To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, I was sick and tired of hearing about the damn bat flip. Seven long months had passed. And since then, that damn bat flip had become a meme, a tattoo, a reason for Goose Gossage to want his country back and everything else in between. But on Sunday, with one overhand right landing square on the very-punchable jaw of Jose Bautista, Rougned Odor (pronounced Roog Ned O’Door, like some kind of old-timey Irish criminal) has thrust last year’s ALDS between the Rangers and the Blue Jays back into the forefront of baseball once again.
So let’s talk about last year’s series for a second. So far, I’ve only really heard people talk about Game 5 in Toronto. And that’s fine since it was probably the wildest game in baseball playoff history, with a 53-minute 7th inning that stands right up there with the Billy Buckner 9th inning in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and the Steve Bartman 8th inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, as one the most epic innings of all time. It had the little-known Rule 6.03(a)(3), with Russell Martin’s throw back to the mound hitting the bat of Shin-Soo Choo, allowing a runner to score and putting the Rangers up 3-2. That’s also the play where the umpire originally ruled the ball dead, but after the call was overturned, Jays fans spent the next 18 minutes pelting the field with Canadian garbage. Then the whole episode was rendered moot when the Rangers made three errors on consecutive plays in the bottom half of the inning (all somehow involving Elvis Andrus), before Bautista hit his infamous home run and launched his infamous bat skyward, prompting two bench-clearing brawls and the Canadian police being called in to control the mayhem.
Lest we forget, the Blue Jays had not been in the postseason since Joe Carter’s walk-off in the 1993 World Series. So Bautista’s homer was the second-biggest in their franchise history. And everybody at the Rogers Center went understandably crazy. It won the game and the series for Toronto, all after the heavily-favored Blue Jays had been down 0-2 in the best of five series. And the funny thing is, if not for that historic 7th inning, or at least the bottom half of that historic 7th inning, the star of the series was actually the 21-year-old Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers. Who is Venezuelan, but sounds like a shitty peripheral character on season 3 of Sons of Anarchy.
In Game One, Odor got plunked twice by Jays’ ace, David Price. He also homered off of Price later in the game, made some fantastic plays in the field and also happened to knee Josh Donaldson in the head as he tried to break up a double play, forcing Donaldson to leave the game. Hey, that stuff sounds vaguely relevant. In Game Two, Odor was involved in another controversial play, as a throw from Bautista to second base probably caught Odor off the bag. But he was called safe after a review, allowing rookie back-up, Hanser Alberto, to knock him in with the go-ahead run in the 14th inning. By the way, benches also cleared in the 13th, when the not-at-all-concussed Donaldson was displeased with a quick-pitch from Keone Kela. And of course, in Game Five, it was actually Odor who scored on the aforementioned bizarre play between Russell and Choo. Because of course it was Odor. He was everywhere at once throughout the series. And yet we only remember Bautista and his damn bat flip. Maybe this was Roog Ned’s way of reminding the world what he could do. You know, besides fixing the 1960 election for John F. Kennedy or something.
The funny thing is, the Rangers and Blue Jays had already played six games in 2016 without an incident. Sunday’s game was actually the final time they’ll play this year. And with the Blue Jays sitting 7 back of the Orioles and Red Sox and four games under .500, not to mention the fact that both the Jays and the Rangers got swept in their next series, they’re also squandering a real chance for me to see the most-anticipated postseason rematch since the Red Sox and Yankees in 2004. But hey, the 2015 Rangers were just as improbable as this year’s Jays currently seem to be, sitting two games under .500 and 8 games back of the Houston Astros on August 2nd. So there’s still hope for me yet. Come on, guys!
If you missed Sunday’s game and only get your baseball news from this blog (which I admit I would be okay with), allow me to fill you in. In his final at-bat in the season series, Bautista got drilled by a 97-mph first-pitch fastball thrown by Matt Bush. Bush, a 30-year-old rookie who wasn’t even on the Rangers last year, was not ejected for the pitch. Not that Bush is a stranger to getting kicked out of establishments that serve alcohol. The former first overall pick in the 2004 draft, has been arrested for fighting a security guard who kicked him out of a bar just weeks after that draft, he’s also allegedly thrown a baseball at a woman’s head and banged on her car window because she drew on his face after he passed out at a party in 2009.
He also allegedly got drunk in 2009 and beat up a high school lacrosse player with a golf club while screaming, “I’m Matt fucking Bush!” as the whole thing was being filmed. And in 2012, he got kicked out of strip club for drunkenly trying to climb onto the stage, not knowing ‘Matt Bush’ is a horrible name for a stripper. Then he got in a friend’s SUV, ran over the head of a 72-year-old motorcyclist (he lived) and fled the scene. That landed Bush in prison for 51 months, although he’s still a suspect in two other hit-and-run accidents from earlier in the day. Dude is pretty bad at drinking. The fact that Matt Fucking Bush is finally in the Majors to begin with is an amazing story. Although the fact that a rookie with a zero-tolerance policy from his new club was the one presumably asked to do the deed against Bautista is way more interesting to me.
Anyway, next Bautista (angered by the HBP and the non-ejection of Bush) attempted to break up a double play with a newly-illegal slide aimed at Odor’s legs. Knowing that Bautista would be called out because of his slide anyway, Odor basically submarined his throw directly at Bautista’s still-unpunched face. And that’s when both guys squared off and Odor dazed Bautista with a solid punch that became the talk of baseball for the next week. Not detracting from all the talk was the fact that, after the game, seemingly everyone on both teams cut WWE-style promos on each other to the press, leaving the seven-month-old blood feud unfinished for the time being.
Marcus Stroman, who wasn’t even in Texas for the game because he was graduating from Duke, tweeted that he’s never respected Odor and never will. Erudito et Religio, Marcus! Bautista, who may actually have a strong chin, but also may have been saved from a knockout by good Samaritan, Adrian Beltre, said it takes a bigger man than Odor to knock him down. He also said he could have injured Odor with the slide if he wanted to, but chose not to. And he also criticized the Rangers for not going after him until his last at bat in the series. Jays’ skipper, John Gibbons, who ran back onto the field after an ejection (which is becoming a real thing this year), echoed Bautista with a similar statement and added that the Rangers were ‘gutless’. The thing is, Bautista was probably anticipating retaliation in the first four games of the series. And it’s possible that those delayed retaliation mind games held him to going 1-for-15 in those games. I’m just saying.
Either way, nobody outside of Toronto and the commissioner’s office really seems to be blaming Odor for the punch. Even though an old video has surfaced of him going all Bruce Lee on an entire infield during a minor league game. And even though footage also shows that he also tried to punch the spastic redneck Viking, Donaldson, on Sunday, after Donaldson came flying at him from the Toronto dugout like the spastic redneck Viking he is. And, even though it will be forgotten, everyone especially loved Prince Fielder’s reaction to getting plunked by Jesse Chavez later in the game. The whole episode has brought comparisons to the 1993 best-brawl-of-all-time between Nolan Ryan and the twenty-years-younger Robin Ventura. I guess because it was also in Texas. But the fun thing about that particular brawl (other than the classic Ryan noogies) was that Ryan stayed in the game and pitched hitless ball the rest of the way.
And that concludes the first and only time we should ever compare the Ryan Express to Roog Ned O’Door, who sounds like he was second in command to Bugs Moran and/or killed in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. Okay. Let’s finally move on.
AL MVP: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
The shortest man in baseball leads in WAR, wOBA, OBP and OPS. I’ve been told that the Astros are turning things around. I’d rather talk about someone else until they do.
I could easily give this week’s AL MVP to the entirety of the Red Sox’ offense. That team is fun. They lead the Majors in runs, hits, doubles, runs batted in, batting average, slugging and OPS. Jackie Bradley Jr’s hitting streak is at 24 games. Xander Bogaerts leads the league in hits. Travis Shaw is making everyone forget about whoever was supposed to play third before him. And then there’s Big Papi. The scary thing is, if you set aside Altuve, Manny Machado and Mike Trout, David Ortiz would have been my choice for the best player in the American League thus far. The dude is 40-years-old! I don’t know if some sort of weight was lifted off of him after he decided to retire or what, but over the weekend at Fenway, he had a game-tying triple and a walk-off double (his 600th) before getting doused with baby powder or cocaine or something. After the game, he had to rush off to a family function, so he told reporters, “Just say I’m a bad motherfucker.” He really is. So much so that I’ll avoid talking about that 4.22 team ERA or the first place Orioles for the time being.
Carlos Beltran hit his 400th home run this week, making it harder for me to say he’s not a Hall of Famer. Once he gets his 2500th hit, he’ll be one of only four current Major Leaguers (with Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre) in the 400/2500 club. Which is not a bad group to be a part of. Beltran was the best player on the Royals from 1999-2003 and the best player on the Mets from 2006-2008. And from 2002-2008, only Pujols, A-Rod and Barry Bonds had a higher WAR. That makes him a close second to Bonds as the best outfielder in the big leagues over that period. His career numbers are similar to Billy Williams, Andre Dawson and Jim Rice. He has three Gold Gloves. And although the highest he’s ever finished in MVP voting is 4th, and despite not having won a World Series ring, Beltran has been a monster in the postseason. It was actually his playoff home run record that Daniel Murphy broke last season. Oh, and he’s also the best center fielder not currently enshrined in Coopserstown. I’d say that’s a pretty good case.
AL Cy Young: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
Chris Sale and Danny Salazar are right there, but I’m still going with Quintana, who leads in FIP and WAR. Brad Ausmus and the potential job opening in Detroit may have eaten up all the news in the AL Central this week. And Ausmus may have eaten up all the sunflower seeds (seriously, I’ve never seen a guy neatly fold his hoodie on home plate after an ejection), but with the White Sox cooling off a bit, this division remains wide open for everyone not named the Twins.
AL Rookie of the Year: Byung-ho Park, Minnesota Twins
Hey, prior to the season I said at least one of the Twins new hot-shots had to pan out. And while Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios need more time in the minors, the 29-year-old two-time former MVP of the Korean Baseball Organization is here to stay. So there. I finally said something nice about them.
NL MVP: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
I have to give props to the Mets fans, who gave Murphy a standing ovation prior to their first game with the Nationals, a standing ovation for his first at-bat and then promptly booed him the rest of the way.
For a brief moment on Wednesday, the Philadelphia Phillies were tied with the Nationals for first place in the NL East. And I love it. That’s with 58% of their wins coming from one-run games (shout out to Cameron Rupp for hanging on to that ball!). I mean, they’re seven games above .500 with a -28 run differential. That’s unprecedented. But nobody in the division outside of Murphy, Bryce Harper or Yoenis Cespedes has played as well as Odubel Herrera. And nobody in the division outside of Noah Syndergaard has pitched as well as Aaron Nola and Vincent Velasquez. That includes Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez. I’m just as skeptical as anybody, but I have to love a team that I thought coming in to the season was actually going to be worse than the Atlanta Braves (as I pour one out for Fredi Gonzalez).
Gerrit Cole doesn’t think the Cubs are the best team in baseball. That’s fine. They looked like shit in Milwaukee. Other than the 13-inning ‘Travis Wood Game’ where Joe Maddon became a mad scientist, Kris Bryant used three different gloves in one inning and Wood got out of the most improbable jam of all time. Oh, and then Wood walked with the bases loaded in the 13th, which would win the game. That’s why he gets a game named after him. Other than that it wasn’t great. And Bartolo Colon hit a home run before Jason Heyward and his .225 batting average did. So Cole might be right. But it’s just kind of strange criticism coming from a guy who’s team isn’t even the best in Pennsylvania (Pirates burn!).
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Just so we’re clear, Kershaw’s strikeouts-to-walks ratio (K/BB) is currently sitting at 22.00. That’s 88 strikeouts and only four walks, almost doubling the single-season record. His career ERA + (which adjusts an ERA based on ballparks and eras) is also the best ever for a starter with Pedro Martinez at #2. His adjusted career FIP is the best ever too. And just look at this career stat line for a second.
ERA FIP WAR IP
Sandy Koufax 2.76 2.78 54.5 2324.1
Clayton Kershaw 2.40 2.57 50.5 1681.0
Now I know that Koufax threw four no-hitters, a perfect game and won three World Series rings in 12 seasons with the Dodgers. In 1965, he also pitched what was the greatest game of all time until Kerry Wood came along in 1998. But Kershaw is only 28-years-old and wouldn’t even be eligible for the Hall of Fame until after next season. He has just as many Cy Youngs (3) as Koufax won. And Kershaw’s best game ever is slightly better than Koufax’s best game ever.
Koufax 9/9/65 9 IP 0 H 0 BB 0 R 14 K 101 GSc
Kershaw 6/18/14 9 IP 0 H 0 BB 0 R 15 K 102 GSc
Only Wood (Kerry, not Travis) and Max Scherzer (the 17 K, 0 BB no-no from last October) have ever pitched games better than either of those. But I’m basically laying out an argument for you with cold hard facts as to why Kershaw is actually better than Koufax was. The fun part is, we might also be currently witnessing the greatest pitcher of all time. I guess I could check in with Gerrit Cole to see what he thinks.
NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
I’m finally giving it to Seager this week over Aledmys Diaz because, while Diaz keeps raking, Seager’s WAR is higher because he’s a much better defensive shortstop. Plus, I’m sick of typing ‘Aledmys’ and ‘Cardinals’.
You would think that since I just listed two Dodgers stars for Cy Young and Rookie of the Year that the team would also be doing awesome. Nah. They’re 8-1 when Kershaw pitches and 13-20 when he doesn’t. And it’s actually the Giants who separated themselves from the pack this week, winning seven in a row. And now they face the Cubs, who beat good teams and then lost to the Brewers and/or Padres. So I guess the Cubs will take 2/3 and the NL West will go right back to being a shitshow.
Alright. I’ll see you next week in the outfield. Remember to check out the MLB Recaps on ‘Comedians Talking Sports‘ with Joe Kilgallon, available on iTunes. Until then, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 117.