With the panic button on hold in Boston, here's a look at how poorly some teams have finished in September to still make October.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a playoff race after all. On Sunday in Boston, the Rays pounced on the Red Sox for six runs in the first five innings, taking advantage of Jarrod Saltalamacchia's inability to stop Tim Wakefield's knuckleball—the backstop was charged with four passed balls, and was party to a wild pitch as well—and won their third game in a pivotal four-game series. The win pulled Tampa Bay to two games behind Boston in the AL wild-card race with 10 games left to play. The odds are still heavily in the Sox’ favor because they play the Orioles seven times while the Rays play the Yankees seven times, but given that less than two weeks ago it appeared the playoff slate was all but sealed, even this much drama is a pleasant surprise—at least if you're not a New Englander.
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Should contenders go to the whip to chase division titles, or would teams be better off winning the wild card?
With the regular season six weeks from completion, the Yankees and Red Sox are already assured of October play, but that won’t prevent the two AL East titans from making headlines a few more times down the stretch. But Selig can talk about parity and competitive balance until he’s blue in the face, but regardless of how often new contenders arise in other divisions, these two teams print money, and the potential for an American League Championship Series between Boston and New York will always have many salivating.
Although both teams will make the playoffs, only one can win the division, and if 2010 is any indication, this race might last until the final weekend of the season. Last year, the Yankees entered September with a one-game lead over the Rays and 29 games to play. By the time the season ended, the Yankees had posted the worst September/October winning percentage in the division (at .433) while the Rays had limped their way (.500) to their second division crown in three years. (You may have remembered this, but Buck Showalter’s Orioles won 56.7 percent percent of those games.) The division crown was not awarded until the final afternoon of the season, when the Yankees lost (although the Rays would wind up winning their game in extra innings).
Expanding the playoff field from eight to ten teams might enrich the Lords of the Realm, but what effect would it have on the fans?
Bud Selig has started up the expanded-playoff mill once again. On Thursday, the Commissioner told the AP that he believes the playoffs will expand from eight teams to 10 beginning in the 2012 season, reigniting what was already a very controversial issue even among the most devoted of baseball fans. At BP, reactions have ranged from pure criticism to mild tolerance. I propose we put to one side, at least for the moment, what the right answer is. Let’s see if we can first agree on a set of common principles on which to evaluate a proposal like this one.
Taking stock of each NL Central team's efforts to turn back the "misery clock" and return to October.
Kirk Minihane of WEEI.com wrote on Tuesday that Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is "a forgotten man in the eyes of many if not most Sox fans." With a seemingly full rotation and a bullpen to match, the 44-year-old knuckler has little room to breathe this spring, and his 5.42 ERA since the 2009 All-Star break isn't helping matters. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Wakefield is fighting for his baseball life (in fact, someone did).
Meanwhile, on the other side of Florida, Miguel Batista is also fighting for his baseball life. Signed by the Cardinals in January, the 40-year-old hurler has been quietly making his case in Jupiter for a spot on the Opening Day roster. A beneficiary of the Adam Wainwright injury, Batista has a shot at making the squad in a long-relief role or even as a spot starter.
Could Bud Selig's plan to cram in more playoff teams have a silver lining?
Somewhere among the piles of spiral-bound notebooks stacked in my closet lies a short-lived diary titled "The Last Pennant Race." It recounts the day-by-day events of the last two months of the 1993 Yankees season, of which pretty much all I can remember is, first, that the Yankees managed to tie the eventual champion Blue Jays for first place roughly three dozen times, but never managed to take the lead on their own, and second, that in one late-season game, Don Mattingly, presaging the Jeffrey Maier incident by three years, got credit for a key home run despite it being caught by a fan leaning so far into the field of play that he could have shaken hands with the second baseman.
I chose the diary's title not because I was pessimistic about the Yankees' future—after ten years of Andy Hawkins and Torey Lovullo, I could see as well as anyone that players like Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill were headed for bigger things—but because I knew that the term "pennant race" would never again have the same meaning. That's because it had already been announced that 1993 was the final season under the old four-division system; henceforth, the leagues were to be split in six, and wild cards would be born. (Thanks to the player strike that would wipe out the 1994 postseason, they were not actually baptized until the following season.)
With the Fall Classic now upon us, the staff at Baseball Prospectus shares their most memorable World Series moments.
Every baseball fan has a special World Series memory, whether it's Willie Mays' catch, Bill Mazeroski's home run, Brooks Robinson's defense, Kirk Gibson's limp around the bases, or Derek Jeter becoming the first-ever Mr. November. With the World Series opening tonight at AT&T Park in San Francisco with the Giants facing the Texas Rangers, many of our writers, editors, and interns share their favorite memories of the Fall Classic.
The Yankees look to get back to yet another World Series while the Rangers are in uncharted territory.
From 1996 through 1999, the Joe Torre-led Yankees and the Johnny Oates-piloted Rangers faced off in three American League Division Series, the first three times the latter franchise had ever reached the postseason. The Yankees won nine of those 10 games, holding the Rangers to a lone run apiece in their 1998 and 1999 sweeps. Times have changed, however, and while the Yankee machine has simply kept rolling, racking up four pennants and two world championships while missing the playoffs just once since their last meeting, the Rangers endured a dark decade before reemerging as AL West champions thanks to the shrewd deal making of general manager Jon Daniels and the fruits of their well-stocked farm system.
Should the Yankees and Rays pull out all the stops in order to win the division and potentially gain home-field advantage in the ALDS and ALCS?
Over the next four nights, the battle for the American League East will rage in the Bronx, as the Yankees host the Rays for the teams’ final head-to-head confrontations of the regular season. Scant daylight separates the two clubs in the standings, as the Rays enter the (Evil) Empire State trailing the division-leading Bombers by just a half-game, and tied in the loss column. That may sound like a pressure-packed scenario, but at this point in the season, it’s safe to say that each team has become accustomed to hearing the other’s footsteps:
The dirty half dozen throw their money around in different ways and to different extents, but are adaptations coming?
The great Red Smith wasn't a fan of baseball's six division/two Wild Card format. Though he died 12 years before the plan came to fruition, he saw it coming as early as 1978, when he wrote that, "[T]he powers, principalities, and archangels of the game are considering a plan to restructure the major leagues so that almost every team can be a winner, or look like one."
There's no denying it, this is the division where the big boys come to play.
It's no secret that the American League East has been the game's strongest division in recent years. They've produced the highest winning percentage and Hit List Factor by far over the past three years, as well as the last three AL pennant winners, two of the last three World Series champions, and the strongest fourth-place team of the wild-card era. With the two highest average payrolls, those of the Yankees and Red Sox, and a reliance on more free-agent muscle than any other division, this is baseball's high-rent district, though not every team is trying to spend with the big boys. As part of my ongoing series on the game's competitive ecology (introduced via a division-based overview, and continued with a look at the NL East), today we delve further into some numbers that illustrate that diversity.