The death of athletes in their prime is always stunning news. Whether it's Yankees catcher Thurman Munson killed when an airplane he piloted crashed, Maryland basketball star Len Bias from a cocaine overdose or Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart in a car crash, the news jolts us as if they were our best friends, lost for good.
Now we receive the news one of this generation's greatest young pitchers, Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, died in a late-night/early morning boating accident Sept. 25. Fernandez, just 24 years of age, and two other men were killed when the boat, owned by a friend of Fernandez, hit a jetty off Miami Beach. Fernandez died from trauma, while the other two men apparently drowned in the accident.
The bitter irony is that Fernandez was originally due to pitch the day he was killed. But the Marlins pushed his start back a day so they could activate and pitch starter Adam Conley. Needless to say, had the Marlins not pushed him back, he likely wouldn't have been out on that boat so late at night.
This year has already seen its share of high-profile retired athletes pass away. On the same day Fernandez died, golfing legend Arnold Palmer passed. This news comes several months after the deaths of boxing great Muhammad Ali and hockey legend Gordie Howe.
1. Chicago Cubs (99-56 overall record, No. 1 ranking last week) -- The heat will be on for the Cubs next week as they try to live up to the high expectations and do away with a 108-year curse.
2. Boston Red Sox (92-64, No. 3) -- The red-hot Red Sox have won 11 in a row and 12 of their last 14. The Cubs can't be paying attention just yet, but there may come a time, late in October, when they will have to.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (90-66, No. 6) -- The Dodgers have given broadcaster Vin Scully's last season a positive narrative. Pitcher Clayton Kershaw is amazing again.
4. Texas Rangers (92-64, No. 4) -- Fernandez's death is a tragedy on multiple levels. Rangers slugger Prince Fielder's loss of his profession after a second spinal fusion surgery, while not a tragedy, is on my mind as well.
5. Toronto Blue Jays (86-69, No. 8) -- The 2016 Blue Jays are reminiscent of a race horse that easily gives up the lead, gamely hangs on for second place and could beat the leader next time out. Is outfielder Jose Bautista waking up?
6. Washington Nationals (91-64, No. 2) – The Nationals make the big drop-off from No. 2 to No. 6 based on injuries galore. Starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (elbow) and second baseman Daniel Murphy (buttocks) may not play at all, and now, right fielder Bryce Harper injures his thumb. It looks like it's always something for general manager Mike Rizzo's squad.
7. Cleveland Indians (90-65, No. 5) -- The Indians' home attendance is up 10.4 percent in 2016 from 2015. But while it's picked up a good bit in the past month, they still rank 28th out of 30 teams in home attendance despite being poised to clinch their first American League Central title since 2007.
8. Baltimore Orioles (85-71, No. 7) -- The Orioles are not in the playoffs just yet, but it's looking like a sweep of the Diamondbacks Sept. 23-25 got their mojo working again. The next big step would be squeezing past the Blue Jays for home-field advantage Oct. 5 in the win-or-go-home Wild Card game.
9. New York Mets (83-73, No. 9) -- The Mets need to keep their focus on winning games while being in the odd position of coming into Miami amid the mourning for Fernandez.
10. San Francisco Giants (82-74, No. 11) -- The Giants could hang on to a Wild Card position, but they've suffered from a second-half fade due to an inability to produce enough runs to make up for their season-long problems at the back end of the bullpen, including nine blown saves from closer Santiago Casilla. This team just doesn't feel as dangerous as it should with Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto heading the rotation.
11. Detroit Tigers (83-72, No. 14)
12. St. Louis Cardinals (81-74, No. 10)
13. Houston Astros (82-74, No. 13)
14. Seattle Mariners (82-73, No. 12)
15. Pittsburgh Pirates (77-78, No. 15)
16. Kansas City Royals (79-77, No. 17)
17. New York Yankees (79-76, No. 18)
18. Chicago White Sox (74-81, No. 20)
19. Colorado Rockies (73-83, No. 19)
20. Miami Marlins (77-78, No. 16)
21. Philadelphia Phillies (70-86, No. 22)
22. Milwaukee Brewers (70-86, No. 23)
23. Los Angles Angels of Anaheim (69-87, No. 25)
24. Tampa Bay Rays (65-90, No. 21)
25. Oakland Athletics (67-88, No. 24)
26. Cincinnati Reds (65-90, No. 26)
27. San Diego Padres (66-90, No. 28)
28. Atlanta Braves (63-92, No. 29)
29. Arizona Diamondbacks (64-91, No. 27)
30. Minnesota Twins (56-100, No. 30)