Blue Jays, Astros on track to end postseason droughts
Here's a trivia question: If the Toronto Blue Jays make the postseason for the first time since 1993, who will have baseball's longest playoff drought?
That would be the Seattle Mariners, who haven't made it since winning a record-tying 116 games in 2001.
These are exciting times for franchises that haven't had much recent success. Kansas City, of course, won the American League pennant last year after going nearly three decades without a playoff appearance, and there are several teams trying to snap shorter-but-still-significant dry spells in 2015.
The Blue Jays lead the AL East, and Houston leads the AL West. The Astros haven't made the postseason since 2005.
With the expanded postseason, it will probably become increasingly rare for a team to go more than a decade without appearing in the playoffs, so perhaps the Marlins, San Diego Padres (2006) and Chicago White Sox (2008) will be back before too long.
Here are a few other developments from around baseball:
One of the most discussed aspects of bullpen management is what to do when the game is tied and you're on the road. A manager will sometimes hold his closer back in these situations, not wanting to use him unless there's a lead - even if an inferior reliever might give up the winning run before the closer ever gets a chance to pitch.
We've seen plenty of this in the NL East race lately. Washington lost 8-5 at St. Louis on Tuesday when Brandon Moss hit a ninth-inning homer off Casey Janssen. The Nationals used six relievers in that game, but Jonathan Papelbon was not among them.
The Mets lost in walk-off fashion at Miami on Friday and Sunday, with closer Jeurys Familia not appearing in either game. Familia, in fact, hasn't pitched since last Monday.
The Cubs called up an infield prospect of their own in Javier Baez. He hit nine home runs in 52 games last year but batted only .169 with 95 strikeouts. If Baez gets his strikeouts under control, he has good power potential for a middle infielder.
LINE OF THE WEEK
If it feels like this award goes to a pitcher more often than not, that's just the state of baseball in 2015. Teams are averaging 4.23 runs per game this year - up a bit from the 2014 average of 4.07, but well below the average of 5.14 back in 2000.
This week's honoree is Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, who struck out 15 in a 132-pitch complete game against San Francisco on Wednesday. Los Angeles won that game 2-1 to wrap up a three-game sweep of the Giants. The Dodgers now lead second-place San Francisco by 7 1/2 games in the NL West.
It was a massive performance by Kershaw in a crucial game in the middle of a pennant race - an outing worth remembering the next time his postseason resume is being picked apart.