Rob Manfred, please find a way to speed up the game …till the end of September.
Written by Kyle Magin
Truly, baseball’s second half will be a tale of two leagues.
Only three teams are more than 6 games out of playoff contention in the American: Chicago, Detroit and Oakland.
The National, as it was in the first half, will be laughably replete with gutter ball: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego and San Francisco are all more than 6 games out of playoff contention. That number could increase as Chicago and St. Louis are both 5.5 games behind in the Central. Realistically, only seven of the league’s teams are in a race—a number which could quickly drop to five if the Cubs and Cards continue to struggle.
This recitation of the standings has a point: If you live in a National League city, it is somewhat to definitely likely that you’ll watch meaningless baseball for much of the remaining summer—contests between two teams totally out of contention. This isn’t always a horrible thing: Last summer I got to watch, at deeply discounted prices, the core of this year’s wildcard Rockies team begin to gel during a September pillowfight in San Diego. Meaningless baseball is a great venue for teams to trot out prospects, position players who pitch, and eminently useful giveaway days like USB cards and cell phone chargers. It’s a buyer’s market.
With that in mind, let’s see who’s really in for it down the stretch…
The Tigers host Pittsburgh in an early August home-and-home, four-games-in-as-many-days showdown that’ll bring the Bucs to Motown on the 9th and 10th after two in the Steel City. As if this particular sad exchange between two rust belt metropoli weren’t sad enough, fans could be relieved of having to endure the talents of the probably-traded Andrew McCutcheon and J.D. Martinez. The Tiggs also host the White Sox (8/25-27) and A’s (9/18-20) in what promises to be an especially-forgettable weekday series.
The A’s actually have a pretty merciful home slate from here on out, with the lowlight being a 7/31-8/1 two game homestand against the Giants to kick off the Battle of the Bay. The series features a “Welcome to the Beast Bay” t-shirt and “Hella Hustle” rally towel giveaway, though. Really, as long as Oakland fans can stomach their own team sucking, the rest of 2017 is pretty bright!
Comiskey is already a decrepit doghouse, so nothing much should change when the White Sox host Detroit (8/25-27) and San Francisco (9/8-9/10) in pointless matchups. That place is essentially an off-brand gladiator’s arena in a Roman outpost around the fall of the empire: Attended strictly by men doing business there, and contested strictly by men dying to get out.
Cobb County couldn’t have picked a worse year to begin burning its tax dollars in honor of the Braves. The NL east is a fetid shitheap of broken bodies (New York), disinterested money-changers (Miami), Dickensian orphans (Philly) and the comically evil/comically inept Bravos. This team opened its new suburban SunTrust stadium with the aborted fetus of a forgotten rebuild attempt between the lines. Have fun watching them trade Freddie Freeman and trot out a lineup of children and zombies in the second half, Atlantans. The only thing worse than the only team in baseball that moved back out of city limits is its richly-deserved home slate: 6/13 series feature games against other desperately shitty franchises, highlighted by two tilts against the Phillies in a clash of franchises who can’t even make fucking up look hopeful in the era of the Cubs and (l)Astros.
The Marlins are in the same boat as Atlanta, New York and Philly regarding the inter-division competition. Six of the team’s 12 remaining home series are against out-of-contention squads, but the fish get the special honor of hosting the two worst NL West teams in August. The Giants (8/14-16) come calling midweek with what is sure to be a roster even more AAA than the one they have ridden to a 27-game deficit in the West. San Diego (8/31-9/3) will come to town offering an existential question for Miamians: “Why do I live in the overpriced coastal backwater with bad weather, mediocre tacos and PItbull and not in the one that has none of those things?”
New York’s remaining home schedule is slightly better than the rest of the division’s, as only 5 of the Mets’ remaining 12 series are against bad teams. The real gem of their pointless home calendar is an old-school, Monday 9/25 double header vs. Atlanta. True, the baseball will be nearly unwatchable, but old man Wilpon won’t boot you between games as the rain-delay makeup has been classified a ‘single admission double-header.’ That’s one ticket for two games! I may fly to New York for the sole purpose of robbing a billionaire of free baseball.
On top of fumbling their rebuild, being 22.5 games out, being the sport’s worst team, AND summering in Philadelphia, the Phillies are subjecting their fans to meaningless baseball for 7 of their remaining 12 home series. The stupidest part is that the 7th series, the turd that fills the Phil’s outhouse just a little more than their divisional opponents, is a three-game set against the A’s (9/29-10/1) to finish out the season. Nothing is more purposefully cruel than ending up on the receiving end of the MLB schedule-maker’s “fuck it, it’s the final weekend and I have to find an interleague series” shrug. I’m sure A’s players will be stoked to put on a cross-country show right before the end of a losing season in a town that may well be cold by then.
The worst thing about the Reds’ four-season visit to the cellar is how blandly anonymous it’s been. I think Joey Votto is still pretty good for them? Billy Hamilton is a fast guy and Zack Cozart had an OK first half, yes? Honestly, I’m a big baseball fan and I couldn’t pick one Red out of a lineup after Bronson Arroyo (60 day DL) and Votto. I will give the blow-it-all-up crowd some points for panache—the Reds are getting to the same place as them with none of the headlines and all of the Ls. The Reds play four meaningless home series in their remaining 12, but maybe all of them are?
Things aren’t great in the Steel City. The Pirates saw their contention window close at some point in the last 18 months while they were still convincing themselves they were the Appalachian version of the Royals. Now they’ll wave McCutcheon goodbye and brace for another rebuild to one or two seasons of playoff contention before repeating again. What a fun sport! Bucs fans can take solace in the fact that the home slate looks pretty good outside of August, when they host the Reds (8/1-3), Padres (8/4-6) and Tigers (8/7-8) in order to start the month.
Scraping the bottom of this division is simultaneously joyous and drab. Sure, Padres fans get to see home series against the near-playoff lock Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies, but they still also play a full NL schedule, which subjects them to five meaningless series against the Giants, Mets, Pirates, Phillies, and Giants again. As a San Diegan, I’m looking forward to the Padres’ remaining July. In the period following World War I, European artists responded to the banality of war and pointlessness of nationalism with the Dada Movement, a wild endeavor that resulted in totally nonsensical, useless art like chairs perched on single bicycle wheels and fountains made from urinals. That’s the Padres’ July calendar—7/14-16 vs. the Giants, 7/24-27 vs. the Mets, 7/28-30 vs. the Pirates. It’s almost celebratory in its absurdity AND obscurity. People may one day collect ticket stubs from July ‘17 in observance of the stupidest stretch of baseball in human history.
I’m also relishing the Giants’ remaining home schedule, which features 5 of 13 series against dogshit opponents. As we’ve chronicled extensively in our California Baseball Weekly posts on this blog, the Giants’ fans are abandoning the team en masse—secondary tickets are available for $6 to almost every remaining home game and the actual attendance-paid attendance gap is getting more and more noticeable. It’ll be interesting to see how much a poor second half against poor teams—home stands vs. the 22 games back Padres and 22.5 games back Phillies—exacerbates that divide. People aren’t talking about it because the team has accumulated a good deal of good will, but the empty seats can’t be ignored much longer.