Starting 9: Playoffs Poised for Some California Love, Jeter's Last Stand, More

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Starting 9: Playoffs Poised for Some California Love, Jeter's Last Stand, More
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1. Golden State will rule in October

"Don't know much about history...

"Don't know much biology..."

Dang. That time of year again, huh? Time to trade the sun block for the textbooks, the pool for the school. Already? Believe me, if I could roadblock summer's end, I would.

"Don’t know much about geography..."

Wait! I can help get you on track there. Geography? Easy. Follow the bouncing hardball west.

As things stand right now, for the first time ever, four of the five California teams are primed for October baseball.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

You read that right: The Los Angeles Dodgers lead the NL West. The Los Angeles Angels of Don't Call Us Anaheim and the Oakland A's are tied atop the AL West. The San Francisco Giants own one of the two NL wild-card slots.

Anybody for a San Diego Padres run to make California a perfect, Tony Gwynn-like 5-for-5 this October?

Click ahead to other topics

• Dry season for the A's
• The Captain takes aim at one more remarkable feat
• Road to the AL playoffs goes through Corey Kluber
• Jose Abreu gets bitten by the dog days of August
• The road hasn't been kind to the Braves
• Runs are hard to come by for many this summer
• Todd Helton finds home is where you play for 17 years
• The Giants lose a one-of-a-kind fan

Author Truman Capote once said, "If you stay in California, you lose one point of your IQ every year."

OK, but apparently, if you play baseball in California right now, you increase your WAR by a few points every month.

Look at the Angels (73-50, .593) and the Athletics (73-51, .589): The two best records in baseball.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Look at the Dodgers: With a 3.15 ERA and Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke as anchors, they have the game's best starting rotation.

Behind Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray and newcomers Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, the Athletics' rotation (3.42) ranks second in the AL to Seattle (3.20), which is almost in California if Oregon wasn't in the way.

And among bullpens, the Giants (2.64) rank second in the NL (and third in the majors) to San Diego (2.35), which is in California (but may as well be in Mexico for this exercise as the lone Golden State team on the outside of the playoff picture looking in right now).

The A's (597) have scored more runs than anybody in the majors, the Dodgers' Dee Gordon (56) has swiped more bases than anybody in the majors, and the Angels' Mike Trout (260) has collected more total bases than anybody in the majors.

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Oh, the A's have taken more walks (456) than anybody in the majors, too—presumably, under softly swaying palm trees in low humidity and without getting chomped on by mosquitoes.

They may not be liking this much in the Bronx or in New England, and it certainly won't go over well in Texas, where the baseball this summer is all hat and no cattle. But on the diamond this year, California is where it's at.

As former comedian Fred Allen once said, "California is a fine place to live—if you happen to be an orange." 

If you're interested in watching Trout and Yasiel Puig, two players whose Q ratings are among the highest in the game, it's a fine place to live right now, too. 

Following two injury-plagued seasons, even Dodgers All-Star Matt Kemp, born in Midwest City, Okla., is slowly beginning to show the form that landed him second in NL MVP voting to Ryan Braun in 2011 with seven homers in his past 20 games and eight homers and 21 RBI in 29 games since the All-Star break.

As humorist Will Rogers once offered, "When an Okie moves to California, he raises the IQ of both states."

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

There have been four previous all-California World Series: 1974 (Athletics over Dodgers for a third consecutive title), 1988 (Dodgers over Athletics as Kirk Gibson limped around the bases), 1989 (Athletics over Giants in the Earthquake World Series) and 2002 (Angels over Giants for Team Rally Monkey's first-ever title).

Don't look now, Derek Jeter or Big Papi David Ortiz, but odds are lining up a little straighter each day that 2014 could bring us a fifth.

Geography? Hey, this October might be the perfect time to schedule that trip to see the Golden Gate Bridge, or Hollywood. Playoffs by the palm trees.

As politician Dan Quayle once said, "I love California. I practically grew up in Phoenix."

Wait. What?

 

2. Now for a dissenting view

On July 31, Oakland led the AL West by two games and owned the best record in the majors.

Now, the A's are a half-game behind the Angels for the AL West lead, just four percentage points from the game's best record (.593-.589). Things are still rockin' in Oakland, but….

The unavoidable Swingin' A's elephant in the room, that either will cause folks to deify Billy Beane further or leave him open to second-guessing all winter:

In 17 games since the Athletics traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox on July 31, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Oakland outfielders are hitting .227 (42-for-185) with two homers and 14 RBI in 17 games. As the Braves were sweeping them over the weekend, Oakland outfielders went 1-for-27.

 

3. Derek Jeter's Last Stand

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As the Yankees scramble toward the finish line, a couple of Derek Jeter facts that are in jeopardy, and absolutely worth watching:

He has never played on a losing team. With 40 games left, the Yankees are 63-59.

He has played in 2,711 games with the Yankees dating back to 1995, and in that time, he has played in exactly one game in which his team has been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. That came on September 26, 2008.

In the meantime, one other Yankees' gem, from the Elias Sports Bureau: Their streak of 2,527 games without being shut out in back-to-back games is the longest in major-league history.

 

4. Cleveland's Decider

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If the Indians—third in the AL Central, six-and-a-half games outdon't scoot back into playoff contention, sizzling right-hander Corey Kluber may have a lot to say about who wins the division anyway.

The Indians have six games left with the Royals (Aug. 29-31 in Kansas City, Sept. 22-24 in Cleveland) and seven remaining with the Tigers (Sept. 1-4 in Cleveland, Sept. 12-14 in Detroit).

And if you haven't been paying attention to Kluber lately, you've only been missing the best pitcher in the AL not named Felix Hernandez.

Notice that word "lately"; that’s the key. So all of you lovers of David Price, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale, stand down for a sec.

Kluber, over his past five starts, has worked at least six innings with no more than one earned run allowed. Last time an Indians pitcher did that, his name was Orel Hershiser, it was 1996 and Albert Belle was flexing his biceps and keeping the Indians clubhouse meat-locker cold.

Since Kluber's last loss on June 30, the Stetson University product has gone 6-0 with a 1.31 ERA. In 62 innings, he's fanned 70 and walked just nine.

After Kluber pitched Cleveland to a 2-1, 11-inning win over the Orioles on Friday (7.2 scoreless innings), someone asked manager Terry Francona whether he was running out of superlatives to describe the 28-year-old who is completing his first full season.

"My vocabulary’s not that good," Francona told Cleveland reporters.

Check back with the Royals and Tigers down the stretch on the state of their vocabulary—and their bats.

 

5. Darn right, this game is tiring

Brian Kersey/Getty Images

You can't quibble with the season White Sox slugger Jose Abreu is having. He long ago became a breakout rookie—we took a close look at that earlier this summer—and currently leads the majors in slugging percentage (.591), is third in the majors in homers (31) and ranks second in the AL in RBI (89).

Which is why this Spanish-language interview with USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz caught my eye. Or, more specifically, a certain part of the interview.

"We play so many games, you get to a point you want [the season] to end," Abreu told USA Today. "It's too much, but that's what you have to deal with and you've got to be strong. I've been counting down since the 58th game, and we still have [38] left. Wow. It's not so much that you get tired, but you spend so much time away from your family, and I'm a family guy. I want to be with them."

It is instructive that a guy seemingly on top of the baseball world feels this way in what certainly is one of the best years of his life. Just one more example of how and why this game is far more taxing than it looks, both physically and mentally.

Abreu is a shoo-in to become the White Sox's first Rookie of the Year since Ozzie Guillen in 1985. And if he finishes ranked atop the AL home run leaderboard, he will become the third Sox player to lead the league, after Bill Melton (1971) and Dick Allen (1972 and 1974).

 

6. Not Exactly Willie Nelson's Team of the Week

On the road again? Uh-oh.

Last time the Braves tried this, they went 0-8 in Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle.

Yes, the Braves reversed course by sweeping Oakland over the weekend, but now comes what well could be a make-or-break part of their schedule: A 10-game, 11-day trip to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and New York (Mets).

Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Now trailing the Nationals by six games in the NL East and one game back in the NL wild-card chase, Atlanta opened at Pittsburgh on Monday night looking to snap that ugly eight-game road losing streak.

Ervin Santana was lugging some serious history with him in PNC Park, too: The Braves' last lost nine in a row on the road as part of a 10-game road losing streak from Aug. 31 to Sept. 14, 1996, according to STATS LLC.

 

7. Fun with August Run Differential

As of Tuesday morning, the Nationals (+27) were the only NL East team with a positive run differential in the month of August. The Marlins (-6), Phillies (-13), Braves (-13) and Mets (-21) all were outscored (though the Marlins still had a winning record for the month at 9-7).

Second to the Nationals in the NL for the month of August were the remarkably resurgent Padres (+22), who nevertheless still rank last in the majors in runs scored with 407. The next-closest team, the Cardinals, are at 461, outscoring the Padres by 54 runs.

And not that the presence of Kendrys Morales, Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia guarantees anything (not yet, anyway), but the Mariners (+43) are the runaway leaders in the AL for the month of August. The Orioles (+30) and the Royals (+29) are next.

Worst in the AL for the month? The White Sox (-43) and Blue Jays (-35).

 

8. From Rocky Top to Rockies legend

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

A moment for Todd Helton, whose No. 17 was retired in Denver on Sunday. The way the Rockies' season is going, the big story was that nobody got hurt during the ceremony.

Not that the season has gotten away from the Rockies, but when Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are lost for the season within a day of each other, maybe they should have held an exorcism in Coors Field Sunday in conjunction with honoring Helton.

Anyway, how appropriate to retire No. 17 on the 17th day of the month following a 17-year career. Helton finished with 2,519 hits, 369 homers, 592 doubles, five All-Star Games, three Gold Gloves and a legion of admirers.

"When I came here from Tennessee, I always said that Tennessee had the nicest people and the greatest people," Helton, a Knoxville native and former University of Tennessee quarterback (backup to Peyton Manning) told reporters in Denver before the retirement ceremony. "Well, they said, 'What do you like about Colorado?' Well, the people are the same type of people. Just the same regular people you enjoy spending time with. I call this place home now. I've raised my kids here, and I plan on staying here a long time. I could pretty much go anywhere I want, but at this point, I'll never leave Colorado."

 

9. Giants lose a fan, we lose a genius

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

They held a moment of silence and a tribute to Robin Williams last week before a Giants game in AT&T Park, and how appropriate. I can still remember Williams in the Giants' dugout in Anaheim during batting practice at the 2002 World Series, cracking everybody up, his manic energy lifting the entire scene. The man loved baseball, and he loved his Giants.

Club president Larry Baer recalled Williams' energy and him revving up the Giants in the dugout just 30 minutes before the first pitch of that World Series game. And broadcaster Mike Krukow remembered Williams visiting the Giants' spring-training clubhouse in the 1990s.

"Absolutely hysterical," Krukow told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He had the ability to become a child at the drop of a hat. He wanted to feel pine tar on a bat, the seams of a baseball. He walked in like we were old friends and lit up the room."

 

9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week

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We've got to go straight back to the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack this week. Here's to you, Robin Williams…

"The colors of the rainbow

"So pretty in the sky

"Are also on the faces

"Of people going by

"I see friends shaking hands

"Saying, 'How do you do?' 

"They're really saying

"'I love you'

"I hear babies cry

"I watch them grow

"They'll learn much more

"Than I'll ever know

"And I think to myself

"What a wonderful world"

— Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World

 

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball @ScottMillerBbl.

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