(CBS Los Angeles) — The MLB season is about to go into September and the various MVP and division races remain interesting. With a month of games to go, Shohei Ohtani looks like the American League’s MVP favorite barring injuries or complete collapse. He added one more line to his resume and the record books last weekend. The New York Yankees eventually lost, ending their 13-game winning streak, just four games behind Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East race. Across the city, the New York Mets are moving just as fast in the opposite direction. A few players somehow found it wise to express their displeasure to the fans.
This week’s Baseball Report looks at Ohtani’s 40-20 milestone, the winning streak of the Yankees and Mets giving their fans a “thumbs down” gesture.
Ohtani’s 40-20 Season
It’s not even September, and Shohei Ohtani has a tight grip on the American League’s MVP race. That’s what happens when a two-way player excels at the plate and the mound. His latest achievement also shows his prowess on the basic path. Ohtani is now the only player in Los Angeles Angels team history to have stolen 40 home runs and 20 bases in a single season. He is also the third in American League history to accomplish this feat for September. Ken Griffey Jr. (1999) and Alex Rodriguez (2007) are the other two, and Rodriguez won the MVP that season.
By the time Ohtani stole his 20th base, he had already hit 41 home runs, putting him at the top of the majors. Last Saturday night against the San Diego Padres, Ohtani was in the midst of what would be his second 0-4 night in a row. In the bottom of the fifth, he walked on with one out Austin Adams. He then made a good jump on a 0-1 fastball to steal second. A double later would bring him home.
His 20 stolen bases put him in the top 10 in the category leading Starling Marte of Miami Marlins with 42. Ohtani also cut .264/.363/.623. What sets him apart from all the other quality hitters in the majors is, of course, his pitching success. Ohtani is also 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA and strikeouts 127 in his 105 innings pitched.
His stolen base and the resulting run helped the Angels to their second win in eight games. But they are trailing the Boston Red Sox by 10.5 games for the final wildcard spot.
While the Angels have little chance in the playoff race, it looks like only an injury could hurt Ohtani’s chances in the MVP race. So there was some concern around the organization Friday night when a 93 mph fastball hit him on his throwing hand. An X-ray revealed no damage and he played the rest of the game. Ohtani should be ready to pitch again on Tuesday night against the New York Yankees.
Yankees winning streak ends
The Yankees will be looking for a new one winning streak when they visit the angels this week. That’s after the Oakland Athletics finished their last last weekend. The A’s defeated the Yankees 3-2 on Saturday to end their 13-game winning streak, the team’s longest in 60 years. Slugger Aaron Judge’s two-run homerun in the ninth inning drove in Anthony Rizzo after his… bloop single. But it was all the team could do in a losing effort.
When the Yankees last won so many games in a row, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle eased pitchers. It was only the team’s sixth longest in their history. The Yankees won 19 straight in 1947 and came close with 18 in 1953.
When this latest streak began, the Yankees were 63-52 and were seven games behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays and the Red Sox with five. It included three-game sweeps from the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. When the streak ended, the Yankees were 76-52, trailing only the Rays by four games. They have the inside track in a Wild Card spot, although they may end up playing the Red Sox.
Thumbs down to Mets and their fans
The Mets led the National League East for about half of the season. But they haven’t been very good lately, losing 19 of their 27 games so far in August and also their four-game lead in the division. They now trail the Atlanta Braves with 7.5 games and the Philadelphia Phillies with 4.5 games. What was once a promising play-off hope is quickly slipping away.
The fans of Citi Field, the home of the Mets, have expressed their dismay. That’s what fans do. They cheer when their team does well and captivate when they don’t. Mets players don’t like to be booed, and three of them decided to essentially yell back at their fans when the team does a good job.
After hitting a 444-foot homer in Sunday’s 9-4 win over the Washington Nationals, recent acquisition Javier Baez was seen giving a “thumbs down” gesture, which he explained then there was a message to the fans.
“It feels bad when I lash out and get booed. It doesn’t really affect me, but I want to let them know that if we succeed, we will do the same, om [fans] know how it feels’ Baez told reporters. “…They have to get better. I play for the fans and I love the fans. If they do that, they will put more pressure on the team.”
Kevin Pillar and Francisco Lindor also gave the thumbs down gesture.
The Mets organization was not satisfied. A statement from team president Sandy Alderson read:
“In a press conference after the game today, Javy Baez stated that his ‘thumbs down’ gesture during the game was a message to fans who have recently booed him and other players for poor performance. These comments, and any gestures by him or other players with a similar intent are totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
Mets fans are understandably frustrated with the team’s recent performance. The players and the organization are equally frustrated, but fans of Citi Field have every right to express their disappointment. Being angry is every fan’s right.
The Mets will not tolerate any gesture from players that is unprofessional or directed in a negative way towards our fans. I will meet with our players and staff to get this message across directly.
Mets fans are loyal, passionate, knowledgeable, and more than willing to express themselves. We love them for each of these qualities.”
Mets fans were also understandably upset and turned to social media to express their feelings. Whether this minor feud leads to a better show on the pitch remains to be seen. The Mets have 30 games – 15 at home – to make up for lost ground.