Ignominy and the MLB Cellar Dweller

As August dwindles and the last month of the MLB season promises an exciting race to the pennant or wild card birth for the playoffs, another race is underway. This is the effort by several teams to avoid the ignominy of finishing last, or in the cellar, as it is called. For some, this motivation is as strong as the passion to win the pennant.

In the AL Central, the suddenly resurgent White Sox, eight wins in the last ten recently, are now pressing the Twins and are three games behind them. The White Sox have been miserable this year, but they have been playing better. However, the schedule maker has them playing against contenders the rest of the way.  Where they play Houston this week, and Houston is trying to avoid setting a record for futility, they then play Boston, New York, Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota and finish against Kansas City. The three with Minnesota will be critical. The edge Chicago may have is that these teams will be tense and the Sox may be able to pick them off. That, after all, is the role of the spoiler, that team with no chance of winning a pennant, that can have an impact by beating those who do.   

The Twins have a slight schedule advantage by playing Toronto three times, but play contenders most of the time. The last eleven are with Oakland, Detroit and Cleveland, all of these teams need to win at the end. 

In the NL Central, Milwaukee and the Cubs are two games apart, with the Cubs in the cellar. Both teams play contenders, but the Cubs get the Marlins for three and the Brewers finish with the Mets. The critical games are the seven they play against each other. To not finish behind the Cubs should be sufficient incentive motivation to keep the Brewers motivated.

The most interesting race to avoid ignominy is in the NL West, Colorado, 61-71, San Diego, 59-71, and San Francisco, 58-72 are within in two games of each other with San Francisco last.   

San Francisco will play the other members of this trio twelve times in the remaining thirty-two, San Diego plays Colorado and SF nine times, but gets the floundering Phillies three times, and Colorado plays SF and SD nine times, but finish against Boston and the Dodgers. This is a race to watch on a daily basis.

Now that you see the match ups, remember that this is late season baseball and top teams are often “playing with their hands around their throats,”  Hands on Throat Reference and those trying to avoid the ignominy of the cellar can determine the actual pennant and live vicariously during the Winter knowing they were not the worst and helped determine who was the best.  

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

Fifth Game Theory

Major League Baseball focuses its rule making on creating a universe where there is competitive balance among the teams. This concept is the ‘agreed to’ holy grail in baseball administration and has been the goal of league executives for decades.  I was once asked to develop a metric for determining whether competitive balance existed.
I only had to look to the standings to develop such a metric. As this is baseball, nothing is perfect, but teams are ranked according to winning percentage. These percentages normally run from just under. 600 to just over. 400. This means that  of every five games played, teams will win two and lose two. This leaves the Fifth Game to determine where a team is ranked.

This game can be recognized by fans as the one where the outcome is in doubt until late in the game, which is determined by a clutch hit, an error, or some sort of event that determines the outcome. A properly designed roster has late inning specialists such as defensive players, pinch hitters, set up men and closers. Of course, a basestealer is today a luxury because of expanded pitching staffs.
The Twins/White Sox game June 18, 2013 was a Fifth Game. The White Sox tied the game at 5 in the top of the 8th but failed to get the hit that would put them ahead. The Twins, aided by a lead off walk, scored two in the bottom of the 8th on a clutch hit. The game could have gone either way.
Teams keep track of series won and lost and this is in recognition of Fifth Game Theory. Keep this is mind while you are watching your next game and figure out if you are lucky to be watching a Fifth Game or not. They’re the ones that keep my attention.

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.