OAKLAND — August is a nice time for October. For one thing, the weather’s better.
The baseball, on the other hand, looked very autumnal, at least here at the corner of 66th and Are You Kidding Me – where The Magic Is In The Concrete.
The Oakland A’s, for whom cheating gravity is merely pregame stretching, stole game one of this very playoff-y series with the Houston Astros, 4-3, on Matt Olson’s 10th-inning home run – and when we say stole, we mean swindled.
They won the game because Olson turned on an 82-mph slider from Tony Sipp. They got to Olson because Ramon Laureano is a masterful second-story man.
Laureano, pinch-running for Chad Pinder (who had drawn a particularly diabolical walk to start the ninth inning), raced home from first on Nick Martini’s one-out double down the right field line – except that he was called out at home by umpire Alfonso Marquez because of shortstop Carlos Correa’s brilliant cutoff and throw home.
Only Laureano jumped up after his head-first slide, Mutombo-fingered manager Bob Melvin and demanded a review of the play. After three fairly agonizing minutes, the call was reversed and the game was tied, en route to being won.
In other words, the Astros won all the way until they didn’t, 23,535 fans went home captivated, and the American League playoff race is a little more on than ever.
The last two innings were indeed quite highlightable, for both aesthetics and weirdness, and Oakland’s role as the impish mega-underdog was enhanced. The A’s cut their deficit behind Houston back to one game, are three games behind the New York Yankees, who beat Toronto 7-5 in a rain-shortened game, and 3 ½ ahead of Seattle, who was comprehensively mauled, 11-1, by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But the momento dei momenti was Martini’s line smash off the right field wall, Laureano’s mad dash from first, third base coach Matt Williams’ emphatic windmilling to send him home, Houston third baseman Alex Bregman’s seeming indecision on how best to avoid Laureano, Correa’s throw, catcher Martin Maldonado’s tag and the out that wasn’t.
“I wanted to know about possible interference by (third baseman Alex) Bregman,” Melvin said afterward, explaining how thorough he intended to be in getting the call overturned. “I wanted to know about blocking the plate (by Maldonado), and I thought he (Laureano) definitely got his hand in. I thought the tag was a little delayed.
“Of course,” he added, “I’m obviously biased.”
Indeed, the call looked too close to overturn, but after a dawdly 3:06 of study time, Marquez reversed himself, and the die was cast for Olson, who crushed Sipp’s fourth slider in a six-pitch at-bat to improve the Elephants’ vistas both ahead and behind.
And speaking of bias, Josh Reddick is biased too, and the Houston right fielder and Oakland ex-pat who chased down Martini’s drive was not in an understanding mood.
“From everything I saw, he was out,” Reddick said. “I have no idea what they saw. There was no angle that showed otherwise. I’m tired of getting screwed by replays. That’s not the first time. I’m upset by a call that controls everything. I threw it gunning for home plate all the way; I wanted to get the ball to Carlos. He has the best arm in the infield and the most accurate arm. I knew the longer they looked at it they were trying to get it right. Obviously they didn’t.”
But there was no doubting Olson’s drive, which left the bat with clear intent to travel far.
“It’s definitely one of the cooler things I’ve done in my career,” Olson said. “It’s the most juiced I’ve gotten on a field for sure, just for us to stay in that game.”
And to reaffirm what the nation is beginning to understand – that the A’s die harder than most.
“We’ve known that we’re a capable team, we’re a very good team all along,” Olson said. “We knew it going into the year that we were going to have a chance to make a run, so glad to finally get a little recognition for it and when we go out and win games like that, people are looking at us a little bit.”
Well, actually, a lot. Friday’s game was not a statement by any means – there are still 40 more games to navigate for both teams, and Seattle has 39, and the schedule is sufficiently entwined to recreate games like this again and again before the playoffs are sorted out.
But the A’s gave further notice to the reluctant eyes, feet and wallets of the greater East Bay that they will be increasingly difficult to ignore. Friday’s game was a clear worth-the-price extravaganza, and if they keep piling those up, they’ll be nearly irresistible.
Nearly, that is. One never assumes they’ve turned that particular corner until they’ve actually completed the turn. For the bandwagon, it’s early yet.
OAKLAND — August is a nice time for October. For one thing, the weather’s better.
When Astros ace Justin Verlander takes the mound against the Rockies next week, he’ll be making his second attempt at earning career win No. 200. When he gets there, he’ll join Bartolo Colon and CC Sabathia as the lone active hurlers to win 200 or more games.
Given that we’re deep into the era of the five-man rotation (even six on occasion) and given that the game is more bullpen-reliant that it’s ever been, it’s probably time we start paying a bit more heed to 200 wins. There’s really no realistic path toward 300 wins for any pitcher that’s active, on the way, or recently born. Maybe the game undergoes massive structural changes at some point in the distant future and makes 300 a viable goal once again. For now and foreseeable future, though, 300 might as well be 400.
So that raises the matter of how we should appraise Verlander’s career. As CBSSports HQ MLB analyst Jonah Keri recently remarked, “Guys of the last 20 years and certainly the pitchers of today, you just cannot judge them by whatever Warren Spahn did. It’s a totally different game now.”
He’s right about that. And speaking of modern standards, what about Verlander and the Hall of Fame?
In addition to closing in on those 200 wins, Verlander right now has a career WAR of 61.9. That ties him with Juan Marichal for 50th place on the all-time list among pitchers. According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, which evaluates the worthiness of Hall of Fame candidates using their career WAR and their peak-seasons WAR, Verlander right now is a bit shy of the existing standard for pitchers. The average Hall of Fame starting pitcher has a career WAR of 73.4.
If paces hold, Verlander will add about another 1.3 WAR to his 2018 total. So let’s say he has 63.2 following this year. He’s under contract through next season, and even though he’s 35 he has the skills base to continue pitching beyond that point if he wants to (and he’s previously indicated that he wants to pitch as long as he can). So where might Verlander end up in terms of WAR and — so long as we’re on the related topic of No. 200 — wins?
To do this, we’ll turn to a Bill James concoction called the Favorite Toy. The Favorite Toy takes inputs like the players age and recent performance trends in order to project a career total for the statistical category in question and also rate of his chances of reaching a given benchmark (we’ll projected Verlander’s final WAR and win totals for 2018). It’s a quick-and-dirty tool, to be sure, but it’s sufficient for these purposes. Here’s what comes out of the wash …
- Verlander’s projected WAR: 86.0
- Verlander’s projected win total: 257
As well, the Favorite Toy gives Verlander a 5.0 percent chance of getting to 300 wins. You can argue this is a fairly bullish forecast, but even granting room for correction, Verlander’s going to wind up looking like an easy Hall of Famer. A career WAR of 86 would put up 18th on the all-time list, just behind Pedro Martinez. Those 257 wins would rank 42nd all-time.
Already Verlander, according to James’ Hall of Fame Monitor test, is a likely Hall of Famer. Assuming a normal decline, he’s going to wind up being a no-brainer first-ballot guy. Given that Verlander this season has struck out a third of the batters he’s faced and given that he’s still sitting 96 with his fastball, that decline may be a long time coming. It may be too much to say Verlander could retire right now and be a Hall of Famer, but very soon you’ll be able to say that.
Athletes opening up about their mental health is becoming more and more common. Astros pitcher Justin Verlander became the latest player to do so in a feature in Bleacher Report Magazine where he talked about his relationship with Kate Uptonand how she pulled him out of a dark place four years ago, along with how that shaped him into the pitcher he is now.
Verlander is, miraculously, in the midst of a career-year with the Astros at 35 years old. Houston leads the AL West by five games, and Verlander has a career-best 2.19 ERA. He made his first All-Star Game since 2013 this season, and he’s playing for a legitimate contender.
According to Verlander, it’s all because of Upton being there for him in the middle of the 2014 season. That season, Verlander posted a 4.50 ERA — the only time in his career his ERA jumped over 4.00 — and he went 15-12 for the Tigers. The two had known each other since 2012. They married in 2017, almost immediately after Verlander won the World Series with the Astros.
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The Astros suspect that swinging a bat, not throwing a pitch, caused the right elbow discomfort that forced starter Lance McCullers Jr. to the 10-day disabled list.
McCullers grounded out in an at-bat during his last start against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The discomfort, he said, began after that and forced him out of the game.
“There’s some conversation with our doctors about when exactly Lance felt something in his arm, and it was after the at-bat in L.A,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
On Thursday, McCullers said he felt relieved to learn that he did not suffer any injury to the ligaments in his elbow.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a swinging injury, from batting,” he said.
Hinch has campaigned to implement the designated hitter in both leagues to increase offense and avoid injuries like the one to McCullers, a 24-year-old with 10 at-bats.
“Anybody want to vote for the DH now?” Hinch said before Thursday’s game against the Mariners. “That will only strengthen my conviction for universal rules,” Hinch said.
Photo: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images
Aug 5 (OPTA) – Box score from Los Angeles Dodgers vs Houston Astros on Sunday LA Dodgers 3, Houston 2 Houston ab r h rbi bb so avg Springer cf 1 1 1 1 1 0 .250 Marisnick cf 1 0 0 0 0 1 .206 Reddick rf 4 0 0 0 0 0 .253 Bregman ss 2 0 1 0 1 0 .277 Gonzalez 2b 3 0 1 0 1 1 .233 White 1b 4 0 1 0 0 2 .269 Davis 3b 3 0 0 0 0 2 .192 Pressly p 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 Gattis ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 .247 Stassi c 3 0 0 0 0 1 .246 Kemp lf 4 1 1 1 0 3 .288 Cole p 2 0 0 0 0 1 .000 Harris p 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 Gurriel 3b 1 0 0 0 0 0 .289 Totals 29 2 5 2 3 11 – LA Dodgers ab r h rbi bb so avg Pederson lf 3 1 0 0 1 1 .258 Machado 3b 4 2 3 0 0 1 .309 Grandal c 4 0 0 0 0 2 .256 Bellinger cf 4 0 2 1 0 1 .241 Dozier 2b 4 0 1 2 0 1 .231 Muncy 1b 3 0 0 0 0 3 .253 Taylor ss 3 0 0 0 0 2 .255 Hernandez rf 3 0 1 0 0 0 .218 Buehler p 2 0 0 0 0 1 .111 Floro p 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 Kemp ph 1 0 0 0 0 1 .289 Alexander p 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 Jansen p 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 Totals 31 3 7 3 1 13 – Houston 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 — 2 5 0 LA Dodgers 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 X — 3 7 0 Houston ip h r er bb so np era Cole 5 6 3 3 1 8 99 2.64 Harris 1 0 0 0 0 1 12 4.24 Pressly 2 1 0 0 0 4 29 3.29 LA Dodgers ip h r er bb so np era Buehler 5.1 4 2 2 2 8 91 3.63 Floro 1.2 0 0 0 0 2 20 2.59 Alexander 1 0 0 0 1 0 9 3.42 Jansen 1 1 0 0 0 1 14 2.19