The next time you read me will be one week from today, exactly five minutes before the first pitch is thrown at Yankee Stadium.
It’s the time of year where we all do our best to do what many say can’t be done, which is to predict baseball.
Here is my 2013 forecast for the American League.
Don’t believe the hype were the words of wisdom once offered to us all by Flavor Flav. With all due respect to Mr. Flav, I believe that the Toronto Blue Jays can and will justify the preseason hype surrounding them.
In 2012 the Blue Jays were devastated with injuries, primarily to pitchers, and set a franchise record by using a total of 31 pitchers. In addition to the pitching injuries of last year, star Jose Bautista missed much of the season with a wrist condition much like the one that Mark Teixeira recently suffered.
The Blue Jays front office moved boldly in the off season, acquiring pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle, shortstop Jose Reyes, utility man Emilio Bonafacio, and catcher John Buck from the Miami Marlins. The Jays weren’t done with moves yet though, as they then completed a trade with the Mets that spun Buck and some prospects in exchange for 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.
Not content to rest on those moves, the Blue Jays signed free agent left fielder Melky Cabrera and second baseman Maicer Itzuris.
With Edwin Encarcion emerging as a major weapon last year, Jose Bautista recovered from surgery to repair his wrist, young and exciting third baseman Brett Lawrie, Casey Janssen developing into a really good closer last year, and the new additions to the team, the Blue Jays are loaded with talented players.
The Blue Jays lineup will be a nightmare for opposing pitchers and the rotation extremely solid from top to bottom. The Blue Jays should romp to an easy win in the AL East.
The Yankees, Rays, and Orioles should all have their moments this season and will likely slug out a three way battle for the runner-up spot and a wildcard in the playoffs that I believe will end with the Rays finishing second and heading to the playoffs.
The Rays rotation of Price, Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, and Nieman is the best in the American League in my opinion. The Rays narrowly missed the playoffs last season despite the absence of their best player, Evan Longoria, for much of the season. While still lacking hitting, a healthy Longoria , a better season from talented center fielder Desmond Jennings, and an upgrade at shortstop to Yunel Escobar should be enough to push the Rays back into the playoffs this year.
The Yankees and Orioles are contenders, but the Yankees will likely need to make trades much better than the pending Vernon Wells trade to make the playoffs and the Orioles can’t rely on matching their 2012 records in games decided by one run and extra inning games.
The Red Sox are rebuilding and should bring up the rear.
The Detroit Tigers once again look to be a cinch to win the AL Central and due to the poor competition in their division, should win more games than anyone else in the American League this year and get the #1 seed in the playoffs.
If the Tigers’ lineup wasn’t scary enough last year, Victor Martinez returns this season at the DH slot and Torii Hunter takes over right field for the Tigers.
The spectacular Justin Verlander is followed by Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, and Drew Smyly.
While the bullpen may be an issue at times for the Tigers, the expected hitting and starting pitching should lessen the impact that the bullpen issues can have on the season.
The White Sox will be joined by the improved Indians and Royals in their pursuit of second place in the Central. It’s a tough call for the minor awards in the Central but I’ll go with the White Sox narrowly over the Indians. I don’t believe that anyone but the Tigers makes the postseason from the Central.
The Twins will continue their “rebuilding” with another tough year at the rear.
The Angels just keep adding players and I believe that the addition of Josh Hamilton will put them over the top and that they will win the AL West.
The Angels have a few concerns, mainly their starting pitching after ace Jered Weaver and Albert Pujols painful foot condition, and their bullpen, but the addition of Hamilton gives them a murderers row unrivaled in MLB.
The Angels should slug their way to a division win over their arch-rival Texas Rangers, who are being written off a bit too soon.
While the Rangers did suffer a blow when Hamilton chose the Angels over them, they still possess a dangerous lineup.
The Rangers were deeply affected by injuries to their starting pitching last season and if Darvish, Harrison, Holland, Ogando, and Lewis can stay healthy the Rangers are capable of beating the Angels.
The Rangers should take second in the AL West and I project them to get the first wildcard position and advance to the postseason.
The A’s should have a solid season and the Mariners should be improved but I can’t see either challenging the top the two.
The Astros should suffer one of the most tragic seasons in the history of MLB, moving from arguably the softest division in baseball(the NL Central) to the AL West. I think it is reasonable to expect them to lose between 110-120 games this season.
Individual Award Predictions
MVP- Miguel Cabrera
Cy Young- Justin Verlander
Manager of the Year- Jim Leyland
Rookie Of the Year- Jurickson Profar
Wildcard game- Rangers beats the Rays
ALDS- Detroit beats the Rangers, Blue Jays beat the Angels
ALCS- Blue Jays beat the Tigers
Two days before Christmas of 2008 the Yankees and their fans received what they thought was a fantastic present. It was on December 23rd, 2008 that highly sought after free agent Mark Teixeira agreed to terms with the New York Yankees. The Yankees had made Teixeira an offer weeks before, but had withdrawn that offer, leaving the Angels, Nationals, Orioles and the Yankees archrival Red Sox as to battle over Teixeira. The Red Sox offered Teixeira 168 million dollars over eight years and Teixeira appeared on his way to Boston. The Yankees came over the top of Boston’s offer by offering 180 million dollars over 8 years and Yankee fans rejoiced not only because one of the premier first baseman in the game was headed to the Bronx, but also because the Yankees had swooped in and stolen him from the Red Sox. Four years and almost three months later, it’s debatable as to which team actually won that day.
When Mark Teixeira was signed by the Yankees he was 28 years old and had played seven full seasons of MLB. Teixeira played incredible defense, hit for power and average, and appeared to be entering his prime. He started out his Yankee career in 2009 by struggling in April, igniting concerns that he may not be cut out for the pressures of playing New York. Texeira surged with an incredible May in which he hit .330 and 13 home runs and never looked back in the regular season. Teixeira was an All-Star in 2009 and also earned a Golden Glove and a Silver Slugger while finishing 2nd in MVP voting to Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Teixeira hit .292 with 39 home runs and 122 RBI’s and a .383 OBP in 2009.
Teixeira largely disappeared in the postseason that year, hitting only .180 in the 2009 postseason and a pathetic .136 in the World Series, but the Yankees had accomplished their mission of a World Championship that Teixeira had played a huge part in obtaining with his regular season play. At that point the signing of Texeira seemed to be a steal for the Yankees with the best yet to come.
In 2010 Teixeira got off to another slow start but never really recovered. While Teixeira’s power numbers were good with 33 home runs and 108 RBI’s, his batting average crashed down to a career low .256 while his OBP dropped 20 plus points to .365. His postseason performance was again disappointing in 2010. Teixeira batted .148 in the 2010 postseason, including an 0-14 disaster in that year’s ALCS against the Rangers but was known to have been playing with a sore right wrist and a broken right pinkie toe that was suffered in an August 31st game against the Oakland A’s.
Teixeira got a pass for his disappointing 2010 from just about everyone and rightfully so. Sub-par seasons happen to every player and he certainly couldn’t be bashed for his disappointing postseason while trying to battle through serious injuries.
2011 was when concerns about Teixeira became serious. Although his defense remained as stellar as ever, opposing teams readily employed a shift against Teixeira, exposing his inability to take the ball to the opposite field. Whether it was the shift itself or simply the shift getting inside of his head, Teixeira responded to the shift with his usual power but also with a second consecutive lifetime low batting average. Teixeira hit .248 to go along with yet another 20 plus point drop in his OBP, which crashed down to .341. Teixeira’s frustration with the shift employed against him appeared to have altered his swing to an uppercut, causing him to hit more pop-ups and fly balls than usual.
Teixeira ended his 2011 season with yet another catastrophic postseason performance against the Tigers in the ALDS. Teixeira hit .167 with no home runs and 1 RBI, on a bases loaded walk.
2012 was a bizarre season for Teixeira, filled with more struggles, illness, and injury. After declaring to the media in 2012 spring training that he may resort to the bunt as a defense to the shift employed against him by opposing teams, Teixeira started April out by contracting a mysterious illness that caused him to have extreme coughing fits. The cough was later found to have been caused by nerve damage to one of Teixeira’s vocal cords.
Teixeira continued to struggle against the shift in 2012 and never really got on track. Teixeira batted .251 in 2012 with his OBP falling to .332 while playing a career low 123 games. A calf strain in August through early September placed him on the DL, an injury he aggravated again in a controversial blown call against the Orioles in September in the midst of a heated division battle.
Texeira had an improved postseason in 2012, which isn’t saying much based on what he had done in his three prior postseasons as a Yankee. Teixeira hit .281 in the 2012 postseason but again had no home runs and drove in only one run.
Teixeira’s last postseason home run came in the 2010 ALDS against the Twins. Teixeira has only three home runs in 138 postseason at-bats as a Yankee, a mind-boggling statistic for a player now known primarily for his power. Teixeira’s postseason statistics as a Yankee are 27-138(.196) with 3 home runs and 13 RBI’s. Teixeira is the biggest postseason Yankee bust since Dave Winfield.
Including his postseason at-bat’s, Teixeira has gone 440 -1779(.247) since the postseason of 2009.
In this most recent offseason, Teixeira gave an interview to Dan Barbarisi of the Wall Street Journal in which he agreed with those who think he is overpaid. Teixeira also stated that he felt his career was on the downside.
While some gave Teixeira kudos for being refreshingly honest, many others were offended by the defeat in Teixeira’s tone as well as his hurry to declare himself on a steep decline when he turns only 33 the day after opening day. For a guy scheduled to make 23.5 million in 2013, he didn’t seem to be putting up much of a fight.
While hitting off of a tee practicing with Team USA for the World Baseball Classic two weeks ago, Teixeira felt pain in his wrist and left Team USA to return to the Yankees for an evaluation of his injury.
Initially called a “strained tendon” in his wrist that would sideline Teixeira for 8-10 weeks, the injury diagnosis was revealed this past weekend to be much more serious. Teixeira has a partially torn tendon sheath which has put his 2013 season in serious jeopardy.
Should the tendon itself become unstable due to the torn tendon sheath, Teixeira will require season ending surgery that is said to have a six month recovery period.
Teixeira’s contract has become a disaster second only to another Yankee, Alex Rodriguez. Teixeira was indeed overpaid the last three seasons and now has the potential to earn 23.5 million dollars this year while not appearing in a single game. As Alex Rodriguez may not play in 2013 either, the Yankees could have 50 million dollars in salary on the sidelines in 2013.
While Yankee fans are understandably upset after hearing about Teixeira’s far more dire diagnosis, it is important to keep in perspective that Teixeira himself doubted that he would ever be the player the Yankees paid for. Teixeira classified himself as an aging player on the downside of his career and sadly, he was probably right even before he sustained his most recent injury.
Kevin Youkilis plays a very solid first base and scouts have given thumbs up across the board at the more compact swing Youkilis has unveiled this spring. The drop-off at first base should not be large enough to cost the Yankees their season.
Mark Teixeira has been given a free pass by many for underperforming his contract the last three seasons as well as his embarassing postseason performances in large part because of his good looks that endear him to “fangirls” and his squeaky clean good guy image. He’s also made appearances on” Entourage” and this past offseason appeared on Broadway in “Rock Of Ages”. None of that changes the fact that he simply isn’t valuable enough as a player to cost a team their season because of his absence and that Teixeira himself predicted a downward spiral for the rest of his career.
If the Yankees’ season is “over” because Mark Teixeira is injured, than the Yankees weren’t going to have much of a season anyway. The Yankees can and will contend in the AL East whether Mark Teixeira comes back or not in 2013.
On June 12, 1997 the Texas Rangers hosted the San Francisco Giants in the first regular season interleague game in the history of MLB. Introduced as a gimmick in response to lower attendance and television ratings after the players strike of 1994-1995, interleague is still a topic that is debated every season.
The most popular argument by proponents of interleague play is often that fans get to see teams and players that may not otherwise see. That argument is very weak in the year 2013, with many games being televised nationally by TBS and ESPN as well as the many packages available from cable providers that make watching virtually any game on either television or the internet possible.
Critics of interleague play most often point to one glaring negative of interleague play, the strength of schedule disparity that it creates not only among teams in the same league but also within a division. With teams battling for wild card playoff spots as well as battling with division rivals for the division title, it has always struck me as incredibly unfair that two teams in the same league can have a battle between them decided by 18-21 games unbalanced schedule against teams in another league.
The Yankees have gone 144-102(.585) in interleague play, a MLB best winning percentage since interleague’s inception. Despite that record, the Yankees have plenty of reason to be unhappy about their interleague schedule in 2013, a schedule that may cost them dearly.
The Yankees have the following interleague games on the 2013 schedule:
April 16-18 vs the Diamondbacks
May 7-9 at the Rockies
May 27-28 “at” Mets followed by May 29-30 vs the Mets
June 18-19 vs the Dodgers
July 30-31 at the Dodgers
August 2-4 at the Padres
September 20-22 vs the Giants
MLB, in its “infinite wisdom” decided that in 2013 that the Yankees should play the NL West in addition to their “rival” New York Mets in interleague play. That means that the Yankees must play three games vs the reigning champion Giants as well as four games vs the Dodgers, who are favored to win the NL in 2013 by many. Playing a couple of really tough teams isn’t the biggest issue at stake in the 2013 interleague schedule, the travel is.
Whether it is the change in time zones or the effect of the long travel, the words “West Coast Trip” have long struck fear in the heart of players and fans of East Coast teams. Thanks to their 2013 interleague schedule, the Yankees will have two West Coast trips this season for interleague play. In May the Yankees will have to fly to Colorado for three games with the Rockies and then fly to Kansas City for three games with the Royals without an off day in between. In late July the Yankees must fly to the West Coast to play two games with the Dodgers and then three games with the Padres before flying to Chicago to play the White Sox with no off day for travel to Chicago.
The Yankees’ 2013 interleague schedule also had a negative effect on their regular schedule. Because of the two trips to the West Coast to play NL rivals in 2013, MLB scheduled the Yankees a brutal marathon West Coast trip in June to play their AL West Coast rivals. This was done to keep the number of West Coast trips the Yankees take in 2013 to three but it was done at the expense of the Yankees having to play ten games in eleven days against the Mariners(four games), Athletics(three games) and Angels(three games) in the heart of the season.
The Yankees interleague schedule is just one more reason for concern in 2013.
There isn’t much going on in the sports world in late February. Yesterday afternoon’s menu for sports fans wasn’t very attractive. There were some NHL and NBA games, but those sports don’t start the postseason for a couple of months yet and 16 teams make the playoffs in those sports anyway so the drama is limited. There were some NCAA men’s basketball games on, but every decent team makes the tournament these days, so how excited can anyone get over a regular season game right now? The PGA tour was holding the first WGC event of the year but the match play format is a novelty event held on the PGA tour only one time each year, and to many of us that one time is one time too many. It looked like some MLB preseason games might actually be the cream of the crop as far as sports viewing was going to go. It appeared to be a lazy Sunday afternoon without much drama to unfold in the sports world. That all changed when J.A. Happ threw a 2-2 fastball that caught Curtis Granderson on the right forearm in his first appearance of the 2013 Grapefruit League.
By now the whole world knows that Curtis Granderson is expected to miss at least ten weeks with a fractured right forearm. Granderson will miss anywhere from 4-6 weeks of the regular season while he heals. While this event was certainly newsworthy and not a positive event for the Yankees, it certainly isn’t the apocalyptic event that many have proclaimed it to be.
When we last saw Curtis Granderson, he was flailing away hopelessly and comically at pitch after pitch in the 2012 ALCS. Granderson was a disgraceful 0-11 in the ALCS with two walks and seven strikeouts. In the 2012 ALDS series vs. the Orioles, Granderson was a feeble 3-19 with one walk, nine strikeouts, and one RBI which came on a solo home run in game five. Granderson’s 2012 postseason stat line was a pathetic 3-30(.100) with one HR and one RBI. While many Yankees were cold as ice in the 2012 postseason, Granderson’s struggles in 2012 didn’t begin in October. Granderson was lost at the plate from August until the end of the season in 2012. Granderson was 41-200(.205) with only twenty walks from August 1st through the end of the 2012 regular season. While Granderson did hit 15 homers in that time span, he was basically an all or nothing hitter that couldn’t make simple contact and advance runners. When you add his laughable postseason stats to the equation, Granderson was as much of a hindrance to the Yankees as he was an asset down the stretch of the regular season and in the postseason.
The simple fact is that Curtis Granderson hadn’t been the Curtis Granderson that anyone wants or longs for since July of last season and it is unlikely to assume that he will ever be that Curtis Granderson again. Granderson’s inability to hit breaking pitches had pitchers feeding him a steady diet of breaking balls out of the zone in the second half of last season and I see no reason why that would change this season or anytime in the future. While Granderson’s power will be impossible to replace, his total value to the team is vastly overrated. An average CF at best these days, Granderson was already assumed to be moving to LF for the 2013 season, with Brett Gardner taking over in CF.
Granderson’s injury gives the Yankees four options to replace him. The first option is to let Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera battle it out in spring training for the position. That option seems a bit like the “battle” already going on between Chad Stewart and Francisco Cervelli at the catching spot. No matter who wins the battle, it makes it tougher to win the war.
The second option is to sign a reclamation project/golden oldie such as Johnny Damon(age 39) or Bobby Abreu(turns 39 on March 11th). While some fans, nostalgic and sentimental as they may be, would welcome such a move, there is a very good reason why players like Damon and Abreu are available. They’re done, through, finished and over with.
The third option would be to trade for an overpaid, over the hill player like Vernon Wells(age 34) or former Yankee Alfonso Soriano(age 37). Trading prospects for either of these guys doesn’t seem very sound, no matter how much money their current teams eat in the deal.
Option number four? It may be too much to hope for, but certainly makes the most sense. To say that Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi have been reluctant to use young players would be an understatement of epic proportions. Girardi and Cashman act as terrified of starting a young player as two college kids staring at a home pregnancy test are of the plus sign appearing.
Alas, necessity is the mother of all invention, and perhaps Cashman and Girardi will allow the need for an outfielder motivate them to reinvent their own strategies and allow Slade Heathcott, Ronnie Mustelier, Tyler Austin, or Zoilo Almonte play left field for the Yankees.
By all accounts Heathcott was outstanding in the most recent Arizona Fall League. Several scouts referred to him as the best player in the league. Heathcott is a five-tool player and viewed by many as the most talented member of the entire Yankee farm system, even more talented than catcher Gary Sanchez. The biggest knock on Heathcott by many scouts is his intensity. A popular school of thought is that Heathcott’s eagerness may add to his injury prone nature. If that’s the worst thing you can say about a player than he is the kind of player I want in a lineup as soon as possible.While injuries have delayed Heathcott’s major league debut, he is 22 years old, and they all have to be rookies sometime. Is it a stretch to send someone from high A ball to MLB? Perhaps, but it wouldn’t be outrageous based on Heathcott’s age and performance in the AFL.
If not Heathcott? How about Tyler Austin, Ronnie Mustelier or Zoilo Almonte? All are talented and need to be given a chance sooner than later. Given the choice between letting these youngsters battle it out instead of Diaz and Rivera or antiques like Damon or Abreu or trading for Wells or Sorianojust makes sense. Mike Trout was considered a great future talent who was too young to play in MLB at this time last year and now he’s considered by many to be the most talented player in MLB. You don’t know until you try them.
Now is the time to give these younger players serious consideration to replace Granderson, especially with a Yankee team that is looking older and older by the minute. Fans are ready to embrace new young players and the lackadaisical attitude that an all-veteran team is vulnerable to was on display in the 2012 postseason. Young blood is not only good for a baseball team, but is often vital. Giving these kids a serious shot at taking over Granderson’s outfield slot represents an opportunity to inject some badly needed youth and energy to the Yankees while motivating the young players in the Yankee system by showing them that home grown players under age 25 are allowed to start games in the Bronx.
The 2012 MLB season has come to an end. Sadly, 153 days will pass before the first pitch of the 2013 season will be thrown. Some random thoughts today about the 2012 season.
Ignorant Cliché #1: Pitching Is Everything
Over the last few years “pitching is everything” has been written or spoken too many times by clueless souls who don’t understand baseball of the effect that PED’s had on the game.
While we will never fully understand the depth of the use or just how many players were using PED’s before MLB cracked down on their use, my guess is that we all underestimated and continue to underestimate how many players were utilizing them.
While I have NEVER bought into “pitching is everything”, I will concede that during the PED era that having good pitching was at an all-time premium. Now that a sense of normalcy has been returned to baseball? Hitting has never been more important.
The winning World Series rotation of the Giants, Cain, Vogelsong, Zito, and Bumgarner appeared overmatched by the Tigers rotation of Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez and Fister. The Tigers didn’t hit, the Giants did, end of story.
Ignorant Cliché #2: Playoff Baseball Is Random
I have to laugh at those who use the “random” explanation for everything that happens after every postseason ends.
This explanation seems to have really caught fire due to its popularity among jaded and bitter Yankee and Phillies fans from 2010-2012. I have witnessed the explosion of the use of this explanation for everything postseason after the 2010 season, when the dream rotation of the Phillies wasn’t good enough to beat the eventual World Series champion Giants while the Yankees lost the ALCS to the Rangers. By the time the Phillies and Yankees were both chased in the first round of the 2011 postseason, despite having the best records in their respective leagues, the use of “random” to explain playoff results had hit new heights.
I notice that Yankee fans never refer to their incredible dynasty that ended in 2000 as a lucky era which was completely random. Make no mistake about it, playoff baseball is NOT random.
While incredible flaws exist in the format of postseason baseball, there is nothing random about it. Managers like Tony LaRussa, Bruce Bochy, and Terry Francona have each won two World Series in the last decade despite not possessing what may have been the “best team” in the regular season. Girardi and Manuel have been blown out early with “the best team” twice while winning only one World Series apiece.
The same hitters seem to hit each year in the postseason, while a different group of hitters seem to vanish when the calendar turns to October. Teams who have at least one hot hitter, play good defense, pitch adequately and are managed well keep winning the World Series. Teams who don’t do those things get eliminated. It’s that simple.
Good GM’s Make Good Trades
While the development of good players through the farm system and good free agent signings have the largest impact on the success or lack of success by teams, good trades are still what define good GM’s.
A look at the rosters of the Tigers and Giants displayed players like Cabrera, Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, etc. who were all acquired via trade. Good GM’s make good trades. Bad GM’s make bad trades.
The development of a farm system has very little to do with a GM. The signing of free agents is largely the result of an ownership willing to spend what it takes to acquire a big name or the money that ownership makes available for a GM to spend on free agents. The most valuable skill that a GM can have is the ability to identify and execute a good trade.
To the surprise of very few, C.C. Sabathia will have his left elbow examined by Dr. James Andrew this week after an MRI revealed a bone spur that the Yankees believe has existed since he pitched for the Indians.
Sabathia spent time on the DL this past August due to inflammation and also appeared to struggle with his command and velocity at times during the season.
An examination by Andrews confirming a simple bone spur would be very good news for the Yankees and Sabathia, as prognosis for simple bone spur removal is usually very good.
Sabathia is most likely the last pitcher that will have a chance to win 300 games due to the different ways that pitchers are now handled. Young pitchers are rarely given the opportunity to start by teams these days and those who are allowed to start at an early age are put on innings restrictions for their first few years that limit starts.
Sabathia, who will turn thirty-three in June, currently has 191 wins and would have to average sixteen wins per season for the next seven seasons to pass 300 wins. Sabathia’s durability and consistency give him a realistic chance of reaching the 300 win milestone.
Yankee captain Derek Jeter underwent surgery on Saturday to repair his broken left ankle and is expected to make a complete recovery in 4-5 months, in time for him to report to spring training in Florida.
The Yankees will be holding their breath until Jeter hits the field and displays that he is ready to go. Jeter, who will turn 39 in June, is currently tenth on the all-time hits list and should pass Eddie Collins, Paul Molitor, Honus Wagner, and Carl Yastremski next season to get to sixth on the all-time hits list.
Red Sox Trade For A Manager
The Red Sox finally have their man in John Farrell, who they unsuccessfully pursued at the end of last season. Farrell, the former Red Sox pitching coach, returns to the Red Sox after the Red Sox traded infielder Mike Aviles to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Farrell.
The relentless pursuit of Farrell by the Red Sox is somewhat puzzling. Farrell compiled a 154-170 record the last two seasons in Toronto while guiding the Blue Jays to two fourth place finishes. The Red Sox have traded away Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford in attempt to focus on rebuilding with younger players.
Let The Offseason Trades Begin
The Miami Marlins continued to dump high salaried players on Saturday by sending reliever Heath Bell to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league infielder Yordy Cabrera, who the Diamondbacks acquired from the Oakland A’s earlier in the day along with infielder Cliff Pennington in an exchange where the A’s got outfielder Chris Young.
The Diamondbacks will assume thirteen million dollars of the twenty-one million dollars that Bell is owed on his contract.
Two strong outings from pitchers Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong in games five and six helped the Giants force a deciding game seven. The Giants live to fight another day despite three of their leading hitters going ice-cold in the postseason. Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, and Buster Posey are a combined 23-132(.174) in the postseason for the Giants.
Game one of the World Series will take place on Wednesday night in either St. Louis or San Francisco.
The Giants would appear to represent a bigger threat to the Tigers than the Cardinals would be. Should the Giants win game seven tonight, the Tigers would have to fly across the country to play the first two games of the World series in a park that is the most pitcher-friendly park in MLB.
The Tigers would be better served with a shorter trip to St. Louis to a park where their power laden offense would have an easier time of getting the ball over the fence.
Only 160 Days Until Opening Day
For the fans of all but the Giants, Cardinals, and Tigers the start of a new season can’t come soon enough and the countdown to opening day is already on.
I’ll try to provide a ray of hope and perspective for fans each week here in the offseason by counting down the days until the start of the 2013 MLB season. 160 days ago was May 15th and on May 15th the Yankees lost a 5-2 game to the Orioles in which Chen outpitched Sabathia only two days after Andy Pettitte made his return in Yankee Stadium in a loss to the Mariners.
That doesn’t seem that long ago does it?
The New York Yankees are in an 0-2 hole in the 2012 ALCS due to three reasons, none of which are new. Biased umpiring, bad managing, and players wilting under pressure.
Flash back to Cleveland in 2007. Joba Chamberlain is on the mound for the Yankees in a pressure packed game two of the ALDS series vs. Cleveland with the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead in game two in the 8th inning. Midges, an insect prominent in the Lake Erie region, descend upon the field in a scene found in a horror movie. The players are understandably rattled as these insects crawl about their faces and arms and necks and everywhere else. The television announcers working the game and everyone at home await the stoppage of the game at any moment. Surely an important playoff game will not continue under such circumstances, right? Wrong. Froemming,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Froemming an umpire who was admonished for racial slurs left inadvertently on a women’s answering machine and threatening catcher Mike Piazza to autograph baseballs for him before a game by telling him that Johhny Bench refused to sign baseballs for him once and proceeded to go 0-4 with three strikeouts that day, allowed play to continue. Joba Chamberlain, noticeably shaken by the insects, allows the tying the run and the Yankees go on to lose the game.
Now flash back to just last year in game 3 of the ALDS matching New York with Detroit. CC Sabathia is on the mound vs. Justin Verlander. In the first inning Sabathia is forced to work hard as strike after strike is called a ball by home plate umpire Gerry Davis, a man who has a side business selling umpiring equipment,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerry_Davis_(umpire) a business that surely wouldn’t be hurt by free publicity. Throughout the game Justin Verlander is given an incredibly vast strike zone, with pitch after pitch outside the accepted zone being called strikes while CC and the pitchers who followed him in relief having the same pitches called balls. The Yankees went on to lose the game. http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/zoneTrack.php?month=10&day=3&year=2011&game=gid_2011_10_03_nyamlb_detmlb_1%2F&prevGame=gid_2011_10_07_arimlb_milmlb_1%2F&prevDate=103
By now everyone has seen last night’s incredulous call at second base. The only way to describe that call is “suspicious”. Any umpire supposedly skilled enough to be selected to be working an ALCS game is going to get that call right, but Jeff Nelson didn’t. This is the same Jeff Nelson that was behind the plate on September 27th of this year when Tigers pitcher Doug Fister set an AL record by striking out 9 consecutive batters. The play itself wasn’t even close to being close. The runner as clearly out by a mile, with absolutely no room for interpretation otherwise, yet was called safe, allowing a one run game to become a three run game. Manager Joe Girardi was ejected, the Yankees were clearly upset and rattled, and the Yankees lost the game.
Lost in the incredible hype of game 1 of this series was a call that probably cost the Yankees game one. Robinson Cano hit a bouncer with the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning and clearly beat the throw to first base. As Yankee fans pumped their fists at drawing first blood and still having the bases loaded with mark Teixeira heading to the plate, there was only one “small” problem, the umpire called Cano out. Robby Cano is accused of being many things. Lackadaisical, lazy, laid back, cool, calm, and collected to the point of absurdity are all ways that Cano has been described. Never in his Yankee career in my recollection had Cano ever come close to reacting the way that he did after this blown call. Slamming his helmet to the ground and turning to scold the umpire, Cano displayed a reaction that nobody who had ever seen him play thought he even had inside of him. Tiger pitcher Doug Fister was out of the jam and a run was taken away. It is impossible to know what would have happened with Teixeira coming to the plate with bases loaded, but Fister had lost the strike zone and there is a strong possibility that he would have to have worked hard and run up his pitch count and that more runs would have scored. The run that we are sure should have scored turned out to be a game decider, as Raul Ibanez’ home run in the 9th inning was a game tying shot instead of a game winner. That run taken off the board also cost the Yankees captain Derek Jeter, as the extra inning play on which he was injured would have never have occurred with the game over on Ibanez’ home run.
Sure, manager Joe Girardi’s insane decision to pitch Derek Lowe in the 8th inning of game one instead of David Robertson contributed to the loss in game one, but the bottom line is that the Yankees losing a run and a favorable game situation on the blown call had far more impact.
Sure, the Yankees have had hitters disintegrating under the pressure of the postseason, but that doesn’t change the fact that they lost the opportunity to attempt small ball in the late innings of last night’s game.
Whether it is chicanery, larceny, incompetence or a bias against the Yankees and/or manager Joe Girardi, no team has been picked on and destroyed by the umpires in the postseason as consistently as the Yankees have been and if Bud Selig had one ounce of integrity in his body he’d have these umpires investigated or completely pull this crew from working any further games in this series.
The Yankees and their manager have been put in a hostile and unfair setting, feeling as if they are battling not only a good baseball team in the Tigers, but also battling the men in blue, who control the outcomes of the fortunes of teams.
The lack of instant replay in baseball has rendered it a joke as compared to the other major sports. It’s a sad day when it is obvious that women’s tennis officials are better equipped and funded with better technology to ensure the best possible officiating than the multi-billion dollar business that MLB is.
Nobody wants their team to win on bad calls. Not the players, managers, or the fans at home. All anyone wants is for both teams to have the same strike zone, and the calls at the bases to be called correctly. A call on a ball hit down the line 100 feet away from the nearest umpire can understandably be blown, which is why instant replay should have been utilized two decades ago. A call at first or second base with an unimpeded view by an umpire standing six feet away should never be blown. There are literally tens of thousands of umpires working baseball at the pro, semi-pro, and amateur levels. If MLB doesn’t care enough to ensure that the very best umpires in the world are working the most important games of the season, then they are displaying an incredible lack of caring about the legitimate outcome of these games. The calls do NOT “even out” in short series where even one call or one home plate umpire can decide the outcome of an entire series.
These calls are sickening and lead to the questioning of the integrity(with good reason) of the men making them, and that is very sad.
The Yankees have been poorly managed and failed to hit in this series, this much is obvious, but neither of those things should negate the right to have a fair chance in these games. There is no place in the MLB rule-book that states that a team who isn’t hitting well or whose manager makes incredible tactical blunders should be denied the right to have the same fair opportunities as the other team. The Yankees have been denied that right, and will probably be eliminated because of it. It’s not fair and it’s not right.
Alex Rodriguez has been benched, Mark Teixeira is batting cleanup, and Curtis Granderson has been moved UP one spot in the order.
Such is life in the land of the New York Yankees.
I can only laugh at what has transpired the last week.
Alex Rodriguez has been many things in his career. A juicer, a choker, an MVP, and a bad teammate are all labels that have been affixed to him. ARod can now add scapegoat to his resume, and make no mistake about it, that is exactly what this is all about.
Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher have been even more dreadful than ARod has, yet in the lineup they remain today.
Mark Teixeira has hit only THREE home runs in 121 postseason at-bats as a Yankee and yet in the lineup he remains.
The Yankees inability to score rests squarely on the shoulders of a group of choking underachievers, of which ARod is only one member.
Never has a more negative aura surrounded a postseason Yankee team.
Try and enjoy the game.
A ridiculous format, everything that’s wrong with MLB, a costly error, a costly injury, Tito to the Tribe, and there is no crying or magic in baseball.
What happened in Atlanta on Friday night was as disgusting as anything I’ve ever witnessed in MLB in my lifetime. After playing 162 games over the course of six months, the Atlanta Braves were forced to host the St. Louis Cardinals in a one game playoff to determine who would advance to the best-of-five round in the playoffs. Bud Selig’s brainchild was designed to “increase excitement” in the playoffs. Since the announcement of the playoff format for 2012 was announced, many of us were concerned with the randomness of a one game playoff, as well as the format under which the best-of-five round would be played. Many of us have been lamenting the sorry state of umpiring in MLB for quite some time, and this year’s umpiring was a new low. One of the greatest concerns I had about the one game playoff format was that one bad call could ruin an entire season for a team. On September 10th, I wrote the following article: http://yankeesfansunite.com/2012/09/10/travel-day-21/
All of those concerns were 100% validated on Friday night.
The Atlanta Braves finished six games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals this year and were clearly the better team. They may have been the better team on Friday night too, but we’ll never know.
Trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the 8th inning, the Braves had runners on first and second base with one out. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons came to the plate and hit a high fly ball to left field between Cardinals LF Matt Holliday and SS Pete Kozma. Kozma back pedaled to the ball, and at the last moment gave up on it, realizing that it was a play that Holliday was better suited to make. The only problem was that Holliday had given up on the ball already. As the ball fell to the ground with a thud, umpire Sam Holbrook stunned everyone watching and on the field by making the signal for the infield fly rule.
The official definition of the infield fly rule is as follows:
An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.
When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare Infield Fly for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare Infield Fly, if Fair.
The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul.
If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly.
Rule 2.00 (Infield Fly) Comment: On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infieldernot by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpires judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpires judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately.
When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05 (L). The infield fly rule takes precedence.
In layman’s terms, the two criteria for the establishment of an infield fly situation are that the play must be an ordinary one, and that the umpire must make the call immediately. The ball that Simmons hit was not an ordinary play, nor was it called immediately, to say the least.
As the infield fly rule is not a common call seen on a day-to-day basis, I wanted to ask the opinion of a friend before I decided how accurately or inaccurately that Holbrook had acted. I have a friend who umpires at the collegiate level and who umpires at the prestigious Cape Cod league every summer. I called him immediately and asked him what he thought of the call and he said that the umpire had blown the call badly in his opinion. He said that the generally accepted criteria for a play being ordinary and the rule being invoked was when the infielder making the play on the ball stopped moving his feet. He said that once the fielder stopped moving his feet and was set under the ball, that the infield fly rule must be invoked. The problem on the play in question was that Kozma never, EVER, stopped moving his feet. At no point in time was Kozma ever established under the ball as to make the play and ordinary play.
How would the inning have played out with bases loaded and All-Star catcher Brian McCann coming to the plate with one out? We’ll never know. While McCann drew a walk from Cardinals reliever Motte, you can’t assume that with bases loaded and only one out that Motte would have pitched McCann in the same fashion that he wound up pitching him.
The players and fans were denied a true and just outcome of this game. Playoff games are too important to be decided by incompetent umpires, and MLB’s insane refusal to join the other major sports in implementing full-scale instant replay never looked dumber than it did on Friday night.
Instead of talking about what should have been exciting baseball, the focus was strictly on everything that is wrong with MLB today, and that is very sad.
Home Sweet Home
The next time you hear from me, the Oakland A’s will probably be eliminated from the playoffs. That will be in no small part due to the insane format instituted by Nutty Buddy this year for the best-of-five series.
When you play 162 games and wind up with the second best record in your league, then wind up playing the first two games of a playoff series at the home of your opponent, who had the seventh best record in the same league, something is very wrong.
The biggest advantage of starting at home in a best-of-five series is facing the opponent’s best two pitchers at your stadium. This year, for reasons still unknown, MLB tweaked the best-of-five format in a most irrational fashion, forcing the higher seeds to begin on the road.
As roughly 75% of the best-of-five series in MLB playoff history have failed to go the full five games, the higher seed had only about a 25% chance of actually being able to play a deciding game five at home.
When someone can figure out exactly why this change in format was instituted, please drop me a line. I haven’t heard a single rational explanation yet.
While Coco Crisp‘s error in yesterday’s game in the A’s-Tigers series won’t go down in history in the proportion that Buckner’s error in the 1986 World Series did, it will linger over the Bay for quite some time.
Crisp’s error was the game deciding play yesterday that sent the A’s into an 0-2 deficit but overshadowed horrendous home plate umpiring in both of Oakland’s losses.
Anyone watching the first two games of this series had to be alarmed at the different strike zones for the pitchers of both teams.
Check out the strike zone maps by Brooks Baseball for Saturday’s game
The “love” Verlander got from the home plate umpire in this game was truly laughable, as the graphs don’t lie.
Yesterday’s game was even worse.
The two umpires working home plate in this series have earned NFL replacement ref status.
When will MLB take steps to insure fairly called games that the players decide?
Terry Francona’s year of rest came to an end this weekend when he was chosen to pilot the Cleveland Indians.
Fans will miss Francona in the broadcast booth, as he quickly gained accolades for speaking frankly and adding insight that was refreshing to listen to in an era of screaming television and radio personalities.
While his decision to accept the job with a team who is coming off of a very bad season may seem puzzling, Francona obviously couldn’t wait to get back in the dugout.
Francona had to deal with nonstop scrutiny and pressure in Boston, pressure that was rumored to have affected his health in an adverse fashion. Cleveland represents a good opportunity to cultivate a young team that is not totally devoid of talent. SS Asdrubal Cabrera and C Carlos Santana were signed to long-term contracts before the 2012 season and are the blocks that the Indians intend to build around.
A less demanding fan base and media market with the opportunity to manage young ballplayers may be exactly what the doctor ordered for Francona.
Sometimes people have to step outside the norm of their lives to find what they are looking for. Francona deserves thanks for making the game better to listen to while he was in the booth and I hope he finds success and happiness in Cleveland.
It is incredibly hard for me to listen to grown adults reciting woefully inaccurate cliches, superstitions, and attributing things they don’t understand to “magic”.
All season long, the Baltimore Orioles operated many standard deviations outside of the statistical norms in regards to their overall record in relation to their run differential vs. opponents, their record in extra inning games, and their record in one run games. ”Magic” was used more times in relation to the Orioles than it was in the Houdini household.
Last night, with the Orioles tied with the Yankees 2-2 in the late innings, the key phrase being uttered and tweeted by irrational beings everywhere was “magic”. The TBS broadcasters bought in as well, seemingly sure that the Orioles would win the game in dramatic fashion. As a matter of fact, from the 5th inning on it seemed the broadcasters were eagerly awaiting and preparing those watching for what they apparently felt was the inevitable one run win over the Yankees.
In the top of the 9th inning, after Russell Martin homered, the announcers sounded sadder than the Orioles fan in attendance. By the time Robinson Cano had driven two more runs to blow the game wide open, the announcers sounded sad and dejected and shocked that a guy as talented as Cano could once again crush a pitch the opposite way and drive in two runs.
Earlier in the day in St. Louis, the broadcasters working the Cards-Nats game sounded stunned and suicidal when Tyler Moore‘s pinch-hit two run single in the 8th inning put the Nationals on top of the Cardinals.
All game long, the geniuses in the booth explained to everyone watching about the supposed “magic” that the Cardinals possess in the postseason.
Hopefully the TBS broadcast teams have gotten over the devastating blows to the “magic” they believe in and will be alright to work today’s games.
Here in the great Northeast, the leaves are changing colors and the temperatures are falling. The MLB playoffs are set, and the last regular season games have been played. For the first time since 1967 we are celebrating a Triple Crown winner. There are also no MLB games today. The last time there were no MLB games being played was on July 12th and the division leaders were the Yankees, White Sox, Rangers, Nationals, Pirates and Dodgers. A lot can change in 2 1/2 months can’t it?
Atlanta and St. Louis will kick off the playoffs at 5:07pm ET on Friday in Atlanta. Atlanta is pitching Kris Medlen and St. Louis will be pitching Kyle Lohse in this one game playoff that will decide who hosts the Nationals.
It will be very unfortunate for baseball if the Cardinals win this game. The addition of an extra wildcard team was offensive enough, but the way the playoffs are being executed this year is a disgrace and an insult to the intelligence of fans as well as the players who had 162 games to display who the better team was.
Fortunately, I don’t think it’s going to matter in this case. The Braves are a better team in every facet of the game and should win this game. The Braves had been assured of a playoff spot for a long time, and have a rested and ready bullpen to back up Medlen, who had a sensational season. Medlen compiled a 10-1 record while posting a 1.57 ERA and a microscopic 0.91 WHIP. Converted to a starter at the end of July, Medlen has yet to lose a game in his new role, going 9-0 with the Braves winning all 12 of his starts. Medlen’s 23 BB’s vs. 120 K’s is startling. Medlen is on regular rest with the killer bullpen of Venters, O’Flaherty, and Kimbrel rested and ready to go. I like the Braves to win this game in what should be a very hostile atmosphere for the Cardinals. Smart move by the Braves organization to hand out 45,000 tomahawks at Friday’s game. I think that the Braves will advance to play the Nationals and beat them to move on to the NLCS. I like the Braves in four games over the Nationals if that matchup occurs.
Baltimore will visit Texas for their one game playoff on Friday night that will begin at 8:37pm ET. Darvish will definitely be on the mound for the Rangers and it looks like Saunders will take the mound for the Orioles, although that is not official yet.
This game would have taken place under the old playoff system in exactly the same fashion, it just wouldn’t have counted as a postseason game.
Whether you call it a postseason game, a play-in game, or a tiebreaker the bottom line is that the Rangers are the more talented of the two squads and are playing at home, which should give them the edge in this game. I like the Rangers to advance to the next round and host the Yankees, who I think will beat either the Rangers or Orioles in the best-of-five. I like the Yankees to beat the Rangers in four games if that matchup occurs and the Yankees to beat the Orioles in three games if that matchup occurs.
San Francisco will host the first of two games at home against the Reds on Sunday. Arroyo will take the mound for the Reds and Bumgarner will get the start for the Giants. The Reds have been the most complete team in the NL since the beginning of the season and I think they will take care of the Giants and advance to the NLCS to play the Braves.
Last but not least, the Tigers will host the first of two games In Detroit against the A’s on Sunday. No announcement yet on who will start for the A’s and Verlander will start for the Tigers. This is a very difficult series to break down but I’m going to go with the A’s to upset the Tigers. The Tigers do a lot of living on the long ball and their record this year against the West in pitcher’s parks was a combined 3-7(0-3 in LA, 1-2 in Seattle, 2-2 in Oakland) With the first two games taking place in Detroit, I think one Oakland win there will enable them to win the series at home where the power of the Tigers could be neutralized to some extent.
I like the A’s to win it in 5 games and advance to face the Yankees in the ALCS.
A Ridiculous Debate
No, I’m not talking about Obama vs. Romney. I’m talking about Trout vs. Cabrera for AL MVP.
Of all the metrics that currently dominate the discussion of the value of players, I think WAR is the most flawed. In my opinion, WAR makes too many assumptions and that inflated defensive metrics often affect the overall WAR too much. The debate on WAR would take a book to fill but it simply isn’t proper for anyone with a brain to vote for Trout over Cabrera for AL MVP.
What Miguel Cabrera just did hasn’t been accomplished since the great Carl Yastremski did it in 1967, before I was born. If winning the Triple Crown isn’t such a big deal, then how come the dozens of hall-of-famers who have taken the field since 1967 haven’t been able to do it even once? What makes it even harder to accomplish in the AL is the presence of the DH, which adds many good bats to the mix.
Here’s one thing that I don’t seem to read much about as far as Cabrera’s “value” is concerned. Cabrera was willing to move to third base this year so that Prince Fielder could play first base. Is it really fair to value Cabrera’s defense at an unnatural position to him the same as you would Trout’s?
Miguel Cabrera picked up the Tigers and carried them on his back while showing total unselfishness in a position change and won the Triple Crown for the first time in baseball since 1967.
Please, enough with the WAR. At the end of the day no player in baseball was even close to as valuable to his team as Cabrera was.
The Three Zombies
Last year during the postseason Brian Sinkoff, a sports radio talk show host in the Maryland area and Albany, NY, was hosting a chat on Facebook during the ALDS between the Tigers and Yankees. As I was lamenting the pathetic displays at the plate by A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher, Sink coined the phrase “The Three Zombies” in reference to this sorry trio.
The Yankees elimination from the postseason the last two seasons has been blamed on just about everything but global warming. In reality, the reason for the Yankees early exits in the postseason can be left squarely on the shoulders of these three players(with a big assist from a disgraceful job by home plate umpire Gerry Davis in game 3 of last year’s ALDS).
The combined average of Swisher, Teixeira, and A-Rod in the 2010 ALCS and 2011 ALDS was a dreadful .125 (15-112) with 2 HR’s and 8 RBI’s.
We all know that A-Rod’s 2009 postseason carried the Yankees to a title, but Swisher and Teixeira’s postseason efforts as Yankees have been nothing short of pathetic.
Swisher is 16-100(.160) in the postseason as a Yankee, with 4 home runs and 5 RBI’s.
Teixeira is 18-106(.171) in the postseason as a Yankee, with 3 home runs and 12 RBI’s.
Clearly something has to change with at least one of these guys for the Yankees to advance to a title.
A-Rod has been swinging the bat well and although his power has waned with ball after ball hit to the warning track, his ability to rap out hits is still there. With Cano and Granderson providing power, A-Rod doesn’t need to hit home runs to be valuable to the Yankees this postseason and I think he can and will have a good postseason.
Swisher has been swinging the bat well also, but needs to overcome an obvious mental block in the postseason. I’m betting on a good postseason from Swisher also.
Teixeira’s average took a plunge starting with the postseason of 2009 and he has never recovered that part of his game since then. A career .301 hitter when he signed a 180 million dollar contract with the Yankees, Teixeira has followed his great 2009 regular season batting average(.292) with batting averages of .256, .249, and .251 respectively in 2010-2012.
Including his postseason at bats, Teixeira is 431-1747(.247) since the postseason of 2009.
Still possessing power, it would appear that the best Yankee fans can hope for is that Teixeira can add to the feeble 3 home runs he has hit in 118 postseason at-bats as a Yankee.
For the Yankees to make the World Series it doesn’t matter which of three players wakes up and performs in the postseason, so long as one of them does.
Where did the time go? It seems like yesterday that the Yankees had been swept in their opening series at Tampa Bay and people were calling for Girardi’s head. While many people are still calling for Girardi’s head, three days remain in the regular season. At this time next week, four playoff teams will already be eliminated and four more facing one game deficits in the best-of-five series. On Thursday I’ll give playoff predictions and discuss who I think deserves the individual honors but today it’s all about the playoff races and possible seeds.
If The Playoffs Started Today
In the NL:
The Braves would host the Cardinals in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Nationals.
The Giants would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Reds.
In the AL:
The Yankees and Orioles would play a one game playoff in Baltimore to determine the winner of the AL East. The loser of that playoff game would host the A’s in a one game playoff to determine who would host the Rangers in the first two games of a best-of-five series.
The Tigers would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the winner of the Yankees-Orioles one game playoff.
In the NL things are almost set as far as who is in the playoffs although the seedings may not be decided until the final day of the season.
The Nats, Reds, Giants and Braves are all in the postseason. The Giants are locked into the three seed. The Braves are locked into the four seed. The Nationals and Reds are locked into the one and two seeds. The Nationals own the tiebreaker for the one seed on the Reds due to winning the season series so even though they currently have the same record, the Nationals actually own a one game lead. The Cardinals own a two game lead on the Dodgers for the wildcard.
There are only three series taking place today through Wednesday that will impact the postseason in the NL. The Cardinals host three games with Cincinnati and that series will help decide who gets the one seed in the NL as well as whether or not the Cards can make the postseason. Although this year’s playoff format actually penalizes the one and two seeds in the best-of-five series by forcing them to play the first two games of that series on the road, the one seed is still important as the format in the NLCS and ALCS has not changed. The one seed would host the first two games of the best-of-seven NLCS and ALCS.
While the Cardinals are in the driver’s seat as far as clinching the last playoff slot, they have the misfortune of having to play a strong team in the Reds who still has something to play for in at least the first two games of the series. The scheduled pitching matchups are Arroyo-Garcia, Latos-Carpenter and Bailey-Wainwright
The only other series taking place this week in the NL that could impact the postseason will take place in Los Angeles as the Dodgers host the Giants are three games behind both the Nationals and Reds and lose the tiebreaker to both teams based on season series losses to both teams, the Giants are locked into the three seed and have absolutely nothing to play for in this series while the Dodgers will issue a call for all hands on deck. The scheduled pitching matchups are Cain-Harang, Zito-Capuano, and Vogelsong-Kershaw.
A win by the Dodgers tonight and a loss by the Cardinals tonight would make the battle for the last seed very interesting.
In the AL? Where do we even begin. At this point, we know that the Rangers, Yankees and Orioles are all in the postseason. The Tigers magic number with the White Sox is down to one, so the Tigers are as good as in.
With only three games left in the regular season, no team in the AL has clinched their division yet and no team has clinched so much as a seed.
In the Central, it appears that the Tigers will wrap up the division and once they do, the Tigers will be locked into the three seed.
In the West , the Angels can do no better than the five seed. In order to force a playoff game for the last wildcard slot the Angels would need to sweep the Mariners and have the Rangers sweep the A’s. The A’s can take the division by sweeping the Rangers. The A’s can lock up a playoff spot with one win against the Rangers. The Rangers can lock up the division with one win against the A’s. The Rangers can get the one seed by finishing with the same record as the Orioles if both of those teams win their divisions based on the Rangers winning the season series with the Orioles. The Rangers can get the one seed if they finish with a better record than the Yankees if the Yankees win their division but lose the tiebreaker if they finish with the same record as the Yankees as the Yankees won the season series.
In the East, the Yankees and Orioles can win the division at the end of the regular season if one finishes with a better record than the other. If they finish in a tie at the end of the regular season, a one game playoff would be held in Baltimore to decide the division as Baltimore won the regular season series with the Yankees. Tampa Bay can force a one game playoff for the 5 seed by sweeping the Orioles and having the Rangers sweep the A’s.
In other words, who the heck knows who will be playing who in the AL playoffs?
Here are the scheduled pitching matchups for the relevant series taking place starting tonight that will affect the AL playoff picture:
Baltimore-Tampa Bay: Chen-Cobb, Gonzalez-Shields, to be named later-Hellickson
Texas-Oakland: Perez-Parker, Harrison-Blackley, Dempster-Griffin
Los Angeles-Seattle: Wilson-Hernandez, Haren-Iwakuma, Weaver-Beavan
Boston-NYY: Bucholz-Sabathia, Lester-Nova, Cook-Kuroda
This week it’s all about the playoff races and Miguel Cabrera on the verge of accomplishing something that hasn’t been done since 1967.
Miggy, Miggy, Miggy
Being a baseball fan these days is tough. Poor umpiring, increased interleague games looming, a ridiculous addition of a second wildcard team(when many of us didn’t even like the addition of the first wildcard), positive tests for PED’s, etc. have made it challenging for fans to partake in the pure joy that baseball used to offer in its glory days.
Any baseball fan under the age of 45 wasn’t even born the last time a player won baseball’s Triple Crown. Any baseball fan between 45 and 55 probably has a hard time remembering when Carl Yastremski won the Triple Crown in the 1967 MLB season. Nine days from now, around 11:10 PM EDT, the anointing of the first Triple Crown winner of my lifetime will take place in Kansas City.
Miguel Cabrera has an 8 point lead in the batting title race in the American League. He also has a 10 RBI lead over Josh Hamilton in the RBI title race, and is currently tied with Hamilton for the home run title race.
With Josh Hamilton being injured and his return unsure, it appears that Miguel Cabrera has done it, he’s going to end the drought. Bolstering Cabrera’s chances of winning the Triple Crown is the fact that he will be facing 10 games worth of Kansas City and Minnesota pitching. The Royals and Twins are currently 10th and 13th in the AL in team ERA.
While the playoff races are gathering almost all of the hype, the biggest story of the year is Cabrera. In the last 45 years some pretty incredible players have graced the game with their presence. None of those players accomplished what Cabrera is about to do.
Hopefully, MLB and the media who are hyping the playoff races nonstop, will give this accomplishment its proper coverage.
Make sure you mark 8:10 PM EDT on October 3rd on your calendars. At that time, you can turn on your television and watch the last game of Cabrera’s incredible season and say that you witnessed the coronation of the first Triple Crown winner since 1967. Whether or not you like Cabrera, this is an event that no baseball fan should miss. Things you wait a lifetime for are the things that should be most cherished.
If The Playoffs Began Today
In the AL:
The Orioles would host the A’s in a one game playoff in Baltimore to determine who would host the Rangers in the first two games of a best-of-five series.
The White Sox would host the Yankees in the first two games of a best-of-five series.
In the NL:
The Braves would host the Cardinals in a one game playoff in Atlanta to determine who would host the Nationals in the first two games of a best-of-five series.
The Giants would host the Reds in the first two games of a best-of-five series.
The NL races are down to seedings and who will get the last wildcard.
The Giants have closed to within 3 1/2 games of the Nats and 3 games of the Reds for the first two seeds. Those three teams can still wind up in any order for the top three seeds.
The Braves are as good as home free with a magic number of 1 to make the playoffs.
The Cards have a two and a half game lead over the Brewers and a three game lead over the Dodgers for the second wildcard position but the Cardinals are far from home as they clearly possess the hardest remaining schedule.
The Cardinals have three road games against the Astros before returning home for a six game home stand against the Nationals and Reds. With the Reds and Nats battling for the 1 seed, it is very unlikely that either will lay down for the Cards. It is conceivable that the Cards tough road home could allow the Brewers and/or Dodgers to run them down if they can play 7-3 and 7-2 baseball respectively as they end their seasons.
The AL races for the East and Central are as up in the air as they were last week at this time.
The White Sox are still clinging to a one game lead in the Central despite losing their last five games. The White Sox have a seven game home stand starting today that consists of three games with the Indians and four games with Tampa Bay before heading to Cleveland to play the Indians again in their final three games.
The Tigers play their final four home games starting today against Kansas City. The Tigers then head to Minnesota to play three games and then to Kansas City to play three games.
The Yankees have a one game lead over the Orioles in the East. The Yankees head to Minnesota to play three games that will be followed by four games in Toronto before heading home to finish the season with three games against the Red Sox.
The Orioles play four games against Toronto that start today with a doubleheader. The Orioles then host the Red Sox for three games before ending their season in Tampa with three games against the Rays. The series with the Rays becomes an obstacle for the Orioles if the Rays can close their gap with the Orioles to three games or less before that series begins. If the Rays can do that, they will control their destiny in that last series against the O’s at home.
The A’s rough schedule has gotten to them as of late, but they still hold the second wildcard slot by two and a half games over the Angels and three and a half games over the Rays. The A’s start a four game series with the Rangers tonight before heading home to finish the season with three games with Seattle and three with Texas. The last series with Texas becomes easier if Texas already has the one seed wrapped up and rests their starters. That is unlikely, as the Yankees have closed to within two games of Texas and hold the tiebreaker on Texas for the one seed after taking the regular season series over Texas four games to three games.
The Angels have been playing well but their schedule will make it very hard to close enough ground to garner a spot in the postseason. The Angels have three games with the Mariners and then head to Texas to play the Rangers in a three game set before finishing their season in Seattle with three more games with the Mariners. The Angels will face King Felix in both series with Seattle.
With only seventeen days left remaining in the regular season, the only thing on everyone’s mind is the battle to reach the postseason. The most interesting race in baseball has been taking place in the AL East.
Reports Of The Death Of The Yankees Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Last year at this time, the Red Sox and were in the midst of a stunning collapse that defied all mathematical possibility and left Red Sox Nation devastated. Red Sox Nation has no such worries this year as the Red Sox are just playing out the string after an awful season. With their team eliminated already, Red Sox fans needed to find a reason to be interested in baseball at this time of year and found it when their hated rivals frittered away a ten game lead in the AL East. Just last week, Yankee jokes were the reason for Red Sox fans to get out of bed in the morning. Predictions of a Yankee collapse to rival the collapse the Red Sox experienced last year were the rage on Twitter last Monday and talk of where that collapse would fit in history raged. Not so fast Yankee haters, they aren’t done yet.
After an awful month of baseball that saw the Yankees fail to win back to back games since August 14th and 15th against the Texas Rangers, the Yankees responded by winning four of six games this past week against AL East division rivals Red Sox and Rays including four of their last five games. The Yankees have a one game lead in the AL East over the Orioles while the Rays have been bounced back to what looks like only a wildcard shot, now trailing the Yankees by five games. Just as important as the success the Yankees had this week were the return of Ivan Nova off the DL and the reemergence of Eduardo Nunez.
Ivan Nova played a huge role in the success of the Yankees in 2011 and his future looked very bright. Nova struggled to put together consistency this season, despite a notable increase in the velocity of his fastball. When Nova hit the 15-day DL after another poor outing on August 21st with an inflamed rotator cuff, there were serious concerns as to whether or not Nova would return in 2012 and if he did, would he be in condition to help them in their playoff push. Both of these questions were answered with a resounding yes this past Saturday. Working on low pitch count limitation, Nova was outstanding, striking out eight batters while allowing two runs on four hits. Nova’s command was outstanding, something that is unexpected when a pitcher hasn’t been out in nearly a month. More importantly, Nova was able to finish off batters when he got ahead in the count, something that he somehow wasn’t managing to do this season consistently. Nova’s increased velocity looked like it was paying dividends as the Rays waved time after time at his fastball. Perhaps Nova was pressing too hard earlier this season to be crafty and his layoff gave him time to think about his approach. Nova attacked the Rays with his fastball in the zone, challenging them to catch up to it while throwing 53 strikes in 85 pitches. The return of the Ivan Nova that everyone witnessed on Saturday will play a big role in the Yankee pursuit of the AL East.
One of the most ridiculous clichés you will ever read or hear is that “management always knows better than fans” when it comes to players on a team. This is nonsense. In any profession or sector of business, there are people who are simply not qualified to do what they do or who simply don’t do what they are supposed to do very well. Time and time again, Yankee GM Brian Cashman and Yankee manager Joe Girardi have displayed an unwillingness to allow young players to develop and a general impatience with them. Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, and Melky Cabrera are among the most recent young players that this management team decided was not in the Yankee future at a young age. When Eduardo Nunez was sent to the minor leagues earlier this season, it was just another in a long line of mistakes that this particular management team has displayed with young players, and many Yankee fans were frustrated. Nunez played a huge role for the Yankees in 2011. Nunez was asked to fill in for the injured Derek Jeter in 2011 and then when Jeter returned Nunez was asked almost immediately to fill in at third base for Alex Rodriguez. Nunez made errors, as any player being asked to play multiple positions will be prone to do, but displayed great speed on the base paths and the ability to make contact at the plate consistently. After three errors early in April, Yankee management once again displayed an ill-advised knee jerk response and sent Nunez to the minors, where he was injured soon thereafter. Returning to the Yankees on September 1st, Nunez went 1-3 with an RBI in a one win over the Orioles. This return was “rewarded” with a pinch running appearance on September 3rd, another pinch running appearance on September 8th, one at-bat on September 9th, and another pinch running appearance on September 11th. Girardi could find consistent at bats for such mediocre players as Pearce, Jones, Ibanez, Ichiro, and Nix but not for Nunez?
On Thursday night against the Red Sox, Girardi finally wrote the name Nunez on his lineup card due to the injury Derek Jeter sustained the previous night while running out a ground ball that will prevent him from playing the field until he is healed. Nunez went 2-4 with a double. On Friday night against the Rays Nunez went 1-3. On Saturday evening Nunez homered and went 1-3 again. On Sunday Nunez went 0-3, but stole 3 bases and scored 2 runs. It took an injury to Derek Jeter to get Nunez into the lineup but now that he’s there, it would be hard to imagine Girardi not realizing that a speedy contact hitter such as Nunez is exactly what his team needs. In addition to his plate appearances, Nunez made some absolute highlight reel plays at SS this weekend. Did Nunez commit one error? Yes, but when looking at the value a player brings to a team, you have to look at the big picture and not just focus on the negatives. Nunez brings an element to the Yankees that they clearly need. Girardi and Cashman dropped the ball on Nunez earlier this year and anyone who doesn’t think he could have helped this team that has been plagued by station to station limitations is kidding themselves.
Next up for the Yankees is the return of Andy Pettitte, who will pitch on Tuesday night against Toronto. Petitte was feared lost for the season, but has completed his rehab and has been pronounced fit to return from the broken ankle he suffered in late June on a comeback line drive. Pettitte will be able to make three starts, and three starts should be enough to have Pettitte ready for playoff action. It has been a long wait for Pettitte’s return but everything seems to be falling into place for the Yankees right now and sometimes bad times make the return of good times more appreciated.
The Yankees still have to deal with the loss of Mark Texeira for what could be the remainder of the regular season as well as C.C. Sabathia’s disappointing outings but the Yankees appear to have weathered the toughest part of the storm and can see some blue sky on the horizon. With three home games against Toronto this week before three more at home with the A’s, the Yankees have a great opportunity to hold their slim AL East lead.
The Orioles continued their winning ways at home, sweeping the Rays in dramatic fashion. The Orioles then lost of two of three to the A’s and now head to Seattle to face the Mariners, who haven’t played badly as of late. The Orioles will also have to face King Felix on Wednesday night in Seattle, before heading to Boston for a three game series this weekend. Boston may have a poor record and be going through hard times, but they showed up to play the hated rival Yankees hard and will likely play with a purpose against the Orioles, who knocked the Red Sox out of the postseason on the last night of the regular season last year. One of the most iconic scenes of the 2011 MLB regular season was of the Orioles celebrating that meaningless victory over the Red Sox as if they had won the World Series and the Red Sox would love to return the favor this weekend.
The Orioles have displayed a great determination and the ability to play sound, fundamental baseball but the Orioles face a tougher schedule than the Yankees do the rest of the way home. It’s been a great battle whose ending will be fun to witness.
If The Playoffs Began Today
In the NL:
The Braves would host the Cardinals in a one-game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five playoff against the Nationals.
The Giants would host the first two games of a best-of-five playoff against the Reds.
In the AL:
The A’s would host the Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Rangers.
The White Sox would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Yankees.
Some notes on the playoff races:
I(and virtually everyone else) have just assumed that at some point that the Tigers would put away the White Sox and win the AL Central. The Tigers horrible loss yesterday knocked them back to two games behind the White Sox again, and made today’s game between the two teams the most important regular season game of this year to date. The last of a scheduled four game set between the two teams was rained out last week, forcing the game to be made up today. This will be the last meeting between the two teams in the regular season and even though the Tigers have an easier schedule remaining than the White Sox do, a win by the White Sox would give them a three game lead over the Tigers with only 16 games remaining for each of the two teams. Game time is 2:10 EDT and the matchup is Fister vs. Quintana. I believe the winner of this game today will win the Central.
The Phillies managed to close within three games of the 2nd wildcard slot this past week before a disappointing series with the Astros that has knocked them out of serious playoff contention, again.
There will be no collapse this year by the Braves, who won’t catch the Nationals but who are seven games clear of the Cardinals for the first wildcard slot. The Braves have played very well, winning seven of their last ten games, and look like a very dangerous team.
The race for the second wildcard slot in the NL is a perfect example of why MLB’s decision to expand the playoffs is total insanity. The Cards(3-7 in their last 10 games)and the Dodgers(3-7 in their last ten)just concluded a series in Los Angeles and appear to be the favorites to land the last spot in the NL, at seven games and five games over .500 respectively. Teams who are barely over .500 have no business in the playoffs of a sport that plays 162 regular season games, plenty of time to determine who the best teams are. It will be a disgrace that one of these teams will make the playoffs and will be even more of a disgrace if they advance into the next round and deny a team who played far above them all season long a spot in the best-of-five.
The race for the second wildcard in the AL appears to be between the loser of the battle between the Orioles and Yankees in the AL East and the Angels. The A’s now have a better record than both the Yankees and Orioles and remain only three games behind the Rangers in the battle for the West. It’s hard to see the A’s missing the playoffs and if they run down Texas than the same applies to Texas as far as looking home for the first wildcard slot. The Yankees lead the Angels by 3 ½ games and the Orioles lead the Angels by 2 ½ games.
A costly call and red-hot playoff races were the big stories this week
The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture is worth far more. As baseball’s television ratings continue their annual decline, falling so far behind football that if it were a fight the ref would step in and stop it, you need only look at this picture from Saturday’s Yankees-Orioles game to find one of the reasons for that decline.
Last evening I was flipping back and forth between the U.S. Open women’s final and the Niners-Packers NFL game. Separated by only a few minutes were questionable calls in both the NFL game and the women’s final. Serving in the third set down 6 games to 5 games to Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka returned a ball that was called out by the linesman. The ball looked in to me, as it did to many in the crowd in Flushing as well as the announcers working the match on television. Azarenka challenged the call and those at home and at the match watched with intensity as the incredible technology that professional tennis uses for replays played on the screen. The ball was indeed out. Shortly thereafter Serena Williams rightfully won yet another U.S. Open. A few minutes earlier in the Niners-Packers game, a questionable spotting of the ball after a third down play was challenged by Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh. The replay confirmed that the referees had indeed spotted the ball correctly and the Niners were forced to punt. Justice was served and everyone playing and watching knew that the correct calls had been made in these events. That wasn’t the case Saturday night when what should have been a game tying play was called a game ending out, with Mark Teixeira clearly touching first base when the ball was four feet away from the first baseman’s glove. This wasn’t just a close call where a mistake was made, this was pure incompetence or chicanery.
MLB’s refusal to move into the 21st century and utilize the amazing technology that exists is not only frustrating, but damning to the sport and its credibility. Nobody wants to hear “those are the breaks”(there don’t have to be breaks created by crooked and incompetent officials), “the calls even out”(they don’t), or “they had their chances”(yes, both teams or players always have chances but if one has the advantage of crooked or incompetent calls then they obviously have an unfair edge). When I hear someone start to trot out tired old clichés in response to bad calls, my eyes glaze over and I wonder if they were raised very close to power lines or ate a lot of lead paint chips as a child.
Imagine if Azarenka’s critical shot was actually in, and that the linesman who had called the ball out in that match deciding game had altered the outcome. Imagine if Mario Manningham’s incredible catch in the Super Bowl had actually been ruled out-of-bounds and the Giants had lost. Would the fans of tennis and football have accepted those outcomes as valid and meaningful? The answer, of course, is no. Seemingly everyday MLB asks its fans to accept the outcomes of games with horrendously blown calls as valid. Even worse is the fact that several umpires are as well-known as the players whose games they call due to their constant poor level of performance. The umpire who blew the call this weekend, Jerry Meals, was the subject of death threats last year when he blew a call as obvious as the one he blew this weekend in a 19 inning game between the Pirates and Braves. Take a look at this disgrace from last season:
Clearly Jerry Meals has issues with his eyesight or with his integrity and this particular blown call could very well cost the Yankees not only the AL East, but also the postseason.
Athletes should decide the outcome of professional sporting events, not officials or umpires. It is long past time that Bud Selig and MLB understood that.
Red Hot Playoff Races
If the playoffs began today here is what they would look like:
The Oakland A’s would host the Baltimore Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would host the Texas Rangers in the first two games of a best-of-three series.
The Chicago White Sox would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the New York Yankees.
The Atlanta Braves would host the St.Louis Cardinals in a one game playoff to determine who would host the Washington Nationals in a best-of-five series.
The San Francisco Giants would host the Cincinnati Reds in the first two games of a best-of-five series.
The AL East is an absolute war zone. The Yankees have a one game lead over the Orioles and a two game lead over the Rays. The Yankees start a three game series in Boston with the Red Sox on Tuesday while the Rays and Orioles battle each other in a three game series that also starts on Tuesday. The Red Sox have lost nine of their last ten games and this is an ideal time for the Yankees to put some breathing room between themselves and at least one of their two closest pursuers. The Yankees finish the week with a three game series in Yankee Stadium with the Rays while the Orioles head to Oakland for a three game series with the A’s.
The AL Central could hinge on a four game series between the White Sox and Tigers that begins tonight in Chicago. The White Sox have refused to yield the lead in the Central to the Tigers, who were very heavily favored to win the AL Central at season’s beginning. The Tigers trail the White Sox by two games and it is very unlikely that either team will grab a wildcard spot as both teams have gone cold lately with the White Sox having lost seven of their last ten games and the Tigers having lost six of their last ten games. This series will have the feel of a playoff series between the two teams as it the last time they will meet in the regular season unless a one game playoff is necessary to break a tie.
The Rangers suffered another injury to a pitcher this weekend, with the latest one happening to Roy Oswalt. Despite this, the Rangers lead the West by 3 1/2 games over the A’s. The Angels have finally put it into high gear, having won nine of their last ten games, but still trail the A’s by two and a half games and the Rangers by six games. The A’s and Angels start a crucial four game showdown tonight in Los Angeles. It is the last time they will meet in the regular season unless there is a tiebreaker necessary. Texas starts a six game home stand on Tuesday composed of three games apiece with the Indians and Mariners. Texas has a great opportunity to put some more space between themselves and their pursuers this week.
The Nationals appear to be home free with a five and a half game lead with only twenty-two games left on their schedule. Strasburg being shut down shouldn’t affect what looks to be an inevitable division win. The only drama left in this division appears to be whether or not the Nats can nab the 1 seed in the NL over the Reds. The Braves don’t appear likely to catch the Nats, but look home free to grab one of the wildcard spots with a five and a half game lead over the Cardinals and a seven game lead over the Dodgers. In the absolutely unbelievable news category, the Phillies are not dead yet in the wildcard race. Recent hot play has left the Phillies trailing only the Cards, Dodgers, and Pirates for the last wildcard position. Although currently trailing the Cardinals by six and a half games, all three of the teams they trail are struggling mightily and facing tough schedules this week. Another hot week by the Phillies could make them the story of baseball and land them in striking position. Three games in Miami and then four games in Houston this week make it very possible for the Phils to continue their hot run.
The Reds are going, going, gone in the Central and the return of Joey Votto has them giddy. Votto has gone 4-10 with five walks since returning to duty for the Reds last week. Sometimes things just fall into place and things are as good as they look and feel. That has been the story with the Reds this year, who are having an outstanding season and look to possess a great future as well. The Cardinals and Pirates continue to struggle in the race for the last wildcard spot, which the Cardinals currently lead by one and a half games over the Dodgers and two and a half games over the Pirates. Pittsburgh heads to Cincinnati to play the Reds in a three game set and then finishes the week with a four game series against the Cubs. St. Louis starts a seven game West Coast swing this week that begins with three against the Padres and ends with four games against the Dodgers.
No matter how many trades and acquisitions the Dodgers have made, they don’t appear capable of catching the Giants. The Giants continue to cruise along on a four and a half game lead and are firmly in control of the West. The Giants play four with the Rockies this week and then three more at home with the Padres. The Giants can deliver the knockout blow this week. The Dodgers have a brutal road trip this week against the two best teams in the National league. Three games in Washington are followed by three games in Cincinnati.
The Strasburg decision, individual honors races, and the playoff picture as MLB enters its last month.
The Washington Nationals are on top of the NL East and have the best record in MLB. The Nationals announced this weekend that their young ace, Stephen Strasburg, would make two more starts this season and then be shut down for the year. While it is understandable that this is not being received well by fans of the Nationals, the Nationals are making the right move and deserve credit for staying their chosen path.
Strasburg had Tommy John surgery to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow September 2010. Strasburg has been dazzling this season, compiling a 15-6 record with a 2.94 ERA and 195 strikeouts. While it may be frustrating for Strasburg, his teammates, his manager, and fans of the Nationals, it is simply a no-brainer to keep him on the innings limit that was set for him by the Nationals this year. Coming back from Tommy John surgery is now routine, but coming back from a second surgery is a whole different matter. While an innings limit can’t guarantee the health of a pitcher, either long-term or short-term, the odds are definitely tilted in the favor of a pitcher’s health by doing so.
The Nationals look very much on their way to a division title. Strasburg missing 3-4 starts that he may have made had he been allowed to pitch to season’s end will not make a difference in the Nationals making the playoffs. It isn’t feasible to shut him down now and then ask him to crank back up for the playoffs, so this was the only logical choice the Nationals could have made.
The Nationals have to consider Strasburg’s long-term future as the face of the franchise. At the age of 24, Strasburg appears set to enter a phase in his career as a dominant pitcher, a phase in which the Nationals hope to be a perennial contender. The Nationals are on the verge of winning their first division title in Washington and this success has brought them attendance and interest increases by fans. The downside of losing Strasburg to injury again would be a huge blow to the franchise, and the Nationals decision to shut him down is proof that they aren’t just in it for this season. The easy thing to do would be to justify pitching Strasburg into the playoffs and going for a first ever title. By shutting him down, the Nationals are indicating that they intend to do what is necessary to have a future as well as a now. That is the best thing a fan can ask for. As much as people fret and stress over the now, the best feeling in the world is to have faith and hope for the future.
With one month to go in the season, the four big individual honors are all up for grabs. It has been quite a while since there wasn’t a clear leader in either the AL or NL Cy Young race or the AL or NL MVP race but this year’s races are very tight and will likely be decided on what happens in the last month of the season.
At one point in time it appeared that Josh Hamilton was going to be a runaway winner. A midseason slump combined with the incredible emergence of 19-year-old Mike Trout and another incredible season by Miguel Cabrera has made this a three-horse race.
If I were voting right now I’d vote for Cabrera, who has carried the Tigers to a tie for the division lead. Cabrera has been more valuable to the Tigers than Trout and Hamilton have been for their teams in my opinion. I’d have Hamilton second and Trout third, but with an entire month of crucial baseball to be played, this one is really up for grabs.
AL Cy Young
If I were voting now I would vote for King Felix. Pitching for a team with the fewest runs scored in the AL, King Felix has gone 13-6 with an 2.51 while constantly pitching with no margin for error.
It looks like a two-man battle between last year’s controversial winner Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutcheon. Braun leads the NL in home runs and RBI’s while batting .310 with an awesome .996 OPS. McCutcheon is on his way to a batting title, hitting .344 with 24 home runs and a .972 OPS.
If I were voting now I’d give the slimmest of margins to McCutcheon, who has been incredibly valuable to the Pirates. Take McCutcheon away from the Pirates and they would be very unlikely to be in playoff contention in September for the first time in over a decade.
NL Cy Young
If I were voting now I’d go with Dickey by the smallest of margins over Cueto. Pitching for a team who is 17 1/2 games out of first place, Dickey has gone 17-4 with a 2.63 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.
If The Playoffs Began Today
In the American League:
The Athletics would host the Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Rangers.
The Tigers would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Yankees.
In the National League:
The Braves would host the Cardinals in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five series against the Nationals.
The Giants would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Reds.
The Red Sox get a reprieve, the Yankees have issues, and MLB’s horrible decision to expand the playoffs backfires are the topics of the week.
The Red Sox
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of the picture above, I’d say it is worth much more than that.
In one of the most stunning trades in history, the Red Sox sent over 270 million dollars in payroll obligations named Beckett, Crawford, Gonzalez and Punto to the Dodgers in return for James Loney, Ivan Dejesus Jr, and prospects.
In reading recent columns and opinion polls it has stunned me that a large number of people think that the Dodgers won this trade. While the immediate effect of this trade may be to strengthen the Dodgers playoff chances this season, the Red Sox were just given a reprieve like none in history. Red Sox haters who are reveling in the misery of the franchise would be wise to hold their gloating to a minimum.
In 2013 MLB teams who exceed 178MM will pay a fifty percent luxury tax. That represents an increase from the forty-two percent luxury tax that was in effect for the 2012 season. That is a pretty serious penalty for all teams wishing to exceed the 178MM threshold, to say the least. The luxury tax changes in recent years have made long-term big money contracts the biggest enemy of major league teams. Flexibility, young performing players inside of five years of MLB service, a good farm system, and the ability to make moves are now the most valuable assets that a team can have in this day and age.
Before departing for the Cubs, former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein made a series of bad trades and signings. In the process of these bad signings and trades, Epstein crippled the Red Sox with a bloated payroll, a barren farm system, and a bad clubhouse full of disgruntled players. The Red Sox haven’t won a playoff game since 2008 and if you had asked me a week ago when I could foresee them winning another playoff game I would have answered to check with me after the Presidential Election…..in 2016.
In one fell swoop the Red Sox were able to gain prospects, flexibility, payroll space, and cleanse their clubhouse of three of the unhappiest players on the team in Crawford, Beckett, and Gonzalez. While Gonzalez is obviously a player that the Red Sox or any team would be lucky to have, the bottom line is that he was a small price to pay to be rid of Beckett and Crawford’s contracts.
I was asked after this trade by a friend if in the theoretical world that the Yankees were out of contention this season and had the chance to trade A-Rod and Texeira as long as they threw in Cano would I have been in favor of that. My response was a quick and emphatic “ABSOLUTELY!”. My reasoning in that is that if Yankee fans think A-Rod and Texeira’s contracts look bad now, just wait three or four years and they’ll look apocalyptic.
In the new age of baseball, shedding overpaid, underperforming long-term contracts is the biggest home run a team can hit in this new era of baseball. The Red Sox just hit a grand slam and while their haters are basking in the glow of a current disaster, the Red Sox and their fans can now look forward to what should be a much brighter future. While it isn’t always easy to be as excited about the future as it is about the present, it’s much better to have a brighter future than to be stuck in a hopeless situation.
One Hot Run
It is August 27th and the Yankees lead the AL East by four games over the Rays and four and a half games over the Orioles. In a season that’s seen the loss of: Brett Gardner only nine games into the season, Michael Pineda before he ever threw a regular season pitch in pinstripes, the great Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte for what will be at least two and a half months, and Alex Rodriguez for what will be at least six weeks, and now Ivan Nova for an indefinite period, one would think that a division lead with only thirty-five games left to play would be a stellar achievement. While the leading the AL East in late August is most assuredly an accomplishment, the fashion in which the Yankees have achieved that late is cause for concern.
The Yankees began this season with a 21-21 record from April 6th through May 21st. The Yankees have gone 17-19 in their last 36 games between July 19th and August 26th. The Yankees have looked and played like a below .500 team for the majority of the season and owe their division lead to a blazing run in 49 games played between May 22nd and July 18th in which they went 36-13.
While it doesn’t matter how you amass a record during the regular season to make the playoffs, the mark of a good team is consistency and the Yankees have displayed little of that through the majority of this season.
The Yankees have been plagued by RISP issues and inconsistent pitching from virtually everyone except Rafael Soriano. Derek Jeter has turned back the clock with an incredible season and Robinson Cano continues to shine but Mark Texeira, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones Curtis Granderson, and Russell Martin are a combined 404-1743(.232).
Texeira continues to underachieve woefully as a Yankee. A plus .300 lifetime hitter before being signed to an 8 year, 180MM deal with the Yankees, Texeira hasn’t come close to living up to the expectations that he brought to the Bronx since the end of the 2009 regular season. Including his tragic 18-106 postseason stats, since the start of the 2009 postseason Texeira has gone 429-1730(.250). His OPS since 2009 to this season has declined from .948 to .846 to .835 to .814. Texeira’s OBP since 2009 to this season has declined from .383 to .365 to .341 to .335. While his defenders point to his incredible defense and home runs, the fact is that he possessed the same incredible defense and power when he was signed to a monster deal that pays him 23.5 million dollars this season. Texeira’s is 6-53(.113) with two outs and RISP this season and those aren’t the kind of numbers you want to see from a player batting cleanup while A-Rod heals from his broken hand.
While the possible return of Pettitte would help the Yankees, the key to the Yankees’ playoff chances and success in the postseason may hinge on A-Rod’s return and subsequent performance. Still on track for an early September return, A-Rod’s return would alter the look of the Yankee lineup and strengthen it considerably. Eric Chavez‘s outstanding bat could replace the Ibanez/Jones DH platoon in the postseason and give the Yankees this look in the postseason:
Jeter SS, Swisher RF, A-Rod 3B, Cano 2B, Texeira 1B, Granderson CF, Chavez DH, Martin C, Ichiro LF
For all of the bashing A-Rod has taken for his postseason failures and sub par regular seasons 2010-2012, he’s never hit below .270 in his career which is 14 points higher than Texeira’s best year from 2010-2012 with the same type of power Texeira has had. Yankee fans would be wise to note this and refrain from the “who needs A-Rod?” talk that Chavez has inspired.
If The Playoffs Began Today
Before we get into how the playoffs would look if they began today, I’d like to thank Bud Selig for yet another destructive, ill-conceived, moronic decision in his tenure. The decision to expand the number of playoff teams not only further negates the credibility of a long 162 game season, but also puts the higher seeds in a negative position to advance this season due to the incredulous decision to play the first two games of the best-of-five round on the road. But wait, there could be more disaster!
Not only will this playoff expansion debacle lessen the drama of what looks like could have been a thrilling race if only wildcard team was advancing to the postseason, but could possibly lead to chaos. With 5 teams separated by only 4 1/2 games in the AL and 4 teams separated by the same 4 1/2 games in the NL for the two wildcard slots, it is very possible that 3 teams could end up tied for the wildcard positions. The mess that this would create would be both comical and tragic at the same time. Selig has zigged when he should have zagged from day one of his tenure.
In the AL:
The Orioles and A’s would have a one game playoff in Oakland on Thursday October 4th to determine who would play Tampa in a one game playoff on Friday October 5th to determine who would host the first two games of the best-of-five series against Texas starting on Sunday October 7th. Got that? So basically if the A’s were to win both one game playoffs, the Rangers would travel to Oakland to play the first two games of the best-of-five on the road against a team they beat by 5 1/2 games in their own division. Pure genius there folks.
The White Sox would host the Yankees in the first two games of the best-of-five series starting on Saturday October 6th. The Yankees’ “reward” for having a 2 1/2 game better record than the White Sox would be a trip to Chicago to start a series. Sheer brilliance there.
In the NL:
The Braves would host a one game playoff against the Cardinals on Friday October 5th to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five series against the Nationals on Sunday October 7th. So basically if the Braves won the playoff game against the Cardinals, the Nationals would be on the road for the first two games of a best-of-five series against a team they beat by 4 1/2 games in the same division. Sure makes sense to me.
The Giants would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Reds, who would have a 5 1/2 game better record than the Giants. You couldn’t make this stuff up.