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. 

MLB Pennant Race on August 25

I wrote on August 12 about the Wild Card race here and added the Yankees to the mix recently here. The Yankees have the benefit of the right schedule but they need to win half the time versus Tampa Bay, Boston and Baltimore. So far, they have lost two to Tampa Bay to move 4.5 games behind in the Wild Card race. They must win against the top teams to allow the schedule to work for them.

The most disapointing feature of the race is the Kansas City Royals seven game losing streak. I am a Royals rooter because I like seeing teams improve to the point they can contend. There are three steps to this process, first you learn to play, then you learn to win, finally you learn to win when you have to. The Royals have clearly not learned the last step. Maybe next year.

As an example of this process, the Miami Marlins, who have been playing better, lost a game 3-2 to Colorado because of the failure to cut off a throw from the outfield that allowed Michael Cuddyer to advance to second after a game tying single. He scored the winning run moments later on a double. The Marlins learned the second lesson there as this is the sort of play a winning team makes.

These are the days where winning Fifth Games ( Fifth Game Theory) is all important. Last night, Texas lost 3-2 to the White Sox, who scored in the bottom of the ninth. Oakland won in Baltimore with a run in the top of the ninth. These are examples of Fifth Games that must be won by pennant contenders.

As I look at box scores every day, I look first at the line score to see who won in the last three innings. This is because a baseball game is really two games in one. The first game is a six inning game that is played to gain an advantage in the three inning game. This short game is played by specialists, relief pitchers, closers, pinch hitters, defensive replacements and the like. To win pennants, teams have to have competence in the “specialist” category. Take a look at the line score to gain an appreciation of the nature of the game. As Yogi Berra said,”It ain’t over until it is over,” and that means after the last out.

Indians Choking Again, Maybe the Tigers, too.

Major League Baseball pennant races are a psychological as well as physical test. For the last two days I have written about the race to the pennant and the pressures felt by the division leaders. I have focused on the Tigers and Indians and how it is hard to play with your hands on your throat. On Friday, the Indians gave away a game to Minnesota by errors that lead to two unearned runs and a tainted run that could have, had the players Chisenhall and Swisher caught baseballs, resulted in an Indian’s victory. Last night the Indians lost by the same 3-2 score and gave that one away as well.

In the top of the sixth, Jason Kipnis, the Indians best hitter, homered to give them a 2-0 lead. In the bottom of the sixth, however, the Indians gave it back. After Mauer had singled and moved to third on a Morneau single, a grounder to Chisenhall at third was fielded cleanly, but Chisenhall, trying to put Mauer out at home, threw the ball into the Twins’s first base dugout. Now think about this play. With no one out and Morneau on first, Mauer, not a fast runner, was running to avoid a double play by forcing Chisenhall to throw home rather than to second to start the double play. Mauer’s hope was that by sacrificing himself, the Twins would have two runners on and only one out rather than one on and two out.  Chisenhall, who booted the ball Friday night, threw the ball past the catcher.

How hard is it for a major league player to throw a ball ninety feet so errantly so as to fly past the catcher and end up in the dugout? Well, it may happen once a season for some and never in a career for most. These are the plays that are made a thousand times in practice and games by those who make it to the major leagues. It seldom happens in highschool because the throw has to be horrible and the recipient of the throw has demonstrated ability to catch everything, even moderately errant tosses. The “hands on the throat” factor is why this happened and it infects the entire team.

This infection got to  second baseman Jason Kipnis, who, after the score was tied on a bloop to right, dropped a double play ball and only made one out as the winning run scored. Hand on his throat, I think so!

The Twins played perfect defense, by the way, with right fielder Ryan Doumit making a spectaclular play to throw Asdrubal Cabrera out at second. Cabrera represented the tying run.

In Kansas CIty the Tigers lost 6-5 as Justin Verlander lost to KC for the first time since 2009. A little tense, Justin, maybe?

The results of Friday’s and Saturday’s games, is that the 1 1/2 game Tiger lead is still there, but KC is now 6 behind. Almost close enough.

Keep watching this race, as nerves are already taking a toll and either team may collapse. For the Indians, they have Justin Masterson pitching today and he is their best. If he wins, they may get their groove back. In Kansas City, James Shields is pitching for KC; they may be five behind after today. 

By the way, Aviles is playing 3rd for the Indians today as Terry Francona is keeping Chisenhall on the bench for his, Francona’s, benefit.

For further reading see “Fifth Game Theory” in the archives for June 19, 2013 and “Kansas City Royals Emerge” in the archives for June 18, 2013.

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.