May 9, 2006
Lost: One Clipboard
During last Friday's chat session, I answered a question about "the fiercest division in baseball," the NL Central. I downplayed the records in the division, pointing out that the non-Cardinals in the group have been playing weak schedules, larded with the Nationals, Marlins and Pirates, three of the four worst teams in baseball.
Well, over the weekend the five non-Cardinals teams went 2-13, the wins being one-run victories by the Pirates over the Nationals and the Reds over the Diamondbacks. Now, all five teams were on the road, and one weekend of baseball isn't conclusive. It's indicative, though, of how much things can change in just a few days in May. It's also a better answer to the question of the division's "fierceness" than the one I keyed in a few days ago.
I caught one of those 13 losses Sunday, taking in the Brewers' 10-2 shellacking at the hands of the Dodgers on a gorgeous spring afternoon in L.A., the kind of day they write songs about, the kind I grew up watching in John Hughes movies. Despite the eight-run margin, though, the game was really an example of how thin the edges are in baseball, of how tiny thing can quickly snowball into the event that decides the game.
Take it back to the third inning. The Dodgers had a 2-1 lead, far from insurmountable with Aaron Sele making his debut for the team in place of Odalis Perez. Sele hasn't had a seasonal ERA below 5.00 since 2002, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio the last three years is 157/150. Two runs didn't seem like it would be enough. The Dodgers had a runner on first and no one out against David Bush, himself a substitute starter for Ben Sheets, who had shingles or malaria or something else moving him along his path from ace starter to the new Steve Ontiveros. ("Some tightness in his shoulder" according to Will Carroll. Malaria might sound better to Brewers fans.)
In the fateful third, after Kenny Lofton's leadoff single, Bush induced a double-play ball back to the box from Nomar Garciaparra. On the turn, Rickie Weeks' throw to first was up, but not enough to even be deemed "high." Nevertheless, it popped out of Prince Fielder's glove for an error. Instead of two out and nobody on, Bush had to pitch from the stretch to the middle of the Dodger order. A Jeff Kent double and an Olmedo Saenz homer later, the Brewers were down 5-1; if you looked closely, you could see Ned Yost licking a stamp in the corner of the dugout.
There's no telling what might have happened had Fielder caught the ball, and he absolutely should have caught the ball. Maybe Kent and Saenz hit the same double and the same homer. Maybe Kent hits the same ball, but because Corey Koskie is playing deeper, he snares it for the third out. Maybe, pitching from the windup, Bush doesn't fall behind Kent 3-1, setting up the hard-hit liner down the third-base line. Maybe it's an entirely different game. It's tiny plays like that--very rare events that swing the outcome of a single ballgame--that feed analysts' insistence that you need to draw conclusions only after enough evidence is available.
In the game that was played, Sele took advantage of the lead and, it appeared, the Brewers' awareness of their travel schedule, to pound the strike zone in a manner unlike him. He retired 13 in a row from the second through the sixth innings, and allowed just five hits and a walk in 6 2/3 overall. He was wild early, and while I was in no position to gauge the caliber of his stuff, I never got the sense he was overpowering the hitters. There's little in his track record to indicate that he's capable of helping the Dodgers--who look to me like the best team in the NL West--make the playoffs.
Here are some more assorted notes from what was, score notwithstanding, a perfect Sunday afternoon: