Saturday Sports: It's Time For Baseball

NPR’s Melissa Block talks to Howard Bryant of ESPN about the latest in baseball, including what’s ahead for the Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And it’s time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: The Golden State Warriors mopped up the Cleveland Cavaliers this week, handily putting an end to the NBA season. But baseball season is in full swing. And Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine is always game to talk us through it.

Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Melissa. How are you?

BLOCK: I’m great. And let’s start with the American League. And the Yankees, currently on top in the American League East. I gather they are pinning huge hopes on a rookie named Aaron Judge.

BRYANT: Not just any rookie named Aaron Judge, a 6-foot-7, 282-pound, rookie named Aaron Judge who tends (laughter) – you would look at him and think that he belongs on a football field, but he is amazing. And it’s kind of fun, being in 2017, how strange it is for us to actually root for the Yankees, the dreaded 27-time New York Yankees who are kind of…

BLOCK: Not strange for me, Howard. Speak for yourself.

BRYANT: Who are underdogs right now – why are we rooting for the Yankees? That’s unheard of. Well, it’s because baseball needs this. Baseball needs a shot of a dynasty to come back and to have a young player playing in the big city, doing big things. And he is hitting the ball. He hit a – almost a 500-foot home run last week. And he’s everything that people are talking about. It’s good to see the Yankees – Scott and I have this argument all the time about dynasties. I love when big teams are doing great things because they’re the teams you remember, the teams that you circle on the calendar. Teams you hate – it’s what sports is really all about.

And the Yankees have been a very mediocre, average team for the last five years. They haven’t won the World Series since 2009. They haven’t been to the American League Championship since 2012, I believe, or two thousand – yeah, 2012. And so it’s a nice thing to see. And Aaron Judge is doing things that people who you would think are rational people are comparing to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. And it’s, like, well, wait a minute – he’s only been here a couple of months. That’s how exciting he’s been.

BLOCK: No kidding. The Houston Astros are kind of a surprise favorite this season. What’s been going right for them?

BRYANT: They’ve got the best record in baseball right now. And it’s interesting because a couple of years ago, they were the team that people thought were going to be the next new team. They went to the American League Championship Series. They lost to Kansas City. Then last year, they didn’t do so well, and they sort of fell off. And you’d wondered how a team that talented could have such a bad rebound from things.

But this year, they’re back, and they’re playing great. You’ve got Carlos Correa, who’s one of the best players in the game and a wonderful lineup up and down. Jose Altuve, all 5-foot-6 of him, is one of the best hitters in baseball. And they’re playing the Boston Red Sox this weekend, which is a good series for both teams. And you look at Boston, you look at the Yankees, and you look at Houston, and you’ve got some nice stuff happening this year in the American League.

BLOCK: OK. And on the National League side, can the Chicago Cubs…

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: …Make Scott Simon happy and repeat as World Series champions?

BRYANT: Repeat as World Series champions? They’re not even – they’re .500. They are an average team.

BLOCK: Oh, man.

BRYANT: And let’s – why don’t we just call this out, Melissa, for what it is? The reason why…

BLOCK: Since Scott Simon isn’t here (laughter).

BRYANT: …Scott Simon is in Europe is because the Chicago Cubs are playing so poorly right now.

BLOCK: He couldn’t stand it.

BRYANT: Last year (laughter) – last year, they were tearing up the National League – and baseball. They won 103 games. This year, they’re 33-33. They’re – you would like to think that they’ve got a big run in them in the second half. They’re still the most talented team in the league. They are an outstanding baseball club. But this is a new year, and it’s one of the hardest things to do in baseball. We like to talk about oh, well, you know, they’re so good. They’re not machines. And it’s a new year, and you hadn’t won since 1908. And the pressure of doing that and the pressure of repeating – and it’s also very hard to do in the National League. The Phillies did it – 2008, 2009. But you got to go back, after that, to the ’70s to Cincinnati – ’75, ’76 – to see a team repeat in the National League. It’s a very difficult thing to do. But if there’s a team out there that has the talent to do it, it’s the Chicago Cubs. And maybe Scott will come back to the country (laughter) when they do.

BLOCK: Well, from your mouth to Scott Simon and other Cubs fans’ ears. Howard Bryant of ESPN, thank you so much.

BRYANT: Thank you.

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