As the frantic battle for the wild card concludes in both leagues, the one thing you can get everyone to agree on is how much of a bummer it would be if there were five playoff teams in each league instead of four. If that were the case –as is being proposed for the future — we’d have the Cardinals, Rays, Red Sox and Braves all safely in the big dance and we’d just be marking time until Friday.
But as The Common Man points out over at The Platoon Advantage today, even though a fifth wild card would suck the drama out of 2011’s race, that’s not the truth in many years. In fact, after looking back at what the race for a theoretical fifth playoff spot would have looked like since 1995, TCM concludes thusly:
“… historically the theoretical 5th playoff spot has been hotly contested, even down to the wire. In fact, the race for 5th has been a nail-biter far more often than it’s been a laugher … since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, the 5th playoff spot has been clinched on the last two days of the season 19 times out of a possible 32, and there has been at least one close finish every year with the exception of 1999.”
That’s pretty good. And while every time you lower the bar a little bit you allow a slightly worse team to be the one fighting for that last spot, it’s the drama, not the quality we’re all getting off on this week. I mean, Boston and Atlanta stink on ice right now, and that’s making this all great fun. Who cares if the late season drama comes as the result of futility rather than excellence?
If we haven’t said it before, it bears repeating: When it comes to pure muscle mass and power, no major league player rivals the sheer force of Giancarlo Stanton. His record-setting 504-foot home run in 2016 has yet to be bested in the Statcast era (though it narrowly beat out Jake Arrieta‘s 503-foot blast in 2015, because baseball is weird), he broke the Dodgers’ outfield fence on an attempted catch at the wall last Sunday, and he carries 25 home runs that have each exceeded 460 feet.
It should come as little surprise, then, that when Stanton muscled his 12th home run of the season against the Angels on Friday night, it not only hit the batter’s eye, but left a visible dent in the wall:
Stanton’s mammoth shot put the Marlins on the board in the first inning, setting the stage for a four-run effort that gave the club an early lead. The home run measured a cool 462 feet, the slugger’s longest of the season. He still has a little ways to go to catch up to the 2017 season leader, Jake Lamb, whose 481-foot home run against the Rockies currently leads the pack.
The next item on Stanton’s bucket list? If we’re lucky, maybe something a little like this:
Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.
While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.
When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.