In a race as close as the one for the second spot in the American League Wild Card presented by Budweiser, little things can make a big difference. And thanks to Statcast™, even those little things have become, in a way, measurable.
Take the Angels' Johnny Giavotella, who aggressively put himself in scoring position at a key juncture of Sunday's game against the Mariners. That play helped lift the Angels to a win on a day when their closest competitors, the Astros and Twins, also took care of business.
Here is a Statcast-driven look at seven standout plays from a full Sunday of baseball, including Giavotella's key double and big hits from both Minnesota and Houston, as well as a trio of fine catches in the outfield.
Giavotella hustles for second
The Angels needed a win Sunday to remain within a half-game of the Astros in the Wild Card race. In a 2-2 game in the bottom of the eighth, Giavotella led off with what looked like a routine line-drive single to center field off Hisashi Iwakuma, but Giavotella didn't take anything for granted. Instead, he went for second, testing center fielder Brad Miller. Giavotella reached a maximum speed of 20.3 mph -- among his five fastest this season -- and went from first to second in 3.7 seconds. He then executed a perfect headfirst slide to the inside of the bag to avoid Robinson Cano's tag.
Giavotella's hustle eventually created the go-ahead run, when pinch-runner Taylor Featherston scored on Kole Calhoun's RBI single. The Angels won, 3-2.
Pair of rookie Twins shine
It was a good day for the Twins, who got impressive hits from two of their promising rookies in a 7-1 victory over the Tigers that kept them 1 1/2 games behind the Astros in the AL Wild Card race. In the eighth inning, Byron Buxton jumped on a 96.2-mph fastball from Jose Valdez and ripped it at 106.3 mph, his second-hardest exit velocity of the season. Buxton's drive easily cleared the left-field fence at Comerica Park for his first career home run, traveling a projected 406 feet.
An inning later, Miguel Sano added his first career triple, smoking a line drive at 108.9 mph into the right-center gap. The ball rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Sano to cruise into third standing up, reaching a maximum speed of 19.0 mph over the 12.7-second trip.
Shuck shows off range
Although the White Sox suffered a 6-1 loss to the Yankees, right fielder J.B. Shuck helped keep the game close in the bottom of the first inning. New York already held a 1-0 lead and had two runners on base with two outs when Dustin Ackley ripped a potential two-run, extra-base hit deep to right-center field. But Shuck had other ideas, making a beeline for the ball with a nearly perfect route efficiency of 99.1 percent. He traveled 99 feet on the play, reaching out and making a basket catch on the warning track in front of the Yankees' bullpen. Both Shuck's route efficiency and distance covered were personal bests.
Cain tracks down another
A great play in center field from the Royals' Lorenzo Cain is nothing new, and he came up with another to help his pitching staff shut out the Indians, 3-0, at Kauffman Stadium. With the bases empty and one out in the eighth, Cleveland's Chris Johnson launched a 383-foot drive to right-center against Kelvin Herrera. Cain took his first step in 0.33 seconds, covering 76 feet with a route efficiency of 97.4 percent as he raced back to the warning track. He made the catch over his right shoulder, then had just enough time to brace himself against the wall.
The Phillies beat the Nationals 12-5 on Sunday, but the score still was tied at 4 in the eighth inning when Washington's Clint Robinson ripped a fly ball deep into the left-center-field gap with two outs and nobody aboard. Center fielder Aaron Altherr took his first step in 0.53 seconds and reached 19.5 mph as he chased it over a distance of 69 feet. The rookie then left his feet for a full-extension dive, catching the ball with a backhanded grab and holding on as he tumbled hard on the warning track. Statcast™ measured his route efficiency on the play at 95.8 percent.
Carter goes yard
The Astros' Chris Carter struck a big blow in his team's 4-2 win over the Rangers at Minute Maid Park, extending the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning. The right-handed slugger turned on a 95.1-mph fastball from Ross Ohlendorf on the inside corner and pounded it off the wall above the left-field Crawford Boxes for his 22nd homer of the season. The shot came off Carter's bat at 101.4 mph and achieved a projected distance of 399 feet.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.