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November 2, 2006

The AL-Kings

The Season Comes to an End

by Jared Weiss and Ben Murphy

In case you somehow missed it, you can catch up with the "celebrities" in the league, the May update, and also the July look-in. To briefly recap, the league consisted of six BP writers and six invited experts. It was run courtesy of Scoresheet Sports, with BP donating $1000 to a charity of the winner's choice. The final standings are below:

Kaline Standings, Pitching     W   L   pct.  GB
 4  Las Vegas Red Sox          86  76  .531   -
10  Page 42s                   85  77  .525   1
 1  STL Golden Bears           83  79  .512   3
 7  Inwood                     73  89  .451  13

Fox Standings, Pitching        W   L   pct.  GB
11  Street Walkers             80  82  .494   -
 2  Tutankhamun                78  84  .481   2
 8  Wolfcastle Rainiers        77  85  .475   3
 5  KG                         73  89  .451   7

Ruth Standings, Pitching       W   L   pct.  GB
 3  Montclair Red Sox          92  70  .568   -
 9  Jonah Keri                 85  77  .525   7
 6  Royale with Ortiz          82  80  .506  10
12  RotoWire                   78  84  .481  14

If you just checked out the July update, these standings may look vaguely familiar. In fact, no one in either the Kaline or Fox divisions managed to move up or down since that July article. It is worth noting, though, that second- and third-place teams made up a lot of ground, and both the Las Vegas Red Sox (Dave Cokin) and the Street Walkers (Sam Walker) barely staved off their competition.

The Kaline division saw a heated battle down the stretch. Indeed, in the words of Dave Mlodinoff, half of the Page 42s: "We got killed during the last week--swept by Joe and Rany, two last-place teams. I think it was our only 0-6 week of the year--great timing, no? Even one win that week (or at any point) would have given us the division title over Cokin, due to tiebreakers."

The Street Walkers managed to "win" the Fox Division, despite their losing record and only the 7th-best record in the league. The team was fortunate to be in the same division as the team with the highest ERA (Tutankhamun), the team that scored the second-fewest runs (the Wolfcastle Rainiers), and the team tied for the worst record in the league (KG).

Jonah Keri's team made the biggest improvement since the July update, adeptly trading players to go from four games under .500 to eight games over, enough to garner a share of the wild card. He wasn't able to catch Peter King's team in the Ruth Division, however, as the Montclair Red Sox maintained their seven-game lead that they had in July en route to finishing with the best record in the league by a sizable margin.

The first round of the playoffs saw Jonah Keri play the Page 42s (co-owned by Rob Neyer and Dave Mlodinoff), as both teams had a share of the wild card with identical 85-77 records. The series went the full seven games, with Jonah Keri ultimately prevailing. Here's what Mlodinoff had to say about Game Seven: "That one really hurt, as we had Wang starting against Jamie Moyer; Moyer somehow outpitched Wang, and we crashed and burned big time."

That gave us final quartet of Jonah Keri, Dave Cokin's Las Vegas Red Sox, Peter King's Montclair Red Sox, and Sam Walker/Nando DiFino's Street Walkers. Since the Montclair Red Sox had the best regular season record, they were matched up with the Street Walkers, owners of the worst record among teams to make the playoffs. The series was much closer than teams' records might have suggested it would be, as it took the Montclair Red Sox the full seven games (including winning Games Six and Seven) to down the Street Walkers. Adding to the excitement, Games One and Two both went eleven innings, with King winning the first, and the Street Walkers taking the second.

To continue a now-familiar motif, the other semi-final series also went seven games, as the Las Vegas Red Sox edged out Jonah Keri. This series may have been the closest, as Dave Cokin's first three wins were all achieved in extra innings. Additionally, over the course of the series, the Las Vegas Red Sox had only five more hits, and one fewer run scored than Jonah Keri.

The two teams that remained after all this mayhem were the Las Vegas Red Sox and the Montclair Red Sox. Assured of a championship, Boston fans were no doubt confused, and spent most of the series trying to figure out how they could still somehow root against the Yankees. Noting Peter King's regular season dominance, oddsmakers had the Montclair Red Sox winning the series in seven.

Montclair took Game One, scoring three runs in the bottom of the 8th to win 5-4. Las Vegas parried by winning Game Two, riding a strong seven-inning, two-run start by Cliff Lee. As the series moved to Las Vegas, Montclair again won in exciting fashion, pulling out an 8-6 victory in ten frames after Las Vegas had rallied to knot up the game at six apiece in the bottom of the 9th on an Adrian Beltre solo homer. Las Vegas handily took Game Four, trouncing Adam Eaton for six runs, keeping the series tied up at two games apiece. The fans again got their money's worth in Game Five, with the lead seesawing back and forth, but Dave Cokin's team ultimately pulled it out in the bottom of the 9th when Carl Crawford hit a single off of Scot Shields to plate Jason Kendall.

As the teams re-crossed the country to go back to Montclair, Red Sox fans were heard complaining about the unfair system that only allowed one Red Sox team to win the trophy. Meanwhile, Peter King, sipping a cup of coffee, gave his team an impassioned motivational speech, and in the visitor's locker room, Dave Cokin tried to use the underdog card one more time in an effort to coax a final victory from his squad.

Game Six was a rematch of the same starting pitchers as in Game Two, but this time Cliff Lee failed to match his prior performance, giving up four runs in six innings, while Joe Blanton only gave up two runs in five. The bullpens took over, and the game was soon tied, as Las Vegas' Huston Street and Kiko Calero combined for three innings and one run, while Montclair's Tim Wakefield gave up three runs in three and two-thirds innings. With the score 5-5 after nine innings, Las Vegas was held scoreless in the 10th by Mark Hendrickson. Montclair also went three up and three down in the bottom of the 10th, at the hands of Ron Villone. With two outs in the top of the 11th inning, Julio Lugo stepped in against Hendrickson. Perhaps the lanky lefty let his mind wander to the bottom of the inning, hoping his team could score a run and send the series to Game Seven, as all the other postseason series had. Perhaps he just did not think Lugo could catch up with his heater. In any case, Lugo crushed a pitch, putting Las Vegas up by a run.

Looking to close out the series, Dave Cokin turned the ball over to J.J. Putz to save the game for Las Vegas, even though Putz had pitched two innings in Game Five, and an inning and two-thirds in Game Four. Leading off for Montclair was Angel Berroa at the bottom of the order, and then Ichiro and Melvin Mora. Noted posteason hero Scott Podsednik was sent in to bat for Berroa, but Putz struck him out. Ichiro stepped to the plate and quickly banged out a single, giving hope to Montclair fans everywhere. Putz then struck out Melvin Mora, leaving the game in the hands of Grady Sizemore. Sizemore proved unequal to the task, as his popped out to give the championship to Dave Cokin's Las Vegas Red Sox.

The winning manager was appropriately humble in victory. Reflecting on his team's performance, Cokin said, "I thought from the outset that I had an okay team that might make a run at a playoff spot, but in no way did I feel I had the strongest squad. The thing I liked best about my team is that it was pretty well balanced with no glaring holes. I benefited from the general parity in our league, and got good pitching at the finish line to get lucky. I'm still more a Roto fan than the Scoresheet style of play, but this was fun and hope we can do this again next season."

As does Dave's charity, The Lied Animal Shelter. The shelter will be receiving a $1,000 donation, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus. Speaking of BP, by the way, it should be noted that their best and brightest pretty much fell flat in the league, with the postseason being dominated by the non-BP experts invited into the league.

Congratulations to Dave Cokin for winning the inaugural BP Kings league. Hopefully you had as much fun keeping tabs on the league as the experts did playing in it. Look for a brand new version of the league next year, and don't be surprised if the BP writers work hard in the offseason to avenge their disappointing showing this year.



We asked the participants of the BP Kings League to share some of their thoughts on the season. Many of them were kind enough to respond with lengthy e-mails detailing nearly their every move. Below are some of the comments of King Kaufman (STL Golden Bears) and Nando DiFino (Street Walkers) on what this season of Scoresheet has meant to them.

King Kaufman:

I learned a lot about baseball--and also maybe a little something about baseball coverage--playing this game. And I learned a lot of it in the very first week. I could see the coverage: This team is all heart! They never give up! They just keep fighting! Etc.!

But there's no heart in this game. It's just a series of baseball events. And I could feel myself anthropomorphizing them (is that the word?), giving them moral shadings, ascribing to them attributes like "grit" and "heart" and "indominability."

I don't know that Scoresheet is necessarily a direct translation to real-life baseball. Maybe those elements do exist. Maybe teams are gritty and clutchy and never-say-die-ish, and they succeed in late-inning situations and win close games because of those attributes. Maybe Scoresheet's series of events look like real baseball because the play-by-play comes out looking similar, but it's missing the flesh-and-blood elements that cause those events in real life.

On the other hand, maybe baseball really is just a series of events, and we ascribe emotional and moral qualities to the plays and the players just as falsely in real life as I was tempted to do in Scoresheet.

I also learned a lot about the role of luck in baseball. I'd always thought of luck as funny bounces, bad hops, bad calls, untimely injuries, that sort of thing. But what is it other than luck, from your point of view, that determines the quality of your opponent?

If we'd been a real-life team, the press would have roasted us for that 1-9 stretch in early September. We choked. All that would have been visible would have been the nine losses. We could have lamely said, "They just played great," and it would have sounded like a bad excuse. But that's what it was, in Scoresheet anyway.

That's the lesson I'd learned when I wrote, after the Tigers beat the Yankees in the playoffs, that from the Yankees point of view, they'd gotten unlucky because they'd run into a Tigers team that, all of a sudden, after sucking the previous week, was playing dynamite baseball. A lot of readers took that to mean the Tigers won by getting lucky, but that's not what I meant. I meant what I said: The Yankees got unlucky. If they'd caught the same Tigers who got swept by the Royals, they'd have won the series easily playing exactly the same way.

Nando DiFino:

To say we were "Scoresheet virgins" would be misleading--we were more like "Scoresheet Science Nerds who had just hit puberty and talked for hours about dinosaurs." Hook? We had no clue what that meant, much less how to make it work to our advantage. PH? I think we had the numbers in reverse order for the first month. Backup catcher? Well, we actually had that one figured out. But still...

Somewhere between our drafting of Hideki Matsui--which prompted a few members of the league to point us toward a message board that openly mocked our pick--and Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney's John R. Mayne's prediction that we would "get beaten like Ashlee Simpson at a chess tournament," something stirred inside of our little team. No Deputy District Attorney of Stanislaus County mocks the Street Walkers! We had t-shirts made and balloons printed up. We studied the intricacies of the game, read up on strategy, and accepted unsolicited advice from Scoresheet veterans who would e-mail us and offer help. "Street Walkers" teams in other Rotisserie leagues slowly deteriorated as we became obsessed with winning BP Kings. In Tout Wars, the league which Fantasyland was centered around, we were stuck in fifth.

At the end of the season, spurred on by the comments thrown at us by John Mayne, Esq., we were seated atop the Fox division with an 80-82 record, looking down at Scoresheet veterans and rookies alike. I like to think that the journey ends here. What can we really learn from playoffs and the small sample size that they represent anyway?

Next season, with a year of "Hook" under our belts, and the fear of "Pitcher AAA"'s 8.32 ERA haunting our dreams, the Street Walkers Baseball Club will realize our dreams of Scoresheet domination, and look to both win the division, and do so while sporting a plus-.500 record. We can only hope that John Mayne gives us the spark we need."

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