Okay, well, I’ve got the profile looking right (that is, matching up with the names I use on most other sites), but obviously I haven’t really been posting much at all. There was something a few days ago that I thought was worth mentioning, but now I don’t remember what it was. Anyway, I’m posting regarding a bizarre sequence in the Red Sox-Orioles game that highlights the mercurial nature of errors. Leading off the bottom of the fourth for Boston is Josh Reddick, who hits a grounder to the right side that first baseman Derrek Lee has to go to his right to get; he flips to pitcher Jake Arrieta for the apparent out, but the umpire incorrectly rules that Arrieta never touched first base and calls Reddick safe; it is naturally ruled an E-1 because Arrieta clearly beat Reddick to the bag and would have had the out had he not missed the bag (even though he didn’t miss the bag). Next up is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who lines a clean single to right that Nick Markakis bobbles before getting back in; Reddick appears to slow down a little as he approaches second before kicking it back into gear after the bobble, so it’s ruled an error on Markakis allowing Reddick to reach third. Immediately after that, J.D. Drew comes up and lines a grounder sharply but almost right to Lee, who absolutely butchers it–but deflects it right to the first base bag, so he’s easily able to pick it up and get the out at first–obviously, no error, even though with how quickly the ball got to Lee he probably could’ve had a play at home. This is baseball at its finest–a three-play sequence in which probably the worst defensive performance of the three of them is the only one in which no error was given out.
Jeffrey Maier actually reached over the fence to help guide a Derek Jeter fly ball out of the reach of Orioles right fielder Tony Tarrasco into the stands for a postseason home run, whereas Steve Bartman was neither seated in fair territory nor reaching over the fence when he interfered with Cubs left fielder Moises Alou on a fly ball off the bat of Luis Castillo. 7 years after Bartman and twice as long since Maier, the Reds–which like those 2003 Cubs are managed by Dusty Baker–were victimized by a hybrid of the two. Like Bartman, the fan that prevented centerfielder Drew Stubbs from potentially making what would admittedly be an amazing play did not reach over the fence at Great American Ballpark to do so–and as you might guess from Stubbs’s position, the result was a Chase Utley home run, just like the Maier incident. Granted, this is probably a moot point since the Phillies’ pitching has been outstanding pretty much all series long aside from a rough first inning or two by Oswalt. But that’s a heartbreaker.
Elsewhere, another pitcher with a regular-season no-hitter on his career resume made a decent bid at providing the seventh official one of 2010. Jonathan Sanchez, who in July 2009 pitched a game in which the only baserunner reached on an eighth-inning error by Juan Uribe, no-hit the Braves through 5.1 before Tim Hudson broke it up with a single. Yes, the opposing pitcher. Amazingly, despite their low hit total for the game, the Braves actually managed to take the lead at one point, courtesy of an eighth-inning pinch-hit homer by modern-day Lonnie Smith Eric Hinske. (You remember Smith, right? Won a World Series ring in his rookie year with the 1980 Phillies, then picked up another with the ’82 Cardinals, a third with the ’85 Royals, then played in two more with the Braves in ’91 and ’92). The Giants struck right back with a pair of two-out runs in the top of the ninth, the latter scoring on Brooks Conrad’s third error of the game (his first error brought in the Giants’ first run). The 3-2 win gives the Giants a 2-1 advantage in the series.
I’ve been keeping busy with other sports–and some non-sports entertainment–over the offseason, so I’m not 100% dialed in to the goings-on of baseball, but nonetheless, it’s time to at least make an attempt at predicting things.
AL East: As per usual, the AL East is quite possibly the toughest in all of baseball, and will likely be the source of the Wild Card. Now, I know that I am not unbiased, but I believe the Red Sox will take the division due to the depth of their rotation. When it was announced that Daisuke Matsuzaka would miss the start of spring training due to injury, I wasn’t really worried, because for all that he cost to get, he’s basically the Sox’ number 4 now, behind Beckett/Lester/Lackey (arrange these three however you like, although that’s probably the order I’d put them), and they’ve got Buchholz and Wakefield behind that, so even without Dice-K, they’ve still got a solid 5-man rotation. The Yankees and Rays should both still be in the division race up until the final week, though, and either one could end up as the wild card–it comes down to the Yanks’ aging veterans vs. the Rays’ unproven youngsters, particularly where the rotations are concerned (although the Yanks also have some unproven youngsters at the tail end of the rotation). Baltimore, for some reason, is optimistic about this year, while Toronto is known to be in a rebuilding year, so I’ll say that the Jays finish in last place and the Orioles in fourth.
AL Central: Another three-team race. I’ll give the edge to the Tigers, but I wouldn’t give anyone in this division more than a 35% chance of reaching the playoffs–the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox are that close.
AL West: A definite mystery. The Angels have definitely taken a step back and fallen back to the pack, to the point that I’m pretty sure I heard one person on the radio call the West a three-team race between the A’s, Rangers, and Mariners at one point during the offseason. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, though–it’s still the Angels we’re talking about here. The Mariners definitely made great strides during the offseason, trading for Cliff Lee and signing Chone Figgins as a free agent, but I’m worried they still don’t have enough star power to make it last–I’m not even really sure who their 3-5 starters are, and the lineup is decidedly small-ball. Then again, who in this division really does have serious star power?
NL East: The Phillies are still the class of the NL and should be able to make it four straight division titles and three straight NL pennants, at which point the talking heads will start to wonder how long it will be until we can start calling them a dynasty (yes, even if they lose the World Series again–after all, the ’90s/early ’00s Braves were a dynasty despite only winning one World Series, weren’t they? Okay, maybe not.) The Braves are my favorites to finish second, and possibly earn the Wild Card. The Mets have improved over the offseason and could end up in third if they stay healthy, or they could land in fourth. The Nationals will likely finish last in the division again, but will probably pick no higher than fourth and possibly as low as eighth in the 2011 draft rather than the #1 spot they’ll have for the second year in a row in 2010.
NL Central: To be honest, I really haven’t followed the NL that closely. I know that the Pirates will be in last place again, and that the Astros still aren’t terribly good and seem most likely to land in fifth, and that Milwaukee is a far cry from their 2008 wild card berth, but that’s about it. The Cubs and the Cardinals should slug it out again, and, like almost every other year, I’m going to say that the Reds could make some noise. (Note that I make this prediction almost every year, although I think I skipped it last year, and it hasn’t actually come true since 2006, when they still finished in third but weren’t eliminated from the division race until the penultimate day of the season.)
NL West: If the Braves don’t win the Wild Card, expect it to come from this division. This may be a four-team race, as the Dodgers and Rockies, both postseason teams last year, should not have fallen off much, the Giants are still a team on the rise (again, see last year), and the Diamondbacks…well, I still have no clue why they faltered so much. They won the division in 2007 and were in the hunt late in 2008, and they made humongous upgrades in the ’08-’09 offseason…and inexplicably were a complete non-factor in 2009. I can only dismiss this as a fluke, and I think they’ll compete this year. Who will win this division? Your guess is as good as mine; all I’m willing to predict is that the Padres will finish in last place.
Playoffs: Like I said, I’m not really sure who most of the NL teams will be, and frankly I don’t really care because the Phillies are far better than anyone else in the league in my mind and will win the NL pennant. As for the AL, I’m going to predict Red Sox over Tigers and Rays over Mariners in round 1, followed by…Red Sox over Rays in the ALCS, and then…ooh, this is a tough one. They say pitching wins championships, and nobody has better pitching (if they’re healthy) than the Red Sox, which is why I picked them this far (yes, the Rays could also outhit the Red Sox, but their pitching, while good, is not good enough). But the Phillies rotation, while not as deep, is probably even stronger at the top, and their lineup is quite possibly the best in either league. Then again, you have to look beyond the simple skills and consider the matchups. For some reason, the Red Sox never really had much trouble with Halladay, which is odd because the Red Sox usually struggle with the Blue Jays, period. Lackey, while never terribly good against his new team regardless, was especially bad at Fenway, so if he ends up as the #3 and the AL wins the All-Star Game again, that’s all the better–and if the NL somehow pulls it out and the Sox pitch Lackey in Games 2 and 6, even better. So…it’ll be a close one, but I think the Red Sox can make it 3 titles in 7 years.
Perhaps the most fun part of tracking the mathematical eliminations (Baltimore was the first, by the way, ahead of Washington by a few hours) is the little weird things, like when a team goes nearly a week on the brink of elimination without falling off. Last year, it was Washington that pulled one of those weird runs, going on an inexplicable 7-game winning streak while the Mets and Phillies (who were close enough to one another that either one probably could’ve provided the finishing blow) seemed unable to win on the same night. (Okay, I think they played each other for part of that stretch). This year, it was the Royals. They entered Tuesday night’s games with 85 losses and the number of head-to-head games between the Tigers, White Sox and Twins ensuring that at least one would reach 77 wins, leaving them with an elimination number of 1–one loss or a total of three wins against outside competition by the top 3 would knock them out.
They lasted four days on the brink, sweeping Detroit in a three-game series while the White Sox and Twins could only manage to go 2-4, then winning again on Friday while the top three went 0-3. As a result, they only managed to last one day less than the Tampa Bay Rays, who were still considered somewhat of a playoff contender as of a week ago. Yes, that’s right: the Rays’ two losses today, combined with the Yankees avoiding the sweep by Baltimore, means they will officially not repeat as AL East champions–and that they were outlasted by such titans as the Cleveland Indians (61-81) and, at least by a few hours, the New York Mets (63-80). It might just be only another hour or so before the Mets hit the deck for good–Colorado’s already got 82 wins, and if Philly wins the ongoing game, it will be their 82nd win combined with the Mets’ 81st loss, so that’s a simultaneous elimination. Of Sports Illustrated‘s preseason pick for World Champions. While 24 teams would still have at least one avenue open to them.
Let that sink in. One of the most respected sports magazines in the country went with a team that may end up as just the sixth team to be eliminated from the playoffs completely (Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Arizona were the first five, more or less in that order; Tampa Bay, Toronto, Oakland, Cincinnati, and San Diego are down to only the wild card as an option, while Cleveland only has the division.)
Yes, this game is nuts. But not as nuts as picking the Mets to win the World Series.
To greet us, we have Toronto-Texas. Last night was a wild game, Toronto scoring the first 11 runs of the game and then letting the lead dwindle to a lone run before a 7-run ninth restored the blowout, 18-10 the final. So, what makes this the stretch run? Is it the roster expansion? The fact that anyone not on a team’s roster yet is ineligible for the postseason with that team? Nope, it’s…wait…by my definition, it’s not the stretch run yet. In my opinion, the stretch run begins with the first elimination: when the first bottom-of-the-barrel team becomes mathematically ineligible to take either their division or the wild card. Granted, in all likelihood, if you mashed enough teams together, the Nationals probably have been eliminated from the NL Wild Card race, but this can’t be confirmed, and they haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the division race quite yet. It will take another loss by the Nats themselves to do it outright tonight due to the Braves and Marlins playing each other; the schedule-based projection would need two of the top three or three of the top four to win against outside competition to do it without a Nats loss. However, with the Nats on the West Coast, even if they do lose, they may not get the dubious distinction of first elimination: the Yankees play Baltimore with a chance to knock them out of the AL East race. Yes, the status of baseball in the Beltway is sad. Meanwhile, the Pirates are just five losses away from their record-breaking 17th straight losing season. With the NL West looking like the hottest race around (the Dodgers added Jon Garland and Jim Thome, while the Rockies picked up Jose Contreras and the Giants added Brad Penny), it’s going to be an interesting September.
Oh. G-D! The Rangers have done it to the Orioles again! Granted, what happened last night is nothing compared to the 30-3 whupping the Rangers dealt out a couple of years ago, but 19-6 is still pretty nasty. Ian Kinsler went 6-for-6 and hit for the cycle to lead the team. (The order of his hits: double, homer, single, single, triple, double.) Nelson Cruz led the team with 6 RBIs, 4 of them on 1 swing of the bat in the 8-run 4th. Like in the 30-3 game, Baltimore took the early lead, up 2-0 before Texas got to bat and 3-1 after 2 full innings. This was hardly the only offense-heavy game, though. Others that hit double digits: St. Louis 12-7 over Arizona, Toronto 12-2 over Minnesota, Seattle 11-3 over LA, Florida 10-4 over Atlanta. Other interesting games: Red Sox-A’s, where Tim Wakefield took a no-hit bid into the eighth, and Dodgers-Giants, where the Dodgers won with a walkoff walk. Also: Jose Reyes scored from first on a passed ball. Yeah, really. It helped that there had also been a runner on third at the time. Ken Griffey Jr. homered in the Mariners’ win, his 400th homer as a Mariner.
A.J.Burnett carried a no-hit bid into the 7th, at which point the Rays promptly tied the score at 2-2. It was hardly the only game tied late. At the time of this writing, the Twins and Jays are tied 2-2 in the ninth, the Orioles and Rangers are tied at 3-3 in the eighth, and the Mariners needed 10 innings to record a 3-2 win over the Angels. The Royals-Indians game is also a one-run game, 4-3 favoring the Royals in the 7th. Those are the type of games I like to see–even if, in the end, the Yanks-Rays game wasn’t so close (7-2 final, the Yanks scoring once in the top of the eighth and four times in the top of the ninth.)
Now, KC has taken a large lead, 9-3 thanks to a five-run eighth; the Twins took 11 innings to land a 3-2 win; and Baltimore leads 5-3 in the tenth. Still, three extra-inning games.
And…MAKE IT 5!!!!!!!!!!!! Baltimore won it 7-5 in 10; Arizona walked it off with a three-run homer in the bottom of the tenth for a 9-6 win, and Oakland and Boston just entered the 10th with 5 runs apiece. Daisuke Matsuzaka allowed all five runs in the first inning and left with arm fatigue.