Welcome to another week of This Particular Week In Baseball, the weekly round-up column that offers 45 percent more dietary fiber than the leading baseball column! This week we'll explore the standings, whatever the hell the Mets are thinking, and the most overriding fact about the baseball season: good GOD it's long.
No Such Thing as Too Much Bad Publicity: Mets Re-Sign Jose Reyes
The Mets may be the reigning National League champions, but they are still run by a cheap, inconsiderate, and borderline incompetent ownership group consisting of Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz, and CEO Jeff Wilpon, whose surname might sound familiar. They've skimped on a team that should be a showcase franchise for the game, and have used the team and its SNY network as a way to pay off the debts they incurred when they were caught up in a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. They've been sued, and settled, for sexual discrimination. Oh, and they won the National League last year.
This year, the team finds itself three games behind the Washington Nationals, tied with the Miami Marlins for second place in the NL East, and seems lucky to be there given the team's injuries and offensive struggles. Captain David Wright is out for the foreseeable future after back surgery, Lucas Duda has no timetable for his return, and super ace Noah Syndergaard keeps feeling something in his elbow, a place on the body where pitchers never want to feel anything ever.
The team's latest attempt to plug all these holes is Jose Reyes, the last rake lying in front of Sideshow Bob. After assaulting his wife at a hotel in Maui, Reyes was suspended by MLB for 52 games and then cut by the Colorado Rockies, who decided they'd rather pay Reyes $48 million over the next two years not to play for them than the alternative. This meant Reyes was available to anyone at the league minimum, and that—or that plus desperation, plus sentimentality, plus a crucial dose of shamelessness—was enough to entice the Mets into taking a shot at their former star. Reyes the player is still an above average hitter and his defense hasn't gone completely around the bend yet either, even at age 33; he is saying and doing all the right contrite things, for whatever that's worth. The team even has a need given the injuries in the infield. The question is whether it was worth it to fill that need in this way, with this guy. For the Wilpons, the answer is always "whatever."
AL Division Leaders Running Away And Hiding
When last we spoke, the Rangers, Orioles, and Indians were the division leaders in the American League. They still are, in fact, which makes this an uninteresting opening gambit, honestly. But wait! The interesting aspect is still coming up.
The standings last Monday showed the Orioles with a one game lead on the Red Sox, the Indians up one over the Royals, and the Rangers 9.5 games ahead of the Mariners. The Rangers are now 11 up on the Mariners, and 10 up on the white-hot Astros and honestly who cares what kind of uniforms they're wearing way back there. But while the Rangers have been keeping status quo despite the Astros' charge, the Indians and Orioles have been pulling away. The Red Sox can't seem to win a series in June—they're 2-6 with one of those two coming against the Twins—while the Orioles just keep on keeping on, beating up on division rivals Toronto, Boston, and Tampa. As a result, Baltimore has opened up a four-game lead, their largest of the season, in the AL East.
That's nothing compared to Cleveland, though. Not only are the Indians now five up on the Royals, they're winners of nine straight. With three on tap against the lowly Braves starting Monday, that streak figures to get longer. Four- and five-game leads aren't insurmountable, especially when there are still three more months of baseball to play (more on that below) but you'd be surprised how often a team with a five-game lead wins out. Or maybe you wouldn't be, I honestly don't know, but it happens. The team ahead by five games is most often the better team, and the Orioles and Indians have both increased their odds of making the playoffs by 15 percent over the last week, according to Baseball Prospectus. That's something for the Red Sox, Royals, Astros, Mariners, and Blue Jays to keep in mind.
Baseball Season LOOOOOOOOoooooon[snore]g
The division leading Orioles have played 85 games. That's three more than an NHL or NBA season, and 69 more than a full NFL schedule. And yet the Orioles are just barely halfway done, and that assumes they don't make the playoffs, which as you might recall is now fairly likely. Also that figure doesn't count the 27 spring training games Baltimore has already played. This is like finding the post-it notes that fell off your shopping list. Wait, Orange juice AND Orange/Pineapple Juice? Come on.
By the time the World Series is over, the winning team may have played more than 210 games. That's 1,890 innings. That's 11,340 outs! That's like all of Freddy Galvis' outs plus all of Jeff Francoeur's outs plus [does math] even more! So next time the umpire calls a third strike off the outside corner against your team, or the replay officials blow what you think is an obvious call at second base, remember to relax. There are still 11,339 outs to go.
Top Three Of The Moment
We've reached a point in the season where things have become stagnant at the top. The same three teams were here last week and unless the Nationals go on some crazy run, it's looking like we'll be seeing all three here next week as well. That's not a bad thing. We like good TV shows, we like good food, we should like good baseball. And even as I type that, I think, 'yeah, Matt, you love a good taco, but you don't eat tacos every day for week.' And, as I type that, I think, 'don't test me, jerk, I'll absolutely eat the shit out of a week's worth of tacos.' I suppose my point mostly is that I enjoy tacos.
The Dodgers were supposed to be here, or even ahead of here, but that's why they play the games. The Giants signed Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija—I want you to know that I almost spelled his name right the first time—when both were coming off letdown seasons, and both have been various forms of good this year. Cueto has once again been one of the best pitchers in the National League and Samardzija (got it that time!) has been around average, which is fine when you have Cueto and Madison Bumgarner on the team as well.
So the Giants are winning and have starting pitching and that's all nice, but let's talk about what's really important: Madison Bumgarner should absolutely totally get a slot in the home run derby! The most irrelevant of baseball contests—it's basically batting practice with Chris Berman screaming during it—could be made marginally less so with the addition of a pitcher, or sure, multiple pitchers. Let's also see a catcher base stealing competition, or The DH Bunting Challenge Presented By Diet Dr. Pepper. But really the best of those ideas is the pitcher home run derby. Get Bumgarner in there, and get all those dumb batters the heck out.
If you look at the Rangers pitching you may start to wonder how they're the second best team in baseball. We could go through it all, minute detail by minute detail, but perhaps you you're better off not looking at it at all. Perhaps the best idea is to shield your eyes, or put on dark sunglasses, or buy two eye patches and tape 'em both on simultaneously, so you will not be tempted to compare this team's pitching staff and its performance to your favorite team's.
It will bother you that their ERA is nothing special, and it'll make you queasy that FIP hates them even more. And yet here they are, second in all of baseball, well in the process of running away with the AL West and poised to improve at the trade deadline. Baseball's a funny game, by which I mean infuriating.
The Washington Capitals were, by far, the best team in the NHL during the regular season. They finished 56-18, six games better than the second-best team. That's good, but it doesn't stand out as incredible, and it isn't. That's mostly because, after the team got out to a huge lead over the first few months of the season, their urgency disappeared completely. They routinely got run out of the building in the first period, before rebounding to tie and take the lead in the second and third periods. It occurs to me that the Cubs might now be encountering a similar problem. After racing out to a huge lead—the Cubs were somehow up nine games on May 14—Chicago has slowed down of late, having lost six of their last seven.
Even so, Chicago is still up huge and the only real suspense left in the season for them is to figure out who they will play in the division series. It's still June! The players have to know this. They have to sense that the games they're playing in just don't matter that much. That can't be a good thing, but it's also not necessarily a horrible thing. The season is long and there's more to it than winning in April, in May, and in June, but the Cubs have won so much already that, for them, the season is effectively over. Now it's just a waiting game until October. The good news is that's not bad news. The bad news is October is a long ways away.
Bottom Three Of The Moment
If the Reds pitching staff shows up at your house, immediately call the fire department just in case.
The Braves are making noises that sound like words. Those words are saying things like "we don't want to trade our good young pitching." Don't believe those noises. They are placeholders, dummy words, gibberish, put there in place of more offensive words, like, "Yes, we would love to deal our 25-year-old ace because we're tanking so egregiously as to be an affront to baseball, our fans, and the Atlanta area."
Minnesota are winners of four of their last 10 games, which is not very good. But! Consider how bad the Twins have been this season. To date they are 24-51. That means, on average, they win one out of every three games, or about three out of every 10. Yet they are coming off a set of 10 games that saw them pick up four wins. HOT STREAK!
The Matchup Of The Year of The Week: Mets at Nationals
I was not nice to the Mets at the beginning of this piece, and they do have their problems both off and on the field, but this series might just be the medicine for what ails them. At the very least, it's an opportunity. The Nationals are struggling. Their best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, just went on the DL, and now here they come, stumbling into view of the Mets' periscope. New York will send Noah Syndergaard, a resurgent Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz to the mound while the Nationals will counter with TBA, TBA, and TBA. Presumably they'll name someone before the actual games start, and further research shows it'll likely be Joe Ross on Monday.
The bigger point is that the Mets will miss Max Scherzer, who pitched over the weekend. So that's no Scherzer, no Strasburg, and a reeling Nationals team that lately can't get out of its own way. Again: opportunity. Can the Mets beat a struggling team's back-end starters? After getting shut down by Atlanta's Bud Norris on Sunday, can they beat any team's back-end starters? Let's see! Well, you'll see. I'm keeping my eye patches on.
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