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Bryant Powers Up

It’s been a frustrating year for Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, to say the least, but he’s showing signs of life at the right time.

Bryant appeared in his first game since Monday, as he had been nursing an oblique injury all week. His return to the field was one of his best offensive games of the season, going 2-for-4 with a home run, four RBI, and two runs scored in a losing effort against the White Sox.

The former NL MVP has only three home runs in a nightmarish two month season that’s included chronic wrist issues. Even after his big game, Bryant is hitting just .205-3-9 in 127 at-bats in what’s effectively been a lost season for the 28-year-old.

It’s too late to salvage Bryant’s season for fantasy managers who invested heavily, but Bryant could head into the playoff run with some momentum. Bryant, of course, has plus power when he’s on, hitting 39 home runs in 2016 and 31 home runs last season, but he’s now been plagued by injuries in two of the last three seasons.

Bryant’s issues this year go well beyond the fantasy numbers, with a strikeout rate that’s hovered around 30 percent and a plunging walk rate, hardly the top production he’d like heading into his walk year. Still, there’s no doubt the Cubs need a big October contribution from Bryant with a thin starting pitching staff that will need all the run support it can get, and another good game on Sunday could be just what Bryant needs to increase his confidence.

 

Houck Continue to Fool MLB Hitters

Without Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez this season, it was clear that the Red Sox pitching staff was in trouble entering the year. Nathan Eovaldi was able to rebound somewhat, but for the most part, Boston’s staff was as terrible as anticipated, with a 5.51 ERA, second worst in MLB.

They did find a bright spot late in the year with former first-round pick Tanner Houck. The right-hander befuddled MLB hitters for the third straight time on Saturday, allowing only one run on three hits with three walks and 10 strikeouts in six innings. The great start put him at a perfect 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA and 21/9 K/BB over 17 innings.

Since he was drafted 24th overall in 2017, Houck’s minor league performance has been good but not spectacular. He had a 4.01 ERA in 107.2 innings between Double- and Triple-A last season. His fastball has still just been average by today’s standards, at only 93 mph, but it’s Houck’s sharp slider that has been a true out-pitch. He’s thrown the pitch 33 percent of the time and consistently had his way with right-handed batters.

Houck has all but solidified a spot in Boston’s starting rotation entering next season with the great beginning to his career. Obviously, it’s unlikely he will be able to keep up his current pace next season, and there remain some legitimate questions about his control with a 4.1 BB/9 in the minors and continued control troubles in his three starts with Boston. He has some blemishes, but Houck is a clear bright spot in a 60-game season that the Red Sox would like to forget.

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Pence Announces Retirement

All good things must come to an end. Outfielder Hunter Pence announced his retirement on Saturday after a remarkable 14-year MLB career.

He was released by the Giants last month after struggling at the plate early in the season. That doesn’t put a damper on a great career, as Pence made four All-Star appearances and hit more than 20 home runs seven times.

Pence was known for his consistency early in his career, playing at least 154 games and hitting 20-plus home runs every season from 2008-2014. During that time, he averaged .280-24-89 with 88 runs and 13 steals, making him a staple on fantasy rosters.

It was Pence’s resurgence last season that was almost as impressive as anything he accomplished in his career. After several years of injuries and after hitting just a .590 OPS for the Giants in 2018, Pence rebuilt his swing in the Dominican Winter League at age 35. The result was a great 2019 season with the Rangers, hitting .297-18-59 with a .910 OPS in 316 plate appearances.

Pence was unable to continue that performance in his swan song with San Francisco, the organization where he earned two World Series rings, but it doesn’t do much to dampen a great career.

AL Quick Hits: Yankees top prospect Clarke Schmidt will get his first MLB start for the Yankees today… Jake Odorizzi (blister) should return for Minnesota in the postseason… Byron Buxton didn’t play on Saturday due to mild concussion symptoms… Josh Donaldson (calf) was also out for the Twins… Matt Shoemaker was scratched from his start on Saturday… White Sox reliever Jimmy Cordero was suspended three games for hitting Willson Contreras on Friday, but he did appeal… Jordan Zimmermann will take the mound for Detroit today… Tommy La Stella exited early for Oakland on Saturday after getting hit in the head by a throw… Dylan Bundy was scratched from yesterday’s start with a cut on his finger, wrapping up an impressive rebound season with 3.29 ERA and 72/17 K/BB in 65.2 innings… Angels teammate Griffin Canning was also scratched on Sunday, though it’s not health-related. Canning had arm issues during spring training but managed to throw 56.1 innings this season… Detroit youngster Tarik Skubal will pitch after an opener today… Cesar Hernandez left his start for the Royals with an apparent injury… Willi Castro left Saturday’s game with right shoulder soreness and is unlikely to play on Sunday… Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said Alex Verdugo (hamstring) is unlikely to play today… Luis Rengifo was placed on the 10-day IL by the Angels with a hamstring injury… Chase De Jong will get the start for Houston in the season finale… Blake Snell will get the ball for Game 1 of the Rays Wild Cards series.

DJ LeMahieu has all but sealed his second straight Batting Title after going 4-for-5 with three RBI on Saturday, increasing his batting average to .359… Luke Voit has also likely won the AL home run title after hitting his 22nd long ball… Kyle Seager had a great day, hitting a home run in both of Seattle’s doubleheader games… Justus Sheffield finished his year on a strong note, allowing one run on five hits in five innings vs. Oakland. He finishes with a strong 3.58 ERA… Robbie Grossman hit a pair of home runs in the second game for the A’s… Adalberto Mondesi went 2-for-3 with his fifth home run of the season. His batting average is up to .247 after entering September at .186… Kyle Gibson finished a disappointing season on a high note, throwing six scoreless innings vs. Houston, He allowed six hits, one walk, and fanned four batters… John Means had a great final start of the year, allowing one run in six innings with nine strikeouts against the Jays. He finished with 42/7 K/BB in 43.2 innings but a 4.53 ERA after digging out of his poor first start of the year…  Yoan Moncada showed some life for the White Sox, going 2-for-4 with his sixth home run and three RBI… Luis Arraez returned from the injured list to go 4-for-4 with three RBI and two runs scored. He’s quietly now hitting .315… Working as the Angels opener, Julio Teheran allowed three runs in one inning, pushing his ERA above 10.00.

NL Quick Hits: MASN reports Howie Kendrick will consider whether to retire this offseason… Jeff Samardzija was designated for assignment and placed on unconditional release waivers by the Giants… Andres Gimenez was placed on the 10-day IL with an oblique injury, ending his season. The 21-year-old exceeded expectations in his rookie year, hitting .265-3-12 with 22 runs and eight stolen bases in 48 games… The Giants placed Sam Coonrod on the 10-day IL with a strained shoulder… Wil Myers remains day-to-day for the Padres with a quad injury… Trevor Bauer will start Game 1 of the Reds Wild Card series on Wednesday… Mookie Betts was removed Saturday after being hit by a pitch in the hip… Dinelson Lamet left his start on Friday with a biceps issue, but the team is still hopeful he can start Game 1 of their Wild Card series on Wednesday.

Andrew Stevenson hit a pair of home runs in the first game of the Nats doubleheader… Trea Turner launched his 11th home run in the second game of the doubleheader… Pete Alonso hit his 14th home run of the season… Brandon Woodruff was brilliant at St. Louis, throwing eight scoreless innings and only allowing two hits and one walk. He had 10 strikeouts and finishes the year with a 3.05 ERA… Andrew McCutchen had another nice day, going 4-for-5 with his 10th home run and three runs scored… Joe Musgrove was finally able to get his first win at the end of a disappointing season, throwing seven scoreless innings at Cleveland. He allowed just three hits, one walk, and struck out 10… Shogo Akiyama went 2-for-3 with his seventh stolen base of the year. He hasn’t met expectations but has improved this month, and has a “unique” .248/.361/.301 triple slash… Luke Weaver incredibly took his ninth loss, allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits in five innings. He finishes the season with a 6.58 ERA, though Weaver’s 55/18 K/BB in 52 innings still shows some intrigue for 2021… German Marquez finishes with a 3.75 ERA, allowing three unearned runs in seven innings at Arizona. He fanned seven batters… Edwin Rios hit his eighth home run in only his 75th at-bat of the season… Will Smith hit his second home run in as many games. The Dodgers catcher has been terrific offensively this season, with an elite .300/.414/.600 triple slash… Zach Davies threw three scoreless innings for the Padres in a playoff tune-up. Garrett Richards also threw two scoreless innings in the game… Fernando Tatis Jr. cooled off considerably in September, but was able to hit his 17th home run on Saturday.

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