Up until this point, it has been a season to remember for the San Francisco Giants, who are playoff-bound for the first time since 2016.

A franchise-record 107 wins and the best record in baseball saw the Giants fend off reigning World Series champions and rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League (NL) West title.

It was San Francisco's first division crown since 2012 as they ended the Dodgers' streak of eight straight NL West trophies.

San Francisco's World Series charge is being spearheaded by their golden oldies – Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey – after a tough couple of years, with Gabe Kapler overseeing dramatic improvement with a stacked roster of experienced veterans.

 

From afterthoughts to contenders

As the Giants prepare for the NL Division Series (NLDS) against the aforementioned Dodgers, it is safe to say they entered the 2021 season as afterthoughts in their own division, despite missing the playoffs by just one win in last year's coronavirus-shortened campaign.

All eyes were on the star-studded Dodgers and a surging San Diego Padres franchise hot off signing Fernando Tatis Jr. to the third-richest contract in MLB history – a 14-year, $340 million deal – after both bolstered their already impressive squads. The Dodgers brought in reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and eventually future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols plus ace Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. The Padres acquired frontline starters Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in blockbuster trades.

Without a postseason berth since losing to the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 NLDS, the Giants needed an historic campaign to dethrone the Dodgers in the NL West and hold off an exciting Padres squad.

Despite boasting the oldest roster in the majors with an average age of 30 years and 313 days, they achieved just that and became the first NL team to win more than 106 games since the 1986 New York Mets.

 

 

Rejuvenated veterans thriving under Kapler

Eyebrows were raised when the Giants and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hired Kapler to succeed beloved San Francisco figure and future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy in 2019. Kapler's two-year stint with the Philadelphia Phillies left a lot to be desired. But his shortcomings have long been forgotten as the Giants and their roster reap the rewards of Zaidi's decision.

"They're a teaching staff," reliever Tony Watson said of Kapler's coaching staff, which included MLB's first full-time female assistant Alyssa Nakken. "You could see the improvement of guys throughout the roster, one through 26. It wasn't just the young guys that were coming up and still developing, you saw Buster, [Crawford], [Longoria] and Belt changing their swings and changing the way they go about their days. That's a tribute to all 14-15 staff members and being able to relay information and ideas."

Belt (33), Crawford (34) and Posey (34) were all part of San Francisco's World Series-winning team in 2014, and, despite their advancing years, have all improved under Kapler's management.

Belt enjoyed the best 162-game campaign of his career thanks to his .597 SLG, .975 OPS and 29 homers (surpassing the 18 he hit in 2015 and 2018). It was the same for Crawford (.522/.895 and a career-best 24 home runs).

Belt, Crawford and Darin Ruf (.519/.904) have all enjoyed career years in both SLG and OPS. When factoring at least 100 plate appearances and a team playing in 155 or more games, the 2021 Giants are the first franchise since the Cardinals in 2004 to have three-plus players with career years in both SLG and OPS.

Posey – who is looking to become the first NL player since Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres to win four World Series rings with the same team – boasted his best SLG (.499) and OPS (.889) since the Giants were crowned world champions in 2012. His 18 homers were his most since his 19-homer campaign six years ago.

Fellow veteran Evan Longoria also enjoyed a return to form, with the 35-year-old’s SLG (.482) and OPS (.833) numbers his best since his penultimate season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016.

It is a similar theme with San Francisco's pitchers – starters Kevin Gausman (2.81), Anthony DeSclafani (3.17) and Logan Webb (3.03) finishing the regular season with career-high ERAs.

Gausman (227) heads into the postseason with a career-best 227 strikeouts, while DeSclafani (152) only managed more strikeouts in 2019 when he struck out 167 batters during his time with the Cincinnati Reds. Gausman finished the year behind only Corbin Burnes in Stats Perform's Strike+ metric, which measures which pitchers rack up both whiffs and called strikes.

 

Depth shines in the Bay Area

The Giants achieved a first in their 137-year existence, hitting 241 home runs in a season for the first time. They achieved the feat without a single 30-homer hitter on their roster – the highest number of homers without a player reaching at least 30 home runs in MLB history.

It was a collective effort. Case in point: The Giants had 17 players with at least five homers this season – an MLB record. Belt (29), Mike Yastrzemski (25), Crawford (24), Wilmer Flores (18), Posey (18), LaMonte Wade Jr. (18), Ruf (16), Alex Dickerson (13), Longoria (13) and Austin Slater (12) all reached double digits.

Rather than rely on stars like Posey, Belt and Crawford, the Giants – who hit 103 game-winning RBIs, the second highest in the majors since 1974, ended the season with six players aged 30 or older among the team's top four in home runs – the highest figure since 2014, ahead of the 2018 Giants (five).

"It's just been such a collective effort. Contributions up and down," Posey said. "We set the [franchise] record for homers [in a season] and pinch-hit homers. Those are some examples. You've got most the home runs ever for the team and nobody has 30."

 

Of San Francisco's home runs, 18 came in pinch-hit situations – a single-season MLB record, eclipsing the 2016 Cardinals.

This season's Giants are unlikely to produce an MVP or Cy Young Award winner, but their championship run is fuelled by a selfless approach.

San Francisco's quartet of Gausman, Logan Webb, Alex Wood and DeSclafani further solidified the team-first mentality – helping the Giants rank second in the majors with a 3.24 ERA in 2021. Run suppression was aided by the Giants suppressing the longball, as the team finished with an average of 0.93 homers allowed per game this season, the best in the majors.

While their NLDS opponents may have more star power, the Giants counter with one of the deepest and most talented squads in franchise history. Their opening playoff series should be an instant classic, and the Giants have proved they'll be a tough out for any team they face.

World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers placed Albert Pujols on the COVID-19-related injured list while activating Cody Bellinger, it was announced on Tuesday.

Pujols – a future Hall of Famer who will celebrate his 42nd birthday in January – had a reaction from his second COVID-19 vaccination shot.

The Dodgers have not placed a timeframe on Pujols' return but the two-time World Series champion and three-time National League (NL) MVP was ruled out of Tuesday's game against the San Diego Padres.

"He didn't feel good as far as playing in a major league game," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Just to give him a day and see where he's at tomorrow."

The Dodgers, though, activated 2019 NL MVP Bellinger from the IL after a left rib fracture sustained in an outfield collision with team-mate Gavin Lux on September 14.

Pujols is batting .255 with 12 home runs and 38 RBI in 82 games since arriving from MLB rivals the Los Angeles Angels in May while Bellinger – who also battled a shoulder injury earlier this season – is hitting .159 with nine homers and 34 RBI in 89 appearances.

The Dodgers (100-56) were second behind the San Francisco Giants (102-54) in the NL West division prior to Tuesday's games.

The Giants were dealt a blow with in-form Brandon Belt placed on their 10-day IL due to a left thumb fracture after being struck by a fastball against the Colorado Rockies on Sunday.

"It's not optimal, but I think we're going to be fine because our players are prepared for it," Giants manager Gabe Kapler said.

The Giants are yet to put a timeframe on Belt's injury but had said on Monday he will "continue to meet with doctors over the next couple of days to develop a recovery plan and timetable for his return."

Belt is batting .274 with a career-high 29 home runs, 59 RBI and 89 hits. The 33-year-old – a two-time World Series winner – leads the Giants for homers this season.

The San Francisco Giants were off Monday but suffered a key loss, announcing X-rays had revealed a fracture in star first baseman Brandon Belt's left thumb.

Belt took a 93 mph fastball off his hand in the seventh inning of Sunday's game against the Colorado Rockies and immediately went to the ground in pain. 

The team did not provide a timetable for his potential return, saying he would meet with doctors over the next few days. 

Belt has been among the hottest hitters in the game in recent weeks, hitting .349 with a 1.172 OPS in September while hitting nine home runs. 

He leads the Giants with 29 homers despite missing nearly two months' worth of games in separate stints earlier this season due to a knee injury. 

The Giants have MLB's best record at 102-54 but remain locked in a struggle with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers (100-56) for the National League West title entering the final week of the regular season. 

If the Giants can maintain their edge, they will avoid having to play in the one-and-done wild card game to open the postseason. 

Losing Belt will make that a bit more difficult, and an extended absence would be a critical blow to a team that has found a way to win all season. 

Luis Severino made a successful return from long-term injury on the hill as the New York Yankees stayed in the American League (AL) Wild Card hunt with a 7-1 win over the Texas Rangers on Tuesday.

Giancarlo Stanton creamed a solo home run, with a recorded 118 mph exit velocity, to get the Yankees on their way to victory.

Joey Galllo homered for the 38th time this season, while Aaron Judge's three-run home run in the seventh inning put the Yankees up 7-1.

But with the game practically done and dusted, Severino's return was one of the game's big highlights.

The 27-year-old was making his first appearance since October 15, 2019 due to injuries, and produced two scoreless innings and two strikeouts.

The win keeps the Yankees (85-67) just behind the Toronto Blue Jays (85-66), who overcame the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2.

 

Rare air for 10-straight Cardinals

The St Louis Cardinals recorded their 10th straight win to further enhance their Wild Card hopes with a 2-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The 10-game winning streak is the Cards' first since 2001, while they became the second team in the Wild Card era to move into a playoff spot with such a September run.

The Brewers almost snatched the win, down 2-1 in the ninth inning with bases loaded after Christian Yelich was walked, but Giovanny Gallegos struck out Pablo Reyes with a vicious breaking ball to close it out.

Xander Bogaerts had a game to remember, delivering his 23rd home run for the season and driving in four runs as the Boston Red Sox won 6-3 over the New York Mets to solidify their grip on an AL Wild Card spot.

LaMonte Wade Jr drove in Brandon Belt in the ninth inning as the San Francisco Giants got past the San Diego Padres 6-5 despite two homers from Manny Machado to hold sole possession of first place.

Albert Pujols drove in Gavin Lux for the game-winning run in the 10th inning as the Los Angeles Dodgers survived a scare to beat the Colorado Rockies 5-4.

Bryce Harper put on the jets to get home from J.T. Realmuto's right-field flyball to seal a crucial walk-off win for the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 over the Baltimore Orioles.

 

Reds miss golden opportunity

Nicholas Castellanos, Joey Votto and Kyle Farmer all fluffed a golden chance to press the Cincinnati Reds' National League (NL) Wild Card case, getting out on consecutive at-bats trailing 3-2 with bases loaded in the sixth inning. The Reds eventually went down 6-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, leaving Cincinnati 78-74, trailing the Cards by four games in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot.

 

Ohtani homes in on more records

Shohei Ohtani homered for the first time since September 10 as the Los Angeles Angels went down 10-5 to the Houston Astros. Ohtani's solo shot was his 45th home run for the season, pulling him within one of the equal league lead alongside Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Salvador Perez. Ohtani is also now tied with Mike Trout in second for most homers in a single season in Angels franchise history.

 

Tuesday's results 

Detroit Tigers 5-3 Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians 4-1 Kansas City Royals
Pittsburgh Pirates 6-2 Cincinnati Reds
Washington Nationals 7-1 Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 Baltimore Orioles
New York Yankees 7-1 Texas Rangers
Boston Red Sox 6-3 New York Mets
Toronto Blue Jays 4-2 Tampa Bay Rays
Minnesota Twins 9-5 Chicago Cubs
St Louis Cardinals 2-1 Milwaukee Brewers
Los Angeles Dodgers 5-4 Colorado Rockies
Houston Astros 10-5 Los Angeles Angels
Seattle Mariners 5-2 Oakland Athletics
Atlanta Braves 6-1 Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants 6-5 San Diego Padres

 

Blue Jays at Rays

The Blue Jays' (85-66) battle for the second AL Wild Card spot is getting tight, and they will look to round out their series with the Rays with another victory, with the Yankees (85-67) breathing down their necks.

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