The Nub

The Nub

"If you don't think life imitates sports, you're not reading The Nub”
                                                                                                             -  Bill Moyers

“Politics and baseball.  Interesting blog…called ‘The Nub’ on perfectpitcher.org.”
                                                                                                               - Boston Globe

Prepping for the ‘Win-or-Go-Home’ Games

Ask Yankee as well as Mets’ fans whom they would like to see in the wild card games, our guess is most would chooses these match-ups: Orioles vs. Blue Jays in the AL game, Cardinals-Giants in the NL. We see an eastern bias at play in a probable preference for Baltimore-Toronto, fair-mindedness the basis for the choice of Cards-SF in place of the Mets against either. MLB-TV panelists, quoted here awhile ago, gave the NL card to the Cards because of Yadi Molina, Adam Wainwright and, most of all, “pedigree.” We agree, and see the Giants as equally deserving because of (most recently) their World Series titles in three of the last five post-seasons. The Mets are at least as patched-up as their two post-season-striving opponents. And minus their once-proud (and healthy) pitching, they surely have less chance to get far into the playoffs if they somehow make it beyond the win-or-go-home test.

So, that settles the Baseball side of the pre-playoffs prediction game, What did we learn from last night’s pre-presidential political playoff? Here’s what we caught on the fly: MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said at game’s end that Hillary Clinton had “thrown a shut-out” over Donald Trump. Not quite, as we saw it: she pitched well on the need for gun safety and the need to lessen inequality through raising taxes on the wealthy. But she backed away from her apparent non-support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and, displaying her hawkish cred, cheered Nato’s – that is, George W. Bush’s – intervention in Afghanistan. She also talked repeatedly of unelaborated “plans” and “programs” ready in her on-deck circle. Her opponent stepped away from his affection for Vladimir Putin but came on strong for business tax cuts to help rally the country after “disastrous” Obama years. The would-be GOP Skipper’s constant sniffling indicated he wasn’t prepared to take the field.

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Wild Card Outlook after Last Night: Tigers and Mariners two games behind Orioles for AL’s second wild card (Toronto holds first) entering season/s last week; Giants a half, Cardinals one-and-a-half behind Mets in the NL.

Streakers: Red Sox + 11, Dodgers + 5

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Challenging the ‘Who Will Win?” Consensus

If, as of today, the average baseball fan was asked to predict which of the following teams – Cubs, Nationals, Dodgers, Red Sox, Indians, Rangers, – will wind up 2016 world champions, Theo Epstein’s/Joe Maddon’s teddy bears would be the overwhelming choice. And why not? The Cubs have far and away the best W-L record in either league, dominant hitting, and the most impressive overall pitching stats: we wouldn’t bet against them.

If we had any second thoughts – which we wouldn’t – fellow press box observer Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept) reminds us of why we should hesitate, particularly on the political field. Greenwald, a non-baseball fan, likes to challenge the faulty consensus on that field in which his teammates are often involved:

“I think as a journalist it’s my role to constantly push back against unity of thought… you can sit on Twitter all day… and you’re going to have this incredible homogeneity of opinion. And it builds on itself, and it…leads to places that I think are unhealthy, even if the cause is justified. One of the roles I want to perform — that I think is necessary — is to just push back against that, asking questions of it, and finding ways that consensus is poorly thought through or wrong.”

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Wild Card Match-Ups (as of today): Giants at Mets; Tigers at Blue Jays

Still in the Running: NL – Cardinals; AL – Orioles, Mariners, Astros

Notable Late Friday Scores: Padres 7, Giants 2; Tigers 8, Kansas City 3; Angels 10, Astros 6

Streakers: Red Sox + 9, Braves + 7, Tigers + 5

 

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Preller, Snowden and the Double-Standard Game

Fungo-ing out a few numbers: Baseball’s double-standard was brought home last week, when San Diego Padres GM A.J. Preller was disclosed to have hidden medical records from other teams in trade talks. For what NY Times birddog Tyler Kepner accurately described as “a serious ethical breach,” Preller received what amounted to a slap on the wrist: 30 days suspension without pay. By comparison, players who test positive for ped use, get an 80-game suspension. That is, an executive whose actions far outweigh the damage attributed to a single player loses next to nothing while the player takes a severe financial hit. Kepner says what should have happened was this:

“(Preller’s) suspension should have covered the off-season, and the Padres should have been forced to surrender draft picks , (and/or) should have been restricted in the international market.”

On the political field, Team USA’s double standard has been revealed through its differing treatment of rules-breakers and whistleblowers who are not team insiders. Edward Snowden’s attorney David Wizner (of the American Civil Liberties Union) is pushing for Skipper Obama to grant a pardon to Snowden. Here is the pitch he made for that action on The Nation magazine, through its podcast:

“I think this is the kind of case the pardon power exists for. It would allow President Obama to say, ‘Maybe I don’t agree with the way this person did this—maybe I wish it had gone a different way. But the fact is, we would not have had that debate without Edward Snowden breaking the rules, violating his contract with the intelligence community in order to uphold his oath to the Constitution.’… The pardon power was used for President Nixon. Look around Washington, DC—there are a lot of people in that town who (were let off) for the crimes they committed… If that kind of leniency in the national interest is available to Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, David Addington and John Yoo ( and in the special treatment given David Petraeus), let’s make it available to Edward Snowden.”

Day’s Positive News: Weekend bombing suspect was only wounded in our shoot-to-kill anti-crime culture.

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What We Think We Know: As of this morning, the six division winners seem to have sorted themselves out this way: AL – Boston, Cleveland, Texas; NL – Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles. Wild cards still up for grabs.

Notable Late Monday Scores: Dodgers 2, Giants 1; Cardinals 5, Rockies 3; Blue Jays 3, Mariners 2

Streakers: Yankees – 5

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On Boosterism – and Lack of – in Both Fields

“I’m here to make you look good,” said (a perhaps auditioning) Nick Swisher to players who might have been watching MLB-TV the other evening. He quickly switched into critical mode, disagreeing with a team’s decision to put an obscure player in its lineup. We doubt Swisher’s earlier remark made his bosses happy; they surely fear having the network dismissed as a source of excessive Baseball boosterism.

Much is being made on the political field of the boosterism of press box observers: Hillary Clinton was receiving big-fly support over Donald Trump until e-mail hackers took the field, pouncing in particular on Colin Powell’s views of the Dem team’s presidential candidate. Here is Vox’s Andrew Prokop, going to bat with excerpts of Powell’s early e-mailed brushback pitches:

 

“Powell has chosen not to get involved in the 2016 race just yet.(But) back in July 2014 he wrote one e-mail (posted on a CBS News site) in which he said, ’I would rather not have to vote for her, although she is a friend I respect. A 70-year person with a long track record, unbridled ambition, greedy, not transformational, with a husband still (frequenting) bimbos… (according to the NY Post)’…

“More recent e-mails, though, reveal that some of Powell’s friends have assumed he would endorse Clinton, and have even bugged him about it…In July, former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman wrote an e-mail with the subject ‘Hillary’ and the text, ‘Have you endorsed her yet?’ Powell responded, ‘You’ll recall that in 2008 and 2012 I waited until early fall’.”

P.S. A published Powell e-mail on why he’s ignoring Trump: “I try not to bother someone who is beating himself and the GOP up.”

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Possibly Decisive: NY Times’s Tyler Kepner on the Yankees’ninth-inning loss to the Red Sox Thursday night, when Hanley Ramirez hit a three-run homer off Dellin Betances: “If the Yankees do not make the playoffs…they will… remember the trading deadline, when they did the right thing for the future but sacrificed two closers (Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller) to do it.”

Almost Certainly: The Red Sox’s 7-4 win over the Yanks last night puts the Bombers six games off the AL East pace and drops them four games behind in the wild card race, behind the Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers and Mariners, and tied with the Astros. Seemingly, only two straight wins over the Sox tonight and tomorrow will keep the Yanks in any kind of contention.

Meanwhile: The Mets for the moment look to be headed for a wild card matchup with the Giants, unless the Cardinals begin rallying at SF this weekend. The Giants have taken two straight from the Cards.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

Team Pedigree, Putin and the Fairness Game

“The Cardinals have the pedigree,” said Ryan Dempster the other day on MLB Now. The subject was which team would win the second wild card in the NL. The Mets were slightly ahead of St.Louis at the time, as they are now. Both teams trail the Giants, who seem safely ahead in the race for the first NL wild card. The pedigree label seemed fairer than ever when the Redbirds recently flitted back into the second wild card spot. It’s a team that, in Dempsters’ words, “does what it has to do” – something it has done consistently through the years.

And when it comes to playing the belligerence game in international competition, U.S. official scorers unfairly cite Team Russia as the most mischievous power in our part of the world. That was certainly true when Josef Stalin was Skipper of the Soviet Union. But whether the Russia, ruled today by Vladimir Putin, is acting with greater hostility than Team USA, is an open question. If most Americans consider such a statement “pro-Putin”, it is understandable. Team USA, under Skipper Obama, has reverted to playing a cold war game with Russia The game was most evident in 2014, when Obama’s team joined forces with fascist elements in western Ukraine to pull the country away from Russia and toward the West. Our media have dutifully looked away from American/NATO mischief, focusing instead – per Team USA’s line – on Russia’s reinforcement of its base in the Crimea.

As to Russia’s role in the chaos in Syria today, our media amplify Obama team complaints that Putin is focusing its military might, more on supporting President Assad than on defeating ISIS. Russia’s pro-Assad offensive, the U.S. take continues, is blunting Washington’s support for anti-Assad rebels (while Team USA, too, joins in the pro-Assad rally against ISIS).

Whether Putin deserves credit for Russia’s positive clout in Syria and its efforts to stabilize conflicts throughout the region is hard to tell. Why? Because fans in our national ballpark are treated only to the anti-Putin side of the far-off ballgame. (Were it not so, says the NY Times, the paper would be guilty of “false balance.”) Until our media make the effort to examine Putin’s stance – while he feels obliged to flex his influence and power – we should not (Trumpian comments aside) accept a one-sided critique of Vlad’s Skipperdom.

Another, similar pitch from Consortium News’ Robert Parry: Official Washington loves its Putin-bashing but demonizing the Russian leader stops a rational debate about U.S.-Russia relations and pushes the two nuclear powers toward an existential brink,”

P.S. Fans who agree the NYT’s fairness toward Putin is suspect, might check the paper’s even more biased approach whenever Venezuela is in the news.

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E-Mailbag: “No comments on the surging Yanks and Mets?”, asks NJ-based Nubbite Dr.Gary Maltz. We’re too beset by doubts in both cases: the brave, revised version of the exciting young Yanks face a chastening schedule over the season’s last three weeks: two more games with the Dodgers, seven with the first-place Red Sox, three with the Blue Jays and two with the Orioles, plus a pair with the pesky Rays. Not enough pitching, we suspect, to carry the Bombers through. The Mets have a comparatively soft schedule after the current series with the Nationals. But their lineup, shaky pitching included, is of a bits and pieces variety, – not farm-raised, like the Yankees version. Then there are the pedigreed Cardinals with whom to contend. No easy task. Extra Inning: On MLB yesterday, three ex-players were asked to choose between the Cardinals and Mets for the second NL wild card. All three – Joe Magrane, Nick Swisher and Sean Casey – picked the Cards. Magrane cited their “mystical gifts”, Swisher their difference-maker Yadier Molina, Casey their leader Adam Wainwright.

Notable Late Monday Scores:  Rangers 4, Astros 3; Tigers 4, Twins 2; Cubs 4, Cardinals 1; Padres 4, Giants 0

Streakers: Mariners + 6

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Time-Waster: Trying Now to Guess Wild Winners on Both Fields

Just before Baseball entered the post-Labor Day homestretch, former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd was asked this on MLB:  at what point teams still alive but trailing badly in the post-season race should be counted out? His answer, in so many words: “never.” It surprised some of us until we remembered how his Clint-Hurdle-managed 2007 team won 14 of the season’s final 15 games to make the playoffs and go on to the World Series.

The Rockies beat out the Mets for a wild card by a game-and-a-half, then swept the Phillies and Diamondbacks to get swept in turn by the Series-winning Red Sox. The panicked Mets faded as the Rox caught fire, something that could happen on the 2016 presidential ballfield for a predictable reason: the media’s desire for a profit-encouraging contest. Two recent published poll results relayed by the Wall Street Journal illustrate the point: on August 31, Donald Trump was found to have moved within two points of Hillary Clinton; last Wednesday, the reported poll numbers showed him edging ahead. Similar numerical back-and-forth-ing can be expected from now until Election Day.

Our sense for the moment: Trump can’t win, but Hillary can lose. Were we among her trusted teammates, we’d urge her to spend less time both bench-jockeying Donald and defending her bobbles as Secretary of State. Instead, she should keep her eye on the national-inequality ball while ducking away from boasting about her hawkishness. A dubious example: boasting in our shoot-to-kill security culture about her part in the unnecessary killing of Osama bin-Laden. And, Hil should stay away from pitches that have her supporting Skipper Obama’s all-over-the-place foreign policy arsenal. Finally, while appearing at get-out-the-vote rallies, we suggest that she cut down on that overworked smile. Better to display a demeanor that reminds us all how much is at stake,

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Notable Late Friday Scores: Rangers 2, Angels 1; Cubs 2, Astros 0; Tigers 4, Orioles 3; Giants 7, D’backs 6

Streakers: Yankees + 6, Mets + 6

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Rare Risks: Players and Political Protests

Carlos Delgado, a star slugger – and progressive political hero a decade-and-a-half ago – is in the news during what looked to be a pre-Labor Day weekend hiatus. Some of us recall his gutsy opposition to the Iraq War: a refusal to stand during the pre-game playing of our national anthem over years while a member of three teams – the Blue Jays, Marlins and Mets.

Delgado’s dramatic protest mirrors the weekend decision of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to publicly reject standing for the anthem with his team. Kaepernick, who is bi-racial, based his stance on what he considers the unfair treatment of African-Americans. He issued a written explanation for his stance this way:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

The NFL responded by saying its players “are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.”    

As to whether he sought permission to take his stand, Kaepernick said no way: “This is not something I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval.”

Selected Delgado Stats (16 years, per Baseball Reference): HRs 473, RBIs 1512, BA 298. Peak years: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003 (with Toronto). ’99 – 44, 134, .272; ‘00 – 44, 137; .344; ‘01 – 39, 102, .279; ’03 – 42, 145, .302. Hall of Fame candidate 2015

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Wild Card Match-Ups (as of today): AL – Baltimore-Boston; NL – Cardinals-Giants

Notable Late Monday Scores: Kansas City 8, Yankees 5; Rangers 6, Mariners 3; Rockies 8, Dodgers 1

Streakers: Twins – 11, Brewers – 5

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Standard-Setters in Two Disparate Sports

Matt Holliday, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Aledmys Diaz: four key Cardinal players among several missing from the team in the homestretch. Yet the Redbirds are one-two behind the Giants at the top of the NL wild card race. They’re there despite the so-so 9-8 season recorded by ace Adam Wainright and an ordinary 9-9 effort from Mike Leake obtained to replace John Lackey, who won 13 last season. Then there was the loss for almost a month of clutch-hitting Matt Carpenter, he with the .396 OBP and .921 OPS.

How, under the circumstances, are the Cards more than staying afloat? The Mets’ Kelly Johnson has a familiar answer:

“The Cardinals have…had hard luck…(but) they have battled, and always seem to do what they do. The(y) seem to find a way to win games. I think that is something every team is trying to figure out, how to be as consistent and persevere as much as they do. They definitely set a standard, them and the Giants…” (NY Times)

The search for equivalent leadership on the political field leads abroad, with this testimonial clinching a successful tryout: “I don’t recall an example where she ever gave up. Surely there were moments when she didn’t get her goal, but when it got difficult and she had a task in front of her… she (persevered).”   That was a former math teacher, recorded by the BBC, about a student who went on to become Germany’s first female chancellor. The player in question: the remarkable Angela Merkel.

The German people, many of whom know little about her personal life – age 62, divorced, re-married, childless – may defeat her and her left-of-center coalition in the next election: they don’t like her generous immigration policy. And she isn’t very popular in the European Union because she’s a tough enforcer of strict euro-zone economic policies. But more than a few scorekeepers won’t be surprised if she pulls the game out.

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LA Shocker: Early this week, MLB-TV asked veteran catcher A.J. Ellis how the Dodgers were getting along so well with ace Clayton Kershaw sidelined. He said his teammates had risen to the challenge, indicating how proud he was of the group effort. Nevertheless, the team was looking forward to Kershaw’s return. Late this week, Ellis learned that when his buddy does come back, he won’t be around to celebrate: the Dodgers traded him to the Phillies f or Carlos Ruiz and a minor-leaguer. The deal was a shocker, not only to Ellis, but to several of the Dodgers, especially Kershaw, who reportedly came close to tears on hearing about it.

Notable Late Friday Scores: Cubs 6, Dodgers 4; Giants 7, Braves 0; Cardinals 3, Oakland 1; Pirates 5, Brewers 3; Indians 12, Rangers 1; Astros 5, Rays 4

Tracking the (Changeable) Wild Card Races: NL: Cardinals – Giants; AL: Orioles – Red Sox

Streakers: Tigers + 5, Twins – 8

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

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Two American Athletes Named ‘Ryan’ and the Blame Game

Why does Ryan Braun’s name come to mind amid the uproar caused by Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte’s night-out behavior in Brazil last week? Baseball fans know. The Ryan who plays for the Milwaukee Brewers, like the one who earned a gold medal at the Games, saddened the way we feel about ourselves.

Although Lochte’s drunken rampage, which he tried to blame on Brazilian police, made his country look bad before the world, Braun’s behavior in 2012 hit closer to home. His starring role with the Brewers made him a hero, not only in Milwaukee, but among fans across the Baseball universe. Braun’s failed attempt to conceal his illegal-drug usage was the lesser of his self-betrayals. What was unforgivable – and remains so with those of us who remember what happened – was his attempt to blame an innocent bystander for his exposure as a cheat. Jeff Passan, of Yahoo Sports, minced no words three years ago in telling the story:

“The call went to Major League Baseball…Ryan Braun was ready to deal. He wasn’t going to admit everything. Truth is, he didn’t really admit anything – no details about all the performance-enhancing drugs the league knew he had used, no straightforward admissions of guilt. He just wanted to end this 19-month charade, and if that meant bargaining for a suspension, so he would.

“Of the many things Ryan Braun is – a liar nonpareil, a serial doper, a raging narcissist – he is, above all, a self-preservationist. Never did he show that instinct more than when he publicly impugned Dino Laurenzi Jr., the innocent man who happened to collect a vial of Braun’s urine that started baseball down the sordid, tortuous path that found its first measure of closure Monday when Braun accepted a suspension (of): 65 games….What we know of Braun today is no different than what we knew of him before: He is a cockroach.”

Braun told reporters after the Laurenzi storm broke that he apologized to the man he had accused. “We’ve had some really good conversation,” Braun said. “We’ve made amends.”

Similarly, Lochte has apologized for his “behavior”, without admitting that he lied to – and about – local police who intervened. A Brazilian sports commentator summed up the situation without calling Lochte a cockroach. “He’s still portraying himself as a victim,” the commentator said. “So much arrogance.”

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More on Ryan B: The Brewers say they would be receptive to a trade now for Braun. He is batting .317, with 22 HRs in 103 games. He is 32, and signed through 2020 at $21 million per, which means he’ll probably stay put.

Wild Card Match-Ups (as of today): AL – Baltimore-Boston; NL – Cardinals – Giants

Notable Late Monday Scores: Seattle 7, Yankees 5; Cleveland 1, Oakland 0

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Reasons for Red Sox, Dem Senate Candidates to Feel Positive

Stat City: If stats could speak, they would call out the name of a third dominant team to join the Cubs and Nationals as crunch-time approaches. The name would be the pride of the Red Sox Nation. Stats-wise, Boston may not match the Dodgers, the only team near the top in both pitching and fielding numbers. But the Sox have built a superior hitting machine. Consider their team BA of .286, far ahead of the second-place Rockies, the identical 286 BA of their timely scoring-position hits, and the unchallenged slugging pct. of .470. How can the Sox possibly miss the playoffs?   Well, they are among the lower half in pitching – 16th,, and only 10th in fielding. But, mighty mouse Mookie Betts – .316, 28 HRs – has become a serious MVP contender. And David Ortiz, at .317, also with 28 HRS can’t be forgotten. Between now and playoff-time the Sox, now only a half-game behind Toronto, should out-duel either or both the Orioles and Blue Jays. Anything can happen is our unpersuasive disclaimer.

Team GOP’s U.S. Senate candidates are hopeful something good will happen to calm their fears that Donald Trump’s downward poll-numbers spiral since the party’s Convention will impact their races. The polling-game scorers at FiveThirtyEight say those fears, so far, have been realized:.

“Democrats now lead in enough states to take back the Senate — so long as Clinton holds on to her large lead. If the favorites in the polls win, the Democrats would flip and pick up the seats in Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Republicans would pick up Nevada and hold onto Florida, North Carolina and Ohio.”

Naming Some Names: Real Clear Politics polling surveys indicate Dems Michael Bennet in Colorado, Evan Bayh in Indiana and Russ Feingold in Wisconsin have solid leads. Team GOP’s Marco Rubio in Florida, Chuck Grassley in Iowa and Rob Portman in Ohio are looking safe. If Dem challengers who are slightly ahead of incumbents in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire hold on, it could be the clincher.

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“Done”: Panelists on MLB Now yesterday agreed that two would-be playoff contenders are “done” – the Mets and Astros. They offered this consolation for each underachieving team: 2017 could be a bounce-back year: thanks to Houston’s batch of good young players and the Mets’ reassembled starting rotation.

Notable Late Friday scores: Giants 8, Mets 1; Reds 9, Dodgers 2; Astros 15, Orioles 8; Yankees 7, Angels 0

Streakers: Cardinals + 5, Braves – 6; Brewers – 5

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)