September 30, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Now that the Washington Nationals are officially out of the postseason picture, I can spend a bit more time on keeping up with the other division races. It was a busy day, with three double-headers making up for the rained-out games in the northeast yesterday. The Blue Jays officially clinched the AL East Division title with their afternoon win in Baltimore, but they had to postpone celebrating until after the second game had been played. (On MASN tonight, F.P. Santangelo joked that the umpires in that game might need to give breathalizer tests to the batters.) The Blue Jays have had a sizeable lead over the Yankees for over two weeks, and were almost assured on the AL East title.
In Pittsburgh, it was the other way around, with the Pirates winning the first game and the Cardinals winning their symbolic 100th game of the season in the nightcap -- the first team to reach that mark since the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006 (102-60).
The L.A. Dodgers claimed the NL West title last night with an 8-0 victory in San Francisco over their division rivals, the Giants. For many weeks the Dodgers had maintained a sizeable lead over the World Champions of last year, so it was basically just a matter of time before the NL West was settled.
The Royals clinched the AL Central division over a week ago, but haven't been winning as often lately, and they are now one game behind the Blue Jays in the race for the top seed in the AL postseason. The real drama is in the AL West, where the Astros fell behind the Rangers last week, after holding a big lead for most of the season. Over the past few days, the gap has narrowed to just 1 1/2 games, and the Angels are hot on both teams' heels, just two in back of the Rangers. The Yankees will host the wild card game, but we may not know the other wild card team until the final day of the regular season. By the way, all games on Sunday October 4 will start at or shortly after 3:00, so no teams will be able to hold pitchers in reserve for the playoff games if they don't need them to clinch a postseason berth.
As of October 1, the table of postseason scores will automatically be displayed at the bottom of the baseball blog page. Until Sunday (or perhaps Monday), however, some of those matchups are not yet firm...
The "D.C. 9" are evidently still reeling from that dugout brawl between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper. In their first two games against the Braves in Atlanta, the Nats repeatedly wasted run-scoring opportunities and lost both games (2-1 and 2-0), in spite of fine outings by (respectively) Tanner Roark and Jordan Zimmermann. Indeed, the only run scored was the first career home run by newbie Trea Turner, who looks like a scrawny high school kid. He'll probably see plenty of action next year, but it's premature to say whether he is ready to fill Ian Desmond's shoes at shortstop.
Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell ridicules manager Matt Williams for ignoring the fight taking place on the other side of the dugout. Most people expect Williams to be fired as soon as the season is over. But Boswell's main point is about the big changes in the Nationals overall roster for next year, with as many as one third being new faces. Ian Desmond got a nice farewell from the crowd on Sunday, something that Jordan Zimmermann did not get to enjoy, which is a shame. I still think the Nats should pay Zimmermann enough to keep him in Washington, and in a postgame interview tonight, he left open that possibility but didn't give any hint about his wishes. Otherwise, the Nats' starting pitcher rotation will be almost the same, but the bullpen will have to be rebuilt almost from scratch. Craig Stammen will resume relief pitching duties after missing all of this year due to surgery, while the Nats front office will be taking a big hit to trade away the much-despised Jonathan Papelbon, to whom they owe $11 million for services in 2016. Is it too late to rebuild Drew Storen's shattered self-confidence? He did very well as the closing pitcher this year, until Papelbon replaced him.
Nationals fans who have suffered such agony late in the season in recent years should remember what it was like for the fans of the Montreal Expos eleven years ago yesterday, when the final game in Olympic Stadium was played. (Diagram update pending...)