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September 30, 2004

Prospectus Today

Heartbreakers

by Joe Sheehan

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Correction to yesterday's lead: when chasing October, it helps to beat bad baseball teams.

Powered by the sound of a ticking clock, on to some notes from Wednesday...

  • The Cubs and A's both failed for a second straight day to take advantage of the schedule-maker's kindness, losing to the Reds and Mariners respectively, and falling out of first place in their races. The Cubs have now lost four of five games to two teams who would have been lucky to make hay in the International League in the second half. They still control their destiny, but just barely, and might well be on track for at least one extra game this year. The weekend series with the Braves is going to be very interesting given the disparate motivations of the two teams.

    Nate Silver made a good point in discussing the Cubs vs. the Braves as a potential first-round playoff series. The matchup isn't good for the Cubs in that they get a huge chunk of their offense from home runs, and the Braves don't give up many (15th in the NL, with 148 allowed). That's something to think about while you're watching what amounts to play-in games this weekend.

  • The A's got a good start from, well, their one good starter, Rich Harden, but couldn't score much for the second straight night and lost, 4-2. It was a tough loss because it was Harden's last scheduled start, leaving them with four games left using four starters who have been indistinguishable from the Indians' rotation in the second half. And they now have to win at least three of their last four games just to assure themselves a tie.

    The last time the A's went 3-1 in a stretch of four games not started by Harden? September 1-4.

  • The Angels have a magic number for the first time since 1986. It's four with four to play, three of those head-to-head with the A's. They have won five in a row under the most dire circumstances, beating the Rangers last night despite trailing 6-5 in the ninth.

    One interesting thing about the Angels is that they seem equipped to win nearly any type of game. They have enough offense, especially with Troy Glaus, to win 9-8, but they can get a good start and beat you 3-2. Their bullpen keeps them in games where they get a poor start and makes it hard to beat them when they have a lead. They have a balanced lineup and a strong bench that can create matchup problems for opposing managers late in games, as well as providing Mike Scioscia with tactical options of his own.

    Other than perhaps the Red Sox--who, if we were seeding teams #1-8 next week, I'd have on top--the Angels are the only team in the postseason mix that has this particular characteristic. Every other team seems more suited to one particular type of contest.

  • The Dodgers also lost, their bullpen giving up three runs in the ninth to the Rockies. This creates another opportunity for the Los Angeles media to pound Paul DePodesta for the Guillermo Mota trade.

    The Dodger bullpen is fine. The Dodger rotation is a mess, with Odalis Perez and Jeff Weaver the only viable options, and neither of those two an ace. Brad Penny's injury was unfortunate, and is the only reason why this team hasn't already clinched a playoff spot. Maybe when they're playing in the NLCS for the first time in 16 years, and those same L.A. writers are blowing out expense accounts, DePo will finally get credit for his decision.

    Not that it matters. One of the aspects of the new way of running a baseball team is not allowing the local media to drive decision-making. If you're going to make the kind of moves necessary to succeed, you have to ignore the papers and sports-talk radio, whose goals--circulation and ratings through controversy--actively hurt you.

  • The Giants lost a heartbreaker in the tenth inning last night, slipping into a virtual three-way tie with the Astros and Cubs in the wild-card race. The strangest thing happened: the Padres pitched to Barry Bonds, and he didn't hit a home run every time up. There's a lesson there.

  • I guess the Padres aren't dead yet. They can't win the division, but they're just 2.5 games out of the wild-card race. They have to beat the Giants tonight to have any chance, and then they'd get three games with the Diamondbacks. One of those will involve Randy Johnson, but it's not as if the D'backs haven't shown themselves able to lose his starts.

  • The Astros took advantage of the losses by the Cubs and Giants, completing a sweep of the Cardinals to tie those two at 70 defeats. If they run the table this weekend against the Rockies--and they've won 15 straight home games--they can do no worse than a tie for the wild-card slot.
    
    
                             Years      Record    Division Titles  Playoffs
    
    Under Larry Dierker       5        448-362          4             4
    Under Jimy Williams       2.5      215-197          0             0
    Under Phil Garner          .5       45-26           0             ?
    
    What a waste of two-and-a-half years. Someone owes Larry Dierker an apology.

  • If MLB can plan to move the Expos to Washington D.C. with only an agreement to reach an agreement on a stadium in place, with no new owner, and having to pay Peter Angelos unspecified millions to do so, why did it take three years to get here? What parts currently in place were not in place in 2002?

    Let's face it, this is happening now for one big reason: lame-duck councilmen. Clay Davenport, who resides in Northern Virginia, points out that three apparently pro-stadium councilmen in D.C. lost primaries to three apparently anti-stadium candidates. MLB's hope is that the lame ducks will ram through stadium funding before the makeup of the council changes in a way that makes those millions in public money inaccessible.

    Allowing lame-duck councilmen to create a massive subsidy for an industry that has proven itself to be actively hostile to the public interest is public policy at its worst. This is going to be one of the more entertaining political fights on record, and I'm not convinced MLB is going to win it.

    Without a stadium deal, this whole charade falls apart.

    With no stadium deal, no owner, a lawsuit still in play--and, let's face it, MLB in charge--I'm not yet convinced that the Expos really did play their last game in Montreal last night. At the very least, I'm comfortable with the idea that this franchise won't be playing 81 home games in one venue in 2005. Moreover, whatever happens isn't going to happen quickly enough, so the Expos team, already down a GM, is going to be even more of a bastard child as it prepares for next season.

    Shame on you, MLB. For all of it. For every last tiny bit of it, from the ridiculous "spend less, get more" revenue-sharing policy to the syndicate ownership to taking the focus of an amazing last week of races with this nonsense.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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