Nobody puts together a better no-decision than Randy Johnson. Once again, the Big Unit dominated last night, striking out 15 Dodgers while only allowing 3 hits, 1 walk, and 1 run over 8 innings, but the D-Backs mustered only 1 run in 13 innings, handing Johnson yet another "ND" despite a great performance.
Oh yeah, and Cleveland squeaked by the Yankees 22-0, exposing New York's greatest weakness down the stretch: pitching.
Spotlight on: Oakland A's.
Fighting with Anaheim and Texas the whole season, Oakland has finally opened up a 2 game lead in the division. You can study all the numbers as often as you want, you can read Moneyball, you can tout the usefulness of OPS, but it all comes down scoring more runs than you give up.
In Oakland's case, they lead the A.L. in ERA (3.96) which means their balanced offensive attack of Durazo, Dye, Hatteberg, Crosby, etc., is just enough to win. You don't need the best hitting to win, and you don't need the best pitching; you need the best COMBINATION of the two.
The A's have been far from the best offensive team in recent years, but Mulder, Hudson, Zito, and the rest of the staff have enabled Oakland to maintain one of the best (and most consistent) combinations of hitting and pitching this decade. Once again, Oakland finds themselves positioned for the playoffs, but once again, they will struggle to compete offensively with the other playoff teams, while their pitching is neutralized because of the short playoff format (Oakland can't take advantage of a deep rotation).
Ichiro hit watch: with 32 games to play and 209 hits under his belt, Ichiro is on pace for 260 hits, more than the single season record of 257 (see 08/23/04 entry for details).
The new state of baseball: get to September with a record better than .500, and you have a chance at keeping the uni on in October. With roughly 32 games to go, teams that are right at .500, such as Philly (6 games behind in the wild card race) and Cleveland (7 games back in the Central), are hanging on by a thread and will be forgotten if they don't make up a couple games right away. Everyone else in front of them, however, has a legitimate chance at catching their prey. Florida and Houston, almost counted out a month ago, suddenly find themselves just 4 games back in the N.L. wild card race. Anaheim and Texas are fighting for the division and the wild card. If the Yankees continue to slump, there are enough teams lurking that a Boston rally could mean a New York free playoffs in '04. There's only one month to go, but plenty of meaningful baseball left to be played.
Minnesota and Chicago are two teams with similar talent, yet over the past few years, the Twins always seem to come out on top. White Sox fans can't just blame the loss of Thomas and Ordonez, because they were swinging the bats in '03 and the results weren't any better. The bigger question is how come the Twins can bring up a rookie (Morneau), throw him in the clean up spot, and watch him crush opposing pitching while the Sox bring up their first round pick (Borchard) and watch him fail to hit north of the Mendoza line? That's a story for another day.
In the past two seasons, the Twins and ChiSox have a 16-16 record against each other (that might seem hard to believe for White Sox fans, but true), so how do you explain the 14 game advantage Minnesota has in the standings over the last two years?
It's simple: the Twins beat the bad teams in their division, and the White Sox don't. In '03, the Tigers were far and away the worst team in the division (and in the league), going 43-119. Taking advantage of the hapless Tigers, Minnesota won 15 of 19 against Detroit in '03. Chicago, on the other hand, went just 11-8 against the lowly Tigers. That may not sound like a bad record until you consider Detroit finished 76 games under .500! 19% of their wins were against the White Sox! Not coincidentally, the 4 game difference in records vs. Detroit was the same difference in the standings between Minnesota and Chicago at year's end.
This year, it's more of the same. Kansas City is the whipping boy this time around, sporting a 44-80 record so far, better only than Arizona in the majors. Once again, Minnesota has notched a 10-6 record against the Royals, while the Sox have managed to only win 6 of 11. Again, the Sox are above .500 against the worst team, but a team that is 36 games under .500 in mid August has obviously been beaten a lot worse by other teams. In this case, the difference in records don't completely explain the White Sox's current 9 game deficit, but a 5-8 record against the second worst team in the Central (Detroit) makes the picture a little clearer.
Ichiro hit watch: Ichiro is one hit shy of 200 with 38 games remaining, putting him on pace for 260 hits, which would break the 84 year-old record held by George Sisler.
While everyone is keeping their eye on Barry Bonds as he chases 700 home runs, then Ruth, then Aaron (all while hitting .370), there is another feat in the American League which deserves much more press than it is getting.
With only 25% of the season left, Ichiro Suzuki is on pace to break the single season record for hits (257), currently held by George Sisler in 1920. Any time a hitter gets close to .400, the media pounces on it like a rat to cheese, but .400 isn't a record; it's simply a round number that hasn't been achieved in 60+ years. The post-1900 record is held by Nap Lojoie, who hit .427 in 1901.
The single season hits record is more comparable to the single season home run record because it matters not how many games or at bats you accumulate. Maris' asterisk is long gone, and when McGwire and Sosa were passing Maris' 37 year-old record, it was a story for the ages. Now, Ichiro is attempting to break a record set before Roger Maris was even born, and it barely finds a blurb in the local newspaper.
Recognize this accomplishment, and root for Ichiro. If anything, it gives baseball fans a reason to tune in to Mariners' games again.
How do you know when it's just not your year in fantasy baseball? You desperately need wins, your pitcher goes out and throws a gem (7 IP, 0 ER, 10 K), but the bullpen blows it with 2 outs in the ninth only to have your pitcher's team win in extra innings. That was the case last night as Oliver Perez missed out on a win because of a blown save by Jose Mesa, giving up a 2 out home run to Reggie Sanders in the ninth. The Pirates later won the game, giving the victory to Mesa, revealing one of the many problems with the accuracy of baseball statistics. Blow a game and get rewarded? Such is the case with our obsession over stats. By the way, yes, I am the proud owner of Oliver Perez.