Brewers beat Cubs to win NL Central title

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If Game 163 was any indication, the other four teams in the National League draw of the postseason are going to have their hands full with the Milwaukee Brewers. Their hitting today was timely, their bullpen deadly and as a result they beat the Cubs 3-1 to take the NL Central title.

The teams felt each other out for the first two innings but the Brewers drew first blood in the top of the third. Orlando Arcia kicked things off with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice and then made it to third on a groundout. That’s when presumptive MVP Christian Yelich came up with two outs and, with Jose Quintana and the Cubs choosing not to pitch around him as so many other teams have done recently, drove in Arcia to make it 1-0 Milwaukee.

The Cubs tied things up in the fifth inning when Anthony Rizzo hit a deep homer to right field. The thing flew 429 feet and left in a dang hurry:

The score would remain tied at one until the eighth inning when Milwaukee broke through. Leading off was Arcia once again and, once again, he reached on a single. Domingo Santana doubled Arcia to third to put two men in scoring position with no one out. That’s when Joe Maddon called in Steve Cishek to face Lorenzo Cain. The plan did not work, as Cain singled to center, scoring Arcia and moving Santana to third, giving the Brewers a 2-1 lead:

Maddon went to the pen once again, calling for Brandon Kintzler to face Ryan Braun. That didn’t work either, as Braun served a 2-2 pitch into right center to score Santana and make it 3-1:

The Cubs finally got out of that, but then they had to face Josh Hader for six outs and, folks, they were not doing a dang thing against Hader.

The Brewers’ fireballing lefty struck out two of the three batters he faced in the eighth and then came back in the bottom of the ninth for more. Hader struck out Daniel Murphy, got Ben Zobrist to fly to right, leaving Javier Baez as the Cubs’ last chance. Baez worked Hader for a 3-2 count and, after fouling off several pitches, singled to center field to keep the Cubs’ hopes alive.

Those hopes only lasted for one more batter, however, as Anthony Rizzo strode to the plate to face the lefty Hader and . . . flew out to right. Game over.

The single to Baez aside, Hader was dominant. Arcia went 4-for-4 and scored twice. Christian Yelich went 3-for-4 and he, Braun and Cain each drove in a run. The Brewers have a guy who is probably going to win the MVP award, but they have so many weapons that can beat you.

And now, after Game 163, they have the NL Central title.

Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees exceeded competitive balance tax threshold in 2019

Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald
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Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees exceeded the competitive balance tax (more colloquially known as the luxury tax) threshold for the 2019 season, set at $206 million. It will rise to $208 million for the 2020 season and $210 million in 2021.

Teams that exceed the CBT threshold pay a penalty on the overage, which is compounded depending on how consistently they have exceeded the threshold. The base penalty is 20 percent. If a team has exceeded it in a second consecutive year, the penalty rises to 30 percent. Three or more consecutive seasons yields a 50 percent tax on the overage. Furthermore, teams that exceed the CBT threshold by $20-40 million see an additional 12 percent tax. Above $40 million brings a 42.5 percent penalty which rises to 45 percent if the team exceeds the CBT by more than $40 million in a consecutive year.

The luxury tax has acted as a de facto salary cap. Front offices typically have gone out of their way not to exceed it, especially in recent years. The Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees are each widely believed to be looking to stay below $208 million in 2020.

In pursuit of payroll efficiency, the Cubs are believed to be willing to listen to offers for catcher Willson Contreras, third baseman Kris Bryant, outfielders Kyle Scharber, Albert Almora, and Ian Happ, as well as pitcher José Quintana. The Red Sox are believed to be pursuing trades of outfielder Mookie Betts and/or J.D. Martinez. Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is also believed to be available.

As we have been discussing the ongoing labor tension in baseball lately, one wonders if the CBT threshold might also be changed within the next collective bargaining agreement. It has served ownership well, giving them something to point at as a reason not to invest as much into putting together a competitive and entertaining product for fans.