Tagged: playoffs

Because The Game Is On The Schedule

True professional ball players continue playing hard even when the game means nothing. Baseball changes gears in August. The trade deadline has passed, the contenders and pretenders made moves, and the teams with no hope for the Postseason continue their march through the remaining season. The Major League season is a long, tough journey of 162 games in six months. No weekends off and few true off days with no games or travel. Baseball is a hard game played by hard people. 

No matter how much a player loves the game, playing for a lost cause is difficult. Few are surprised by the losses piled up by the Marlins and Orioles, yet players continue playing hard in this long season. Imagine doing that over an entire career. 

The Mariners began 2019 winning 13 of their first 15 games. Things were looking up for Seattle’s Kyle Seager. In eight seasons with Seager, the closest the Mariners have come to the Postseason was finishing second, nine games behind the Rangers and three out of the Wild Card in 2016. The October drought for Seattle and Seager appeared ready to end after the hot start this season, but it was a mirage. The Mariners are 35-69 since and are 10 games out of fourth place in the American League West. Kyle Seager continues extending his lead as the active player with the most games played without playing in the Postseason. He has played 1218 games, 200 more than second place, Jean Segura

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Kyle Seager plays hard, even though most days there is nothing to play for in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/ Getty Images)

Kyle Seager is outpacing his contemporaries, but he is not halfway to breaking the all time record. 2,528 career regular season games played, zero Postseason games. Mr Cub, Ernie Banks, sits atop the career leader board of being a true professional. The always cheerful Banks had two brushes with the Postseason. On August 16, 1969, the Cubs led the Mets and Cardinals by nine games. Chicago then proceeded to finish the season 17-26, including an eight game losing streak. The streaking Mets raced past Chicago on their was to a World Series Championship.

In 1970, the Cubs finished five games behind the Pirates. Chicago led Pittsburgh by five games in mid-June before falling and remaining a few games behind the Pirates for the rest of the season. Banks was a part time player in 1970, retiring retire after the 1971 season. Mr. Cub never played October baseball. Luke Appling, Mickey Vernon, and Buddy Bell can relate. This quartet are the only members of the 2,400 games played without playing in the Postseason club. No one wants to join the club. 

Pitchers have time to think between games, a luxury not given to position players. Even Mike Marshall and his record 106 relief appearances for the 1974 Dodgers, had days off. Zach Duke and Steve Cishek have pitched the most games among active pitchers without pitching in the Postseason. Duke has appeared in 570 games, but never a Playoff game. He was on two Postseason teams, the 2011 Diamondbacks and 2012 Nationals. However, both were quickly eliminated before Duke pitched. While Duke has the most games pitched without pitching in a Playoff game, Steve Cishek has not even sat on the bench during the Postseason. Cishek has pitched in 556 games, but not one in the Postseason. While Duke and Cishek are due a Postseason reward, they are not alone as Felix Hernandez’s greatness was wasted in Seattle. King Felix has 411 career starts, but none in the Postseason. Seattle last made the Postseason in 2001, four seasons before Hernandez arrived. Despite Hernandez’s dominance, the Mariners have finished within 10 games of the Division winner just twice in his career, 2007 and 2016. Injuries and a rebuilding team does not give much hope for King Felix to ever pitch in the Postseason.

FelixHernandez
Even perfection on the mound could not help Felix Hernandez reach the Postseason. (Dean Rutz/ The Seattle Times)

Pitchers give their arms to baseball and Lindy McDaniel was no different. He pitched in the most Regular Season games, 987, without pitching in the Postseason. The closest McDaniel came to the Postseason was in 1966 while pitching for the Giants. San Francisco was tied for the National League lead on September 1 before losing seven of their next 10 games. The Giants never recovered, losing the Pennant to the hated Dodgers by 1.5 games. McDaniel is not alone in never tasted October baseball. Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins made 594 career starts, the most ever without pitching in the Postseason. The majority of his career was with the Cubs as they sought to exercise the Curse of the Billy Goat, yet Jenkins’ closest brush with October was with another cursed team, the Red Sox. In 1977, Boston battled the Yankees and Orioles all season, but when the Red Sox lost their lead in mid-August their season was over. The Red Sox and Orioles both finished 2.5 games behind the Yankees. Jenkins spent a few seasons pitching for the Rangers before returning to Wrigley in the twilight of his career. Never again coming close to October baseball.

Professional baseball is a grind. The excitement of the season wanes as the summer heat punishes players marching through the Regular Season. The season’s true dog days are in August for teams with nothing left to achieve. Some players are seeking new contracts or securing jobs, while others are playing just because it is their job. Hustling down the line, making a diving catch, sacrificing your body becomes more difficult when the season is lost but there are still games on the schedule. While baseball focuses on those making a Postseason push, remember the rest of baseball are professionals and continue to play hard. They show up everyday because the game is on the schedule.

DJ

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Predictions That Did Go Wrong 5.0

Spring Training marks the return of green grass, warm sunshine, and the crack of the bat. Before focusing on the 2019 season, let us reflect upon our disastrous predictions for the 2018 season. We continued our time honored tradition of failing miserably to predict the future. If we are good at anything it is making consistently terrible predictions. Below was our inept attempt at predicting the 2018 Major League season.

American League The Winning Run Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin Actual
East Yankees Red Sox Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees Red Sox
Red Sox Yankees Blue Jays Blue Jays Red Sox Red Sox Yankees
Blue Jays Blue Jays Orioles Red Sox Orioles Blue Jays Rays
Orioles Orioles Red Sox Orioles Blue Jays Orioles Blue Jays
Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays Orioles
Central Indians Indians Indians Indians Twins Indians Indians
Twins Twins Royals Twins Indians Twins Twins
Royals White Sox White Sox Royals Royals White Sox Tigers
White Sox Royals Tigers Tigers White Sox Royals White Sox
Tigers Tigers Twins White Sox Tigers Tigers Royals
West Astros Astros Astros Astros Astros Astros Astros
Angels Angels Angels Angels Mariners Angels Athletics
Mariners Mariners Athletics Mariners Angels Mariners Mariners
Athletics Athletics Rangers Rangers Athletics Rangers Angels
Rangers Rangers Mariners Athletics Rangers Athletics Rangers

National League The Winning Run Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin Actual
East Nationals Nationals Phillies Nationals Nationals Nationals Braves
Phillies Braves Nationals Phillies Phillies Marlins Nationals
Braves Mets Braves Braves Marlins Braves Phillies
Mets Phillies Mets Mets Braves Mets Mets
Marlins Marlins Marlins Marlins Mets Phillies Marlins
Central Cubs Cubs Reds Cubs Cardinals Cubs Brewers
Brewers Brewers Cubs Cardinals Brewers Brewers Cubs
Cardinals Cardinals Brewers Brewers Cubs Reds Cardinals
Reds Reds Pirates Reds Reds Cardinals Pirates
Pirates Pirates Cardinals Pirates Pirates Pirates Reds
West Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Diamondbacks Dodgers Dodgers
Diamondbacks Rockies Diamondbacks Rockies Dodgers Diamondbacks Rockies
Rockies Giants Giants Diamondbacks Rockies Rockies Diamondbacks
Giants Diamondbacks Padres Giants Giants Giants Giants
Padres Padres Rockies Padres Padres Padres Padres

We are awful at predicting the future. Consistency is critical for an individual or team to find success in baseball. We are consistently awful at making predictions.

A division by division breakdown shows how terrible we were in a Regular Season. Each division had a possible 30 correct predictions; five per person plus five from our aggregate votes as The Winning Run. The Yankees have the most loyal fans (John, Bernie, and Kevin), so one would expect we would successfully predict the American League East. Instead the American League East was our worst division with just three correct predictions. The American League Central was better, in part because of the clear hierarchy of teams. We managed 11 correct predictions. The American League West was our best division in the Junior Circuit with 13 correct predictions. Overall we made 27 correct predictions out of 90 in the American League, a 30% success rate.

We found more success in the Senior Circuit. Derek and Jesse are both die hard Braves fans, plus Atlanta is John’s backup team. Once again the expectation of successful predictions tied to fandom did not come true. We managed nine correct predictions, not great but not horrible. The Central was the toughest in the National League with only four correct predictions. The National League West was our best division in 2018. We made 17 correct predictions (56%), our only division above 50% predicted. We made 30 correct picks in the National League, three more than the American League. Across the regular season we made 57 correct predictions out of 180, 31.66%. A .316 Batting Average is a solid season.

Oakland Athletics versus Texas Rangers
Khris Davis and his perpetual .247 Batting Average led the Athletics back to October. (Nhat V. Meyer/ Bay Area News Group)

A scoring system was necessary to determine who made the best predictions. Regular Season scoring was straight forward, one point for each correct prediction. First up is Derek who managed seven points in the American League; two in the East and Central, and three from the West. He received five points from the National League; one from the East and Central, and three from the West. Derek picked four division winners, including every American League division winner. He tied with a Regular Season best 12 points.

Jesse did not enjoy predicting the American League. He received just two points; one from the Central and West. He completely missed the East. He found better success in the National League with six points; three from the East, two from the Central, and one from the West. He picked three division winners, two American League and one National League. He scored eight points.

John had a mixed bag with his predictions. He scored just four points in the American League; two from the Central and West. Surprisingly he whiffed on the East and his beloved Yankees. The National League was kinder, as he scored seven points. John scored two points from the East and whiffed again on the Central. However, he produced our only perfect division from the West. John picked three division winners, scoring a total of 11 points.

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Christian Yelich sparked the Brewers to a surprising National League Central Division Crown. (Dylan Buell/ Getty Images)

Bernie struggled in the Regular Season. He scored just four points in the American League; one in the East and Central, and two in the West. He did not improve in the National League scoring only two points. He whiffed on both the East and Central, scoring only in the basement of the West. He picked only one division winner. Bernie had the worst regular season with a meager six points.

Kevin followed in John and Bernie’s footsteps by striking out on two divisions. In the American League Kevin scored four points; two from the Central and West. Another one of our die hard Yankee fans struck out on the East. Kevin was equally woeful in the Senior Circuit, scoring just four points; one from the East, swinging and missing in the Central, and three from the West. Despite his struggles, Kevin did predict three division winners on his way to eight points.

Combining our predictions we created The Winning Run’s official predictions. We scored six points in the American League despite our Yankee fans striking out in the East. We scored three points in the Central and West. In the National League we also scored six points; two in the East, one in the Central, and three in the West. We picked three division winners to equal the best Regular Season with 12 points.

Postseason The Winning Run Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin Actual
AL Wild Card Angels Yankees Royals Twins Red Sox Red Sox Yankees
Red Sox Angels Blue Jays Angels Indians Twins Athletics
NL Wild Card Brewers Rockies Cubs Rockies Dodgers Diamondbacks Cubs
Diamondbacks Brewers Diamondbacks Cardinals Brewers Marlins Rockies
ALDS Astros Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Red Sox
Angels Yankees Royals Twins Red Sox Astros Yankees
ALDS Yankees Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Astros
Indians Red Sox Yankees Indians Twins Indians Indians
NLDS Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
Brewers Rockies Cubs Rockies Nationals Diamondbacks Rockies
NLDS Cubs Nationals Phillies Cubs Diamondbacks Cubs Brewers
Nationals Cubs Reds Nationals Cardinals Nationals Braves
ALCS Yankees Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Red Sox
Astros Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Astros
NLCS Dodgers Nationals Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
Cubs Dodgers Phillies Dodgers Diamondbacks Cubs Brewers
World Series Yankees Nationals Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Red Sox
Dodgers Astros Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers

In October everyone could run up the score. Scoring in the Postseason was: two points for predicting the Wild Card Game, four for the Divisional Series, eight for the Championship Series, and 16 for the World Series.

The Postseason is where legends are born and hot streaks go to die. There were 108 possible correct predictions, we made 32 correct picks, 29.62% We made two correct predictions in the Wild Card games. In the Divisional round, we made eight correct picks in the National League and 11 in the American League. In the Championship Series we made seven correct picks; four in the National League and three in the American League. In the World Series we made four correct predictions.

The Postseason separated the champions from the wannabes. A perfect October score is 104 points. No one is perfect. Derek made the worst Postseason predictions. He knew the Yankees would win the Wild Card game. He was correct the Astros would win and the Yankees would lose the Divisional Series. His predictions ended when the Dodgers won and the Rockies lost the Divisional Series. Derek made five correct Postseason predictions for only 18 points.

Justin Turner.jpeg
Justin Turner and the Dodgers could not finish their run through October to a World Series Championship. (Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times)

Jesse fared better in October. He predicted the Cubs would win the National League Wild Card game. In the Divisional Series he had the Dodgers and Astros winning and the Yankees losing. His scoring continued with the Dodgers winning in the Championship Series and losing in the World Series. Jesse made six correct predictions for 38 points.

John did well in the early in October before falling apart. He predicted the Astros and Dodgers winning and the Indians and Rockies losing in the Division Series. Beyond the Division Series, John only predicted the Astros losing the Championship Series. He made five correct predictions for 24 points.

Bernie found his stride in October. He was on the money with the Astros winning the Division Series before losing the Championship Series. He predicted the Dodgers winning the Division and Championship Series before losing the World Series. Bernie made five correct Postseason predictions for of 40 points.

Kevin also  hopped on the Dodgers train in October. He predicted the Red Sox winning and Cleveland losing the Division Series. Then it was all Dodgers. He knew the Dodgers would win the Division and Championship Series before losing the World Series. Kevin made five correct predictions for of 36 points.

The Winning Run’s predictions were successful thanks primarily to the Astros and Dodgers. We knew the Indians would lose the Division Series. Houston predicatively won the Division Series and lost the Championship Series. The Dodgers won the Division and Championship Series before losing the World Series. The Winning Run made six correct Postseason predictions for an October best 44 points.

mookie-betts-red-sox
Mookie Betts and the Red Sox celebrated another World Series victory. (www.CBSSports.com)

The baseball season is an arduous journey with many highs and lows. Champions are successful in the Regular Season and Postseason because they find a way to win. The final standings for The Winning Runs Predictions That Did Go Wrong 5.0. In last place, with a meager 30 points, Derek. He choked in the Postseason despite tying for a Regular Season high 12 points. A horrendous October left him wondering what could have been. In fifth place with 35 points, John. His solid Regular Season, 11 points, could not overcome a pedestrian Postseason. In fourth place, Kevin with 44 points. A weak Regular Season left too few options for the Postseason. He made the most of his October, but it was not enough. Tying for second place with 46 points, Jesse and Bernie. Jesse struggled in the Regular Season with just eight points. Riding the Dodgers deep into October, Jesse to edge out Kevin by a mere two points. Bernie overcame a six point disastrous Regular Season. Against all odds, Bernie used the few teams he had in October to make a deep run to collect 40 points in the Postseason. Despite our individual efforts, no one was destined to wear the championship crown as The Winning Run Predictions That Did Go Wrong 5.0 champion. We tied Derek with 12 points for the best Regular Season before dominating the Postseason with 44 points for a total of 56 points.

The 2019 Major League season is just around the corner. We will once again attempt to predict the future. This time honored tradition continually shows we are great at predicting what will not happen. Someday we could predict the future, but I doubt it.

DJ, JJ, JB, BL, & KB

Central “Champions”

This MLB offseason has unexpectedly been boring. Despite a marquee free agent class and a number of teams looking to make trades, since December it has followed last year’s offseason of inactivity, at least until Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sign. But as we countdown the days to Spring Training, this period of quiet affords us a perfect time to discuss another smoldering issue: the American League Central was garbage in 2018. While the division’s awfulness is apparent from a quick glance at the final 2018 standings — one team with a winning record, two hundred loss teams, and one 98 loss team — the level of stink went much deeper.

We’ll begin with Cleveland, the Central “Champions.” A cursory look seems to indicate Cleveland had a solid season. They put together 91 wins while finishing 3rd in the American League in runs scored, 2nd in batting average, 6th in OBP and SLG, and 4th in OPS. Their pitching staff was the only one to feature 4 starters putting up 200+ strikeouts en route to the 9th best ERA, 7th fewest runs allowed, and a collective 7.7 WAR, good for 6th best in the league. With the 5th best run differential in the league, Cleveland appeared to be a solid playoff team in 2018.

Francisco Lindor.jpg
Francisco Lindor and Cleveland were not the World Series contenders their record said they were. (Ron Schwane/ Getty Images)

But this impression starts to fall apart when you take a deeper look into their stats, particularly when focusing on Cleveland’s splits again divisional and non-divisional opponents. In 2018, Cleveland put together a 49-27 (.645) record against their division and a 42-44 (.488) record against non-divisional opponents which included a 22-31 (.415) record against teams above .500. While their divisional record is to be expected given the sorry state of their opponents, the non-divisional record isn’t the result of bad luck, they were awful against better quality opponents.  

Against non-divisional opponents, Cleveland was a sub-.500 team with a pedestrian +3 run differential. This is partly the result of a decline in pitching performance, as their staff’s ERA and RA/G against non-divisional opponents increased by over a run, falling below the league averages of 4.14 and 4.45, respectively.

2018 Cleveland Pitching Stats
ERA Runs Allowed RA/G SO SO/9 WHIP RDIFF
Division 2.92 240 3.16 748 9.89 1.09 167
Non-Division 4.53 408 4.74 796 9.25 1.31 3

 

They fared better offensively against non-divisional opponents, putting up a batting line that was above the league average in all categories but markedly below their overall numbers as a top offense.

2018 Cleveland Batting Stats
Win-Loss (%) Runs Scored R/G Avg. OBP SLG OPS
Division 49-27 (.645) 407 5.36 0.269 0.343 0.450 0.793
Non-Division 42-44 (.488) 411 4.78 0.249 0.321 0.421 0.742

 

This split in performance was an outlier among the AL playoff teams. The other AL playoff teams, with the exception of Oakland, performed well against teams both inside and outside their division. The run differentials are against divisional and non-divisional opponents for each playoff team are broken out below with Tampa Bay added in to show how Cleveland compares with the best non-playoff team (Seattle was left out due to their improbable record in close games in 2018).  

2018 American League Playoff Team and Tampa Bay Run Differentials
Team Overall Against Division Against Non-Division Against AL Central
Houston 263 94 169 102
Boston 229 98 131 47
Yankees 182 95 87 49
Oakland 139 13 126 67
Tampa Bay 70 10 60 31
Cleveland 170 167 3

 

With the exception of Oakland having a similar split in the opposite direction, no other playoff team was even close to the type of split that Cleveland put up, despite the AL East teams having the privilege of playing Baltimore more often. Houston may have even performed better against the AL Central than Cleveland, putting up a 102 rdiff against the division in 44 fewer games. That Cleveland played so poorly against opponents outside its division while the rest of the playoff teams did not, is not just the result of Cleveland being a weak playoff team but the division winner from one of the historically worst divisions in baseball since the beginning of the divisional era in 1969.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers
Corey Kluber may leave Cleveland if the team is going to become a real contender.  (www.mlb.com)

In June 2018, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh wrote an article detailing the strength of each division since 1969 using an analysis supplied by Dan Hirsch of The Baseball Gauge. The method is similar to the “Simple Rating System” at Sports Reference Sites and adds the average RDiff of a division against teams from outside its division (“RDiff”) to the average run differential of the division’s opponents in their own non-divisional games, excluding games against the division listed (“SoS”) to produce an overall rating (“SRS”). You can find the full list here, noting the AL Central results are from June 2018.

At the time, the AL Central was on track to beat the awful 2005 NL West (which the Padres won with a 82-80 record) for weakest division. Using stats from Baseball Reference to calculate the AL Central’s final 2018 SRS shows they managed to avoid the embarrassing mark of worst division by finishing as the second worst division since 1969.

Division Rdiff SoS SRS
2005 NL West -1.014 0.099 -1.005
2018 Al Central -0.977 0.092 -0.885

 

While this may seem as another historical curiosity produced by baseball, under MLB’s current schedule and playoff structure, having a division that performs far below the others could add to the trend of teams committing to lengthy rebuilds instead of improving to make a playoff push.

A good example of this is Seattle. The Mariners finished 2018 with 89 wins, good for 7th best in the AL, but 8 games behind Oakland. This offseason, Seattle has decided to undergo a full rebuild, seemingly concluding that they can’t make the necessary improvement to catch up to Oakland or Houston. But that calculus might have been different under a playoff system that sent the top-5 teams in each league to the playoffs instead of the division winners and 2 wild cards. Catching up to Houston and Oakland would still be out of reach in 2019 under such a system, but Seattle making enough smaller improvements to compete with Cleveland, Minnesota, or Tampa Bay for the 5th playoff spot seems attainable.

Terry Francona.jpg
Cleveland has to point the finger at themselves and take a hard look at their team if they want to win in the Post Season. (John Kuntz/ http://www.cleveland.com)

Instead, none of those teams just mentioned are doing much to improve their rosters. Seattle is rebuilding, Minnesota has made a couple of tweaks (claiming C.J. Cron and signing Jonathan Schoop and Nelson Cruz) but hasn’t improved their pitching, Tampa is pursuing its usual strategy, and Cleveland is shedding payroll and looking to trade Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.

Maybe a Kluber or Bauer trade will bring back current players to improve their outfield and bullpen, it appears that Cleveland may focus on the future and seek prospects and young players. A prospects orientated trade would make Cleveland worse in 2019, yet they likely would still be favorites to repeat as AL Central champs.  This is made possible because the AL Central is crud and, at a time when MLB revenues are rising, AL Central teams aren’t spending money to improve (all of its team’s 2018 payrolls were in the bottom half of MLB). This removes a playoff spot from being truly competitive, and may add to the growing list of teams undergoing rebuilds and results in less meaningful and interesting games for fans.

KB

And The Winner Is…

The Championship Series to decide the American and National League pennants are set. The Boston Red Sox against the Houston Astros in the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League. My personal favorite teams are not among the four remaining, so what better time to take an unscientific approach to decide who I want to win the World Series.

Starting with the team’s success every team has won at least one pennant. Their last pennants were: the Red Sox in 2013, the Astros and in 2017, and the Brewers in 1982 (American League). The 1982 American League Pennant remains the Brewers only trip to the World Series. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. The Astros are the defending World Series Champions. The Dodgers last won the World Series with Kirk Gibson in 1988. The Brewers are still waiting to win their first World Series Championship.

Gibson.gif
In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. (www.mlb.com)

Looking at the home cities I have visited Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. Sorry Milwaukee, maybe another time. My positive take from Boston is the rich history of the city colonial days to present. The food and drink is wonderful, which is made better by having extended family in Boston. Houston is a fun city. The food and culture is diverse and it never hurts to have a friend working for NASA to show you around. Los Angeles has great weather, great food, and beautiful scenery from the mountains to the beaches. Never visiting Milwaukee, I would guess the beer and brats are delicious and the lakefront area by Lake Michigan is nice. I would guess.

However, for all the great things about these cities there are drawbacks. Boston is cold and the people are not always warm and welcoming. Houston is the epitome of flat, urban sprawl. Los Angeles has its world famous traffic and pollution, not to mention it is expensive. In my mind, Milwaukee is always cold, and I hate the cold.

The ballparks the teams play in a different as well. Fenway Park is a historic park with a unique configuration and appearance. Baseball legends have played on this diamond for over a century. The history of the park all but speaks for itself. Minute Maid Park is modern with all the amenities baseball fans have come to expect. The weather outside rarely matters as the retractable roof creates perfect baseball weather inside every day of the year. Dodger Stadium is timeless in its simplicity and longevity. Legends, including the voice of baseball Vin Scully, have spent decades within its inviting confines. Miller Park remains on my list of Major League stadiums to visit. Beyond the ability to close the roof and have perfect baseball weather, the Uecker seats and the slide for Bernie Brewer are clearly the most important features of the park.

Brewer.gif
Celebratory slide for Bernie Brewer.  (www.mlb.com)

The good comes with the bad. Fenway Park was built when people were smaller. There is not enough legroom between seats, especially for people who are claustrophobic. It is also an expensive park to visit as people flock to historic Fenway to watch the Red Sox continued success year after year. The roof on Minute Maid Park is not perfect. I had the pleasure of sitting under a leaky portion of the roof a few years ago. Luckily I was able to change seats, otherwise the torrential rain outside would have soaked me inside the stadium. The closed roof also means the cannon fire after an Astros home run is deafening. Dodger Stadium is expensive but the biggest complaint I have is the team does not market their history well. I could not find any memorabilia from their storied history. Maybe keep a few Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella shirseys around, people will definitely buy them. Where do I start with Miller Park. Ummm…it looks a little dark when I watch a game on television.

Everything else is superficial, it is the team on the field that matters the most. The Red Sox have a solid rotation with Chris Sale and David Price, arguably the best closer in Craig Kimbrel, stars like J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and the Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts. The Astros have a proven winning lineup with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. A rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel does not hurt either. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw leading the charge with Yasiel Puig, a resurgent Matt Kemp, Justin Turner, and a host of other All Star caliber players. The Brewers have the National League Most Valuable Player in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jesus Aguilar supported by an almost unhittable bullpen with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel.

RedSox.jpg
Mookie Betts and the Red Sox look unbeatable. (Boston Herald/ Stuart Cahill)

Each team also has unique drawbacks. The Red Sox have spent a ton of money to assemble a great team. World Series Championships should be won not purchased. The Astros are the defending Champions, their repeating is less than thrilling. The Dodgers have tried to buy a World Series for years, this forever rubs me the wrong way. The Brewers still employ Ryan Braun. I am not a fan of his, not was busted for using Performance Enhancing Drugs, but his attempt to smear Dino Laurenzi’s name, the test collector, to save himself from his own stupidity forever stained his legacy. I have sat in left field when watching the Brewers on the road simply to boo Braun and will continue to do so until he retires.

After weighing the good and the bad for each team my decision on which team to root to a World Series Championship comes down to a single person. Bob Uecker. Mr. Baseball. Bob Uecker has given his life to baseball. He has been the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. He was Harry Doyle in the Major League movies. His appearances on Johnny Carson. Andre the Giant choking him. The Miller Lite commercials. He continues to complain about his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame only as a Broadcaster, the Ford C. Frick Award in 2003, and not as a player. A career .200 hitter with 14 lifetime home runs, including off Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, and Sandy Koufax. Yes that Sandy Koufax. The stats speak for themselves. Come on Brewers, give Milwaukee the World Series they deserve with Bob Uecker making the call.

Uecker.jpg
Come on Brewers, let Bob Uecker announce a World Series Champion!!! (Scripps Media-2016)

DJ

September Baseball

The time has arrived for teams chasing the playoffs to claim their spots or fade away into another off season. The boys of summer has worked hard for months for the opportunity to play in October, and September has the ability to give them the world or take it all away. There are 10 playoff spots available and as September marches towards the cooler weather of October there are 18 teams fighting for their spot among the 10. Several teams like the Royals, Mariners, Brewers, and Cardinals have almost no room for error. They must play nearly perfect September baseball to pass teams ahead of them to secure their ticket to the Wild Card game. Is it impossible? No. Is it likely? Probably not, but what is wrong with giving it a shot.

Brewers
Will the Brewers high flying start help them make the playoffs for the first time since 2011? (Noah K. Murray- USA TODAY Sports)

Those teams like the Phillies, Giants, and White Sox are already looking forward to 2018. Even though the results of their games in September will not change the outcome of their season, many players are playing for  their futures. No one wants to pack it in in September because the difference between playing in the Majors and the Minors is microscopic, yet the rewards are enormous. Jobs are on the line for players with  teams who have been out of the playoff hunt since early summer; players, coaches, and the front office need to leave owners with a good impression otherwise the off season could be unkind.

As the calendar turns deeper into September, the games for those chasing the playoffs begin to feel like the playoffs themselves. Every at bat and pitch matters because a single win or lose can be the difference between making the playoffs and watching at home. The Major League season is a marathon and September is the home stretch. Teams need to pick it up and start sprinting to the finish. It is better to go all out now, than to wonder all winter what could have been. Happy September baseball, the playoffs before the playoffs.

DJ

American Dominance

The Houston Astros are rolling through the American League yet it is not a single dominant player that is leading the team, rather it is a full cast. A.J. Hinch is managing an offense that can pound opponents from different angles and a pitching staff that is above average. Put the two together and it is clear why the race for the American League West ended a long time ago.

Offensively the Astros are not a one man show, rather they are a cast of many. A quick rundown of the statistics paints a vivid picture. Houston has:

  • 7 players with 100 or more hits: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Marwin Gonzalez.
  • 4 players with .300 or better Batting Average:  Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and George Springer.
    • Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel are hitting .295.
  • 6 players with at least 50 RBI: Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick.
  • 4 players with 40 or more walks: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.
    • Marwin Gonzalez has 37 walks.
  • 8 players with 50 or more Runs scored: George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Yuli Gurriel, and Marwin Gonzalez.
  • 11 players with 11 or more home runs: George Springer, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, and Evan Gattis.

Houston can hit for average and power, can get a runner over and then in. The Astros have the fewest strikeouts in the Majors, they put the ball in play and good things are happening. Even with Correa, McCann, and Gattis sporting injuries, this team still has enough firepower to continue rolling along. Not relying on one or two players for their offense should prevent the Astros from running out of steam in October.  

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The Astros hope to continue the celebration in October. (Aric Crabb/ Bay Area News Group)

Even if the Astros offense gets hurt and/or all runs cold the pitching staff is capable to keeping the team going. While not as dominant as the offense, it’s a tough act to follow, the Houston pitching staff has a 4.24 team ERA, below the MLB average of 4.34. They lead MLB in strikeouts with 1,201 and are only slightly above average in walks allowed with 397, average is 389. The team WHIP is 1.288 against the MLB average of 1.342. None of these numbers are eye popping. They merely point out that the Astros have a serviceable pitching staff able to keep games close enough on those nights when the offense slows down a step. Despite his own injuries, Dallas Keuchel leads the starting rotation with a 2.77 ERA in 15 starts. Injuries to Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh have meant the linchpin to the pitching staff’s success has been the bullpen. Set up men Chris Devenski and Will Harris have ERAs below 2.86, while closer Ken Giles has an ERA of 2.80 with 23 saves and 40 games finished. The ability to shorten a game to only six or seven innings on a given night means even in close games opposing teams have to get their offense going early otherwise the Houston bullpen can shut them down.

Houston lost a lot of games for several years to rebuild into a contender. The plan has worked. The Astros are one of, if not, the best team in baseball. The discomfort of losing season after season should result in winning season after season for the foreseeable future. A.J. Hinch’s team shows no sign of slowing down. The offense is carrying the team, yet the pitching staff is good enough to keep the success going once playoff baseball arrives. Time will tell, but for now Houston looks almost unstoppable.

DJ

Old School Pennant Race

Under the original playoff system the best team in each league met in the World Series. If that system were still in place the pennant race in both leagues would be nearly over. The Houston Astros lead the American League by 6 games and the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the National League by 12.5 games. It is early August. The rest of the season would be rather boring unless at least one of these teams takes a nosedive. Barring the unthinkable, it would almost seem like a waste to wait until October to play the World Series. Houston and Los Angeles have demonstrated their dominance over their respective leagues during the first two-thirds of the season.

Thankfully baseball no longer goes straight from the regular season to the World Series. Instead a potential snooze fest of a season is shaping up to be an exciting stretch run. The Red Sox and Indians lead their respective divisions, with the Yankees, Twins, Royals, Rays, Mariners, Angels, Orioles, Rangers, and Blue Jays within five games of either their divisional lead or a Wild Card spot in the American League. In the National League, the Cubs and Nationals lead their divisions with the Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Rockies, and Diamondbacks within five games of their division lead or a Wild Card spot.

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The Dodgers hope to celebrate a World Series victory in October. (Noel M. Vasquez/ Getty Images)

Baseball is better when 18 teams are in the running for the playoffs, not just two- exciting playoff races are one way to grow the game.

One of the critics of each playoff expansion, from Championship Series to Divisional Series to Wild Card, has been that the best team in baseball does not always win the World Series. No doubt this is true. The Braves of the 1990’s should have won more than just one World Series. The Indians of that era should have at least one World Series title to their credit. Meanwhile, the Miami (Florida) Marlins won two World Series, both times as the National League Wild Card.

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Sandy Alomar and the Indians were the better team during the regular season, but came up short in the World Series. (www.si.com)

In many ways this unpredictability in the World Series is good for baseball. Think of the billions of dollars the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Red Sox have spent over the last decade to win four world Series between them. Large payrolls don’t guarantee World Series victories, nor does a World Series title guarantee success the next season as the Red Sox can attest. In basketball, it’s an easy bet that any team with LeBron James will play in the NBA Finals. In football, the Patriots are usually a solid choice as long as Tom Brady is healthy. It does not work that way in baseball. If it did every World Series would be Mike Trout and the Angels and/or Bryce Harper and the Nationals. How many World Series appearances do they have combined? Zero.

18 of the 30 Major League teams still have at least an outside shot at the playoffs. Are some teams delusional about their chances and were buyers instead of sellers at the trade deadline? Absolutely. However, baseball as a whole benefits when the majority of teams are still playing hard with two months to go instead of rolling over and waiting for next year. The Astros and Dodgers should play each other in the World Series, but like most things in life and baseball this is not guaranteed.

DJ