Despite the assumption of codger status, time seems still to travel differently. What I mean is that the future looks like a long time ahead most of the time while the past seems like it only just happened. Only last week Henry Aaron was a rookie and now he is gone, a venerated hero for a franchise that has lived in three different cities in my extremely short life. Spring training, on the other hand, is always a lifetime away. As the Atlanta Braves contend with the Houston Astros for the 2021 Major League Baseball championship, let us look back to July 30, a really very short time ago.
The Atlanta Braves had been considered a definite contender in the National League East division along with the perennially over hyped New York Mets and the 2019 World Champion Washington Nationals. They had every right to be discouraged on July 30 as they sat in third place, five games behind the Mets with a record of 51 wins and 54 losses. Their big, 23-year old superstar, Ronald Acuna Jr. was out for the season after 82 games and the young pitching staff was so far rather disappointing. Putting the whole league together on that day the Braves were in ninth place testing positive for the loser virus. The Mets were winning despite themselves. The Nationals were a bit lower than Atlanta at 48-55. The consensus among all of our Nobel Prize winning pundits is that if you are down at the trade deadline you “sell” and if you’re in real contention you “buy”. That’s slave owner talk for giving up and saving some dough or else capitalizing to have a chance at the big money. It’s kind of embarrassing but everybody seems to go along with it. The important thing to bear in mind is that division winners go to the playoffs no matter what their record and this division was most definitely up for grabs. Over in the N.L. Central division, the Milwaukee Brewers had a comfortable lead of 7 games over the second place Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis and Chicago were even further behind. On July 30, Washington beat the Cubs, 4-3, in the Give Up Bowl. The Cubs didn’t need Anthony Rizzo or Javier Baez anymore. 2016 was just ages ago. They didn’t need a closer anymore either.
The big mystery to me, though, was Washington. Two of the most highly prized players in the game, starting right handed pitcher Max Scherzer and sterling shortstop Trea Turner, were ditched. Both were sent to Los Angeles, where the Dodgers were surprised to be threatened not only by the San Diego Padres but also the San Francisco Giants in their quest to once again lead the National League West. It worked out well for the Dodgers. Scherzer had been 8-4 with a 2.76 earned run average for Washington and buzzed through his L.A. stint at 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA. Turner maintained his consistency, batting .338 for L.A after.322 in 96 games for the Nats. We may some day speak reverently of the players Washington got in return but currently they are all strangers. Catcher Keibert Ruiz is 22 years old and batted.273 in 29 games this season while pitcher Josiah Gray, 23, had a 2-2 record with a 5.48 E.R/A. Minor leaguers Donovan Casey and Gerardo Carillo also joined the Nationals. Washington won 17 games after July 30 while the Braves, a game and a half ahead of the Nats on July 30, won 37 and lost 20 and have kept on winning so far in the playoffs.
The Braves did not decide to crawl into a corner and lick their wounds. Their fans are party to the embarrassment of the chop and chants that ridicule and marginalize native cultures and that makes it difficult to root for them but it’s hard not to like Freddie Freeman, Brian Snitker, Eddie Rosario and company. I’m still wanting Dusty Baker and the Astros to prevail but there is no doubt that these Braves are a worthy opponent and it is good to see rewards for those who don’t quit. Rosario came from Cleveland for Pablo Sandoval, who was promptly released in one of those maneuvers only MBAs can understand. They also added Adam Duvall, back from Miami, and Joc Pederson from the Chicago Quitters to try to compensate for the loss of Acuna.It’s making for quite an interesting season finale.
OTHER OCTOBER REVELATIONS: As an accomplished baseball on television fool, it has become way obvious that all of the malarkey about “speeding up the game” is meaningless hypocrisy. You could fix dinner and clean a bathroom between half innings and not miss a pitch. As a result of paying close attention to all of the car insurance (and bundling!) ads, I just kept calling and switching until finally I am now being paid $313 annually to have the policy I ended up with, which one should never use to end a sentence. Also, the tire company using Clayton Kershaw has been replaced by the wacky racecar Webex ad as the stupid pitch of the year.