Tampa Bay Wins In Texas

The 2013 MLB regular season ended last night when Tampa Bay won in Texas. The game was to determine the second wild card team that will play the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday in Cleveland for the wild card that then plays in the Division Series. Tampa Bay and Texas were tied after the 162nd game necessitating the 163rd game.

The game was determined by Cy Young winner David Price’s superb pitching in this complete game victory. Tampa Bay hitting was timely, as well, with Evan Longoria hitting a two run homerun, and baserunning superior as Centerfielder Fuld stole a run by stealing third while the pitcher was still holding the ball! Fuld was on second when he noticed that the pitcher took a very wide stance while getting the sign from the catcher and would have to step, back, off the rubber, further extending his stance, and putting him into a very awkward position to throw to third. The throw was errant and Fuld got up from his slide and scored a very important fifth run. It was my favorite play of the game.

Texas had the misfortune of having its balls hit to fielders or fall just short of the outfield fence. It is a game of inches, by the way. It benefited from a missed call on an outfield play where its centerfielder trapped a ball that was called an out by the umpire, saving a run. Next year that play will be reviewed by the umpires.

The playoffs start today in Pittsburgh with the Pirates playing the Reds, then the Rays play the Indians in Cleveland Wednesday. This will be a fun run and I look forward to it.

For the full Playoff Schedule look here.

MLB 2013, Playoff Schedule Possibilities on the Final Day

In trying to keep up with the Wild Card race in two leagues, after the division winners were all but settled early in September, the focus has been on the permutations and possible end game scenarios. Yesterday we had Cleveland and Tampa Bay tied for the wild card lead with Texas a game behind, today we have Cleveland one game ahead and Texas and Tampa Bay tied for the second of the two wild card slots.  This means that if Texas and Tampa Bay win today, and Cleveland loses, we have a three way tie that will be settled by the Playoff Rules for determining ties.

The rules would have the Rays play at Cleveland on Monday with the winner playing in Texas on Tuesday. This is because the Indians are 7-5 against the  Rays and Rangers, so it plays at home for the first game. The Rays are 7-6 against the Indians and Rangers and picked the Monday game over hosting the Tuesday game, a decision I don’t understand. The Rangers had no choice. This is a wonderful scenario and I hope it happens. Remember, these games only determine who plays the actual Wild Card playoff game on Wednesday. The home field is determined by head to head records and the Rays lead the Indians, who lead the Rangers, who lead the Rays. Bookmark this post so you can keep track.

Elsewhere, the Pirates beat the Reds and will host their one game playoff on Tuesday as they lead the head to head series 10-8. Today doesn’t matter there. For the Division winners in the AL, Boston plays the Wild Card in Fenway for the first two of five possible games, and Detroit will play at Oakland.

In the NL, St. Louis leads and will play the Wild Card, but if it loses today and Atlanta wins, they will be tied but the Braves will play the Wild Card game because it won the season series 4-3. The Pirates will play the second finishing division winner in the Division series.

We have a wonderful finish to a season as the winners play each other. For the other teams. it is the long, cold Winter ahead. As the Twins lost for the ninth time in ten games yesterday against Cleveland, T. S. Eliot’s last line of “The Hollow Men” came to mind. “…That is how the world (season?) ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” 

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. 

MLB Wild Card:The Final Week, update

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds both won last night, the Reds in 10 innings over the Mets, to clinch a playoff berth. They have identical records and the three game series between the two teams this weekend will settle the home field advantage, if they remain tied going into that series. They are only two game behind St. Louis, but the Cardinals show no sign of losing the division lead.

In the American League, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Texas all won last night, so Texas remains one game in back of Cleveland. As pointed out before, Cleveland has the easier schedule and should win. That “easier schedule” does include Minnesota this weekend and the Twins are showing some late season energy in that they beat the Tigers in 11 innings last night on a single by Josmil Pinto. This catcher played in AA baseball this summer until he was called up to the Majors this month. He is batting. 359 so far. is he for real or just a September wonder? What all of that means is that Cleveland will have to play well until their Wild Card berth is settled, one way or another and the Twins will not give in. This is typical of baseball teams, by the way. 

Next week we will be dealing with a new set of facts, equally engaging, and set to determine participation in the World Series. “Fall Baseball is War,” here  and these are continuing battles.

Wild Card Race on September 16; Yankees Falter

The AL Wild Card race is becoming clearer. In two weeks the regular season will be over, and,we will know more, and may even have a playoff for the playoffs, an interesting scenario.  This morning finds Texas and Tampa Bay tied at 81-67 for the two Wild Card slots. Cleveland is now only  .5 games behind, with Baltimore  2.5 back and New York 3 back. On August 23 Here that the Yankees, due to the easy schedule in the last twelve games had a real chance to make the Wild Card, however, the Yankees have faltered. Where they had to win half the games against the better teams, Baltimore and Boston, they have lost 8 of 12, and dominate the lesser teams, they beat Chicago times. The poor showing against Boston, especially, where they lost 7 of 8, is the reason they remain 3 games back. The Red Sox, I am certain, regale in their role in the Yankees apparent demise. 

The Orioles likewise, lost 6 of 8 against NY and Cleveland. They did win 5 of 8 against Toronto and the White Sox. They remain 2.5 games behind.

The team that has won according to the dominate/breakeven rule is the Cleveland Indians. They won 6 of 7 against the Mets and White Sox in September, and won 4 of 7 against KC, Balitmore and Detroit. They are  .5 games behind. If any of the three teams are to make the Wild Card, it seems the Indians are the team.  They will  have to pass Tampa or Texas to do that.

Texas has only won 1 of 10 recently and play Tampa Bay and KC 7 times this week.  They finish with Houston and LAA. Tampa Bay, of course, has the 4 against Texas at home this week and then play 7 against NYY and Baltimore before the final three in Toronto.

Tampa Bay and Cleveland are the probable winners here. However, baseball has strange twists. Yesterday, trying to win its twelth in a row against Minnesota, ran into a Twins team that hadn’t scored in 25 innings only to have the Twins score twice in the 7th on a single by Chris Parmelee, BA  .223 and four times in the 8th, three runs coming on a homerun by Josimil Pinto, a catcher who spent the Summer in AA, to win the game. Tampa Bay will remember that piitch to Pinto if they fail to make the playoffs. That final three in Toronto are critical.

There is another race worth noting and that is to avoid the Igniminy and the MLB Cellar Dweller, Here.  In the NL West, San Francisco, San Diego are tied and Colorado 1 game down for last place. Maybe they will all tie for last, or, as they would describe it, fourth, place and all will avoid the Ignominy of the Cellar Dweller.

The last two weeks of the regular season, like all of September is War, after that we have the playoffs and then the long, cold Winterl

MLB Playoffs on September 10

The playoff drama of September is now focused on the American League where Cleveland and Baltimore are 1.5 games behind Tampa Bay and New York and Kansas CIty are 3 and 4 games back. This drama is created by the new format that adds a one game playoff between the two top non-division winners for what has been the lone wild card position. I wrote hereearlier that the schedule favors the Yankees, but they have faltered and have only gained a half game since August 23.  Kansas City finishes with seven games against Chicago and Seattle, but may be a game or two too far back to close the gap. Baltimore plays three against the Yankees this week and then Boston six times and the resurgent Blue Jays (8-2 over the last ten) six times with three against Tampa Bay. There is no easy road there.

The lesson here is that although it is possible to close a gap in a few weeks, the gap was caused by the way a team played for 135 games, and it is unlikely to change very much in the last 27. So, too, is the lead a team has earned. A team must collapse to lose a long developed lead. I still think the Yankees can make it to the wild card due to the schedule, but they must dominate the lesser teams and they lost 3 of 4 to the Red Sox where a split was necessary, but they swept three against the White Sox. Playing the top teams even and dominating those below is the secret here. The reason the schedule favors the Yankees is that when they finish with Baltimore and Boston next Sunday, they play last place teams twelve straight to end the season. If they are 4-2 or 3-3 with Baltimore and Boston, they can be 9-3, or 8-4 with the lesser teams. It will still be close.

Cleveland has a similar chore, and plays thirteen times against sub .500 teams to end the season, with five more with KC whom they beat yesterday, as well. Cleveland may, in fact, have a slight edge over the Yankees in this race to the wild card.

Of course, all is pure conjecture if Tampa Bay plays well as wild card pretenders trail this team in the standings. TB plays six of twenty against sub .500 teams. If they split with Boston, Baltimore and NYY, and dominate 6-0, 5-1 or 4-2 against Minnesota and Toronto, they will win. It will be interestng and that is why our interest remains.

The real race is to avoid ignominy by finishing last. In the NL Central, San DIego, San Francisco, and Colorado are one game apart for last. All of these teams have tough teams to play going forward with the final series of San Diego at San Fransico likely determining the loser.

“It ain’t over ’til its over,” said Yogi Berra, the sage of baseball lore. So true. It will come down to who throws and fields the best, as it has for the first 140 games of the season.

The AL Central Is Hot

I recently wrote about the race between the Detroit TIgers and Cleveland Indians for the AL Central Pennant. Now I add the Kansas City Royals to that race. In the earlier articles, I mentioned that tension and focus would be important even mentioning that “playing with your hands around your throat” is difficult.  The Indians had just blown two games with the Twins at that time with costly errors.
This last week has seen the Indians win six in a row, the Tigers win four in a row, and the Kansas City Royals win seven in a row.
Clearly, the Indians have their goove back. I saw the Royals beat the Twins 7-2 last night and was impressed by this very balanced team. Furthermore, seven of the Royals are batting over  .260 and Eric Hosmer and David Lough are moving towards  .300. I have been very impressed by these two players for some time and have been waiting for them to emerge as stars.
The point here is that Detroit is still playing well, and Cleveland has removed the “hands of the throat” play of a week ago. The Royals have arrived as a contender and believe, if I can properly interpret the way the game was played last night, that they can also win. If Detroit falters, either the Indians or Royals can move up. Both of these teams are also in the Wild Card race, but it is a little early to focus on that and the new Wild Card playoff that occurs this year. Stay tuned, folks, this will be interesting.
The Boston/Tampa Bay race in the AL East is very tight. I will be watching that as well going forward, but the AL Central has the most potential for drama as the teams involved can either flourish or flounder in the next two months. Right now they are all flourishing.

The Los Angeles Angels and Free Agent Signing Errors

The Los Angeles Angels just traded their best relief pitcher, Scott Downs, for a minor league reliever. This is the sign of a team that has given up on 2013 and is looking forward to better days. The Angels plans are made more difficult by a signing error in 2011 when they signed Albert Pujols to a 10 year $240,000,000 contract that ends with escalating payments. They then signed Josh Hamilton to a 5 year $125,000,000 contract this year.

In March, I predicted that the Angels with Trout, Trumbo, Pujols and Hamilton would win the AL West. Today, they are 14 games behind Oakland and eight games under. 500. It is a disaster. My prediction failed as I over estimated the adequacy to the Angels’ pitchng and did not recognize the rapid decline in Pujols’ performance and Hamilton’s collapse. Hamilton is a psychological case.

Pujols decline is classic baseball decline and was predictable due to physical factors.  First, he hit his peak when he was 28 in 2008. It is shibboleth among baseball purests that a player peaks at 27. His decline in batting average has been 2008, .357,  .327, .312, .299, .285, and .258 this year. He has been troubled by plantar fasciatis this year as well. His OPS (slugigng plus on-base percentage), a statistic some think is indicative of true value,  has similary declined as follows,  2007, .997, 1.114, 1.101, 1.011, .906, .859, and .767 this year.  The numbers at age 27-28 are dramatic and rank with baseball’s great players, but that was then.

The undeniable fact that players performance declines after age 27-28 begs the question of why a team would sign a player to a multi-year, escalating payment contract for what must be declining performance. The Alex Rodriguez contract with the Yankees should have been instructive here, but it seems Angels’ owner, Artie Moreno, wanted to be like the Yankees by signing Pujols and then Hamilton. If he was looking there for guidance on how to run a team, he looked in the wrong direction, but then again his team had recently lost to the Yankees in the layoffs.

The proper place to look was a few hundred miles north to Oakland or to Tampa on Florida’s west coast.  Those two teams are in first place in their divisions with modest payrolls, but balanced, performing teams.  Moreno has become like the Yankees, who are in fourth place, as are the Angels, even though playing +.500 ball. The Angels winning percentage is 11th in the American League.  The real test in these signings is the reaction of the player’s former team to the player’s departure. The Cardinals seemed to be interested in re-signing Pujols, but dropped out of the bidding. The Cardinals, one of baseball’s best organizations, is 19 games over  .500 in first place in the NL Central and Hamilton’s former Rangers team is eight games over  .500, but trail the A’s for first.

This gets to the basic error in the Pujols signing. No one player makes a baseball team. A single player can only come to bat 11% of the time. Teams are a combination of pitching, fielding, and batting. Too much batting was expected from an aging star.

The rule that a team “shouldn’t get hit by a falling star” has slammed the Angels. I was overly impressed by the Angels offense last March, and have learned  a lesson. I imagine Artie Moreno has learned the same lesson.

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