This is a particularly busy time on the calendar for US sports fans. The NFL is in full swing; college football involves conference games not cupcake games; and MLB has our playoff series going on simultaneously. There is always something happening somewhere that is interesting and important.
Regarding the MLB playoffs, the two series involving AL teams have the two favorites holding a 2-0 lead. The Yankees have won their two games at home over the Twins in convincing fashion. The Yankees’ offense has been most efficient scoring 18 runs on 19 hits in those two games. The Astros handled the Rays in Game 1 behind Justin Verlander and then Gerrit Cole struck out 15 batters in 7 2/3 innings to give the Rays their 2-0 lead in that series. To put that performance in perspective, consider:
- Cole struck out every Rays’ player in the starting lineup at least once.
- Of those 15 strikeouts, 14 had a swinging third strike. He was just throwing the ball by everyone.
- This is the 10th consecutive start where Cole has struck out 10 or more batters.
- Only Kevin Brown (with the Padres) and Bob Gibson (with the Cardinals) have ever struck out more batters in a playoff game.
Since MLB went to the 5-game playoff series format, 31 teams have taken a 2-0 lead and 28 of those teams went on to win the series. A comeback by the Rays and/or the Twins can happen; it is not likely…
The two NL series have been more competitive. In their first game, the Cards and Braves were tied 3-3 after 8 innings; then the fireworks began. The Cards scored 4 runs in the top of the ninth, but the Braves kept the excitement level up by scoring 3 runs in the bottom of the ninth. The Cards took a 1-0 lead in the series and took home field advantage from the Braves. Notwithstanding that loss, the Braves have rallied to take the next two games to regain home field advantage. Moreover, the way they won Game 3 in the series was a sort of cosmic payback.
- The Cards led 1-0 at the end of 8 innings; the Braves had only 4 hits in the game.
- The Braves rallied to score 3 runs in the top of the ninth against Cards’ closer, Carlos Martinez.
- The Braves scored 3 runs off Martinez in that ninth inning in Game 1 – – but that was one run too few. Not in Game 3; the Braves closed it out to lead the series 2-1.
In the other NL series, the Dodgers coasted in Game 1 against the Nats. In game 2, the Nats ties the series behind a strong pitching performance from Steven Strasburg with Max Scherzer making a relief appearance in the game. The series moved back to Washington and there were echoes of a prior playoff disaster for the Nats.
- Anibal Sanchez gave up 1 run and 4 hits in 5 innings; Sanchez had also struck out 9 Dodgers; the Nats led the Dodgers 2-1.
- For some reason, that was the time to pull Sanchez and bring in Patrick Corbin for the 6th inning.
- Corbin and Wander Suero proceeded to give up 7 runs in the 6th inning and the game was out of hand from there on.
Years ago, the Nats lost a Series to the Cards when they had Gio Gonzales coasting through a game with a comfortable lead after 5 innings only to be pulled for what sounded like good reasons but in reality the reason he was pulled was drastic over-managing from the bench. There is another way to look at the Nats’ pitching situation in this post-season.
- The Nats’ bullpen has been horrible all year long. The bullpen ERA is north of 5.00.
- Now that the manager has taken two opportunities to “go to the bullpen” in potentially game-winning situations and brought in one of the three starting aces, what does that tell the relief pitchers sitting out there in the bullpen? The ineffective relief pitchers may now be demoralized on top of being ineffective.
- And the benefit of that would be …?
The Nats will be able to start Scherzer in Game 4 and then Strasburg in Game 5. That means they still have hope in the series – – but at some point, the over-managing must stop.
There is another big sports event out of the Washington area this morning. The Skins fired coach Jay Gruden after starting the season at 0-5; Bill Callahan (former coach of the Raiders) will be the interim head coach. There are plenty of reasons for the Skins to make a change:
- In more than 5 seasons with the Skins, Gruden’s record is 35-49-1.
- The Skins have been dispirited all season; they have lost their 5 starts by an average of 15.6 points per game.
- Attendance in Washington is cratering; Washington is a front-running town because – as a rule – the losers every 4 years or so they have to leave town.
- More importantly, Gruden has chosen not to play Danny Boy Snyder’s new QB toy, Dwayne Haskins.
- Most importantly, the Skins play the Dolphins this week and that gives the new interim coach a real shot at winning his first game to create the phantasm of the team going on a winning streak and “making a run at the playoffs”.
In a rational world, no accomplished NFL coach would take the job with the Skins’ dysfunctional organization. However, there are only 32 such jobs in the world and when one comes open, it behooves anyone who is offered an interview to take the interview and to take it seriously. In the statement from the Skins regarding the firing, they said that Gruden was being fired because the team had “not lived up to expectations”. Well, I guess that should be counted as “literally correct” since no one expected the team to win zero games for the season; however, anyone who looked at the roster and thought that the team should be as good as 3-2 at this part of the season is squarely in one of two mental states:
- He is looking at the world through burgundy-and-gold colored glasses
- His brain is parked at the intersection of Delusion and Fantasy Streets.
Finally, Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week. As of this morning, he is “halfway” to cashing in his ticket:
“The parlay: Wonder if Las Vegas will set odds on both Grudens — Jay and Jon — getting fired by the end of this season. There have been longer shots.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………