An impossible MLB playoff streak ends, plus the Spurs’ anonymous $135 million man

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Good morning! Go to a baseball game today if you can. 

Postseason Pressure: Two strikes, you’re out

This is my favorite part of the MLB postseason: the Wild Card round. Congrats for making it, teams who’ve just completed a 162-game slog! If you lose in your 163rd game, you’re already dangling over a cliff. It’s the beauty of the three-game series, not as cheap as the one-game Wild Card of years past, but still full of tension. 

We had a great first day of playoff baseball yesterday. Four series are already on the precipice: 

  • The Diamondbacks snagged the best win of the day, a gutty 6-3 road win in Milwaukee. The NL Central champs are near another playoff bummer. Also, it’s nice to see 37-year-old Evan Longoria still making plays in the postseason
  • The Phillies continued the good mojo from last year. Craig Kimbrel closed out a 4-1 win over the Marlins. Zach Wheeler was brilliant on the mound. Philly is one win away from a divisional round rematch with Atlanta.
  • The Twins won a game! It’s a big deal. Minnesota’s 3-1 win over the Blue Jays is the franchise’s first playoff victory since 2004. The team had lost 18 straight postseason contests despite winning the AL Central five times in that span. Impossible odds there, but the drought is over. Toronto’s season could be toast tonight.
  • Tampa is close to another disappointing end. The Rays have won a combined 185 games the last two seasons but, after losing 4-0 to Texas yesterday, are one loss away from getting bounced in the Wild Card round in both years. This year’s collapse could come at home, too, although it was tough to tell by yesterday’s crowd

More on this in a bit.

Hi, My Name Is: The anonymous $135 million man

The Spurs signed guard Devin Vassell to a five-year, $135 million deal yesterday, a contract that earned some polite applause among NBA diehards. Elsewhere, the reaction was different: Wait who? And $135 million??

A couple of layers here: 

  • Vassell, 23, is sneakily one of the best young guards in the NBA. He averaged 18.5 points per game last year and raised his 3-point shooting in each of his three seasons. He shot 38.7% from distance last year.
  • But his teams have been bad. The Spurs have averaged 29 wins a year since drafting him No. 11 overall in 2020, allowing him to blossom in relative anonymity. The Athletic’s resident trade grader/Bounce writer Zach Harper described him to me thusly: a “prototypical 3-and-D young prospect who projects to be a really good role player. Most NBA nerds couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.” 

That anonymity is coming to an end, thanks to Victor Wembanyama. The Spurs might win around 30 games, but there will be plenty more eyes this year. So hey, maybe remember the name.

News to Know

Hawkeyes lose QB
Iowa quarterback Cade McNamara will miss the rest of the season after injuring his ACL over the weekend, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz confirmed yesterday. McNamara’s absence means one of the most infamous contract clauses in recent memory — in which Iowa has to average 25 points per game or offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s contract terminates — will earn even more scrutiny. The Hawkeyes are averaging 22.2 points per game right now. 😬

Former Man Utd manager to DC?
Ole Gunnar Solskjær visited the D.C. United training facility yesterday, sources told The Athletic’s Pablo Maurer and Tom Bogert. It’s a curious visit, as former Manchester United teammate and current D.C. United manager Wayne Rooney doesn’t have a contract after the season. It doesn’t look like Solskjær, who left Man Utd in 2021, is a candidate to replace Rooney yet — but keep an eye on it.

More news

What’s Going On Here? A bad time for a sparse crowd

The Rays’ attendance is a decades-old meme at this point. Oh, did a college baseball team pack the house on a random spring night? Let’s compare it to the Rays’ count for that night. So on and so forth. 

Thus it’s not exactly earth-shattering news when the stadium is not even half full for a playoff game. And yet I cannot stop focusing on it. This is a playoff game for a team that nearly won 100 games. A team with a .586 winning percentage over the last six years, plus a World Series trip. 

How is this still an issue? Isn’t sustained success supposed to lead to a passionate fan base? The Rays drew 19,704 yesterday, the lowest postseason total (in a non-COVID year) since 1919

I asked The Athletic’s Tyler Kepner to help sort through the mess. 

I can’t decide how I feel about this. Is this alarming to you?
Tyler: It’s not really alarming, alas. The Rays consistently put out a great product, but they haven’t averaged 20,000 fans per game since 2010. This was a playoff game, of course, but the 3 p.m. start time wasn’t announced until Sunday night. Then again, baseball stages midweek postseason afternoon games every year, especially on those rare days when four games are scheduled. And there’s never been a crowd this small in over a century. 

How much will a new stadium help? At first glance, this feels like 10 more years of bad headlines.
Tyler: It’s unclear. The Rays announced plans for a $1.3 billion ballpark to open in 2028, but they’d be building it on the existing site, which — last we checked — is still on the St. Pete side of Tampa Bay. Tampa locals often say that it’s not the facility that holds back attendance for the Rays, but the commute. So while a new home could theoretically revitalize downtown St. Pete, it could only help so much in drawing fans.

It’s difficult to avoid comparisons. Two examples: 

  • The Braves hosted the Phillies for Game 1 of their division series last year at 1 p.m. ET on a Tuesday afternoon. Attendance: 42,461.
  • The Twins started at 3:30 p.m. local time yesterday. Attendance: 38,450. Here’s Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli after the game: “The fans took over … helped us win this game.” Wild. 

The Rangers and Rays play today at 3 p.m. ET. Let’s hope more people watch a 99-win team play, possibly for the last time.

Pulse Picks

Dana O’Neil wrote a beautiful story this morning on Michigan State senior Mady Sissoko, who cannot profit off of NIL earnings. Instead, Sissoko — who grew up in Mali — built a school in his village. Worth your time today. 

Told you four games was enough for some judgment: Our quarter-mark NFL All-Rookie Team is out today, highlighted by C.J. Stroud, Jalen Carter and more. 

Also, don’t miss Ted Nguyen’s best and worst coaching decisions of NFL Week 4. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite recurring features. 

Simone Biles has more than the Biles II in her arsenal. Torrey Hart catches us up on Biles’ five signature skills before the legend competes again on Wednesday. 

Georgia and Kentucky play this weekend. As Seth Emerson writes, it’s a weirdly competitive series, but also extremely one-sided.

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