Seeing as how this is their 49th trip to the postseason, it should come as little surprise that there are only six franchises (besides themselves) that the Yankees have never played in the postseason–if, of course, you’re not surprised that there are even that many. Recent history, however, suggests that they’ll soon be seeing one of those six; namely, the Tampa Bay Rays.
I’m sure you all know that only one team has forced a Game 7 after trailing a best-of-7 series 3 games to 0, and that that team, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, won Game 7. But what about teams that have rallied from a 2-0 hole to force Game 5 in a best-of-5 series, such as the Rays have done this year? The Rays are the eleventh such team. The first four, interestingly enough, all involved strike-shortened seasons. In 1972, a very brief strike took out the first week or so of the season, and because it was so little (or should that be “despite the fact that it was so little”?), it was decided that they’d just forget about the games that were missed, and if teams didn’t all play the same number of games, then so be it. Some teams played as few as 153 games, others as many as 156. Stupidly, this actually had an effect on the postseason, as Detroit ended up winning the AL East by just half a game. Once there, the Tigers fell into an 0-2 hole against Oakland, only to rally back to force Game 5. They lost. The next strike, of course, was 1981, and unlike the brief strike in 1972 or the one that spanned the 1994 and 1995 seasons, the ’81 strike was in the middle of the season. This led to a “split season” format similar to what they use in the minor leagues, culminating in the first ever LDS, albeit in a more literal sense as these teams were actually playing for the title of Division Champion. The Expos, Astros, Yankees, and Athletics all jumped out to 2-0 leads, but only the A’s finished the sweep, and on October 11, three Game 5s were played. New York and Montreal managed to turn back their opponents, the Brewers and Phillies respectively, but the Astros weren’t so lucky, losing to the Dodgers. It was this last one that started a trend. The remaining six teams to force Game 5 after trailing 2-0–the 1982 Brewers, 1984 Padres, 1995 Mariners, 1999 Red Sox, 2001 Yankees, and 2003 Red Sox–all won Game 5. Don’t be surprised if the Rays win tonight.
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.
Remember this game? I’m sure you do. It was Dice-K’s Fenway Park debut, so ESPN was televising it nationally. And King Felix stole the show and used it as a platform to announce his own arrival on the AL pitching scene. Even I was disappointed when J.D. Drew broke up the no-hitter–although with the low score, I immediately started thinking about how the Sox could still win once it happened. Last night, it looked like King Felix was finally going to get that no-hitter. But…I’m seriously sensing a pattern here. Seriously, note to all AL teams: Stop allowing Nelson Cruz to lead off innings. It never ends well for you. Congrats to King Felix on another great pitching performance, but it looks like the Year of the Pitcher II has finally run out of magic. Did you realize that August was the first calendar month this year without a no-hitter? And September’s half-over with none so far as well.
Elsewhere, Manny Ramirez finally hit another home run, his first XBH and first RBI in a White Sox uniform. The only question is, is this really a White Sox uniform? Ladies and gentlemen, your Chicago Green Sox!
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.
As I write this, the Yankees-Royals game has just gone to rain delay with a 1-0 count on Robinson Canó, batting with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. The Yankees lead 4-0, so it’s an official game. A-Rod bats right ahead of Canó in the lineup, and he struck out looking in his last at-bat, still sitting on 599 home runs. Meanwhile, Canó is 2 for 2 so far tonight and has brought his career hits total to 998, meaning it’s entirely possible that the Yankees could see milestones in back-to-back at-bats. Crazy.
Also crazy were yesterday’s games. In the afternoon, the Phillies 1-hit the Cardinals for 11 innings in St. Louis. The only other time a home team was held to one hit in a game of at least 11 innings? The infamous “greatest game ever pitched”–Harvey Haddix’s 12 perfect innings followed by losing the game in the bottom of the thirteenth. The Cards’ lone hit was in the fifth, though, so it wasn’t the longest no-hit bid in the majors yesterday. That belonged to John Lackey, who no-hit the Mariners for 7.2 innings before Josh Bard broke it up with a single. Lackey then left at the end of the eighth, at which point the Red Sox collapsed, allowing five runs (three earned) in a two-error ninth inning to allow the M’s to tie the score at 6-6, the shutout having disappeared long before the no-hitter did (walk, stolen base, advanced to third on groundout, scored on passed ball). Uh…damn, that’s horrible. Due to the “can’t assume the double play” rule, the first of the two runs that scored on the second error of the ninth would not have been unearned due to the “would’ve been the third out” rule, but the second was because the runner only scored due to the overthrow and the third out was made by the next batter…except the first run was unearned because that was the runner who reached on the first error in the first place. Oh, and the Red Sox? Still won the game, in 13 innings. Wow. Just…wow.
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…
I just can’t get over this story that Ken Griffey Jr. missed out on a potential pinch-hitting opportunity because he fell asleep in the clubhouse. Griffey’s a Hall of Famer, through and through, but this should definitely be taken as a warning sign that the glory days are over. Put it this way: when he made his major league debut, I was less than a week old. I’m now of legal drinking age. It’s been a lovely career, and we should savor every opportunity we get to see him play.
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.
Oh. G-D! The Rangers have done it to the Orioles again! Granted, what happened last night is nothing compared to the 30-3 whupping the Rangers dealt out a couple of years ago, but 19-6 is still pretty nasty. Ian Kinsler went 6-for-6 and hit for the cycle to lead the team. (The order of his hits: double, homer, single, single, triple, double.) Nelson Cruz led the team with 6 RBIs, 4 of them on 1 swing of the bat in the 8-run 4th. Like in the 30-3 game, Baltimore took the early lead, up 2-0 before Texas got to bat and 3-1 after 2 full innings. This was hardly the only offense-heavy game, though. Others that hit double digits: St. Louis 12-7 over Arizona, Toronto 12-2 over Minnesota, Seattle 11-3 over LA, Florida 10-4 over Atlanta. Other interesting games: Red Sox-A’s, where Tim Wakefield took a no-hit bid into the eighth, and Dodgers-Giants, where the Dodgers won with a walkoff walk. Also: Jose Reyes scored from first on a passed ball. Yeah, really. It helped that there had also been a runner on third at the time. Ken Griffey Jr. homered in the Mariners’ win, his 400th homer as a Mariner.
A.J.Burnett carried a no-hit bid into the 7th, at which point the Rays promptly tied the score at 2-2. It was hardly the only game tied late. At the time of this writing, the Twins and Jays are tied 2-2 in the ninth, the Orioles and Rangers are tied at 3-3 in the eighth, and the Mariners needed 10 innings to record a 3-2 win over the Angels. The Royals-Indians game is also a one-run game, 4-3 favoring the Royals in the 7th. Those are the type of games I like to see–even if, in the end, the Yanks-Rays game wasn’t so close (7-2 final, the Yanks scoring once in the top of the eighth and four times in the top of the ninth.)
Now, KC has taken a large lead, 9-3 thanks to a five-run eighth; the Twins took 11 innings to land a 3-2 win; and Baltimore leads 5-3 in the tenth. Still, three extra-inning games.
And…MAKE IT 5!!!!!!!!!!!! Baltimore won it 7-5 in 10; Arizona walked it off with a three-run homer in the bottom of the tenth for a 9-6 win, and Oakland and Boston just entered the 10th with 5 runs apiece. Daisuke Matsuzaka allowed all five runs in the first inning and left with arm fatigue.