MLB playoff races tighten, plus A’ja Wilson’s snub

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Good morning! Don’t drop a pop fly today, OK?

Mound Visit: Not like this, Cubs

This week, I want to do quick check-ins every day on increasingly dramatic playoff races with just a few games left. Let’s zoom out first. 

In the AL

  • Who’s in: Orioles, Rays, Twins. Minnesota’s already clinched the mediocre AL Central, while the other two fight for the AL East title. Whoever falls short of that becomes the first Wild Card team.
  • The battle: AL West triumvirate (Rangers, Astros, Mariners) and Blue Jays. Texas lost last night, and Seattle beat Houston, which puts the three AL West teams within three games of each other. One will win the division, one will earn a Wild Card spot, and (barring a collapse from Toronto, who did lose last night), the third will stay home for the postseason. 

In the NL

  • Who’s in: Braves, Phillies, Brewers, Dodgers. Philadelphia clinched a Wild Card spot last night as Milwaukee claimed the NL Central crown. The Braves and Dodgers pulled away in their divisions long ago.
  • The battle: Diamondbacks, Cubs, Marlins, Reds. These four teams are within 1.5 games of each other with five games left and two spots available. Last night, the Cubs had a golden chance to beat the Braves and sneak further ahead of the Marlins and Reds for the final Wild Card slot — before this happened:

That plated the two go-ahead runs. Just brutal. 

Make sure to keep up with all the playoff storylines here.

Snubs? Super teams, playoffs and MVP drama

Let’s be clear: Breanna Stewart deserved to win WNBA MVP yesterday. She’s averaging a career-high 23 points per game and has led the loaded Liberty to a 32-8 regular-season record. She’s plenty worthy. 

Yet the voting left some miffed, particularly at A’ja Wilson’s third-place finish. And it was close, closer than most MVP races you’ll see. Stewart, Alyssa Thomas and Wilson finished 1-2-3 and came within just 13 points of each other. Just look at the full tally:

Player 1st 2nd 3rd 4th














All three were in action last night, as Stewart’s Liberty tied its semifinal series with Thomas’ Connecticut Sun at 1-1. Wilson scored 30 points in the Aces’ 91-84 win to go up 2-0 in its semifinal series against Dallas. 

Was Wilson motivated by the snub? Maybe that one, bizarre fourth-place vote? If you read Sabreena Merchant’s fantastic profile of Wilson, published yesterday, you lean yes. I asked Sabreena her opinion on the whole matter. 

The most shocking thing to me here is the third-place finish for A’ja Wilson. Was it as surprising to you?
Sabreena: The top three candidates for MVP were so closely matched that any order among them would have been plausible. But for a player to have the season A’ja Wilson did, when she was the hub of the league’s best offense and defense, and still finish third doesn’t feel representative to what she meant to the Aces and the WNBA this year. I don’t begrudge anyone who voted for Breanna Stewart or Alyssa Thomas as the MVP, but I don’t agree with that conclusion either.

  • Also, this all comes on the day we had huge late-breaking news, reported by The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson II: The Golden State Warriors are finalizing an agreement to bring a new WNBA team to the Bay Area.

News to Know

Kaepernick lobbies Jets
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick penned a letter to Jets general manager Joe Douglas asking to join the team’s practice squad, in light of Aaron Rodgers’ injury and Zach Wilson’s recent struggles. Rapper J.Cole released the missive with Kaepernick’s permission. The full letter is worth a look. The Jets did sign journeyman backup/spot starter Trevor Siemian yesterday, though.

RIP, Mr. Oriole
Orioles legend Brooks Robinson died yesterday at 86, the team announced. Robinson is still considered the greatest defensive third baseman to play the game and, as Dan Connolly beautifully wrote, Robinson — a native Arkanasan — became a favorite adopted son of Baltimore over his 23-year career, entirely with the O’s.

CFP changes
Thanks to the Pac-12’s disintegration, the College Football Playoff appears to be tweaking the 12-team format that will debut next year. Previously, the 12-team model was planned to feature the six highest-ranked conference champions and the six highest-ranked at-large teams. Conference realignment will probably push that to a 5+7 model. Read the full update here.

More news.

Chatter: It’s all a work

Maybe it’s recency bias, but this year’s college football season — to me — has never felt more made for TV. Made for clicks. There’s a WWE-style promo effect to it all, more so than in past years. 

And you know what? It’s working. Consider this past week alone: 

Deion Sanders and Colorado are the, ahem, prime example of this. Rarely has a coach and program been so savvy in using social media marketing to promote their brand. For the last three weeks, Colorado — Colorado! The team that went 1-11 last year! — has been must-watch TV for the entire country. 

  • They won big games. They talked a lot of trash. We ate it up. You know what else we ate up? This video recap from Oregon after it walloped the Buffaloes, 42-6. The Ducks social media folks smartly captioned video of Colorado players trash-talking before the game. Combined with the result, it’s fantastic theater.
  • I do think it’s funny that the Ducks’ mantra for the week was “They’re fighting for clicks, we’re fighting for wins.” And you know what they did with the result? They got a lot of clicks. It’s all a bit. 

The same can be said for Ryan Day, whose rant after Ohio State’s last-second win at Notre Dame has become some sort of cringy legend now. In case you missed it, Day barked into the camera in a postgame interview, “incensed” at former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz for calling the Buckeyes soft earlier in the week. 

  • Day’s speech, honest or not, was a great motivational tactic. I’m sure “Ohio against the world” shirts are selling well. Holtz might still be right, too — if Ohio State plays against Michigan like it did Saturday against the Irish, Day is looking at three straight blowout losses to that school up north. 

This all comes in a year when we’ve complained about longer game times (and tried to blame an influx of commercials) on our TV broadcasts … and yet more people are watching than ever. Both Colorado-Oregon and Ohio State-Notre Dame drew over 10 million viewers apiece

So don’t be mad at Sanders, who’s simply an expert at drawing eyeballs, which keeps this sport chugging. Of course, Sanders turned the blowout loss into a “everyone hates us” screed. “When I came out the womb, I was booed,” Sanders said. Now that’s a promo line. 

P.S. Want to know what else feels like an over-the-top work? Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift. You may be shocked to hear that Kelce’s jersey sales skyrocketed after the news broke.

Pulse Picks

We have another fantastic look inside the downfall of an MLB contender. This time it’s the Yankees, who might’ve been the biggest disappointment. It was the most miserable Yankees season in 30 years

Speaking of deep dives: Max Olson takes us behind the scenes of the Big 12’s push for the Pac-12’s Four Corners schools, including interviews with more than a dozen presidents, athletic directors and industry experts. Worth your time. 

The psychology of choosing a NFL survivor pool pick is so intriguing to me, especially this early in the season. How long do you save a favorite? When do you take a risk? Luckily for us, we have a neuroscientist contributing to a weekly column on this exact topic. Her thoughts on Week 4 here

Pierre LeBrun empties the notebook, focusing on a fascinating year for NHL coaches on the move. There are eight whose contracts expire after the season. 

I thought Law Murray’s look at Russell Westbrook’s fit with the Clippers was really smart. Westbrook has received a lot of grief over the last few years, but he’s really gelled with the Clips.

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(Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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