By Andrew Kahn
While most of the races are wrapped up (see below), there is still a three-team race for the final American League wild card spot. Houston is only one game up on both the Angels and Twins. The winner will likely face the Yankees in New York (the Yanks’ magic number to host the game is one). It all comes down to the final series of the regular season. Houston is at Arizona, the Angels continue a series at Texas, and the Twins host the Royals.
Several teams have clinched a playoff spot since last Friday’s column: the Mets, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Cubs, and Yankees. The Cardinals, despite all their injuries, won their 100th game of the season on Wednesday to clinch the NL Central for the third straight year. St. Louis is going to the playoffs for the 12th time in 16 seasons. Clayton Kershaw threw a one-hitter on Tuesday as the Dodgers clinched their third consecutive division title. Can the reigning MVP deliver like that in the playoffs? He is 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA over 11 playoff appearances (eight starts) and has gotten worse the deeper the Dodgers have advanced. The Cubs and Pirates should have quite the wild card matchup, as Jake Arrieta will face Gerrit Cole. The Mets hope Yoenis Cespedes’ hand injury—he took a fastball off the fingers in Wednesday’s sloppy loss—is not serious. New York’s American League team won its 10,000th game in franchise history on Thursday to clinch a wild card spot. Meanwhile, with Toronto heading to the playoffs, Seattle now owns the longest postseason drought. The Mariners have not been since 2001. Oh, and here’s my favorite GIF from the Blue Jays’ celebration:
Dysfunction in DC
Angered that Bryce Haper didn’t run out a pop fly—or perhaps just angry—Jonathan Papelbon choked Harper upon his return to the dugout. This happened on Sunday, the day after the Nationals were officially eliminated from postseason contention. Washington’s acquisition of the fiery closer proved to be far more detrimental than helpful. He’s been far from dominant, the team has fallen apart since his arrival, and he choked the star of the team and likely NL MVP. I was at a game in Fenway in 2009 in which Papelbon blew a save against the Mets and, in the bottom of the inning, stormed out of the dugout to argue a call in the field. It was bizarre, and indicative of Papelbon’s personality. Just as strange, manager Matt Williams allowed Papelbon to go out and pitch the next inning on Sunday. The pitcher has been suspended for the rest of the season. The manager awaits his fate. The team store wasn’t taking any chances.
The stakes were not particularly high—it was a 7-0 game between two teams that won’t make the playoffs—but a game that ends with a robbed home run is still awesome. Mookie Betts made a great catch over the short fence in right at Fenway, and the reactions—his, the bullpen’s, the police officer’s—are all great:
The catch preserved Rich Hill’s shutout. Baltimore’s Chris Davis hit two homers on Wednesday and leads baseball with 45, but he’s been robbed four or five times this season. The next night, Mike Trout added to his personal highlight reel, making one of the best catches of the season to rob a homer:
The run, the jump, the timing—just incredible. If you haven’t seen Trout in person, check your team’s 2016 schedule to see when the Angels visit.
Baseball has a nice symmetry, doesn’t it? On Saturday, the Athletics hosted the Giants in what would have been a very forgettable game if not for the pitching matchup: Barry Zito vs. Tim Hudson. The latter, pitching for San Francisco, is retiring after this season. The former, making his return to the majors, may be joining him. But with fellow former Oakland starter Mark Mulder, the other member of the Big Three from the early 2000s, in attendance, the aging hurlers gave the fans something to cheer about. That being said, their performance on Saturday was poor: Zito lasted just two innings, allowing four runs, while Hudson didn’t even make it out of the second, allowing three. They both received standing ovations, regardless.
The A’s made news later in the week by hiring the first female coach in MLB history. Justine Siegal will be a guest instructor for Oakland’s minor-league Instructional League club. Previously, she was the first woman to coach professional male baseball players when she coached an independent league team. She has also been a college assistant coach. According to a San Francisco Chronicle story, “Siegal will work with infielders, hit fungos and throw batting practice, among other duties. Plus, Siegal, 40, has a Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology. [The Athletics] are looking forward to having Siegal lead classroom presentations about the mental side of the game.”
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about baseball and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com and his Scoop and Score podcast is on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn