MLB Races With A Week To Go.

Last year I wrote article nearly every day on the complicated MLB pennant race. This year, it is very siimple. In the American League, only the Central DIvision is undecided as Detroit leads KC by a single game. The Royals are playing Cleveland in Cleveland today and finish at Chicago. The Tigers host Chicago and then the Twins over the final weekend. That gives the Tigers at least a one game advantage and they will probably win the division, leaving the Royals as one of the two wildcard teams.

The other AL wild card will be the A’s who lead Seattle by 2. Seattle ends with the Angels, not the place to be if you are trying to sweep a series. Look for a playoff between Oakland and Kansas CIty for the fourth playoff spot. Of interest here, is that Oakland with 86-70 wins has a one game home field advantage over KC. 85-71 that may be determined by a coin lip in a week. Hang on.

In the National League, it is all over. St. Louis, Baltimore, and the LA Dodgers won divisions and Pittsburgh and San Francisco will play the wild card game. Pittsburgh has a 1/2 game home field advantage there, so another coin toss may occur. 

This season will end without the great drama I like to see, but that drama will likely come in the playoffs.  There are great teams playing and the chance of a Washington World Series is a lot to consider for me. Having just watched the Angels recently, I am leaning toward them as well. I would go to a game just to see Mike Trout play centerfield. There is also the possibilty of Baltimore-Washington, a LA-LA, or a KC-St.L World Series matchups.  Could be interesting, don’t you think?

For now, it is just a matter of waiting, unless, of course, something unexpected happens, and that happens often in the wonderful world of Major League Baseball. 

The American League Race as MLB Starts the Final Run to the Pennant.

The All-Star Game is history and the American League won to give Manager Jim Leyland’s Tigers home field advantage in the World Series, if they can get there. The problem he faces is that there are nine other American League teams with a credible chance to also enjoy the home field advantage the All-Star Game victory awarded to the league.
A credible chance means that a team is within nine games of the lead or wild card race. The LA Angels are arguably part of this race, but too far back in both categories to have that credible chance.
The reason I cut it off at nine games is that there are just over ten weeks left in the season and that means a team nine games out now must gain a game a week and then one more in the tenth week to win. Baseball’s rigid math makes that very difficult. Not impossible, just very difficult.
For example, if the A’s win at  .589 as they have so far over the next 71 games, they will win 95 games, for the Angels to win 95 games, they will have to win 51 of the remainng 69 games. I said “very difficult” but not “impossible.”  To make it reasonably possible, the Angels would have to win fifteen in a row. If the A’s won eight times duting that period, the Angels would only be five behind, but with just over six weeks to play. The math in the game is relentless.   
Tampa Bay is 2 1/2 behind the Red Sox and Baltimore is 4 1/2 behind.  A real horse race. The Rays play the Red Sox and Orioles seven times going forward. That division will go to the last week.
The race that really has my attention is Detroit and Cleveland. The gap today is 1 1/2 games. The Tigers have 68 games to go, the Indians 66. They will play each other seven games in the last ten weeks. It is the way the season ends for the two teams that really has my attention.
The Tigers finish with nine games againt the last place White Sox, three at home, then three with the Twins and three with Miami on the road. The Indians finish with last place Houston (four at home and the White Sox, two at home, then finish in Minnesota with four at Target Field. In fact the Indians and Tigers don’t play a  .500 team for the last 21 games of the season. The schedule maker does have a sense of drama.
What makes this interesting is that the two contenders will be playing with their hands around their throats, where every pitch is significant and they will be playing against teams that are trying to have an impact by determining winners. The Twins, for example, may be trying to avoid losing 100 games that last four game series. If history is helpful, they play very will trying to avoid that ignomy.
The National League has its close races too, and I will write about those soon. But the Tiger Indian race is the one I am focused on because both teams have strengths and demonstrable weakness as well.

Jim Leyland managed  the All-Star Game to gain home field advantage, Let’s see if this works out for him., L

How to Manage a Team and Win the Pennant

The Major league season is past the quarter pole and has taken a very interesting turn as teams that were predicted to dominate are disasters.
    In the  AL Central,  Cleveland and Detroit are tied at the top and KC just behind. Detroit will win that one, but Cleveland is good and is playing very well. KC may surprise all of us, but I don’t think they have enough yet to win in the long season.
    In the AL East, the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, and Rays are all over .500 and only Toronto is failing . Of course, readers of this blog will remember that I predicted the Jays would win it all. That was because, on paper, they had a very good team, but it is playing horribly with key players not performing, see Bautista’s record.  
    In the AL West, the Angels are horrible. With Trout, Pujols, Hamiltom, Trumbo and Hendrick in the batting order, this team should score lots of runs, but it is not and can’t pitch. A real and expensive disaster.
    In the National League Central, the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates are within 2.5games. This was predictable, and I have suggested the emergence of the Pirates for two years. This division is the prime example of baseball culture dominating.
    In the NL East, the Braves, Nationals, and Phillies are within 3.5 games. The Phillies are doing it by sheer desire. The Braves and Nationals are wonderful teams, great players, good pitching and both teams drip baseball culture. The Braves have had that feature for decades; the Nats have developed it over two seasons, a tribute to Lerner and company.
    In the West, we find the worst disaster of all time. The D’Backs, Giants, and Rockies are over .500. The Dodgers, the highest salaried team in MLB, is in last place. (See update below!) With good hitting, they are not scoring runs.  Contrasting the Dodgers and Giants is a study of baseball culture being dominant in SF and deteriorating in LA.

     Let’s pretend you are running a team. You will  need to look at what non-uniformed managers can do to keep it going or reverse a slide. I sat with a group of sports executives a few years ago and I asked “what management could do?” “Where could management make a difference beyond the selection of players.” In other words, once your team is selected, what options are there for improving performance?.
    
    Here are some suggestions, listed in no particular order,

Technique. Coaching can improve play through instruction and improved technique, but in the top professional leagues, this is incremental change, only.

Training .Players can be coached to be physically fit for stamina, quickness and speed. This also is an injury prevention and recovery program.

Body knowledge This is training again to have the player aware of his physical strengths and weaknesses and correct through weight lifting and other exercises. This has an injury prevention aspect as well.

Diet. This means eating to stay at the right weight, neither too much or too little. Players do lose weight and strength and this can be monitored and corrected.

Nutrition. This is telling players what to eat, fewer Twinkies, (Yes, they are back) and more protein. This is actually very important and nutritional counseling should be offered at the earliest days of a career.

Equipment: The players simply have to have the correct equipment from shoes to caps, bats, sticks, helmets etc. No secret here
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Drug counseling. This is obvious for two reasons. First, drugs have health risks, and Second, a player that fails drug testing is lost to the team.

Mental training: Here counseling should be offered to keep players balanced during period of stress, like every day. Sports are marked by failure and players have to learn how to handle it. There are more mental casualties than physical career ending events. The simple management technique here is to make sure a player hears three positive comments to each negative one. This is to develop a positive attitude. For example, tell a player who just grounded out that he had a good swing, hit a good pitch and almost got it. This is the difference between missing a put and thinking you almost made a put. The latter attitude will sink the next one. I told Harmon Killebrew that he struck out on a great pitch, he said, “ I just missed it.”

Social style counseling: Part one: This is how to be a good teammate, building cohesion, and supporting others. Part two. Family and friends’ This means be careful of who you hang out with and keep your wife happy. Family peace helps a player and discord has an effect on the field.

    Implementation of these programs gets at developing a baseball culture, which is all about scoring or preventing runs. Nothing else matters. This requires total focus on baseball at every step, from the ushers, the concession workers and vendors to the players, 24/7, as they say. This is what the Nationals, Rangers, Braves, A’s, Cardinals, Reds, Tigers and Giants have, and the Dodgers have just recovered it and are now, August 10, five games ahead of Arizona. It is this culture that wins pennants and that culture is built with focus on the management elements listed above.