Talking baseball while wishing NIU and Northwestern were playing each other in football this season (fingers crossed for a BCS Bowl, maybe):
1. As we enter the last month of Chicago’s longest baseball season, there’s some good news for fans: Jose Fernandez, the Marlins’ electrifying rookie right-hander, is lined up to start against the Cubs on Wednesday night.
But, of course, there’s an asterisk: Fernandez won’t make his first career start against the Cubs. The Marlins are holding him out of the rotation so that he can start Friday night in Miami.
Bummer. But very smart.
By sliding left-hander Brian Flynn into Fernandez’s spot, the woeful Marlins get the 20-year-old Fernandez two extra days of rest and reward the Miami fans who still have the stomach for a franchise that dares you to buy a ticket.
Fernandez, a deserving All-Star in his second full season as a pro, has gone 10-6 with a 2.33 ERA in 26 starts, covering 158 2/3 innings. He has struck out 173, held opponents to a .186 batting average and compiled a 1.00 WHIP, which ranks third in the NL (behind only Clayton Kershaw and Matt Harvey).
He is the future of a franchise that has destroyed the trust of its fans. He was rushed to the big leagues, skipping two levels after working in Class A leagues last year, but at least isn’t becoming the modern version of David Clyde.
The Marlins set a limit of 170 innings for him, and seem intent to stick with that. He’ll probably only make one more start after his Friday start against the Nationals.
It would have been fun to see him at Wrigley Field, but he should make many other visits.
2. The top of the 2014 draft looks like this: Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Brewers. This is probably a best-case scenario for the two Chicago teams, as there’s a six-game difference between the 29th-place Marlins (50-85) and the 28th-place White Sox (56-79). Even if the Marlins swept the Cubs this week, they would still be 4 ½ games worse than them. The White Sox are in a tough stretch of schedule, making trip to New York and Baltimore after being swept in Boston over the weekend, but they’ve won 10 of their last 15. They’re in for a tough September but probably not tough enough to slide beyond the Marlins.
3. Speaking of September, this could be the year of the anti-climax in MLB. We’re approaching the one-month anniversary of the last change in the makeup of the 10-team playoff field. It came on Aug. 5, when the Rangers passed the Indians for the second wild-card spot in the American League. Among the 10 teams that have been positioned for the playoffs since then, only the Rangers, Athletics and Rays currently have cushions of less than five games. There is intrigue in the three-team NL Central race and the AL West race, and the one-and-done format in the wild-card round puts real meaning into the final standings, as teams like the Pirates and Cardinals well know. It would be a shame if a team like the Pirates got to play only one playoff game after such a great season, so they’ll keep the pedal to the metal even if they are assured of post-season spots. But the real drama is still are you in or are you out, and this could be the year that all 10 teams wrap up playoff spots before the final weekend of the season.