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Baseball’s Sticky Situation

First, we check in with MLB after a weekend of chaos, drama and pants. The league’s directive to enforce rules against “sticky stuff” and illegal grip aids has already seen a reduction in pitchers’ spin rates that might solve some of baseball’s bigger problems. Pitchers are not taking it in stride, and for good reason — the incentives in the past few years have been all about increasing spin rates, so while big names like Gerrit Cole will probably have the space to adjust, pitchers who have been on the margins of holding onto rotation spots are likely going to get hit hard. The midseason, haphazard spot checks are messy, but the team thinks messy is kind of OK. We’ll have to watch what happens over the rest of the season, but effectively enforcing the rules is a better option for baseball than doing more tinkering with the ball or with the dimensions of the field. Leave the mound where it is, Sara says, and leave the sunscreen at home.

Next, we turn to the NBA. The conference finals are turning out to be very fun, which has not stopped Twitter from complaining about whether this collection of small-market teams and rising, not established, stars are Bad For The League™. Atlanta and Phoenix are two of the largest population centers and most robust sports towns in the U.S., to say nothing of Los Angeles (even the parts of L.A. that are rooting for the Clippers). When people talk about “small-market teams”, they’re really talking about teams with local, not national, followings. But Devin Booker and Trae Young are already having something to say about that. While the league didn’t plan for these matchups — and certainly didn’t plan for this many injuries — the conference finals we have are growing the game, and that’s a good thing. When we come out of the pandemic haze and take stock of the evolving ways that people express their NBA fandom, we may find ratings to no longer be a useful indicator. 

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil takes a look at the improbable Stanley Cup Final run of the Montreal Canadiens, who would need to win their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in no more than six games to finish the full season with a winning record. Sub-.500 teams have won the Cup before, but it’s not clear that the Canadiens have what it takes to join them. And as the crew discusses, they’re not quite the plucky underdogs they seem to be, given their storied and Cup-filled history. That might make this year’s squad more like the ’96 Yankees. 

What we’re looking at this week: 

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.