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.
Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez is done for the year, in need of surgery for a thumb injury suffered in his fight with his girlfriend’s father that led to his two-day suspension last week. Because it is a non-baseball injury, the Mets are looking to void his contract and get out of their obligation for the $11.5 million he’s owed in 2011. In other words…K-Rod, you’re an idiot.
On a lighter note, Nationals president Stan Kasten gave GM Mike Rizzo the traditional pie in the face reserved for players who get a walkoff hit after the Nats managed to hammer out a deal with number one draft pick Bryce Harper at the last minute, cutting it even closer than they did last year with Stephen Strasburg. Harper and Strasburg are both represented by Scott Boras.
The ever-wonderful Jayson Stark is at it again. Note that the link goes to ESPN Insider article, so you may not be able to read it.For this reason, and also because I want to comment, I’ll sum up some of the weirdness here.
In this past Thursday’s Phillies-Nationals game, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino of the Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nats all homered, marking the first time that players whose names begin with the letters U, V, and Z all homered in the same game. That this has never happened before is not exactly surprising. What I want to know is, were all three necessary, or would some combination of two be sufficient? Obviously U and V have homered together before–Utley and Victorino–but none of those three letters is terribly common, and V is probably the most common of the 3. So have there been other times that U and Z have homered in the same game? And if so, was Zimmerman the “Z” involved? With both the Phillies and the Marlins in the same division as the Nats, this seems plausible enough…although I completely forgot about the Upton brothers when listing the active U’s, which changes things completely. Okay, so now the most likely combo for U/Z is B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays–although it’s quite possible this hasn’t happened yet, as both are fairly young and Zobrist didn’t really get regular playing time until just last year. Come to think of it, now that we have a plausible U-Z pair, what’s our V-Z?
Also, and I actually heard about this game while it was happening, there was Thursday’s White Sox-Blue Jays game. Freddy Garcia got knocked around early and only lasted 3+ innings, striking out 3 and being charged with all 7 runs. The first reliever, Randy Williams, struck out 3 over two shaky innings. Sergio Santos came in for the 6th inning and struck out the side, 1-2-3, and J.J. Putz pitched the 7th, allowing a hit but getting all three of his outs by way of the K. Scott Linebrink came in for the 8th, and sure enough, all three outs he recorded were strikeouts (he, too, allowed a hit.) Never before in a 9-inning game have five different pitchers gotten 3 strikeouts for a team. Also, never before has a team gotten their last 9 outs by way of strikeout with 3 pitchers getting 3 each. What makes this even more impressive, as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that the White Sox managed to strike out 15 Blue Jays despite being a losing road team; therefore, it was 15 out of 24 outs, not 15 of 27. Not a bad performance at all, except for the part where they ended up trailing 7-0 after four innings.
Also, Monday’s Royals-Tigers game marked the first time that two Guillens (Carlos of the Tigers and Jose of the Royals) homered in the same game.
More LOL Mets, too. Josh Willingham of the Nationals hit a grand slam off of Johan Santana last Sunday, but it didn’t get ruled home run right away, so people started running like crazy. Adam Dunn, who had been on first when the ball was hit, had to bowl over Mets catcher Rod Barajas in order to score, and when the ball got away, Willingham tried to score as well, creating another home plate collision and initially being ruled out, until replay decided that it was a home run. Why is this in the category of “LOL Mets“? Because they were the home team, which means the home run that almost wasn’t is courtesy of their ballpark. Still, even securely in last place, this year’s Mets have a long way to go to become as LOL-worthy as last year’s were–and most of last night’s biggest weirdness (position players on the mound and pitchers in left field, for example) was courtesy of the Cardinals. Although having a starter with more saves than your closer is, well, kind of silly.
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.
Watching the ESPN Sunday Night game. The umpires just overturned the end of the game, an apparent walkoff RBI fielder’s choice by Ryan Ludwick turning into an inning-ending double play due to Matt Holliday getting called for interference. It was the right call; Holliday was nowhere near second base with his slide. Egregiously bad move by Holliday. On the topic of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, they’re having an all-time first: They’re holding the game in the afternoon next week. This is because the game is Red Sox @ Yankees, and New York has a high Jewish population, so with Yom Kippur starting at sundown on Sunday, they didn’t want to
inconvenience discriminate against some of the local fans by switching the game to the evening. Because the real heavy-duty Jews spend the entire day in synagogue on Yom Kippur. On that topic, I only just now realized that I missed Rosh Hashanah, and I’m quite unhappy about it.
On this morning’s topic, no new partial locks, and no playoff spots clinched, but the Nationals have wrapped up 5th place in the NL East, and the Mets 4th. There was one elimination today, Astros from the NL wild card, and there’s still a chance for one more, Brewers from the Central should the Cards win it in extras.
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.
Perhaps the most fun part of tracking the mathematical eliminations (Baltimore was the first, by the way, ahead of Washington by a few hours) is the little weird things, like when a team goes nearly a week on the brink of elimination without falling off. Last year, it was Washington that pulled one of those weird runs, going on an inexplicable 7-game winning streak while the Mets and Phillies (who were close enough to one another that either one probably could’ve provided the finishing blow) seemed unable to win on the same night. (Okay, I think they played each other for part of that stretch). This year, it was the Royals. They entered Tuesday night’s games with 85 losses and the number of head-to-head games between the Tigers, White Sox and Twins ensuring that at least one would reach 77 wins, leaving them with an elimination number of 1–one loss or a total of three wins against outside competition by the top 3 would knock them out.
They lasted four days on the brink, sweeping Detroit in a three-game series while the White Sox and Twins could only manage to go 2-4, then winning again on Friday while the top three went 0-3. As a result, they only managed to last one day less than the Tampa Bay Rays, who were still considered somewhat of a playoff contender as of a week ago. Yes, that’s right: the Rays’ two losses today, combined with the Yankees avoiding the sweep by Baltimore, means they will officially not repeat as AL East champions–and that they were outlasted by such titans as the Cleveland Indians (61-81) and, at least by a few hours, the New York Mets (63-80). It might just be only another hour or so before the Mets hit the deck for good–Colorado’s already got 82 wins, and if Philly wins the ongoing game, it will be their 82nd win combined with the Mets’ 81st loss, so that’s a simultaneous elimination. Of Sports Illustrated‘s preseason pick for World Champions. While 24 teams would still have at least one avenue open to them.
Let that sink in. One of the most respected sports magazines in the country went with a team that may end up as just the sixth team to be eliminated from the playoffs completely (Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Arizona were the first five, more or less in that order; Tampa Bay, Toronto, Oakland, Cincinnati, and San Diego are down to only the wild card as an option, while Cleveland only has the division.)
Yes, this game is nuts. But not as nuts as picking the Mets to win the World Series.