It was June 16. Still a month shy of the All-Star Break, not even the halfway point of the Major League Baseball season yet, and it looked like the playoff teams had already been determined in the American League. The Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians had substantial leads in their divisions, the Boston Red Sox had the best record, even though the New York Yankees were right behind them, and the Seattle Mariners supposedly had their wild card ticket already punched. The Oakland Athletics, having lost two more games than they had won, were 11½ games out.
Since then, Seattle has slid, and Houston has hovered. The Astros really haven't played bad baseball, but significant injuries to everyday players like Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer have taken their toll. The starting pitching has been good, but not great, and in a couple blinks of an eye, their lead in the AL West is now gone.
Oh, and it also should be mentioned that the A's are 41-14 since that June 16 date. A .745 winning percentage will elevate you in the standings in a hurry, and now with a 75-50 record, Oakland and Houston are tied for first. It was one thing when the meteoric rise started to take hold, that they would pass Seattle and move into a wild card spot. A one-game playoff date with the Yankees seemed like a nice post-season prize, but the players seem to have a larger goal.
Last week was circled on the schedule. The A's took two out of three at home against Seattle, then won the first two games of a three-game series with Houston. That moved the A's into a first-place tie. A Sunday win over the 'Stros at the Coliseum would put them in sole possession of first place. Houston's ace Justin Verlander didn't pitch great, but well enough for a win, and a Houston one-game lead.
The Astros lost in Seattle tonight, and the A's won at home against Texas, and the division is once-again a tie, with both teams 75-50, and a .600 winning percentage. Only the Red Sox and Yankees are better.
As long as you have your pen out, circle next week on the schedule. A's at Houston for three, then home to Seattle for four. In a season without much drama in the American League, things just got really interesting really fast.
Stick a fork in 'em: Dieter Kurtenbach wrote a column for the Bay Area News Group on Friday, essentially saying that if the San Francisco Giants had any chance of making the playoffs this season, they better start winning now. His point was that the Giants have been a .500 club all year, but with the National League being mediocre this season, wins in consecutive series against the lowly Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, and Texas Rangers would put them back in contention. Snice that column, the Giants lost four straight (although they did win 2-1 in extra innings in New York tonight). It's not only possible, but becoming more and more probably, that the Giants could trade free agent-to-be Andrew McCutchen, and maybe others, before the end of the month... If you have been believers in the Washington Nationals all season (and I have), it's time for a reality check. The Nats are under .500 (62-63), 7½ games out of first place in the NL East, and 6½ games out of the wild card, with five teams to jump over. It's unlikely that they would trade superstar Bryce Harper (holding onto a slim chance of re-signing him), but they could become sellers over the next two weeks.
'Roid rage: I love the city of Seattle, and most people probably do (when it's not raining), but their baseball team, which is contending in the American League, leads the majors in drug cheats. You may be aware that they just got Robinson Cano back from suspension, but also have Nelson Cruz and Dee Gordon. Gordon cheated while with the Miami Marlins, but the M's traded for him, and Nelson Cruz was signed to a lucrative deal after being suspended while with Baltimore. It still amazes me that nobody really cares.
Pantone 294: Perhaps you have seen a Dodger road game or elsewhere, where a large group of fans, usually sitting in the outfield bleachers, unfurls a huge blue Dodger banner. It happened again in Seattle on Saturday, and the group responsible calls themselves 'Pantone 294'. It turns out that they have their own website and Twitter feed, and even sell merchandise with their name on it. According to Pantone 294, they call themselves that because they say that is the name of the official Dodger blue color. Look for them again September 15 in St. Louis.
It was on this date in 2002 that got a reminder of just unfair life can be sometimes. Steve Dudley passed away suddenly of natural causes, and was only 45 years old. Steve was quiet, could be difficult to get to know, but was so talented on so many levels. One of his friends referred to him as a Renaissance man, and he truly was, enjoying the outdoors, learning to play the guitar, helped develop a winery, while also doing fine woodwork, and being an excellent athlete. Steve was also married to my cousin Korey, and had three little girls at the time. Those girls are fine young women now, and still miss their dad, but with all of his great attributes, will be the finest part of his legacy. We miss you, Steve.