Orioles complete sweep of Tigers, advance to the ALCS

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The Orioles are headed to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1997. The AL East champs defeated the AL Central champion Tigers 2-1 in Game 3 of the ALDS in Detroit on Saturday, completing a series sweep.

Starter Bud Norris blanked the Tigers over 6 1/3 innings, holding them to just two hits and two walks while striking out six. Nelson Cruz helped put Norris in line for the win in the top of the sixth when he laced a David Price change-up down the right field line for a two-run home run, breaking a scoreless tie.

Andrew Miller fired 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, and closer Zach Britton escaped danger after allowing back-to-back doubles to Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez to open up the ninth inning. Britton struck out Bryan Holaday. Then, after intentionally walking Nick Castellanos to set up a double play, induced a 5-4-3 double play out of pinch-hitter Hernan Perez to finish off the ballgame.

Price was strong, despite allowing the home run to Cruz. He went eight innings, allowing two runs on five hits and a pair of walks while striking out six. That’s enough for a win most of the time, just not on this particular evening.

Game 3 had two controversial calls by umpires. One occurred in the second inning, when Andrew Romine dragged a bunt towards the first base side with a runner on third base and two outs. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop charged, scooped the ball with his glove-hand, and shoveled it to first baseman Steve Pearce. First base umpire Jim Wolf ruled Romine out, which was promptly challenged by Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. Replays showed that the play was extremely close, but there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the initial call. As expected, the call was upheld and the Tigers were denied the run and the base runner, ending the inning.

The second controversial ruling came in the bottom of the third. The Tigers had Don Kelly on second base and one out with Torii Hunter at the plate. Hunter hit a ground ball to the left side, fielded quickly by shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was shifted further to his right with the right-handed Hunter at the plate. Hardy threw to Schoop at second base as Kelly had ventured too far off of the bag. Schoop, however, did not catch the ball cleanly and it dropped. Schoops momentum had taken him into the base path, and he blocked Kelly’s lane back to the bag. Schoop reached over Kelly for the ball and tagged him out. Ausmus asked the umpires to confer about possible obstruction. After discussing the issue, the umpires ruled that there had been no obstruction.

While the Tigers could very easily have won Game 3 had either umpire ruling gone differently, or if Cruz’s home run had been a couple feet shorter or to the right, they are ultimately out of the playoffs due to their bullpen, which allowed seven runs in Game 1 and four runs in Game 2.

Two injured MVPs is a major bummer for baseball

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Last week Christian Yelich‘s season ended with a fractured kneecap. At the time he went down he was neck-and-neck with Cody Bellinger — I think a tad behind, though people may reasonably differ — and, at least by my reckoning, a hair or three above Anthony Rendon, Ketel Marte and Pete Alonso in the race for the NL MVP Award. As I wrote last week, I think that means Bellinger is going to walk away with the hardware when the winner is announced in November. Yelich’s injury will prevent him from making a late season surge to surpass Bellinger, but I think it would’ve taken a surge for him to do it.

Over the weekend we learned that Mike Trout’s season is over as well. He’ll be having foot surgery to deal with a nerve issue causing him pain. At the time he went down he was the clear frontrunner to win his third MVP Award. Unlike Yelich, I’m pretty sure Trout will still win the trophy. Sure, Trout hasn’t played since September 7, meaning that he’ll miss more time than Yelich will, but strained articles stumping for alternative candidates notwithstanding, his lead in the MVP race was more secure.

Trout’s 2019 ends with him setting a career high in homers with 45 and slugging percentage at .645—both of which lead the American League. He likewise leads the league in on-base percentage (.438), OPS (1.083), and in both Baseball-Reference.com’s and FanGraphs’ versions of WAR at 8.3 and 8.6, respectively. With just under two weeks to go it seems likely that Jorge Soler of the Royals will pass Trout for the home run lead, but he’s not an MVP candidate himself. Alex Bregman will likely pass him in walks. Trout seems pretty certain to finish with his lead in all or most of the other categories intact. That’s an MVP resume even if he’ll only have played in 134 games. To give the award to anyone else would be an exercise in narrative over reason. Something born of a desire to reward a guy — like, say, Bregman — for playing on a winning team as opposed to his individual accomplishments. Sure, voters are allowed to do that, but they’ve mostly eschewed such tendencies in recent years. It’d be a surprise if they backslid.

Even if Yelich’s and Trout’s injuries aren’t likely to radically change the MVP race — again, I think the NL’s was Bellinger’s to lose — they’re both still lamentable separate and apart from the fact that all injuries stink. Lamentable in a way that, unfortunately, creates a downer for baseball as it gets ready for the postseason.

The Brewers won the game in which Yelich went down and have won four of five since then. In so doing they have remained close in the race for the second Wild Card and currently stand one game back. They also have an insanely favorable schedule the rest of the way, exclusively facing the weak sisters of the National League in the Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies. Even so, it’s no gimmie — those Reds and Rockies games are on the road, and Great American Ballpark and Coors Field makes those bad teams better — and the reward at the end of this is likely to be a one-game play-in. You want your best player in any and all situations and the Brewers don’t have theirs. And won’t, even if they make the postseason and even if they win the Wild Card game. Having one of the game’s brightest stars on crutches for the playoffs is not something anyone at the league office wants.

The Angels have no such postseason concerns and haven’t had them for most of the season. Once again they’re terrible. As they have been for almost the entirety of Trout’s career. They’ve made the postseason only once in his career — back in 2014, losing the LDS in three games — and do not appear poised to put a winner on the field any time soon. Trout is still in his prime, obviously, but like all players he’ll either slow down or break down eventually. Given the state of the club, I’m not sure I’d put a ton of money on them being good, let alone consistently good, while Trout is still the best or even one of the few best players in baseball. The upside to me seems to be an Al Kaline situation with the Tigers, in which the team finally put it together behind him only after he began to age and miss time to injuries. Having the best player in baseball outside of the playoffs looking in is not something anyone at the league office should want either.

Yet here we are.

Injuries happen. Every contender is missing at least one and in some cases several important players. But for one MVP candidate to miss the postseason this year and another one to miss the postseason every year is a major bummer for a league that has a tough go of it marketing itself even under the best of circumstances.