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.
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
AS cheesy as MLB’s slogan may be, you have to admit that October is where legends are born. All together now…
Branca throws. There’s a long drive, it’s gonna be, I believe. … The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits it into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant! And they’re going crazy! Ohhhhh-oh!! (pause for crowd noise) I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! …The Giants win by a score of 5 to 4… and they’re pickin’ Bobby Thomson up… and they’re carryin’ him off the field!
Bobby Thomson, whose immortal “Shot Heard Round the World” clinched the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants in the deciding game of a best-of-three playoff with the Brooklyn Dodgers, passed away on Monday at the age of 86. Meanwhile, this year’s Giants can only hope they can find similar success. Last night’s loss to Philadelphia puts them 1 game behind the Phillies in the wild card race, while the Padres won again to take a 5-game lead in the NL West. It’s funny, isn’t it? The NL West was supposed to be one of the most tightly contested divisions, and the Padres–the one team no one thought stood a chance–have the second-largest division lead. It seems to be like that all around. The AL West was supposed to be anyone’s to win with the long-dominant Angels having fallen back to earth and the Mariners having improved so much in the offseason, but the M’s faltered and the Rangers have run away with it. The AL Central, which has gone to a 1-game playoff each of the past two years, was supposed to be a three-team race between Detroit, Chicago, and Minnesota, and for awhile it was. Then Detroit fell apart, and currently the Twins have a 4-game lead, the third-largest. Then again, four games isn’t really that much, and it wasn’t even a week ago that the Twins and White Sox were tied after splitting the first two games of a three-game series. The Twins took the rubber game on Thursday, swept a three-game series over the weekend while Chicago lost two of three, then took game one of another three-game series with the White Sox last night. This being the AL Central, nobody’s really out of it until they’re mathematically out of it. Speaking of which…I haven’t been charting the season since early May. I fell behind on it while preparing for finals and never caught up. I keep meaning to, but the longer I put it off, the more daunting a task it becomes…
Elsewhere in baseball, former starter Hisanori Takahashi has been named the Mets’ new closer. I’m sure there’s something stupid to say here; I’m just not sure what it is. Also, this. Depending on how you look at it, this makes my job either a lot easier or a lot harder.
Some follow-ups on a couple of entries, one very recent, the other not so much. My new anti-virus program seems to be working fine, as I found that its automatic scan had caught a few things when I came back to the computer to write that…the infestation continues. This time, the site is Angel Stadium of Anaheim, and the nest seems to be in the stands this time (located on the underside of an upper deck), so there’s no game delay. NESN color analyst Jerry Remy (a former Angel as well as a former Red Sox) pointed out that the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate is the Salt Lake City Bees and joked that they called up the Triple-A club. Meanwhile, I get to make the joke I would’ve made back then had I known. Also, it turns out Matt Garza was an appropriate choice for the Rays’ first no-hitter. (Yeah, I’ve been doing an archive binge. Still wondering what a “fielder’s choice to center” is.)
After a period of being consigned to the house computer since coming home from college, I finally got my laptop set up with internet access again on Monday, and right away, I was battling with an annoying virus. The anti-virus program kept freezing up before it could finish its task, but the virus seems to have disappeared so I’m not going to keep up the fight. While waiting out the virus scans, however, I happened to check in on the games, and found that ESPN.com had “featured” three games, one of which hadn’t even started and all three of which involved teams from a certain division–the AL East. The Yankees-Indians game was an obvious one, as A-Rod is still sitting on 599. (It’s not his only “X99”, either–he’s got 299 career stolen bases, putting him one away from becoming the 7th member of the 300-300 club. In order by homers, Barry Bonds, 762/514; Willie Mays, 660/338; Andre Dawson, 438/314; Bobby Bonds, 332/461; Reggie Sanders, 305/304; and Steve Finley, 304/320. The all-time stolen base leader, Rickey Henderson, fell just three homers short. I found this out because YES offered “who are the only three players with 400 HR and 300 SB?” as a trivia question on Sunday, the day Dawson was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.) The Red Sox-Angels game, which hadn’t even started, was somewhat of a mystery–maybe it was for Lackey’s return to Anaheim? (Nope, that wasn’t until Tuesday; Monday was Dan Haren’s first start with the Angels. They did the same thing for Cliff Lee’s first start with the Rangers, which also went poorly, though without the injury.) But the Rays-Tigers game…I opened up the box score to find a double-no-hitter in progress in the bottom of the sixth, the second time this year a game had been hitless on both sides that late in the game. (That one got a featured game tag, too, despite neither side getting the no-hitter.) Max Scherzer was unable to hold onto their no-hitter as Matt Joyce hit a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the sixth (two walks and a catcher’s interference having loaded the bases), but Matt Garza became the fifth pitcher of the year to complete a no-hitter, the first in Rays history. (The next morning, one of the ESPN people cracked that it was the second time this year the Tigers had a no-hitter broken up by a guy named Joyce.) With the Rays joining the Rockies as teams earning their first no-hitters this season, only the Padres and the Mets are without no-hitters in their franchises’ histories. Also, an odd note: the Rays acquired Matt Joyce from the Tigers prior to the 2009 season in a trade for Edwin Jackson. After one year, the Tigers traded Jackson to Arizona for…Max Scherzer, whose no-hitter Joyce broke up. And then Jackson went and no-hit the Rays as a Diamondback earlier this year. (On that note, today’s Phillies-Diamondbacks game matches Jackson against Roy Halladay–no-hitter versus perfect game. Incredible.) With the trading deadline not yet upon us, we stand just two no-hitters shy of tying the modern record for a season–and it would be one away if not for Jim Joyce’s bad call. Bring it on.
Even retired, Kevin Millar makes the game of baseball more amusing. Last year he was with the Blue Jays, and they brought up a pitcher from the minors named Mark Rzepczynski, one of those great unpronounceable names you see occasionally in sports. (For the record, it’s pronounced zep-CHIN-skee.) Asked on the radio how that name was pronounced, he replied, “We just call him ‘Ski’.” However, with Rzepczynski making his first start of the year, Millar, now working for MLB Network, revealed that he and Bryan Butterfield gave the pitcher a different nickname: Splamitovich. Which Rzepczynski now has on his glove. Kevin, man, I love you. Don’t ever disappear from the spotlight.
On another note, yesterday looked like an anomaly for the Year of The Pitcher II. 47 home runs were hit yesterday, including 3 by Adam Dunn, two each by Casey Kotchman, Martin Prado, and Buster Posey, and an inside-the-park homer by Jose Bautista, whose 22 homers lead the majors. The only game without a home run was the Angels-White Sox game. But back to Bautista: Where’s all of this power coming from? Bautista never had more than 16 home runs in a year prior to this year, and suddenly he’s the biggest bomber in the league. Do you remember what we used to assume when players set new career highs for home runs by the end of May? Yeah, exactly–“Must be juicing.” (Okay, so Bautista was only tied for his career high at the end of May–and, of course, my example had already set a new career high by the end of April. Still valid.) I want to believe that the game is really completely clean now, but…when there are still players putting up anomalous numbers like this, I can’t be sure.
Of course, it could just be that Bautista is having a breakout season. The aforementioned Brian Roberts had only played more than 100 games in a season twice prior to 2005, when he set a new career high for home runs by the end of April, but he tailed off and ended that season with fewer than 20 home runs, and while it’s still a career high, he has reached double digits three more times. The performances you really have to worry about are when players can’t replicate them afterwards–think Brady Anderson, whose only season with at least 25 home runs was 1996, when he hit 50. Only time will tell which is the case for Bautista.
Final note: The Cardinals blew a five-run lead to the Rockies, their first time blowing leads of at least 5 runs in back-to-back games since 1930. Chris Iannetta hit a walkoff home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth off of Evan MacLane, who was making his major league debut and now currently has a career opponent’s slugging percentage of 4.000 (not that they keep track of these things) and an infinite ERA (1 earned run in 0 IP) as well as an 0-1 record. Not the best start.
Okay, let’s just put it out there: There was another perfect game on Saturday. That’s two in the same month–again, hasn’t happened since 1880–and three within a one-year span, which is unprecedented. Is 2010 going to be the next 1968?
So, about the pitcher who threw the perfect game: Roy Halladay. Not exactly a nobody. Anyway, Halladay’s Phillies were supposed to have a series at Toronto this year–Halladay’s old team. They’ll still be playing, but…the series has been moved to Philly due to the G20 Summit taking place in Toronto that weekend, not too far from the Rogers Centre. Only it’s still going to count as Toronto home games, with the Jays batting in the bottom of the innings and the DH will be used. That’s great and all, but…it’s still Philadelphia. You can call whoever you want the home team, but the fans are still going to be pro-Phillies, essentially giving them 84 home dates. That’s an unfair advantage, regardless of how you slice it. It’s not as severe as it would be in the NFL (where the brevity of the season magnifies every game) or the NBA (where it has been proven that home court is a larger advantage than in other sports), but every game counts in the end. Also, that means three extra chances to sell merchandise, concessions, etcetera. (By the way, that’s a nice ballpark they have there. I went to the first game of the Boston-Philly series, a 5-1 Philadelphia win. It was my second game of the week–I also attended the Yankee-Red Sox game the previous Tuesday. It was a miserable night, and with the prospect of an upcoming game at Citizens Bank Ballpark with “Hall of Fame Club” seats and my stomach starting to hurt, sticking around New Yankee Stadium on a cold, wet night while the Red Sox were being trampled was not so appealing,and we left in the bottom of the fifth inning, getting to our car right as Beckett was leaving with the injury. Wouldn’t you know it, they came back to win that one.)
And amidst the perfect game, Saturday was also a day for…injuries. Rough day at the Stadium, where Indians starter David Huff took a line drive to the head and a Yankee reliever also left with an injury, and both bullpens collapsed in a game that ended 13-11 Tribe, each team with an inning of at least 6 runs, but that was nothing compared to the carnage in Anaheim. Torii Hunter left the game after taking a pitch to the hand, and Kendry Morales broke his leg celebrating a walkoff grand slam in the Angels’ 5-1 10-inning victory over Seattle. Yes, celebrating. Jumped on home plate to end his trot and, well…yeah, let’s just forget this ever happened. I know the Angels are wishing they could…