It's another week of This Particular Week In Baseball, the baseball column that gets you up to speed on baseball happenings so you can more effectively neglect other aspects of your life.
Stand For The Standings
Teams are approaching the 70-game threshold, which is...significant. Just fantastically meaningful and really good. Excellent. You'll see.
I'm overselling it, but there what actually is significant about the 70-game mark is that it's about 70 percent of the way to the trade deadline, the drop-dead date on the baseball calendar at which teams have to decide whether to go in or cash out; less metaphorically, it's when teams either gear up to improve for the stretch run or tear down for next year. Alternatively they can just stand there like Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun in front of an exploding fireworks factory, waving their arms and shouting, "Nothing to see here!" to anyone watching. Some teams will pick Option Three, but most will see the fork in the road and choose a tine to walk down.
The second Wild Card complicates all this. Theoretically, and I stress that word by beating it repeatedly with a ball peen hammer, any mediocre team can run a stretch of games against garbage opponents, win eight of nine and be "in it" to "win it." A glance at the standings right now tells me seven teams have a good shot at five playoff spots in each league. If you think Colorado (-4.5 games out of the last Wild Card spot), Pittsburgh (-4 games), or Arizona (-6 games) could make a run in the National League, well sure, they could. Four games out in mid-June isn't a death sentence any more than a non-speaking part on the pilot of a Dave Coulier vehicle is to your acting career. But if you're honest with yourself, you know you'll be surrounded by cubicle cloth eventually.
The point is, there's a reason those teams are that far out. One is that they aren't very good. Another is that the teams in front of them are much better. The standings will adjust as the season goes on, of course, but for the most part we've learned enough in the first 70 games to know who is good and who isn't. The rest is just waiting for those teams to admit it, and act accordingly.
Hockey fans don't care about the NHL All Star game. Neither do basketball fans care about the NBA's version, really, and no football fan that ever lived has given a shit about the NFL's Pro Bowl. Baseball is different, though. Many baseball fans really do care about the baseball All-Star Game, and it's not because Bud "Mention This One Counts! and get an extra 5 percent off a '93 Dodge!" Selig did his thing, nor is it about the Home Run Derby or the Young Baseball Stars Baseball Game Presented By Snapchat or whatever they're calling the Futures Game this year.
No, baseball fans care about the All-Star Game because the All-Star Game is about recognition. This is the same reason baseball fans care about the Baseball Hall of Fame while no football fan can talk about that sport's hall of fame without devolving into dismissive fart sounds in a minute or so. The best players in baseball should be recognized for their greatness, and baseball fans care about this, and the All-Star Game is the traditional way to do that.
And yet this is not a great time for traditional ways to do things, and the All-Star Game feels like a vestige of a time before everyone could watch every game on their computer—four at a time if you're feeling particularly gluttonous and want to test your attention span. We live in that time, though; this week I watched the San Francisco Giants take down the Tampa Bay Rays live on my computer, and I live in Portland, Oregon. The walls are down, the glass is shattered, and a new drop ceiling has been put on backorder; in this one sense, the future is very much here. And yet we still have the All-Star Game. Because Daniel Murphy is having a hell of a first half and we'd be fools —FOOLS!—not to note it.
Top Three Of The Moment
It's moving day here at Top Three Of The Moment. This might be the year, but it ain't the moment for the Nationals, so they're out. The Rangers keep winning so, like the Jeffersons, they're moving on up, and the Giants can't be stopped so I don't know why they haven't been here all along. Maybe it's east coast bias, maybe it's just because I know they'll be here eventually so why push it? Either way, here they are.
The Giants started the season 7-10. Since then, they've gone 37-16. That's a winning percentage of .698, .003 behind the Future World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. The joke about the Giants playing well in even-numbered years is, of course, silly, but uh also here we are in an even numbered year and here the Giants are playing some damn good baseball. As of now they likely represent the National League's best chance to avoid a Cubs-centric World Series. Or, put another way: the Cubs represent the NL's best shot to avoid another even-seasoned Giants title.
On June 9, the Rangers embarked on a 10-game road trip that would take them through second-place Seattle, last-place Oakland, and second-place St. Louis. There are probably tougher 10-game trips, but that one ain't easy. I mention this because the Rangers won eight of those 10, including the last six in a row. They gave up 41 runs in those 10 games, so they didn't do it with defense and pitching, although to be fair 14 of those runs came in a single game. Instead, with the second best offense on a per-game basis in the AL behind pitching-deficient Boston, they're scoring runs like you'd think a team in Texas would. Imagine if Yu Darvish comes back healthy. That's the worst John Lennon song ever, but also imagine that.
We've established the Cubs are crazy good, right? So: on to the silliness. The Cubs have played against 13 different teams so far this season. They have a winning record against 10 of them. Guess the three teams with a winning record against the Cubs!
- San Diego
- San Francisco
And here's the sort of funny part: the Cubs are just 1-2 against each, hardly all that bad; despite the record, they've actually out-scored the Giants, 11-7. Every other team they've played, the Cubs have beaten more than they've lost. They're 9-9 in one run games, 2-2 in extra inning games, 25-8 at home and 22-12 on the road. They're not lucky, and there is no place where you are better than they are.
(Giants are pretty good though.)
Bottom Three Of The Moment
Mostly this is and will be an exercise in moving the Braves and Twins up and down while some third party pokes its head in and shouts, "This bathroom being used?" and then backs the hell out as soon as the smell smacks them in the nostrils. Just so you know, that hasn't changed.
Have I talked about the Reds bullpen here? Because I'm gonna, so you know, pull your shirt over your nose or something. Sunday night against Houston, they gave up two runs in three innings. That's an ERA of 6.00, and it's really really bad. Also it lowered Cincinnati's bullpen's collective ERA. If you look at things like BABIP or strand rate, the Reds' pen isn't getting unlucky either. They're just horrendously bad. The are second to last in strikeout percentage, first in walk percentage, and they give up a monstrous amount of jacks. The White Sox bullpen has given up 14 homers, best in baseball. The Phillies pen is second worst with 39 homers allowed. Then there's the Reds who have given up 50. No, wait, they gave up one last night. 51. Sorry.
The rest of the team simply doesn't matter when your pen is that awful. Cut everyone and draft local pets to pitch the later innings. They won't be any better, but at least there will be some laughter amidst the tears. "Wow! Patches just gave up a 450-foot bomb! No off-speed pitch to speak of but he's so cute!"
The Braves... did what? They swept the Mets? They swept the Mets. They swept the Mets! THEY SWEPT THE METS! THEY'RE... 19.5 games out of first in the NL East and on a 109 loss pace. The Mets though... wow.
Minnesota has lost 17 of the 22 series they've played this season. They've been both shockingly consistent and shockingly consistently bad. In April the Twins went 7-17, a winning percentage of .292. In May they upped it to .296. Before winning Sunday against the Yankees, they were at .294. Because of that win they're up to .333, but don't worry—it'll only take two losses to get them down to .300 and three to reach .286. There's still time, Twins fans. Lord knows there's not a damn thing else to root for, here.
The Match-Up of the Year of the Week: Cardinals at Cubs
It's mid-June and the Cardinals are 12.5 games behind Chicago. They're in second place, and somehow also still further back than last place Tampa is in the AL East. It's the fault of happening to be in the same division as what appears to be a generational team.
Which, mostly: whatever. There are other ways to reach the playoffs, but right now the Cardinals find themselves 1.5 games behind the Dodgers and Marlins for the NL's two Wild Card spots; what's more, they're also a game behind the Mets for second place. The series that starts today is not then about catching the Cubs. That's not going to happen. It's about catching the Mets, Dodgers, and Marlins. The Cubs just happen to be the team in the way this week.
The fact that these two teams hate each other and that the Cardinals pitching lines up pretty evenly with Chicago's makes it all the more interesting. Or maybe all of this is just another way to count failure in St. Louis. We're not there yet. But this series could give a helpful nudge in either direction. If we get there, a piece of gentle advice: stay way the hell off Twitter.