MLB Playoffs 2013- updated September 12.

MLB’s playoff format was changed for 2012 by adding a one game playoff between the teams with the second highest winning percentage among non-division winners. Previously, the team with the highest winning percentage was the wild card and played the winningest team, if that team was not in its division, for the Division Championship, prelude to the League Championship Series.

What this means is that contenders in August and September are focusing on that second wild card position and that creates some interesting scenarios. In the National League, the scenario is who plays whom with five teams all but guaranteed playoff positions. The second highest winning percentage is Cincinnati’s  .556. 65 wins v. 52 losses. No one else is close. The only question is whether the wild cards, all from the NL Central,  will include èittsburgh or St. Louis, depending on whether the Pirates can hold its 3 game lead over St. Louis. That will be close, but this one game playoff, Cincinnati v. either St. Louis or PIttsburgh, will be very competitive.

In the American League, the situation is not so clear as there are three teams Tampa Bay, Oakland, and Baltimore, that will make up the two teams that playoff for the Wild Card position in the Division Series. If Oakland beats Texas or Tampa beats Boston and wins the Division, make the changes that implies. It will be interesting.

The determining factor will be the teams’ ability to win under pressure. See here The games will be largely determined by the ability to catch the ball and make plays in the field, the most rudimentary of baseball actions.

UPDATE- I now include Kansas City and New York in the Wild Card Race as both teams have played very well. There will be two wild cards this year, so pay attention.

Detroit v. Cleveland for the AL Central TItle

As a follow up to yesterday’s post on the American League pennant race that focused on the Tigers and Indians, last night was very interesting. In the post, I mentioned that in September, when both teams will be playing sub  .500 teams, they will be “playing with their hands around their throats.” 

Well, it seems that may have started early.

Last  night the Indians gave up two unearned runs and one tainted run in a 3-2 loss to Minnesota, who played like a team that wanted to beat a contender. Indian 3b Chisenhall booted one ball that lead to two runs and 1b Swisher simply dropped a thrown ball that happen to “hit him in the glove.” In  baseball lore, it is well known that it is “hard to catch the ball with your free hand around your neck.”  That quote is attributed to Gary Gaetti who said it after screwing up a play in Cleveland in September 1984 that may have cost the Twins a chance at the division lead.

What made the game all that important was that Cleveland was watching the scoreboard that showed KC beating Detroit 1-0, the final score as it turns out. Of course, in KC, Detroit was watching the Twins and Cleveland tied at 2 until Swisher dropped that ball and Mauer singled in the winning run in the 8th.

This going to be a very interesting last two months. Stay tuned.

Kansas City Royals Emerge

This is a very interesting MLB season. The National League East Division has four teams within 1 1/2 games of each other with the highly paid, but poorly performing Dodgers buried in last place. This one may go down to the last week of the season. The American League East Division has four teams winning more than half their games. Separation will have to occur when they play each other more.
The race I am focused on is in the AL Central where my beloved Twins play.
In this division, the Kansas City Royals are emerging as a real contender. It has moved ahead of Cleveland for second place and is within the critical five game margin that means one good week for it and a bad week for Detroit and they will be neck and neck.  All teams have bad streaks and good streaks, the Royals had its bad streak and the Tigers will have one. 
The Royals success pleases me because I saw this team at the end of the 2011 season and predicted great things for 2012. It was not to be. Players such as Hosmer, Butler, Gordon, and Perez lead this team that is for real now, and James Shields will win going forward if the team scores more than 2 runs a game for him.
Gene Mauch, the great manager said, “teams have to learn to play, then to win, then to win when they have to.”  Kansas City has learned to play, and is learning to win. We will learn if it can win when it has to sometime after Labor Day. Detroit will be hard to beat with its superb starting pitching, but its relief pitching is suspect. This will be a great race and that is all I ask for in a Major League Season and this one has great races that will keep us engaged until the snow flies.

American League Predictions for 2013- Sunday Ramblings for March 24, 2013;

I have been thinking about the coming baseball season because this is a year that may find a significant shift in the rankings of teams. Here are predictions for the American League in 2013 with the National League predictions coming later in the week.

In the American League, the Blue Jays will win the East because Jose Bautista and the addition of pitchers R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle, and players Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonafacio, Melky Cabrera, Macier Izturis and Mark DeLarosa. This increases the payroll to around $120,000,000.The willingness to spend in Toronto is triggered by an awareness that the old guard of Yankees and Red Sox may be finished, at least for a while. The Tampa Bay Rays will be in second and, if Toronto stumbles for any of a variety of reasons, like Bautista’s wrist, and this very solid, very well managed team will win again. Baltimore is improving but is just too young and thin to challenge and the Yankees are really old and injured. The Red Sox are still recovering from whatever it was that wrecked them last year. You still won’t get a ticket in Fenway Park. In the AL East, there will be the top two, Toronto and Tampa Bay, and the bottom three. How’s that for a major shift?

In the American League West, it is Angels all the way. This is easy. Trout, Hamilton, Pujols, Trumbo and an adequate pitching staff. The Athletics and Rangers will follow and may overtake the Angels if there are the unforeseen events of injuries to the key players. I have learned to appreciate the Beane Athletics and am now a fan of Nolan Ryan’s Ranger operation. Still, any team that has the incomparable Mike Trout followed by other hitters is going to be vary hard to beat. If the pitching falters, however, KPKP applies, (more on this later).

In the AL Central, the division I watch the most, it is the Tigers that should dominate, especially if they have a closer. Like Toronto, the Tigers have a dominate hitter, MVP Miguel Cabrera, and the superb Prince Fielder, who is one on the best situational hitters I have ever seen. He is at his best when the going is tough. The pitching, Verlander, Fister, Porcello, Scherzer and others will be sufficient to stay ahead of the much improved Indians. The White Sox and Royals will battle for third and the Twins, my beloved Twins, that lack pitching to such and extent the KPKP rules apply. That team will get better but the Mauer and Morneau pair is over 30 now and heading downhill. (KPKP comes from a from a scout I worked with who used KP to mean “Can’t Play” in reference to a player and we expanded that to KPKP for a team that Can’t Pitch Can’t Play.)

The American League Wild Card will come from Tampa Bay, Oakland or Texas or, if these teams win, the second place team in that Division. I think Tampa will do it, but there is a play-in game with the two top finishing second place teams, so anything can happen there.

Predictions for the National League will come soon, but let me say the Washington Nationals may be the best team in the business.