Thursday, October 04, 2012

10/04 (Wild Card) Quickie

Exhale for a minute (or a day).

There will be no frantic playoff-before-a-playoff. There will only be lead-up to MLB's first one-game "Wild Card" round, featuring the surging Braves and defending-champ Cards in the NL and the stumbling defending AL champs from Texas against the entirely unpredictable Orioles.

What makes the NL game so compelling is that there is a good argument to be made that the team that comes out of the NL Wild Card should be considered the favorite to win the pennant -- both teams are that hot right now.

What makes the AL game so compelling is that the defending league champs -- and prohibitive favorites to repeat from roughly March through August -- have all the pressure in the world, while the Orioles are playing with house money (as they have been since, oh, May).

We can disagree about the fairness of the format. We can argue whether the Rangers (or Cardinals) deserve a spot in the playoff field. But, as with the original introduction of the original Wild Card slot, it makes for compelling games that are as must-see as baseball gets.

For better or worse, it is like fast-forwarding to Game 7.


The A's win the AL West: The most improbable division champ in recent MLB history? If you look at the preseason expectations, the roster, the payroll, the state of the team back in June (or, say, 10 days ago) or any number of other factors: Absolutely.

There is a reason that (outside of Texas) we are having a kind of national love-fest over these A's: They ARE what is awesome about baseball, as Peter Gammons said last night and Tom Verducci echoed this morning. And, as much as anything, they give hope to fans of every other team that might be sitting at home right now, wondering how they fell short this year.

Miguel Cabrera wins the Triple Crown: I'm all for this history-making and the novelty -- again, no fan under the age of 50 has any recollection of this happening before. Is "RBI" an out-dated vanity stat to care about? Absolutely. Does that diminish the milestone? Absolutely not. Despite the fact that Cabrera is (arguably) not as valuable as, say, Mike Trout (or even Justin Verlander on his own team), it's an incredibly fun accomplishment to have happen this season.

NBA Flopping Policy: If the NBA thinks fines will change player habits -- or the advantage that comes from getting opposing players in foul trouble or getting easy points at the free-throw line -- they are mistaken. This feels like a superficial move to speak to some half-hearted "outrage" by some folks in the NBA media about flopping. Fans don't seem to care. Players use it as a standard technique. It hardly degrades the integrity of the game. (Here's a strategy: Train your refs to not fall for it and/or give each coach one "flop challenge" to let refs go to the replay to judge a flop, with a technical foul assessed if they judge a move to be a bonafide flop.)

College Hoops: An interesting day today -- the "Harrison Twins" (5-star siblings) are going to pick a school to attend together, deciding between Kentucky and Maryland, but really it is about Nike vs. Under Armour.

Typically, Kentucky has been racking up the talent through a very efficient system of "Play for us for one year, compete for (or win) a title, then go to the NBA with our blessing and training," but there is one clear counter to that: "Why be just another anonymous cog for Kentucky when you can be a star with us?" And Under Armour has the cachet to pull that off -- it happened last year in football recruiting, when star WR Stefon Diggs picked Maryland (despite Maryland being terrible, with a soul-sucking coach) over Florida (which is, along with Alabama, as close to a football analogue to Kentucky as you'll find). I'm predicting the twins pick Maryland, and it's a new battle line drawn between Nike and UA.

NFL: Doesn't seem like much of a suspension if the NFL is willing to let Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt attend games. Wonder if the NFL would be making the same decision if the Saints were 4-0 versus 0-4.

Sports x Politics: My favorite quip came from the WSJ's Jason Gay: "Nobody's going to remember a darn thing from tonight, other than Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown. That will live forever."

-- D.S.

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