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.
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.
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.
To greet us, we have Toronto-Texas. Last night was a wild game, Toronto scoring the first 11 runs of the game and then letting the lead dwindle to a lone run before a 7-run ninth restored the blowout, 18-10 the final. So, what makes this the stretch run? Is it the roster expansion? The fact that anyone not on a team’s roster yet is ineligible for the postseason with that team? Nope, it’s…wait…by my definition, it’s not the stretch run yet. In my opinion, the stretch run begins with the first elimination: when the first bottom-of-the-barrel team becomes mathematically ineligible to take either their division or the wild card. Granted, in all likelihood, if you mashed enough teams together, the Nationals probably have been eliminated from the NL Wild Card race, but this can’t be confirmed, and they haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the division race quite yet. It will take another loss by the Nats themselves to do it outright tonight due to the Braves and Marlins playing each other; the schedule-based projection would need two of the top three or three of the top four to win against outside competition to do it without a Nats loss. However, with the Nats on the West Coast, even if they do lose, they may not get the dubious distinction of first elimination: the Yankees play Baltimore with a chance to knock them out of the AL East race. Yes, the status of baseball in the Beltway is sad. Meanwhile, the Pirates are just five losses away from their record-breaking 17th straight losing season. With the NL West looking like the hottest race around (the Dodgers added Jon Garland and Jim Thome, while the Rockies picked up Jose Contreras and the Giants added Brad Penny), it’s going to be an interesting September.
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.
Ah, now this is the type of night Passed Ball likes to see. Let’s start in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates faced the Brewers, who had won 17 straight against them. Leading 7-2, the Bucs oddly allow reliever Jeff Karstens to bat in the eighth inning (wait, the Pirates moved him to the bullpen? Are they assuming that this was a fluke?) This is important because in his last appearance against the Brewers, Karstens hit Ryan Braun with a pitch–and the Brewers got their revenge, plunking him to start a bench-clearing brawl. Karstens and the Pirates would have the last laugh, however, as the former came around to score to extend the lead to 8-2 and the Bucs broke the losing streak with an 8-5 win. On to our nation’s capital, where it was the same old story–Washington loses again, 6-2 to the Mets, dropping to 26-66. They’re 54 losses away from tying the major league record with 70 games left to play. Just saying. Anyway, a real wild one in Oakland, where the visiting Twins got off to a 12-2 lead after 2.5 innings. Let it be noted that heavy early scoring doesn’t always lead to victory–just ask the Rangers, who in 2006 were 0-2 when scoring their tenth run of the game in the third inning. (If memory serves me correctly, they didn’t actually lead by ten in either of those games, leading 10-1 in the first of those two and 12-4 in the second). Sure enough, the A’s roared back to get within 12-7 after 4 innings, taking a 14-13 lead with a 7-run 7th and holding on with a disputed third out call in the top of the ninth. (Justin Morneau was quite clearly safe with the tying run, but replays are not allowed on those types of calls, so the Twins were robbed.) The Rays almost put on a smaller rally, after the White Sox had a 4-1 lead after 3. Bobby Jenks, summoned in the ninth to protect a 4-3 lead, was less than perfect. After striking out the first two batters he faced, he gave up a walk, a single, and another walk and went to a 3-ball count on Jason Bartlett before finally striking him out to end the threat. All I can say, Bobby, is what is the deal with that beard??? Seriously, does he bleach it or something? Back to the National League, where aside from the Nationals, the NL East had a stellar night, the Braves scoring heavily in the late innings to top the Giants 11-3, the Phillies applying steady pressure in a 10-1 thrashing of the Cubs, and the Marlins nipping the Padres 3-2. Of note is that Giants loss, for it opens the door for…the Colorado Rockies! The Rockies, who had bottomed out at 20-32 following a June 3 loss to Houston and had a worse record than any team other than the Nationals, climbed to 51-42 with their 10-6 win over Arizona yesterday, giving them the lead in the NL Wild Card race. From second-worst in the majors to second-place in the division (and with a better record than one of the other two division leaders, at that) in just 47 days, a 31-10 run. This is much greater than their late run in 2007. This is incredible. And with more than two months remaining in the season, they have a chance to even take the division, now sitting just 8 back of the dominant Dodgers, winners again last night thanks to homers by Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier. The LA area’s other team got rained out in Kansas City; Angels and Royals will play a doubleheader today.
Pardon my language, but as soon as I saw USA Today‘s wrap-up of Game 3 of the ALDS between the Angels and Red Sox, my only thought was, “YOU F***ING MORON!” Here’s the quote that fueled this outburst: “Napoli’s fifth-inning homer, ending a 68-inning homerless streak by the Angels in the postseason, came on Beckett’s 96th of 106 pitches and gave Los Angeles a 4-3 lead.” Uh…no. First off, in the very first paragraph, they established that Napoli homered twice and singled and scored on Erick Aybar’s single in the twelfth, and that the final score was 5-4. Hence, if his homer gave them a 4-3 lead, that was the Angels’last run of regulation–and since the extra-inning run wasn’t scored on one of his homers, it follows that that was his second homer. They even say as much in the final paragraph, noting that the Angels bounced back to tie the score at 3 on a two-out, two-run homer by Napoli in the top of the third after Jacoby Ellsbury hit the first three-run single in postseason history. So quite obviously, his fifth-inning home run didn’t end a 68-inning postseason homerless streak by the Angels since he himself homered just two innings earlier. The Angels ended an 11-game postseason losing streak to Boston that dated back to Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS and a
n eight- nine-game overall postseason losing streak that dated back to Game 3 2 of the 2005 ALCS against the Chicago White Sox, whom I might add are also still alive following a 5-3 win. Nine, by the way, is still the longest active postseason losing streak, shared by the Chicago Cubs (from Game 5 of the 2003 NLCS) and Texas Rangers (from Game 2 of the 1996 ALDS, other appearances were 1998 and 1999.) The longest historical postseason losing streak? To my best knowledge, it’s 13 games, set, not surprisingly, by the Boston Red Sox, starting with the infamous Buckner game in the 1986 World Series and carrying on through ALCS sweeps at the hands of the A’s in 1988 and 1990 and an ALDS sweep by the Native Americans Indians in 1995. The Phillies finished off the Brewers, setting up a Phillies-Dodgers NLCS for the fourth time in history, still the second-most frequent matchup (no other pairing has met more than twice.) The one that has occurred more? You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. For one thing, neither of them has been terribly good in recent years–at all. For another, they’re currently in the same division, and are so close to one another that it seems inconceivable that they ever would’ve been in separate divisions. Yes, that’s right…two of the five teams with the longest active postseason droughts, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds, have met in the NLCS 5 times, tied for the third most common postseason opponents with two other pairings. The only other pair in the top five that doesn’t involve the Yankees? The Astros and Braves, who in the short history of the NLDS have already met in that round five times. The Yankees, of course, had dynasties in the twenties, thirties, and then of course here was this stretch of 15 pennants in 18 years from 1947 to 1964. So, naturally, they’ve seen most of the original eight NL teams in the postseason time after time. In fact, “Subway Series” must’ve been pretty common, as the top two are Yankees-Dodgers (11) and Yankees-Giants (7). (Yes, some of the Yankees-Dodgers series and one of the Yankees-Giants series came after the two NL teams relocated to the West Coast, but…) Also clocking in at five are the Yanks and Cardinals. Oddly enough, even though Oakland (formerly Philadelphia) and Boston were the most common foils for Yankee pennants in the early days of baseball, their most common postseason foes are…each other, four times. (Tied for most common, actually; the A’s have met the Giants in the World Series four times, while the Red Sox have met the Indians and Angels three times apiece in the ALDS and once apiece in the ALCS.)