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October 2, 2005

Prospectus Today

The Last Day

by Joe Sheehan

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Just a quick list of things I'm thinking of this morning:

  • People have been asking me how I could dislike the wild card even after a season like this one. Well, I think the answer is pretty obvious today. The Yankees have a one-game lead on the Red Sox with one game to play against them…and they could pretty much care less. They've "clinched" the division title because of the wild card and its associated effects, turning what should be a dramatic end to the season into something much less. Would Jaret Wright be starting today's game in a universe with no wild card? For that matter, would the White Sox have started a Triple-A squad Friday in Cleveland when they had a three-game lead with three to play? They'd "clinched" as well.

    That's what we've lost, and like ignoring caught stealings when evaluating a baserunner, or outs when talking about an RBI man, that cost tends to be overlooked by the media. It's real, because the drama of two teams playing for one spot is greater than that of three for two or six for four or whatever combinations the wild card provides in a given year.

  • If we can separate the idea of "choking" from the notion of lacking some type of desirable personal qualities, then the Indians have pretty clearly choked over the last week. Now, I'm not one to connect "character" to performance, never have been, and I think the rush to do so is one of the more distasteful aspects of sports coverage.

    With that said, I have a question for the people who have argued that the Indians' success has been in part because Mark Shapiro has assembled his roster using personal qualities as a factor: if having veteran leaders and good guys doesn't stop you from dropping five one-run games in seven days in the middle of a pennant race, three of those to lousy teams, what's the point?

    Put another way, would the Indians have been better off with a third baseman and a right fielder who were lesser citizens but carried higher OBPs?

    I don't know the answer, but I do know that the question should be asked in light of how much we've heard about the chemistry and character of this team.

  • I don't think we can complain about Ozzie Guillen's lineup choices any longer. He's clearly played these games to win, using Bobby Jenks yesterday for the fourth straight day, and Cliff Politte and for the third straight day.

  • Three years and $15 million for Ryan Dempster? Good to see that the lessons of last winter--not overspending on guys with thin track records--have taken hold. I mean, what did we know about Jaret Wright or Carl Pavano or Eric Milton?

  • I'm pretty sure Greg Maddux will come back for one more season, but just in case, I'll be paying close attention to his start today in Houston. For a good chunk of the 1990s, I built my schedule around catching his starts. I'd love to see him put up a line today, not because I have a dog in the Astros/Phillies fight, but because I really love watching him pitch well.

  • In addition to Maddux, there are a lot of people on teams whose seasons end today who I'd like to take a another look at. I'll be focusing on the four relevant games, but I'll also be making sure I watch Dontrelle Willis pitch and hit, and Jose Reyes go first to third, and Johan Santana befuddle hitters with that beautiful change-up.

    The last day of the season is perhaps the definition of bittersweet. As exciting as October will be, the day-to-day presence of baseball is the best part about being a fan of the game. I already know that I'll miss it, and that I'll shortly be counting the days until pitchers and catchers report.

  • As for today, well, I'm out of the predictions game. The two Sox both have favorable pitching matchups, with the White ones putting Brandon McCarthy on the hill and the Red ones facing Jaret Wright. The Astros have one of their aces on the mound against a team that can be handcuffed by good right-handed pitching, while the Phillies face one of the better low-profile stories of the second half in Hector Carrasco

    As a fan, I want two playoff games tomorrow. As a writer, I want one. As the manager of a Web site, I want none. (You try planning playoff previews when you don't know the matchups!)

One out in Cleveland…let's watch some baseball…

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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