What’s at stake in the final week of the season

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There are seven days of baseball left in the 2018 regular season. While the home stretch has not been quite as boring as many of us predicted it would be before the year began — really, the consensus had every division race being a total walkover back in March — the drama is still far less than it often is in late September.

Four of the six division races are over, one of the four Wild Cards have been clinched, another is all but clinched and a third is pretty certain as well. While the final day of the season will still feature all 30 teams beginning play at the same time in order to amp-up that last day drama, there is a strong possibility that there will be no drama to amp-up. Here’s where we stand:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Boston and Cleveland have clinched their divisions and Houston is darn close, holding a four and a half game lead — a five-game lead in the loss column — with seven games to play. With four of those games coming against the Orioles, yeah, I feel like they have the West wrapped up. The Yankees have clinched one Wild Card slot and the A’s are one win, or one Tampa Bay Rays loss, from clinching the second.

All that really needs to be determined is who plays where in the playoffs. The Yankees have a one and a half game lead over the A’s for home field in the Wild Card game, though they also hold the tiebreaker. Odds are that game will be played in Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox will have home field in the ALDS against the winner of that game and Houston will host the Indians to kick off their ALDS. All of which is to say, there is little drama in the Junior Circuit.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Things are a tad more interesting here, as the Braves are the only team that has clinched anything. They have the NL East and a playoff berth. Which isn’t to say that things are totally up in the air. There are four playoff spots remaining, yes, but there are only five teams in competition for them: the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers and Rockies. One of those first three teams will win the NL Central, one of those last two will win the NL West and the other three teams are in a scramble for the two Wild Cards.

At the moment the Cubs hold a two and a half game lead over the Brewers — three in the loss column — and play four games against the Pirates and three against St. Louis.  The Brewers and Cardinals, separated by a game and a half, meet for three in St. Louis starting today and then go on to play Detroit and the Cubs, respectively. The Dodgers lead the Rockies for the division and the Rockies likewise trail the Cardinals for the second Wild Card by a game and a half. L.A. finishes the season with three against the Diamondbacks and three against the Giants. The Rockies close out against Philly and Washington, all at home in Denver.

All of which is to say that, even if this is a game of musical chairs and, mostly, a race for seeding, there is at least some drama and a lot of scoreboard watching to come in the National League.

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

There is likewise little drama to be had in the individual awards by my reckoning.

AL MVP: I think Mookie Betts sewed it up with his big homer against the Yankees in the division-clinching game last week. It helps that, drama aside, he deserves it, even if Mike Trout it a defensible choice as well. I think Betts will win it and the vote won’t be close.

AL CY Young Award: Blake Snell of the Rays is my pick and I think he’ll also be a fairly easy winner.

NL MVP: Some drama here, yes, as Christian Yelich and Javier Baez are most people’s favorites. It’s not crazy to say that how they do this week, and how their teams do this week, will determine it. Not saying that’s fair, just saying that it’s not crazy to say it.

NL Cy Young: I think people have come around to the notion that, win totals aside, Jacob deGrom‘s stellar season — he currently holds a 1.77 ERA and has not had a clunker of a game all year — is worthy of recognition. He’ll probably get some MVP consideration as well, even if it’s down ballot love.

So that’s where we are. Let’s hope for some National League chaos to keep this last week interesting, but otherwise, it’s just waiting for the playoffs to start.

 

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.