Who needs the winter meetings? Apparently not Major League Baseball’s general managers, who, while evidently hopped up on krokodil, executed a flurry of trades and free-agent deals a week before the sport's offseason confab at Disney World. The 48-hour swirl of signings and swaps saw Jacoby Ellsbury commit the ultimate heel turn, the Nationals further solidify their starting rotation, and the A's begin filming their audition tape for Hoarders: Bullpen Strong. Tuesday's action was largely a series of middling moves and “my garbage for your trash” trades, but taken cumulatively, the effect was, well, startling.
As with any period of great upheaval, the stunned citizenry must have questions. Let's try to answer five of them, starting with the big one.
In case you were busy arguing that Lane Kiffin really hasn't gotten a fair chance to prove himself as a head coach with a particularly stubborn stop sign, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tom Brady finally synced up with his young receiving corps, as the New England Patriots built an early lead and held on late, beating the Atlanta Falcons 30-23. "It's tough to beat them when Brady is back on track, but we gave it our all, and I'm impressed with my team," said a gray-haired man claiming to be Atlanta's head coach. "Wait, seriously, I'm Mike Smith," the man said, giving a clearly fake name, before adding, "You've heard of Dan Reeves? Well, I'm the most successful coach this franchise has ever had. We were in the NFC title game last year." The man, likely a deluded extra who wandered off the set of Boardwalk Empire, then added, "No, I'm not the mayor from Boardwalk Empire. For chrissake, come on, are you messing with me?"
The Major League Baseball regular season ended, but there's yet more to be decided as the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers finished the season tied for the second AL wild-card slot, and will play a one-game playoff. That game will determine which team will face the Cleveland Indians in another one-game playoff, which will determine who will be the AL wild-card representative in the postseason. This will be followed by a series of three-inning "mini-games" to determine home-field advantage in each round, which will be followed by a series of three-out home run derbies to determine which manager will be forced to turn in his lineup card first. Then, naturally, will come the dizzy bat competition, which will be just for fun, followed by a three-legged race, which will supplant this year's World Series, and for which, naturally, the Boston Red Sox are the favorites to win what with their flashy red socks likely to be advantageous for maintaining a three-legged race rhythm.
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 busy doubling down on a profanity-laced tirade against your own fans, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Rookie running back Giovani Bernard had two touchdowns as the Cincinnati Bengals dropped the Pittsburgh Steelers to 0-2 for the first time in the Mike Tomlin era with a 20-10 win. "The guy from The Other Sister! You gotta be kidding me," Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said to Tomlin over his headset after Bernard's first touchdown. A confused Tomlin asked LeBeau what he was talking about, to which the renowned defensive coordinator responded, "I thought it was crazy too! Why would Marvin Lewis bring him in? He was wooden in Avatar, and I hear his new show, Dads, is terrible. I mean he wasn't bad in Saving Private Ryan, but he hardly struck me as an athlete, and that was long enough ago the Bengals still had Ickey Woods at the position. Guy's gotta be pushing 40." When Tomlin then asked LeBeau if he had confused rookie speedster Giovani Bernard with Boiler Room star Giovanni Ribisi, LeBeau went silent for 60 seconds before saying, "So, we might not have the schemes in place to stop this guy."
After a weather delay postponed the final round of the BMW Championship, Zach Johnson fired a 65 to outpace Jim Furyk and Nick Watney, winning the tournament at 16-under. "Man, what a super tournament," Johnson said after surging from behind to take the win. "Just a really sweet victory. And it's my title at 16-under. My super, sweet, 16 under wait that's not on tape is it? Shit."
If you ever wanted a perfect ending to a historic season, Jose Fernandez's performance Wednesday night was it. Fernandez sliced through the Braves lineup for seven dominant innings, allowing just one run on five hits. He fanned five batters, ending his night with a strikeout of Justin Upton on an unhittable Frisbee of a breaking ball. Still, the biggest moment came an inning earlier. At bat and sitting on a 1-0 count, Fernandez got an 84 mph spinner in the middle of the plate and hammered it, the ball sailing over the left-center-field wall for his first career home run. For one of baseball's most electrifying talents, this was a suitable capper to an electrifying year.
A lot of nonsense ensued after Fernandez's blast, with the Braves complaining that a rookie pitcher making his final start of the season might get a little excited over his first major league home run, and might want to celebrate a bit after Evan Gattis stood and watched his own earlier home run, and Chris Johnson yapped at the Marlins pitcher, claiming he had a "weak-ass fastball." All of which is just another case of baseball players taking themselves and their ridiculous unwritten rules way too seriously. (Fernandez offered a sincere apology after the game, which doesn't change the whole thing being silly and pointless.)
The bigger takeaway was this: Fernandez just completed one of the best seasons ever for a pitcher his age, making his starts into can't-miss baseball on an otherwise missable team.
In case you were busy putting in a speculative application to Oklahoma State, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
The New England defense forced four turnovers en route to an ugly 13-10 win over the New York Jets. Both offenses struggled with young receiving corps, leading Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to say after the game, "I haven't seen that many drops since the last time I went to a Skrillex concert," to a stone-faced press corps. After an awkward beat, he added, "'Cause of the drops, is this thing on? Anyway, I can't wait to see the film on this one. I imagine I'll be a big-eared elephant, and I'll be playing the board game Operation. Eh? It'll be Operation Dumbo Drop. Seriously guys, nothing?" Brady then exploded, yelling, "Someone pick up something I'm throwing out here!" before tossing the microphone to rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who proceeded to drop it.
The penultimate tournament of the FexEx Cup season is shaping up to be a classic, as Brandt Snedeker sits atop a star-studded leaderboard after firing an opening-round 63 at the BMW Championship. "It's fitting that I'm leading," Snedeker said after the round, "as I consider myself the ultimate driving machine." When reminded that he ranks 142nd in driving distance on the tour, Snedeker said, "Well, I'm the penultimate driving machine." When asked if he knew what "penultimate" meant, Snedeker sprinted to his Audi and immediately drove it into a tree.
In case you were busy getting bad news from Dr. James Andrews, because that guy has never once given good news in his life, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Miami starter Jose Fernandez dominated with his arm and bat, throwing seven stellar innings and blasting his first career home run, as the Marlins beat the division-leading Braves, 5-2. Fernandez's outing was not without controversy, however, as both benches cleared after Fernandez indulged himself by watching his home run. "I'm disappointed. He's a great kid, but he let this whole city down," said Marlins manager Mike Redmond after the game. "I mean, this is Miami. You can't just stand around in Miami to check out something because it looks good. This is a city all about hard work and discipline, not about showing off and preening."
New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter has been shut down for the remainder of the season, leaving new acquisition and defensive whiz Brendan Ryan as the Yankees presumptive starting shortstop for their playoff push. "Darn," said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte as he high-fived fellow starter Hiroki Kuroda. "Man, that's tough for Derek. I'm gutted. Just totally gutted. For him." Pettitte then did a giddy shuffle and mimed a shortstop going confidently to his left for CC Sabathia's benefit, before adding, "Don't know how we'll get by without the captain."
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 arguing about the correct definition of "blue moon," here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Red Sox superprospect Xander Bogaerts went 0-for-3 in his major league debut, and Marco Scutaro drew a walk-off RBI walk to give San Francisco a strange 3-2 win over Boston. "We're disappointed with the loss, but we think we have something good here with Bogaerts," said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington over a cacophony of ringing phones. "Hold on, let me just get this. Yeah, hello, this is Cherington. No Billy. No. No. It's just one game Billy. No. No deal. How stupid do you think I am Billy? That stupid? Really? Wow. I've literally never said anything like that to another man's face in my life. No. No. Still no. Yes, I understand that phones aren't faces. No. I'm hanging up now, Billy. Bye. Bye. No. Bye."
Los Angeles phenom Yasiel Puig was benched and fined for being late to the ballpark in Miami, but still found a way to be his team's hero, blasting the decisive home run in the eighth inning of the Dodgers' 6-4 win over the Marlins. "Rules are rules," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, "and I'm going to enforce them until its strategically untenable to continue to do so. Literally nothing but a moment in which I will gain a strategic advantage as a baseball tactician will stop me from enforcing them. Or if I forget about the rule I'm in the middle of enforcing. Or if I think the person who broke the rule is really sorry. Those are the only three ways I'll let anyone on my team get away with anything."
In case you were out becoming more mosquito bite than man, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Miami Marlins starter Jose Fernandez shut down fellow NL Rookie of the Year candidate Yasiel Puig and the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 6-2 victory. "Miami, so close to home yet a million miles away," Puig said to himself after the game, as he took a limousine down the streets of South Beach. "Everybody here is dressed like they have something to prove. I guess I still have something to prove. I guess we all always have something to prove." Puig looked down at himself and muttered, "How am I both underdressed and overdressed? It's like I'm not at home anywhere," before he yelled up to his driver, "Hey, does good pitching always beat good hitting?" When the driver shook his head and said, "Not you big Yas. You the man!" Puig had him stop the car. The Dodgers slugger then paid the driver and said, "It's not kind to lie to a man's face," before disappearing into the Miami night.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to look shaky, as they were beat by Rex Grossman and the Washington Redskins, 24-13, in a preseason clash. When asked about Grossman's performance in relief of the injured Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan scrunched up his face and said, "That doesn't sound right. Grossman was Rex Grossman? Really? No. Unless I woke up on the wrong side of a time nap. What year is this?" When told it was 2013, Shanahan snapped his fingers and said, "Damn, I was really hoping time naps were a thing."
In case you were busy getting weird on eBay with some Stanley Cup memorabilia, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Another day, another win for Atlanta, as the Braves overcame an early Bryce Harper home run before topping the Washington Nationals, 2-1. The game was not without controversy as Harper was hit by the next pitch he saw, punishment for violating Statute 34.1.92 of the unwritten rulebook of baseball, which reads, "Thou Shalt Not Be Bryce Harper." The rulebook, which exists only in the frozen brain of Ted Williams, cannot be changed or challenged except, ironically, by written authority of Major League Baseball and its partners.
The NBA schedule was announced on Monday, with the reigning champion Miami Heat opening the season at home against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. From there every team will play 82 games, half at home, with its schedule distributed among other professional basketball teams and the Philadelphia 76ers, who have decided to field a team headlined by Kwame Brown and coached by no one. "We know that our fan base has the capacity to be patient while we retool and rebuild," said Sixers GM Sam Hinkie while his pants were being set on fire by Philadelphia superfan Gene Fallows. "And we hope to see growth from our young, OW OW HOT HOT HOT MY LEG!"
It's August, the worst month of the year! Time to shut your blinds, turn the air conditioner down to 56, and hibernate for 30 days with only baseball and unsweetened ice tea for companions. Here are the best ways to make it through the first weekend of Hell Month.
10. A-Rod A-Rod A-Rod A-Rod
He's holding down the no. 10 spot! The latest news in the suspension saga is that his talks with MLB have "stalled." I mean, how classic is that? A-Rod has literally no ground to stand on, and the only thing saving him from a lifetime ban is that it would be kind of embarrassing for Selig and baseball. But I bet he sauntered into the negotiating room thinking he could talk them down to 30 days and a small fine. "I'm going to drive a hard bargain," he probably said to himself, narrowing his eyes as he took a seat at the table. Man, A-Rod is the worst. The correct tactic was obviously to accept anything less than a lifetime ban, and then drop to his knees in thanks. Instead, he's screwing himself. I shouldn't be surprised, but somehow he has managed to baffle me again.
In case you were busy becoming an expert on the recovery period for hip surgeries, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Red Sox bolstered their rotation before the trade deadline, acquiring former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox in a three-team deal. When asked if he was worried about the pressure of playing in Boston, Peavy responded gravely, "Yes. Terrified. Everything changes. I've spent the last couple of hours weeping into this bucket. Look at it!" Peavy then held up an empty bucket, before adding, "Of course I dumped out the bucket before I came out here. I'm not a weirdo."
Mark Ellis hit a walk-off single and the Dodgers kept on rolling, edging past the New York Yankees, 3-2, and improving to 27-6 over their past 33 games. The hit extended Ellis's hit streak to 11 games, a run he credits to "not having anything to do with hallucinogenic drugs, why is everyone asking me that? Of course I'm not tripping at the plate. That would have made this impossible I would imagine." Ellis then furrowed his brow and asked, "Is this because of that honorary doctorate I got in June?"
You won't find many gloomier weeks of headlines for any sport than what baseball's getting right now. Ryan Braun has been compared to a cockroach. Alex Rodriguez is "the Whitey Bulger of baseball." We're drowning in PED rumors, PED news, and especially PED outrage.
The latest sordid report has A-Rod and the Yankees sniping back and forth at each other over a quad injury that may or may not exist. The Yankees are blocking him from playing, says Rodriguez and his multiple emissaries. A-Rod is violating the collective bargaining agreement by asking a doctor for a second opinion without team consent, says Yankees management. Meanwhile, another report speculated that Rodriguez could be facing a lifetime ban for PED possession and various bad behavior related to said possession, despite having zero prior suspensions on his record.
In case you were busy picking the wrong Leonardo DiCaprio movie to model your life after and can't get that damn iron mask off your face, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Bryce Harper marked his return from an extended layoff with a home run as the Washington Nationals topped the Milwaukee Brewers, 10-5. "Guys, I spent the time off really pushing things forward," Harper said of his rehab. "And I think I've got it: The Babe. Bryce 'The Babe' Harper. ’Cause I look good. You know. Like a babe." When told that nickname was taken, Harper replied, "Babe don't care. Now someone get me my favorite candy bar: Snickers. Ol' Bryce 'Snickers' Harper."
Manic Monday at the All England Club was headlined by a massive upset on the women's side as Serena Williams was beaten by Sabine Lisicki in a three-set thriller, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4. Well, it was a massive upset for those of you who don't really know women's tennis. [Quickly Googles "Lisicki."] I mean obviously she's a great grass-court player, and despite her low seed is an instant favorite to win the whole thing. Us real tennis fans know [clicks down an entry] that Sabine Lisicki is also both German and tall. [Bings "Lisicki."] Also, I think we all remember her work in Jerry Maguire wait