No great surprises here.

The Rams stayed undefeated. The Chiefs and Saints stayed once-defeated. The Saints needed a furious fourth-quarter comeback, but the other two never broke a sweat.

The two L.A. teams are a combined 12-2! How insufferable would Angelenos be with an all-LA Superbowl? (Yeah, I know the Chargers would have to get through both the Chiefs and the Patriots. Unlikely, but still possible …)

Gossage: “I find it very difficult to be able to watch today.”

Just about everything they are saying is accurate, but it’s also inevitable. The point of any professional game is to win. Baseball has been a tradition-bound game in which the traditions became more important than winning. But that can’t be expected to go on forever, as clubs discover that unsuccessful steals are disastrous plays, and the sacrifice bunts aren’t even that valuable when they succeed. Clubs have started to abandon tradition in favor of the strategies they think will improve their W-L record. There was no reason to believe the that complete game was the best way to use a starter. It was just the way it had always been done. So people started tinkering with that formula, first tenuously, now often radically. Although nobody wants to be the first to break the tradition, the floodgates open once a new strategy succeeds.

I agree with Gossage that the game is now frustrating to watch. I miss the rich variety of offensive strategies that have been replaced by the homer-or-nothing mentality. Where are the opposite-field doubles, the daring base stealers who try to throw off the pitchers’ timing, the bunting for base hits? And speaking of bunting, why is it that these guys, with all their talent, can’t lay down a bunt or an Ichiro-style swinging bunt to beat the “shift”?

But the people in charge believe that the new strategies work. After all, every team is free to do things the old way if they think that will produce better results, but nobody seems to think that’s the smart move.

At least for now.

Facts:

The strikeout rate has now increased for 13 consecutive years. As recently as 2005 there were 6.30 Ks per 9 innings. The number is now 8.48. In the old days, a pitcher who struck out that many guys per game stood a good chance to lead the league. In 1980, at the mid-point of his career, Nolan Ryan struck out 7.7 per nine innings. Chris Sale struck out 13.5 per nine this season. (That would have been the all-time record, but Sale pitched only 158 innings and a pitcher must toss 162 to qualify for the “rate stats,” so Sale’s all-time record is unofficial. He did qualify in the previous year, and finished with the third-best rate in history. In fact, ten of the top 20 seasons have occurred since  2015 – and that excludes Sale’s 2018, which would have topped the list had he thrown only four more innings.)

The MLB batting average was .248 this year. That’s the lowest since 1972, which was in what is now called “the second deadball era.”

Stolen bases are also at the lowest point since 1972.

There are .17 sacrifices per team per game. That is the lowest in baseball history and is still declining year after year.

Two of baseball’s venerable and storied franchises will match-up after L.A.’s victory over the Brewers.

The Dodgers originated as the Brooklyn Atlantics in the 1884 American Association (then considered a major league), and entered the National League in 1890 as the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. They were known as the Dodgers for a while in the early 1910s, but the name didn’t stick the first time through. They became the Brooklyn Robins until 1932, when the Dodgers moniker became official. To those of us who still remember the Brooklyn Dodgers, it seems impossible that they have been in L.A. for sixty one seasons, but that’s the way it is. They have five World Series wins in L.A., and had previously won one in Brooklyn.

The Red Sox are as old as the American League itself. They started in 1901, and have been playing in Fenway Park since 1912. They have won the World Series eight times. They started strong (5 championships in 16 seasons from 1903 to 1918), and finished strong (3 championships in the ten seasons from 2004 to 2013), but had a drought of more than 80 years in between.

It will be the Red Sox with the home field edge in their creaky, 106-year-old home, where the weather could be as significant a factor as the irregular nooks and crannies of their fences. The expected low for Wednesday night in Boston (game 2) is a chilly 36 degrees, while the Friday high in L.A. for game three will be close to 90.

All of the Series games will be played in the evening, even though games four and five will be weekend games in L.A.

Thanks a lot, TV.

And thanks to you too, Obama. I know you’re behind this somehow.

College Pigskin, Week 8 recap.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on college football, and I’d never be able to predict results, but I do follow it quite closely, and I never in a thousand guesses would have thought that #2 Ohio State would lose to Purdue by four touchdowns. That has to be the surprise of the year, if not the millennium. I have nothing against Ohio State, but I will say this: If you allow Purdue to score 49 on you, you’re not a plausible candidate for a national championship. To be fair, Purdue has scored a lot of points this year. That is their fifth consecutive week with 30 or more. They have won four in a row after losing their first three.

#4 Notre Dame had the week off. It’s a bold strategy, Cotton, but it did pay off for them. They will probably rise to #3. Thanks, Purdue.

#12 Oregon got stampeded by Washington State. The game was 27-0 at halftime.

In the ever-surprising American Conference, UCF and South Florida stayed unbeaten, while Houston laid 49 on Navy to improve to 6-1. Only Cincinnati faltered, dropping their first game of the year to Temple in overtime. (That’s not as bad as it sounds. Temple was playing at home, and that team is surprisingly good. They are actually undefeated in conference play.)

And of course, Alabama was Alabama. They took a 28-0 lead in the first quarter, then coasted. They won by 37. That’s just another day at the track for them. Their average game for the year is a win by 38 (54-16). Sagarin’s computer ratings show them approximately a light year ahead of the rest of the field. The good news for those of us who root for underdogs is that Alabama may have a tough game next week. Stress: may. They will take on LSU (which should be #4 in the new polls after Ohio State falls a bit from their #2 perch) in Baton Rouge. If ‘Bama wins that one by 20 or more, you can count on them to coast to the championship game against Notre Dame or Clemson or whoever else can sneak in there.

The game was essentially over in the first inning, when the Brewers had five hits and a walk. As usual, the Brewers bullpen was astounding. They pitched 4 2/3 and allowed no hits or walks. (The Dodgers got one baserunner on a HBP.) If the Brewers didn’t have to use a starter, they’d be unbeatable.

Jesus Aguilar was their hitting star with two doubles and a single, three RBI. Aguilar was a helluva pick-up by the Brewers. The Indians couldn’t find a spot for him after nine years in their system and some big numbers in the minors (188 homers in the minors and the winter leagues). They dumped him. The Brew-crew picked him up on waivers, and are paying him the minimum allowable. They love him. In 771 at bats he has 51 homers and 165 RBI. Assuming a full season of 600 at-bats, that works out to 40 homers and 128 RBI per season. Not bad for a minimum wage guy!

The game went 13 innings, and had to be timed in light years rather than hours. (Well, it seemed that way. Actual time: 5 hours, 15 minutes.) The Dodgers finally won it with two outs in the 13th on a walk-off hit by Cody Bellinger.

Brewers relievers held the Blue Wave scoreless for 11 consecutive innings, striking out 17 in the process, but they finally ran out of steam. And out of pitchers. The last four frames were tossed by a starter, Junior Guerra, who finally allowed a run.

Not to be outdone, the Dodgers’ relievers – all eight of them – allowed no runs at all. The W went to Julio Urias, a bespectacled kid who is 22, but looks about 12. He pitched only 4 innings all season! Strange doings.

The series is now tied 2-2. What a battle for the ages. It has been a killer for those who bite their nails because three of the games have been decided by a single run, and even the 4-0 Brewers victory could have been tied in the final at bat, because the Dodgers had loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth!

Jennie was one of the pitching stars of the powerhouse Olympic team that won softball in 2004 and took the silver in 2008. They were 7-0 in the prelims both years, but in the 2008 Olympics they dropped the final game (3-1) to Japan, a team they had easily bested (7-0) in the prelims.

That 2004 team was one of the most dominating squads in the history of sports. In the preliminary rounds they never allowed a run, outscoring the opposition 41-0.

They also shut out the opposition in the semi-finals, but their bid for perfection was spoiled in the second-last inning of the finals, when their pitching ace Lisa Fernandez, pitching on no days of rest, finally allowed a run to the Aussies in the second-last inning of a blow-out victory.

Jennie Finch pitched two shut-outs for that 2004 team, then duplicated that feat in 2008, giving her a lifetime Olympic ERA of 0.00. In her junior year of college she was 32-0 for Arizona, leading them to a national championship. SI picked her as the #2 D-1 softball player of all time, behind only the aforementioned Lisa Fernandez.

 

The Rams stayed undefeated. The Chiefs almost did, but finally succumbed to the powerful Pats.

Highlights:

Adam Thielen of the Vikings has amassed at least 100 receiving yards in each of his first six games. That has not happened since 1961, and has never happened in the Super Bowl era. In fact, Thielen already had the “Super Bowl Era” record last week, because nobody else in that time-frame has ever gone past four! Thielen needs one more to tie the all-time record set by Charley Hennigan, who began the 1961 season with seven consecutive 100-yard receiving games.

That’s a pretty cool thing because Thielen has played his entire football life in Minnesota. He played his high school ball in a small town near the North Dakota border, and played his college ball for a D-II team in the state university system.

Todd Gurley II of the Rams rushed for 208 yards.

The biggest development:

UCF did not rise despite losses by four higher-ranked teams, but their American Conference now has three teams in the top 22, and a fourth (Houston) in the running. Of course that will change when they start playing each other. They’re all up there now because the big three are all undefeated, and Houston has but a single loss. (Houston is the only one that plays a tough non-conference opponent – Texas Tech – and that accounted for their loss.)

The game was won by the Red Sox middle relievers, who pitched 3 1/3 innings of no hit ball. The unlikely winning pitcher was Matt Barnes, who bailed David Price out of trouble in the fifth, the retired the Astros 1-2-3 in the sixth. He never allowed a ball out of the infield.

What a baseball world we live in, where the starter and closer are ineffective, but the middle guys pick them up.

The rankings will get scrambled this week:

Georgia, which came into the weekend ranked second in the country, got absolutely curb-stomped by LSU in Baton Rouge, 36-16. Georgia was scoreless in the first half.

#6 West Virginia, #7 Washington, #15 Wisconsin and #16 Miami lost road games (Wisconsin got crushed), while #8 Penn State lost at home.

With four higher-ranked teams losing, one wonders how high #10 UCF can climb.

The Brewers continue to win with their philosophy that there’s no such thing as a starting pitcher.

Hey, if it works it works.

An obscure Brewer relief pitcher, Brandon Woodruff, homered off Kershaw, the best pitcher of his era. Cue Mel Allen saying, “How ABOUT that?” Woodruff pitched innings three and four – and got the W to go with his batting exploits. So that’s a pretty big day for a kid who had pitched only 85 innings in his career.

The Yankees made it exciting in the ninth, but fell a run short.

The Yankees weren’t really overpowered in the series. Although they lost that 16-1 blowout, they actually outscored Boston 13-11 in the other three games. Two of their losses were by a single run.

The league championships seem to have the right teams for a change. The Bosox and Astros had the best records in the AL. The Brewers had the best record in the NL, and the Dodgers had the best run differential (by a very wide margin).

Two great match-ups.

The end of the Cleveland Indians’ season also means the end for Chief Wahoo

I’m certainly not one to argue for political correctness, but the abolition of this symbol was long overdue. Some people argued against this decision based on tradition. After all, that logo has been around for more than 70 years. But is tradition inherently a good thing? No. Hell, slavery was a tradition in the South.

If you take a look at the other, comparably offensive, racial and ethnic portrayals from the 1940s (buck-toothed Japanese soldiers in ultra-thick glasses, and many levels of “darky” iconography) you have to wonder how this particular one endured. I guess the reason has something to do with power, or rather lack of it. The Japanese are now one of our closest allies and “Japanese Americans” are just “Americans” now. People of African heritage have become a significant power bloc. But Native Americans have not yet obtained a significant voice in the national opera. I just thought about it now, and I can’t name a single famous Native American alive today.

OK, maybe Elizabeth Warren.

(Just fuckin’ withcha. On a serious note, I think Wayne Newton is 50%, but I can’t think of anyone else at 50% or more.)

This week’s AP Poll

As predicted, UCF did finally make the top ten. Do they belong there? I dunno. The computer ratings suggest they are still not at that level. Sagarin’s calculations place them 26th. There are two other undefeated teams in the East half of the American Conference, but UCF doesn’t play them until their final two games, so you can expect the Knights to stay undefeated for a while, and maybe even creep a bit higher on the rankings ladder.

With their win over Oklahoma, the Texas Longhorns vaulted over several teams into the #9 spot.

Florida leapt into the #14 spot with their win over LSU.

The top four remained unchanged.

The Indians and Braves are gone. The Yankees are still alive, but limping.

It does not look good for the Yanks after the Sox pummeled them and their ace, Luis Severino, in front of a deeply disappointed Bronx crowd. The final score was 16-1, a historic beatdown which was the worst post-season loss in Yankee history.

The Yankees used six pitchers, not all of whom are actually supposed to be pitchers, and the Sox scored on every single one of them.

The Red Sox’s unheralded utility player, Brock Holt, hit for the cycle. In the entire history of MLB, no previous player had ever hit for the cycle in the post-season. He finished it with a homer off the Yankees’ second string catcher.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi handcuffed the Yankees and threw several pitches clocked in triple figures, including three against Aaron Judge in one at bat. Eovaldi has always been able to bring it, but so far has not been able to convert that into much of a career (44-53 4.16 for five different teams).

The NFL Week 5

After three games in Cleveland, the Browns are undefeated at home. As ol’ Mel Allen used to say, “How ABOUT that?”

The Rams and Chiefs are still undefeated, although the Rams needed a furious fourth-quarter comeback to stay unblemished.

The Jets finally had something to crow about. Isaiah Crowell rushed for 219 yards on only 15 carries as the Jets steamrolled over the Broncos!

The Braves stay alive; the Rockies do not.

The post-season often brings new heroes to our attention. The Braves got a grand slam from their lead-off hitter, Ronald Acuna Jr, a 20-year-old kid who appears to be an upcoming superstar. He had a .918 OPS in 2018, his rookie year. He led the team in homers despite limited playing time, and also tossed 16 stolen bases into the mix. The Dodgers battled back from Acuna’s blow to achieve a 5-5 tie, but the Braves’ veteran star, Freddie Freeman, put the game away with a homer of his own. The Braves managed to produce six runs with only four hits at exactly the right times.

The Rockies gave Cleveland and the Cubs a battle for the least post-season offense. They were shut out again Sunday, having gone home with only two runs in three games. Moreover, they were shut out in Coors Field, where they led the majors in home OPS during the regular season, at .852. They actually have one of the weakest offenses on baseball, with a road OPS of .665 (the MLB low is .654), but Coors normally covers a multitude of sins. Unfortunately for the Rocks, those sins were right out in the open on Sunday.

The Brewers’ post-season ERA is 0.64! Sunday’s game illustrates how much baseball has changed in recent years. The Brewers used six pitchers. The starter did not go five innings, which he must do in order be awarded a win, so the win went to some middle reliever you never heard of, a 23-year-old rookie named Corbin Burnes, who is undefeated for life! (7-0 in the regular season, 1-0 in the playoffs). The Brewers had two other relievers who were 6-1 and 8-1 in the regular season. That’s 21-2 from three guys who combined for fewer than 200 innings pitched.
Starters are not what they used to be. The Brewers managed their three brilliant post-season pitching performances without a single starter lasting more than five innings.

College football scores

What’s it like to play for Alabama? Here’s a hint:  Saban reamed everyone out because they only won by five touchdowns! (65-31) He pointed out that you don’t really “win” if you allow 31 points.

So there’s that.

Now back to reality.

There were a few upsets this week:

#5 LSU lost their first game, to #22 Florida

#7 Oklahoma lost their first game. They lost a typical Big 12 shoot-out (48-45) to the Longhorns (#19). There’s not a lot of defense in the Big 12, is there? I imagine Austin was jumping on Saturday night. Texas/OU weekend was always a crazy time in Austin, even when it was an away game for the ‘Horns, and especially after a Texas win.

#8 Auburn picked up a second loss against Mississippi State, and it was not close. Auburn never scored a TD in the 23-9 rout.

#13 Kentucky woke up from their dream. They lost to the Aggies in OT.

#14 Stanford got absolutely clobbered by unranked Utah, 40-21.

UCF continued to win. That’s about a thousand in a row. They were undefeated last year, including a Peach Bowl win over Auburn, and they are undefeated again this year. They are kind of the small-time Alabama, as they win every game by a mile (48-20 this week). So do you think they are in the top ten? Not yet. They are #12, but the losses by three higher-ranked teams should vault them up to #9 or #10, so a tip of the hat to them for rising that high out of a non-major conference. Of course, the other side of the coin is that Sagarin’s computer ratings place them much farther down (29th in the country) because of their weak competition. (They are ranked 158th in “difficulty of schedule.”)

Summary:

The Yanks tied up the series thanks to three homers (two by Gary Sanchez) and a great start by Tanaka.

As for the Indians …they can’t wait to get to Cleveland. Remember yesterday when they went 3-for-30? Well they went 3-for-30 again today. It’s easy to calculate their batting average. It’s exactly .100, a buck even, the ol’ George Washington, the dreaded half Mendoza. They have managed to turn the Astros pitching staff into the 1907 Cubs.

(The Cubs had an ERA of 1.73 that year. That is the modern record. The second best is the 1909 Cubs at 1.74, followed by the 1906 Cubs at 1.76. The 1908 Club really slumped, limping in at a lame 2.14. That was quite a pitching staff, headed by Three-Finger Brown!)

In a bizarre strategy for this one-and-done game, Oakland started Liam Hendriks, a career middle reliever and occasional spot starter with a career ERA of 4.72 and only 25 innings pitched all year. Almost needless to say, the tough top of the Yankee line-up scored immediately, putting up two runs after their first two batters, courtesy of a monster homer by Aaron Judge.

Oakland started using this strategy in September. Hendriks started eight games in that single month. In the period from September 12th to the 21st, Hendricks started four games in 10 days. The strategy sort of worked. In the last seven of those eight games, pitching exactly one inning each time, Hendricks allowed no earned runs, and only four hits altogether.

In terms of winning, however, the strategy achieved mediocre results. The A’s won just four of the eight games he started.

I suppose all this discussion of Hendricks is really just academic. The A’s scored only two runs, which is unlikely to produce a visiting win at the new Yankee Stadium, which has been a hitters’ paradise. The Yankees average 5.6 runs scored per game at home, so the odds against a visitor beating them with two runs are about 8-1. The reality was even harsher than those theoretical odds. There were eleven times this year when the visiting team scored exactly two runs at Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees won all eleven. In other words, the A’s weren’t going to win with two runs even if Hendricks had struck out the side.

Talk about a sudden fall from grace. The Cubbies finished game 162 with the best record in the NL. After a few short days and only two games, they will be watching the playoffs on TV with the rest of us.

For the second game in a row, they could not produce any offense in the friendly confines. They could manage only five singles and a double in 13 innings. Combined with the previous day’s game, their batters went 9-for-71. That’s a mighty .127 batting average if you’re scoring at home.

They lost both games at home despite a sterling staff ERA of 2.05 and a solid performance from both starters, who allowed only two runs between them.

And the year before that he hit .244

At the end of last year, he was the first player to have the same batting average three years in a row in 400 or more at bats, so at this point he has achieved a feat that will probably never be duplicated unless they let me play. I’m pretty sure I could hit .000 every year.

That flat batting average makes it sound like he’s making no progress, but the really important thing is this: every year in the majors he has hit more homers than the year before. His progress: 11-22-27-42-43-48.  He led the American League this season.

He’s now at the point where he gets more extra-base hits than singles. Can he keep increasing the four-baggers? Unlikely. It’s getting more difficult to improve as the bar gets higher. But don’t count him out.