hung up two the hard way in the bottom of the fourth (ground-out RBI, sacrifice fly) before prying four out of reliever Mark Belisle thanks to a two-run infield throwing error and a two-run double by Roger Beradina spelling Jayson Werth (groin strain). The streak broke Cuddyer’s tie with St. Louis’s David Freese for the longest hitting streak of the season and put him two shy of the Rockies’ franchise record, held by Dante Bichette—now their hitting coach. The injury and inconsistency riddled Nats finished the day a game under .500
* When Sunday’s books were closed those were the Pittsburgh Pirates you saw finishing off the Los Angeles Angels in a weekend sweep with a tight 10-9 win in which the Pirates out-lasted the Angels after their closers matched runs surrendered but Pittsburgh closer Jason Grilli came out on the winning end—by just managing to strike out Mike Trout with second and third in the bottom of the tenth. In the top of the inning, Trout was playing center field (shifting from left after Peter Bourjos went down with a thumb injury on a takeout slide early in the game) when Pedro Alvarez—who’d homered earlier, his fourth straight game with a bomb—lined one over Trout’s head to open, followed by a pair of one-out walks (one on the house) and Travis Snider bouncing one over substitute left fielder J.B. (Aw) Shuck’s head and all the way to the fence to send all three home. The game left the Pirates eight games over .500 and the Angels eight games under.