And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Orioles 6, Red Sox 3Yankees 9, Blue Jays 6: 159 games and NOTHING has been decided in the AL East. And, say what you want about the new playoff setup, but the fact that it matters so much who wins the division makes this a fantastic final three days. The Yankees close things out with the Red Sox at home. The Orioles go on the road to face that buzz saw.

Tigers 2, Twins 1; Rays 6, White Sox 2: That’s the sound of the AL Central title being all but sewn up. Anibal Sanchez with another solid start. If Max Scherzer is good to go in the playoffs, the Tigers’ rotation — despite all of the kicking and stumbling they’ve done all year — should make them a team no one wants to face.  As for the White Sox: bad time to run into a buzz saw Rays team.

Reds 4, Pirates 3: And with that the Pirates ensure their 20th straight losing season. The just stepped off the ledge and hit terminal velocity once the second half got going.

Cardinals 10, Nationals 4: Carlos Beltran went three for five with a couple homers and five driven in as St. Louis moves a step closer to icing the final playoff spot in the NL. Washington is all clinched for a playoff spot, but it’s probably worth noting that they still haven’t clinched the NL East.

Braves 6, Mets 2: All the Braves do when Kris Medlen pitches is win. That’s 23 straight of his starts in which Atlanta has prevailed, which is a new major league record. It’ll all be so much noise, however, if he does’t win his next start: the one-game wild card playoff.

Dodgers 7, Rockies 1: L.A. retains dim hope, two back with three to play. Josh Beckett tossed six innings of one run ball. Matt Kemp and Luis Cruz each hit two-run homers.

Astros 7, Brewers 0: And with that the Brew Crew is officially eliminated. It was a nice late run but the whole they dug for themselves earlier in the season was too great.  Watch out for next year, though: this team reminds me an awful lot of that 2010 Diamonbacks team that had the crap-awful bullpen and then the next year, when it wasn’t crap-awful, made the playoffs. Not that Milwaukee has to make up 30 games or whatever the hell it was the Dbacks did to turn things around.

Phillies 4, Marlins 1: Cole Hamels wins his 17th. The Phillies need one win in their final series to finish at .500. So that’s something to shoot for as they play the Nats this week. Well, that and the improbable sweep of the Nats while the Braves sweep the Pirates, resulting in a tied NL East and bonus tie-breaker baseball, which would be pretty fantastic.

Angels 5, Rangers 4; Rangers 8, Angels 7: The Angels rallied past the Rangers in the first game when Joe Nathan couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the ninth. In the nightcap Texas got ’em back, with Mike Napoli homering twice and driving in six. The Rangers clinch at least a wild card, but will have the west with one win over the A’s in the season’s final three.

Athletics 5, Mariners 2: Yoenis Cespedes hit an RBI triple and an eighth inning, game-tying go-ahead homer. Then Josh Reddick hit a two-run shot to put the A’s up for good give them some breathing room. The A’s solidify their wild card position, the AL West is not yet out of reach, but they gotta win out.

Indians 15, Royals 3: It’s the second Sunday in a row where the Tribe scored 15. This time, however, they did not outscore the Browns. The Browns scored 16 this week. Four driven in for Asdrubal Cabrera.

Cubs 7, Diamondbacks 2: I’ve stared at this box score for close to five minutes and can’t for the life of me think of anything interesting to say about it. Sorry, folks. That’s game 159 between a couple of also-rans for you.

Giants 7, Padres 5: A Xavier Nady homer tied it in the ninth and a Hunter Pence gave the game to the Giants in comeback fashion. Tim Lincecum continues to be exceedingly meh, giving up five runs — four earned — in six innings. He ends the season with a 5.18 ERA which, if someone would have bet you about it before the season began, you’d never have bit.

Meanwhile, on the cold, cold Hot Stove . . .

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It’s Hot Stove Season baby! You know what that means! Yep: time to watch some teams sign a few relievers to minor league deals and then wait everyone out until February while talking about the need to maintain financial flexibility! FEEL THE BURN.

In more specific news:

We’ve talked a lot about Betts this winter already, and that seems like madness. Bryant’s career with the Cubs began with business-side acrimony, it’s still simmering, and there is no sense that either side is amenable to a long-term deal before he hits free agency. The Indians have been signaling for some time that they have no interest in keeping Lindor long term.

It’s quite the thing when three teams who are supposed to be contending are, instead, looking to deal recent MVP award winners and candidates who are 27 and 26 years old, but these are the times in which we are living.

  • Joe Sheehan wrote an excellent column for Baseball America last week analyzing the attendance drop MLB experienced in 2019. Which is just the latest in a series of attendance drops. As Joe notes there is a very, very strong connection between teams (a) signaling to fans during the offseason that they are not interested in signing or retaining players or otherwise being competitive; and (b) teams suffering attendance losses.

As I wrote last offseason, there is an increasing disconnect between attendance and other proxies of broad fan interest and revenue. Which is to say that, as long as teams continue to get fat on long-term TV deals, side businesses like real estate development, and soaking a smaller and wealthier segment of the fan base with higher and higher prices, they really have no reason to care if several thousand common or casual fans become alienated by their teams’ lack of desire to compete.

Sullivan doesn’t offer ideas about how that can happen, but over the past couple of seasons we’ve seen a number of proposals, some broad, some specific, about how MLB can turn its free agency/trading period into frantic, 1-3 day scrambles-to-sign like we see in both the NBA and NFL. I’m sympathetic to that desire — it’s exciting! — but any attempt to do that in Major League Baseball, at least as things are currently set up, would be a disaster for the players.

In the NBA and NFL you have salary caps and floors and, in the NBA, you have max contracts. As a result, teams both have a set amount of money to spend and an incentive to spend that money. We can quibble with whether those incentives are the best ones or if they benefit the players as much as other systems might, but there’s at least something inherent in their systems which inspires teams to sign free agents.

In Major League Baseball, there is no such incentive. May teams want to keep payrolls as low as possible under the guise of rebuilding or tanking and there is no effective mechanism to keep them from doing so. Even nominal contenders — see the Cubs, Indians and Red sox in item 1 above — spend more time thinking about how to cut payroll rather than add talent. This is bolstered by the stuff in item 2 above in which attendance and even winning has less of an impact on the bottom line than it ever has.

So, why scramble to sign players by a set deadline? Under most of the scenarios I see floated — like the laughably horrible one MLB reportedly suggested to the MLBPA — teams would just wait out free agents until deadline day, give them crappy take-it-or-leave-it offers and then leave them all scrambling to sign one-year deals or to sit the season out.

For such a thing to happen — or for teams to want to keep their bright young stars or for the league to want to maintain fan interest and keep attendance from continuing to slide — there must be incentives put in place to make them want to sign and retain players. To make them want to win. To make them want to excite the fan base.

At present, such incentives are not there. And, as such, we are faced with yet another winter with a cold, cold stove.