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Talkin' Playoff Baseball
[Posted Tues. p.m. …folks, I would ordinarily be glued to Yankees-Indians…New York up 3-1 as I go to post, but there is something just a wee bit more important taking place shortly.]
NFL Quiz: It’s only three weeks but there has been some outstanding quarterback play thus far (and some lousy play as well), and a number of QBs have a 70%+ completion percentage. 1) Who was the first to complete 70% of their passes for a full season? 2) 37 years later, who was the second to do so? 3) Who holds the current season record in the category? Answers below.
MLB and the Playoffs
--Yes, it was a strange season….
Jared Diamond / Wall Street Journal
“The Washington Nationals stormed to an unexpected title last autumn by using their roster in a way that they never could during the marathon of the regular season. Their four best starters combined to make 23 appearances in just 17 postseason games, accounting for more than 70% of the Nationals’ innings.
“But the 2020 playoffs will look considerably different than any other in history when they begin Tuesday, preventing any team from attempting such an aggressive pitching strategy. The new format, brought about by the pandemic, will completely reshape how managers navigate the October gauntlet.
“The reason for this stems not only from the expanded field, with 16 participants instead of 10, but also from a subtle change announced earlier this month: the elimination of off days during the division and championship series. It might sound more like a minor tweak than a paradigm-shifting alteration, but the more condensed schedule will come with enormous ramifications.
“In baseball, the postseason diverges from the rest of the season in a way unlike any other sport in terms of the strategy on the field. After (typically) cramming 162 games into 180 days, a grueling ordeal that rewards depth and consistency, clubs never play on more than three consecutive days without a rest in October. The relaxed pace lets skippers stretch pitchers to otherwise unimaginable limits, benefiting teams with their firepower skewed toward a few elite arms rather than spread out across the entire bullpen.
“Because of that, baseball at times faces criticism for staging a postseason that often doesn’t favor the most deserving team, but rather one best built for a month-long sprint. By sending players onto the field for as many as seven straight days, these playoffs could avoid that problem.”
Reminder, after the opening best-of-three series, all games played in the higher-seed’s ballpark, the action shifts to four bubble sites…San Diego, Los Angeles, Arlington, TX., and Houston.
Then the ALCS and NLCS are held in San Diego and Arlington, with the World Series in Arlington.
Ergo with no travel during the early series, you can get away with no days off, though if the World Series goes seven, there will be two off days.
It’s going to be a helluva ride for some teams. As Jared Diamond notes, because of the lack of days off, it’s not necessarily the teams who have the best relievers, but the ones with the most good relievers, Diamond citing the A’s and Braves in this regard.
One more…last year offensive production plummeted in the postseason, from 4.83 runs a game to 4.03.
--Shane Bieber won the pitching triple crown, leading the major leagues in wins (8, tied with Yu Darvish), ERA (1.63) and Ks (122 in 77 1/3).
D.J. LeMahieu of the Yankees became just the second player in major league history to win a batting title in both the American and National leagues, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the other being Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty, who played from 1888-1903.
So Bieber took the mound for Cleveland Tuesday night against the Yankees and Gerrit Cole in a delicious matchup.
And whaddya know…Aaron Judge took Bieber yard for a 2-run homer in the first.
In early games, the White Sox beat the A’s 4-1, Chicago belting three homers for all the runs, and the Twins lost to Houston by the same score, with shortstop Jorge Polanco making a critical ninth-inning error that led to three Astros runs for the victory. I watched virtually all of this one. Good fun.
--We note the passing of former outfielder, pinch-hitter Jay Johnstone, who died last weekend at the age of 74. His daughter confirmed his death on Facebook, saying he suffered from dementia and was in a nursing home when he died of complications of Covid.
“COVID was the one thing he couldn’t fight,” she told the AP on Monday. “It’s really kind of shocking.”
Johnstone was a classic fourth outfielder playing 20 seasons in the big leagues for a number of teams*, 1966-85, becoming a productive pinch-hitter later in his career, batting .267 overall with 102 home runs and 531 RBIs.
*Angels, Phillies, Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees, White Sox, A’s and Padres.
But Johnstone won two World Series rings…1978 with the Yankees and 1981 with the Dodgers.
The thing is in his postseason career he went 10-for-21, .476, including 7-for-9 in 1976 for the Phillies in a NLCS loss to the Reds.
But his biggest October hit came for the Dodgers in Game 4 of the 1981 World Series. Trailing 6-3 in the sixth, Johnstone followed Mike Scioscia’s walk with a pinch-hit, two-run homer off the Yankees’ Ron Davis to pull the Dodgers to within 6-5.
The Dodgers then went on to win 8-7, evening the Series at two games apiece, and then L.A. won Games 5 and 6 for the title.
“It was certainly memorable,” said Fred Claire, the former Dodgers general manager who was the team’s vice president of public relations and marketing back in 1981. “But I think the biggest contribution of Jay was just in keeping all the guys around him loose.”
You see, Johnstone was one of the more legendary, fun-loving players of his era, known for his clubhouse pranks.
Phillies manager Danny Ozark once explained, “What makes him unusual, is that he thinks he’s normal and everyone else is nuts.”
Fred Claire recalled, “The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen was Jay Johnstone, in uniform, in line at a concession stand in Dodger Stadium after the game had already started.” [That’s hilarious.]
Johnstone simply turned himself into a larger-than-life figure.
And so it was in the fall of 2007 that I met Mr. Johnstone. Willie Wilson had invited me out to Kansas City for a little forum being put on by the Negro Leagues Museum and Jay was on the panel. We then met at the reception after and you know how sometimes you just hit it off with a guy? Let’s just say he may have been a merry prankster in his playing days, but he was so cool.
I wrote this on Oct. 29, 2007, in this space (talking about some of the players I had met that evening).
“Jay Johnstone…is a lot of fun (which was always his reputation), as well as a real good guy, and I’m hoping we get together down the road. [Jay, you have an open invitation anytime you’re in the area. But we should probably hire out a driver.]”
And so that winter I’d pick up the phone and hear, “Hey, (Editor). It’s Jay. How are things going?” He would read Bar Chat from time to time, and he was also setting up golf outings in Florida and Arizona and would invite me but it was never convenient. He did that a few times. Rinnggg…. “It’s Jay!” I loved it.
I bought some sports memorabilia off him, a certain signed jersey of a player he had played with, and then I saw him in Kansas City for an event the following year. He was just fun to be around.
I am really sorry to learn of the dementia angle. You thought he’d still just be “Jay,” living well into his 80s, telling stories, playing practical jokes.
RIP, Jay Johnstone. You leave life with a lot of folks who remember you fondly.
The Dallas Stars had a dramatic double-overtime victory in Game 5 on Saturday to force a Game 6 against Tampa Bay Monday in Edmonton, but the talented Lightning, the best team in the league the past five years, finally sealed the deal, 2-0, winning their first Stanley Cup since 2004.
Yes, it was bizarre watching a Stanley Cup celebration without fans, but as in the case with the NBA, congratulations to the NHL for having the foresight to recognize they could complete a season and crown a true champion while working out of bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.
No way are the Lightning, or the winner of Lakers-Heat, tainted. After thinking about it more, I don’t think either deserves an asterisk, except to note that the season was delayed, so folks 75 years from now understand why the two leagues finished up so late.
However, without fans there are some NHL franchises in deep s--- financially. As of today, the new 2020-21 season will not begin until at the earliest Dec. 1st, instead of a normal October start, though the league is determined, they say, to play a full 82-game schedule. I suspect this will change. There is no way the players will accept a full bubble format as they did this summer, but with travel, the virus spreads.
Oh well…let’s just finish up the NBA and get a champion in baseball, and we’ll worry about the other stuff later.
You’d think the NFL will somehow get it done, but college football is an entirely different matter.
And then there’s college hoops….oh brother.
WE HATE YOU, COVID-19!!!
--Heat-Lakers commences Wed.
--After seven seasons with the Clippers, coach Doc Rivers and the team parted ways. Having failed once again to win a Western Conference final, let alone get to it this season when they should have, Rivers leaves after a highly-successful 356-208 tenure, finishing above .500 each season, but you are measured on postseason success and there was none, the Clippers 27-32 in the playoffs under Doc.
Rivers, owner Steve Ballmer (who outsiders generally consider the best in the league in terms of support of his coach and players), along with Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, had been having conversations for the past week or so about which direction the organization should be headed and the decision for Rivers to leave was mutually agreed upon by all three.
The Clippers built a contender around Southland natives Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last summer, and then finished second in the Western Conference this season, but they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the third-seeded Nuggets after taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“I’m the coach and I’ll take any blame for it,” said Rivers, who has coached the most Game 7 losses in NBA history (eight), and the most blown 3-1 leads (three) too, said after the elimination loss to Denver. “But we didn’t meet out expectations.”
“Doc has been a terrific coach for the Clippers, an incredible ambassador, and a pillar of strength during tumultuous times,” Ballmer said in the statement. “He won a heck of a lot of games and laid a foundation for this franchise.”
The early names that have come up to replace Rivers are Ty Lue, who is reportedly being interviewed by the 76ers, and former NBA coach and ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy.
Rivers has coached 21 seasons with Orlando, Boston and L.A., accumulating a 943-681 record, and guiding the Celtics to the 2008-09 NBA title.
He is still just 58 and a total class act. He deserves a year off and no doubt he’ll then get another opportunity if he should so desire. He’d actually be a terrific senator. Go that route, Doc. We need people of character like you in Washington. [As in Gov. Gavin Newsom…when old-bag Feinstein is given a nametag for her windbreaker in the next few weeks…name Doc Rivers to replace her.]
Sorry for getting political….actually, not sorry at all.
--The league has its first Covid crisis as at last word, nine Tennessee Titans, players and team personnel, tested positive for the coronavirus, the Titans shutting down in-person activities until Saturday, while the Minnesota Vikings, who played the Titans on Sunday in Minneapolis, also suspended in-person team activities, including practices and live meetings, at least until they get their tests back.
The Titans are scheduled to play the Steelers next Sunday in Nashville, while the Vikings are slated to be on the road to face the Houston Texans.
So as I go to post no games have been canceled or postponed, but it seems the NFL is determined to carry on. “Nothing to see here…move along, people.” Hopefully the Vikings’ tests are all negative.
--Monday night, defending champion Kansas City traveled to Baltimore, Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson, and once again Mahomes ended up on top, 34-20, passing for 385 yards, four touchdowns, and another on the ground, while Jackson gained a mere 97 yards through the air, a 73.1 PR, and a pretty much meaningless 83 yards on the ground.
--After I posted on Sunday night, Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to 37-30 over Drew Brees and the Saints in New Orleans.
Rodgers and Brees had outstanding nights, the former throwing for 283 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, the latter 288, 3-0, but the star of the game on offense was the Saints’ Alvin Kamara, who finished with 139 yards receiving, 58 rushing and two TDs.
The Pack’s Za’Darius Smith, however, had the play of the game, forcing Saints backup quarterback Taysom Hill to fumble in the fourth quarter, Green Bay’s Mason Crosby then converting a 49-yard field goal for the lead they didn’t relinquish the rest of the way.
--After three weeks, just six 3-0 teams…Bills, Steelers, Chiefs, Packers, Bears, Seahawks.
--Jets and Giants fans are in a state of shock. Yes, both fan bases didn’t expect anything special this year, maybe 5- or 6-win seasons at best, but hopefully the product on the field would be at least competitive, and somewhat entertaining.
This slight optimism was based on the assumption that 3rd-year quarterback Sam Darnold and 2nd-year QB Daniel Jones would improve and progress as expected.
Instead, the Jets have lost 27-17, 31-13, and 36-7 (outscored 59-13 in the first half), Darnold with 3 TDs, 4 interceptions, and a passer rating of 70.7.
The Giants have lost 26-16, 17-13, and 36-9. Daniel Jones has 2 TDs, 4 interceptions, and a PR of 69.2.
See a pattern in both offenses? Neither has yet to score 20 points, for starters. Eegads.
Mark Cannizzaro / New York Post
“Last call is fast approaching for Adam Gase.
“For Sam Darnold, too.
“At the very least, closing time is coming for the Jets’ embattled and universally unpopular head coach, who with every game he coaches is showing he’s simply not up to this job and was the wrong hire in the first place.
“The sample size for Gase is growing, and the results are not getting better. They’re getting worse. And that’s damning, always a prelude to a firing.
“It’s possible that Gase’s last stand comes as soon as Thursday. That’s when the 0-3 Jets will play the 0-3 Broncos at MetLife Stadium in a game between arguably the two worst teams in the league.
“Make no mistake: This will be a pressure-point game for Gase.
“Perhaps the only saving grace for Gase (and it’s a minor one) is the fact that, because of Covid-19 restrictions, no fans are allowed at MetLife Stadium, so that spares ownership the embarrassment of a half-full stadium of fed-up fans expressing their ire in front of a ‘Thursday Night Football’ audience.
“The loser of that game will inch one step closer to the first-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which means the option to select Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence to change the course of the franchise….
“Along the way, Darnold simply has not risen above the ashes to make those around him better – even though, in fairness, many of those around him are backups because of the rash of injuries the team has suffered. He hasn’t performed like a third-overall draft pick needs to perform to stick around for the long term.”
The laid-back dude has regressed…that’s the bottom line.
And for Coach Gase, this Thursday should be ‘last call.’
The thing is a coaching change is not necessarily an improvement. The Jets for good reason are the worst team in football. They have no talent, and what talent they do have is on the shelf with injuries.
It’s not like the Jets, should they lose Thursday, are suddenly going 10-2 the rest of the way to make the playoffs.
At this point, Jets fans should find a hobby to fill the 3+ hours every week they’d otherwise be watching the team and let them finish 1-15 and win the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes.
As for Thursday’s upcoming contest, Johnny Mac observed:
“Pandemics, lockdowns, corrosive hyper-partisan politics, protests, counter-protests, riots, shark attacks, feral pigs, murder hornets, you name it, we’ve had it.
“So with a weary nation starved for something good, craving excellence, the NFL comes to the rescue…Broncos at the Jets. I know now that everything will be all right.”
--The Bears made the move to Nick Foles at quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky losing his job after Foles rallied the team on Sunday. In his fourth year, the jury verdict on Trubisky is in. He is a highly-mediocre QB who is not evolving into a difference-maker, which is Jets’ fans fears about Sam Darnold.
It doesn’t help Trubisky’s cause, nor that of GM Ryan Pace, that the kid was taken second overall in the 2017 draft despite having started all of 13 games at North Carolina, while Patrick Mahomes went No. 10 and Deshaun Watson No. 12.
[The following year, 2018, Darnold was selected No. 3 by the Jets, the Bills took Josh Allen at No. 7, and of course Lamar Jackson was still on the board at No. 32 when the Ravens smartly grabbed him.]
Franchises just can’t afford to make these kinds of mistakes. It sets you back years.
One side bit on the Bears, running back/returner Tarik Cohen, who just days earlier signed a 3-year, $17.25 million contract extension, tore his ACL and is out the rest of the season. Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up. Thank goodness he got his money.
--After I posted last time, Kurt Busch was the surprise winner of the Round of 12 NASCAR Cup Series playoff race in Las Vegas, thus punching his ticket into the Round of 8 with his 32nd career victory. Brother Kyle is thus on the bubble at No. 9 with two more to go (Talladega and Charlotte) before cutdown time.
The Round of 8 then races three times to reduce the field to the Final Four eligible for the title in the finale, this year in Phoenix.
--I’ve been to Ireland to golf 21 times since my first trip in 1989, so I know the impact of us overseas golfers on the Emerald Isle’s economy rather well, personally belonging to a club over there, Lahinch.
The impact of Covid-19 on the sector has been absolutely devastating, what golf tour operators are calling a “complete wipeout” for the estimated $320 million market unless the Government eases travel restrictions and provides financial support to the industry.
The Ireland Golf Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), which represents 16 companies that bring in high-spending golf tourists mainly from the U.S. and Europe, says 2020 revenues have collapsed by about 97 percent, according to a story Tuesday by Mark Paul in the Irish Times. 2021 could be down 80 percent on last year; putting the entire sector at risk.
Operators are asking that cuts to the State’s wage subsidy “scheme” (program) be reinstated to allow operators to retain enough staff to shift bookings to 2022, as tourists who have paid deposits begin to lose faith in any chance of travel next year.
The 14-day quarantine is the killer, a spokesman for the IGTOA told the Times. The tour association brings in about 3,000 American golfers annually who spend about $5,500 per.
I’ve handled most of the trip planning for our small group over the years and thus haven’t used a tour operator, but they do make things far easier, especially if you’re in a group with more than two foursomes.
Failte Ireland estimates about 200,000 foreign tourists come to Ireland specifically to play golf each year, playing the trophy links courses that can get away with charging over $400 at high-season.
So the spokesman said, “I spoke to a leading club this morning, a southwest golf club (I’m thinking Ballybunion), indicative of trophy links. Last year they did 2.4 million euro in green fee revenue, and 50 percent came from golf tour operators. This year they’ll do 400,000 euro in total.
The Irish on “staycations” are playing more golf than ever, but there is no way they will pay top dollar.
Just a sad tale all around.
Top 3 songs for the week 9/30/78: #1 “Kiss You All Over” (Exile…obviously written pre-Covid…) #2 “Boogie Oogie Oogie” (A Taste Of Honey…good for a sore throat…) #3 “Hopelessly Devoted To You” (Olivia Newton-John)…and…#4 “Three Times A Lady” (Commodores) #5 “Summer Nights” (John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John & Cast) #6 “Don’t Look Back” (Boston) #7 “Hot Child In The City” (Nick Gilder) #8 “Reminiscing” (Little River Band…partially saves the week…) #9 “Love Is In The Air” (John Paul Young…no John Paul Jones, we used to say…) #10 “An Everlasting Love” (Andy Gibb…it was fall of junior year for me at Wake Forest…somehow I was still there despite the worst sophomore year, academically, in the history of American academia…for which Wiki should at least acknowledge me, for crying out loud…but would the editor rally back to graduate?...stay tuned….)
NFL Quiz Answers: 1) Sammy Baugh was the first to complete 70% of his passes for a season, 70.3%, 1945, 10 games. Baugh also had a superb passer rating of 109.9 that year, which was unheard of back in the day, and for decades to come. 2) Ken Anderson was the second to complete 70% for a full season, 70.6% in 1982, though this was a nine-game, strike-shortened campaign. 3) Drew Brees holds the top three single-season marks in the category…74.4% in 2018, 74.3% in 2019, and 72.0 in 2017.
Philip Rivers is completing 78.3% of his passes through the first three games. Russell Wilson is at 76.7%, Derek Carr 74.0%.
Wilson has 14 TD passes*…one INT
Josh Allen 10-1
Patrick Mahomes 9-0
Aaron Rodgers 9-0
*NFL record for first three games, besting the mark Mahomes set in 2018. Wilson is also just the fifth player in league history to throw at least four touchdown passes in three straight games, joining Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Mahomes and Drew Brees.
As Ronald Reagan would have told Nancy, the Gipper devouring the Monday morning sports pages, Nancy fixing him pancakes, ‘Not bad…not bad at all.’
Next Bar Chat late Sunday p.m.