MLB will have you believe that this was a dramatic night in the last week of its season. And on the surface, it does look like that. Teams got more bunched, there were walk-offs and extra innings and standings swings and such. However, flip up the hood and you’ll see the engine is just a hamster taking a smoke break from his wheel.
Let’s start in the AL Central, where three of the five best teams in the league reside. The White Sox and Cleveland engaged in a great game, with both bullpens having to twirl some serious magic to keep the game 1-1 into extra-innings. The Sox were protecting a 1.5-game lead in the division over the Twins. They took a 3-1 lead in extras, with even the carnival game of starting with a runner on second didn’t really detract too much. And then Cleveland answered with four of its own in the 10th, capped by Jose Ramirez (who has an OPS of 2.000 or something in September) blasting everyone home with a three-run homer. An hour or so later, the Twins overcame their own extra-innings deficit to win and sit on the shoulders of the Sox, just a half-game back with five games to go. A classic September night, right? One that fans of multiple teams might look back on for years with happy or sad tears in their eyes and in their hearts?
Not really. You have to create the drama in your mind. The Sox, Twins, and Cleveland are already in the playoffs. Winning the division… who cares? Everyone’s headed to a Russian roulette of a three-game wild-card series where logic will probably go to die, and with no fans whether you play at home or not doesn’t really matter.
Get through that and everyone’s headed to California (not with an achin’ in their heart but once they leave they’ll probably have one in their lungs). Chances are Sox and Twins fans will have forgotten this night by next week.
Meanwhile, over in the NL, the drama should have been the Philies blowing both ends of a double-header to a Nationals team that’s had maggots crawling out of its eye cavities for weeks, including the second one being the 14th (!) time they’ve blown a two-run lead in a game they’ve lost this season (that’s a quarter of these games). It should be another notch in recent Phillies history of their desperate sprint to the middle, no matter how many top-end free agents they corral.
And then you remember the Fightin’s are now two-games under .500, and this is the time of the year when they should be a bloating carcass on the shore . The Reds, Brewers, Giants, Marlins, Cardinals are all teams taking this class pass/fail, and are hoping the professor hasn’t noticed they’ve missed most of the classes hungover and their midterm paper was just 2,000 words on the video for “Black Hole Sun.”
Meanwhile, the Cubs and Braves officially clinched playoff spots this week, but have been essentially tapping their feefoot and checking their watch often for a couple weeks now. It used to be clinching a playoff spot was something of a lift. Now it’s returning to your car to find you didn’t get a parking ticket.
When Rob “Puts Yogurt On His Hot Dog” Manfred expands the playoffs as soon as next year, he’ll tell you it’s so that more teams can play meaningful games late in the year. But all it will be is shifting the meaningless games from the bad teams to the good ones. The good teams will have spots locked up by July 4th and really have nothing to do, nor anything to play for if winning the division or finishing atop the league isn’t going to mean anything. Meanwhile, the teams playing “meaningful” games are the ones where two-thirds of their outfield will have their shoes tied together or the bottom half of the lineup goes to the plate with a plunger.
It’s not dramatic simply because you say it is.
Meanwhile, in actual dramatic games, the Denver Nuggets got on the board in the Western Conference finals, beating the Lakers 114-106. The Nuggets were by far the better team for most of the game, but the sections of the game they weren’t they really weren’t, and nearly let the Lakers steal a game they spent mostly playing as if they were strolling through some rare gas.
The Lakers got completely domed on the glass, outrebounded 44-25 (Anthony Davis had exactly two rebounds, when you’d assume at least five would hit him randomly in the face per game). Until the 4th quarter, they were also treating the ball like an already-gutted fish, racking up the turnovers.
But early in the 4th, they finally came alive and turned up the defense, causing the Nuggets to turn the ball over six straight possessions to pull within three. The Lakers flipped to a zone defense, which the crux of the Denver offense, wizard-ox Nikola Jokic, treated like a peanut allergy. Either he didn’t expect Rajon Rondo to keep doubling him and stealing the ball, or he thought it wasn’t allowed, but it kept happening.
At the end though, Jamal Murray decided he’d had enough of this shit. First he hit this three to put the Nuggets up seven:
And on the next trip down the floor, the Nuggets’ possession looked like it was headed down the drain until Murray came up with this dime that even Paul Milsap couldn’t fuck up.
And then Murray shut the coffin on the Lakers for the night with this step-back three that is best described as “anti-social.”
It’s unlikely that the Lakers will be this middling or outworked this badly again, but with Murray in this kind of form, the Nuggets will not go quietly.