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Thread: City Beat: 10,000 More Pitches to Decide Playoffs

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    City Beat: 10,000 More Pitches to Decide Playoffs

    Here's this week's column from City Beat writer Bill Peterson

    http://citybeat.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A141099

    10,000 Pitches Left to Separate Playoff Teams from Also-Rans

    By Bill Peterson

    When they fall right, the final six weeks of the Major League Baseball season are the best competition of any sport's late-season stretch. It's no mere matter of six games to go, or even a dozen.

    Of the remaining contenders with 40 games left, more than half will look up at the end and wonder what could have happened on any of 10,000 pitches in the final six weeks to change their fortunes.

    The pennant race is constant day-to-day pressure in which no single day decides anything. The struggle to qualify for the baseball playoffs makes every other sport's stretch drive look like child's play.

    You can run, but you can't hide your flaws. Make the playoffs, and anything can happen. But getting there is the tough part.

    In the American League right now, six clubs are strongly in playoff contention, with two others just outside. Half of those clubs will miss the playoffs, and any one of the rejected could have gone all the way.

    In the National League, 10 clubs are thickly involved, and the Reds or Houston Astros could stumble into the race with a strong run of two weeks. Somebody might snag a weak division with 83 wins then match its way through the playoffs and win the World Series. It happened last year.

    Watching the St. Louis Cardinals again this year is a lesson about how raw resourcefulness can be enough to get a chance, and the chance is everything. Tony LaRussa's ball club is, sort of literally, a non-starter. The Cardinals have the worst starting pitching in the National League by ERA, Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder are gone and, to top it off, the Cards don't score runs.

    Through Aug. 19, the Cardinals batted only .217 with two outs and runners in scoring position, which ranks them 15th in the 16-team National League. Veterans Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen are producing like old guys trying to hang on, and Albert Pujols, with the recent assistance of the re-invented Rick Ankiel, is carrying the offense.

    It's not much, but LaRussa knows that if he can just duct tape something together and win a couple more than he loses he can survive until October. Now he's again batting his pitchers eighth just to set up an extra base runner for Pujols once in a while.

    The Cardinals have resorted to a starting rotation of Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper, Anthony Reyes, Kip Wells and Joel Piniero. Sounds like a tweaking job here and there for pitching coach Dave Duncan.

    With these immortals, the Cardinals ran off a streak of nine games in which they gave up three runs or fewer eight times and gave up four runs the other time. Looper, Wells and Piniero each won two starts in a row during the stretch, which began Aug. 8.

    Last week, the Cardinals went to first-place Milwaukee, where Wells, Piniero and Wainwright all took solid command against the tottering Brewers. The Cardinals swept the Brewers, who lost their grip on the National League Central right there.

    It was just a matter of time before someone moved in front of Milwaukee. The Cubs did it by outpitching the Cardinals to win twice in Chicago last weekend.

    The Cubs are riding high, considering they were 18-16 since the All-Star break, they went without Aramis Ramirez for a week and Alfonso Soriano will have been gone a month when he comes back the first week of September. The Cubs scuffle offensively, but people like Jacque Jones and Daryle Ward keep delivering big hits.

    When your starting pitching is as good as the Cubs', you don't need big innings. Big hits suffice. In time, perhaps, the Cubs will return to full strength. Until then, manager Lou Piniella is trying to win 4-3 games in Wrigley Field.

    Given all their parts, the Cubs are the best club in the division. But knowing how to win matters, and the Cardinals own that knowledge like no one else in the competition.

    The NL Central race is likely to go at a dull pace, but the elements will keep it interesting. We've got a young club going to school in the Brewers, LaRussa's old airplane riding through the storm and a sleeping giant, the Cubs, who have finally gotten serious.

    The other five divisions are not only close, but, unlike the NL Central, are briskly contested among winning clubs. The wild card positions will rescue a couple good teams, but not all of them.

    Of course, you can't live in America without hearing all about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, who are putting on another high-wire show. While the NL Central is contested among mediocre clubs trying to maximize themselves, the American League East involves two excellent clubs with no margin for error.

    The Red Sox set out to improve their league-leading pitching staff by dealing for resurrected reliever Eric Gagne at the trade deadline. Then Gagne blew three leads in eight days. And the Yankees are coming fast: They're 27-11 since the All-Star break.

    The Yanks devour their daily diet of opposing pitchers, and now their own pitchers are stabilized. Between Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Chien-Ming Wang and Phillip Hughes, they're getting a quality start just about every day. The Yankees won't win with their pitching, but if their pitching doesn't lose, their hitters will win.

    Asserting themselves within the American League Central, the Cleveland Indians hold the lead over the Detroit Tigers. Last season, the Indians finished 25-32 against the Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. Through Aug. 19, the Tribe is 22-14 this season against those same clubs, a 7 1/2-game swing. But the Indians still need help in late relief.

    The Tigers are a much different team this year. Injuries keep taking down Kenny Rogers, Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya, while Nate Robertson has been ineffective.

    Suddenly, Detroit's pitching is average, if that. The Tigers have compensated with a more productive offense, but hitters can't do everything.

    Leading the American League West, the Los Angeles Angels are as solid as any club going. But they have a surprising challenge from the Seattle Mariners, who aren't big on subtlety.

    The Mariners don't take a lot of pitches, they don't walk and they don't strike out. They put the ball in play and see what happens. To date, it's worked well for them.

    Finally finding their groove in the National League East, the New York Mets were 21-14 after the All-Star break and have begun to pull away. But the Atlanta Braves upgraded at the trade deadline, most notably by bringing in Mark Teixeira. The Philadelphia Phillies will just try to slug their way into the playoffs.

    Of all the division leaders, the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West are the least likely to be in first and the least likely to hold on. It's hard to trust such a young club with so little offense, and the Diamondbacks are doing it with mirrors; they're 27-16 in one-run games. They're going to receive an education from the pitching-powered San Diego Padres and the experienced Los Angeles Dodgers.

    The road is still long, yet time is running short for the contenders. Just another 10,000 pitches for each club. Every one will be worth watching.

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    Vampire Weekend @Bernie's camisadelgolf's Avatar
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    Re: City Beat: 10,000 More Pitches to Decide Playoffs

    The Reds have 99 problems, but a pitch ain't one.

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: City Beat: 10,000 More Pitches to Decide Playoffs

    Peterson wrote

    In the National League, 10 clubs are thickly involved, and the Reds or Houston Astros could stumble into the race with a strong run of two weeks. Somebody might snag a weak division with 83 wins then match its way through the playoffs and win the World Series. It happened last year.
    I was surprised no one latched on to this snippet from the article, but then I saw this discussion elsewhere, so I thought I'd highlight this and bring it up. Of course, it's a slim chance and a daunting one too - but this club's playing some good ball right now. Also, it's holding on and winning some games light, something that feels like it's not done most of the season. They've got the feel that they can come back if they get behind and that certainly wasn't the case earlier this year. I doubt either they or Houston can do it, but it is clear that with a good two week run, as Peterson notes, it could be very interesting.

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    2009: Fail Ltlabner's Avatar
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    Re: City Beat: 10,000 More Pitches to Decide Playoffs

    Quote Originally Posted by redsmetz View Post
    I was surprised no one latched on to this snippet from the article, but then I saw this discussion elsewhere, so I thought I'd highlight this and bring it up. Of course, it's a slim chance and a daunting one too - but this club's playing some good ball right now. Also, it's holding on and winning some games light, something that feels like it's not done most of the season. They've got the feel that they can come back if they get behind and that certainly wasn't the case earlier this year. I doubt either they or Houston can do it, but it is clear that with a good two week run, as Peterson notes, it could be very interesting.
    While still mathmatically possible, it's highly improbable that they suddenly get back into any semblence of "the thick of things".

    That said, however, the team does seem to be playing with a better "spirit" as you point out. I know that's highly intangable and difficult to quantify. But there's been a number of games were the other team jumps out to an early lead, yet the Reds don't just roll over, they find a way to get runs and stay in the fight.

    That may be because they are playing crappy teams, but in the final weeks of Narron it seemed like as soon as the opposing team took a lead the Reds just went into sleeper mode. Now, at least they are continuing to fight. Doesn't mean they are suddenly playoff bound, but that's an important environment to foster on a baseball team, IMO.
    a super volcano of ridonkulous suckitude.

    I simply don't have access to a "cares about RBI" place in my psyche. There is a "mildly curious about OBI%" alcove just before the acid filled lake guarded by robot snipers with lasers which leads to the "cares about RBI" antechamber though. - Nate

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: City Beat: 10,000 More Pitches to Decide Playoffs

    Quote Originally Posted by Ltlabner View Post
    While still mathmatically possible, it's highly improbable that they suddenly get back into any semblence of "the thick of things".

    That said, however, the team does seem to be playing with a better "spirit" as you point out. I know that's highly intangable and difficult to quantify. But there's been a number of games were the other team jumps out to an early lead, yet the Reds don't just roll over, they find a way to get runs and stay in the fight.

    That may be because they are playing crappy teams, but in the final weeks of Narron it seemed like as soon as the opposing team took a lead the Reds just went into sleeper mode. Now, at least they are continuing to fight. Doesn't mean they are suddenly playoff bound, but that's an important environment to foster on a baseball team, IMO.
    Except for playing Washington and Pittsburgh at the beginning of the month, we've played contending ballclubs: Dodgers (albeit a realing team when we played them), Milwaukee, Cubs, San Diego and Atlanta. We've gone 10-6 against those clubs. That's not shabby.

    I agree it's highly unlikely that we somehow make it, or even get in the thick of it. But I will say this, we're playing like a team that must be contended with and that has not always been the case this season. You said it well when you said we seemed to have gone into "sleeper mode" - we were rolling over when we got down.

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    Re: City Beat: 10,000 More Pitches to Decide Playoffs

    Quote Originally Posted by Ltlabner View Post
    While still mathmatically possible, it's highly improbable that they suddenly get back into any semblence of "the thick of things".

    That said, however, the team does seem to be playing with a better "spirit" as you point out. I know that's highly intangable and difficult to quantify. But there's been a number of games were the other team jumps out to an early lead, yet the Reds don't just roll over, they find a way to get runs and stay in the fight.

    That may be because they are playing crappy teams, but in the final weeks of Narron it seemed like as soon as the opposing team took a lead the Reds just went into sleeper mode. Now, at least they are continuing to fight. Doesn't mean they are suddenly playoff bound, but that's an important environment to foster on a baseball team, IMO.
    The math has been on another thread for a few days.
    To win 83 games the Reds have to play X% for the rest of the season. Since McKanin took over the Reds are playing X%

    With each win, those numbers keep getting closer.
    When people say that I donít know what Iím talking about when it comes to sports or writing, I think: Man, you should see me in the rest of my life.
    ---Joe Posnanski


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