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September 16, 2009

Prospectus Today

Pointlessness

by Joe Sheehan

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This week at BP, we've been looking at the teams that have played their way out of contention, kissing the Rays and Cubs goodbye so far. As I wrote last week, we have a dearth of races, and the situation has only gotten worse since that piece. As of this morning, six teams have at least a 96 percent chance of reaching the postseason, and two others are at 76 percent or higher. The Rockies and Tigers are the laggards, and given how the AL Central runners-up have played-and Justin Morneau's decision to shut it down for the year-our only hope for anything interesting over the last two weeks is in the hands of the Giants, who took the first of three games from the Rox last night.

The disappointing thing about this season is just how many teams failed to take advantage of opportunities. If you flash back to the All-Star break, you find nine AL teams within four games of a playoff spot. In the NL, there were nine teams within that margin as well. A couple of others, like the Braves, Mets and Reds, were just outside the line of contention. It looked like we would have exciting, competitive races down the stretch, and what we've ended up with is something out of the NBA, or the 1950s, and that's become incredibly unusual in baseball.

Take the 18 teams inside the line as of July 12. In the AL, only the Rangers made any kind of challenge to the four teams that had playoff spots on that day. The Rays have fallen apart, going 25-31. The Mariners, four games in back of the Angels at the break, have played .500 ball in the second half and drifted away. The AL Central challengers have been particularly disappointing, neither team even able to play breakeven ball (Twins: 28-28; White Sox: 27-30) and put pressure on a Tigers team that has barely been over that mark itself (29-28). Yes, the Yankees and Angels have played very well-the Yankees actually chasing down records for second-half performance-but it's the inability of the middle tier of AL teams to put any kind of run together that has given us this September. The Red Sox have won five of every nine games in the second half, and while they've ceded the AL East to the Yankees, they rest comfortably above the Rangers for the AL wild card. The Rangers, at 32-25, are the only non-playoff team above .500 in the AL in the second half.

The NL middle class has been disappointing as well, though the problem there is that no team was able to put together two good halves. You might be surprised to know that the Braves have played .589 ball since the break-fourth in the NL-behind their superb starting rotation. Unfortunately, the two teams they need to catch, the Rockies (35-23, .603) and Phillies (35-22, .614), have been just a little bit better, causing them to lose ground in the races. If you rated teams solely by their projected performance in October, the Braves would have a case for a postseason berth. A first half spent punting the fifth starter's slot and the minor position of "outfield" was too much to overcome.

The Cubs have actually been all right in the second half, with a 32-25 mark that equates to a 90-win pace. For all the talk about how disappointing the Cubs have been, they're going to win 85-87 games or so, and most NL Central projections had the division being won with about that many victories. The perception of the Cubs' failures has more to do with the Cardinals heading for 97 wins, an unexpected occurrence. The Cardinals' ridiculous second-half run, now 36-19, is one reason why the NL Central teams that were hanging around at the All-Star break have uniformly failed. The Astros are 26-31, the Brewers 24-32, and the Reds 24-34. The division that usually yielded multiple wild-card contenders gave us zero this time around, and that's the biggest reason why the NL race is as limited as it is. Even the Giants, the only real contender left, are 30-27 in the second half, largely because only the Pirates have scored fewer runs than they have.

No team has made a charge-like the Twins in 2008, the Phillies and Rockies in 2007, or the Indians in 2005-to add drama to our campaign. It's just an unusual season. The very best teams played extremely well, and very few other teams did. I don't know that there's an analytical point to be made here, other than to underline the point that you can't script September. You can add a wild-card team, change the league financial structure to penalize success, or funnel hundreds of million dollars to half the franchises, but sometimes things just don't work out, and you don't get a race. This is really the first time it's been this way-maybe 1996 is the other example in the three-division era-and that may be the best argument of all for the modern format.

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

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

judyblum

Just because the Tigers and Twins, and Angels and Rangers, still play each other 7 more times, I wouldn't completely give up on some drama developing in the AL west and central races.

Sep 16, 2009 05:31 AM
rating: 1
 
Vince Galloro

The Tigers and White Sox play each other six times, too. Still, it would be difficult at this point for either the Twins or the Sox to overcome the Tigers -- they are five and six games, respectively, back in the loss column.

Sep 16, 2009 07:52 AM
rating: 0
 
vtadave

So more at-bats for Carlos Gomez and his .639 OPS at the expense of Justin Morneau translates into the Twins making a run?

Sep 16, 2009 10:44 AM
rating: 1
 
pfcmelly

its a worse situation for the twins with morneau out but im saying that its not as horrible as people are making it out to be for their run, and i think a lot more depends on how the tigers do then people think. with 7 games left against the tigers who like i said are playing worse then either the twins or the sox i think there could still be drama there....
but i do think detroit will win in the end. i was just stating the fact that the drama isnt completely gone out of the central.
and on the fact of offensive production, span having a solid position to play so he can focus on offense (still not morneau but pointing out the positives) kubel will be back and morneau was only hitting something like 3 for 37 in september.... so its not like he was producing at his normal level all month and the twins are still only 4.5 back, not losing much ground

Sep 16, 2009 12:10 PM
rating: 0
 
pfcmelly

I think the rangers are fading away, but the twins could still put together a run. cuddyer playing first helps settle the 4 OFs problem that gardenhire metioned and the tigers are playing some really bad ball....really bad, 11-1 loss verse the royals, ouch....so i think the central could still have some drama left in it.

Sep 16, 2009 07:11 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

"(C)hange the league financial structure to penalize success"?? How about 'change the league financial structure to oh-so-slightly mitigate that big fat monopoly market we've granted the New York teams, the LA teams, Boston/New England, and so on'. I believe the basic and traditional practice is 2 teams' splitting the gate, with the visitors having the expense of travel, and the hosts the expense of putting on the game. How about we go back to that financial structure?

I actually do approve of capitalism, and don't obsess about uneven playing fields, as that's life. But the pomposity of you people does irk me, enough to blather about it every now and then. Not that anyone should care about what irks me, other than then having to put up with my blathering about it every now and then.

Sep 16, 2009 09:35 AM
rating: 1
 
Drungo

That's absolutely right. Revenue sharing and the luxury tax are little halfway measures to try to throw a bone to the franchises who weren't granted eternal dominion over vast, rich metropolitan areas. The last thing the Yanks and Sox and the like want is the messy competition of capitalism intruding on their territorial rights-protected kingdoms.

Sep 17, 2009 09:40 AM
rating: 0
 
Ira

Despite a VERY rough couple of games, the Rangers still control their own destiny. They win out, they win the AL West, even if the Angels win every game they play other than the ones against Texas.

But, at the same time, the AL West race could be over as soon as Monday. If the Rangers don't either sweep or at least take two of three from the Angels this weekend, then it will be time to say, "Auf Wiedersehen" and start looking at next year.

But, despite the implosions against the A's, the Rangers will be putting their top 3 starters out there with Hunter on Friday, Feldman on Saturday, and McCarthy on Sunday. (where's Millwood? well, he and his nearly 6 ERA since the ASB are resting this weekend, in hopes that he can re-find the command that should have made him an all-star.) Plus Hamilton should be ready this weekend, and Young (who started at DH last night but only lasted one at bat because he just didn't feel ready) should be back this weekend as well.

Go BoSox!

Sep 16, 2009 10:42 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

"Despite a VERY rough couple of games, the Rangers still control their own destiny. They win out, they win the AL West, even if the Angels win every game they play other than the ones against Texas."

Yes, the Rangers aren't eliminated yet. But how implausible is it for them to 'run the table and win 18 in a row? It's pretty darn implausible, which I think is Joe's point.

Sep 16, 2009 11:13 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

I understand why you (Joe) have given the AL East to New York, but I'm not entirely convinced the division race is over. While the Red Sox are 6.5 games back, they're only 5 back in the loss column. Boston's remaining schedule includes 14 games against KC, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Toronto. Three other remaining games are against the Yankees in New York.

With the recent successful return of Matsuzaka and the shoulder injury to Andy Pettitte, it seems the team's starting pitching is going in opposite directions. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Sep 16, 2009 11:27 AM
rating: -2
 
sandriola

However, the Red Sox don't need to win the division to make the playoffs. Therefore, they'd be better off setting their team for the ALDS than trying to win a mostly meaningless division crown.

Sep 16, 2009 17:20 PM
rating: 1
 
Evan
(47)

You can't really blame the Mariners for failing to make a run. They've been playing over their heads all season and they finally have a front office who understands the concept for a pythagorean record, so they've regressed - as any reasonable observer should have expected.

But hey, with a bunch of teams who have nothing to lose you end up with games like last night's brawl at New Yankee. That's always fun.

Sep 16, 2009 11:46 AM
rating: 0
 
lajolla
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There are actual pennant, and wild-card races underway in the National League West. Unfortunately for Mr. Sheehan, those NL West teams play baseball games that apparently begin far past his own East-coast bedtime?

Sep 16, 2009 12:12 PM
rating: -6
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I'm so very sick of this line.

And the Dodgers aren't in any race. They're 7.5 up for a postseason berth. How they get it is immaterial, and if you disagree, see the last game of the 1996 season for evidence.

The Rockies/Giants is a race again, I guess. Do the Rockies make yet another trip to San Francisco before the season is over? Seems like they were just there.

Sep 16, 2009 12:59 PM
 
ScottyB

Rainy days make us appreciate the sunny days even more.

Sep 16, 2009 14:38 PM
rating: 0
 
greenengineer

It's time to dump the wild card - as long as the wild card exists there is really only one pennant race each year, and the race is always between 2nd place teams.

2nd place teams don't deserve a shot at the WS.

Sep 18, 2009 13:35 PM
rating: 0
 
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