Only one team has a league rank worse than 5th in team ERA, showing that good pitching is a MUST over the course of a season. Naturally, to win games, you still have to score runs, but the team OPS numbers reveal that 5 of the 8 playoff potential have a league ranking below 5th, including Oakland and San Diego, both of whom are in the lower half of the respective league in terms of OPS.
All of the 8 teams are in the top half of their league in ERA. The chart doesn't prove that pitching wins championships, but it may prove that pitching will help get you there. We will later examine a postseason chart similar to the one above to see what's important AFTER you reach the playoffs, when all the teams remaining have decent pitching.
It's been admittedly slow here at TCO and I apologize. I finally finished a screenplay I have been working on for a mere seven years or so. Does it involve baseball? A little, but that's not the focus. Right now, though, your focus should be on the new Hot Corner, attempting to convince you to withhold your MVP vote if you are considering a pitcher. Isn't Santana that good, though? Yes and no. Read the column for the explanation.
Fantasy Alert: While the football heads in your baseball league neglect their roster for a couple weeks while they focus on the gridiron, take that time to comb the waiver wire for hot players/2-start pitchers, etc. You will never have a better time than now to steal a few free agents for the stretch run.
In a year where the National League is an afterthought, Florida Marlins rookie Anibal Sanchez made everyone pay attention at least for one night, throwing the first no-hitter in the majors in over two years. ESPN.com has the story here. Perhaps just as impressive as Sanchez was the combined pitching feats that occurred Wednesday. Seven, yes SEVEN, shutouts were recorded in one day. Read about it here.
It's the "aughts" and August just ended, so that must mean the A's overachieved and pulled away from the pack in the AL West. Of great importance to Oakland's club is the resurgent Frank Thomas, leading the team with 29 home runs, 14 of which have given Oakland the lead in a game.
Even more impressive, the Florida Marlins, once 11-31, have battled back and are actually a game over .500 with a whole month to play. It's been over half a century since that feat was achieved, and no team after 1900 has FINISHED the season over .500 after being 20 games under .500 during the season. As I stated in my baseball preview way back in April - beware the Fighting Fish when September rolls around!
If Houston passes St. Louis to complete the biggest comeback (and biggest choke) in MLB history, they have to be considered the favorites in the NL with Pedro Martinez out and a rotation boasting Oswalt, Clemens, and Pettitte. If St. Louis hangs on, I will tell you next week why they will absolutely NOT make the World Series - and it has nothing to do with their September swoon.
Yesterday's entry was no joke - the Angels have been eliminated, but there was some great baseball on TV last night. St. Louis put the pressure on Houston, winning their game in thrilling fashion (thanks to El Hombre) while Houston was locked in an extra inning contest with Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Phillies tried their hardest to lose their game against Washington but somehow emerged victorious in 14 innings. In all, the teams that absolutely needed to win did so, giving fans an extra day or two or exciting pre-playoff baseball.
Just when you thought the last week of the season didn't mean anything, suddenly there are many races to watch with huge implications. A quick rundown:
The Twins have already clinched a playoff berth, but the division race with the Tigers (Minnesota trails by 1 game) is important because the loser will have the unenviable task of playing 3 of 5 games in the Bronx for round 1. The winner gets Oakland (likely) - perennial first round losers.
The Angels are still 5 games back of the A's, but after gaining 3 games in 3 days and a 4-game series left between each this weekend, Los Angeles is only a couple games away from having a shot at sweeping Oakland out of the playoffs. Texas could play spoiler the next couple days as the Angels still need to gain at least 1 more game on Oakland before their series begins.
With Detroit, New York, and Minnesota all separated by just 1 game in the standings and fighting for the best record in the AL, every game still matters, so when the Yankees finish up with Toronto on Sunday, Joe Torre might be forced to play his regulars when he otherwise would like to rest them.
The Central has become a joke, and somehow the gritty Astros are suddenly a mere 2.5 games out of first, gaining 6 games the past week on St. Louis. This race is particularly interesting, because the loser is out with no Wild Card fantasies.
The East is sewn up, but Philadelphia is still fighting for its playoff life, currently tied with the Dodgers for the Wild Card lead. If the Phillies are going to sneak in, they will earn it playing the rest of their games on the road.
The Padres are sitting pretty with a 2 game lead on the Dodgers, but a few bad games could put them right out of the playoffs thanks to Philadelphia's record. Los Angeles and San Diego have looked good in the 2nd half this year, with both teams having a legitimate shot at knocking off a playoff opponent or two, so winning the West shouldn't mean an automatic first round exit like last year.
All season long I have been bugged (read: harassed) by a reader regarding the phrasing of the Chicago White Sox 2005 Championship. The reader is sickened (yes, sickened) by the fact that EVERYONE (his word, not mine) has been calling them the DEFENDING champions all year long. He believes the correct word should be REIGNING. Personally, I don't see what precipitation has to do with winning, but whatever. I have avoided answering him all season long, but there seems to be no end to his madness. Here's why he thinks REIGNING is the correct word:
-When the Sox were playing the Devil Rays, in April, they weren't "defending" their championship. If the Sox lost that game, they didn't have to hand over the trophy and crown the D-Rays.
-It was always entirely possible that the Sox wouldn't even make it to the playoffs in '06 to attempt to defend the championship, so how could they be defending it all along?
-Once the White Sox are eliminated (perhaps tonight), will everyone be forced to stop saying "defending?"
First of all, I don't care. But, to appease my reader (and prevent the need for a restraining order), here is my opinion:
You are wrong. While "reigning" is probably the more appropriate word, "defending" is not necessarily incorrect. For the reason a team defends its title in a 7-game series, even though a single loss doesn't meaning losing the defense, the same logic can be applied across a season. Technically, the White Sox WERE defending the championship all season long - like a 162-game series with many teams.
I WILL agree that once a team can no longer WIN the championship, you really can't defend it anymore, so the title should be taken away once the White Sox are mathematically eliminated.
That's more space than I ever wanted to devote to that topic. You will NEVER see me write about that again.
With most of the Mets' regulars sitting out last night's game to sleep off the division clinching celebration, 48-year-old Julio Franco played third base for only the second time in his career and, for the most part, looked like he belonged. Looking at Franco's career stats reveals a number of interesting tidbits:
-Since unofficially retiring after 1997 and playing in the Mexican leagues, Franco came back to MLB in 1999 and has since hit .289 in 1,319 AB.
-In those 1,319 AB, Franco has amassed 190 RBI, or 1 RBI for every 6.9 AB. In comparison, Mike Piazza averaged 1 RBI for every 6.8 AB since '03 (1,460 AB) and Todd Helton averaged 1 RBI for every 6.2 AB since '04 (1,559 AB). In other words, Franco's season stats the past few years don't look that impressive, but his production in limited time has been better than average.
-Franco is currently sitting on a career batting average of .299. If he plays 2 or 3 more years (celebrating his 50th birthday on the diamond) and amasses another 338 AB (bringing his total AB to 8,900), Franco will have to hit a magical .331 from now until retirement to get back to the immortal .300 career mark.
If you didn't see or hear about the Dodgers thrilling victory last night, you MUST at least read about it. In the American League, the Chicago White Sox showed exactly why they are currently chasing playoff teams rather than fending off the wanna-bes. Mark Buehrle gave up a pair of first inning runs (and avoiding a lot more thanks to a TRIPLE PLAY) for what seems like the 19th consecutive time if you are a White Sox fan or if you have Buehrle on your fantasy team. In reality, Buehrle has a woeful 1st inning ERA of 9.29 this season and has allowed a whopping .390 BA against him in the 1st inning. You can't make it to the playoffs if you give your opponent a head start every 5th game.
With the season winding down, you would expect to see some playoff bound teams heavy on hitting while others are heavy on pitching. As the chart below shows, however, winning baseball games in the regular season is ALWAYS about the pitching. The chart shows the league rank of each playoff team (if the season ended today) for ERA and OPS.