Friday, September 18, 2015

Baseball Season Winding Down

Our youthful obsessions, how hard it is to shed them! For much of my childhood and adolescence, and well into adulthood, I followed Major League Baseball avidly. Many testaments to this enthusiasm fill past pages of this blog, and although I haven't ceased watching professional baseball, my ardor has waned, especially after the revelations several years ago about the extensive use of performance enhancing drugs by a large number of players, including some, like the New York Yankees' superstar third baseball Álex Rodríguez, who had denied ever doping up.

Jason Heyward, St. Louis Cardinals
More than being disgusted at all these athletes, including the ones who repeatedly and consistently misled the public, I was most disgusted with and by Major League Baseball itself, and its handling of the crisis as it erupted over a series of several years. For much of the 1990s into the 2000s the pro teams had benefited from the juiced players and their almost superhuman feats. The Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run battle in 1998, when McGwire hit 73 home runs to Sosa's 66, was the unmistakeable epitome of how PEDs had turned already great players into transhuman freaks, but Major League Baseball, attempting to draw audiences back after a strike and aiming to bank as much money as possible, aided and abetted the timber show, only later to denounce the two "heroes" for what was now clearly a PED-fed spectacle. (I must add that as far as I know, Sammy Sosa, once one of my favorite players, was never caught using PEDs.)

Perhaps even worse, by 2010, Major League Baseball had clear results of positive tests among a wide array of players, but rather than either exposing them and fining them or accepting the fact that supervised cycling could be beneficial for players and the sport, it appeared to hide the results until they later emerged as the result of a lawsuit, rendering the sport as believable as the theatrics on display with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). It has taken years for me to surmount my distaste for MLB's debacles, but my support for the St. Louis Cardinals never completely died, nor did my interest in pro baseball in general, which brings me to the current 2015 season, now winding to a close.
Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers
So what does the coming playoff picture look like? Let's start with the NL. In the NL East, the New York Mets (84-65) have a 6-game lead over the Washington Senators; in the NL Central, the Cardinals (93-56) lead Pittsburgh's Pirates (89-60) by 4 games and the Chicago Cubs (87-62) by 6 games, with 10 the Cards' magic number and the other two teams likely to achieve Wild Card status easily; and in the NL West, the LA Dodgers (85-63) lead their closest competitors by 7.5 games, with 7 the magic number.

Thus far the Cardinals have set the pace with strong starting pitching and a solid position-playing lineup without any stars, unlike in past years, when future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, and Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Chris Carpenter led them to 2 World Series wins in 5 years (2006 and 2011). All of these teams have real talent, though. The Mets have one of the best starting pitching staffs in the league; the Pirates have excellent young players; the Dodgers play more as individuals than a coherent whole, but have the pitching and hitting to go all the way. I'm rooting for the Cardinals, but whether they can get past all these challengers will be the test.
Chris Archer,
Tampa Bay Rays

In the American League, the East division leaders are the Toronto Blue Jays. Yes, the 85-64 Blue Jays, and not the Yankees. It's almost like a flashback to their 1992-1993 Cito Gaston years. The Yankees are only 2.5 games back, at 82-66, but have looked far less dominant than in recent years. In the AL West, which seems to be the perpetually weakest division, the Texas Rangers (80-69), who've had several continuous years of playoff success without winning the World Series, lead the Houston Astros (79-71) by 1.5 games. It's in the NL Central, though, where you can find the AL's real powerhouse, the Kansas City Royals (87-62). The Royals have a good but not dominant starting pitching staff, bolstered by the excellent Johnny Cueto acquisition from the Cincinnati Reds, but they do possess a punchy ineup and strong pitching relief.

It also has been 30 years (1985) since the Royals and Cardinals faced each other in the (in)famous "Interstate 70" series that involved a terrible umpiring call, the superb pitching of former Royals All Star Bret Saberhagen, and the only World Series appearance of Hall of Famer George Brett. That year the St. Louis Cardinals won 101 games and lost 61; this year they are grinding towards another 100 win season. The last two times they won 100 games, in 2004 and 2005, they lost the World Series to Boston and the National League Championship Series to Houston (now in the AL). In their recent World Series-winning seasons of 2006 and 2011, they had what appeared to be shaky records of 83-78 and 90-72. This is not to say that they cannot win the championship if they break the 100-win mark but I want to note that the last time they won the World Series in a season in which they won 100 games was 1967--and they had one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Bob Gibson, on the mound to defeat Boston in 7 games. However it goes, though, Cards, Royals, Yankees, Mets, or one of the other teams, I'll be watching!


Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
The statistical leaders thus far, in a season that has included six no-hitters, by Chris Heston (SF) against the New York Mets; Max Scherzer (WAS) against the Pittsburgh Pirates; Cole Hamels (PHI) against the Chicago Cubs; Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) against the Baltimore Orioles; Mike Fiers (HOU) against the LA Dodgers; and Jake Arrieta (CHC) against the Dodgers, and Zack Greinke's 45 2/3 innings scoreless streak:

AL Batting Leaders: Miguel Cabrera (DET) .338, Xander Bogaerts (BOS) .322, Michael Brantley (CLE) .315

AL Home Run Leaders: Chris Davis (BAL) 43, Nelson Cruz (SEA) 42, Mike Trout (LAA) 39

AL RBI Leaders: Jason Donaldson (TOR) 120, Chris Davis (BAL) 109, Kendry Morales (KC) 105

AL ERA Leaders: Dave Price (TOR) 2.42, Dallas Keuchel (HOU) 2.56, Sonny Gray (OAK) 2.72

AL Wins Leaders: "King Félix" Hernández (SEA) 18, Collin McHugh (HOU) 17, Dallas Keuchel (HOU) 17

AL Strikeout Leaders: Chris Sale (CWS) 259, Chris Archer (TB) 243, Corey Kluber (CLE) 224

NL Batting Leaders: Bryce Harper (WAS) .343, Dee Gordon (MIA) .332, Buster Posey (SF) .327

NL Home Run Leaders: Bryce Harper (WAS) 41, Nolan Arenado (COL) 39, Carlos González (COL) 37

NL RBI Leaders: Nolan Arenado (COL) 114, Paul Goldschmidt (ARI) 100, Matt Kemp (SD) 98

NL ERA Leaders: Zack Greinke (LAD) 1.65, Jake Arrieta (CHC) 1.96, Clayton Kershaw (LAD) 2.18

NL Wins Leaders: Jake Arrieta (CHC) 19, Zack Greinke (LAD) 18, Madison Bumgarner (SF) 18,

NL Strikeout Leaders: Clayton Kershaw (LAD) 272, Mike Scherzer (WAS) 237, Madison Bumgarner (SF) 219

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