• Although there hasn't been a no-hitter since Tim Lincecum's on June 25, this week kept us on watch. Since Monday we've seen more than a dozen no-hit bids get into the fifth inning-- including Saturday's game between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers where both pitchers did it. Four of those bids persisted into the seventh inning, and two into the eighth.
One of the two was Tuesday's gem by Madison Bumgarner, who retired 21 straight Colorado Rockies before Justin Morneau doubled to start the eighth. That would be Colorado's only baserunner as Bumgarner fanned 13 and walked zero. It was the third game in Rockies history where their only hit was a double; the last was against Tom Glavine and the Mets on May 23, 2004 (the double was by Kit Pellow).
Lincecum issued one walk in his no-hitter, and Ryan Vogelsong faced just 28 batters in a complete game August 1.
• That makes the Giants just the second team in the live-ball era to have three 28-batter, nine-inning complete games in the same season; Joel Piñeiro and Chris Carpenter teamed up for the Cardinals in 2009.
• Speaking of one double, the New York Yankees were held to that in Saturday's loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. The last time the Yankees were one- (or no-) hit at all was on September 4, 2009, also by the Jays, and a double (by Ramiro Peña) was also the one hit. The last such game where they struck out 12 times was on June 11, 2003, when they were on the wrong end of the Astros' six-pitcher no-hitter.
All's fair in love and the American League East, however. The Boston Red Sox also got one-hit on Saturday by the Tampa Bay Rays, the blemish being Will Middlebrooks' fourth-inning single. It's the third time Boston's been one-hit this season, their most since 1992.
Middlebrooks entered the game after Dustin Pedroia was involved in a collision. Nine days earlier, Middlebrooks had the lone hit in another one-hitter, against the Angels, and also off the bench.
That makes the Red Sox the first team in at least 100 years to have a bench player provide their only hit twice. (Brandon Inge had Pittsburgh's only hit twice last season, but he started one of the games.)
Saturday was just the second time the AL East rivals had both been one-hit on the same day. The other was May 25, 1989, when Chuck Finley of the Angels shut out Boston, and Todd Burns and two A's relievers blanked the Yankees (whose lone hit was by Rickey Henderson).
• Jorge Soler had one big hit this week also. On Wednesday the Chicago Cubs' highly-touted 21-year-old sent the fourth pitch he saw in the majors over the wall in Cincinnati and became the first Cubs batter since Starlin Castro (2010) to homer in his first plate appearance. He's the fifth Cuban-born player to homer in his first game in the bigs. The others are Rays minor-leaguer Eddy Rodriguez (who played two games with the Padres in 2012), Kendrys Morales (2006), A's legend Bert Campaneris (1964), and Phillies outfielder Tony Gonzalez (1960).
Two games later, Soler hit two more homers, one of only two players this season to have a multi-homer outing within his first three MLB games. The other is his teammate, 22-year-old Javier Baez (August 7). Baez also had one homer in his debut; together they made the Cubs the first team ever to have two players, each 22 or younger, homer in their major-league debuts in the same season.
• From one-hit wonders to the team that's never had a no-hitter, we couldn't end without mentioning the San Diego Padres.
Rene Rivera on Wednesday, Yasmani Grandal on Friday, and Alexi Amarista on Saturday all hit extra-inning singles around an off-day on Thursday. It was the Padres' first streak of three walk-off wins since doing four straight from April 13-16, 1986, and the first time they've ever had three straight in extra innings. Their weekend opponent, the Dodgers, hadn't lost consecutive extra-inning games via walk-off since August 2003. Of the Padres' 10 walk-offs this year, seven have been in extras, one shy of their team record set in 2006.
Special to ESPNChicago.com
"Our goal down the stretch is to break as many hearts as possible," pitcher Carlos Villanueva said Sunday. "We play a lot of teams that are in contention, and that's what we are going to learn from -- winning those games."
The Cubs didn’t win Sunday despite staking starter Travis Wood to a 5-0 lead in the second inning. The St. Louis Cardinals chipped away, eventually tying the game 6-6 before scoring three runs off Villanueva in the eighth for the 9-6 win.
While the big blow of the inning was a two-run single by Matt Holliday, the play Villanueva lamented was a bunt by Daniel Descalso back toward the mound that he misplayed into a single, which opened the way for the Cardinals' winning rally.
Other plays not made also caught the attention of manager Rick Renteria, including a fly ball dropped by Arismendy Alcantara after a long run in the fifth, which was ruled a double for Matt Carpenter, and a bouncer by Yadier Molina that got through the middle of the infield in the seventh.
"Defense is really, really important," Renteria said. "We had a couple of plays today in the game which, quite frankly, probably could have been made and weren't, extending innings a little bit."
Villanueva said those are the things the Cubs will need to do better in September if they want to win games when they have a chance, like Sunday. Despite losing the final two games of the series to the Cardinals, they still finished August with their first winning record for a month since August 2011.
"If I make the play on the bunt, the inning's over," Villanueva said. "A couple of things here and there could have us winning this series. I know what needs to be addressed has already been addressed. We take nothing from it other than loss. We're not happy about it."
Renteria hopes the team’s young players look back at games like Sunday, and the small margin between winning and losing, and learn from that experience.
"That’s the beauty of the Central Division," Renteria said. "You’ve got some clubs that are battling. I will still [put] my club against their club any day, and we'll keep battling."
Special to ESPNChicago.com
ST. LOUIS -- Matt Holliday's bases-loaded single off Carlos Villanueva with two outs in the eighth inning sent the St. Louis Cardinals to the win over the Chicago Cubs Sunday at Busch Stadium.
How it happened: After staking Travis Wood to a 5-0 lead in the second inning, the Cubs allowed the Cardinals to come back and tie the game 6-6 before St. Louis scored three times off Villanueva in the eighth for the win. The Cardinals, who scored nine runs off the Cubs bullpen in the eighth inning on Saturday night, saw Holliday -- whose solo homer in the fourth begin the comeback -- collect nine RBIs in the past two games.
What it means: Despite the two losses on Saturday night and Sunday, the Cubs still finished August with a 16-14 record for the month, the first time they had a .500-or-better record for a calendar month since August 2011, during which they went 16-13. The Cubs have won only 17 games in August once in the past 20 years, going 20-8 in 2008.
The Cubs got home runs from Luis Valbuena and Arismendy Alcantara in the loss, giving them nine home runs in the four-game series and bringing the team’s total for the month of August to 39, second in the NL, after the Washington Nationals hit three more in a loss Sunday at Seattle. Washington finished the month with 40 team home runs.
Wood’s inability to hold the 5-0 lead, getting knocked out in the fifth, left him with just one win in his past 14 starts dating back to June 21.
What’s next: The Cubs return to Wrigley Field on Monday to host the Milwaukee Brewers in a three-game series. Right fielder Jorge Soler, who did not play on Sunday, will make his home debut for the Cubs. On Saturday, he became the first player since the RBI became an official statistic in 1920 to get an extra-base hit and an RBI in each of his first four games in the majors. Jacob Turner will make his first home start for the Cubs, while Jimmy Nelson will pitch for the Brewers. The Cubs are hoping first baseman Anthony Rizzo will be able to play after missing the past five games with a tight back. Before the game, the Cubs will honor the Jackie Robinson West team which reached the finals of the Little League World Series. The team will sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.
Holliday had three hits and four RBIs for the Cardinals, who began the day one game behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong left in the top of the eighth after falling backward when he tried to catch a popup in short right field. He appeared to hurt his head and shoulder, and was replaced by Pete Kozma.
Kozma, in his third stint with St. Louis this season, led off the bottom half with a double. It was his second hit in four at-bats this year. After failing to get down two bunt attempts, Daniel Descalso got the third one down and beat Carlos Villanueva's throw to first for a single.
The victory snapped a four-game losing streak for St. Louis, which won for just the third time in its past nine games. It's the most runs this season for the Cardinals and the first time in seven games they scored at least three runs. Their previous high was 10, which they did twice.
Chicago is 2/3 in its past five, but has won nine of 14.
Marco Gonzales (1-2) gave up one run on three hits over a season-high six innings. His previous long outing was in his debut on June 25 when he pitched five innings against Colorado but didn't figure in the decision in a 9-6 win for St. Louis.
Tsuyoshi Wada (4-2) gave up four runs in six innings.
ST. LOUIS -- Starlin Castro hit one of Chicago's three solo homers and Felix Doubront pitched seven strong innings in his National League debut, sending the Cubs to a 5-1 victory over the slumping St. Louis Cardinals in the opener of a day-night doubleheader Saturday.
St. Louis has lost four in a row for the second time this season. The Cardinals began the day one game ahead of Atlanta and 1 1/2 up on Pittsburgh for the second NL wild card.
The Cubs have won nine of 13.
Last week Atlanta Braves starter Mike Minor tossed 7 2/3 innings before the Reds put a hit on the board. Friday, it was Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Edinson Volquez who kept Cincinnati hitless for the first six frames. Volquez, a former 17-game winner with the Reds, was picked up off the scrap heap by Pittsburgh this winter and has been a pleasant surprise. Although his peripheral statistics don't necessarily support his 3.45 ERA, he is unlikely to turn into a pumpkin down the stretch after nearly 160 innings of work this season.
Volquez tied a season high with 114 pitches Friday. He was charged with one earned run on three hits and three walks. He struck out six. He pounded the ground with 10 ground-ball outs. Although he has done a lot of work close to the earth, it is his work in the air that has been the big key in 2014. Last year, opposing batters had a .310 average on fly balls against Volquez. This season, that mark sits at .172. Advanced metrics place the Pirates' outfield in a negative light, but someone is converting those fly balls into outs on a consistent basis.
Despite the lack of knocks, the Reds were able to keep both games close, losing in the 12th inning last Friday and briefly taking a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning Friday before conceding the lead and the game soon after. The wins were important to Atlanta and Pittsburgh as both are still chasing the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League wild-card race. In fact, the Pirates' three-game winning streak has them sneaking back into contention in the NL Central as well.
For those interested, the Reds host the New York Mets next Friday at the Great American Ballpark.
2. DeGrom continues strong season
The Mets are in the midst of another lost season, but once again a trio of young arms gives the organization and its fans some hope. They lack the cool nickname of "Generation K," but Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom may be the foundation of a rotation that gets New York's other baseball team back to the postseason. DeGrom, the only active member of the trio, was on the bump Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Without the hype of Harvey or Syndergaard, deGrom has snuck up on most people this season. The lanky right-hander tossed seven strong innings against the Phillies, allowing just one unearned run. Of his 18 starts, deGrom has gone at least six innings in 14 of them. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 13 of those contests.
The rookie boasts a full arsenal of pitches, but Friday night's game plan centered around a mid-90s fastball that he commanded well. It accounted for nearly 75 percent of his pitches thrown Friday, as deGrom honed in on the lower half of the zone to his arm side. The heater was the weapon of choice on 16 of the 22 outs he recorded.
It's been said before, but "maybe next year" for the Mets.
3. Orioles continue to pound away
After taking three of four from the Tampa Bay Rays, the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles were back at it Friday night, blowing out the Minnesota Twins 9-1. Baltimore's pitching staff has been largely mediocre this season, but its offense packs a powerful enough punch to push the O's past the opposition on most nights. The club's .163 ISO -- isolated power measures the ability to hit for extra bases by stripping singles from slugging percentage -- is tops in the AL, trailing only the Colorado Rockies in the majors.
Chris Davis is having a disappointing season after his breakout 2013 campaign, but he hit another home run -- this one a grand slam -- on Friday that gives him seven in August and 24 on the season. While that is a far cry from last year's pace, Davis appears to be getting a bit more into the swing of things even if his average sits below .200.
In Davis' void, Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce have picked up the offensive slack. Cruz signed a one-year deal with Baltimore after a difficult time finding work on the open market. His 34 home runs lead the majors. Pearce was once a top prospect in the Pirates' system, but has spent most of his career shuttling between the majors and minors. This season, he has broken out in a big way with an OPS approaching .900 and 16 homers in limited action. He left Friday's game with an abdominal strain. Considering Manny Machado's injury, the team can ill afford to lose Pearce, as crazy as that may sound.
4. Verlander better versus White Sox
The Detroit Tigers have one of the game's top pitchers (Max Scherzer) and traded for another one (David Price) on July 31. Meanwhile, the team's former top hurler was on the mound Friday night, looking to close the gap in the highly contested AL Central race.
Justin Verlander has been off his game for most of this season. His ERA is approaching 5.00 and he has allowed more hits than innings pitched for the first time since 2006. Friday's effort was not vintage Verlander; however, it was still encouraging since he is no longer considered the team's top gun.
Facing the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, Verlander worked seven innings, allowing one run on nine hits and two walks. He struck out seven batters, throwing 77 strikes in 116 pitches. It was the first time since April 17 that he allowed one run or none in a start.
Despite a recent run of inconsistency, the Tigers are within arm's reach of the division lead. With Anibal Sanchez's future in doubt, Verlander once again becomes a key figure in Detroit's rotation. If he can be just part of what he once was, it may go a long way in the club's quest for a fourth straight division title.
5. Young Cubs on the prowl
The Houston Astros have been painted by some as the poster boys of "process." Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs have also been in rebuild mode and, unlike Houston, which may have some sour grapes among its bunch, their organizational tree is starting to bear fruit at the highest level.
Javier Baez was first to capture the nation's attention this summer with his risk-versus-reward approach at the plate. His big swings have left nearly an equal amount of oohs and ughs depending on whether he made contact or not. This week, the club promoted Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler to the big leagues. That decision is already paying dividends.
Though he is just three games into his major league career, the 22-year-old Soler has seven hits in his first 12 plate appearances. On Friday, he recorded his first multi-home run game, belting a pair of homers against the St. Louis Cardinals. Soler's first homer was a solo shot in the seventh inning that tied the game at 2-2. Baez put the Cubs ahead 4-2 with an RBI double the next inning, but the big blast came once again from Soler, who smacked a two-run homer to left field. Two innings, two at-bats and two home runs that covered 858 feet. Not bad for the third night on the job.
As exciting as the win was for the Cubs, it was equally devastating for a Cardinals team that is clinging to an NL wild-card spot by the slimmest of margins.
Tommy Rancel blogs about the Tampa Bay Rays at the SweetSpot network affiliate The Process Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @TRancel.
ST. LOUIS -- Jorge Soler hit two homers and fellow rookie Javier Baez had a tiebreaking, two-run double in the eighth inning off All-Star reliever Pat Neshek as the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-2 on Friday night.
The Cardinals lost in the return of star catcher Yadier Molina. He had been out since July 9 because of a torn ligament in his right thumb, and went 0 for 3 and was hit by a pitch.
The crowd at Busch Stadium gave Molina a standing ovation when he walked in from the bullpen after pregame warmups, and another cheer before he batted in the first inning.
Neshek (6-1) led NL relievers with an 0.81 ERA entering the game. It was 2-all when he came in to begin the eighth, and he gave up hits to the first three batters.
Neil Ramirez (2-1) allowed two hits in a scoreless seventh.
The crowd at Busch Stadium gave Molina a standing ovation when he walked in from the bullpen after pregame warm-ups and another cheer before he batted in the first inning.
"He's probably one of the toughest guys I've ever seen in the big leagues," general manager John Mozeliak said before the game. "He looks great."
Molina, 32, tore a ligament in his right thumb sliding into third base July 9 and underwent surgery two days later. He missed seven weeks, beating the original prognosis of eight to 12 weeks and perhaps the rest of the season.
"I feel good, 100 percent good," Molina said before the game. "Every part of my body feels great, and I'm ready to go."
Bringing him back so quickly is a bit of a gamble, but Molina passed every test.
"We are doing it with a little bit of caution or holding our breath to some degree," Mozeliak said. "But he feels like he can protect himself to allow himself to contribute. He really wants to be out there."
Outfielder Shane Robinson, who was placed on the DL on Tuesday, underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder Thursday. Manager Mike Matheny said it will be a month before Robinson can begin rehab.
The team will be honored before the game as they walk the warning track greeting fans and will meet the Cubs players during batting practice before throwing out the first pitch. Then they'll take in the game and sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.
Jackie Robinson West won the U.S. championship at the Little League World Series last Saturday before losing to South Korea in the World Championship on Sunday. The city of Chicago held a parade and rally for them on Wednesday.
Friday: Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.78) vs. Shelby Miller (8-9, 4.26), 7:15 p.m.
Saturday: Felix Doubront (0-0, 0.00) vs. Justin Masterson (2-2, 7.43), 1:15 p.m.; Tsuyoshi Wada (4-1, 2.56) vs. TBD, 7:15 p.m.
Sunday: Travis Wood (8-11, 4.72) vs. John Lackey (2-1, 4.50), 1:15 p.m.
Storylines: Doubront makes his Cubs debut on Saturday after struggling with the Boston Red Sox and in the minors for the Cubs before being called up for this game. The Cubs hope to get his career back on track with a new team. Hendricks has been nothing short of fantastic as he's already beaten playoff-caliber teams including the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles. Will the Cardinals be next?
Rizzo's health: Anthony Rizzo missed the past two games after tweaking his lower back on Tuesday night. When he's ready to play again fans will get to see him, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro and Arismendy Alcanatara all in the lineup together for the first time. That should be five of the starting eight position players entering the 2015 season.
Who's Hot/Who's Not: Soler has exploded on the scene with four hits in eight at-bats, including a home run on his first swing in the big leagues. After missing five games due to a family tragedy, Starlin Castro is 5-for-12 and remains one shy of his career high in home runs (14). Javier Baez was 1-for-13 in Cincinnati over the past three days. His average has dipped to .189 after striking out two more times on Thursday.
General manager Jed Hoyer intimated in a radio interview Friday the Cubs could simply go to a six-man rotation. Or they could just piggyback starters in the same game. The point will be to see names such as Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Dan Straily and probably Dallas Beeler as the front office begins to make plans for 2015.
Turner, 23, had his first chance to start a game for the Cubs on Wednesday with mixed results. He went 3 ⅔ innings, giving up seven hits and six runs, but only three were earned. He also walked two batters and came out after a predetermined pitch limit (66). His fastball had some life and a slightly higher-than-normal average velocity, but it wasn't the sharpest of outings.
"He wanted to stay in there," manager Rick Renteria said after the game. "He made some pitches that we had trouble making plays on. He wanted to stay in there and try to get out of it, but he had reached his ceiling."
Turner added: "I would've liked to have gotten a little deeper in the game. That part is frustrating. I've got to get my pitch count up. I just didn't make a few pitches when I needed to. It's exciting to be starting for sure, but I would've liked to have performed a little better."
Turner should get another chance, as should Beeler and Straily, who have already started for the Cubs this season. Doubront will start in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader against the Cardinals, but he struggled in the minors after being acquired from the Red Sox, giving up nine runs in 14 innings for Double-A and Triple-A.
It's unclear what the plan is for veteran Edwin Jackson, who has struggled all season with a 6-14 record and a 6.09 ERA, when he comes off the disabled list. He's eligible to be activated later next week.
Missing from the list of September call-ups could be the Cubs' best two players in the minors this season. Third baseman Kris Bryant isn't expected to be promoted, and unless the Cubs decide to add reliever Armando Rivero to the 40-man roster, he won't be seeing Wrigley Field, either.
Bryant's exploits (43 home runs) are well-documented, but Rivero has taken big steps in his development, as well. After posting a 1.56 ERA and 10 saves for Double-A Tennessee this season, he's thrown well for Triple-A, going 3-0 with a 3.07 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.
Neither Bryant nor Rivero are on the 40-man roster, and the Cubs are on record saying they may need/want those roster spots this winter for new additions. Neither can be taken in the Rule 5 draft in December because of their short time in the minors, so they don't need to be added to the 40-man roster until necessary.
Of course, the Cubs have opened 40-man roster spots this season by designating players for assignment such as Darwin Barney and Ryan Kalish, and they could do so again with, say, Josh Vitters or several others. But the Cubs will probably make those moves this winter.
Some may have thought pitcher Arodys Vizcaino would have been back in the big leagues by now, but he hasn't quite dominated at Triple-A. After Vizcaino had a glove-popping spring training with his velocity hitting 100 mph, the Cubs took it slowly with him because of past arm problems. He had decent numbers at Class A and Double-A this season, but his Triple-A WHIP of 1.96 tells his story there, as does his 5.71 ERA. And he recently said he wasn't throwing as hard, but it wasn't clear if that was by design or some other issue. He's on the 40-man roster, so there's no harm in bringing him up.
In the meantime, Junior Lake and Mike Olt are expected back in September, along with the pitchers, though Olt is recovering from a hamstring injury. It's hard to see any other position players making it up unless the Cubs add a catcher to the 40-man roster. They already have enough young players to look at around the diamond in Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.
In any case, the head start on 2015 has already begun and should enter another gear as the calendar turns to the final month of the regular season.
The Reds stole six times in the first four innings, using six hits and four walks to build a 6-0 lead against Jake Arrieta (7-5).
Cincinnati stole three in a three-run second inning and two in a three-run fourth.
Dylan Axelrod (1-0) pitched five scoreless innings of two-hit ball and struck out eight.
Cubs rookie Jorge Soler doubled and singled in his second major league game and drove in a run. He homered and singled in his debut on Tuesday.
Here's a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 7-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday:
How it happened: Jake Arrieta labored through four innings as he gave up three runs in the second and three more in the fourth. Four walks hurt him as did six stolen bases by the Reds. Zach Cozart, Billy Hamilton and Todd Frazier had RBIs in the second inning and then Frazier and Brandon Phillips brought home the three in the fourth. Arrieta gave up six runs on six hits while striking out eight. The Reds added another run on a Hamilton RBI in the sixth as the speedy leadoff man was on base four times. The Cubs made Reds starter Dylan Axelrod work by getting his pitch count up but couldn't get any runners to cross the plate against him. He gave up two hits and three walks in five innings of work. The Cubs tallied twice in the ninth when Jorge Soler drove one in with a base hit and Arismendy Alcantara with a sacrifice fly.
What it means: Arrieta looked a little like his old self in walking the leadoff man in the first two innings. He wasn't sharp and it came back to haunt him, especially in the form of the Reds running game. He and catcher John Baker were burned by the most stolen bases by the Reds in a single game since 2006. It's the second time this season Cincinnati has stolen five or more bases against the Cubs.
Soler's day: Jorge Soler added a second-inning double to his early career resume then an RBI single in the ninth inning to break up the Reds shutout. In between Soler struck out twice but he's 4 for 8 with a home run and 3 RBIs in two games as a Cub.
What's next: The Cubs road trip moves on to St. Louis for a four-game series over the next three days. Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.78) takes on Shelby Miller (8-9, 4.26) at 7:15 p.m. CT Friday.