Okay, full disclosure: As a Red Sox fan, I want the Phillies to win the Series, period. Heck, there’s even a good reason for that one, as a pure fan of the game. That reason, of course, is Chase Utley. With two home runs in Game 5, Utley now has five homers in the World Series, tying the single-series record set by Reggie Jackson in 1977–a Series the Yankees won. If Utley ties or even breaks Reggie’s record in a losing effort, it just wouldn’t seem right. (Then again, the 1960 Yankees still hold most of the records for team offensive production in a single Series, and they lost that in seven games, thanks to three double-digit wins and four losses by three runs or less. So maybe that’s not important.)
Here’s why the Phillies need to win Game 6: a return to the way things used to be.
Now, I may be young, but I’m not so young that I don’t remember a Series that went seven games. That last happened in 2002, and although I probably wasn’t paying attention to that one, I do remember 2001, probably the best Series of
my lifetime the period of my lifetime that I would reasonably be expected to remember (the only debate when limiting it to my lifetime would be 1991 vs. 2001, but I was just a toddler in ’91.)
I’m talking about pitchers making three starts in a series. I’m a fan of the history of the game, and way back when, three-man rotations in the postseason were the norm (and four-man rotations in the regular season, but that’s besides the point.) And when three-man rotations in the postseason were common, a pitcher would pitch Games 1, 4, and 7. (Okay, okay, that actually happened in the 2001 World Series, too, although the Diamondbacks did use four starters–Schilling in 1, 4, and 7; Johnson in 2 and 6; Brian Anderson in 3; and Miguel Batista in 5). If this series ends tonight, we’re denied that. But if the Phillies send it to Game 7, C.C. Sabathia makes his return for Game 7. I’d rather see the Phillies win that game, too, but either way, Game 7 is what I want to see.
As I may have mentioned in earlier “way-too-early predictions”, I have a feeling that the Royals are going to be the surprise team of the year. Before, I compared it to last year’s Rays–a team that had been drafting early year after year, making a few under-the-radar trades and free agent signings–nothing that would catch anyone’s attention, but very important stuff. Now, the Rays even caught me by surprise, and the AL East is the division I follow the most closely. So is this really an equivalent case? Not quite. The Rays were probably helped out by being in the AL East. Is it really possible to make that sharp a turnaround that quickly? In a way, yes, but I often pick my teams that will improve based on who was doing well late in the year. (This is part of what led me to keep picking the Reds. This is also why I think the Astros will finish second in the NL Central this year.) However, September is a time where teams play a lot of games within their divisions. Tampa Bay was able to hide because while they were an improving team, they still weren’t on par with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays, until suddenly they were. The Royals don’t have that luxury. While they are showing signs of taking the same path as the Rays, they are not yet at the point in that journey that the ’08 Rays were at. They probably need one more year. Now, seeing as how the ’07 Devil Rays were last in the league, how can I defendmy Royals pick? Well, for one thing, it’s not exactly one year off. They’re farther along than the Rays were at the start of ’07, but not far enough along to be at the point the Rays were at at the start of ’08. And, of course, while the Rays might have ended up showing some warning signs if they were in a weaker division, the Royals are about to get inflated by the AL Central. This is a division that was won last year by a team that nobody can explain and most pundits are picking to finish no better than fourth. Also last year, a team was pumped up as possibly setting all sorts of scoring records, and promptly finished last in the division. I think the Tigers got exposed, and there is no reason to think they’ll be getting any better seeing as how they still have no pitching worth speaking of. Then there’s the popular choice for this year’s division title, the
Indians Native Americans. At the start of ’08, they were riding high, having just missed winning the pennant in ’07 and looking like they weren’t going to be any worse in ’08. Then everything went weird. C.C. Sabathia didn’t get off to a good start. The offense that had done so well in ’07 went into hibernation. Players got traded away. Promising ’07 rookies hit sophomore slumps in a major way. Even with the return of Cliff Lee, who had been great in ’05 but disappointing in the following two years, the Tribe struggled mightily. And now, they’re the favorites, despite their bullpen having imploded on them last year (they’ve acquired a new closer that might be able to patch up the problem, but good luck getting to him without sending the starters out for at least the first out or two of the 8th), and their new #3 is Carl freakin’ Pavano. Yeah, really. That’s your favorite? So now, unless the mystery White Sox manage to carry onwards (and they’ve lost a few players, too, in important places, so don’t count on it), the only outside obstacle to the Royals riding a breakout wave is the Minnesota Twins, who were a big surprise last year and have much of that talent locked up for awhile. Of course, that’s because there were a bunch of rookies in there. While they do have plenty of good established talent, their rotation could end up hitting the sophomore slump, and the rotation is key to trying to win a division (which is why the all-offense Tigers are still no threat). The Royals didn’t really have that many rookies last year in the rotation, did they? Plenty of young pitchers, to be sure, but not so many rookies. Unless there’s a “junior jinx”that I’m not aware of, the Royals could end up riding an infusion of rookies and a wave of other young talents to a surprising AL Central title. Then again, maybe in the long run, that’s better. If they get that rookie infusion out of the way now, the inevitable sophomore slump would happen in 2010, which could lead to a large drop, but with the talent still there, they’d bounce back in 2011 and have another high pick to help keep things going. The AL Central runs in cycles because it consists solely of small-market teams. I think the Royals are about to get their turn.
Bill Simmons has a nice little article up on ESPN.com about Manny Ramirez. One image shown in the article, however, is cause for concern: http://assets.espn.go.com/i/eticket/20080930/photos/eticket_g_manny13_412.jpg. Do you remember what happens when scoreboards make premature declarations? Worse yet, this was the team’s own scoreboard. Strictly speaking, the laws of karma shouldn’t have made that work in ’86–just the opposite, actually, the defeatist attitude making it so. Quite a shame, really, as the Dodgers are in prime position to advance to the next round. I suppose it will be the Phillies’ or Brewers’ job to exact the baseball gods’ punishment for this bit of hubris… (And confidentially, before the Mets’ collapse, I had the Dodgers winning the pennant. Then the Cubs-Dodgers series got moved to the first round, and I ended up with the Brewers, before pulling off and going for the Cubs…and then seeing Game 1, seeing the pitching matchup for Game 2, and going back to Dodgers. Unless it isn’t. When I said Brewers, I was unaware of the injury to Sheets, which changes everything. CC can’t do it alone, so this could be a Phillies-Dodgers NLCS.)
No Cliff Lee after all, but Chicago is still
trailing by half a game entering play today. The Brewers, on
the other hand, have Sabathia ready to try to win them the
wild card. Playoffs? Yes, there will be playoffs! I do not
believe that today will end the season.
September has finally hit, and although, as expected, the Brewers have done enough winning to knock out Washington on the wild card front, they really did manage to stay on board on their division. They just aren’t losing these days, it seems. A warning to all teams who face the Nationals down the stretch: Don’t expect a pushover.
Speaking of the Brewers, there’s been quite the discussion about CC Sabathia’s most recent outing. I saw the replays, and it looks like an error to me. I don’t know what my decision would’ve been if I’d seen it as it were happening, watching the game, but I think he deserves a no-hitter.
And speaking of no-hitters, today is the one-year anniversary of Clay Buchholz no-hitting the Baltimore Orioles. Interestingly enough, the Orioles are at Fenway again tonight.
Today’s elimination scenarios: Washington out of the NL East with a loss or a Mets win (Phillies win alone would be enough, but they’re playing Washington so that goes unsaid); Seattle out of AL Wild Card with a loss or Boston win. Two-day scenario: Cincinnati out of NL Central with a loss and a Cubs win or two Cubs wins (Cincy has off-day today, otherwise this could happen in one day). Not going to do three-day projections this time.
Update, a few hours after initial posting: The Mets won, so Washington is officially out of the postseason completely. The standings on MLB.com should still show an elimination number of 1, but as I’ve said before, games remaining between top clubs can make elimination numbers smaller than they appear, because they only consider what it takes to catch the current leader. The Nats could theoretically catch up to the Mets, but they can’t catch both the Mets and the Phillies. They’re beating the Phillies right now, by the way.
First off, yeah, yeah, I know, I jinxed it on that last entry. Sorry. Anyway, on to today’s entry.
The title of today’s entry comes from a stat given on
Saturday’s Yankees-Orioles broadcast. Alex Rodriguez had just been hit by a
Jeremy Guthrie pitch, and YES Network announcers Michael Kay and Ken Singleton
were talking about the correlation between home runs and getting hit by
pitches, noting that many of the top guys in one category were also tops in the
other and that home run leader Carlos Quentin also led the league in being hit
by pitches, 20 times already this season. Then they said that Garret Anderson
has only been hit 11 times in his entire career. Remind me again, how
many seasons has he been playing? Since the mid-’90s, at least. That’s less
than 1 HBP per season. Those are some mad skills. That is the work of a
baseball ninja. Also with mad skills: A.J. Pierzynski. The thief of games (see:
ALCS Game 2, 2005) stole another one yesterday, being granted third base after
a controversial interference call when caught in a rundown. I didn’t actually
see the game, but the Associated Press story running in my paper suggests that
it was actually Pierzynski, not Rays third baseman Willy Aybar, who initiated
contact. Pierzynski then scored the winning run as the Sox won it 6-5 in ten
innings. I wasn’t happy about the miscarriage of justice in the ’05 ALCS, but
this I’ll take, as the Red Sox gained another game in the AL East standings
with a win over Toronto, 6-5 in 11 innings. They now lead the wild card by a
full game over Minnesota, 5-3 losers to the Angels. Angels closer Francisco
Rodriguez picked up his 50th save of the year in the game. It’s only
the eleventh time a closer has racked up 50 saves in a season, and certainly
the only time one has reached the mark in August. The Angels are 79-50, which
prorates to about a 99-win season. Taking into consideration the percentage of
Angels victories in which K-Rod records a save, that puts him on pace for
around 63 saves, six up on the record. I actually heard one of the ESPN
broadcasters suggest that with all of the worthy Cy Young candidates in the
American League, K-Rod should not win that award, but should win the
MVP. Balderdash, I say. No pitcher has ever won the MVP but not the Cy
Young since before the latter existed.
Extra innings was somewhat of a theme yesterday, actually.
In addition to the two American League games I mentioned, four NL games went
beyond nine. The Mets…well, here’s a great case of selective journalism. The
story, which is not AP because of my location, is headlined “Familiar
snag catches Mets”, sub-headline “Bullpen loses lead, then game in 10th“.
The reality? The tying run was already on base when the starter was pulled…with
only one out…in the seventh inning. No runs scored thereafter until the tenth.
The Mets were at home, giving them three chances to answer before extras hit.
Sorry, but I don’t think we can pin the blame solely on the bullpen. This has
to be spread around. In Milwaukee, CC Sabathia left uncharacteristically early,
being removed for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning. The move paid off
initially, as pinch-hitter Gabe Kapler had an RBI single and the Brewers turned
a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 advantage, setting Sabathia up for a chance at
improving to 9-0 in the National League…but it wasn’t meant to be, as David
Riske allowed a run in the seventh for the blown save. The Brewers scored again
in the eighth, only to face another blown save at the hands of Salomon Torres,
who pitched the ninth and tenth. Guillermo Mota ended up with the win as the
Brewers finally took it in twelve, J.J. Hardy catering to the all-too-familiar
trope that the player being honored with a bobblehead day will end up the hero,
4-3 the final in twelve. Also 4-3 in twelve, the Rockies over the Reds, the
Rockies scoring in the seventh and ninth in order to force extras. Wait, why
did the Reds’ bullpen have to take over in the fourth? Is something wrong with
Johnny Cueto? Finally, the late game saw the Phillies end it with a three-run
homer in the eleventh, 5-2 the final.
Addendum: A faux pas, didn’t even notice, but my local paper cut the bottom off the NL West standings, the Padres were completely missing. Speaking of completely missing, it’s almost time to start breaking out the green numbers of elimination. Off-days keep it from hitting tonight, because the games remaining doesn’t raise the effective wild card leader total beyond the actual leader total of 76, but Wednesday morning, I could be using a different color for Washington in the wild card race section of my database, the lime green that indicates the date of a team’s elimination from contention. Hold on… Actually, the first green number could go up tomorrow morning, on the AL side of the table. The Angels are at home against Oakland, still with the worst record since the All-Star Break, while the Mariners host highly contending Minnesota. A win for the Halos and a loss for the M’s mathematically eliminates the latter from division contention. Yes, most teams are eliminated long before they’re officially eliminated, but you can never be too careful. The Astros tried to teach us that lesson in 2006 and fell just short. The Rockies took a shot at it last year and succeeded. 13 days left in the season, they sat 6 back in their own division, in fourth place, five back in the wild card race, tied for fourth with a team that only trailed by half a game in their division and just half a game better than the sixth-place team. And they won, and they won, and they won, and a few other teams lost in bizarre fashion, and so it really never is over until it’s over.
Been awhile since I last updated–I’ve kind of been
procrastinating the typing up of my handwritten All-Star Game Journal. A
warning for when I do get it up: I start getting really strange when I’m
staying up late. I got an early start this morning, which means classic games
on XM. This morning’s classic was from April 27, 2003. I know this to be the
date because the out-of-town scores happened to mention that Kevin
Millwood had no-hit the Giants. When you can share an afternoon with a no-hitter,
and a no-hitter with only one run of support at that, and still make it as a
classic game, you know it’s a good day in baseball. From what I had heard when
I joined the game in progress, St. Louis had led 6-1 before the Marlins tied it
up in a five-run ninth backed by homers by Ramon Castro, Luis Castillo and Mike
Lowell. One thing I found especially curious, listening to the late innings of
this game, was that the Cards repeatedly issued intentional walks to Lowell in
order to get to Derrek Lee, twice with two outs already just in the innings I
heard. Maybe by now that would once more be a good strategy, but there were a
few years there that hardly anyone warranted getting an intentional pass to get
to D-Lee, certainly not Mike Lowell. Fernando Viña had the game-winning RBI
single for the Cardinals in the 20th inning…to end the game
1-for-10. -_-‘ Yeah…it’s that kind of game. Last night’s action was interesting
in its own right. While there weren’t any 20-inning games, there was a
ten-inning game, and it wasn’t tied up when the ninth inning began. I know this
because I saw a bit of the ninth when I first woke up, replayed on ESPN–it was
the Brewers-Cardinals game that they’d happened to choose for Monday Night
Baseball. I could’ve sworn it was the Brewers that had trailed 3-2, but the
wrap-ups on XM’s Baseball This Morning, while not mentioning that it had become
tied in the ninth, did say that Rickie Weeks had a 3-run homer “earlier in the
game”, so I guess it must’ve been the Cards. I don’t know; my TV was flickering
this morning, the result of a power surge last night that knocked out the power
in my town for a few hours, so I didn’t stick around to watch for very long.
Milwaukee ended up winning 6-3, Bill Hall with a solo homer to start the three-run
tenth. Ten is also the number of runs the Rockies scored, on twenty hits…in a
not-so-close loss. The Dodgers had 8 runs on the board before the host Rockies
even came to bat and won 16-10. Ten, too, is the number of runs the Tigers
scored…in the eighth inning. Miguel Cabrera was 5-for-6 with 6 RBI in the
Tigers’ 19-4 victory over the Royals. Boston finally won another road game, but
the Rays and Yanks likewise won, so the Sox remain 1½ back in the division,
three ahead of the Yankees. They did, however, increase their lead in the wild
card race, as the Bombers’ 12-4 victory was over Minnesota, now two back in the
wild card race and still just half a game behind the White Sox, who fell to the
killer bat of Josh Hamilton and the rest of the Texas Rangers. This win moves
the Rangers into second place in the AL West, half a game better than Tampa’s
victim, the A’s, but still 8½ games behind the division-leading Angels, losers
last night but still the only team with 60 wins and the only team with less
than 40 losses (which, if you’re keeping count, means their closer’s save total
exceeds their team’s loss total.) Back to the NL side, Rich Harden pitched a
great game for the Cubs but fell to 0-1 in the National League as the North
Siders were shut out 2-0 by Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks. With
the NL East co-leading Phillies and Mets both idle last night, the Marlins had
a chance to make it a three-way tie with a win over the Braves, but couldn’t do
it, managing just two singles and a walk in a 4-0 defeat. Freddy Sanchez hit an
inside-the-park home run as the Pirates beat the Astros 9-3 to snap a five-game
So I ended up not posting the same day I originally wrote
this…again. Means time for more updates…Colorado scored ten again, but
this time, it was more than enough for a blowout win over the Dodgers. The Reds
won in eleven innings, while in St. Louis, we had a truly great radio call.
“It’s interesting how deep Ankiel is playing Hall…and he should be as [Hall]
hits it over his head into the bleachers for a home run; man he really destroys
us.” Just like that. No change in voice tone, as Bill Hall’s two-out solo homer
in the ninth inning gave the Brewers a 4-3 victory; the Crew now leads St.
Louis by one game in the wild card race and is just a game behind the Cubs, who
lost 9-2 to the now sole NL West-leading D-Backs. The tie atop the NL East was
also broken, obviously, as the Phillies scored six runs in the ninth to beat
the Mets 8-6. The Marlins also stayed just a game back with a 4-0 win over the
Braves; Chipper Jones accounted for the Braves’ only hit of the game. In other
Diamondbacks news, 6’10” Randy Johnson is no longer the tallest pitcher on
his team, as they acquired 6’11” Jon Rauch from the Nationals in exchange
for a minor-league infielder. Also in the transaction news: Houston acquired
Randy Wolf from San Diego. This baffles many, as Houston doesn’t seem to be in
contention (they lost to Pittsburgh again last night), but with the deadline
still over a week away, they could get two starts out of him and still be able
to deal him away. If there’s a contending team out there rumored to want Wolf
that has something the Astros want, this could’ve been a very shrewd move. The
White Sox increased their lead in the division with a win over Texas, as the
Twins lost to the Yankees. The Red Sox, winners again over Seattle, now lead
both the Twins and Yankees by three games for the wild card and trail the Rays
by just half a game, as Oakland retook second place in the West with an 8-1 win
over Tampa Bay.
Why do I even bother? It’s been nearly a week now, and still
no official updates from me. More interesting trades made, as the Dodgers pick
up Casey Blake from the Indians (good move) and the Yanks get Xavier Nady and
Damaso Marte from the Pirates (even better move). Still, yesterday was a prime
example of how stats can be misleading. Yesterday’s SportsCenter stated,
truthfully, that the Yankees had won all four of the starts that Sidney Ponson
had made for them. However, what wasn’t told there was that he generally left
those starts in the sixth inning or so and in one of them gave up seven earned
runs in five-plus innings. (Remember that game I was telling you about when I
was in Tampa watching the Boston bullpen implode against the Rays while the
Yankees seemed to have more runs each time their game passed by on the
out-of-town scoreboard? That would be the one.) Boston starter Jon Lester, on
the other hand, had given up just 5 earned runs in 23⅔ innings over his last
three starts, including a complete-game shutout at Yankee Stadium. Naturally,
the Sox pounded Sir Sidney and the Knights of the Buffet Table to the tune of a
9-2 win. The following divisions have seen a tie for first place (give or take
a couple of percentage points) within the past week: AL East, NL East, NL
Central, NL West. (The following division can’t possibly see a tie for first
until the second week of August and probably won’t see one ever again this
season: AL West.) Yes, the Brewers finally caught the Cubs, entering yesterday’s
action in a dead heat. The Brewers lost again, giving the Cubs a one-game lead,
but the two teams start a four-game series tonight in Milwaukee. Should be
exciting. Scheduled matchups: Lilly vs. Sabathia, Zambrano vs. Sheets, Dempster
vs. Parra, Harden vs. Bush. But seriously, the Angels’ AL West dominance is
sick. Their lead over second-place Texas is more than the other five division
leaders’ leads over the second place teams combined. Actually, if you
add up the games behind for the other five second-place teams (Boston 1,
Minnesota 2.5, Philadelphia 1, Milwaukee 1, Los Angeles 1), you could add in
the deficit for one of the two eastern divisions’ third place teams (New York 3
or Florida 2) and still come up with something below the 10.5 games that Los
Angeles of Anaheim leads their division by. The Angels have been the rare team
that does truly well on the road, fully five games better than any other team
(14 games over .500, with second-best St. Louis a mere 4 games over .500 on the
road)–and that’s even with a road loss yesterday. (St. Louis also suffered a
road loss, though.) Actually, that road loss is notable not because it’s rare
that they lose on the road, but because of who the home team was. Prior to
their win over the Angels yesterday, the Orioles had not won on a Sunday since
April 6, the first Sunday of the season.
The same day it’s being posted
Extra innings abounded yesterday, as the two New York teams both won in extras, the Yanks in 10, the Mets in 12. Together, the two games were just five innings longer than the Braves’ 7-6 victory over Houston, four straight singles leading off the bottom of the seventeenth. Detroit and Seattle also went 15, the visiting Tigers winning 2-1. Mariners backup catcher Jamie Burke came in as a reliever. All-Star selections were announced yesterday, and my powers of preseason prognostication proved faulty–quite deservingly with the somewhat down year he’s been having, Nick Markakis is not an All-Star. This prediction had been made partly because I thought Markakis was a rising star and partly because I didn’t think the O’s had any better candidates. The lone representative of the Baltimore club is in his first year with the team, and that is George Sherrill, the former Seattle setup man who became the Orioles’ closer. Brian Roberts, two-time All-Star, has been relegated to the final man ballot. However, as an American League fan who wants the AL to win, I must advocate for a member of a team that I’m not particularly fond of right now: Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays. “Longo” is the best of the five players on the ballot, in my opinion. However, since I’m a fair guy, I’ll also tell you honestly who I think should get the final spot in the National League: Pat Burrell, Philadelphia Phillies. Other fairly happy news: the underachieving Jason Varitek, for a long time the AL vote leader at catcher, has been relegated to backup status by Joe Mauer. Why is Tek still the backup? Er, well, I think it has something to do with Francona being the AL manager. The players pick the first line of backups, but there are two reserve catchers and Dioner Navarro seems more likely as the players’ choice. Like most of the Rays, he’s been having a good year. C.C. Sabathia has been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Correction: Varitek was the players’ choice…sort of. The player ballot is submitted before the fan voting ends, and so the with the players’ choice, Mauer, the starter, the second-place finisher on their ballot gets the nod. Well, on the plus side, there’s no rule saying Terry has to play him…but of course, he will anyway, because he’s not about to diss his captain…is he? Does he have the guts to follow the example of Tony La Russa, who last year chose Dmitri Young over his own player, Albert Pujols, to pinch-hit in the ninth inning with the game on the line? I sure hope so. Final observation: The Twins are currently on a 17-2 run.