Home Featured Extra Innings: Tom Seaver, AL playoff field, surprise NL teams still contending, more

Extra Innings: Tom Seaver, AL playoff field, surprise NL teams still contending, more

by Chris Brown

The dust has settled following this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline and the final stretch of the 2020 MLB season has begun. Every Friday, Extra Innings gets you caught up on the biggest storylines across the baseball world and provides analysis of what lies ahead. Let’s get right into this week’s addition:

The baseball world lost an icon on Wednesday with the passing of Tom Seaver.

Seaver, the greatest player in Mets history and one of the best pitchers ever to play Major League Baseball, died at the age of 75 due to complications from Lewy body dementia and COVID-19, his family announced in a statement from the Baseball Hall of Fame. The hard-throwing right-hander known as “Tom Terrific” won an MLB-best 25 games in 1969, taking home the first of three Cy Young awards and leading the so-called “Miracle Mets” to an improbable World Series victory.

Described by Hank Aaron as “the toughest pitcher I ever had to face,” Seaver in a 20-year career with the Mets, Reds, White Sox and Red Sox won 311 games and posted a 2.86 ERA. He ranks 18th in MLB history in wins and sixth in strikeouts with 3,640. He was a 12-time All-Star, tossed a no-hitter in 1978, led the NL in strikeouts five times, captured three ERA titles, and struck out 200 or more batters in an MLB-record nine consecutive seasons. Seaver is the only pitcher in the divisional era with 250+ wins and 3,000+ strikeouts.

After his playing career, Seaver worked for several years as a color commentator for MLB games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992 with a then-record 98.8% of the vote. In a statement, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called Seaver “one of the greatest pitchers of all time” and “a gentleman who represented the best of our National Pastime.”

Entering the final month of the regular season, the AL playoff field appears close to set.

Playoff seeding won’t be determined for some time, but Fangraphs’ projected playoff odds entering Sept. 3 show seven American League teams with more than a 95% chance of playing in October. In the east division, the Rays and Yankees are virtual locks to make the postseason. The same is true for the Indians, White Sox and Twins in the central and the Athletics and Astros in the west. Short of a historic collapse from one of those teams, there’s only one spot in the AL field that’s really up for grabs. 

Of the remaining eight American League teams, only two have greater than a 3% chance of making the postseason: the Blue Jays (79.3%) and the Tigers (20%). So with a little less than a month left in the regular season, there’s really only one major race to watch for the AL playoffs. And even there, Toronto has a huge advantage.

For comparison, just four teams in the National League field are near locks to make the playoffs: the Braves, Cubs, Dodgers and Padres. Eight other NL teams have between a roughly 30% and 85% chance of playing in October. There’s certainly a lot more to be decided in the final weeks in the NL, it appears.

There are a few surprise NL teams still in contention (and one expected contender that’s been anything but).

Speaking of the National League, it’s certainly worth noting a few surprise teams that remain in the playoff hunt entering the final month of the regular season. Let’s start with the Marlins, who are 16-16 and held a Wild Card spot heading into Sept. 3 action. The team traded away MLB steals leader Jonathan Villar prior to the trade deadline but acquired the biggest bat on the market, landing veteran outfielder Starling Marte from the D-backs. The Marlins haven’t been a very good offensive team this season, but several young pitchers have emerged as strong starters, including Pablo Lopez (2.10 ERA), Elieser Hernandez (3.16 ERA) and Sixto Sanchez (2.37 ERA). This team is clearly going for it and will be fun to watch down the stretch.

Another NL team that’s surprisingly still in contention in early September: the San Francisco Giants. Entering play Sept. 3, first-year manager Gabe Kapler’s club was the first team out of the National League playoff picture with a 18-20 record. The Giants have won 10 of their last 14 games and have posted the sixth-highest OPS in the league in this season. Another surprising fact: San Francisco trails only the Padres and Dodgers in runs scored this season in the NL. The pitching hasn’t been there with much consistency, but Mike Yastrzemski, Wilmer Flores, Donovan Solano, Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford are among the several players performing at the plate as the Giants still have a nearly 45% chance of making the postseason, per Fangraphs.

Finally, I want to highlight one expected contender that’s been, by record, one of the worst teams in baseball this year: the Washington Nationals. Entering play Sept. 3, the defending world champions had lost five straight games and 10 of their last 13 contests to fall to 12-22 on the season. With one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball in Trea Turner and Juan Soto as well as Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin atop the rotation (with Stephen Strasburg out for the rest of the season), this isn’t a team lacking in high-end talent. What the Nats have been lacking, though, is a quality supporting cast around this great core. That was a legitimate concern coming into the season, but no one predicted the Nationals being in the cellar of the NL East come September.

Yankees/Rays suspensions show inconsistency in MLB’s approach.

The latest episode in the now multi-year feud between the Rays and Yankees took place Tuesday night, with the benches-clearing postgame after a 100+ mph pitch from New York closer Aroldis Chapman nearly hit Tampa Bay’s Michael Brosseau in the head. With another Ray, Joey Wendle, getting hit earlier in the game as well, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash fanned the flames in his postgame press conference, saying in part, “Somebody has to be accountable and the last thing I’ll say is I have a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph.” Yankees manager Aaron Boone responded to those comments, saying, “That’s pretty scary comments. I don’t think that’s right at all.”

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball responded as well, quickly handing down a three-game suspension for Chapman and one-game bans for both managers. Cash and Boone served their suspensions on Wednesday while Chapman is appealing his. 

Here’s the part that doesn’t add up: MLB cited Chapman “intentionally throwing a pitch at the head area” of Brosseau as the reason for his three-game suspension. Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly was handed an eight-game suspension — later reduced to five games —  several weeks ago for the exact same reason, with the only difference in action cited by the league being that Kelly also taunted Astros players. Yet the punishments aren’t nearly the same. 

I understand that Major League Baseball was trying to set a precedent in the case of Kelly and the Astros, and I understand that it’s much easier to conclude that Kelly’s pitch was intentional than Chapman’s. But it’s really this simple: The league said in its statement that Chapman’s pitch was found to be intentional. The reasons listed were basically the same. So why wasn’t the punishment? To be clear, I’m not saying Kelly’s punishment was too harsh — intentionally throwing baseballs near someone’s head is reckless, dangerous behavior. I’m just calling for consistency. As a side note, I also can’t square Cash and Boone getting the same one-game suspension. Managers should be held to a high standard, and Cash’s rhetoric clearly crossed a line. 

What’s on Deck?

The Oakland A’s are slated to resume play on Friday after a positive COVID-19 test from the organization put the team’s season on a five-day pause. Pitcher Daniel Mengden was revealed to be the player who tested positive, and he told the San Francisco Chronicle that he’s had no symptoms. The Athletics will host the Padres for a three-game weekend set. 

A whopping 52 games are scheduled to be played from Friday through Sunday due to games rescheduled as part of doubleheaders. A few other series of note: Twins at Tigers, Marlins at Rays, Cardinals at Cubs and Rockies at Dodgers.

Photos by ShellyS / Wikimedia Commons (Seaver), All-Pro Reels / Flickr (Biggio), Ian D’Andrea / Flickr (Yastrzemski)

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