The pennant races are tightening up, and there are individual baseball accomplishments of note. Football season will soon compete with baseball; training camps are in full swing.
Let’s go In Depth.
Greinke Fails To Start New Streak, But Another Dodger Pitcher Extends His
Zach Greinke wasn’t particularly sharp in his start against the Angels last Friday night, but he was good enough to win. His 45-plus scoreless innings streak over, Dodgers fans might have felt they could concentrate on the drive to the playoffs. Think again.
On Saturday, Clayton Kershaw, pushed back from Wednesday because of a sore hip, threw eight scoreless innings to run his streak to 37. Kershaw, last year’s National League Cy Young Award winner, is just hitting his stride. He and Greinke at the top of the rotation make the Dodgers tough to bet against in the playoffs.
Late news: Greinke gave up six runs in his Thursday night start, but he went three for three with a home run to help the Dodgers win.
Baseball Player Goes Cycling
Well, not really. Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers hit for the cycle on Monday night. (For the casual fan, hitting for the cycle means getting a single, double, triple, and home run in the same game.) A player hits for the cycle about as often as a pitcher pitches a no-hitter: Since 1900, there have been 266 cycles and 256 no-hitters.
Beltre’s cycle was the third time he has done this. Only two other players, Babe Herman and Bob Meusel, accomplished the feat three times. Meusel’s last cycle was in 1928 and Herman’s was in 1933.
Twists and Turns in the Pennant Races
Free-agency has created a parity in baseball that makes for exciting finishes to the regular season. Teams get hot and cold and there’s a mad scramble for the last couple of playoff spots.
No team exemplifies the vagaries of today’s game like the California Angels: They took control of the American League West by winning 17 of 20, then promptly imploded, losing nine of the next ten. They now cling to a wild card slot like a polar bear clinging to an ice floe — their chances of survival melting away by the day.
The demise of the Angels is the good fortune of the Houston Astros, who helped themselves immensely by acquiring pitcher Scott Kazmir and outfielder Carlos Gomez before the trade deadline. Both have already contributed.
Kazmir finally gave up an earned run as a ‘Stro, and lost on Wednesday, done in by a pair of errors. He can’t complain though — one of the errors was his. Kazmir may be on the way to setting a record for July-August pitching: His ERA in July was 0.26, third lowest ever for any pitcher with at least 5 starts in the month.
Three Deep Closers
The Kansas City Royals showed last year how important it could be to have three lights-out one-inning pitchers for the 7th, 8th, and 9th. The Pirates have joined the elite in that department with the acquisition of Joakim Soria.
The former Detroit closer, traded at the deadline last week, pitched a scoreless seventh in the Pirates’ win over the Cubs on Wednesday. He joins setup man (eighth inning specialist) Tony Watson and closer Mark Melancon as the Pirates’ cleanup crew.
Look for designated sixth inning specialists next, as starters begin to tire and hitters begin to catch up with them the third time through the order.
Cueto Loses Despite Good Effort
Johnny Cueto, probably the most important player to change hands at the trade deadline, pitched his second game for the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday. He gave up two runs in seven innings and was the loser, as his team got only one run.
Decoded Sports believes that the addition of Cueto makes the Royals the team to beat in the American League, with their combination of great starting pitching, three lights-out relievers, and the best small-ball offense in baseball.
Decoded Sports’s Picks of the Weekend: LA Dodgers @ Pittsburgh Pirates, 7 P.M. Friday; Houston Astros @ Oakland Athletics, 10:05 P.M. Friday
Decoded Sports loves a pitcher’s duel, and you can’t get much better than this: Clayton Kershaw against Gerrit Cole. Kershaw is the reigning National League Cy Young winner, and though he started relatively poorly and has been eclipsed by fellow Dodger Zach Greinke, his record is now 9-6, 2.37 ERA, and he has that 37 scoreless inning streak going.
On the mound for the Pirates will be the majors’ winningest pitcher, Cole, with his own sterling numbers: 14-5, 2.29 ERA. If you’d like a couple of cliches: Runs will be scarcer than hen’s teeth and worth their weight in gold. It should be a beautiful night for baseball at PNC park with temperatures in the 70s at game time, dipping into the 60s by the time one or the other closer finishes off the ninth inning.
On the west coast, Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, 13-5, 2.35 ERA, goes against Oakland’s best, Sonny Gray, 11-4, 2.12 ERA. If it weren’t for Greinke, both of these guys would have a great shot at the Cy. The weather will be equally good in the Bay Area as in Pittsburgh.
NFL Training Camps Open
If you’re a fan who doesn’t much care about the standings of the teams, what records are broken, or how the statistics affect Fantasy Leagues, you might just enjoy seeing how the players prepare for the football season.
Most National Football League training camps are open to the public free of charge — as long as you don’t video the ‘secret’ plays.Probably the most coveted ticket will be to the Patriots’ camp, where Bill Belichick has to prepare to be without star quarterback Tom Brady.
The matter is complicated because of the players’ union’s insistence on carrying on appeals long after they should have just dropped the matter; but now Belichick faces the possibility that injunctions will allow Brady to play until court cases are heard. No one will know if or when Brady would have to serve his four game suspension.
High Schools And Colleges Are Also Getting Ready
If you’d rather see next year’s or next decade’s stars getting ready for their seasons, just go down to any college or high school facility. Teenagers will be grunting and groaning and sweating. Maybe you can spot a future pro-bowler.
Golf: PGA Tour
Rory McIlroy will miss a second tournament in which he would have been the defending champion. He injured an ankle playing soccer with friends on July 4; his participation in the PGA Championship, which he also won last year, is in doubt.
The injury would have to be considered one of the most costly in sports, as McIlroy pocketed over three million dollars in winning the two events last year.
Late news: The PGA Championship doesn’t start until Thursday and McIlroy is automatically entered. There are rumors that he might try to play. He has until tee time to decide.
Baseball In The Stretch Drive, Football In Training
It’s a great weekend to go out and see some sports, whether it’s a major league baseball game or just a bunch of high schoolers getting ready for football season.
Or you can just watch baseball on TV. Most games have ramifications for the playoffs or amazing individual feats — or both.