You may think you’re enjoying tonight’s game-163 between the Rays and Rangers. And it may seem exciting and everyone you know may be talking about it and the playoffs. But you’re just deluding yourself, everyone. Because the New York Times tells us that, once again, baseball is dying:
… baseball seems simply to have fallen out of the national conversation (unless the conversation happens to be about steroids, that is). The last time baseball felt front and center, culturally speaking, was the 1998 home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. And we all know how that turned out.
What happened — is happening — to our national pastime?
As usual, TV ratings are cited. Without reference to the fact that baseball’s TV life is an inherently locally fragmented life and that, locally speaking, it does well. And that the game is financially flush and attendance remains near historic highs. It’s just another lazy “baseball doesn’t hold people’s attention like it did back in the 50s” kind of worrying, ignoring the fact that it wasn’t until the 50s or, really, the 60s, that baseball had serious competition from other sports on a national scale. Of course baseball isn’t going to dominate now like it did then. Heck, the U.S. had 60% of the world’s GDP after World War II ended. It doesn’t now. Not because the United States is dying, but because the world is a different place.
Even in the context of TV alone you never see anything treated as myopically as baseball gets treated. I watched the “Breaking Bad” finale last night. So did a lot of other people. It consumed all manner of oxygen in pop culture circles. But its ratings, historically speaking, were low compared to even the most pedestrian TV events. Seriously: the “Alf” series finale in 1990 got better ratings than “Breaking Bad.” Yet does anyone claim TV is dying? Of course not. Indeed, many claim that we are in a golden age of television. They say this acknowledging that TV is very different now than it was in 1990. It’s more fragmented, and the numbers tell us less.
Why can’t this level of intelligence be applied to baseball? Why must baseball’s current popularity always be compared to its old, completely unsustainable and unrivaled popularity in the first half of the 20th century? Why does a publication as smart as the New York Times approach this issue in such a dumb way?
After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.
The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).
Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.
With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.
Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.
With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:
So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).
Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.