MLB Wild Card: The Final Week, The Small Market Teams Prevail.

Jason Giambi hit a “walk off” pinch hit home run last night to beat Chicago and keep the Indians one game ahead of the Texas Rangers for the final wild card slot in the Majors. The Indians have won five in a row and have five games remaining against Chicago (1) and Minnesota (4). Texas has Houston (1) and LAA (4). The Indians should make it, but they have had problems in Minnesota this year and the Twins are well lead and will not lay down.

The NL Division series will start October 1, with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati playing a one game playoff game. The location, if played today, would be Pittsburgh, as the Pirates now have a one game lead. The two teams play the last three against each other in Cincinnati this weekend and that will determine the victor.

The most interesting factor in the 2013 Playoffs is that of the ten teams involved, seven of the teams are small and mid-sized markets. Only Atlanta, LA, and Boston are large market teams. Detroit is a mid-sized market, but the rest, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and St.Louis are in the bottom half of MLB rankings of market size. Oakland, due to its poor stadium, is classified as a small market due to low local revenue.

This indicates that design and intellect still matter. I once classified MLB teams as being capital intensive or labor intensive organizations and here the labor (or intellect) intensive teams are prevailing. There is a lesson here that should not be lost on the large market teams in New York, Chicago and the Angels as they try to recover in 2014. There is a way to do this and planning and thinking leads the way.

Revenue sharing allows small market teams to retain their better players, so the free agent market does not allow large market teams to spend their way to success. They will have to do it the old fashion way by scouting well and developing players in the Minor Leagues. It is, in my opinion, the only way. 

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.

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