MLB season heading toward a crazy finish
Redemption is all the rage in American sports. North Carolina won a college basketball championship in April, atoning for its heartbreaking loss in the 2016 NCAA title game. Golden State reclaimed the NBA championship in June, avenging their Finals collapse against Cleveland the previous season. The Indians will roll into October as postseason favorites, a team that coughed up a 3-1 series lead in last year’s World Series.
Cleveland’s status was bolstered by a recent 22-game winning streak, proving you never know what lurks around the corner in Major League Baseball.
We are all witnessing a season for the ages. The Dodgers won 91of their first 127 games. They rattled off 43 wins in the best 50-game
stretch of all-time. They were making their case as the greatest team in history … until losing 16 of 17 games down the stretch.
Remember, you can’t spell collapse without LA.
The Diamondbacks were once mired in a 6 1⁄2- weeek slump. While the team slumbered, their manager showed up at postgame press conferences with deep bags under his eyes. That was before a 13-game winning streak, where the Diamondbacks somehow went 98 consecutive innings without trailing an opponent.
The Indians’ streak was just the latest absurdity. They had more home runs (41) than runs allowed (37). They posted seven shutouts. They did all of this while getting just one inning from star closer Andrew Miller, who was recovering from an injury.
“I can’t remember a season where so many teams are going on so many long streaks,” Diamondbacks General Manager Mike Hazen said. “It’s been fun to watch.”
Oddities are everywhere in 2017. To wit:
Players Weekend forced the Yankees to break tradition and wear nicknames on the back of their jerseys. Joe DiMaggio would’ve surely cringed at the sight of Sonny Gray taking the field with “Pickles” stitched on the back of a gimmick uniform.
The Cubs sent Steve Bartman a championship ring, an apology worth $70,000. Mr. Met, a beloved team mascot, flipped off a fan. The Cardinals had a rally cat wander on the field, igniting a spat between the team and a feral rescue group. The Red Sox were busted using Apple Watches to steal signs, an act of thievery with huge implications.
Teams like the Diamondbacks countered the sabotage with a time-consuming strategy. Instead of using hand signals to direct a game, catchers made endless visits to the mound to script an upcoming sequence of pitches. You can bet this will be addressed in the offseason and ultimately lead to a pitch clock in Major League Baseball.
But the craziest twist comes from the ongoing power surge. Cody Bellinger became the first rookie to hit 10 home runs in 10 games. Eric Thames had just 30 home runs in four seasons before flaming out as a prospect, forced to spend three seasons in Korea. He returned in 2017 and hit 13 home runs in his first 36 games.
Aaron Judge is a 6-foot-7 monster and just the second rookie to exceed 40 home runs. Rhys Hoskins joined the Phillies on Aug. 10 and promptly bashed 18 home runs in his first 39 games. Giancarlo Stanton has an outside shot to surpass the 61 home runs hit by Roger Maris in 1961, a mark that stood for 27 years before steroids infiltrated the sport and killed the record book.
There’s a strange ambivalence toward the current barrage of long balls. From May 30 to June 26, at least one player posted a multi-HR game, a stretch that lasted 28 days. Yet fans don’t seem alarmed or suspicious, even though the total home runs hit in 2017 will surpass the record set in 2000, when the best sluggers turned out to be frauds.
Many believe the ball is juiced in 2017, and not the players. Former Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler noted how current baseballs no longer give when he presses hard against the seams.
Some believe the confluence of power arms and a new breed of hitters have created the perfect storm. Every team has pitchers who can throw 100 miles per hour. There is a new generation of hitters who subscribe to the launch theory, swinging with uppercuts to get the ball airborne, using a pitcher’s velocity to his advantage.
The Diamondbacks’ J.D. Martinez is the perfect example. He was once a groundball hitter with a fading career. He reworked his swing and discovered his golden ticket. He became just the 18th player in history to hit four home runs in a game. He came to Arizona to protect the incumbent slugger, Paul Goldschmidt. And he might end up stealing away some MVP votes.
The current trend should open the door for a new generation of pitchers who don’t produce maximum velocity, who get by on command, guile and a vast array of pitches. It also bodes well for the Diamondbacks, who are well ahead of that game.
“Look at our rotation,” Hazen said. “Zack (Greinke) is pitching at 90-92 (mph); (Zack) Godley is around 93. Guys who are able to navigate the baseball, command the strike zone and throw 3-4 different pitchers will be in demand. Guys who can go up, get outs and exploit weaknesses. We need to go find those guys.”
So buckle up, baseball fans. The playoffs should be compelling and highly unpredictable. The National League pennant is up for grabs, while there’s a new heavyweight in the American League. And if the Indians are the latest team to find redemption, I’m changing my Super Bowl pick to the Atlanta Falcons – the team that blew a 25point lead in the Super Bowl.
The Cleveland Indians celebrate their 10-inning win over the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field on Thursday night. The win was Cleveland’s 22nd victory in a row, setting an American League record.