October 8, 2022 [LINK / comment]
62!!! Aaron Judge sets a new home run record!
It sure took him long enough! Aaron Judge was on a hot streak in early September, hitting home runs in four consecutive games, but then his pace slowed down even though he [hit two homers] on each of two separate days in mid-month. As he neared the proverbial "finish line," Judge seemed to struggle at the plate. Much like with Roger Maris in September 1961, the pressure on Judge became almost unbearable. In the first three games of October, his only hit was a single, and Yankee fans grew especially nervous. Finally, in the first game on Tuesday against the Texas Rangers in Globe Life Field, he crushed one to left field, thus setting new American League (and perhaps MLB?) home run record for a single season. Whew! Can you imagine the disappointment if he had failed to do so?
Congratulations, Aaron Judge!
So Judge is now the undisputed home run champion on the AL side, but what about the major leagues in general? It so happens that most of the sluggers whose MLB-leading records are in dispute were in the National League during the years when their home run totals peaked: Barry Bonds (73 in 2001), Mark McGwire (70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999), Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998, 64 in 2001, and 63 in 1999). The prevailing opionion seems to be that those records should be tacitly set aside, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said (foxnews.com) that baseball fans should "make their own judgment." I agree with that; there's just no way of reaching a definitive answer given the murky circumstances.
On the other hand, Kevin Blackistone lashed out at "sanctimonious baseball purists" in the Washington Post. In his view, Barry Bonds is still the single-season home run king. He criticized "historical denialism," arguing that record-keepers have "selectively disguised dishonest in baseball under the cloak of folklore and corrected the record only under duress." He finds reason to question the legitimacy of home run records amassed by Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, and others, focusing particular attention on the racial segregation of baseball's past. He stresses that Bonds was no different than most of his contemporaries, and that may be true -- or maybe not. In sum, it's a shame that we can't come to some agreement on how to treat such records.
Albert Pujols joins the 700 Club*
Not to be overlooked was the similarly huge historical milestone recently passed by Albert Pujols -- in Dodger Stadium on September 23 he became the fourth person in MLB history to reach the 700 home run mark! The others are: Barry Bonds (762)**, Hank Aaron (755), and Babe Ruth (714). Pujols had a mediocre first half of the season, with only four homers in the first three months, and it seemed that his "swan song" year with the Cardinals might be a big disappointment. But then he came roaring back, finishing the regular season with 24 home runs and a .270 batting average. Pujols hit his 701st and 702nd home runs back home in St. Louis, and his 703rd home run in Pittsburgh on October 3.
** The home run records of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, and a few others will be forever questioned on the grounds that their numbers were almost certainly boosted by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. (See above.) How much of a boost? It would depend on how long they each used those drugs, as well as what kinds and in what doses. Obviously, we will never know for sure. If we arbitrarily deducted ten percent from each of those players' totals it would be 685 lifetime home runs for Bonds, 548 (rather than 609) for Sosa, 524 (rather than 583) for McGwire, and 415 (rather than 462) for Canseco.
NOTE: The baseball "700 Club" is not to be confused with the religious 700 Club.
I only saw one Cardinals game during the years Pujols played with them (2001-2011 & 2022), and that was August 4, 2007. It so happens that he was not in the lineup that day, when the Nats trounced the Cards 12-1. In fact, they swept the Cardinals in three games straight that weekend, after doing likewise to the Cincinnati Reds to make it six straight wins. (I've only seen the Cardinals play one game since then, on the south side of Chicago in 2015.)
Congratulations, Albert Pujols!
Nats end awful season badly
There's really not much to say about the Washington Nationals' final week of the miserable 2022 season. They at least managed to beat the Philadelphia in one game of the four-game series, 13-4 last Saturday afternoon. Luke Voit, Joey Meneses, and Luis Garcia all homered, their 22nd, 13th, and 7th homers of the year respectively. (Nine of Voit's homers were with the Nationals after he was traded from San Diego.) That game put the Phillies' postseason hopes in brief jeopardy, but then they won the next two games. Some rookie pitcher named Tommy Romero took the loss in the Saturday night game (8-2), and on Sunday Patrick Corbin failed in his bid to end his season on a redemptive note, as the Nats lost 8-1. That game was called after six innings, after an hour and a half rain delay.
Then the Nats headed up to New York to face the Mets, whose fierce motivation to bounce back from getting swept from the Braves was on full display. Starting pitcher Cory Abbott at least kept the game close on Tuesday afternoon (after Monday's game was rained out), and a home run by catcher Riley Adams kept hopes alive, but the Nats fell, 4-2. In contrast, neither Paolo Espino nor Erick Fedde were effective at all in the next two games. On Tuesday night the first three Mets batters hit home runs, the first time the team had ever accomplished such a feat. The Mets scored seven runs in the first inning, forcing Espino out before the second out was made. Ouch! Final score: 8-0. The Nats' final game of 2022 wasn't much different, as the Mets prevailed, 9-2.
And so, I have updated the Washington Nationals page with final yearly data on monthly win-loss records, annual team-best batting and pitching records, head-to-head matchups, etc.
2022 postseason begins
The first-ever wild card series got underway yesterday, and only in the first game (Tampa Bay at Cleveland) did the home team win. In St. Louis, the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning (thanks to a rookie pinch hitter named Juan Yepez), whereupon the Phillies pulled off a stupendous six-run rally to take the lead. Closing pitcher Ryan Helsley just melted down after J.T. Realmuto hit a single, walking the bases loaded and then hitting Alec Bohm with a pitch. Then Jean segura hit a two-run single, and the rout was on. Never before had the Cardinals lost after going into the ninth inning with a lead of two or more runs in a postseason game. It reminded me of a certain (rather traumatic) game in October 2012. Karma, perhaps?
In Toronto, the Seattle Mariners' new hero Cal Raleigh (whose walk-off homer clinched a postseason berth one week ago) did it again, with a two-run homer in the first inning. The visiting team ended up beating the Blue Jays, 4-0.
And in New York, finally, the #1 wild card Mets suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the San Diego Padres. The home team had high hopes with their new co-ace Max Scherzer on the mound, but Max's former team mate Josh Bell stunned everyone by belting a two-run homer in the first inning. It was doubly amazing because Bell had been doing so poorly in San Diego since being traded there (along with Juan Soto) from Washington at the end of July. Bell's batting average in Washington was .301, but with San Diego it was only .192 -- suggesting he had major adjustment problems. But that's not all! In the second inning, Trent Grisham hit a solo homer off Scherzer, and in the fifth inning both Jurickson Profar and Manny Machado hit home runs. Max was forced out of the game amid a chorus of boos from the impatient fans in Queens. The Mets got on the board with a homer in the bottom of the fifth, but Padres easily won the game, 7-1. Max has probably never had to endure such embarrassment in his entire career. Max has a reputation not only for being a fierce competitor but for challenging opposing batters with fast balls, taking the risk of giving up a home run in an attempt to get a strikeout. I really felt sorry for him. He has another year on his contract with the Mets, and if they don't make it to the next round in the postseason, his stay in New York is going to be very uncomfortable.
This afternoon, Tampa Bay and Cleveland are locked in a scoreless tie aftter nine innings... Later this afternoon and evening there will be high tension in (respectively) Toronto, New York, and St. Louis, as the home teams strain mightily to avoid being eliminated. I'll be rooting for the Cardinals to win, because if that series continues into tomorrow, the game will be broadcast on ABC (which is a subsididary of the Disney media empire, along with ESPN), just as the game on Friday was. It was the first time ABC has broadcast a live MLB game in several decades, I believe. Even though I strongly disapprove of expanding the postseason with an additional wild card team and an additional three-game series, I must say that I have been enjoying the drama!
More on Lefty O'Doul
Thanks to Larry Freitas for confirming that the non-alcoholic O'Doul beer brand was named after the famous baseball player Lefty O'Doul. Last week I took the time to research his MLB records, but what I did not realize was that he was a member of the San Francisco Seals, just as Joe DiMaggio was. Thanks for the info, Larry!
October 21, 2022 [LINK / comment]
The inaugural wild card series: home field disadvantage
The brand-new MLB Wild Card Series were explicitly designed to give a big edge to the higher-seeded teams, with all three games being played in their stadiums. But the way things turned out, the opposite was true: three of the four home teams were eliminated, and in two of those cases the visitors clinched the series in just two games.
In Queens, New York, the Padres just stunned the Mets. As described earlier this month, the Padres hit four home runs off Max Scherzer in Game 1. The Mets managed bounce back with a win in Game 2, but then the Padres shut out the Mets in the deciding Game 3. Padres' starting pitcher Joe Musgrove threw seven innings of one-hit ball, and the Mets failed to get any hits in the final two innings. It was a stunning collapse, and the fans in Citi Field were miserable, especially since the Mets had held such a big lead in the NL East for most of the 2022 regular season.
In St. Louis, the Phillies likewise inflicted humiliation upon the Cardinals, who had shown steady improvement in the second half of the season and were expected by some to go deep into the postseason. But the Phillies' stunning six-run ninth-inning rally in Game 1 changed everything. Bryce Harper's second-inning home run and Kyle Schwarber's fifth inning RBI sac fly were all the runs the Phillies needed, and the fans in Busch Stadium exited quite glumly. It turned out to be a melancholy swan song for Albert Pujols and his long-time Cardinal team mate Yadier Molina.
In Toronto, the Mariners dealt harshly with the Blue Jays, who likewise had high hopes of advancing to the ALDS. Not this year. Toronto had an 8-1 lead after five innings, but then Seattle came storming back in the late innings, winning the game by a score of 10-9. And that was that: no need for a Game 3!
Progressive Field was rockin' as the Cleveland Guardians (formerly known as the Indians) hosted the Tampa Bay Rays. (Cleveland's last AL Central Division title was in 2018.) Both games were classic pitchers' duels, and it took 15 innings to resolve the deciding Game 2, on a walk-off homer by Oscar Gonzalez. I learned that, much like "Baby Shark" became a (rather childish) rallying icon for the Washington Nationals in 2019 thanks to Gerardo Parra, "Sponge Bob" has filled that role for the Cleveland Indians this fall thanks to Oscar Gonzalez.
For the record, I generally dislike expanding the postseason, though I'll admit that the new series does add more excitement. But how would you feel if you were a fan of the Dodgers (111-51), Braves (101-61), or Mets (101-61), and saw your team overtaken by teams with much lower regular season records? (Maybe you are such a fan.) I know I was a bit peeved that the Nationals were ousted by the second NL wild card team (the Cardinals) in the 2012 NLDS, the first year there was more than one wild card team in each league. Adding a third wild card team only adds to the confusion and frustration.
Divisional series: favored AL teams win, favored NL teams lose
In ALDS Game 1, the top-seeded Houston Astros were on the verge of being upset by the visiting Seattle Mariners, who had a 7-3 lead late in the game. (They scored six runs off the Astros' ace Justin Verlander!) The Astros narrowed the gap by two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, and then with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Yordan Alvarez crushed a three-run homer to right field to give the home team a 8-7 victory. That instantly changed the tenor of the entire series. The Mariners had a 2-1 lead for two innings in Game 2, but the Astros came back and won it, 4-2. Game 3 took place in Seattle two days later, and it was one for the record books: neither team scored at all until the top of the 18th inning, when Jeremy Peña hit a solo home run. Spirits in Seattle were crushed. That game was a lot like Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS (see October 6, 2014), when the Giants beat the Nationals 2-1 in 18 innings. Defeats like that are awfully hard to swallow.
In the other ALDS, the #2-seed Yankees took a 2-0 lead over the Guardians in the first inning of Game 2 thanks to a home run by Giancarlo Stanton, but they somehow failed to score at all after that. The Guardians tied it, and the game went into the tenth inning. That's when Oscar Gonzalez did it again, belting a two-run single that ended up deciding the outcome of that game. Back at home in Cleveland, the Guardians won Game 3 by a score of 6-5, but then the Yankees came back beat them in Game 4, and in Game 5 (which had been postponed a day due to rain) as well. That result seemed almost foreordained. Nevertheless, Cleveland outperformed expectations this year, and should do very well next year as well.
In the Los Angeles NLDS, the San Diego Padres managed to shock the top-seeded L.A. Dodgers in Game 2, evening the series. After the series shifted to San Diego, the Padres seemed to handle everything very calmly, and they beat the Dodgers twice to take the series -- against all odds! It was a vindication for the Padres' front office acquisition of Juan Soto and Josh Bell in early August in the trade with the Washington Nationals. Without that series win, the disappointing performances of Soto and Bell in the final two months of the regular season would have made that deal look very bad.
In Atlanta's Truist Park, the Philadelphia Phillies wasted no time: they hit four consecutive singles in the first inning, scoring two runs, and kept adding more runs after that. The Braves made it interesting in the bottom of the ninth, when Matt Olson hit a three-run homer to make it a 7-6 game, but the next two batters failed to reach base and the game ended. Game 2 was quite a pitchers' duel, but the Braves hit three consecutive singles in the sixth inning, scoring the only three runs of the game. Game 3 shifted to Philadelphia, and the Phillies blew away the Braves' rookie pitcher Spencer Strider with a six-run rally in the third inning, capped by a Bryce Harper home run. There were high hopes for Srider, who had just signed a six-year $75 million contract, but his lack of experience showed. The Phillies won that game, 9-1. In Game 4, Brandon Marsh hit a three-run homer in the second inning, giving the the Phillies a lead they would not relinquish. Braves pitcher Charlie Morton had been hit on the elbow by a leadoff single but kept pitching, which may have been a mistake. The Phillies kept adding on runs, and clinched a series victory with an 8-3 win over the defending World Series champions.
League championship series begin
The American League Championship Series got underway in Houston, and the visiting Yankees were at a disadvantage due to the lack of rest after ALDS Game 5 was postponed by a day due to rain. Nevertheless, the Yankees' new star Harrison Bader got his team on the board first with a home run in the second inning. But the Astros' Martin Maldonado did likewise in the bottom of that inning, and two more home runs in the sixth inning put the Astros ahead for good. On Thursday night, a three-run homer by Alex Bregman in the third inning was all the Astros needed to win the game. On Saturday the Yankees Will try to bounce back from a 2-0 series deficit. The oddsmakers probably say that either of those top-seeded AL teams is heavily favored to win the World Series, but the way things are going this year, you just don't know.
Having upset both the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves in the first two rounds, the surprise upstart Philadelphia Phillies kept up their momentum as the National League Championship Series got underway in San Diego's Petco Park on Tuesday. In Game 2, things looked terrible for the Padres when the Phillies staged a four-run rally in the top of the second inning, thanks to a series of fluke hits, including a double that right fielder Juan Soto lost in the sun. But the Padres bounced back with two runs in the bottom of that inning, and then scored five runs in the fifth inning. Against all odds, Blake Snell got the win. This evening the Phillies beat the Padres 4-2, as yet another first-inning leadoff home run by Kyle Schwarber gave the early momentum to the home team. The #4-seeded Padres have their work cut out for them if they want to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1998.
It happens that Philadelphia's pro football team -- the Eagles -- is also having great success this year, with a 6-0 record atop the NFL East Division. In today's Washington Post, Adam Kilgore discusses the City of Brotherly Love's unusual elevated mood. During the first two NLCS games in San Diego, fans in Philadelphia watched the game at the massive Xfinity Live sports bar, located near Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field. (Might those two adjacent venues host games on the same day this month or next?) The article points out that the Phillies had fired their manager Joe Girardi at the beginning of June, and few people back then thought that they could make it as far as they have this October.
Not having any strong preferences among this year's postseason teams, I've been rooting for the teams that include former Nationals players, of whom there are many in this postseason: Juan Soto and Josh Bell on the Padres, Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, and Brad Hand on the Phillies, and Max Scherzer on the Mets. The current Padres-Phillies NLCS therefore puts me in an awkward position! None of the postseason American League teams have any former Nats, but my lingering allegiance to the Yankees makes me partial in the showdown with the Astros. Another factor: the Yankees have not won an AL pennant since 2009, whereas the Astros have won three pennants during that time span: 2017, 2019, and 2021. Odd as this may sound, the Yankees are due for a pennant!
Ranking the postseason stadiums
Another way to choose teams for those of us who [were] "left behind" in the postseason is on the basis on their stadiums. So, I extracted the following list from the Stadium rankings page. (Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field is not listed because no 2022 postseason games were played there.)
NOTE: The names of teams that made it to the respective league championship series are underlined.
October 28, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Phillies, Astros clinch pennants with ease
By the time the sun set on Saturday, it was looking almost inevitable that the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros were going to win their respective league championship series. After splitting the first two games in San Diego, the Phillies won all three of their NLCS games at home in Citizens Bank Park. They won Game 5 by a score of 4-3 thanks to a two-run homer by Bryce Harper in the bottom of the eighth inning. Harper was named NLCS Most Valuable Player, who is batting .419 this postseason, with five (5) home runs. Any player who is on a hot streak like that has to be considered dangerous, and when he is on a team with someone like Kyle Schwarber, the opposing team needs to be extra cautious.
Trying to recover from a 2-0 series deficit, the Yankees looked almost helpless back on their home turf in the Bronx. In Game 3, their ace pitcher Gerritt Cole gave up a two-run homer in the second inning, and the Astros ended up with a 5-0 shutout victory. In Game 4, the Yankees took an early 3-0 lead, but when the Astros took a 4-3 in the third inning, you could almost feel the sense of doom. The Yankees came back to tie it and then took a 5-4 lead in the sixth inning thanks to a homer by Harrison Bader, but then the Astros rallied to take the lead for good in the seventh inning, winning the game 6-5, and sweeping the series. It was the first time the Yankees had been swept in a postseason series since the 2012 ALCS, which the Detroit Tigers won.
The last time a team swept a league championship series was in 2019, when the Washington Nationals did so to the St. Louis Cardinals. The last time the two winning teams combined only lost a single league championship series game was in 2014 when the Royals swept the Orioles, and the Giants almost swept the Cardinals. The last time both teams swept the league championship series was in 1975, when the Red Sox swept the A's and the Reds swept the Pirates, but those were merely 3-0 sweeps, not 4-0. (The LCS was in a best-of-5 format until 1985.) Oddly, the first two LCS matchups (1969 and 1970) in both leagues were decided by sweeps.
So, can the Phillies beat the Astros in the World Series? They certainly have them momentum after pulling upset wins in three series thus far in October, but the Astros appear to be a rock-solid indomitable force to be reckoned with. Tonight the Phillies' Aaron Nola (3.25 regular season ERA) faces off against the Astros' Justin Verlander (1.75 regular season ERA), who, it should be noted, lost both games he started against the Nationals in the 2019 World Series.
Comparing the ballparks
As is my annual custom, I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. There are clear contrasts between the two stadiums (Minute Maid Park and Citizens Bank Park) once again, but there are also strong similarities. Both of them feature short distances to the foul poles and deeper-than average corners in the vicinity of center field. Including 2022, Minute Maid Park has hosted the World Series in four of the last six years, a remarkable achievement for the Astros.
Just roll your mouse over the thumbnail images to switch between the respective full-size diagrams.
There is a brand-new page for everyone to enjoy: Postseason chronology, which shows each franchise's World Series records for each decade since the beginning of the 20th Century. As explained at the bottom, that page will eventually show all their postseason records, including the League Championship Series and Divisional Series. It has a new feature that I have been planning for a long time: color coded franchise names, based on their (approximate) present-day color schemes.
World Series 2021 wrapup on November 4, 2021
Monthly links this year:
Culture & Travel
Science & Technology
Jan 31, 2022 ~ Birding in October 2021: peak migration season
Mar 10, 2022 ~ Baseball lockout ends; 2022 season is salvaged
May 31, 2022 ~ Birding in March and April
Jun 6, 2022 ~ Russia's invasion of Ukraine: How to respond?
Jun 14, 2022 ~ Birding in May: prime time for migration!
Jun 17, 2022 ~ Ryan Zimmerman: the greatest Nationals' leader
Jun 17, 2022 ~ Watergate: the 50th anniversary
Jun 24, 2022 ~ Nationals honor "Employee #11," end losing streak
Jul 2, 2022 ~ Birding in June: high adventures!
Jul 4, 2022 ~ Happy 4th of July! Yankee Doodle Dandy Stadium update
Jul 4, 2022 ~ Happy 4th of July! Big weekend in Washington
Jul 7, 2022 ~ Supreme Court abortion ruling sets off firestorm
Jul 13, 2022 ~ Baseball road trip 2022: northbound!
Aug 2, 2022 ~ ¡Hasta la vista, baby! Juan Soto is traded to the Padres, along with Josh Bell
Aug 4, 2022 ~ Vacation 2022: "quickie" road trip to Canada
Aug 4, 2022 ~ Birding in July: New York (state), Canada, and nearby