Let’s see. Just about the only thing to watch for Sunday is whether Giancarlo Stanton can meet, greet, and pass even by one the Roger Maris of 1961. Stanton has only to hit three bombs in today’s season-ender against the Braves to do it.
Other than Derek Jeter’s group buying the team and beginning the front office executions on behalf of maybe, just maybe turning the Marlins into a respectable franchise again, Stanton’s been just about the only reason to follow the Fish at all this year.
So here’s hoping Stanton has just enough residual thunder in his bat to take Max Fried and any other actual or alleged arm the Braves decide to throw his way over the fences. At minimum, Stanton has a fair chance of meeting and greeting the Babe Ruth of 1927 with number 60.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly may have an idea to help his man—bat him leadoff. And why not? The Marlins haven’t gone anywhere and won’t be going anywhere except on vacation after Sunday’s game. And Stanton is merely tied for the major league RBI lead, with 130.
He’s earned a shot. Mattingly knows it.
“I’d really like it myself, to see him get to the round number at least,” said Mattingly, who played splendidly for Ruth’s and Maris’s team once upon a time himself, until his own back put paid to his Hall of Fame chances. “You know, the number was 61 for a long time, and I’d love to see him put a couple up to see what it looks like. It’s a big number, it’s kind of fun, it’s kind of incredible to watch that many homers in one season from one guy. It’s just different.”
It sure was in Milwaukee this year, too. Here’s a tall one, too, to the Brewers. You know them, I think. The guys who came into 2017 with a roster about which “upside” might have applied better to the roof of Miller Park than the players on it. As Sports Illustrated‘s Jack Dickey writes, every other Brewer position was filled by an exile from the Island of Misfit Toys.
The guys who damn near snuck into the National League wild card game and even, once upon a time this season, had first place in the NL Central, at a time the Cubs were scrambling to pull themselves back together after (maybe) their bout with World Series Hangover Syndrome.
The guys who had a five and a half game lead on the Cubs at the All-Star break with a 50-41 record while they were at it. The guys who turned out to have more heart than heft down the stretch, though we might be telling a different tale if they hadn’t lost three out of four to the Cubs last weekend.
Or, if Jimmy Nelson, arguably their best pitcher this year, hadn’t gone down for the count in earliest September with the rotator cuff strain and partial labrum tear he incurred . . . sliding into base after an unlikely hit. (Who did he think he was, Mike Trout?)
Only one division leader at the All-Star break isn’t going to the dance. But the Brewers sure made things fun when they had no business doing it and nobody in the National League thought they would. This Miller’s for you, Misfit Toys. Keep this up and you’ll force Santa to bring you aboard the sleigh next year.
And this harp and pair of wings is for your 2017, Los Angeles Angels. You who managed to show some spirit despite an injury-decimated pitching staff enough to rival that of the Mets, but also showed some stay-with-it despite the shortcomings of your offense that aren’t named Trout.
Yes, it’s hard to know what hurt the Angels most this year, the pitching injuries or having to live about a third of the season without Trout after he broke his thumb sliding hard into base. Losing Yunel Escobar since early August was almost as lethal, forcing them to play C.J. Cron and Luis Valbuena just about every day, until they, too, slumped.
And with Albert Pujols still able to mash—especially that grand salami he yanked for his 600th lifetime bomb earlier this year—but unable to do much else thanks to his bothersome feet shaving him down since he became an Angel in the first place, the Halos looked for something, anything at the plate or on the mound and came up several bucks short.
Even so, they were the last team in the American League to be eliminated from the postseason picture. Right there it ought to tell you plenty. Even if it means they miss a third straight postseason and a seventh in eight seasons. And, it really has been fifteen years now since their first and so far only World Series conquest.
“We were grinding all the way to the end,” said Trout, whose four pounding strikeouts the night the White Sox pushed the Angels out of the postseason picture were yet another frustration from the still-young all-world player who probably put too much on his back after he returned.
The best news aside from him reaching 200+ homers at age 25 and leading the American League in on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS despite missing that just-about-third of the season: Trout’s notorious first-pitch swinging has produced big enough results in 2017. He’s hitting .432 when he puts the first pitch into play, including bomb number 201 into the left field bullpen.
“We battled,” said Trout. “We had our ups and downs. Injuries. A lot of guys stepped up. We’ve got to come back strong and start over next year.”
For every team except eight, “next year” are today’s sweetest lyrics. Even if, for some of the rest, the chorus might be, “This year was next year.”