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MLB Division-Clinchers, NCAA Football Trouble: The Week In Sports

WADE GOODWYN, HOST:

It's time for sports. As major league baseball enters the home stretch, four divisions already have winners - the Baltimore Orioles, the Washington Nationals and both teams from Los Angeles are headed to the playoffs. But with a week left to play, there are still plenty of wildcards up for grabs. Mike Pesca hosts The Gist podcast for slate.com, and he joins me now. Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello.

GOODWYN: Let's start with a sure bet. The Baltimore Orioles - they've clinched the American League East even though many of their marquee players - Manny Machado, Matt Wieters - are out for the season. How are they doing it?

PESCA: Well, yeah. And also Chris Davis who wasn't having a great year in terms of batting average but with a big bat in their lineup - he was suspended for performance enhancing drugs. So it's amazing.

Well, the guys who are there are contributing well - Adam Jones, for instance. But they have really excellent pitching. They found a closer - Zach Britton. This happens a lot these days. One of these pitchers who maybe pitches hard and fast, but can't quite get it together, works out a little. They put him in the back of the bullpen - boom. He becomes one of the game's good closers.

They're a pretty interesting team. Also add to that fact that they're in the American League East with the Yankees, with the Red Sox. So that league is supposed to be the league that you could maybe sneak into a wild-card spot with - because we just automatically have to cede the top of that league to the Yankees or Red Sox. Nope, not this year.

GOODWYN: Meanwhile out west, the Oakland A's who were doing so well are in a tailspin. This is the team Michael Lewis wrote about in "Moneyball" - the innovators who figured out the statistical formula for success on the field. What's happened?

PESCA: Well, they traded a big bat. They traded their best offensive player, Yoenis Cespedes, to the Boston Red Sox. They got a good pitcher in return.

And even though, statistically, they could point to the fact that the platoon that was to replace him really wouldn't be that much worse - in reality, maybe it's confidence, maybe it's the magical thinking I try not to subscribe to with just having a huge bat in the lineup. But something has happened, and their offense has fallen off a cliff.

GOODWYN: More trouble for the sport of football, but I'm not talking about the NFL. Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was suspended from the Clemson game for publicly making profane comments against women. Initially it was for half a game until the outcry became too great.

PESCA: Yeah. And so if you want to think about who the best teams in college football are, you'd have to put Florida State up there. They went undefeated last year. It's just kind of amazing - or maybe not - that Winston would do this. He of course was never charged with a sexual assault crime, but The New York Times documented everything that investigators didn't do in pursuing that matter. And here he is. But, you know, you could say being a student stupid college student, but he should know that the spotlight is on him.

Anyway, onto the field - Florida State still looks like a great team. There will be four teams in the playoffs this year. And it would pretty surprising if they weren't one of them to defend their national championship.

GOODWYN: But on the other hand, the University of Texas has suspended eight football players, which is remarkable really only because they have a new coach, Charlie Strong, who's insisting on enforcing all the rules.

PESCA: Yeah. And I think that this is a year where Strong knows they're not in contention to win a championship. So why not lay down the law, and set the tone for a future which he hopes will be, you know, replete with burnt umber success?

GOODWYN: Well, it's way too early in the season for these kind of prognostications, but that's how we've earned our reputation at NPR - being first when it doesn't matter. Who are your four front runners for the four college football playoff spots just based on what you've seen so far?

PESCA: I'm going to go with the Florida State, Alabama - that Oregon offense is still great. And why not Oklahoma? Sorry, teams like Auburn.

GOODWYN: Mike Pesca of slate.com. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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