The State of the Races

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I think the photo just about sums it up.  Anyway, because I want there to be a record of all of this after my death (which should occur sometime on Monday or Tuesday at this rate), here’s where we stand:

AL Wild Card: Boston is like that kindly uncle holding out a dollar bill for little Jimmy to take. Except little Jimmy won’t take it for some reason, so the uncle gives it to Bobby instead.  The Rays are Jimmy and the Angels are Bobby.  Both are two and a half games back.  Tune in to HBT Daily later today as Tiffany mocks me about all of this. Because she’s about the only person I know who picked the Angels to go to the playoffs.

NL Wild Card: Boston’s collapse has gotten way more press because they’re Boston, but they friggin’ gained ground on their nearest pursuer yesterday. The Braves, in contrast, are going into their collapse with full gusto.  But let’s be clear about something: we do the Cardinals a great disservice when we make this all about the Braves’ collapse. Yes, that’s real and I’m not trying to minimize it at all, but let’s not forget that the Cardinals have won 12 of 14, including a sweep of the Braves not too long ago. A collapse can’t happen in a vacuum. Someone has to capitalize, and the Cardinals are doing just that. San Francisco is still lurking at 3.5 back.

As for the rest:

AL East: Signed, sealed and delivered to the Yankees.
AL Central: The Tigers are busy setting up their playoff roation.
AL West: The Rangers’ magic number is three. But even if they clinch, they have meaningful games against the Angels next week.
NL East: Philly has nothing left to accomplish in the regular season, but arresting that five-game skid would be nice.
NL Central: Brewers’ magic number is three.
NL West: Diamondbacks’ magic number is two.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.