It’s summer, so a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of ….. baseball. But there’s also news about basketball, football, soccer, tennis, and golf.
Major League Baseball
The season has passed the actual halfway point in numbers of games played, and this is the last weekend before the all-star game, the traditional ‘middle’ of the season.
Free-agency has brought considerable parity to the sport of professional baseball, luxury tax has brought more, and trading deadline changes the outlook for some teams. The Saint Louis Cardinals have been the best team in baseball from the get-go, but they have stumbled a little lately. Before we handicap the playoffs, we better wait to see which Cy Young pitcher changes teams on July 31.
Baseball, like other sports, should re-think their playoff formats. Too often good teams are left out and lousy teams get in. If things hold up the way they are, the second best team in the National League will have to play in the play-in game for the right to get into the playoffs. Here’s how the playoffs would look if they were to start today.
The play-in game would be between the Pirates and the Cubs; the Pirates are the second best team in the league, and they would have to play the Cardinals if they get past the play-in. They suffer from being in the same division as the Cardinals, and this is clearly unfair.
Washington and Los Angeles are the other two division leaders; they would meet in the other Division Series.
In the American League, the play-in game would be between the Minnesota Twins and the California Angels. The winner of that game would face the surging Kansas City Royals, while the Houston Astros, who led the league for most of the season, would play the Yankees. The east division has five teams within five and a half games; four of those teams have been close all year, and now they are joined by the rejuvenated Red Sox.
This Weekend’s Best Games
If you’re inclined to take yourself out to the ballgame this weekend, Decoded Sports has some recommendations based on the teams and the weather.
- Saint Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates
The Saint Louis Cardinals, the best team in baseball, invade Pittsburgh for three games. The Pirates, as we noted, are the second best team in the National League. The weather is clearing in time for a beautiful weekend — perfect for baseball.
Pittsburgh’s pitchers tonight and tomorrow will be two of the best in baseball: Gerrit Cole, the winningest pitcher in the majors with 12 wins, pitches tonight; A. J. Burnett, with the second best earned run average of 1.99 goes on Saturday.
- New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox
Ten days ago this series looked like a yawner. The Sox were nine games back of the Yankees and their best player, Dustin Pedroia, was on the Disabled List. But now the Sox trail the Yanks by five and a half games, and a sweep would put them in the thick of things in the American League east. Even two out of three would leave them within striking distance. The weather will be perfect for baseball in the shade of the Green Monster.
- Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets
This matchup lets Big Apple-ites get a look at perhaps the best all-around player in baseball: Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s fifth in the majors in runs scored; second in batting average; first in runs batted in; eleventh in home runs; second in on-base percentage; second in slugging percentage; tenth in stolen bases; and eighth in fielding percentage.
The weather will be just as good in New York as in Boston and Pittsburgh.
A Unique Day In Major League Baseball
The Sunday before the all-star break is the only time except at the end of the season and in the playoffs when you might see a starting pitcher come out of the bullpen. Since there will be three days off for the all-star game, pitchers don’t have to stick to their regular regimen of rest.
National Football League
Training camps don’t start for another few weeks, but there is news about New York Giants’ defensive end, Jason Pierre-Paul. He had his right index finger amputated after a mishap with fireworks. According to Pierre-Paul, this will allow him to get back into action sooner. I don’t think I have to moralize about the lesson to be learned from this.
Golf: The British Open
For the first time in 61 years, the British Open field will not include the defending champion. When the tournament starts on Sunday at Scotland’s famous St. Andrews County Club, Rory McElroy will be watching from the sidelines with a cast on his leg. He tore a ligament playing in a pickup soccer game last weekend.
The lesson to be learned from this may not be as pointed as Pierre-Paul’s, but this brings back memories of Jim Lonborg, the great Red Sox pitcher who tore a ligament skiing, which his contract expressly forbade.
Major League sports teams often put clauses in players’ contracts forbidding them to engage in potentially injurious activities (setting off fire crackers is not one; that’s just a matter of common sense), but individuals who play tennis or golf for a living have no contracts. Probably they should consider the effect on their careers of certain activities.
The weather in Scotland can turn nasty at any time of year, but it can also be clear and cool in the summer. However, it’s probably safe to forecast a lot of wind.
Tennis: Wimbledon Women’s And Men’s Finals, Saturday And Sunday
Leave it to the British to retain a custom long after it should be replaced. Tennis on grass, when there are much better alternatives, is alive and well in London.
The problem is that with modern rackets and training, serves are impossible to return on the fast surface. This would be all right if tiebreakers were always in effect. But some tournaments require the traditional winning by two games in a deciding set. And so it was that in 2010, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played 138 games in their fifth set. I won’t bother to tell you who won, 70-68, because he was so exhausted he was easily defeated in the next round. But even the 11-hour match didn’t convince the stodgy overseers of the game that a change was needed.
For those who like to see a powerful serve skid along the grass as a winner, Wimbledon is still exciting. In fact, the women’s game, since women don’t serve quite as hard, can be riveting.
In any event, Serena Williams will play Garbine Muguruza in the women’s final on Saturday, and the winners of today’s men’s semifinals will meet in the final on Sunday. The men are playing as we go to press, with the winner of Andy Murray versus Roger Federer expected to meet Novak Djokovic, who is heavily favored over Richard Gasquet.
The early rounds were played in record-breaking heat, but the weather for the women’s final should be perfect. There could be a shower on Sunday.
National Basketball Association: Salary Cap Set
The NBA set next year’s salary cap at $70 million, quite a bit higher than expected. Though there are many exceptions and teams can exceed the cap, the tax is steep, so teams try to avoid it.
The Cleveland Cavaliers used some of the extra money to re-sign Lebron James, the best player in the history of the game (sorry Michael), to a two-year contract for $40 million. The unexpectedly high cap will very likely spur spirited bidding for this summer’s free agents.
Sports For Everyone This Week
If you can’t find a sport this weekend to engage in or watch in person or on TV, you never will.