It must be nice to make the playoffs. As a long-suffering Yankee fan, I probably won't get to experience that joy this season, and it's been a long time — almost a full year — since we've even sniffed the postseason. With six games left on the schedule, the Yankees are four games behind Cleveland for the final wild-card spot, and with Texas and Kansas City sandwiched in between, it's all over but the shouting.
But hey, you know what? The shouting might not be all that bad. Because even though the Yankees' destination (sadness, golf courses, boring family life) might be fixed, that doesn't mean they can't ruin someone else's fun. In fact, they have three games this week against Tampa Bay, a hated rival. Between 1918 and 2004, Boston fans showed exactly how satisfying it can be rooting for others to fail in lieu of your own success. But actually playing a part in that failure? That has to be 10 times better. As FDR said, it's better to pull the trigger than to cheer the gun.
So let's look at a few teams that can alter the playoff landscape as we move toward Sunday and the end of the regular season. Here are your potential spoilers.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. How is it mid-September? Did we even have August this year? Are the playoffs really sneaking up on us? This is getting serious, gang. Each team has about 15 games left to win, lose, bargain, plead, suffer, and despair. There are only three weekends of regular-season baseball left, starting today, and here's something important: A fancy word for "third-to-last" is "antepenultimate." Armed with that knowledge, it's time for the antepenultimate weekend countdown. Join me!
In case you were busy talking yourself into Marcedes Lewis's fantasy bounce-back potential, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Clayton Kershaw was outpitched by Cubs starter Travis Wood, and the Dodgers were unable to finish a late rally, falling 3-2 to the Chicago Cubs. Kershaw, whose inefficiency forced him out of the game in the sixth inning despite giving up only one earned run, stared at his left arm with a furrowed brow after the game, saying, "The Cubs? Really, buddy? Come on. You're better than that. We're better than that. Yeah? Yeah? You agree. Nod if you agree." Kershaw then waved his arm around in agreement before saying, "OK, now what do you say we go grab a bag of ice and a pizza and put this whole thing behind us, eh?"
Mariners closer Danny Farquhar's 10th-inning balk proved decisive as the Texas Rangers topped Seattle 4-3. Seattle manager Eric Wedge was heated after the game, yelling at the gathered press, "No, the most Mariners way to lose a game is not to balk in the winning run you idiots. It's to somehow leave the bases loaded in four separate innings without scoring a single run. Also, Felix Hernandez is on the hill and only allows a single run when a Raul Ibanez defensive miscue makes what should have been an easy flyout become an inside-the-park home run. That's a real Mariners loss. This? This was an old-school Indians loss."
In case you were busy trying to stay awake during an all-day meeting on autograph compensation, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The St Louis Cardinals beat the Cincinnati Reds, 8-6, to regain the lead in the hyper-competitive NL Central. Allen Craig continues to be the clutchest player in baseball hold on guys it appears that my spell-checker does not believe that "clutchest" is a real word. I have two squiggly red underlines staring me in the face right now. Let me look up "clutchest" in the dictionary, and BOOM! Cardinal red. Take that, Clippy.
In case you were busy looking at pictures of Russell Wilson doing yoga for a long, long while, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
New York Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki amassed his 4,000th career professional hit in traditional Ichiro fashion, slapping a single into left field during the Yankees' 4-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. In honor of Ichiro's accomplishment let us all just say that we're lucky to have had the opportunity to watch Ichiro play baseball, and if we ever saw ourselves saying that we weren't lucky to have watched Ichiro play baseball, we'd punch ourselves in the face because we'd be lying.
Braves third baseman Chris Johnson hit a three-run game-winning home run in the 10th inning to give Atlanta a 4-1 win over the New York Mets. However, the big story coming out of Citi Field was the broken jaw of Jason Heyward, who will likely miss four to six weeks after being hit with a pitch by Jonathon Niese. When asked if he hit Heyward because of the psychological impact of years of pent-up rage caused by people misspelling his first name, Niese responded, "What? No! Oh my god, no, it was an accident. What the hell kind of accusotion is that?"
It took longer than it should have. The Red Sox screwed around for too long with the likes of meme generator Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder. Sure, there were reasons. They didn't want to rush their top prospect. They wanted to ensure he could play his natural position. They needed to be positive that he was ready for the big leagues.
The wait is over. Xander Bogaerts finally made his major league debut Tuesday night. He went 0-for-3, grounding out twice, striking out once, and leaving five men on base in his first two at-bats. He also made a nifty play to end the fifth, charging a Marco Scutaro bouncer and gunning him out at first by an eyelash. The bigger takeaway was this: One of baseball's top prospects finally made the Show, and the Red Sox are better for it. Given how Boston's played over the past couple weeks, it's not a moment too soon.
Just 20 years old (he turns 21 on October 1), Bogaerts hit .311/.407/.502 in 56 games at Double-A Portland, then .284/.369/.453 at Triple-A Pawtucket. Those are strong numbers on their face for anyone at any position, given neither league (nor home ballpark) dramatically distorts numbers the way, say, playing in Las Vegas does. Still, it's one thing for a first baseman or corner outfielder to hit for average, show a strong batting eye (63 walks in 515 plate appearances), and have power (15 homers, 23 doubles, and six triples), given the much lower barrier to entry in place to handle those positions defensively. Shortstop is another matter altogether. A player like Jose Iglesias may never amount to much offensively (his numbers this year are due largely to batted-ball luck; he doesn't walk, and he has no power), but he can still slot in as a team's starter for the next half-decade, the way he now is in Detroit after Boston traded him away. Bogaerts doesn't have Iglesias's defensive skill, but he's also so talented offensively that he projects as a future All-Star, given what people expect him to do with the bat versus the relatively low offensive standards set by the average shortstop.
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 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.
The headline on ESPN.com right now is "A-Rod decries mix-ups, lobbies for Fri. play." My question is, do you think A-Rod knows what "decries" means? It strikes me as such a funny word to use in the context of a guy who allegedly owns pictures of himself painted as a centaur (and if he doesn't, he still let someone take this one). Anyway, the whole bizarre saga took an even stranger turn when A-Rod sought the advice of a second doctor (who never actually met him) because he didn't trust the Yankee team doctor. The second doc said his quad muscle was fine, and he could play pronto, and now A-Rod wants to be in the lineup tonight. Which implies, of course, that the Yankee team doctor was lying about the injury at the behest of the team, presumably to keep him off the roster so the Yankees could collect insurance rather than pay out his exorbitant contract themselves. It makes sense, because now the Yankees only have to sideline him long enough for Bud Selig to levy a Biogenesis/PED suspension on him ("all but assured," per CBS's Jon Heyman), which could happen any day. So the odds of the Yankees actually letting him play are somewhere in the neighborhood of nil, and it's hilarious that they might be lying about his quad to save money. Of course, they'd love it if A-Rod would just shut up and ride lamely off into the sunset, but what happens when you want A-Rod not to be annoying? A-Rod gets annoying! Because after all this, A-Rod has accepted the Yanks rehab plan. I'm a Yankees fan, but personally I hope he brings Cashman and the team doctor and whoever else down with him. My ideal team is just Jeter and Mariano playing 2-on-9, with Eduardo Nunez as the mascot.
In case you were busy enjoying the satisfaction of ripping the perforated sides off of dot matrix printer paper, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Despite blowing a four-run ninth-inning lead, Washington beat the Pittsburgh Pirates as Bryce Harper hit his first walk-off home run in the Nationals' 9-7 win. "These are the situations you dream of as a kid," Harper said after the game. "Two outs, bottom of the ninth, tie ballgame, you're on the Nationals, up against the Pirates, everything's on the line. Just you, a corner outfielder for the Nationals, and the Pirates' closer facing each other down with the whole nation watching. A mano a mano battle at Nationals Park, the house that Walter Johnson Didn't Really Build. The history, the tradition, the pressure, the rivalry: One nation, against Pirates, with liberty and justice for me."
Reds starter Mat Latos was sharp into the eighth inning as Cincinnati topped the Dodgers, 5-2, stopping Los Angeles's winning streak at six. The game was also Vin Scully bobblehead night, honoring the broadcaster for his 64th year with the Dodgers organization. Now as you know, we here at About Last Night are all about debate, but I think the Vin Scully issue is a clear one: It's time to call games for another team. Am I saying that Scully's career is suspect if he doesn't join up with the Red Sox or Yankees? Yes. Sure he used to call World Series games, but until a broadcaster has handled the heat of an entire AL East season, can we really call them the greatest of all time? In a career that has been so improbable, is it impossible to suggest that Scully hasn't joined up with the Yankees because he can't handle the New York heat? Go east young man, fulfill your destiny, and for once in your otherwise unblemished career, try working out of New York City, Vin. Then, maybe, when you're calling the greatest city in the world, we'll call you the greatest announcer in the world.
In case you were busy confronting your ultimate nemesis, Wichael, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
In an AL East showdown, Tampa starter David Price threw a five-hit gem, leading the Rays to a 5-1 win over the Boston Red Sox. The win was Price's third complete game in his past four starts, which Rays closer Fernando Rodney called "kind of disrespectful. It's like he doesn't trust me. And yeah, I've made mistakes. But that was in the past. That's no reason to push me out of your life." Rodney dropped his head. "I just respect him so much, and I wish we could see eye to eye again."
Landon Donovan continued his resurgent play and the U.S. men's national team advanced to the Gold Cup final with a 3-1 win over Honduras. There they won't face rival Mexico, which fell 2-1 to Panama in the other semifinal. "We're rivals too!" said Panama, balling up its fists and kicking at the dirt. America chuckled derisively, and said, "Oh kid, sure you are," before mussing Panama's hair. This just served to further anger Panama, which began swinging wildly at the United States, which defended itself by putting the palm of its hand on Panama's forehead, leaving Panama too far away to land a blow.
In case you were out floating down a river for hours on end, only to remember that you left your car upstream and now it's dark and you think you just heard a coyote, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Adrian Gonzalez hit a three-run home run to power another Dodgers comeback, as Los Angeles stayed hot with a 10-9 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. The Dodgers are proving that the classic underdog story is true: You can never count a team out, no matter how far down in the standings it may fall early in the year. A team as unlikely to win as the Dodgers can always surge back over the course of a 162-game season, using nothing but grit, verve, and gumption to overpower its rivals and wend its way back to an unexpected placement atop the NL West standings. An island of misfits like L.A.'s collection of broken toys may have been written off by everyone from the bums of the bleachers to the national prognosticators, but this club wouldn't let themselves be written off. No siree bob. Not these Dodgers. So when you look up "team of destiny" in the dictionary of your local library this week, scrawl in "2013 Dodgers" in permanent ink. Because these bootstrap pullers ain't going anywhere.
Dustin Pedroia celebrated a new $100 million deal with an RBI as his Boston Red Sox beat Roberto Hernandez and the Tampa Bay Rays, 6-2. Of course this Roberto Hernandez is not former relief pitcher Roberto Hernandez, but is in fact former starting pitcher Fausto Carmona, who is only formerly Carmona and remains a starter, yet must be relieved to no longer be forced to conceal his identity, though one does wonder whether he is starting to regret the bargain he made in order to become a professional starter, as it likely called into stark relief the sacrifices he made in order to start his career.
10. The 2013 "Oh Wait, They're Good?" Team (ARI-SFG)
Every year, it feels like there's one division-leading team that slips under the radar. This is often because the division itself is terrible, the team hasn't had much playoff success in the past decade or so, and they may or may not be out west in a city not named Los Angeles. In the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks, we've got a solid "all of the above" case. I'm not saying the D-backs have been very impressive — with a paltry plus-nine run differential, they have a huge target on their backs as we start the second half — but come on, shouldn't we give them at least a little credit? I mean, like, Patrick Corbin is really good. And hey, they have a 15-8 record against the NL Central, a.k.a. the best division in baseball. All I'm saying is that the D-backs are exactly the kind of team that could win a crappy division and then storm to a World Series win in the crapshoot that is the MLB playoffs, negating every piece of wisdom anyone has dispensed all season and making us all angry in the process. We should start learning their name.
With apologies to those who revel in seeing Steve Delabar face Marco Scutaro, there is no worse time of year for sports fans than this week's four-day dead zone. So what better time to hand out our midseason MLB awards? Here then are the players and teams that have made the biggest impact in the first half, with a sneak peek at a few potential second-half twists. We start with the American League today, followed by the National League tomorrow.