BEST AMERICAN LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): Oakland @ Texas
This is Year Five of the A’s successful run, one likely to end with a fifth straight postseason berth. For the first time since 2001–the second year of the run–Oakland is looking at having three regulars post VORPr of .300 or better. For the past two years, they’ve gotten by with only two players reaching that threshold.
Miguel Tejada: .351
Byrnes is close enough this year that he could give them four. Mark Kotsay is also at .291.
Now contrast that fairly decent balance with the cross-Bay Giants. They have Barry Bonds at 1.066, J.T. Snow at .515 and then Ray Durham all the way down at .269. Snow doesn’t even have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Dustan Mohr is at .259, then every other Giant with at least 100 plate appearances is below .200. Do we need to have a tutorial for the National League MVP voters on what would happen to the Giants if Bonds were excised from their lineup? Do we need to rent a lecture hall at some centrally-located college campus and present the facts to them using charts, graphs, film strips and the an improv theater troupe?
Rutgers and Princeton played the first intercollegiate football game in 1869. (Rutgers won 6-4; Princeton covered.) Why is that relevant to the Texas Rangers? Because they have both a Rutgers football veteran on their roster and a Princeton guy as well. Both are named Young. Eric Young is the Scarlet Knight and Chris Young is the Tiger, although his other sport in college was basketball, not football.
In his last outing, Princeton Chris helped the Rangers do something they haven’t done in more than eight years. The last time the much-abused Texas pitching staff put together consecutive shutouts was on August 11 and 12, 1996, when they beat the Blue Jays in Toronto behind John Burkett, then bested Detroit 7-0 on a four-hitter by Ken Hill. Young tossed six nice innings on Sunday (five hits, no walks) and three relievers preserved the 1-0 shutout over the Angels. This came on the heels of a 2-0 blanking courtesy of seven different pitchers on Saturday. I’ve got to wonder if that’s a record for a shutout victory. (We know the Astros used six men to pitch a no-hitter on June 11, 2003.) One of the seven was Doug Brocail, who “earned” a hold in spite of walking two men and giving up a hit. The Rangers now have eight shutouts on the year. This is their highest total since 1999, when they had nine. They had 13 in toto from 2000 through 2003.
BEST NATIONAL LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): Houston @ San Francisco
This probably won’t surprise you, but no 300-game winner has ever faced a member of the 700-homer club. This series marks the absolute best shot ever at this transpiring…and it’s not going to happen as Roger Clemens pitched Sunday against the Brewers and will not, therefore, face Barry Bonds this season unless it’s in a tie-breaker game.
The number of games actually played by members of the 700 Club is very, very small. Babe Ruth played about 90 games past his 700th homer, which came on July 15, 1934. Hank Aaron contributed about 400 to the total after he hit his on July 23, 1973.
There were no active 300-game winners during these brief windows of opportunity. In Ruth’s era, the last 300-game winner had finally given up in 1930. Grover Cleveland Alexander was an effective pitcher up 1929 but, at 43, the combination of age, a lively ball and being a member of the infamous 1930 Phillies pitching staff ended his big-league career. The next man to win 300 wouldn’t do so for another seven years. That was Lefty Grove, on July 25, 1941.
Aaron, too, arrived at the 700 plateau in a major-league world bereft of an active 300-game winner. The last one to retire before 1973 was Warren Spahn, Aaron’s long-time teammate. He spent 1965 with the Mets and Giants. The next one to come down the pike was Gaylord Perry, who joined the 300 Club in 1982 while with Seattle.
It appears we will have to wait until next year to see the 700-300 showdown as neither Bonds nor Clemens are giving any indication they are slowing down. A meeting with Greg Maddux of the Cubs will be a strong possibility, too.
BIGGEST MISMATCH-UP (opponents furthest from each other in won-lost records with the better team over .500 and the lesser team under): St. Louis @ Milwaukee
Reviewing the Mismatch-up from Friday’s column, the Cardinals took two of three from the Diamondbacks. It could have gone a little differently, but Brandon Webb was tossed from Friday night’s game after two innings for allegedly attempting to damage fellow humans with hurled projectiles. With Webb out of the way, the Cardinals prevailed, albeit by one run. Saturday’s game was the only one that went the way we might have expected, considering the disparity in the clubs, as St. Louis won 7-0. On Sunday, the Redbirds were beaten by rookie Mike Gosling.
This loss pretty much derailed the entire premise of my item: that it’s been 50 years since a team with that won two-thirds of its games coexisted with a team that lost two-thirds. St. Louis needs to go 11-3 the rest of the way to make that happen, and something tells me it’s not a priority for manager Tony La Russa. Interestingly, though, the one game of the three against Arizona in which regulars got a sitdown was the one they won seven-zip. (Larry Walker and Jim Edmonds took the night off. Scott Rolen missed the whole series with an injured calf and will probably miss this entire shindig, too.)
This will be the seventh Cardinal team to win 100 games. If they go 10-4, they will break the team mark for victories (106), set in 1942. Just five wins will get them their best record of the 162-game schedule era. That would be one better than they did in 1967 and 1985.
La Russa is now sixth all-time in career managerial wins and seems like a good bet to get all the way to third by the end of 2005, provided the Cards play .500 ball next year. One of the nice things about a manager staying with one team for a long time is that they can, thanks to patient management, post their best winning percentage deep into their tenures.
Here are the top ten managers and the years in which they had their best showings during long tenures with one team:
- John McGraw: second full year (1904 Giants)
- Connie Mack: 31st (1931 A’s)
- Sparky Anderson: sixth (1975 Reds); sixth full (1984 Tigers)
- Bucky Harris: (not really applicable, won pennants in first year of two stints, never won 100 games)
- Joe McCarthy: ninth (1939 Yankees)
- Tony La Russa: fifth (1983 White Sox); third (1988 A’s); eighth (2004 Cardinals)
- Walter Alston: 22nd (1974 Dodgers)
- Leo Durocher: fourth (1942 Dodgers)
- Bobby Cox: eighth full (1998 Braves)
- Casey Stengel: sixth (1954 Yankees)
SECOND-BEST NATIONAL LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Second-best combined records with both teams being over .500): Los Angeles @ San Diego
How hard is it to predict standings? Consider this: a little while back there were five teams in contention for the wild card. That means there were 120 possible outcomes, ties excluded, for the possible order of finish for those five teams. Now that the Marlins and Padres have slipped back a bit, a number of those 120 are less likely than others, but still: when they were all bunched, the chances of picking their exact finish were pretty steep.
By dropping the Marlins out of the mix, the number of possibilities drops to 24. Here they are. Which is the most likely? Which is the least?
1 2 3 4 5 6 Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Cubs Cubs Astros Astros Padres Padres Astros Padres Padres Cubs Cubs Astros Padres Astros Cubs Padres Astros Cubs 7 8 9 10 11 12 Cubs Cubs Cubs Cubs Cubs Cubs Astros Astros Padres Padres Giants Giants Padres Giants Giants Astros Astros Padres Giants Padres Astros Giants Padres Astros 13 14 15 16 17 18 Astros Astros Astros Astros Astros Astros Padres Padres Giants Giants Cubs Cubs Giants Cubs Cubs Padres Padres Giants Cubs Giants Padres Cubs Giants Padres 19 20 21 22 23 24 Padres Padres Padres Padres Padres Padres Giants Giants Cubs Cubs Astros Astros Cubs Astros Astros Giants Giants Cubs Astros Cubs Giants Astros Cubs Giants
The least would probably be numbers 23 and 24; they require both the Giants and Cubs to fall behind the Padres. The most likely would be numbers 1, 4, 8, 11, 15 and 18. Of course, this doesn’t factor in a Dodger collapse or the Marlins pushing past the Padres or the Phillies going completely crazy and driving right back into the middle of this thing.
This reminds us how incredibly hard it is to make preseason predictions. Here we are, two weeks before the season ends and there are still many, many wrong picks one can make.