Fall Baseball War on Labor Day, 2014

There is something disquieting about Labor Day.  It is the end of Summer, leaves turn color and die, the frost will finish off what’s left, even the daylight diminishes, and sun will be setting later until it is the shortest day and it is Winter.  Baseball is born in the spring when all teams have hope, flourishes in the Summer as teams figure out how good or bad they are,  then it is Fall and we race against the sun to see who wins it all before the game hibernates for the Winter. At this point, the teams know how good they are and how bad. The good ones now focus on the last 28 games and the ultimate, short course, pennant race. It is a no holds barred, free for all to see who will prevail.

Today we know who is really good, just good, could be good and bad. The really good are Kansas City and Detroit, Baltimore, Angels and A’s in the AL and Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh,  Washington, LA Dodgers and SF in the National.
 
The good team is Cleveland that just misses. The “could (will) be good” teams are Miami and Seattle, maybe next year, especially for Miami. The rest of them have serious work to do and only a few show any inclination to do it wisely. (By wisely, I mean.doing smart stuff,  not just stuff to appease the fans mid-winter like signing a bad pitcher, now 5-10, 5.96, to a multiyear contract that simply shows why they are bad.)
 
Kansas CIty leads Detroit by 1/2 game in the AL Central, with Cleveland 3 behind. In the AL East, Baltimore leads by 9. In the AL west, the Angels just crushed the A’s four straigth to lead by 5. The only drama is in the Central.

In the National League, Milwaukee and St. Louis are tied and Pittsburgh is two behind. Definte drama here. Washington leads Atlanta by six so its really over.  and LA.  leads SF by 2 1/2. But LA is going to win there.

The only drama is the race for the second wild-card. (DId I really say that?) In the AL, Seattle has a chance and Atlanta and Pittsburgh have a chance in the NL.We’ll see.

What does the lack of drama mean? It means that the playoffs will supply the drama the season fails to provide. More on that in a few weeks, but I’m betting on a Baltimore-Washington World Series. Both of these teams can hit, field, throw, hit with power and pitch!  See you in Baltimore in October. 

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. 

Fall Baseball is War

A baseball season starts in the Spring with teams playing with a relaxed tone that indicates players understanding that there is the long season ahead and any early deficit can be overcome. This leads to the mid-season, from June through August, where the play intensifies as they are in great shape and have an understanding of how good or bad the team is.  With this understanding comes a developing urge to win, if the team is good, or just survive and avoid the ignominy of the cellar.Ignominy-and-the-MLB-Cellar-Dweller”

Then it is September. This is the month where every pitch has meaning. The glory of the pennant is there, as is the drive to preserve some pride by beating a contender and finishing as well as possible. This is September 3. There are about 25 games left, not the mass of 100+  that faced teams in June. Here a game won or lost can make all the difference. Just one game here or there. Players play September game as if it were war.

In the AL West, Oakland and Texas have identical records, 79-58, at the top. On those teams, as is true of all teams in the pennant race, memories of games lost in April and May due to an error, missed cut off man, misjudged flyball, and all of the ways a game can be lost are remembered, vaguely, and the fact that can’t happen now dominates players’ thinking. As said earlier, some teams play with their hands on their throats. Texas lost to Minnesota to a late homerun recently.  Oakland has won four in a row and beat Texas yesterday, and they play each other five more times this month.

In the AL East, Boston is 5.5 games ahead and shows no sign of losing. The Orioles and Yankees are battling for the wild card position, 1/2 game apart. They play each other four times next week.

In the NL Central, three teams, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati have post season possibilities. The Pirates are ahead by one game over St. Louis and play each other this weekend. In that division, the Cubs and Brewers are tied for last, and that is a real race, as well, as the drive to avoid being last is as strong in September as is the race to win. They will play each other seven more times in what will be vigorously contested games.

In the NL West, the race is between San Diego and San Francisco to avoid the cellar. They are tied at 61-76. They are playing a three game series now, San DIego won yesterday and will finish the season with a three game series in San Francisco. Just thinking of the importance to those two teams of avoiding the ignominy of the cellar means that series will be ferocious.

The long season is 162 games long. It is like life itself where daily events have long term impacts. For the baseball fan, it’s never over ’til it’s over and for all the teams mentioned above, it won’t be over until the season is over. The only time in baseball where time is a factor and for baseball people, in September, time seems to stand still.

Major League Baseball, Attendance and Competitive Balance.

Major League Baseball is my first interest each morning. World news can wait as I peruse the sports section, especially MLB standings and box scores.There is a lot of information there and I find something of note every day.

Today, what captured my eye was MLB attendance levels at the ten games played Monday.  This is an era of intense media coverage and modern stadiums that has pushed average attendance at MLB games to rise to over 30,000 per game. Yesterday, however, the attendance figures were more typical of the 1970’s. In those days, for example, the only video available of live action, was a 10 second shot of something that happened in the first five innings of the local game that was shown in the 10 O’clock news on one  of the four channels available.. It was hard to generate excitement with this limited exposure. Today, fans see all the great plays that occur each day, on multiple cable channels, and that drives interest and attendance.

Last night, however, attendance was 17,653 in Kansas City, where the Royals extended its winning streak to 6, 15,514 in Baltimore, where the Orioles beat the Angels 4-3, 15,447 in Tampa, where the Red Sox won in 14 innings, 18,126 in Chicago, where the White Sox won , 12,811 in Seattle where the Mariners won 3-2, 13,259 in Miami, where the Brewers beat the Marlins, and 21, 192 in San Diego where the Padres beat the Braves 7-6. Texas and the Dodgers both drew over 30,000 for their games. 

I am always concerned by low attendance as that is the first measure of public appeal. The games were well played, five were decided on one run, one was extra innings. MLB is a very competitive business and teams rely on attendance for revenue to pay for players who are more expensive every year. Reduced attendance has an effect on competitive balance, and competitive balance is what it is all about.

The next topic that captured by attention this June morning, was the intense competition in divisions where three teams are within four games of the lead. In the AL East, Boston, New York and Baltimore are within 3.5 games, even the fourth team, Tampa Bay is over .500. In the NL West, Arizona, Colorado, and San Francisco are within two games and in the NL Central, St.Louis,the best team overall, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh are within four games. The most intense two team race is Texas and Oakland, where one game separates them.

This all means that the championship will be determined by the little things that happen, a ball that bounces erratically, a double play missed, an outfielder that loses the ball in the lights, and the hundred other little events that determine the outcome of a game or two of the 162 played each year. 

This is why we pay attention to the game and these races. There are 100 games to the playoffs, and I am making no predictions other than Detroit will win the AL Central. Then again, I picked Toronto to win, and it is last in its division. The infinite possibilities make this a wonderful game, I just hope attendance reflects that wonder.

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.