The 2015 regular season is winding down, and 6 teams have clinched postseason spots. The Mets and Royals are the only two teams who have clinched a division title, while the Cardinals, Pirates, and Blue Jays have clinched postseason spots. The Cubs have clinched a wild card spot. Competing for the final four spots (in order of likelihood) are the Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Astros, Angels, Twins, Giants, and Indians.
With the Dodgers’ 3-2 loss to the Giants in extra innings last night, the Mets currently hold a 2 game lead for home field advantage. The Mets hold the tiebreaker, having won the season series 4-3. Therefore, the Mets’ magic number to clinch home field advantage is now 4, with 6 games to play.
The Dodgers’ magic number to clinch their division is 2, but they are playing 3 more head-to-head games against the Giants. A win by the Dodgers in any of those games would clinch the division. The Yankees’ magic number to clinch a postseason spot is 3. St. Louis has a magic number of 2 to clinch the Central, but has two more head-to-head games against the 2nd place Pirates. The Rangers’ magic number to clinch the AL West is 5.
For anyone living under a rock, the Washington Nationals once again made headlines, and not in a good way. After his failure to run out a flyout to left, Bryce Harper was confronted in the dugout by Jonathan Papelbon, and Papelbon proceeded to lunge at Harper and put him in a choke hold against the dugout wall. To make things even more bizarre, while Harper left the game, manager Matt Williams left Papelbon in to pitch the 9th inning (in a 4-4 tie) and proceed to blow the game. Williams later said he didn’t realize the severity of Papelbon’s actions, since he was on the other side of the dugout, leading Ken Rosenthal to quip, “you would think the dugout was the size of an airline terminal.” [link] Papelbon was suspended for 4 games by the team, and accepted his 3 game suspension from Major League Baseball for hitting Manny Machado last week. Therefore, Papelbon is out for the rest of the season, suspended without pay [SB Nation].
To make the story even more interesting, Fox Sports writer and former MLB reliever C.J. Nitkowski wrote that players overwhelmingly support Papelbon in the dust-up with Harper. [link] The idea is that after Harper called out Papelbon last week for throwing at Machado, there was a storm brewing (i.e., this was not about failure to run out a popup). Harper is often perceived as someone who is “above the game,” someone who is “allowed to loaf,” and someone who “hasn’t earned” the right to jog on a pop-up (all quotes from Nitkowski’s anonymous player sources). According to Nitkowski, “Papelbon is everybody’s favorite punching bag but it’s not deserved here.” After a firestorm of responses, Nitkowski addressed some of those responses in a follow-up article. [link]
On the other hand, the pervading narrative of MLB Network was that Papelbon was not the right person to address a lack of hustle with Harper; after all, Papelbon is not an everyday player. (Mike Lowell, if I recall correctly, was the one who called bull; a young player would have listened to Mariano Rivera, of course). At SB Nation, Grant Brisbee notes that earlier in the game, Clint Robinson did much the same thing as Harper, but without issue. [link]
While these takes are interesting ones, mostly from former players, it just solidifies how the analysts are missing the point. Let me dumb it down:
PAPELBON PUT HARPER IN A CHOKEHOLD, AND THAT IS NOT OKAY.
This has nothing to do with failure to run out a popup, this has nothing to do with Harper calling Papelbon out in the media. This has nothing to do with Harper’s perceived arrogance, immaturity, or whatever. There is no ambiguity here. Analysts are over-analyzing. Papelbon choked Harper. He shouldn’t have. There should be no ambiguity. Keep your ridiculous unwritten rules, but the choke hold is simply not okay. End of story.
Other links about Papelbon and Harper:
- Deadspin took Fox Sports to task on Nitkowski’s article and another article by Rob Neyer.
- Ken Rosenthal: What you need to know about Bryce Harper’s baserunning
- Beyond the Boxscore: Papelbon/Harper symptom of larger problem
- NY Times: When teammates fight: An ugly history
- Fangraphs: Mets are a scary playoff team
- Beyond the Boxscore: MLBAM strikeks out in marketing baseball
- ESPN: Jon Niese headed to bullpen
- Fangraphs: Putting the Nationals disappointment in context
- JABO: Will Brazil be Baseball’s next frontier?
- Fangraphs: The Royals are basically the best contact team ever
- Amazin’ Avenue: #THIS: Mets celebrate clinching the NL East