Staying up to date on the battles for all the various MLB playoff spots is a full-time job that requires daily attention -- and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing in this space, for the rest of the season.
The big news: Atlanta clinches its playoff spot in thrilling fashion, getting two runs in the bottom of the ninth on Freddie Freeman’s home run. The Braves will all but certainly play the wild-card game at home and are now in position to set up their rotation exactly as they want, with Kris Medlen expected to start.
The little news: The Cardinals won again and are now 4½ games up for the second wild-card spot.
Who is in: While the American League is a jumbled free-for-all, there’s really nothing to see here. The three divisions are wrapped up -- Washington, Cincinnati and San Francisco have already celebrated -- and now the Braves made it official for one wild-card spot. The Cardinals’ have gotten hot against the Astros and Cubs -- as any team should -- while the All-Star-laden Dodgers never fired, and the Brewers are fading. Even with five teams in the playoffs for the first time ever, the National League pennant races have proven to be uncompetitive. Hopefully the playoffs themselves will make up for it.
Pirates!: Pittsburgh beats New York 10-6, and is back down to two games under .500. The Bucs need to win five of their last eight to finish at exactly .500, six of eight to have a winning record. The Pirates have had 19 consecutive losing seasons.
Quirky statistic: On Aug. 14, the league’s leading hitter, Melky Cabrera, played his last game of the regular season for the Giants after a positive drug test. On that day, the Giants and the Dodgers were tied for the National League West lead.
On Aug. 25, the Los Angeles Dodgers added Adrian Gonzalez to their lineup and Josh Beckett to their rotation.
One month after those acquisitions -- one month later -- the Giants are 10 GAMES up on the Dodgers in the West. TEN.
The Giants have gone 25-12 since losing Melky. The Dodgers have gone 11-17 since trading for every good player on the Boston Red Sox, save Dustin Pedroia. And baseball, as Joe Garagiola always says, is a funny game.
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David Wright got his 1,418th hit on Tuesday night in the Mets’ loss to the Pirates. This would not, under normal circumstances, be a momentous occasion. I’m guessing that Jerry Mumphrey or Dan Driessen or Bruce Bochte or Lonny Frey do not remember their 1,418th hit with any special fondness … much less Pete Rose or Derek Jeter or Paul Molitor.
But Wright’s hit matters because it put him at the top of the New York Mets’ hit list. Well, it ties him with Ed Kranepool.
The top five Mets in hits:
1. David Wright, 1,418
(tie) Ed Kranepool, 1,418
3. Jose Reyes, 1,300
4. Cleon Jones, 1,188
5. Edgardo Alfonso, 1,136
Team records have always fascinated me because I don’t really know who follows them. I grew up an enormous Cleveland Indians fan, and yet I did not know that Nap Lajoie held the Indians’ hit record (2,046) or that Andre Thornton, at some point during my childhood, broke the team’s record for sacrifice flies. Didn’t know. Didn’t care. If the team record was actually worth knowing -- say, the Yankees’ career home run record or the Braves’ career win record -- then I understand. But the fact that every team has its own hit record, win record, RBI record and so on doesn’t seem all that interesting.
That said, when a club record DOES get tied like this, it’s a good opportunity to look back at the team’s history. The Mets, simply, have not had many good players for extended periods of time. No player in Mets history has played in even 1,900 games -- and the leaders in games played are Ed Kranepool and Bud Harrelson, who were pretty limited hitters.
Kranepool was 17 years old when he played for the famed ’62 Mets. In the 1960s he hit .247 and slugged .361 … both dreadful numbers, even for that pitching-heavy time. But he kept playing almost every day. Kranepool was so young when he was called up that the Mets just kept expecting that at some point the light would turn on and he would turn out to be a better player.
And they were right. From 1971 through 1977, he hit .284/.340/.407, which is pretty darned good. You would occasionally see stories then suggesting that Kranepool should be a 20- to 25-homer man. He never did do that, but he was a pretty good hitter just as the Mets started to descend into their 1970s abyss. His 1,418 hits are a story of pure willpower -- his to play with the Mets for 18 years, and the Mets’ to sticking with him when things looked pretty bleak.
It goes without saying that David Wright is a much, much better player than Ed Kranepool.
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The big news: Detroit shuts out Kansas City, White Sox lose to Cleveland, and the American League Central is now tied.
The little news: The Yankees and Orioles both lost, keeping the American League East tight, and the second wild-card race heats up as Oakland (up two games), the Angels (fourth win in a row) and Tampa Bay (sixth win in a row) are all victorious.
Who is in: Texas’ magic number to win the West stays at five. The Yankees’ magic number to win the East stays at seven. The White Sox and Tigers are tied going into the last eight games of the year. And though Oakland and Baltimore are in wild-card positions now, the race is still open because the Angels and Rays keep on winning. It’s amazing that no team in the AL has yet clinched a postseason spot.
Quirky statistic: Zack Greinke is now 31-11 the last two years after pitching a five-inning, one-run, 13-strikeout, mini-masterpiece of dominance on Tuesday night against Seattle. But here’s the thing: Do you know how many complete games Greinke has thrown in those two years? Answer: Zero. He has actually been a pretty sturdy pitcher this year, throwing seven-plus innings in 17 of his 33 starts. And he did throw nine innings of three-hit ball against the White Sox in June … but the game went into extra innings, so that wasn’t a complete game, either.
This is quirky … but not unique. We all know that the complete game is almost extinct. But for some pitchers, the complete game really is not even an option:
Most wins the last two years without a complete game:
1. Max Scherzer, Tigers, 32
2. Greinke, Angels and Brewers, 31
3. Ivan Nova, Yankees, 28
4. Tommy Hanson, Braves, 23
(tie) Aaron Harang, Dodgers and Padres, 23
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Here’s your Triple Crown update: Miguel Cabrera went 0-for-3 with no RBIs in the Tigers’ victory.
Joe Mauer: .326
Mike Trout: .324
Josh Hamilton: 43
Adam Dunn: 41
Edwin Encarnacion: 41
Cabrera is all but assured of winning the RBI title. But the batting title suddenly looks perilous. Mauer is 32 for his last 75 (.427) and this guy KNOWS how to win batting titles. When September began, Cabrera’s average was 20 points clear of Mauer’s. Now, it’s down to three points … basically whoever hits better over the last eight games will probably win the crown. And, of course, Cabrera trails in the home run race.