What is with this postseason? Day 1, Roy Halladay no-hits the Reds. Day 2, Tim Lincecum two-hits the Braves and C.J. Wilson does the same to the Rays (oddly, both gave up leadoff hits in the first inning; Wilson also got help from the Rangers bullpen, although both hits were his).Yesterday, Jonathan Sanchez no-hit the Braves for 5.1, and today, Derek Lowe did the same to the Giants before Cody Ross broke it up with a game-tying solo home run; Brian McCann put the Braves back on top in the bottom of the sixth with a leadoff solo homer. No-hit bids are just going like crazy this October!
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.
Been on an archive binge again, and I decided to look at my predictions and early impressions posts. First, the good. In the AL East, I predicted that the Yankees and Rays would be in the division race until the final week of the season and that one of them would be the wild card. However, I failed to predict that the other would win the division, although in all fairness, it was impossible to predict the number of injuries Boston would have and they still weren’t mathematically eliminated until Game 157, so I think I did fairly well. Only problem was the order of the bottom two in the division, but a lot of people made that error. Also, the NL East. Perfect. The Phillies were division champions, the Braves were second and were the wild card, the Marlins and Mets were almost in a dead heat for third, and the Nationals are both in last place and only picking 6th or 7th in the 2011 draft. NL Central wasn’t horrible, either. I had the Pirates as the worst team in baseball, which they were, and I had the Astros fifth and the Brewers fourth–they were actually fourth and third, but only 1 and 2 games ahead of the fifth-place team, respectively. I said the Reds would “make some noise”, and they exceeded my expectations, winning the division handily. My only real mistake was expecting the Cubs (the aforementioned 5th-place team) to be good.
Not so good: The AL Central, AL West, and NL West. The Central I called a “three-team race”, and while I did correctly pick the top three teams, it wasn’t very close at all as the division was the first to be clinched, and furthermore the team I picked to win it finished a distant third and was more or less out of contention in August. The AL West I called a “mystery”, and didn’t really say much explicitly until we got to the playoff predictions, which revealed that despite my faint praise, I had picked the Mariners to come out of that jumble. The Mariners went on to lose 101 games and set new records for offensive futility, as well as revealing that Don Wakamatsu had a case of “John Gibbons Syndrome”. Ouch. The NL West, I called a “four-team race”, making cases for the four teams in question and failing to actually pick a winner, saying that “all I’m willing to predict is that the Padres will finish in last place.” The Padres entered the final day of the season tied with the Braves for the wild card lead and just 1 game behind the Giants, whom they were playing, for the NL West title, and furthermore if they won and the Braves lost, the Pads had the tiebreaker to get the division title and relegate the Giants to wild card status. They ended up losing and the Braves won, denying them a chance to play a 163rd game (not that that went particularly well for them in 2007), but still, bad. And Arizona’s collapse last year wasn’t a fluke, as they turned in the third-worst record in the majors. Yeah, you can blame part of that on the fact that their longtime ace was out for the entire year (remember him?), but it also became obvious that their rotation had never been more than two deep and they had no bullpen. In other words, they’re the pre-Nolan Ryan-era Texas Rangers. (Ryan’s time with the Rangers as an executive, not as a player.) And when their other best pitcher got off to a bad start as well, it was a ticket to last place. The “other best pitcher” then got traded mid-season.
Also, as the “early impressions” blog suggested, the Giants, who beat out the Padres for the division, appeared to have been my choice for #4. Another conclusion that can be reached from early impressions: I said this early order for the AL West was “almost exactly counter to my expectations”, with Mariners over Angels being the only thing I had right:
Thus, my prediction would have been:
Now look at the actual final standings:
That means that, once again, only one out of a possible six relative positions was as I expected, in this case, Rangers ahead of A’s. It’s really hard to screw up that badly.
Holy. Crap. That’s all I can say right now. Much like 1917, 2010 started with a lot of no-hitters and slowed down as the season wore on, with the final regular season no-hitter being thrown in July–I joked in the end of August that we were running out of time to fit one in for the month.
By the way, I’m just now learning that MLBlogs employs censorship…and that they aren’t exactly restricting it to actual curse words. My only guess for what the starred-out word in that entry is would be “w.h.o.p.p.i.n.g”, which means “really big” and is…oh, wait, I think I understand, the first syllable is phonetically identical to an antiquated slur against some sort of ethnicity, I’m not even sure what because it’s so outdated, though the spelling is different if I’m not mistaken–no “h”.
Which, of course, brings us back to the point of our post, which is no “H”, as in the abbreviation for “hits”, as in what the Cincinnati Reds were lacking in Game 1 of the NLDS. That’s six official ones on the year, which combined with Armando Galarraga’s imperfect game would make the seven needed to tie 1991’s modern record. And the author of this latest no-hitter? No “one-hit wonder”, pardon the pun. Harry Leroy Halladay III, in his postseason debut, pitched just the second postseason no-hitter in playoff history and his second no-hitter this year, becoming the first pitcher to pull off this feat since the immortal Nolan Ryan back in 1973. (If I heard correctly, the TBS announcers forgot about Ryan, incorrectly attributing Virgil Trucks’ 1952 double as the most recent instance. The only other two besides Halladay, Ryan, and Trucks were Allie Reynolds in 1951 and, of course, Johnny Vander Meer in back-to-back starts in 1938). Also, ESPN Stats Bureau notes that Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game was in the 53rd World Series to be played, and this year’s World Series will be the 106th–as in, the 53rd postseason since Larsen’s perfecto, the only other postseason no-hitter.
The presence of Nolan Ryan in the previous paragraph also provides for a convenient segue to the other topic of note, which is his Texas Rangers. They, like the Reds, made their 21st century postseason debut today, and they picked up a win, 5-1, over the Tampa Bay Rays. Previously, the Rangers had gone to the playoffs just 3 times, in 1996, 1998, and 1999, losing to the Yankees in the ALDS each time. The 2-run second inning that started the scoring was the first multi-run postseason inning the Rangers had had since Game 4 of the 1996 Division Series (in which they led 4-0 but lost 6-4 to lose the series three games to one); in fact, it equaled their entire scoring output for the 1998 and 1999 American League Division Series combined, as they got swept both years, getting shut out in Games 1 and 3 and scoring just one run in Game 2 both times. Um…yeah, I guess the Yankees’ pitchers were that dominant back then. The Rangers have historically been a high-scoring ballclub, so for them to be held to just one run in a three-game series two years in a row is really something. Congrats on the big win, boys.
Way back on Tuesday, the number of teams who had clinched playoff spots went from 3 to 6–including going from 4 to 6 in under a minute, as Jay Bruce’s walkoff home run gave the Reds the NL Central just seconds before Lyle Overbay grounded out to Alex Rodriguez to end the Yankees’ 6-1 win over Toronto, clinching a playoff spot for the Yanks. Flash forward to the final day of the season, and…it’s still 6 teams that have clinched playoff spots, and only four that have clinched divisions, and only three know their exact seed. Pretty much the same as it was on Tuesday. The only difference is that the Twins still had a chance at being the top seed in the AL then, and now they don’t because they trail the Yankees and Rays by one game and lost the season series to both teams so regardless of which one wins the division, they wouldn’t have home field against them in the second round. (Actually, the season series against the Yanks is a moot point, because with the one game difference now they’d only have the same record as the AL East champion if both the Yankees and Rays lost, in which case the Rays would be division champions.) Actually, never mind–the Reds lost the season series to both the Giants and the Padres, so they also know that they’ll be starting the postseason on the road as the NL 3-seed. So, that’s also changed from Tuesday.
What we still don’t know: The AL East champion and wild card and the NL West champion and NL wild card. It seems like there was something wrong with that last sentence, but there wasn’t, because we do know that the AL wild card is coming from the AL East, while we don’t know which division the NL wild card is coming from. The scenarios:
The Yankees and Rays have identical records at 95-66. If the Yankees win and the Rays lose, the Yankees will have the best record in the American League and will start at home against the Rangers, while the Rays will start the playoffs in Minnesota as the AL wild card. If the Rays win or the Yankees lose, the Rays will win the AL East and the top seed in the American League and will host Texas to start the playoffs.
San Francisco is 91-70, and San Diego and Atlanta are both 90-71. (Cincinnati is also 90-71, but that’s irrelevant as they are the NL Central champion and lost the season series to both potential NL West champions.) San Francisco and San Diego are playing each other. If the Giants and Braves both win, the Giants are NL West champions and the Braves are the NL Wild Card, and as a result they will play each other in the NLDS. If the Giants and the Braves both lose, the Padres are the NL West champions by virtue of a 13-5 advantage in the season series over the NL wild card Giants, and the Padres will host the Reds to start the playoffs while the Giants travel to Philadelphia. If the Padres and Braves both lose, the Giants will be the NL West champions, and the Braves would host the Padres for a one-game playoff to determine the NL wild card, with the Braves facing the Giants in the NLDS if they win and the Padres facing the Phillies if they win. If the Padres and Braves both win, the Padres would host the Giants for a one-game playoff to determine the NL West champion, with the loser then going to Atlanta for a one-game playoff to determine the NL wild card. Oh, by the way…the current series between the Padres and Giants is in San Francisco, while the one-game playoff would be in San Diego. Furthermore, this year the NL is the league where the team with the best record gets to choose which series they want, the one that starts Wednesday or the one that starts Thursday. And they don’t have to make that choice until they know who their opponent will be. Which, if the Braves and Padres both win today, would take until Tuesday. You’ve got to figure that if the NL West runner-up wins that game, the Phillies would have to take the Wednesday start, thereby making the NL West runner-up play four games in four cities in four days. This would no doubt break the record held by, well, probably a number of teams, most recently the Phillies who stopped in Colorado on September 2 for a make-up game in between a series in Los Angeles and the start of a home stand (first series was against the Brewers). However, that was at least all in the same direction. Granted, this four-city tour would only have one trip that crossed time zones, which would make it probably less hectic than the trip the Angels made in 2005, when there was no off-day scheduled between games 4 and 5 of the ALDS and a rainout pushed Game 4 back a day. The Angels and Yankees played Game 4 in New York, then (as always) had to head to Anaheim for Game 5 the next day after the Yankees tied the series at 2-2 with the Game 4 win, and then because of the rain, Game 1 of the ALCS in Chicago was the very next day. New York to Anaheim to Chicago. Quite the trip. San Francisco to San Diego to Atlanta to Philadelphia wouldn’t quite be the same, even if it is more cities, because two of the three trips don’t involve a change in time zone
and one of them doesn’t even involve a change in state California’s a f***ing long state and San Diego is right at the southern border; it’s a pretty long distance. Not quite as long as Atlanta to Philadelphia, but over two-thirds the length (453 miles vs. 656 miles). Also, does the fact that San Francisco would need to win a Game 163 to win the NL West if they lost today make the Cincinnati-San Francisco season series also a moot point? Technically, the NL West champion would have a better record than Cincinnati by half a game if they won it in a playoff (assuming Cincy wins today). The only way the NL West champion and Cincinnati have identical records is if San Diego beats San Francisco Cincinnati wins, and Atlanta loses, leaving San Diego, San Francisco, and Cincinnati at 91-71 and Atlanta at 90-72. So, the overall draft order for next year will look like…
3. Probably Arizona. How do they determine draft order when teams in opposite leagues finish with identical records, anyway? Arizona is 1 game worse than Baltimore right now.
4. Baltimore, unless it’s Arizona
5. Kansas City, because they won the season series with Baltimore and have a 1-game edge. Season series is the tiebreaker in draft order, right?
6. Washington, because they took 2 of 3 from KC (who they’re 1 game better than) and lost 2 of 3 to Cleveland (who they’re 1 game worse than. Or should that be “whom”?)
8. and 9. The loser and winner of today’s Cubs-Astros game, respectively
11-16. Florida, the Mets, both Los Angeles teams, Oakland, and Detroit. The Tigers and A’s are one game better than the other four, and none of the teams play each other so that doesn’t help. On the AL side, Detroit and Oakland split their season series, while the Angels were 10-8 against Oakland and 4-6 against Detroit. (Would a three-way tie then see Oakland pick first, then Los Angeles and then Detroit?) The NL is much clearer, as Los Angeles lost the season series to both Florida and New York and Florida handily took the series against New York. In interleague, Detroit lost 2 of 3 to both the Mets and the Dodgers and didn’t play the Marlins; the Angels took 5 of 6 from the Dodgers and didn’t play the Mets or Marlins, and the A’s didn’t play any of those three teams. So it’s anyone’s guess who ends up where.
17. Most likely Colorado, who are one game worse than Toronto
18. Most likely Toronto, but they were swept by Colorado in interleague so they could move up a spot
19. St. Louis, because they took 2 of 3 from Toronto
20. Chicago (AL)…probably.
21. Boston, unless they lose and the White Sox win, because the White Sox were 6-1 against them.
22-26. San Francisco, San Diego, Cincinnati, Texas, and Atlanta. As mentioned before, Cincy, Atlanta, and San Diego have identical records, with San Francisco one game better. Texas has the same record as Cincinnati/Atlanta/San Diego. However, it is quite obvious that the Gia
nts can end up in the #22 slot, because if they miss the playoffs entirely they will have to have lost today’s game, the one-game playoff against the Padres for the division, and the one-game playoff against the Braves for the wild card, at which point they’d be 91-73 and would have the worst record of the five even if Texas and/or Cincinnati lost today (90-72=.556; 91-73=.555) Funny how that works out, isn’t it? I don’t think Cincinnati can fall to #26, though, because they lost the season series with all three of the other NL teams. At best (worst?) they could be #25, if they’re the only one of the four 90-71 teams to win today (or possibly if Texas won as well–the Rangers didn’t play any of those four teams in interleague).
28. The AL Wild Card
29. The AL East Champion
It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything, but there’s one thing that can always be counted on to bring me back: insects. This time, it was mayflies, infesting Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. The short-lived bugs annoyed everyone. Bugs have been…quite prolific lately, haven’t they? First there was the infamous “midge game”, then the BEES!, and now this.
Also…vote. Yes, that’s me there in the first comment. I seem to be the only one, which is odd because I was referred to that blog by no less than Jayson frikkin’ Stark.
Absolutely loved the story that boy GM Jon Daniels had to put gold highlights in his hair as the result of a bet with shortstop Elvis Andrus–thanks to the Rangers’ winning streak reaching double digits. It’s hardly the first performance-related dye job–think Lou Piniella and the 70-91 fourth-place 2004 Devil Rays, the first time Tampa had ever finished out of last place. (Contrast the current Rays, who considered last year’s 84-78 performance a disappointment.) Still, funny stuff.
On the subject of old Devil Rays vs. new Rays, we’re now up to three no-hitters thrown against the mighty Rays in under 2
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½ years of existence, whereas the cellar-dwelling D-Rays were no-hit just once in their 10 years of pitiful existence. At least this one wasn’t a perfect game–far from it, with 10 baserunners on 8 walks, one hit batsman, and one error. It took a ******** 149 pitches for former Devil Ray (and modern-era Ray) Edwin Jackson to finish the game, which is nothing to old-time pitchers but would normally get current managers shot. If it weren’t for the no-hitter, there’s no way he’d have been allowed to last that long. Remarkably, that isn’t even the record for walks in a no-hitter this century–A.J. Burnett had 9 walks in his 2003 no-hitter, and amazingly didn’t even show up on SportsCenter’s list of highest pitch totals in a no-hitter since 1988 (when pitch counts were first recorded.)
But regardless, here we are, not even halfway through the season, and we officially have four (and unofficially, five) no-hitters, two (three) of which were perfect games. Not even the original “Year of the Pitcher” could claim that many that quickly–in fact, 1968 only had five no-hitters total, two of them on back-to-back days (at the same park with the same pair of teams, but for opposite sides) in September. The last season to even have four (this year’s official total) was 1991, when a total of 7 no-hitters were thrown–but five of those were in July or later. (Also, two were combined no-hitters). The last time four or more no-hitters were thrown by the end of June? You’ll have to go all the way back to the dead-ball era and 1917, when Eddie Cicotte of the White Sox no-hit the Browns on April 14, George Mogridge of the Yankees no-hit the Red Sox April 24, Fred Toney of the Reds pitched a 10-inning no-hitter against the Cubs on May 2 (formerly known as the “double no-hitter” as the Reds were also held hitless through nine innings against the Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn before finally breaking through in the 10th), the White Sox were held hitless on back-to-back days by Ernie Koob and Bob Groom of the Browns May 5-6 (not back-to-back games, though; the May 6 no-hitter was game 2 of a doubleheader), and Ernie Shore of the Red Sox had nine innings of perfect relief against the Senators after Babe Ruth got ejected for arguing balls and strikes after issuing a walk to the first batter of the game–long credited as a perfect game for Shore (especially as the leadoff walk was caught stealing, making it a 27-batter game in which one pitcher recorded all 27 outs and did not allow a baserunner) but later changed to a regular no-hitter, the first combined no-hitter in MLB history–on June 23. 6 no-hitters (and, by the definition of the time, seven), all before the end of June. But how many total no-hitters were there in 1917? Just the six. No team was held hitless for the rest of the year after Shore’s perfect relief stint. The modern record? That would be the 7 in 1991 (though the all-time record is 8, way back in 1884). We could be approaching a historic season, folks. The Year of the Pitcher II is officially on.
Other note: Edwin Jackson is the first NL pitcher to have a complete-game no-hitter against an AL team. It’s the fifth no-hitter between teams from opposite leagues, following Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game in 1956, David Cone’s perfect game in 1999, the Houston Astros’ combined no-hitter in 2003, and Justin Verlander’s no-hitter in 2007.
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.
Even when the races are dull, they’re interesting. This year marks the third straight year that a one-game playoff will be required after 7 straight years without one. While the first half of the decade had a few tight races as well–the 2003 NL wild card was a multi-team scrum, IIRC, that the eventual World Champion Marlins were considered a long shot to come out of on top, and if I remember correctly, the Cubs, who ended up winning their division, were leading that race for much of the final weeks; no division in the NL was won by more than 2 games in 2001, with the wild card having the same record as their division’s champion–but the second half of the decade has produced some real memorable ones. There’s 2005, where with three days remaining, the White Sox clinched their division in the strangest way possible, holding a 3-game lead over Cleveland, who they were to play in the final three, while Cleveland was merely tied for the wild card lead; the White Sox were assured a playoff spot because the team Cleveland was tied with, Boston, was also playing their division leader, the Yankees, and were only one game back, so were they to sweep, they’d be outright division champions and Chicago and Cleveland would still both be in the playoffs were Cleveland to sweep. The NL wild card also came down to the final day that year. Then there was 2006, and the Twins’ unlikely division championship. Prior to the final weekend of the season, the Twins had led the division for all of about maybe six hours, when Detroit lost a day game to drop into a virtual tie, percentage points behind; Minnesota lost that night. By the time the Twins tied it up with three days remaining, both teams had already clinched playoff spots, so the Twins, lacking the tiebreaker, still weren’t really in first place. Minnesota lost the first two and won the third; Detroit got swept in rather painstaking fashion, by the last-place Royals, who incidentally lost the #1 pick in the draft as a result, finishing 1 game better than the Devil Rays. Over on the National League side, 2006 was the year of Houston’s mad dash that came up short. With 12 days remaining, the Cardinals seemed to have the NL Central locked up, holding a 7 game lead over second place Cincinnati. They then went on a 7-game losing streak that included a sweep at the hands of the Astros, and so 9 days later, the Reds were still in it, 2.5 back, but now in third place, with the Astros a mere half game behind the Cardinals. Had that run been completed, all of this other “history-making”, with the Mets-Phillies in ’07 and Twins-Tigers this year, would have been moot–8.5 games in 12 days. Alas, it was not meant to be. (Another division was decided by a tiebreaker that year, the Padres over the wild-card Dodgers). 2007, of course, saw the Mets cough up the NL East and the Rockies win 13 of 14 to force a one-game tiebreaker for the wild-card, but what was forgotten in all of that was that had the Rockies won the one game they lost in that span, there would still have been a tiebreaker–between the Diamondbacks, the team that beat them and that won the division, and the Padres. The race was that close. Compared to all of that, the past two years have been relatively mundane. Hell, this year, almost every race was decided with nearly a week to spare–and yet, we still have a one-game playoff.
The title, by the way, was Detroit manager Jim Leyland’s response when asked if he was concerned about Rick Porcello starting such an important game at such a young age.
Interesting week in baseball; I think the “three-ring circus” metaphor applies. The third ring: Mark Buehrle. Coming off of a perfect game (and 28 consecutive batters retired dating back to the final one of his previous start), Buehrle retired the first 17 batters he faced to break the record of 41 straight shared by former San Francisco Giant Jim Barr and current Buehrle teammate Bobby Jenks before giving up a two-out walk. One batter later, he lost the no-hitter, and one batter after that, he lost the shutout and the Sox’ recently-earned 1-0 lead. He then proceeded to retire only one of the five batters he faced in the seventh inning and got charged with 5 runs, the last scoring as an inherited runner after he’d been relieved, and the loss. When it’s over, it’s really over. The second ring: trades. The Pirates continue to sell, sending Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to the Mariners for Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, and three minor leaguers, then swapping Freddy Sanchez straight-up for a minor leaguer from the Giants, and finally shipping John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs for three minor leaguers. Weirdest of all, they sent a Double-A pitcher to Toronto for future considerations. The Mariners, however, are not quite so sure they are buyers, sending Jarrod Washburn to Detroit for
two minor league pitchers a minor leaguer and a rookie pitcher–but then again, Washburn’s trade value is at its peak, as he’s having a career year. The Dodgers acquire George Sherrill from the O’s for two minor leaguers and send Claudio Vargas to the Brewers for one minor leaguer, while Oakland also continues to sell, sending Orlando Cabrera to the Twins for a minor leaguer. The big deal, of course, is Cliff Lee being sent to the Phillies along with Ben Francisco in exchange for four minor leaguers. And the center ring: PEDs. Two more of the 104 names from 2003 leak out–then-teammates Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Papi releases a statement that he was “blindsided” and that he’ll find out what it is he’s been accused of taking, and when he does, he’ll share it with the team and the public, saying he wants to be open and not make excuses. Um…right. Sounds kind of like an excuse to me. Other members of the 2003 Red Sox weighed in as well. Nomar Garciaparra, in Boston as a member of the visiting A’s, dropped the bombshell that because players were led to believe there would be no names attached to the tests, only numbers, some players opted to not take the test and just be put down as positive so as to drive up the number towards the mandatory 5% because they wanted testing. Excuse me for a moment, news just broke that Victor Martinez has been traded to the Boston Red Sox for Justin Masterson and two Single-A pitchers. Back to the PED issue, Garciaparra also said that one team, the Chicago White Sox, he thinks there were like 7 or 8 guys who did that. Meanwhile, completely unprompted, Bronson Arroyo said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if he was one of the 104, saying that he took the steroid precursor androstenedione (which wasn’t banned at the time) but stopped after he’d heard rumors that due to lax production standards, some of it might be laced with steroids, as well as taking amphetamines, which were not banned until 2006. This is what is generally known as “damage control”–preemptive action in case something unsavory comes out. Arroyo spent most of the 2003 season with the Red Sox’ Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket (where he pitched a perfect game) rather than with the major league club, so this all definitely seems suspect, and introducing the idea of the then-legal andro that may have been tainted, well, it’s creating an excuse before there’s even anything to be making an excuse for! And yet, it’s still the first time I can remember a player admitting using anything without being prompted by a news story about their drug use breaking since Jose Canseco himself. Speaking of Canseco, he now says that a member of the Hall of Fame used, but refuses to say who it is. Trying to drum up publicity for a third book, perhaps?
Update: Red Sox making trade moves again! I had a feeling when the Red Sox got Adam LaRoche that he might not be staying in Boston long, and sure enough, rumor has it that he’ll be heading back to his former team, the Atlanta Braves, straight-up for Casey Kotchman.
Another Update: Scott Rolen from Blue Jays to Reds; no details yet. Wait, first detail is that Rolen has to waive a no-trade clause in order to make it happen.
Next update: Joe Beimel from Nats to Rockies for two minor leaguers; Jerry Hairston Jr. from Reds to Yankees for a minor leaguer. Also missed from previous days: Josh Anderson from Tigers to Royals for cash; Brian Anderson for Mark Kotsay straight-up; Ryan Garko from Indians to Giants for a minor leaguer.
Post-deadline news break number 1: Nick Johnson goes from Washington to Florida for a minor-league LHP.
Post-deadline news break number 2: Jake Peavy will be going to the White Sox, after all. Chicago tried to make this deal before and failed to convince Peavy to waive his no-trade clause, but this time, he apparently decided to relent. Clayton Richard, who was supposed to start for the White Sox tonight, was among the group that Chicago sent to San Diego, along with three minor leaguers, two of which have major league experience. Also, details are coming in on the Rolen deal, and Edwin Encarnacion is among the players Toronto will receive in return. Sounds like the trades have returned to the center ring, after all, even with Halladay still a Blue Jay.