Pennant Racin', Sept. 25
OK, I changed the title of this little series from “Must-Win Update” to “Pennant Racin’,” because: (1) I heard from a couple of you who took the whole Must-Win thing a bit more seriously than I intended, and (2) A couple of must-win teams — the Giants and Padres, specifically — did not win, and basically played themselves out of the race. So we’re left with a smaller batch of teams to work with.
So, new name, but it’s still the same baseball nonsense you’ve come to expect….
Toronto Blue Jays (beat the Rays 9-5)
Let’s talk for a minute about George Springer’s inside-the-park home run … as you might know, I have a theory that there have been, like, five ACTUAL inside-the-park home runs hit in baseball history, and the rest have been misplays, lucky bounces, sun-blindings, lack-of-defensive-hustle and such things. I tend to rank everything in my mind, so when I see an inside-the-park homer, I will instinctively rank it on a 10-point scale, with 10 points being a legit-inside-the-parker and a 1 being “come on, that’s ridiculous defense.”
I’d rank Springer’s homer a 6.7 on the scale. He legitimately crushed it — he mashed it 410 feet, and it would have been out of 24 ballparks. Rays centerfielder and cover model for Spain’s Vous magazine this October, Manuel Margot, is a fine outfielder, and he seemed to put himself in pretty good position to make a leaping catch at the wall.
But Margot misjudged his jump just a little — it looks like the wall was very much on his mind — and he couldn’t quite get his glove to it. The ball hit the wall and bounced away, and all of this was very legitimate.
But then Margot very clearly lollygagged after the ball. He seemed to think that leftfielder Harold Ramirez was closer to it than he was, but Ramirez didn’t seem especially interested in chasing down the ball, either. When Margot did get to the ball, he very casually threw it back into the infield — and Springer took full advantage, racing around third and heading home. The relay to the plate wasn’t even close enough to attempt a tag. Springer gets full credit for the hit and the hustle. But that was some lazy stuff from the Rays.
Springer had a wrecking-crew game — the inside-the-parker, a fantastic catch on an Isaac Paredes line drive and a terrific throw to nail Curtis Mead, who tried to stretch his ball off the wall into a double — and the Jays now have a two-game lead in the wild-card race. The Jays have three with the Yankees next, and then three more with Tampa Bay, who probably lost the division with this one.
Baltimore Orioles (beat the Guardians 5-1)
Three Orioles pitchers — teen pop sensation Kyle Gibson, master mentalist Danny Coulombe and Texas A&M left tackle DL Hall — held Cleveland to five hits and one run, and while that in and of itself is no great trick (Cleveland hasn’t scored runs all year), it put Baltimore 2½ games up in the division and set the magic number at 3. Amazing stuff.
In so many ways, this game was a microcosm of the Orioles’ success all season. No stars. No home runs. Adley Rutschman hit a couple of doubles. Aaron Hicks stole a base and scored a run. Acclaimed Norwegian director Heston Kjerstad scored one of the runs, lead singer for 1980s New Wave band Jordan Westburg scored another, it was a sweet team effort from a bunch of guys who just decided that they’re the best team in the American League, and then went out and became the best team in the American League.
Texas Rangers (beat the Mariners 9-8)
The Rangers hit SIX home runs — two of them by Marcus Semien — and held off a late Mariners comeback and won 9-8. They now have a powerful 2½-game lead in the division, and they would be a lock except that they still have four games left with Seattle. It’s fair to say they’re in really good shape.
I don’t know that I’m reading this right … but I have been sensing just the slightest shift in the MVP race. I mean, Shohei will win it — the oddsmakers still have it so that you have to bet $20,000 or $30,000 just to win $100 — BUT Corey Seager’s crazy offensive year is turning some heads. Seager homered AGAIN on Sunday, that’s No. 33 in just 112 games, and even though he will not play even 120 games, it looks like he’ll drive in 100 runs, and he’s in good shape now to lead the league in batting average AND doubles. He’s having a truly remarkable season, and the Rangers are in great shape to win the division, in large part because of him, and Shohei has basically missed the entire month of September.
And here’s the funniest part: At the moment, Seager doesn’t even lead HIS OWN TEAM in bWAR. That would be Semien, who leads the league in runs scored, will probably drive in 100 runs from the leadoff spot, and is playing outrageously good defense. He’s having one of the most underrated seasons in memory.
By the way, I just sort of rolled by that “will probably drive in 100 runs from the leadoff spot,” line because this has been an unprecedented season for leadoff hitters driving in runs. Mookie Betts, you probably know, just set the record for most RBIs from the leadoff spot; he has 105. Ronald Acuña Jr. has 101 RBIs from the leadoff spot.
And Semien has 97 RBIs — with four more, he will also break Darin Erstad’s record of 100 leadoff RBIs.
Shohei will win the MVP, I think that’s just going to happen. But Semien and Seager are having crazy-good seasons.
Sean and Eireann Doolittle
My wife, Margo, and I like to talk about which athletes we’d like to be couple friends with. Some of you married folks might agree with this — it’s so absurdly hard to find great couple friends. I mean, being honest, the odds of finding four people who all like each other with the same level of enthusiasm are long. And I say that knowing that I’m usually the dud who wrecks the couple-friendship possibilities.
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