Already thought to be on the hot seat for much of the year, with his Reds clearly in rebuilding mode and performing a little worse than expected, manager Bryan Price may not have thrown the switch on his own execution Thursday night. But being asleep at the switch against a team looking for every break it can get clawing for a second National League wild card spot can turn up the seat’s heat even further.
When Bryce Harper cracked on baseball needing to loosen up and have more fun, in a magazine profile published during spring training, he had players like Jose Fernandez on his mind as one of those who stood as evidence for the defense. Harper rather admired Fernandez’s ability not to take himself or the game so seriously that it became a job alone, an admiration that came slowly to others.
There are times when entire baseball seasons or championships are believed to turn, for better or worse, on single acts at the plate, on the mound, or in the field. Marshal the appropriate evidence and those beliefs can be either upheld or obliterated.
You could hear Dodger Stadium groan in the top of the third Monday night. An unearned Giants run that began with a steal and ended with a wild pitch was not supposed to happen when the Dodgers—behind Clayton Kershaw, yet—got crack number four at Madison Bumgarner this season.
You could hear the ballpark groan a little through the howls as the Dodger seventh ended, and Bumgarner and Yasiel Puig had a little debate following the inning-ending out Puig made on a checked-swing infield grounder. A debate apparently provoked by Bumgarner himself.
Watching the contenders? Sure. Watching the potential spoilers? Likewise, and maybe even a little more perverse fun than watching whether Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner comes out the winner in Los Angeles tonight, or whether the Orioles can keep the Blue Jays caged in the American League East starting tonight.
Take the Athletics. You know those guys. They have an amazing chance to be 90-game losers for a second straight season. They also have an amazing chance to put a little castor oil into the Astros’ wild card drinks starting tonight and likewise to the Mariners to end the season. Both at home, such as it is.
Thirty years ago, the Mets and the Red Sox locked in mortal baseball combat, in a World Series. It ended with the Mets on top of a baseball world that didn’t necessarily love that edition of the team, and the Red Sox having been kicked to the rocks below after having gotten close enough, yet again, to a Promised Land determined never to let them set foot upon it again, or so it seemed.
Try to resist the temptation to say the Cubs backed into the National League Central clinch Thursday night. Oh, sure, they lost a close one to the Brewers, 5-4, while the otherwise backsliding Giants did them a favour and spanked the Cardinals, 6-2. But when you’ve got baseball’s best record, and a division runaway was all but a given by the middle of the summer, you can afford to let someone else help you sign the title papers.
It’s not nice to fool either Mother Nature or your trading partner. The Padres are learning that the hard way. General manager A.J. Preller has been suspended for thirty days without pay for trying to fool the Red Sox at minimum. It may not stop there.
Allowing that docking a GM with a fortnight left in the regular season amounts almost to a slap on the wrist, baseball government has sent a message: Deal straight, or we’ll straighten you out. This after a considerable probe into whether Preller and the Padres played entirely straight when it came to medical information involving players it sought to trade.
Don’t look now, but the Cubs—the Cubs!—have a magic number of three—three!—to clinch the National League Central. Beating the Cardinals 4-1 Monday had a lot to do with that. So did Kyle Hendrick, who’s transformed himself from nothing special to never better this season, leading the majors with his 2.03 earned run average and his 197 ERA+, by taking a no-hitter to the ninth.
How Tuesday ended with one National League club all but eliminated from the postseason, another contender setting some home run records, a third contender showing a couple of vulnerabilities that might prove fateful come postseason time, and a couple of crazy (and heretofore unlikely) American League wild card sharps getting a little crazier . . .