by Julian Spivey
The shortened 2020 Major League Baseball season has already surpassed the midway point with some of the league’s 30 teams playing as many as 34 of the 60 scheduled games for this season. Due to some teams having many games postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks within the clubhouse some, like the St. Louis Cardinals, have played as few as 24 games.
The Los Angeles Dodgers at 24-10 currently have the best record in the National League and all of baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics at 22-11 are currently the leaders in the American League.
Some of baseball’s biggest stars have gotten off to a hot start even with the multiple month delay before the beginning of the season and here are my picks among those hot starts for the midway MVP and Cy Young Award frontrunners in the game.
National League MVP: Fernando Tatis Jr. (San Diego Padres)
The San Diego Padres young shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. has been quite the talk of the major leagues in his second full season in the bigs putting on a show with highlight reel bombs and defensive plays. Tatis Jr. currently leads the N.L. in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at 2.2, home runs with 13 (tied with Nelson Cruz for the majors lead) and runs batted in with 30 (tied with Jose Abreu for the majors lead). Tatis Jr., along with teammate Manny Machado who’s also putting up MVP worthy number, has the Padres with the second best record currently in the N.L. at 20-14 and certainly bound for the team’s first postseason appearance in years.
American League MVP: Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox)
The Chicago White Sox have one of the most exciting offenses in all of baseball and its led by their veteran first baseman Jose Abreu. Abreu is hitting .318 this season with 12 home runs (one behind Nelson Cruz for the league lead) and a majors leading 30 RBI. Abreu has the White Sox one game behind the Cleveland Indians in the A.L. Central Division at the time of this writing with the fourth best record in the league.
National League Cy Young: Max Fried (Atlanta Braves)
Without Max Fried the Atlanta Braves would be in serious trouble right now with their rotation, especially after the team’s Opening Day starter Mike Soroka went down with a torn ACL in the first few weeks of the short season. Fried has led the Braves to a current game and a half lead over the Miami Marlins in the N.L. East Division with a 5-0 record, a league leading 1.35 ERA (earned run average) and 38 strikeouts. Fried’s 2.5 WAR (wins above replacement) is currently the best of any pitcher in baseball.
American League Cy Young: Shane Bieber (Cleveland Indians)
The Cleveland Indians have shown a great propensity for developing great young starting pitchers over the last decade and Shane Bieber is the latest in a long line and while other Indians pitchers like Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac have let the team down with their behavior off the field, Bieber has been baseball’s best pitcher of 2020 thus far. Bieber has baseball’s best record thus far at 6-0 in seven starts with all seven starts being of the quality kind. His 1.35 EAR is tied with Max Fried of the Braves for the best in all of baseball and his 75 punchouts are a whopping 17 more than the next closest pitcher. Bieber is currently looking at a possible Triple Crown of pitching in the American League.
by Julian Spivey
I know the IndyCar Series, like most auto racing series, has the red flag in its colorful assortment of racing flags because it has been used before. So, maybe it just got lost on Sunday (August 23) with five laps remaining in the series’ biggest event of the year?
Takuma Sato was in good shape with five laps to go in the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon with about a second lead over second place running Scott Dixon, had who led more than half the race. But there was the potential Sato might have caught more lap traffic and may have even been lower on fuel than Dixon that might have altered the finishing order in the last few laps had they gotten the opportunity to run out under green conditions.
When Spencer Pigot lost control of his car and crashed into the pit road attenuator with five laps to go that ended any chance of the what might have been scenarios and Sato drove his car under pace speed across the finish line for his second career Indianapolis 500 crown.
The decision by IndyCar not to use the red flag, which halts a race and freezes the field until green flag conditions can be run, is controversial because it doesn’t give fans (all of whom were watching the race televised this year due to COVID-19 forcing the race to be run without fans) an ending under the green flag. But when it comes to IndyCar even throwing the red flag on Sunday would’ve been controversial because you have your traditional IndyCar fan who believe the Indianapolis 500 should end at 500 miles no matter what – whether under the green flag or the yellow.
For the majority of auto racing history races have ended under caution when accidents happened late in the running and the field could not go green before the originally stated distance of the race. But then a little under two decades ago the series of NASCAR came up with what’s known as the green-white-checkered finish instituted to give fans the exciting finish they deserve and since instituting this rule far fewer races have ended under caution. Also, NASCAR is way more liberal with its use of the red flag because it knows fans would rather see an ending at full speed even if forced to go five or so miles longer than being stubborn about a race being exactly 500 miles.
All sports should strive to give the fans what they want.
IndyCar said in a statement after the race on Sunday, “IndyCar makes every effort to end races under green, but in this case following the assessment of the incident, there were too few laps remaining to gather the field behind the pace car, issue a red flag and then restart.”
I’m sorry, but if the red flag was flown immediately upon seeing Pigot’s impact with the pit road attenuator that simply isn’t the case. They could’ve had at least a two-lap shootout (green-white-checkered style). Sure, the cleanup would’ve taken quite a while given the damage to the pit road attenuator, but I think everybody other than Sato and his race team would’ve been perfectly fine with it.
Dixon, the second winningest driver in IndyCar history, has been calling for the series to use red flags more often as far back as 2012 when he tweeted, “Think IndyCar need green-white-checker. Sucks seeing a race finish under yellow.”
It’s the third time in the last decade the Indy 500 has finished under caution with Dario Franchitti winning the 2012 event under yellow when Sato tried to pass him on the final lap and crashed (it’s important to note that even under green-white-checker rules this would still result in the race being over as it was the final lap) and in 2013 when Tony Kanaan won the race when Franchitti wrecked with a few laps remaining.
What makes IndyCar’s decision not to use the red flag even more controversial is the fact that they have used it before in this very race. In 2014, following two consecutive years in which the Indy 500 ended under caution, the series red flagged the event when Townsend Bell wrecked with laps winding down and that led to an amazing finish between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves with Hunter-Reay winning in the second closest finish in Indy 500 history at that time.
So, in 2014 IndyCar set precedence for using the red flag to give the fans a great finish. That makes the decision not to use it in 2020 inconsistent with past races and inconsistency in motorsports is something that always annoys fans (just ask hardcore NASCAR fans).
It’s time for IndyCar to stop being so strict about races ending at the predetermined mile marker and give the fans what they want – an actual finish with cars speeding through the checkered flag.
by Julian Spivey
On Tuesday of this week the Big Ten and Pac-12, two of the Power 5 conferences in college football, announced they wouldn’t be holding a season this fall as scheduled. The conferences hope to be able to compete in the spring semester of 2021.
The other three Power 5 conferences: ACC, Big 12 and SEC still plan on going forward with their seasons in which they will compete against other schools within their respective conferences, despite initial thoughts that some of the Power 5 opting out might start a domino effect among all of them.
Some schools are also searching for ways to compete this fall in college football and other collegiate sports, despite their conference postponing potential play to the spring like my alma mater University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark. in the Southland Conference.
Central Arkansas, which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), is supposed to be in the season-opening national kickoff game against Austin Peay in Montgomery, Ala. on Saturday, August 29 and the bulk of the college football season is supposed to begin the first weekend in September, though things are very fluid right now.
It’s very possible that by the time the sport is supposed to kickoff for its first games that all of the conferences will have relented and given in to COVID-19.
And they absolutely should.
Putting student-athletes, who don’t get paid to perform mind you, in danger for monetary gain and school pride (but mostly the monetary gain) is simply outrageous. COVID-19 numbers throughout this country are not getting better, in fact in many places the number are trending upward, and just Wednesday (August 12) the Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Robert Redfield warned in an interview with WebMD that America is likely to undergo “the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we’ve ever had.” This is with the virus already causing upwards of 200,000 deaths in this country since March.
Really makes you want to send your sons out there to tackle the hell out of each other, doesn’t it?
What really seemed to by the final nail in the proverbial, but honestly if the other conferences go through with the season might as well say literal coffin, was the reveal that at least five Big Ten Conference athletes – mind you people in peak condition health-wise – were found to be suffering from myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle. According to ESPN.com, the condition is usually caused by a viral infection and left undiagnosed and untreated can cause heart damage and sudden cardiac arrest. It’s rare, but COVID-19 has been linked with myocarditis with a higher frequency than other viruses based on studies beginning to come out.
This country has now had almost half a year to attempt to bring this virus to its knees – maybe not completely wipe it out because that may not even be possible – but at least get back to a state where we could try to resume some semblance of normal life like we’ve seen from virtually every other country in this great big world. We as a country have bitched about masks, bitched about social distancing, bitched about shutting down places and are more concerned about reopening things (which some places did way too soon) and just now at the start of what should be college football season are ready to send our children and the unsung heroes of our country that are teachers into the line of fire. Hell, some in this country spent most of the last few months thinking the whole damn thing was a hoax and some probably still think it is because they still know a person who’s been diagnosed. We as a country barely even tried to do anything about COVID-19 because “our rights” and are seeming distrust of medical experts, scientists and media.
So now some of us won’t be seeing our favorite college football teams play this fall. Hopefully within the next few weeks none of us will get to see our favorite college football teams play this fall. It’s too dangerous and we don’t deserve it anyway. No college football this year is our penance for not giving a damn.
Sports Roundup: Golf Has a New Superstar, College Football Players Want to Play, But Why They Shouldn't & Baseball Brawlers Must Be Dealt With Harshly
by Julian Spivey
The PGA Tour found its newest young superstar on Sunday (August 9) in the final round of the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco when 23-year old Collin Morikawa took home the Wanamaker Trophy for his first major title in just the second major tournament he’s ever participated in.
For much of the final round of the PGA it seemed the first golf major of the year, postponed from earlier in the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and with the Masters Tournament being rescheduled for November, would likely wind up in a multiple golfer playoff. That was until Morikawa stepped up to the 16th tee box tied for the lead and hit a driver to within seven feet of the hole leading to a rather easy eagle putt (Morikawa leads the PGA Tour in eagles this season) to take a two-stroke lead to the final two holes. It was a shot that Paul Casey, who had been tied with Morikawa, saw from the 17th tee box. After Casey finished his round he said, “What a shot. Nothing you can do but tip your cap to that. Collin had taken on that challenge and pulled it off. That’s what champions do.”
Morikawa’s tee shot on 16 was truly one of the most remarkable shots in recent golf major tournament history and will likely go down as an all-timer. It’s the kind of shot that would have had the gallery leaping to its feet and erupting in a cacophony of applause had they been able to attend the event. It’s a shame for Morikawa that in his memory and future retellings of the shot he won’t have that special detail included.
Morikawa became the third youngest winner of the PGA Championship on Sunday with only Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus being younger when they won the tourney. His round of 64 is the lowest ever by a PGA champion. More impressively was his weekend as a whole with the round of 65 on Saturday and his 64 on Sunday adding up to the lowest weekend score ever for any major golf winner.
The PGA Tour hasn’t exactly been in need of great young talent over the last few years as it honestly seems to be everywhere on the tour, but Morikawa has thrown his hat onto the green as the next big thing and he’s only been a pro for just over a year. His first major title and third career win overall comes in just his 28th total event. He had made news earlier this year when he finally missed a cut at the Travelers Championship after making it to the weekend in his first 22 events, the second longest streak ever to begin a PGA Tour career behind only Tiger Woods.
It’ll be a ton of fun seeing exactly what heights Morikawa can reach in his career.
Word broke on Sunday afternoon (August 9) that the commissioners of the Power 5 college football conferences, which had previously seemed dead set on having a football season despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the country, held an emergency meeting earlier in the day to discuss the possibility of canceling it after all.
No decisions were made during the meeting, but multiple sources within the Power 5 conferences told ESPN that the Big Ten conference was ready to throw in the towel on a season and they wanted to gauge whether or not the other four (ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) would fall in line.
After the report broke many college football players took to social media to say they were hoping to play this season. The biggest superstar in college football at the moment is likely Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and he tweeted: “Let’s work together to create a situation where we can play the game that all of us love. Not divide and argue. There is a way forward.”
Lawrence posted another tweet with the hashtag #WeWantToPlay, which was shared by other players. Along with this tweet was a graphic outlining some of the players thoughts about playing this season that included the following:
*We all want to play football this season.
*Establish universal mandated health and safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.
*Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.
*Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.
*Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: ultimately create a College Football Players Association.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields had similar sentiments tweeting: “There’s been too much work put in! #WeWantToPlay.”
It’s understandable that many of the athletes want to do what they do best. If the commissioners of the Power 5 conferences are willing to cancel the season knowing full well that college football is the absolute biggest moneymaker for many universities around this country you know it’s a last ditch option. You know they feel certain that playing would be endangering lives.
The “establish universal health and safety procedures and protocols” part of the graphic shared by Lawrence is where I believe college football would have the biggest trouble. I don’t think you can expect 18-22 year old college students to do the kind of things to keep themselves safe off the football field that would allow a football season to take place. Why? Because we’ve seen older professional athletes in other sports unable to do so. The NBA had Los Angeles Clippers star Lou Williams leave its Orlando bubble to attend to a family issue and he wound up at a strip club in Atlanta. Major League Baseball hasn’t gone the bubble route (which college football of course wouldn’t be able to do either) and has had even more issues with the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals organizations shut down for more than a week at a time due to COVID-19 outbreaks within the team, supposedly due to players not quarantining properly off the field. Just on Sunday the Cleveland Indians sent pitcher Zach Plesac home to quarantine for 72 hours because he left the team hotel to go out on the town in Chicago with friends the night before.
If these pros getting paid millions of dollars to play a game can’t following the health protocols set forth by their respective leagues it’s unreasonable to think college student-athletes would follow the protocols.
Nobody wants to see the college football (or any college sports) season canceled, but it’s simply the safest and most reasonable thing to do and frankly it’s what this country deserves for never taking this pandemic as seriously as it should have.
Before the 2020 MLB season when baseball was setting health protocols to attempt to have a season during the COVID-19 pandemic one of the biggest no-nos the league mentioned was there was not to be benches clearing brawls among teams. On Sunday (August 10) during the Houston Astros v. Oakland Athletics game in Oakland, Calif. baseball had its first brawl of the season. In the seventh inning of the game A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano was hit by a pitch for the third time during the three-game series by Astros pitching and wasn’t happy with it. He pointed at Astros pitcher Humberto Castellanos and jawed with his as he headed to first base. Laureano then began exchanging words with Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron from the dugout before charging toward Cintron and the Astros dugout. Laureano was tackled by Astros catcher Dustin Garneau, who had been in the dugout, and both benches cleared. Due to COVID-19 protocols many players are sitting in the stands during games this season and those players left the stands to reach the field, as well. Laureano was ejected from the game.
It wasn’t the biggest brouhaha we’ve ever seen, but MLB has to come down harshly on this incident as they explicitly stated before the season this was not to happen. Baseball suspended Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly for eight games just for throwing behind an Astros batter a couple of weeks ago. Laureano’s actions actually put all the players involved in the game in danger by getting them all together without protective gear.
In my opinion, Laureano should be suspended no fewer than 10 games for his actions on Sunday. Maybe sitting out for 1/6th of the shortened season would teach other players that baseball means business when it comes to its health protocols, especially in a season where we’ve already seen two franchises miss more than a week of action each over COVID-19 outbreaks. Cintron should probably get a 10-game suspension himself, if not even longer for being a coach and the fact that he should’ve known better. The NBA has a rule stating that if a fight breaks out on the court that any player leaving the bench area will automatically receive a one-game suspension, even if they don’t get involved in a skirmish. I don’t think baseball can do anything about those who entered the fray from the field or even really the dugouts because that would essentially be everybody receiving a suspension, but I do think if possible MLB should look into which players for these two organizations left the stands to get involved and suspend each of those players for one game. I realize this is a lot and typically not something that would result in punishment by the league, but in a special circumstances time like this season it would be an appropriate way to show players the league means business about the health protocols.