Byron Buxton’s first 27 games this season provided everything that the Minnesota Twins were hoping for when they drafted him second overall back in 2012.
The 27-year old outfielder was a lock for the American League All-Star team and an early MVP candidate after bursting out of the gate with a slash line of .369/.409/.767.
But, on June 21, things came to an abrupt halt when Buxton suffered a broken left after being hit by a pitch.
Buxton had already missed a month and a half with a hip strain. It was frustrating for Buxton, and devastating to the Twins.
It wouldn’t be hard to make the argument that the Twins have been one of the most disappointing teams in baseball this season.
Minnesota was expected to contend for the AL Central championship, if not the best record in the league, and finally win their first playoff game since 2004.
Instead, the Twins are looking up at the Royals from last place. The absence of Byron Buxton from the lineup is a big reason why.
Minnesota is 20-22 when Buxton plays (.476) and 43-59 when he doesn’t (.421).
Buxton rejoined the Twins on to Aug. 27, and he struggled to get back into the swing of things, going 2-for-27 (.074) with 10 strikeouts in his first seven games. His batting average fell from .369 to .301.
I can still remember the morning of September 11, 2001. Not visually…the only thing I can recall are the images I saw on television.
After 20 years, the lines begin to blur between real memories and those etched in my mind by the countless hours spent watching television that day, trying to comprehend what had happened and what was going to happen.
Prior to the pandemic, it was the only time in my life where I saw our country literally come to a stop.
No public gatherings. No airplane flights.
And, no sports.
Everything shut down.
I’m not a person who puts a lot of stock in sports being something that unites people, let me make that clear.
I love sports. I’ve made a career in sports, and maybe I’ve seen too much behind the curtain to view the games as anything other than entertainment.
But in the days that we waited to know when we could get back to whatever “normal” was then, we were united as a country.
United first through fear, but then through the strength that always seems to arise in people during moments of tragedy.
New York was the epicenter of that terrible day, along with Washington, D.C. and rural Pennsylvania.
In 2001, as I am now, I was a fan of the New York Yankees.
The Yankees had just finished a three-game series sweep of the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 9, and were rolling, having won 9 of 10.
They were right on the heels of the Seattle Mariners, who would set the all-time record for regular season wins that year, in pursuit of their fourth straight World Championship.
In any other season, the Yankees were “The Evil Empire,” but suddenly they were the avatar for an entire city, and a symbol for our country.
There were no “boos” raining down on them on the road. Instead, they were ambassadors for a city that was reeling and the baseball word showered them with love.
George Bush throwing the ball down the middle at Yankee Stadium 49 days after the 9/11 attacks will forever be one of the greatest first pitches in MLB history pic.twitter.com/1rtbxytOXX
Heading into Thursday night, the Toronto Blue Jays had won seven games in a row and 10 of their last 11, pulling within a game and a half of the New York Yankees for the second Wild Card berth in the American League.
The Jays have overcome injuries, playing home games in two different countries, and the toughest division in baseball to put themselves in the mix for the playoffs.
Offensively, the Jays have everything.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. is one of the frontrunners in the AL MVP race, Marcus Semien is chasing the single-season record for home runs by a second baseman, and when George Springer has been healthy, he’s been incredibly impactful.
Toronto leads the AL in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS, while ranking in the top five in batting average, on-base percentage, and RBI.
But, they should be seven games better based on their Pythagorean W-L record, which factors in runs scored and runs allowed.
While the Jays have very solid pitching numbers overall, they haven’t gotten great starting pitching. Robbie Ray has been their best, going 11-5 with a 2.60 ERA.
Just imagine where Toronto might be, had they held on to a pair of MLBbros who were just starting to come into their own.
Marcus Stroman and Tai Walker have been holding it down all season in Queens; keeping the New York Mets in contention for the National League East while staff ace Jacob deGrom has battled injuries all season long.
But from 2014-19, Marcus Stroman was a member of the Blue Jays, finishing in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting in 2017 and making the All-Star team in 2019.
Walker joined Toronto’s staff during 2020’s shortened-season, going 2-1, with a 1.37 ERA in six starts.
Stroman was traded during his All-Star campaign and Walker wasn’t offered a contract last offseason.
The Stro Show could still be headlining in Toronto. Stroman’s 9-12 record hasn’t reflected just how good he’s been for the Mets.
New York has only provided him with an average of 3.78 runs when he takes the hill.
It’s lucky to be that high, considering the Mets have scored two runs or less in 15 of his 29 starts, including one or less 10 times.
Stroman has gotten a total of 14 runs from his offense in his 12 losses.
In contrast, the Blue Jays have scored two runs or less as a team only 20 times all season.
Stroman also still ranks in the top ten in ERA in the National League (2.93) and gives the Mets Gold Glove-caliber defense.
No doubt that he could have picked up a few more wins wearing his old powder blues.
Tai Walker made his first All-Star team this season, as he got off to a 7-3 start, but has struggled during the second half of the season. Walker hasn’t won a game since he beat the Yankees on July 3.
But run support has been an issue for him as well. In 13 of his 25 starts, the Mets have put of three or fewer runs. Just like with Stroman, more often than not, his teammates have given him below average support.
Both Stroman and Walker would likely have better numbers had Toronto held on to them. But they didn’t.
Maybe the Blue Jays have enough to keep pushing and make it back to the playoffs.
However, if they don’t, they can look about 500 miles to the southeast and find what they were missing.
Among the 16 position players on the roster, four were Black and four were Latino. Starters Marquis Grissom (CF) and Cliff Floyd (1B) were two of five Montreal starters to hit .280 or better.
Lenny Webster and Rondell White were solid reserve options for manager Felipe Alou.
Strike Three, MLB Out
On August 12, 1994, Major League players went on strike. The strike eventually led to the cancellation of nearly 1000 games, including the playoffs and World Series.
Prior to the shutdown of the season, it seemed that two teams were on a collision course to meet in the Fall Classic, the New York Yankees and the Montreal Expos. While the Yankees were rising from a nearly two-decade funk, the Expos had quietly put together one of the most exciting young cores in baseball.
By 1994, Montreal had strung together consecutive winning seasons; winning 87 games in 1992 and 94 in 1993.
The 94 wins were the second-most in franchise history but still weren’t enough to reach the postseason.
The Expos had generally been good, but never great over the first 24 years of the franchise’s history. Between 1979 and 1993, Montreal had finished .500 or better 12 times.
Then came 1994.
Montreal was stacked. The pitching staff led the NL in wins (74), winning percentage (.649), ERA (3.56), saves (46), and only allowed three more runs than the Atlanta Braves, who were in the middle of the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz era.
On offense, they scored more than five runs per game with a well-rounded offensive attack.
The Expos’ .278 batting average made up for the fact that they finished ninth in the league in home runs with just 108.
Montreal tore up the basepaths with 137 steals and punished the gaps, racking up 246 doubles and 30 triples.
Then there was the defense.
The Expos were second only to the San Francisco Giants in defensive efficiency and finished second to the Braves in runs allowed per game at just under four. In other words, they had no holes. They could beat any team in any way you could think of.
Five Expos made the All-Star team, including pitcher Ken Hill, who led the National League with 16 wins.
Hill was the ace of a staff that included a young Pedro Martinez, who had been traded to Montreal for Delino DeShields, Jeff Fassero, and John Wetteland. Ironically, Wetteland would join the Yankees the next season and win a World Series with them in 1996.
As the negotiations began to break down between the Players’ Union and the owners, Montreal kept playing like a team on a mission, winning 20 of their final 23 games before the strike. The Expos were on pace for 106 wins, which would have tied for the seventh-highest total in baseball history at the time, and the most ever in a 162-game season.
Then, just over a month later, any dreams the Expos had of claiming their first championship were gone when Bud Selig announced that the remainder of the season would not be played.
The expos got shafted in 1994. That team was great. Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, John Wettland, Marquis Grissom..sad.
What should have been the beginning of a potential dynasty, with Montreal only having two players on the roster over 30, was really just the beginning of the end for the Expos.
Walker, Grissom, Hill, and Wetteland were all gone by the start of the next season. Floyd got hurt, and the team finished 66-78 in 1995.
The Expos had only three winning seasons in their final decade in Montreal, as crowds began to get smaller and their home field, Olympic Stadium began to fall apart.
In 2005, they made the move to Washington, D.C., and rebranded as the Nationals.
In 16 seasons, the Nats have made five trips to the postseason, including a World Series championship in 2019, but none of those teams were as talented or as dominant as the ‘94 Expos.
It was disappointing that the Nationals didn’t include some of those Montreal greats, including the players who helped build the franchise up from its expansion roots, like Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, and Warren Cromartie.
Many of the top players from that 1994 team did go on to find their own success elsewhere. Grissom won his championship with the Braves in 1995.
Floyd and Alou collected their own with the Marlins in ‘97. The Marlins also had a Black catcher named Charles Johnson who is the last #MLBbro backstops of note in MLB history.
Martinez became the ace of the Red Sox in 2004 when they broke the Curse of the Bambino.
The 1994 Montreal Expos were one of the greatest teams ever, and no one remembers them.
Sept.1 is the 50-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh Pirates fielding a lineup composed entirely of Black and Afro-Latino players for the first time in MLB history. The cultural impact of that moment is a turning point in baseball’s racial journey that should be revered and celebrated more.
MLBbro Al Oliver, one of the Black starters, said he considers that ceiling smasher second to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947.
David Grubb gives his Two Cents on the most overlooked anniversary in baseball history.