The All Star Game is a traditional time to take stock of a season. Looking at the standings at the start of today, a few observations.
- Every team in AL East is above 0.500. Yes, even the Orioles. In an unbalanced schedule, this is really hard to do. Itâ€™s even harder to do when the team at the top of the standings has the best record in baseball. The last time every team in a division was at or above 0.500 at the end of the season was the 2005 NL East, in which the last place Nationals finished 81-81. But the first place Braves (90-72) had the next-to-worst divisional record. That was the year that the Padres snuck in with an 82-80 record. Thereâ€™s still a long way to go, of course, but what is happening right now in the AL East is pretty remarkable.
- The new CBA had provisions aimed at eliminating tanking, most notably invreasing the number of playoff teams, but it certainly isnâ€™t working this year. The Nationals, Aâ€™s, Reds, Cubs, Royals and Tigers are horrible, and the teams just above them (Pirates and Rockies) will probably be giving up pretty soon. Thatâ€™s 8 teams winning at below a 70 annual game clip (OKâ€¦ 7. The Rockies are aiming for 72.) 0.500 ball has you just short of a Wild Card spot at the moment, but there arenâ€™t that many teams with a reasonable shot at it.
The only conclusion I draw from this is that it is absolutely imperative that you beat up on the bad teams. And after dropping two out of three from the Mets, the pressure to rough up the Nationals is there. Note that when I say â€œrough up,â€ I donâ€™t mean you have to beat them in laughers. To be tied in the late innings and exert your mastery through a superior bullpen is plenty good enough.
I was surprised to see the Nats start the Ghost of Seasons Past, Anibal Sanchez. (Cue Chipâ€™s pronunciation here.) What I was not surprised to see was the the Braves up 2-0 after two hitters, when Dansby homered, scoring RAJ. Lookinâ€™ good. But this was not going to be a 10-0 walkover. Kyle Wright gave up a homer in the bottom to Josh Bell, and another scratch run in the bottom of the 2nd that could have been a lot worse without some pretty wrigglinâ€™ by Kyle.
But by the 5th it was still 2-2. And Iâ€™m not worried. And I shouldnâ€™t be, because Michael Harris II took over, hitting a 2 run homer in the top of the 5th and saved a run with a fantastic throw home. The Ectoplasmic Sanchez gave up a homer to Olson to make it 5-2, Kyle Wright exited after 7 pretty good innings, and Minter gave up a run in the eighth to make it 5-3.
So then we get to the bottom of the ninth and Jansen returned. He may have a heart condition, but thatâ€™s his problem â€“ Hancock gives me a heart condition. Jansen pitched an inning in garbage time yesterday afternoon, but he returned as the Designated Closerâ„¢. A 9 pitch strikeout to lead off the inning was a bit nervous-making. The towering homer by Maikel Franco two pitches later used up his â€œwelcome back to closingâ€ room. A popup by Lane Thomas brought up Luis Garcia, who singled to bring up Josh Bell representing the winning run. Victor Robles, running for Garcia, promptly stole second as everyone does against Jansen. (A great closer can let everyone steal second… a merely good one can’t. I’m not sure what can be done about this, but if the alternative is Hancock, I’ll give up the steals.) This is what closers are paid to do, right? Jansen strikes out Bell on a ball about a foot outside and weâ€™d done what we needed to do. Another win against a bad team.
This isnâ€™t really a Chipwatchâ€¦ itâ€™s an entire broadcasting teamwatch. The way everything that they said about Pablo Sandoval, idiotic as it was, has been hauled out again in the service of the apotheosis of Robinson CanÃ³. Iâ€™m actually going to give Chip some credit here. He started one sentence: â€œLook. We donâ€™t know how long Robby CanÃ³ is going to be hereâ€¦.â€ And I know you have to try and say something nice. But the Braves started winning last year exactly when Sandovalâ€™s great bench presence and fantastic rapport with Latin players exited stage left.
And then when Chip says: â€œWe didnâ€™t see this coming but he was playing well in El Paso so the Braves took a chanceâ€¦â€ thatâ€™s just ridiculous. My mother could hit in El Paso, and sheâ€™s 88. He does still field better than my mother, but like I said, sheâ€™s 88 years old. Iâ€™m not positive why we got him, and it might work out, and taking at bats away from Arcia isnâ€™t necessarily the worst thing in the worldâ€¦ but for Peteâ€™s sakeâ€¦ stop blabbering on about it like it was actually an important move.
One last thing: With two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the winning run at the plate and Soto on deck, Chip said: â€œWe want to see Soto tomorrow, not tonight. You gotta get Bell to make that happen.â€ I would just point that there was another way not to see Soto until tomorrow which Chip apparently forgot about. But it all worked out.