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September 5, 2013
The Lineup Card
Ten Things We'll Be Watching in September
1. Miguel Cabrera's Health
But the big thing is getting him healthy for the playoffs. The Tigers are close to locks to win their division and have been the favorites to win the pennant for most of the season. Things get dicey in October, though, without him. The scary part if you're a Tigers fan is that these aren't really fluke injuries. He wasn't hit by a pitch, he's not making entry into the annals of weird baseball injuries, these are wear and tear on a body that's been through a lot. He's been out this week with abdominal strain, and he's also missed time with a hip flexor strain lower back soreness, all since July 1. Those aren't wonderful signs and can tend to linger.
The Tigers should probably ignore the triple crown race and the MVP race and probably won't have much of a division race, and it will be worth watching to see just how much Cabrera plays down the stretch and how healthy and rested he is when October begins. —Zachary Levine
2. The Call-Ups
3. Praying for Chaos
Suppose that the Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates all finish with the same record and have a three-way tie atop the NL Central and with a record that would make one of them the NL Central champion and the other two the wild cards (which it already looks like will be the case.) There is an established procedure for handling a three-way tie, but the new wild card rules give an extra wrinkle to what might happen. In the first game in the ensuing sequence of tie-breaking games (Reds-Cardinals, just to pick two names out of a hat), let's say that game is a 50/50 shot. If you lose, you end up in the coin flip game... but you get a day off before it, because the winner plays the Pirates (who would have the previous day off) for the right to avoid being your coin flip game opponent (and the NL Central title). Even assuming that game is 50/50, there's a 75 percent chance if you're the Reds or Cardinals that you end up in the coin flip game. At that point, which sounds like the better path? Fighting through two straight days, one against a rested team, on the slim hope of avoiding the coin flip game, or accepting the coin flip game on your own terms. One of those first two teams could completely punt the first game (rest everyone important, send out a bare-bones skeleton crew... remember, 40-man rosters are still in effect!) and then effectively have two days off to prepare for a game against a team that had to play on the previous day or the previous two days. At some point, a tie of this nature is going to at least come close to happening and people will start doing some very uncomfortable math.
If each game is a 50/50 shot, then the Reds and Cardinals have a 62.5 percent of ending up in the division series. What are the probabilities in one game where a well-rested team, more likely to be able to start its ace on full rest, is matched up against a team that's been going max effort for two days and is likely to be starting its third starter or someone on short rest? —Russell A. Carleton
4. The Race to Avoid Chaos
While the collection of playoff teams appear to be all but set, particularly in the National League, there remains a standings-based story worth checking-in on daily, and that is the three-team race for the NL Central title. This race hits a number of traditional storylines, including the recent champ looking to return to the playoffs (Cardinals), the contender with recent regular season success but early post-season exits (Reds), and the feel good team looking for its first post-season appearance in two decades and first World Series appearance in over three (Pirates).
Additionally, there are substantive ramifications for the two teams that fall short of the divisional title. Not only would those two teams have to jump through the extra hoop of a play-in game for the divisional series, they would in the proves have to burn a starter and, likely, bullpen arms before heading on the road to face a well-rested divisional winner at that winner’s number one starter. A close finish to the NL Central could conceivably result in the play-in game winner matching their number four starter against Clayton Kershaw on the road—not the way you’d prefer to start a five-game series.
At the time of this writing, the Reds trail the first place Pirates by three and a half games, and the Cardinals by a game and a half after taking the first two of a four game series with the Redbirds. Eleven of the final twenty-five days of the season will feature two of these three teams going head-to-head, with the Cards and Pirates meeting this weekend for their last showdown of the regular season, and the Pirates and Reds matching-up for six of the last nine games of the season. Though much of the playoff excitement appears to be lacking from September baseball this year, MLB fans would be wise to turn their attention to what could be an intriguing home stretch for the NL Central leaders. I know that’s where I’ll be looking. —Nick J. Faleris
5. Those Scrappy, Unsinkable Yankees
Even off the field and on the farm, the news has mostly been bad: Ownership has overruled or dictated some of Brian Cashman’s moves, many of the team’s top prospects have taken steps back, and the suspended-but-still-playing third baseman has spent most of the second half of the season on the back page of the Post and in open revolt against management. Yet despite all the adversity, New York is still only 2.5 games behind Tampa Bay in both the AL East and the race for final Wild Card spot. Along with the Indians, they’re the best hope we have of a playoff race upset in September.
The Yankees’ success isn’t powered by puppies and rainbows. Yes, they’ve outplayed their Pythagorean record with a little luck, a strong back of the bullpen, and a 23-14 record in one-run games. But they also have by far the league’s highest payroll, which means that even when they’ve had several highly paid players missing significant time, they’ve had several highly paid players healthy.
The franchise’s deep pockets, and its almost uninterrupted string of playoff appearances over the past two decades, makes it difficult to spin the 2013 team as a sympathetic story. But if Sam Miller could make the case that the Yankees were uplifting and inspirational last season, we should all want to watch them now. Don’t tell me you’re tired of seeing Mariano Rivera pitch in the postseason. —Ben Lindbergh
6. Another No-Hitter
This is brought up because we haven’t had many no-nos this year. This year there been just two no-hitters: Homer Bailey Tim Lincecum, thrown 11 days apart in July. From 2010-12, there was an average of over five no-hitters thrown per season, including five perfect games, and never fewer than three no-hitters in a season. Perhaps it was the golden age, but pitching is everywhere these days, it seems, with the strikeout more prevalent than ever. And if I had to wager a random bet: two gold coins on Wade Miley. —Matt Sussman
7. From the Minors, to the Postseason Spotlight
8. The Race for the Unqualified Batting Title
Nope. The guys with the highest batting average in the National League were Aneury Rodriguez and David Hernandez. Seriously. Both hit 1.000, which you’ll agree is higher than .33whatever. Oh sure, you can start yapping at me about sample sizes and “qualifying” and whatever else you kill-joys want to yap about, but I’m not listening because I know bigger batting averages are better batting averages.
This year Cabrera is again getting press for hitting .355. Big deal. J.R. Murphy is hitting 1.000, and last time I checked (which was grade school), is much, much higher. In the National League Corey Brown and Zach Duke are each hitting 1.000 leaving Braves third baseman Chris Johnson’s .331 in the dust. IN THE DUST, SON.
But, oh! If Duke, Murphy, or Brown has to bat between now and the end of the season, his batting title will be on the line! If Murphy bats again and doesn’t get a hit, his average will drop 500 points and he’ll fall behind Josmil Pinto of the Twins who is hitting .667 but is 6-for-9 on the season. The intrigue!
So you ask me what I’ll be watching the rest of the regular season? Like you, I’ll be watching the standings, and the race for the awards, but mostly I’ll be watching the one race that matters: the race for the batting title, the REAL batting title. —Matthew Kory
9. Mike Scioscia's Pythagorean Defiance
Run differentials aren't nearly the final say in analysis, so there's no real reason to care about this, except that it's curious and it upsets the natural order. That gives us two options: Figure out how Scioscia does it, or root against him doing it, unexplained, forever. The second option is much easier! This year seems like the year to snap his streak. The Angels have won 64 games; they "should" have won 66. It'll be hard for them to beat this; a series of one-run wins, a bunch of ugly blowouts. I'm not putting it past them; them suckers have done it before. —Sam Miller
10. The American League Rookie of the Year Race
The tone in the junior circuit is much different, as the dearth of rookie breakouts is considerably more pronounced. The current leader in WARP among AL rookies is … Nick Franklin. The shortage of AL ROY options stems largely from the lack of full-time regulars, as J.B. Shuck is the only rookie-eligible player to total more than 400 PAs.
Jose Iglesias is in the discussion simply because of his hot start with Boston and his propensity for churning out highlight-reel plays. Detroit’s mid-season acquisition is hitting
If there was ever a season for a mid-season call up such as Wil Myers to win the award, it would have been this year. A month ago, it appeared that Myers was on his way to lapping the competition, but he has since cooled off, hitting .235 with four home runs since the start of August.
Cody Allen and Danny Farquhar are tops among AL rookie pitchers in WARP, while the only starting pitchers with double-digit starts and an ERA under 4.00 are Chris Archer and Martin Perez. Archer’s 3.14 ERA and 1.12 WHIP leave him as the best bet among the hurlers to take home the award.
The Rays duo of Archer and Myers are the likely co-favorites with less than a month to go, but nobody has exactly broken away from the pack. This is an award that can easily be won with a strong September. —Chris Mosch