Only two more weekends left in the regular season, and to use one of my favorite clichés, these guys have EVERYTHING to play for! Let's get to it.
10. How the Nationals Will Destroy the NL Central (MIA-WAS)
At exactly the moment in the season when it was pretty much too late, the Nationals started winning like fiends. Going back to September 3, they've put together a 13-3 streak and salvaged a very remote chance of snatching the final wild-card spot. It's still a huge long shot; with nine games remaining, they find themselves five back of the Reds. We're at the point where one Reds-win-Nats-lose night will basically sink them. On the other hand, the Reds have six games remaining against the Pirates, and as long as Pittsburgh has a shot at the NL Central title, thus avoiding the wild card, they won't be laying down for anyone. The Nationals don't have it much easier, finishing with the Pirates and Diamondbacks, but they do have three games against the Marlins this weekend. In theory, it's not insane to imagine that they could be two back with six to play on Monday. And that's a very different outlook.
So, this is how the Nationals could destroy the NL Central. First, they finish in a tie with the Reds for the final playoff spot. That would result in a one-game playoff. If the Nationals won that, they would then play the wild-card game against whoever loses the Pirates-Cardinals battle for the NL Central for argument's sake, let's say the Pirates. If they won that game, and St. Louis maintained a lead in the standings over the Dodgers, the Nats would then play the third NL Central team in the divisional round. It could be a clean sweep! Five games, and a whole division destroyed! If that happened, I would add the NL Central massacre to this Wikipedia page over and over until they let it stay.
In case you were out accidentally revealing that you named a loved one Cosmo, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
The Dodgers clinched the NL West title with a 7-6 road win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, before angering the Diamondbacks' organization by celebrating in the pool at Chase Field. "You can't have a pool party at our pool and not invite us," said disappointed Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, as he stood in a pair of bright blue bathing trunks holding two pool noodles. When asked why he had two noodles, Goldschmidt hung his head and said softly, "One for me, and one for a new best friend." Goldschmidt then exploded, saying, "His name is Yasiel, and now that's never going to happen, is it? Is it?"
Despite Kansas City's failures in clock management and third-and-short situations, the Chiefs moved to 3-0, prevailing over a sloppy Philadelphia Eagles team, 26-16, in Thursday Night Football action. Which is to say that on the binary football scale of "Andy Reid" to "Not Andy Reid" by which all football games can be judged, the game scored an "Andy Reid."
In case you were busy facing the ramifications of stealing plants off a wall, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
In a battle of the AL's top teams, Tigers starter Doug Fister spun a gem and Detroit got some late offense to top John Lackey and the Boston Red Sox 3-0 at Fenway Park. The Tigers now sit only half a game behind the Red Sox for the best record in the league, despite playing without the services of reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera for three straight games. "If he's so valuable then why are they winning without him?," asked ESPN Radio Detroit 1090 caller Ekim Salmon in a poorly wrought British accent, before adding, "now I don't want to go against the current here, but you'd have to be gone fishing to miss the greatness of that chap down in Anaheim." When asked if he was Mike Trout using a poorly wrought British accent, Salmon replied without an accent, "No no. No no. Definitely not. But I do have to go now."
Roger Federer fell in the fourth round of the U.S. Open for the first time in 10 years, losing to Spaniard Tommy Robredo 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4. "Time," whispered the ghost of Pete Sampras into Federer's ear after the match, "time. It comes for us all. And it is insatiable in its appetite for our talents and — wait a second. What do you mean "ghost"? I'm not dead." Sampras then flashed back through his entire career only to discover that he had died shortly after being struck in the head by a serve off the racket of Goran Ivanisevic in 1990, and had been dead through all of his major championships. I mean, if you look back on his career, it's pretty obvious; the unchanging boyish good looks, the use of the Wilson Pro Staff Original, which went unchanged since 1983, his wife, who was killed by a meat hook after her sister did something the previous summer. I mean, come on, we all should have seen this coming.
In case you were busy reconfronting traumatic memories related to seeing the movie Daredevil in theaters, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Los Angeles starter Clayton Kershaw's phenomenal season continued in Miami, as he threw eight scoreless innings and lowered his ERA to 1.72 in the Dodgers' 6-0 win over the Marlins. Of course, after the game Kershaw referred to the start as "terrible for the first couple of innings. I didn't have command," as his campaign to make everyone who is not Clayton Kershaw feel bad about themselves (The ME-WIN-F-BATs campaign) continued to gather steam.
Suspended Brewers slugger Ryan Braun published a lengthy apology in which he confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs during his 2011 MVP season. But after all the lies, how can we really be expected to believe this confession? Is there anything more suspicious than a man who said he is innocent of a crime suddenly reversing course and admitting his guilt? What does Ryan Braun really have to hide? Perhaps his innocence? Maybe? Eh? Ehhhhhhh? No? No? I'm hearing no. OK, moving on
In case you were busy taking in that new Woodsy Allen movie because it doesn't have that nervous fellow who is always in them, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Alex Rodriguez responded to being hit by a pitch by Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster in the second inning with a rally-starting home run as the Yankees surged from behind to beat the Boston Red Sox, 9-6, on Sunday, claiming a win in the rivals' weekend series. When asked why he hit Rodriguez, Dempster explained, "I feel the best way to process anger is by throwing things really fast at the things that make you mad. Like when I get to the fridge, and one of my kids has finished off a carton of milk and put it back into the fridge empty, I throw a heater right at the fridge to say, 'Hey, fridge, why are you tearing this family apart?' Or when I'm stuck behind a school bus in traffic, I find a slider thrown at that flashing stop sign on the side of the bus sends the message, 'Hey buddy, I found school to be a harsh environment when I was a kid.'" When asked again why he hit Rodriguez, Dempster said, "Those fat cats down in Washington," and walked out of the press conference without saying another word.
Despite his heroics, Rodriguez and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman remain at odds, with Cashman saying he is "not comfortable talking to Alex." When told of Cashman's comments, Rodriguez replied, "Makes sense. Have you seen my body? I wouldn't be comfortable approaching me either. God himself couldn't make a body like this one. Hey, you want me to take my shirt off?" When told that would be unnecessary, Rodriguez added with a wink, "Yep, that's the uncomfortable look I've been getting. I can tell you're impressed."
In case you were busy talking up how good your Achilles feels, because it feels really, really good, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Paul Goldschmidt's two home runs, including his third walk-off home run of the season, gave the Arizona Diamondbacks an 11-inning 4-3 win in their interleague battle with the Baltimore Orioles. "Guy's a regular Kirk Gibson with these clutch jacks," Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said after the game. "Am I flattered by the tribute? Absolutely. It's nice to have your players respect your on-field legacy." Gibson then did his best Vin Scully impression: "In the year of the improbable the—" before being interrupted by Goldschmidt. "Hey skip, what are you talking about?" Goldschmidt asked his manager, to which Gibson replied with a smile, "Oh, just reminiscing about my own walk-off heroics. Dodger Stadium. You know, the story." Goldschmidt furrowed his brow and asked his manager, "You played? For the Dodgers? No kidding. Never would have guessed." A crestfallen Gibson turned away and said, "Yeah, kid, yeah. I played. Impossibly that happened."
The Oakland A's were denied a Chris Young walk-off home run after umpires were unable to confirm through instant replay that his blast hit the foul pole, before losing, 5-4, to the Houston Astros when Young struck out on the next pitch. Now you know that we here at About Last Night are all about provoking debate, and the use of instant replay in baseball is a big topic for sports debaters these days. We take the stance that we must keep the human element in the game, and what's more, enhance it. Enough with automated delivery of baseball images to people's homes. No more televising games. The game happens once. The events are witnessed by those in the stadium. Period. Everything else denies the tradition of the game that, may I add, predates television. Furthermore, we take the stance that there should be no still photographs of the game, which would only serve to create needless controversy about games that already happened. Eyewitness reports of the game should also be banned, along with any written records of the games or mentions of the game in conversation. When asked about specific games, fans and journalists in attendance should not reveal any information about what took place, but instead should turn and sprint away from those who would dare ask a question about what happened at a baseball game, and proceed to start a new life under an assumed identity. Only in that way can we ensure that our sacred baseball traditions are preserved.
In case you were too busy finishing off a box of Pop Tarts to watch a 95-pound 13-year-old medal in the X Games, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Yu Darvish turned in a ferocious performance, striking out 14 Diamondbacks for the second time in three months, as the Rangers handled Arizona easily in a 7-1 victory in Arlington. Look, Yu, we get it, you hate snakes. It makes sense. Snakes are scary. But a real professional doesn't let his fear lead him to perform inconsistently. So heed this advice: When playing teams that aren't the Diamondbacks, pretend you are pitching to snakes. Visualize the batter as a snake. Or if that's too difficult to imagine, because snakes don't have arms the way that major league players usually do, imagine the batter's head is somehow made out of snakes. Perhaps they have a snake head on a human body? Or snake hair like a gorgon. Or a snake for a tongue. Whatever works for you. Just stop forgetting to pretend like everyone is a scary snake.
Felix Hernandez threw seven innings of one-run ball, but his efforts were not enough as the Boston Red Sox rallied to beat Seattle 8-7, putting six across in a stunning ninth-inning comeback. "Don't feel bad for me," Hernandez said after yet another stellar start ended in a no-decision, "I now know why I was put on this earth. I am the one who suffers for mankind. And I can prove it." Hernandez then pulled out a bottle of water and stared at it while yelling, "pinot," until the gathered press eventually left when it became clear that nothing was going to happen.
Major League Baseball's non-waiver deadline came and went with no major trades happening after most sellers refused to budge from their price tags, negating what was widely predicted to be the best seller's market in years.
The biggest name changing teams Wednesday was Ian Kennedy. A 21-game winner and Cy Young contender just two years ago, Kennedy has seen his numbers fade since then, with worsening results for his strikeout, walk, home run, and ground ball rates. He has posted a 5.23 ERA this year in 21 starts (up from 2.88 in 2011), along with a 4.59 FIP (up from 3.22 in 2011). Here's a stupefying stat for you: Two years ago, Kennedy's 90 mph fastball was deceptive enough to be the most valuable heater thrown by any starter; this year, it has been the seventh-least effective fastball thrown by any starter.
Nine games below .500 and more or less eliminated from contention, the Padres seemed a strange match for a 28-year-old former ace who'll be just past four years of major league service time at season's end. But in trading lefty reliever Joe Thatcher, minor league reliever Matt Stites, and a compensation draft pick that'll fall between the second and third rounds, the Padres aren't giving up any huge-upside assets to land Kennedy. Their new acquisition is making $4.3 million this year; even if he finishes with an ERA greater than 5.00 and a losing record (arbitrators don't give a fig about advanced stats), you figure Kennedy will get $6 million or more as an arbitration-eligible player heading into next year. He'll offer the Padres that 2014 season, plus 2015, assuming they elect to tender him an arbitration offer after next season, too, or maybe sign him to an extension. And San Diego could always try to flip him later, hopefully landing something more exciting than two relievers and a pick in the 70s or 80s.
You can name any one of seven or eight candidates and have a great argument, but Posey gets the slightest of nods. For starters, no National League player has put up better park-adjusted rate stats. That's doubly impressive given Posey is a catcher, the position at which offense is rarest. Posey hasn't quite played all of his games at catcher. But 75 out of 90, with the numbers he's put up at AT&T Park, still plays well. And no, we don't care one whit about the Giants being eight games under .500, compared to, say, some of the top players on winning teams like the Cardinals. Posey, like Yadier Molina and every other player in the league, has no control over the teammates his general manager picks to play with him.
In case you were out watching the extended cut of Inception where the top spins for two years before finally falling, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Hanley Ramirez remained red hot, going 3-for-6 including a tie-breaking 14th-inning home run, as the Los Angeles Dodgers clawed their way back to .500 for the first time since April with a 7-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. "Nah, I'm really happy for him, and the team," said rookie sensation Yasiel Puig. "Jealous? Jealous? Nah. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. There's enough room in this town for a pair of superstars. Jealous? I'm happy. Jealous? Jealous? No. I'm not. Not at all."
Andrew Bynum is on his way to Cleveland, after the oft-injured center signed a two-year partially guaranteed deal with the Cavaliers. That said, Cleveland seems like just the sort of town where Andrew Bynum is likely to turn his luck around. Cleveland, or "The Lucky City," as it's known internationally, is a burgh totally bereft of bowling alleys, leaving the Cavaliers' new center without any temptations as he tries to return from his lost season in Philadelphia.
After yet another spending spree that included a $147 million splurge on Zack Greinke, the Dodgers were expected to be leading contenders for the NL West crown. Their chief competition figured to be the Giants, fresh off winning their second World Series in three years. The Diamondbacks were considered light sleepers, likely weakening their team after trading away Justin Upton for no good reason but still wielding a solid collection of young, homegrown talent. As for the Rockies and Padres? You figured wait till next year before this year even started.
So much for predictions. Only the AL East has seen more parity than the NL West, a division that has its top four teams separated by just 3½ games. Arizona leads the way, the Rockies and Padres are contending, with the Giants and Dodgers bringing up the rear. With so many teams bunched so closely together, the division up for grabs, and two of the National League's three biggest spenders likely to double down, we could see a flurry of action as the trade deadline approaches.
We suffered through a bit of a downer last weekend, but the rebound is looking great. I forcefully recommend watching every minute of each game listed below, with one notable exception:
10. Oh God, the Astros and Cubs Are Playing (HOU-CHC)
You know how some people get a kick out of watching bad movies over and over because incompetence delights them? I've never understood it, but those people should grab some popcorn and giggle their way through this series.
9. Hot Bat of the Week: Michael Nelson Trout (PIT-LAA)
Oh, what's up, Trout? What you been up to? Just hitting .431 over your last 13 games, and getting on base more than half the time? That's all? Oh, two homers, three steals, and 11 runs scored too? Cool. Good to check in, you magnificent baseball robot.
In case you were out getting the oil change you need every 30,000 miles followed by a stern lecture from your mechanic about decimal places, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
In a stunning start to the Stanley Cup final, the Chicago Blackhawks turned around a two-goal third-period deficit before Andrew Shaw scored on a deflection 12 minutes into a third overtime, as the Blackhawks took Game 1 at home, 4-3, over the Boston Bruins. "Dude, did you see that game?" asked your work friend Kevin, whom you blew off when he told you to meet him at Coyle's Pub to watch the game yesterday. "Oh my god, incredible." You nodded silently as you tried to keep walking past his cubicle as he said in a slightly too loud voice, "That was what playoff hockey is all about. Crawford, man, those stops! And a lot of questions for Boston going forward, especially if they're down Horton for any length of — you didn't see it did you? I can tell by the dead stare in your eyes. Best game of the year and you didn't even know what channel it was on, did you? Admit it. Admit you didn't know it was on. Don't give me that 'I need my coffee before we rap about hockey' bullshit. You missed the game, and it was awesome, and you betrayed me." After a long awkward moment passed, Kevin laughed and said, "Nah man, it's all right. Just Game 1. But you'll be at Coyle's for Game 2, yeah? Gotta come to Coyle's man. Gotta."
Former New Jersey Nets superstar Jason Kidd has been named the head coach of the now Brooklyn Nets, as they attempt to improve after a disappointing playoff campaign. Kidd is the best point guard to become a head coach since Isiah Thomas took over the New York Knicks head coaching job while also serving as president of basketball operations. Before Thomas came Magic Johnson's brief stint in charge of the Lakers in 1994. When asked about his reaction to the news, current top point guard Chris Paul said, "I'm excited to see how Kidd makes the transition from an idol to a cautionary tale I'll really be able to relate to in about 10 years."
In case you were busy consolidating power by any means necessary to be prepared for the upcoming console wars, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
In a series filled with future Hall of Famers, it was the play of Gary Neal and Danny Green, who scored a combined 51 points while going 13-for-19 from beyond the arc, that led the San Antonio Spurs to a 113-77 win over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Somewhere out in the vast expanses of America, a curmudgeonly sports reporter sitting on his porch licks two fingers and holds them aloft. "The winds are turning again," he says to himself with a wry smile. "Oh, LeBron, your time has come." And the words will start coming together in his head, but he'll need a deeper source of inspiration. "Honey, can you throw some pretzels in a bowl?," he'll yell back into his two-story Craftsman home. "And throw some popcorn in there, too. And maybe some fish that hasn't been deboned." And his wife will pop her head out of the screen door and ask, "Is this what I think it is?" And he'll nod sagely, and whisper "choking season." And she'll ask if he's sure, and he won't turn to face her, but will say again, "LeBron choking season," and his words will be taken by the wind, and his wife will know that he'll be up working late, divining the perfect phrase to describe how the psychology of the world's greatest basketball player will always betray his talent. And the wind will sing "chokeastrophic" as it swirls through the branches of the oak trees of America. And maybe, just maybe, we'll get our values back.
Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson both scored as Jurgen Klinsmann's U.S. men's national team got a critical 2-0 win over Panama in Seattle as they moved atop the CONCACAF standings for World Cup qualifying. The match was the most complete effort by the USMNT during Klinsmann's tenure, leading the crowd to chant, "Klinsmann, a plan, a canal, pan nam snilk," in an ill-conceived attempt to honor the former German striker through palindrome.
In case you were unable to get to a TV after a butt pat gone awry, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
After giving up a six-run lead, the Boston Red Sox finally put away the Tampa Bay Rays, 10-8, behind a Daniel Nava 14th-inning RBI single. The game was not without its controversy, as John Lackey hit Matt Joyce with a pitch, leading to both benches clearing in the sixth inning. "Yeah, it was on purpose," Lackey admitted after the game, "but it's not what you think. A couple years ago, James Loney's wife baked me these cookies when I went in for Tommy John surgery, and I needed the recipe, because I've been jonesing for these cookies something fierce, and I figured the easiest way to see him was to get the benches to clear. I mean, I was getting tired anyway. And sure enough, sea salt. That's the secret ingredient. Sort of a sweet and savory thing." When told Lackey's explanation after the game, Joyce exclaimed, "Sea salt! Of course! A sweet and savory combination. Makes perfect sense."
League sources are reporting that the New England Patriots will sign Tim Tebow to serve as the team's third quarterback, reuniting Tebow with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who drafted Tebow when he was the head coach of the Broncos. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, when asked if he signed Tebow simply to gain access to the New York Jets playbook from last season, replied by staring directly at the reporter without blinking, before waving at the reporter to take a couple of steps back into a visibly out-of-place pile of long grass and discarded branches. When asked if the grass and branches were covering some sort of snare trap, Belichick groaned and said, "You win this round, but you'll never know how I got the Jets playbook for sure, will you?"