With about one month remaining in the regular season, some individual statistical races are already decided. Nobody is catching Aaron Judge in home runs, for example.
But many other categories are shaping up to be a fight to the finish, with two or more players jockeying for leaderboard position. Here is a subjective look at the 10 most intriguing battles to watch down the stretch.
1. NL home runs
Top contenders: Kyle Schwarber (PHI) 36, Austin Riley (ATL) 35, Paul Goldschmidt (STL) 34, Mookie Betts (LAD) 33, Pete Alonso (NYM) 32
Not only is this a crowded race, but the stakes are high. Goldschmidt is looking to win the first NL Triple Crown since fellow Cardinal Joe Medwick in 1937, and he currently leads the batting race while sitting one ahead of Alonso in RBIs. But he is behind in homers — albeit within striking distance of Schwarber. Goldy will have to blow well past his career high of 36 long balls (2013 and ‘17) to get the job done, and he will have to contend not only with Schwarber but also some other stiff competition.
2. AL WAR
Top contenders (via Baseball-Reference)^: Aaron Judge (NYY) 7.9, Shohei Ohtani (LAA) 7.6
The WAR chase is always undercut a bit by the fact that it is less clear than your more traditional categories. There is more than one version (Judge is a bit further ahead, according to FanGraphs), and the formula is complex.
But with that being said, there is something fascinating about the Judge-Ohtani showdown. It’s not just that they are clearly the top two AL MVP candidates. It’s also how they have arrived at those numbers, with Judge putting together a historically great power-hitting season and Ohtani being roughly a top-10 hitter and a top-10 pitcher at the same time.
3. NL hits
Top contenders: Freddie Freeman (LAD) 168, Trea Turner (LAD) 164, Paul Goldschmidt 158 (STL)
While Turner did lead the NL in hits just last year after arriving in L.A. at the Trade Deadline, would you believe that no player who spent the entire season with the Dodgers has accomplished that since Steve Garvey in 1980? Well, it’s almost certainly happening in 2022. But the question is: Which Dodger will do it?
Turner and Freeman have battled all year in this category, and it’s been fun to watch, especially for Dodgers fans. This would be the second NL hits title for Freeman, while Turner could become the first to win three straight NL crowns since the Reds’ Frank McCormick (1938-40).
4. AL ERA
Top contenders: Justin Verlander (HOU) 1.84, Dylan Cease (CHW) 2.13, Shane McClanahan (TB) 2.20, Alek Manoah (TOR) 2.48, Shohei Ohtani (LAA) 2.58
It looked like Verlander was running away with his second career AL ERA title, until a calf injury sent him to the IL last week. Now the question that looms largest is not so much whether the 39-year-old can avoid a late slide, but whether he will return in time to pitch at least 10 more innings, thereby reaching the 162-inning mark to qualify for the title at season’s end.
For that matter, the same applies to McClanahan, who also just hit the IL with a shoulder issue and still needs 14 2/3 innings to qualify. If neither of the top two can reach that threshold, it should clear the way for Cease, who also is making a serious, last-minute Cy Young Award push.
5. NL ERA
Top contenders: NL ERA: Julio Urías (LAD) 2.29, Sandy Alcantara (MIA) 2.36, Zac Gallen (ARI) 2.42, Max Fried (ATL) 2.48
A couple of months ago, this didn’t look to be much of a race. On July 10, Urías gave up five runs to the Cubs, bloating his ERA to 3.01. That same day, Alcantara blanked the Mets for seven innings, dropping his to 1.73. But in nine starts apiece since then, those numbers have flipped (1.13 for Urías, 3.73 for Alcantara), with Urías jumping in front on Saturday.
More contenders lurk. That includes the red-hot Gallen and his 41 1/3-inning scoreless streak, as well as three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who has a 2.26 ERA but currently does not have enough innings to qualify (he also exited his last start after five innings with side fatigue). If Scherzer makes five more starts for the Mets, he would need to average just under 7 innings per outing — only a bit above what he has done since returning from the IL in early July.
6. NL doubles
Top contenders: Freddie Freeman (LAD) 43, Matt Olson (ATL) 41
Sometimes, the narratives write themselves: The former Atlanta cornerstone first baseman and the younger version brought in last offseason to replace him, going head to head. While all that maneuvering caused a lot of emotional upheaval, it also has worked out for all involved, with both players enjoying strong seasons and both teams soaring toward another postseason.
If Freeman can hold off Olson, he would become the first player to win at least three doubles titles in either league over a five-year span since Don Mattingly went back to back to back in the AL from 1984-86.
7. NL saves
Top contenders: Kenley Jansen (ATL) 31, Josh Hader (SD) 30, Taylor Rogers (MIL) 30, Edwin Díaz (NYM) 29, Daniel Bard (COL) 28
The first thing you notice here is that two of these pitchers (Hader and Rogers) were traded for each other before last month’s Deadline. But that hasn’t done wonders for their chances in this race, with the pair combining for three total saves with their new teams, and Hader in particular enduring some mighty struggles.
That might mean that this ends up as a race between Jansen and the dominant Díaz, one that would play out alongside their teams’ duel for the NL East crown. Perhaps it will even come down to the final head-to-head showdown, Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in Atlanta.
8. AL stolen bases
Top contenders: Jorge Mateo (BAL) 30, Cedric Mullins (BAL) 29, Randy Arozarena (TB) 27, Bobby Witt Jr. (KC) 26
The Orioles are shaping up to be one of the most fun teams to watch down the stretch — an up-and-coming, ahead-of-schedule club with a nothing-to-lose attitude. One of Baltimore’s strengths is baserunning (fourth in MLB in FanGraphs’ baserunning runs metric), and two of its best are Mullins and Mateo, who also ranks in the top 10 in the Majors in sprint speed.
Of course, it’s not just a two-Oriole race. And if Mullins or Mateo winds up tied with Arozarena, it would be reminiscent of 2007, when Baltimore’s Brian Roberts and Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford did the same.
9. NL strikeouts
Top contenders: Carlos Rodón (SF) 201, Corbin Burnes (MIL) 200, Aaron Nola (PHI) 190
Even if Burnes doesn’t repeat as the NL Cy Young Award winner, this is another box he could check. That would be significant for Milwaukee, which is one of four franchises (along with the Marlins, Royals and Rockies) to never have a pitcher lead the AL or NL in K’s. Two of those, Miami and Colorado, are more recent expansion teams.
It won’t be easy, though. Nola is trying to help pitch the Phillies into their first postseason since 2011, while Rodón is sharpening a case to be one of the offseason’s most coveted free agents, assuming he opts out of his contract.
10. NL on-base percentage
Top contenders: Paul Goldschmidt (STL) .417, Juan Soto (SD) .411
This one is interesting mostly because it’s an extreme example of how to players can arrive at roughly the same stat in wildly different ways. Goldschmidt has raked this year, piling up 158 hits — a whopping 51 more than Soto. But Soto is blowing away the rest of the MLB field with 117 walks — 48 more than Goldy. The result is similar OBPs, despite more than an 80-point difference in batting average and nearly a 150-point gap in slugging.
Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers seemed determined to keep playing. And playing. And playing.
The teams opened their Eastern Conference final playoff series with Florida’s 3-2 victory in four overtimes early Friday, with the game ranking as the sixth-longest game in NHL history.
Matthew Tkachuk’s goal came at the 19:47 mark of the fourth OT to end this one, which marked the 15th four-overtime game in NHL history and the longest game in franchise history for each team.
The longest game in NHL history came on March 24, 1936, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the sixth overtime on Mud Bruneteau’s goal at 116 minutes, 30 seconds of extra play.
Florida’s previous record for longest game was 104:31 in Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup final against Colorado. Carolina’s previous record was 114:47 for Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup final.
The only good news for the teams is they had an extended break before this series began. Carolina closed out New Jersey exactly a week earlier, while Florida eliminated Toronto a day later.
But this game ended roughly six hours after Thursday night’s puck drop, and the teams have a Game 2 in less than 48 hours.
AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club
MADRID (AP) — The investigation ordered by Barcelona into its controversial payments for refereeing reports found no evidence of corruption by the club, president Joan Laporta said Monday.
Laporta reiterated that the club’s payments over several years to the company owned by the vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee were only for technical reports and not to influence referees. He said he believed there were no ethics breach and that Barcelona was the victim of a campaign to hurt its reputation.
“This is one of the most ferocious attacks in our history,” Laporta said. “I ask FC Barcelona supporters to be as united as ever in defense of our crest, our essence, and our ownership model. No campaign to discredit us will prevent us from continuing to be an organization of reference in the world of sports that is beloved and admired by millions of Catalans and by many more millions of people around the world.”
It was the first time Laporta spoke at a news conference to give explanations after it became public that the club paid 7.3 million euros ($8 million) from 2001-18 to the company of then committee vice president José María Enríquez Negreira. Prosecutors have accused Barcelona of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management, and falsification of mercantile documentation.
Barcelona opened the probe to look into the actions of all the different presidential administrations that made payments over the years, including Laporta’s first at the club. The investigation was conducted by an external company.
The club said the probe found that “no conducts of a criminal nature associated to sporting corruption have been identified, nor are there any grounds to investigate any form of criminal activity associated to bribery.” It added there was “official documentation on the invoices and payments” for the services of “scouting and advice regarding referees, which are common practices in the professional sports sector.”
“Consulting on technical-refereeing issues does not constitute any type of illegal act,” Laporta said. “Consulting, as is done by the big clubs, that was carried out transparently, with the corresponding invoices, at least in my first mandate as president.”
The probe found 629 technical refereeing reports and 43 CDs that the club received over 18 years for what Laporta called “market price.” More reports were likely lost over time, he said.
“I reiterate with all my resolve, I am convinced that FC Barcelona has not committed any crime of sports-related corruption. I hope that sooner rather than later, it is fully exonerated,” he said. “Accusations must be proven. We live by the rule of law, which guarantees among its basic principles the presumption of innocence.”
He said that if there were any irregularities committed by Negreira, Barcelona would be a victim of them. He also said Negreira was not in a position to directly influence referees, and that it was Negreira’s son who actually produced the refereeing reports.
“I dare anyone to show an instance in which Barcelona was favored in a match because of these payments,” Laporta said. “We will allow the justice system to do its work and I’m sure that Barcelona will be cleared. I am fully convinced that FC Barcelona has never performed any act with the intention of altering the competition to gain an advantage.”
The Spanish league, Real Madrid and other clubs have been among those taking part in the legal proceedings against Barcelona. Laporta criticized league president Javier Tebas for making accusations against Barcelona, and also took a shot at rival Madrid.
“Everyone knows that Real Madrid is a club that is historically favored by refereeing mistakes,” he said.
Laporta said Barcelona has always been a club that takes pride in its values, and it would never want to win anything with outside help.
“Throughout its 123-year history, FC Barcelona has always been a model of fair play, both on and off the field,” he said. “If we have won for so many decades, it has undoubtedly been a result of effort, talent and knowledge.”
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Silicon Valley city councilman has been charged with perjury after he allegedly lied about leaking a grand jury report to the San Francisco 49ers last year that detailed a purportedly unethical relationship between the team and the city council, prosecutors said Friday.
Santa Clara City Councilmember Anthony Becker is accused of providing the secret report titled “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Santa Clara City Council” to the team’s former top spokesperson and a local media outlet in 2022, days ahead of its official release.
Becker then allegedly lied to the grand jury about the leak, prosecutors said, prompting the criminal charges.
The 49ers play in Levi’s Stadium in the city of Santa Clara, about 35 miles (56.33 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Santa Clara County is broadly considered home to Silicon Valley.
The city of Santa Clara owns the stadium and leases it to the team; fighting between the two groups has led to ethics complaints, legal disputes and years of bad blood.
Al Guido, the team’s president, and Larry MacNeil, the former CFO who worked extensively on the team’s stadium project, were named in the indictment as witnesses who spoke to the criminal grand jury for Becker’s indictment.
“The 49ers have cooperated fully with the District Attorney’s Office in their investigation, and will continue to do so,” team spokesperson Brian Brokaw said in a statement Friday. “However, because this is an ongoing legal matter, the organization is not able to make any further comment at this time.”
Prosecutors say the team has bankrolled Becker’s political career by spending $3.2 million through independent expenditure committees for his 2020 city council race, which he won, as well as his unsuccessful 2022 mayoral bid.
The “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” report alleged that Becker and four other councilmembers regularly voted “in a manner that is favorable to the 49ers” and would routinely meet with the team’s lobbyists but not disclose what was discussed.
Becker faces a felony charge of perjury under oath, as well as a misdemeanor charge of willful failure to perform duty. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.
Becker did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday, and it was not clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
“Councilmember Becker violated the public’s trust,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “That an elected official would commit perjury and lie under oath before the grand jury strikes at the very heart of our justice system and requires accountability.”
Representatives for the Santa Clara City Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.