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Friday, September 22, 2023

SI:AM | Two Series With Major MLB Playoff Implications

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. Even though the Eagles are my least favorite team in the NFL, I very much enjoyed the new Amazon Prime documentary Kelce, on center Jason Kelce’s 2022 season.

In today’s SI:AM:

🏏 A fake cricket league

CFB Week 3 picks

🕵️‍♂️ How gambling scandals get exposed

It’s almost October

With just 17 days left in the MLB regular season, only a couple of playoff races appear to be decided. The Braves have already clinched the NL East, while the Dodgers and Twins are on the verge of clinching their divisions. The rest of the postseason picture is still blurry, though. The Cubs still have an outside chance of passing the Brewers in the NL Central. The AL East and AL West are as tight as can be. And the field of wild-card contenders in each league is beginning to be whittled down.

Two series this weekend will go a long way toward deciding the final playoff field as the Orioles host the Rays in Baltimore, and the Cubs and Diamondbacks square off in Arizona.

The Baltimore–Tampa Bay series is a four-game set that began last night with a 4–3 Rays win that cut the Orioles’ lead in the division to one game. The O’s have led the division since July 19 and had stretched their lead to four games this time last week before losing four out of five. The Rays lost their grip on the division thanks to a lousy July in which they went 8–16 but have stayed within striking distance and are hot as of late (winning eight of their last 10) to set up this weekend’s crucial showdown.

The series is a matchup of two of the best bullpens in the majors. In last night’s game, Tampa Bay starter Aaron Civale allowed three runs in five innings, and then four Rays relievers each pitched a one-two-three inning to close it out. Baltimore’s relievers retired every batter they faced, too, after starter Kyle Bradish surrendered a tiebreaking homer in the seventh.

The Rays have the edge in starting pitching, both overall and in this series. Tampa Bay will send its two best starters to the mound tonight and tomorrow—Zach Eflin and Tyler Glasnow—while Baltimore will start Jack Flaherty and Grayson Rodriguez, two guys with season ERAs approaching five. The rotation has been a weak point for the Orioles this season, whose starters rank 16th in the majors with a 4.39 ERA. Rodriguez was one of the top prospects in baseball before this season but has struggled as a rookie, and Flaherty, the team’s biggest acquisition at the trade deadline, has a 7.16 ERA in six starts with Baltimore.

This weekend’s series is the last time this season that these two teams will meet. It’s also the start of a difficult stretch for the Orioles, who will travel to Houston for three games against the Astros starting Monday. The next series for the Rays is a three-game set at home against the Angels, so if they can leave Baltimore leading the division, they’ll have a good chance to extend that lead early next week.

The stakes are lower for the Cubs, who currently hold the second wild-card spot in the NL with a 2.5-game lead over a trio of teams fighting for the last spot. One of those teams is the Diamondbacks, who begin a crucial five-game homestand tonight. They’ll play three games against the Cubs and then two against the Giants, one of the teams (along with the Reds) that they’re currently tied with in the standings. The D-Backs got back in the wild-card race after taking three of four from the Cubs last week and now have a chance to solidify their position at Chicago’s expense.

The NL wild-card race is shaping up to be perhaps the best of the stretch run. In addition to the three-way tie for third between Arizona, San Francisco and Cincinnati, the Marlins are lurking just a half game back. Don’t sleep on Miami, which plays Atlanta this weekend but then will face just one winning team in its last 12 games.

The best of Sports Illustrated

Illustration by Andrew DeGraff

The top five…

… things I saw last night:

5. Padres prospect Evan Mendoza’s throw from his butt to get a runner at first.

4. Aaron Judge’s grand slam against the Red Sox.

3. Edouard Julien’s home run swing that knocked his helmet off.

2. A pair of long receptions by Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith.

1. This diving catch by Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins.


On this day in 2002, which quarterback began a streak of six consecutive 300-yard passing games, becoming just the third player in NFL history (after Steve Young and Kurt Warner) to do so?

  • Tom Brady
  • Drew Bledsoe
  • Daunte Culpepper
  • Rich Gannon

Yesterday’s SIQ: Decades before their upset win over the Chiefs last week, the Lions played their first NFL game on this day in 1930. But they weren’t known as the Lions. They were the Spartans and called which city home?

  • Lansing, Mich.
  • Portsmouth, Ohio
  • Pottsville, Pa.
  • Racine, Wis.

Answer: Portsmouth, Ohio. The city, located on the Ohio River about 100 miles east of Cincinnati, today has a population of about 18,000. But when the Spartans called Portsmouth home, the city had more than twice that many people and was a significant manufacturing center. The football team was founded in 1928 and joined the NFL in ’30.

The Spartans were plagued by financial difficulties during their four seasons, leading to the move to Detroit, but they were part of one notable moment in NFL history. In 1932, they went 6-1-4, while the Bears went 6-1-6. Because ties were not factored into the standings and the NFL championship was determined solely by regular-season record, the Spartans and Bears were scheduled to play the league’s first playoff game. The game was supposed to be played in Chicago at Wrigley Field, but due to heavy snow and brutally cold temperatures, it was moved indoors to Chicago Stadium, where it was played on an undersized field covered with dirt left over from a recent circus. The Bears won, 9–0, but the game lives on as the weirdest in NFL history.

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