Around the Major Leagues: 2013 Week 21

All the news from around the major leagues. The AL Player of the Week was Houston C Jason Castro.

AL East

Ivan Nova put in a huge performance for the Yankees on Saturday, finishing the first complete game of his career and momentarily putting the Yanks ahead of Baltimore in the Wild Card race. Nova struck out five batters and only allowed three hits, improving his record to 8-4. Nova's performance this year, especially over the last two months, has been massive for the injury-riddled Bronx Bombers. The Yanks and Orioles are in a fight to the death to gain ground on the current Wild Card leaders, Oakland and Tampa Bay. With the way all four teams have been playing - and Cleveland not too far behind - this could make for a tight finish down the stretch.

Boston starter Jake Peavy had a chance to take down his old team and succeeded on Saturday, paving the way for a 7-2 Red Sox victory over the White Sox. It marked the 11th consecutive game in which the Red Sox have held their opponents to three-or-fewer runs, matching the longest streak they have put together in the live-ball era. The 1988 Boston team allowed no more than three runs in 11 straight games in April. The team's last longer streak, one of 12 games, was achieved back in 1915. In two of the games during the streak in 1915, Boston youngster Babe Ruth was the starting pitcher.

AL Central

You would have thought Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder were the catalysts behind Detroit's 10-5 victory over the Indians on Saturday. As it turns out, it was an unlikely source who wound up being the hero. Second baseman Omar Infante crushed two home runs and knocked in five runs to lead the Tigers. Only one other major-league second baseman has had a two-homer, five-RBI game this season: the Mets' Daniel Murphy, who did that in a victory against Washington back in July. Infante also became the first Tigers second baseman to produce that type of performance in a game since Damion Easley had two such outings within a 10-day period back in May of 1998.

AL West

Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro was named AL Player of the Week for the period ending on August 25th. Castro, who has been a bright spot for the lowly Astros, had a monster stretch at the plate, going 9-for-17 (.529) with three homers and five RBI. He also scored seven runs. He's now hitting .279/.355/.493 with 18 home runs and 53 RBI.

Yu Darvish struck out 11 batters in the Rangers' 3-2 loss to the Twins on Friday, raising his strikeout total to 64 in the month of August, a team record and the highest total in the majors in one calendar month for any team since Randy Johnson recorded 70 strikeouts for the Diamondbacks in August 2002. Darvish is a strikeout machine, but he's been even more than that this season. For the third time this season, Darvish held the opposing team hitless through six innings. Over the previous 17 seasons, the only pitchers with three such starts in the same season were Justin Verlander in 2011 and Matt Harvey earlier this summer.

Taijuan Walker allowed one unearned run over five innings to win his major-league debut in Seattle's 7-1 victory at Houston. Only one other pitcher in Mariners history started and won his major-league debut without allowing an earned run: Pat Rice, who pitched five-and-two-thirds shutout innings to win his debut in 1991 against the Yankees ... but Rice never won another game in the majors. The Mariners are hoping that trend ended there.

NL East

Miami Marlins starter Jose Fernandez was named co-NL Player of the Week for the period ending on August 25th. The young righty won both of his starts during the period, posting an ERA of 0.69 and striking out 16 batters in 13 innings. Fernandez, one of Miami's top prospects, has been one of the best pitchers in the National League this season. However with no chance of the playoffs in sight, the Marlins are expected to shut him down after two more starts in order to preserve his arm.

Mets starter Zack Wheeler did not make his major-league debut until June 18 of this year, but that has not stopped him from being the major prospect they thought he would be. Wheeler has now won seven games. No other pitcher who made his major-league debut this season accumulated seven wins within 75 days of his debut. However Yu Darvish and Wei-Yin Chen did it last year. Only three other pitchers in Mets history have done it: Gary Gentry in 1969, Jason Isringhausen in 1995 and Octavio Dotel in 1999. Wheeler is 5-0 on the road since joining the Mets, becoming only the second rookie in the team's 52-year history to win five consecutive road decisions in one season, joining Jerry Koosman, who did it in 1968.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija was named co-NL Player of the Week for the period ending on August 25th. The former Notre Dame football and baseball star tossed 17 innings including one complete game and logged an ERA of 1.59. He only allowed opposing batters to hit just .213. ‘Shark' had a great start to the season but has lost a bit of his touch since mid-July. Regardless of his high ERA and occasional loss of control, Samardzija has shown flashes of brilliance and could be an ace for Chicago some time in the future.

The Pirates have been getting the job done this season thanks to stellar pitching and A.J. Burnett continued that trend on Saturday with a dominating performance over St. Louis. Burnett tossed seven innings and allowed just one run while striking out six. The victory put the Pirates a game ahead of St. Louis for the division lead... but only temporarily as the Cardinals won Sunday's game, 7-2. Burnett is on pace to have his first 200-strikeout season since 2008 with Toronto and the lowest ERA of his career.

The Cubs defeated the Phillies, 4-3, at Wrigley Field on Saturday, completing a miserable month for both teams. The Phillies batted .218 during August and according to Elias, it is their lowest batting average in any of the last 131 months in which they played 10-or-more games since they batted .214 in July 1991. The Cubs, meanwhile, hit .229 for the month, their second month below .230 this season, having batted .226 in June.

NL West

Mark Ellis' pinch-hit single in the eighth inning broke a 1-1 tie and led the Dodgers to a 2-1 victory over San Diego on Saturday. That made the Dodgers' tally 50 wins in 63 games since June 22. It is the lowest total of games that the Dodgers have ever required to accumulate 50 wins. Only two other teams in baseball in the post-World War II era have needed so few games to collect 50 wins: the 1954 Indians (winners of 50 of 62 decisions over one stretch) and the 2001 Mariners (who also won 50 of 63 games).

As for Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers coaching staff seems to have found a place for him to shine after getting caught up in a 15-for-65 (.231) slump. That place is at the top of the lineup. Puig went 4-for-5 as the Dodgers' leadoff hitter during Friday's win and has now batted .512 (21-for-41) in 11 games in which he has batted in the top spot in the Dodgers' batting order. Puig was in dire need of a spark after his awful slump, but it looks like he has found his sweet spot again.

John Lopiano can be reached at Follow John on Twitter: @johnlopiano.

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