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Saturday Sports: Women's World Cup final; MLB controversy and playoffs

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Women's World Cup, jarring allegations of a star baseball player and the race for the MLB playoffs - some surprises. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. And once again, (singing) ole, ole, ole...

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Tomorrow, England faces Spain in Sydney. The Lionesses are favored, but you can't discount the Spanish team, can you?

BRYANT: No, you can't. And I consider that this is a year for them when I don't think they expected - this was an entire World Cup that I don't think anyone expected. I think that the - you get to a point where you just assume that the United States is going to be there. Well, the United States isn't there. And I think that after Sweden had beaten the U.S. that Sweden thought they were going to be there. And then I think the Netherlands had a - you know, a chance and thought that they were going to be there.

So now what you've got - the good news is you're going to get a great championship. And I think something that I really am looking forward to - I love seeing championship rounds where someone is going to win for the first time.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: England has never won. Spain has never won. Going to get a first-time champion, and that creates all kinds of pressures and - which creates all kinds of drama.

SIMON: Some shocking allegations in major league baseball. Wander Franco, the star shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays, put on the restricted list for at least six games. Authorities in the Dominican Republic are investigating him for an alleged relationship with a minor. There's some reports he might not be allowed to play in the major leagues ever again. What does this look like to you, Howard?

BRYANT: Well, I think this is - it's - obviously it's a devastating story for everybody involved. The allegations are incredibly serious. I think that major league baseball is taking its lead from the Dominican authorities. I think baseball is the last thing that anyone is considering when it comes to Wander Franco. We've seen the restricted list in the case before with Trevor Bauer, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he ended up not playing, and he has not returned in major league baseball. He's playing overseas.

And I think that this is going to be one of those stories where the legal system is going to dictate. Major league baseball is not going to push any of this. It's going to be - it's a really sad story. And I don't think anyone's going to be thinking about Wander Franco playing baseball this season and even going beyond that.

SIMON: Yeah. There are six weeks to go until baseball's playoffs begin. I am going to tee up a few names for you - the Atlanta Braves, the Baltimore Orioles, and...

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...Against all expectation - yes, yes, yes - the - what do they call them? - Chicago Cubs.

BRYANT: Oh, goodness. You know, I'll tell you, Scott, this is what we've been waiting for. And baseball has always been filled with bad news. We always talk about the - as we just were, talking about so many things that aren't going right in the sport. We talked about the beginning of the season with all the new rules and what was going to happen, and - but now we're hitting September. And this is where baseball fans find out who are the contenders, who are the pretenders, who's built for 100 games and who's built for the whole thing? I'm surprised by the Cubs. They're in contention. They weren't supposed to be.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: The Baltimore Orioles are at the top of the American League East. They're a really good team. They haven't won the World Series since 1983. They haven't been to the World Series since 1983. The Red Sox and the Yankees are at the bottom of the American League East...

SIMON: (Imitating video game death sound).

BRYANT: ...And playing each other in New York this week. And we haven't seen these two be this low in the standings since 1992.

SIMON: Wow.

BRYANT: And so there's a lot happening. It's great. You've got Dusty Baker and - with the defending world champions, the Houston Astros, and they're up against Bruce Bochy. And he's back after winning three World Series with the Giants. He's with Texas right now. They're slugging it out in the American League West. A lot of good stuff happening - it's going to be a great, great postseason, I think - and not only that, a great September, a great pennant race.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And the team to beat right now is the Atlanta Braves. They're the one to watch.

SIMON: Yep. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.