In a week that included the return of Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ pitching performance that everybody wants to keep talking about was actually the following night, when Rich Hill went 7 perfect innings against the Marlins, before being yanked by manager, Dave Roberts. I don’t understand the problem. Granted, there’s only been 23 official perfect games in the history of baseball. And that includes Lee Richmond’s perfecto in 1880 that featured three outs made on ‘foul bounds’ catches. Because apparently, you could catch balls in foul territory on one hop for an out until 1883 for whatever reason. My point is, a perfect game is a real rarity. But if you’re a Dodgers fan, you should absolutely agree with Roberts’ call.
First of all, the Dodgers are still in a pennant race. And they need Hill ready to go, not only down the stretch, but also into the postseason. Second, Hill didn’t pitch for over a month this summer because of blister problems. And those blisters haven’t healed 100%. Third, between Hill and Kershaw and the record-tying 25 other players the Dodgers have had on the DL this year, it seems like far too great of a risk to sacrifice a playoff rotation slot just so the fans get to care about something neat for 24 hours. Also, the fact that the Dodgers are somehow in first place with all of that happening is more of a case for Roberts to be the NL Manager of the Year than for any complaining on the part of the shitty fans.
Fourth of all (is that a thing?), Hill had six outs to go. That’s still not easy. 13 would-be perfect games have been broken up with two outs in the 9th inning. And 13 no-hitters have been broken up this season, alone, after the 7th. One was broken up by Corey Seager with two outs in the 9th less than three weeks ago. Not that Dodger fans remember, since they think games end in the 7th inning, anyway.
Rich Hill and the unwashed masses of dumb baseball fans out there can be pissed all they want. Hill has gone 19 innings in LA without giving up a run. Yasiel Puig still made that circus catch in left. And Hill doesn’t have to walk around with a bloody shirt and missing fingertips, like he’s the killer from Se7en.
Speaking of near-no-hitters, Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs took one into the 9th inning at Busch Stadium on Monday. And man, I wanted that one. Stupid Jeremy Hazelbaker with his James-Hetfield-on-meth face and his eight seasons in the minors. But nonetheless, the performance catapulted Hendricks from a semi-anonymous ERA leader into the heart of the National League Cy Young conversation. Before the season started, I remember seeing that Hendricks finished 2015 in the top 15 in the league in WAR and FIP and thinking, “He might be the most underrated pitcher in the Majors.” What I didn’t expect to say was, “By September, he’ll be getting compared to Greg Maddux on the regular.”
For the record, I don’t think Kyle Hendricks should be the Cy Young winner. If we exclude Kershaw for the time being, right now, my top 5 looks like this…
ERA FIP WAR
1. Noah Syndergaard Mets 2.43 2.25 6.2
2. Jose Fernandez Marlins 2.99 2.39 5.7
3. Max Scherzer Nationals 2.78 3.13 5.3
4. Madison Bumgarner Giants 2.66 3.19 4.6
5. Johnny Cueto Giants 2.90 3.11 4.5
However, 6-8 would look like this…
6. Kyle Hendricks Cubs 2.03 3.37 3.7
7. Jon Lester Cubs 2.40 3.45 3.9
8. Jake Arrieta Cubs 2.91 3.48 3.5
So the main debate Cubs fans should be having right now is who starts Game 1 of the NLDS.
Let’s go around the league.
The AL East
Eliminated This Week: The Rays.
The Blue Jays got cold at the exact wrong time. They’re 3-9 in September. They look tired. Josh Donaldson is hurt. And manager, John Gibbons, said they’d hit rock bottom. As of now, they still have a slim lead over the Tigers, Mariners, Yankees and Astros for that second Wild Card. So I’m guessing real rock bottom happens when only one of the AL East teams makes it to the postseason. Sure, the Jays (63.1%) and Orioles (66.1%) still have better projections than the other contenders, but here’s a little update on the remaining AL East Clusterfuck Death Match.
Red Sox vs. Blue Jays. 3 Games.
Red Sox vs. Orioles. 4 Games.
Red Sox vs. Yankees. 7 Games.
Blue Jays vs. Yankees. 4 Games.
Blue Jays vs. Orioles. 3 Games.
Orioles vs. Yankees. 3 Games.
The Red Sox (91.1%) may look like the favorites right now. But this is just a friendly reminder that 10 of their 17 remaining games are on the road. And seven games (Se7en!) against the red-hot Baby Bombers (9.4%) looks spoiler-tastic, if you ask me.
The AL Central
Since the Indians look like a lock in the division (Magic Number: 12), maybe we should talk about how Danny Salazar might be done for the season. Nah, let’s argue about who should win the AL Rookie of the Year. Here are the top 5 in WAR.
Michael Fulmer Tigers 2.6
Gary Sanchez Yankees 2.4
Christopher Devenski Astros 2.4
Tyler Naquin Indians 2.0
Tim Anderson White Sox 1.7
Fulmer doesn’t quite qualify for the ERA title just yet, but he does lead all AL pitchers with 20 or more starts. So he’s still the guy. That being said, what Gary Sanchez has done in 37 games is amazing. People keep bringing up how, in 1959, Willie McCovey won the NL Rookie of the Year after only playing 52 games. Well, he probably shouldn’t have.
Vada Pinson Redlegs 5.3
Jim Owens Phillies 4.5
Willie McCovey Giants 3.1
Joe Koppe Phillies 2.5
Ernie Broglio Cardinals 2.3
Hey, this Broglio looks like he’s gonna be great! The Cubs should totally trade him for Lou Brock in five years! Anyway, it’s Fulmer unless Sanchez keeps becoming Pudge Rodriguez times Manny Ramirez over the final 17 games of the season. Which he might.
The AL West
Eliminated This Week: The Athletics, the Angels.
Should the Rangers worry about their pitching? Right now, they’re 21st in the Majors (4.41) in ERA. That’s worse than the Orioles (4.38), who have an excellent bullpen, but always get criticized for their starters. No other contender has an ERA that high. It’s also hard for me to understand why a team with a +19 run differential has the best record in the American League. If you took away their 15-3 record against the Astros this year, the Astros would actually have a slightly better winning percentage. Too bad for the Astros that those games actually did happen. I’m this close to declaring them dead.
The hottest team in the Majors happens to be the Seattle Mariners. And they also happen to have what is being declared a soft schedule going forward. 6 against the Stros, 3 against the cold-ass Blue Jays, 3 against the awful Twins and 4 against the almost-as-awful A’s. And most of those are at home. So maybe Kyle isn’t the only Seager who will get MVP votes this year. And maybe they’ll cool off as soon as I post this, just like every other sleeper team has the past few weeks and we’ll go right back to the Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays coming out of the East.
The NL East
Eliminated This Week: The Phillies, the Braves (Wild Card).
Not even Stephen Strasburg knows if he’s gonna pitch again this season. And while that might put extra pressure on all the other Nats starters, the team has stayed hot and will probably win the division by the next time we talk. That is, of course, unless the Mets stay hot. And with a schedule like theirs going forward, they probably will. Their upcoming opponents have a combined winning percentage of .424 and a run differential of -449.
Maybe now is a good time to mention that Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz will probably be back soon. And with the best chance (75.1%) to win a Wild Card slot and Thor going in that game against the Giants (70.9%) or Cardinals (52.1%), Mets fans are eager to point out that their team is 5-2 against the Cubs this year. Keep looking past everybody, Mets. The Cubs were 7-0 against the Mets in the regular season last year. You all saw how well that went. Also, yes I’m worried. And I’ll explain why in one second.
The NL Central
Eliminated This Week: The Pirates.
While the Cubs will have to clinch the division at Wrigley Field (oh, how I wanted them doggy-piling at Busch Stadium), they currently have 93 wins, which makes it the first back-to-back 90-win seasons they’ve had since the 1928-1930 Cubs did it in three straight. Their defense is far and away the best in the Majors. Kris Bryant is still the NL MVP. I already talked about their pitching. My only major cause for concern is that they haven’t actually played that well against the remaining contenders.
The postseason is obviously a crapshoot and I already mentioned the 7-0 record against the Mets last season, but the overall 23-22 record against contenders with a 70-30 record against the bad teams in the haves-and-have-nots league is going to give me tidal waves of anxiety for the next month or so. It’s a problem I’m not used to having. But I guess I’d probably prefer this over eking out another Wild Card slot and having to pitch Arrieta 9 innings against Pittsburgh. Actually, the Pirates hate being in that Wild Card Game so much that they opted out of being good this year just to avoid it.
The Cardinals are the only team above .500 with a losing record at home. And that’s why they’re probably glad they’re playing this four-game series with the Giants in San Francisco. And in case you were wondering, yes, the Giants still have the worst record in baseball since the All-Star break. Maybe after the series we’ll have a better idea if it’ll be Thor vs. Carlos Martinez or Thor vs. MadBum on October 5th. I’d call Martinez “Tsunami” if I felt like anyone knew that was his nickname. And if it’s Adam Wainwright, I’m gonna have to give him a nickname. Loki?
The NL West
Eliminated this Week: The Diamondbacks, the Padres.
Kershaw keeps shaking off the rust. And he didn’t pull a Strasburg, so those are all positive signs for L.A. The only major concern for the Dodgers is how they hit lefties. Or is it? That’s the thing that everybody keeps harping on, but if you look at their potential NL opponents in the postseason, who are we talking about? Gio Gonzalez? The Cubs have Jon Lester, but I kinda doubt they’d start Mike Montgomery in October. And if we look at the Wild Cards, it’s Jaime Garcia, Bumgarner (who they hit) and Matt Moore (who they don’t). It looks to me like they’re gonna be fine.
We’re coming down to the wire. If you need more baseball, catch me on “Comedians Talking Sports” with Joe Kilgallon on iTunes. Until then, the Cubs’ magic number is 1.