There have been an awful lot of games going deep into the night lately. First, there was last week’s 1-0, 16-inning classic between the Rays and Red Sox. Then there was Monday’s Royals-Red Sox game, delayed at the start by rain and then extended to 14 innings, the last few somewhat comical (but painful, for a Sox fan.) But last night’s Braves-Pirates epic took the cake. The Pirates scored twice in the first and once in the second, and Atlanta tied it up at 3-3 in the bottom of the third…and then neither team scored until the 19th, at which point all chaos broke loose. With one out and runners on second and third in the bottom of the nineteenth, Scott Proctor hit a grounder to third which was easily handled and thrown to home plate in plenty of time to nail the runner. Proctor actually fell down exiting the batter’s box, and Pirates pitcher Daniel McCutchen tried to tell his catcher to throw to first for the inning-ending double play (something that should’ve been impossible if not for Proctor tripping)…only to find that the runner from third, Julio Lugo, was called safe. I’m sorry, but there’s no way Lugo was safe. The reaction to this play has been swift and furious all across the internet.
On the flip side, Rangers 20, Twins 6. The Rangers become just the third team to score at least 3 runs in each of the first five innings. Michael Cuddyer pitched the eighth inning for the Twins, loading the bases but not allowing a run. This was truly hilarious to watch unfolding.
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.
Whoa. They said that “many” other players have hit 3 triples in a game in the modern era, but I have to figure it’s still fairly rare. Consider this: 7 times (5 in the AL, 2 in the NL), a league triples champion had fewer than 10 triples total. Let’s see if I can find an answer as to how often it’s happened…This archived article shows all of the instances since 1900, but it was written in 1974. From 1900 through 1973, it happened 38 times–two players did it twice and 34 others did it once–plus once, amazingly, in a game that was later wiped out because it was called due to rain before the requisite 5 innings were played. There are some pretty impressive names on that list–Nap Lajoie, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and the one who had his three-triple night wiped out by rain was Lou Gehrig. A more complete article is here, and Span’s 3-triple game was the 46th since 1900. Wow.
In a truly bizarre turn of events, the Twins allowed four home runs to the Tigers today and only scored five runs…and won, 5-4. Is that a record–most runs scored when only scoring via solo homers? Games in which one team scores all of its runs on solo homers are fairly rare, and most of them are games with only one total run. (And there have been a few occasions where a solo home run broke up a no-hitter–I can remember at least one occurrence where a solo home run was the only hit in a 1-0 win.) …Just odd. And damn, am I good at getting distracted.
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.
We’re coming into the final stages. The Yankees are on the edge of locking up a playoff spot, which could happen as early as today should they win and the Rangers lose. Also almost ready: the first “partial position lock”, a condition where a team cannot catch the team immediately in front of them in the division standings. A full position lock, of course, is when a team knows exactly where they will place in the division. Wait…actually, there’s already been a partial position lock, over in the NL East, between the third-place Braves and the fourth-place Mets. That appears to have happened…after the Mets lost to the Braves on Thursday, actually, which was the Mets’ 84th loss, while the Marlins and Braves both had 78 wins and the season series against the Mets already in hand. There is a possible full position lock today (two, actually)–if the Mets beat the Nats, it will lock the Nats into 5th place and the Mets into 4th. Other potential partial position locks: A Giants win or a Padres loss will drive a lock between them (SF wins + SD losses currently totals 162, but the Padres lead the season series 9-6), and, amazingly, a Red Sox win and a Rays loss knocks the Rays out of the wild card race and guarantees the Red Sox at least second place in the AL East. (Chicago can’t lock up third or better yet, even with a win and a Cleveland loss, because their lead in the season series is only 8-7.)
At the beginning of the month, the Tigers looked like a hot team, someone you wouldn’t want to face in the playoffs. Now? They’re looking like they might not even make it! It’s starting to look like it will be 2004 redux in the American League–Yankees over Twins, Red Sox over Angels, Red Sox over Yankees. (I may be a tad biased on that ALCS prediction, but the Red Sox do hold the advantage in the season series, 9-6.) The Tigers have gone ice cold and are just 2 games ahead of the Twins. It looks like an interesting postseason is coming up.