In the eighth inning, the Astros seemed to be daring them—and the Royals are not noted for their baserunning timidity.
Something strange happened in yesterday's Astros-Royals game—well, a lot of strange things probably happened, but one of them particularly caught my attention. Astros' closer Luke Gregerson entered the game in the eighth inning after Houston's bullpen blew a four-run lead, bringing with him a glacially slow delivery.
For fans, the value added to the MLB playoff structure by the Division Series is in the buildup of drama. The best stories have fairly gradual rising action, not a sudden surge to an unearned peak of excitement. Sometimes September can provide a pitch-perfect buildup to the grand finale that is the World Series, but when September doesn’t cooperate, early October can pick up the slack. In other words, before the hero of the season’s story finishes off its final opponent in the Series, we get to see them overcome a few of their lesser foes--mini-bosses, so to speak. Certain matchups and moments can be not only terrifically exciting and important in their own right, but a priming of the pump so that the discerning fan feels the cumulative drama of the season.
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The two teams that made #process famous square off in a battle of #product.
Last year, while the Royals and Tigers were battling for the AL Central crown, Russell Carleton noted a bit of doublethink that many of us successfully maintain: The veteran Tigers had the advantage because they’d been there, because they had age and wisdom and leadership and experience; or the Royals did, because they were young, loose, didn’t know enough to be scared. The piece got to a truth that is particularly applicable to this series, in which one team hits homers while the other hits singles; in which one avoids whiffs while the other wears them like teardrop tattoos; in which one club is run by unmanned computers while the other is run by a farmer sending his orders in by telegram; in which one platoons and the other hot-glues its players into the lineup; in which one is young and loose and doesn’t know enough to be scared, while the other has been there, has age and wisdom and leadership and experience.
What teams do when teams can do whatever they damned well feel like.
It's a well-known, time-honored tradition that baseball players celebrate their team's entrance to the playoffs by poisoning themselves (and their teammates) with large quantities of alcohol. The aftereffects of those champagne showers—besides stained, stinky clubhouse carpet—leave managers with no choice but to send out the B-team the following day. In recent years, this phenomenon has been christened the hangover lineup.
A good major-league manager is, generally, one who wins. Managing, as with coaching in general, is probably the least empirically quantifiable part of baseball, because it’s about relationships. No cognitive scientist has stepped forward to propose Relationships Above Replacement. (Ahem, Russell?)
Mets muster up some runs, but miss out on a chance to climb closer to first place.
The Wednesday Takeaway
The Mets have had an up-and-down July after a terrible June. They had put together some good games entering Wednesday's series finale against the NL East-leading Nationals, winning six of their previous 10 games. Their playoff odds had risen from 25 percent in the beginning of July to 39 percent after Tuesday's win against the Nationals.
Why Kansas City is so interesting, and why Kansas City is so good.
The Royals are the most difficult team in baseball to analyze and discuss, and it’s not especially close. What does one do with this team? A year ago, they were one of the most maligned franchises in baseball. Eight months ago, they were the toast of baseball. Four months ago, they were an enigma, and in some circles, a laughingstock after an inscrutable offseason. They were a playoff team last season, but if you take away the games played July 22-August 23, they weren’t even a .500 team. They became famous as the bullpen-and-defense team during last year’s playoffs, but in fact, they won only when their inconsistent, below-average offense went into spasms of competence.
This season, though, they’re moving from the ranks of the uncommon to the lonely spotlight of uniqueness. They’re incomparable, because while they’re having tremendous success, there’s not much evidence that their success can be reliably replicated anywhere else. That killer bullpen? It’s still killer: The Royals’ 1.60 relief ERA is a half-run lower than that of any other team. Much of that is driven by the .215 BABIP those relievers are allowing, though. Kansas City is 19th in reliever strikeout rate. Eight of every nine runners the Royals’ bullpen has allowed to reach base have been stranded. They do have some guys capable of stifling opponents’ power, but that strand rate still feels fluky.
You remember Daniel Bard, surely. He was the lights out reliever that the Red Sox called up in 2009 who basically imploded a few years later. This isn’t a post about Daniel Bard though. This is a post about my favorite pitch of all time.