A look at what's happening around the majors Friday:
WILD, WILD EAST
Yankees ace Gerrit Cole starts the opener of a crucial three-game series at Fenway Park with the Red Sox two games ahead of New York for the top AL wild card. Boston has won seven straight to build a small cushion over the Yankees and Blue Jays.
With New York closing the season against AL East foes Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay, Cole said Wednesday he is drawing inspiration down the stretch from a story he had been told recently about ancient warriors honing their warfare skills against elite fighters from neighboring cities to stay sharp.
“If they weren’t practicing against the best that they could find, they may be surprised if a formidable army came out of somewhere and they hadn’t been practicing against elite opponents,” he said. “So maybe that’s similar to this situation, where we’ve been playing against a lot of elite opponents.
“Sure we’ve lost some of the battles, but we still have the war ahead of us,” he added.
Cole (15-8, 3.03) will face Red Sox RHP Nathan Eovaldi (10-8, 3.58) in a showdown of pitchers likely to receive AL Cy Young Award consideration.
The Cardinals take a 12-game winning streak into a doubleheader at Wrigley Field hoping to extend their best stretch in 39 years. St. Louis has solidified itself as the front-runner for the second NL wild card with this spurt, the longest in club history since a 12-game run in 1982. The franchise record is 14, set in 1935.
St. Louis left-hander J.A. Happ (4-2, 4.33) will face Cubs lefty Justin Steele (3-3, 4.20) in the opener, and Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty (9-2, 3.08) is slated to oppose righty Zach Davies (6-11, 5.49) in the nightcap.
BANNED BLUE JAY
Toronto reliever Ryan Borucki is appealing a three-game suspension levied by Major League Baseball for intentionally hitting Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier with a pitch in the latest salvo in a spat between the two AL East competitors.
MLB announced the punishment, which includes an undisclosed fine, on Thursday before the Blue Jays began a four-game series at Minnesota. Manager Charlie Montoyo was also suspended for one game and handed an undisclosed fine. He served his punishment immediately.
Borucki appealed the decision by MLB senior vice president Mike Hill, delaying the discipline until completion of the process before MLB special adviser John McHale Jr.
Borucki was ejected from the game after plunking Kiermaier in the back in the eighth inning on Wednesday. That came two days after Kiermaier scooped up a Toronto scouting report that had fallen off catcher Alejandro Kirk’s wristband during a play at the plate and refused to hand it back.
Major League Baseball is experimenting with pre-tacked baseballs at some Triple-A games during the last stretch of the minor league season. The test run could be a step toward updating the big league balls after the league cracked down midseason on the use of illegal sticky substances used by pitchers to improve grip.
Pitchers have complained that the current major league ball is slick and that the mud rubbed on it before games is inconsistent, sometimes becoming dry and powdery.
The prototypes used in Triple-A have a substance applied to them to create a bit of tackiness. The league hopes to find a ball that will be easier for pitchers to grip but won’t allow them to enhance the spin rate of their pitches.
Only a few Triple-A teams will use the prototype balls over the final 10 games because MLB has limited supplies.
Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber is set to pitch for Cleveland for the first time since June 13 after dealing with a strained right shoulder. Bieber was 7-4 with a 3.28 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 90 2/3 innings prior to the injury.
He'll face a White Sox team that clinched its first AL Central crown since 2008 on Thursday. Dylan Cease (12-7) is Chicago's probable starter.
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