Friday, June 15, 2012

Swept Mets, Swept Braves, Bring On Nats


Swept the Mets, swept the Braves.  On to the Washington Nationals.  This National League Eastern Division ain't so tough.

Seriously, if Bud Selig, or his successor, ever does radical realignment, and does away with the leagues and goes strictly by geography, we're gonna have a division probably consisting of the 2 New York teams, Boston, Philly, Baltimore and Washington, and, especially with the Red Sox apparently in long-term collapse, it'll be easy.

On Wednesday night in Atlanta, Alex Rodriguez singled home Derek Jeter in the top of the 1st, to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead, and inch himself ever closer to 3,000 hits and the all-time RBI mark.  The Braves took the lead 2-1 in the bottom of the 5th, on a home run by Brian McCann, but the Yankees responded the very next inning, as Jeter led off with a single and Curtis Granderson cracked his 19th homer of the season.

That produced the final score: Yankees 3, Braves 2.  WP: Hiroki Kuroda (6-6), who has really shaken off his early-season jitters and pitched very well lately.  SV: Rafael Soriano (11).  LP: Tim Hudson (4-3, didn't pitch badly, well, 6 innings, 8 strikeouts, no walks, but 6 hits and all 3 Yankee runs).

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So the Yankees move on to D.C.  Tonight, Phil Hughes, who "conventional wisdom" said the Yanks "should have traded," starts against Gio Gonzalez, another one of those pitchers that "conventional wisdom" said the Yanks "should have gotten." On Saturday afternoon, Andy Pettitte against Jordan Zimmerman, who was right around his 9th birthday when Andy made his major league debut.  On Sunday afternoon, Ivan Nova vs. Edwin Jackson.

The Nats have surprised.  With Stephen Strasburg fully back from Tommy John surgery, their pitching has been terrific.  They lead the NL East by 4 1/2 games over the Mets (by 6 in the loss column).  No Washington baseball team has looked good this late in the season since the 1969 Senators.  None has stayed in the Pennant race the whole way since the 1945 Senators.  None has won a Pennant since the 1933 Senators.  And none has won a World Series since the 1924 Senators.  But these Nats are starting to get a halo of destiny about them.

I certainly wouldn't want to lose the World Series, or even fail to get into it again.  But if the Nats won, it would be a good thing.  The capital area didn't even have a team for 2 generations, and except for a few brief flashes (the late 1950s, with the team that would become the Minnesota Twins, and 1969, with the replacement team that would soon fall apart and become the Texas Rangers), they haven't had a good team since World War II.

And they haven't had much luck in other sports, either: The Wizards haven't won a title since 1978 or even gotten close since losing the Finals in 1979 (and they were then known as the Bullets), the Capitals have reached the Stanley Cup Finals once in their nearly 40-year history, and even the Redskins haven't won a title in 20 years, won just 2 Playoff games in the last 19, and haven't made the Playoffs at all in the last 4 seasons.

With the Nats' early-season success, attendance at Nationals Park is up to 28,335 per game, up 4,000 a game (17 percent) from last season. They got 29,005 in 2008, the first season of the new ballpark, and 33,728 in 2005, their first season in D.C. after being the Montreal Expos (who peaked at 28,650 in 1983) and the first season of MLB in Washington since 1971.

The "Old Senators" (Twins) peak was 13,254, in 1946, the year the boys came back from The War.  The "New Senators" (Rangers) peak was 11,335, in the Ted Williams year of 1969.

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As for the Yankees: With 62 games gone, and 100 to go, we are 37-25, in first place in the American League East.  The Baltimore Orioles are half a game back, 1 in the loss column.  The Tampa Bay Rays, who got swept at home by the Mets -- thank you, Other Team -- are 2 1/2 back, 3 in the loss column.  The Boston Red Sox and the pesky Toronto Blue Jays are both 6 1/2 back, 7 in the loss column.

Magic Numbers to eliminate these teams from the Division title: O's 99, Strays 97, Scum and Peskies 93.

If the current MLB standings hold to the end of the season, the AL Wild Card game will be the Rays at the Orioles, with the winner going on to face the Texas Rangers (since neither can face the team with the best record in the AL, because that's the Yankees, and they're both in the same Division as the Yankees), while the Yankees would have home-field advantage against the Chicago White Sox.

The NL Wild Card game would be the Mets at the San Francisco Giants -- imagine that, the added Wild Card berth helps the Mets! -- with the winner going on to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, so, theoretically, the Mets could play both of the teams that abandoned New York in 1957 and thus made their own existence as a ballclub possible.  While the Nationals would have home-field advantage over the Cincinnati Reds.

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