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September 17, 2005

Prospectus Today

The Races Get Hotter

by Joe Sheehan

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My aim with the Friday notes package has been Blassian of late. Today, we hit Saturday with them…

  • The Giants' loss to the Padres Wednesday was largely laid at the feet of Armando Benitez, who blew a 4-2 lead in the ninth, but I think Felipe Alou shares blame. In the sixth inning, trailing 2-1, the Giants loaded the bases with one out. With Barry Bonds available to pinch-hit, Alou instead elected to allow Pedro Feliz to bat. Feliz popped out, Mike Matheny lined out, and the rally was snuffed. The Giants went on to take the lead in the eighth, an inning in which Bonds' pinch-hit and was called out on strikes, before coughing up the lead in the ninth.

    If Bonds is available to pinch-hit--which he evidently was--don't you have to use him in a bases-loaded situation? Isn't getting him up in a spot where he has to be pitched to mandatory? Granted that the Giants are short of outfielders, but it's worth playing Tyler Walker in the outfield for a few innings if it means you get the lead. Bonds batting in bases-loaded situations is the Holy Grail, the spot where his power and patience are leveraged to the hilt; upgrading from the nightmare that is Pedro Feliz--no player in the game makes worse decisions at the plate--is just a bonus.

    That's where the Giants lost the game. Benitez helped, Feliz helped, LaTroy Hawkins helped, but not using a tactical weapon like Barry Bonds in the right situation wa a critical error by Alou.

    By the way, Bonds was called out on strikes twice in his first three games, both on pitches that were not strikes. One was outside and a bit low, the other was low enough to require a sand wedge and not a SAMbat. I don't think it's a conspiracy, just something worth noting.

  • This really is a terrific weekend, maybe the best one of the year. You have four series between teams directly competing for the same spot: the A's and Red Sox, Phillies and Marlins, Brewers and Astros, Dodgers and Giants. You would be hard-pressed to describe this as a great baseball season--do any teams other than the Indians look good right now?--but it's certainly an interesting and an exciting one. It is, to a certain extent, the peak moment of the NFLization of baseball's regular season.

    The shame of it is, even as I write this late on Saturday morning on the West Coast, I can't watch any baseball. Fox's window of exclusivity shuts me out of the Phillies/Marlins game that I'd really like to see, along with two games involving presumptive division champions the Cardinals and Braves. I understand the rationale behind the blackout period; I just think it's misguided. At a time when you could be getting people nationwide interested in baseball's great September storylines, MLB and Fox are instead encouraging them to watch college football.

    Game exclusivity is one thing, but it's time for ending the large windows of exclusivity granted to national outlets. Unless a network is actually showing a game, they shouldn't be allowed to prevent other games from coming into the market.

  • Yes, I said, "Brewers." They were 4 ½ games out of the wild card going into last night's game against the Astros, and while their chances according to the Playoff Odds Report were less than one percent, any team that close with two weeks to go deserves a bit more attention than they were getting.

    The Brewers very nearly closed the gap further last night. They lost a heartbreaking 2-1 game to the Astros, failing to convert a second-and-third, one-out situation in the eighth, then watching Jeff Bagwell drive in the game-winning run in the ninth. They probably needed a sweep this weekend, and while they could still win the final two games--they get the mortal end of the Astros' rotation the next two days--they're chasing too many teams to be able to afford head-to-head losses.

  • The running theme throughout last night's fantastic finishes was that the team's that won generally did so because they got their best pitchers into the game, while the teams that lost didn't. The Astros shut down that Brewers rally by bringing Brad Lidge in with one out in the eighth inning. The Brewers never used Derrick Turnbow and lost allowing lefty Dana Eveland to pitch to Bagwell with the game on the line. The A's faced Mike Timlin in the top of the tenth, and countered with Juan Cruz and Keiichi Yabu in the bottom. The Twins went with Jesse Crain--a good pitcher, mind you--instead of Joe Nathan in the tenth and lost to the White Sox.

    If you're a manager who won't use his best pitcher in an incredibly high-leverage situation because you're overly concerned with who might protect a one-to-three-run lead that may never happen, you pretty much deserve what you get.

  • Can we get Hershey to change the packaging on their chocolate bars back to the old kind? I know this seems like a minor thing, but Hershey bars have a lot of meaning for me.

    I used to help my grandfather clean his American Legion hall in Inwood, and when we were done, we'd walk down Broadway to go home, and on the way he'd stop off and buy me a Hershey bar. I loved chocolate--still do--and even 23 years since he passed, I have such a strong association of Hershey bars, the brown sleeve and silver wrapping, with Pop Pop. Sophia brought home some Hershey bars the other day, and I actually stood there and was confused by them; I thought they were generics or something.

    Bring back the silver, Hershey.

  • What the hell are the Nationals doing in San Diego this weekend? A cross-country trip in September is unusual enough, but for one series?

    The 2005 schedule has raised a lot of questions like this one. The Dodgers going 2-7 against the Rockies over the last three weeks? That's awful, but also raises the question of why they had three distinct series against the Rockies in that short a time. There are repeat trips like that all over this schedule. I hope to sit down with the people behind this year's schedule--it was their first--to ask these questions and more. Smart people do these things, and it's usually the case that smart people have good reasons for their actions.

  • I got a ton of e-mail in the wake of Thursday's column on the Comeback Player of the Year award, most of it advancing Mark Ellis' candidacy. I note that I wasn't looking for alternate nominees, and I did miss Ellis when I scanned the AL's performances this year. He's having a very good season, and his health--having his glove on the field, to be specific--is a big part of the A's still being in the playoff chase.

    On the other hand, doesn't he suffer from the Brian Fuentes problem, in that he wasn't much before he missed a season to injury? Two seasons, a .238 EqA in the second. I certainly think he's made a comeback, but again, what was he before?

  • Speaking of the A's, does Eric Chavez's six-year deal look that great now that he's reverted to his pre-2005 walk rate? I didn't like it at the time, and I still don't like it. He's not an $11 million a year player.

I have to say that I've felt my love for baseball as strongly this week as I have in a while. The quality of play has perhaps been lacking, but the excitement, the storylines, the tension…I've found myself so immersed in the game and loving that sensation.

Baseball is about September much more so than it's about October. That message is the one baseball needs to embrace for itself and send to others. If it does, it will bring so many more people into the game than extra playoff spots to new stadia or All-Star gimmicks.

Baseball is about September.

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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