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Baseball Expects Wild Final Week
PLUS: LOUSY TEAMS RELISH PLAYING CONTENDERS IN SEPTEMBER
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I do not agree with you that Maury Wills belongs in Cooperstown. As a player? Perhaps you're right.
But when he managed the Mariners, he absolutely cheated. He had the grounds crew move the batters' box back so his batters had a better chance to get around on the ball. If that's not cheating, what is?
— Doug Lyons, New York
Doug Lyons is the author or co-author of several baseball books.
Did you know…
Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers is still the only pitcher in MLB history to throw a no-hitter at hitter-friendly Coors field. The Rockies had a .343 BA at home that season (2005?) . . .
The Cardinals sit at the very bottom of the weak NL Central with a winning percentage that puts them on pace for their worst finish since 1995 (when star infielder Nolan Arenado was four years old) . . .
The last time the Braves lost five straight games was in September of 2017. That’s 858 games without a losing streak of five games. According to the Braves, that’s the third longest in MLB history behind the Yankees twice, who went 1,243 games from 1930-38 and 877 games from 1946-52 . . .
The Braves are on pace for 313 homers, six more than the record held by the 2019 Minnesota Twins, who got 32 homers from current Braves left-fielder Eddie Rosario . .
Atlanta’s Spencer Strider is currently striking out batters at a higher rate than any National League pitcher (minimum 160 innings) in a season. He has the most strikeouts through the first 50 starts of a career of anyone in more than a century.
A wild final week looms in MLB postseason races
By Matt Veasey
The regular season in Major League Baseball is a 162-game marathon. An endurance test that begins in the cold of early spring advances through the long, hot dog days of summer and winds down as the leaves begin to fall from the trees and the weather again cools at the start of fall.
As of the start of play on Thursday, September 21, there were 10 days remaining in the 2023 regular season. For at least half of the 30 clubs in MLB, the test results are going to result in a failing grade. Well, that is, at least if post-season contention is your measuring stick.
But the other half still hold out hope of becoming World Series champions this year. And in both the National and American Leagues, the races for the final precious post-season berths are shaping up to be particularly dramatic over the final week.
In the American League, the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays are battling for the East Division crown. The Minnesota Twins are on the verge of clinching the Central Division title. And out in the West Division a three-team scrum is unfolding, with the defending world champion Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, and Seattle Mariners all with the same number of losses.
The National League East Division has been clinched by the Atlanta Braves, the West Division by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Central Division nearly clinched by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Let’s examine the postseason races and closing team schedules as these final days approach.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Both the Orioles and Rays have clinched playoff spots. The O’s are up by three in the loss column, hold the tiebreaker over Tampa Bay by virtue of winning their season series, and entered Thursday with a ‘Magic Number’ of seven.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Minnesota lost its season series to second-place Cleveland but that hardly matters at this point. The Twins hold a nine-game lead and with a ‘Magic Number’ of just one may already have clinched the division crown by the time you read this on Friday morning. Cleveland hosted Baltimore on Thursday and an Orioles victory would clinch it for the Twins. If that didn’t happen, it likely only delays the inevitable.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Okay, now it gets interesting. The best divisional race in baseball this season is setting up as a three-team dash to what may be a photo finish. Houston leads both Texas and Seattle by a half-game but all three have 68 losses.
The Mariners appear to be the key. Seattle will visit the Rangers for a three-game set this weekend, then host the Astros for three at the start of the final week and end the season by hosting the Rangers for four next weekend.
Here are each of the club’s remaining contests: Houston (KC-3, at SEA-3, at ARZ-3), Texas (SEA-3, at LAA-3, at SEA-4), SEA (at TEX-3, HOU-3, TEX-4).
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD
Barring an epic collapse by Baltimore, the Tampa Bay Rays will be the top AL wild card team and host a first-round post-season series. But the final post-season berths are set up to be a four-team battle for two spots.
One of the three above AL West clubs will win that division. The two who fall short will have to contend with the Toronto Blue Jays for just two remaining playoff berths. Toronto is currently one game better in the loss column than all three. The Jays close things out by playing all their remaining games against the Rays and Yankees in this order: at NYY-1, at TBR-3, NYY-3, TBR-3.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
The Milwaukee Brewers lead the Chicago Cubs by seven games entering Thursday. The two teams have split the season series thus far at 5-5 and will close things out with three in Milwaukee next weekend. The Brew Crew have a ‘Magic Number’ of four to clinch their third division crown in the last six years.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WILD CARD
The defending NL champion Philadelphia Phillies are up by three over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the loss column for the top wild card berth and home field in an opening round series.
The Phils ‘Magic Number’ to clinch that top spot and the coveted wild card round home-field advantage is seven and is at six to clinch a post-season berth overall and a chance to again fight through a ‘Red October’ in defense of that league pennant.
Loss column totals for the other teams still in the race: Diamondbacks – 72, Cubs – 73, Marlins – 74, Reds – 75, Giants – 76. While the San Diego Padres have won seven in a row, they are virtually eliminated with 78 losses and needing to climb over four teams with just over a week remaining.
Closing schedules for the NL contenders: Phillies (NYM-4, PIT-3, at NYM-3), Dbacks (at NYY-3, at CHW-3, HOU-3), Cubs (PIT-1, COL-3, at ATL-3, at MIL-3), Marlins (MIL-3, at NYM-3, at PIT-3), Reds (PIT-3, at CLE-2, at STL-3), Giants (at LAD-4, SDP-3, LAD-3).
Now…what about (gulp) a tie for any of these final races? Well, MLB has a tie-breaker system. Anthony Castrovince at MLB.com broke it all down with a fine piece back on August 31st. The simplest of these tiebreakers would be the head-to-head regular- season records of games between teams involved in ties.
Needless to say, it should be interesting.
Matt Veasey is the voice behind @PhilliesBell on Twitter, the most interactive Philadelphia Phillies news and history social media account on the Internet. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Spoilers Love This Time of Year
By Dan Schlossberg
Call them also-rans, have-nots, or cellar-dwellers but this is the time of year bad teams love.
Several teams have already clinched, others are on the verge, and a half-dozen others are consumed by the pressure of nailing down a playoff spot as a wild-card.
All of that makes baseball totally unpredictable.
Want some examples?
The Atlanta Braves, with the best record in baseball, lost five of their first six games after clinching the National League East at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia a week ago Wednesday.
Three of those losses came against the Marlins, who had gone 1-9 against Atlanta before last weekend’s series.
Not only did the Fish fry the Braves three games in a row but they won convincingly — especially with a 16-2 finale that sent the visitors back to Atlanta with their tail between their legs.
Even without Sandy Alcantara, their best pitcher, Miami played like Atlanta usually does: hitting so many home runs it embarrassed the opposition. Leadoff man Luis Arraez, a singles hitter fighting for the batting title, hit two home runs in one game and three on the weekend, while Jazz Chisholm, Jr. hit grand-slams on consecutive days.
As Yogi Berra might say, something’s not kosher in the State of Denmark.
Once they got home, where the Phillies wanted another crack at their likely NLDS opponent, things were not much better.
The Phils won two out of three, including a 6-5, 10-inning fiasco that featured two home runs by Nick Castellanos, who also made a game-saving throw in the bottom of the ninth to nail pinch-runner Luke Williams, carrying the winning run, at home.
Under normal circumstances, Castellanos could be the worst defensive outfielder in the National League.
And how about other teams? The Detroit Tigers beat Bobby Miller, the red-hot rookie phenom of the Los Angeles Dodgers, at Chavez Ravine. The moribund New York Mets swept the Marlins in Flushing.
It’s like a Little League game, where players say “You take it” instead of “I got it.”
Baseball history is filled with great collapses, two of them in 2011 when both the Braves and the Boston Red Sox blew certain paths to the playoffs with awful September play.
Maybe something changes after Labor Day. But something is definitely different, especially in the case of the Braves, who have played under .500 ball this month.
During the Wednesday broadcast, their announcer mentioned that even if the team went 5-6 the rest of the way, the Dodgers would have to go 10-2 to wrest home-field advantage in the playoffs.
That’s entirely possible, although it’s hard to conceive of Atlanta failing to right the ship with seven games remaining against last-place Washington.
Then again, there’s one word to keep in mind: spoilers.
Out-of-contention teams, with nothing to play for but future contracts, are full of loose, carefree athletes playing out the string. Some of them will be free agents while others will be seeking more money through arbitration. Others are hoping to prove healthy to enhance their trade value.
It’s going to be an interesting but bumpy ride to the Oct. 1 finish line.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers the game for forbes.com, Memories & Dreams, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and other outlets. He’s also written 40 baseball books. E.mail him via email@example.com.
Gerrit Cole has two more starts to bolster his shot at the American League’s Cy Young Award . . .
Josh Donaldson, cut by the Yankees, has helped the Brewers with his power . . .
Both Oakland and Kansas City have lost more than 100 games so far and should be joined by Colorado before the season ends a week from Sunday . . .
Corey Seager’s likely AL batting crown won’t translate into the MVP trophy, which Shohei Ohtani put on ice months ago . . .
The AL Central is so pathetic that Minnesota has the most comfortable division lead in the American League even with Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton unable to play . . .
No, the Alu playing for the Nationals is not related to Felipe, Matty, Jesus, or Moises.
Know Your Editors
HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Benjamin Chase [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.