Does being in first place on Memorial Day matter?

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Memorial Day poppy.jpgQuick answer: If the Braves beat the Phillies today and take first place then, yes, a lead on Memorial Day is the most important thing ever. At least to Bravos Backers like myself.

Answer based on data rather than emotion: It matters about 65.625% of the time.  That’s the number Buster Olney’s research team came up with when asked how often a team makes the playoffs after being in first place on Memorial Day.  That’s based on a sample of 96 first place teams since the advent of the Wild Card, 58 of whom won the division, five of whom won the wild card and 33 of whom stayed home.

How does this year’s crop of firsties shape up?  I like the Rays, Twins, and Phillies to make the playoffs one way or the other. I’m way more skeptical about the Athletics, Reds and Padres.  I think first place in the AL West is going to be a revolving door. I’d like to combine the Reds’ offense and the Padres pitching into a super squad, but I’m skeptical that each team is complete enough to grind it out against their more talented division rivals.

Back to emotion over data:  I’m pretty psyched that no one is running away with their division this year. It’s going to make a for a wonderful summer.

And let’s be clear about something:  The only reason you have the day off today to sit around and think about which front runner will make the playoffs is because soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have died in service to our country. Far be it from me to tell you not to enjoy your baseball and your barbecue today, but before you do, give your thoughts and give your thanks to our nation’s veterans.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.

Alex Wilson broke his leg on a 103-MPH comebacker

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This one is brutal. Tigers’ right-handed reliever Alex Wilson was diagnosed with a broken leg after taking a blistering 103.8-MPH line drive off of his right leg during Saturday’s game against the Twins. According to the Detroit News’ Chris McCosky, it’s a non-displaced fibular fracture, but will still warrant an extended recovery period and signal the end of Wilson’s season.

Wilson replaced Drew VerHagen to start the eighth inning and worked a full count against Joe Mauer. Mauer roped an 93.3-MPH fastball back up the middle, where it struck the pitcher on his right calf. While Mauer took first base, Wilson got to his feet and tried to toss a warm-up pitch, but was in too much pain to continue and had to be helped off the field.

Even in a season that isn’t going anywhere in particular, this isn’t how you want it to end. The Tigers have yet to announce a recovery timetable for the 30-year-old reliever, but he won’t return to the mound until 2018. He exited Saturday’s outing with a 4.35 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 6.3 SO/9 over 60 innings.

The Tigers currently trail the Twins 10-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning.