Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it?
One of the biggest criticisms (slightly warranted) of Major League Baseball is that the seasons tend to drag on forever. While it is your intrepid columnist’s opinion that the people who believe this are nihilistic, soulless goons more obsessed with watching grown men reduce each others brain matter to Silly-Putty, there is something to be said for the idea that the Baseball season is one long march towards an inevitable goal, the postseason. The corresponding argument is that because there is such a preponderance of games on the schedule, it is impossible to attach meaning to any individual contest, save for the latter weeks of the season.
There’s certainly arguments in favor of the latter – look at the Cleveland Indians, who for five months out of the year were 71-64, a respectable winning percentage of .525, but nothing that will light the world on fire, much less reach the postseason. And then look at the month of September, where they went 21-6 (TWENTY-ONE AND SIX), including a season-ending ten-game win streak when (in an almost comically literal sense) EVERY GAME MATTERED. (A .777 winning percentage! 10-2 on the road! A run differential +50 runs better than the rest of the season combined!) The Indians, at first glance, highlight the importance of late-season games, as well as their ability to win when it matters, so to speak.
I won’t argue with the latter, although I think a meeting of the minds on Friday with the Boston Red Sox (should they eliminate the two-headed monster currently preparing to fight for dominance in the Empty Warehouse Rays Stadium) will bring an unfortunate end to their season. (Memories of ’07!)
However, I do take somewhat small exception to the idea that not every game matters in Major League Baseball. To be fair, I’m not certain that there’s as many people who disagree with me as I think there are (#paranoid), but I do seem to hear a steady stream of “What does it matter if (oh say) the Reds don’t win tonight? They’ll play again tomorrow. There’s so many games, anyway, it’s not like they all matter. When’s football start?”
Which brings me to Game 163, that magical occasion where the Baseball season doesn’t quite end, and somehow, 162 games aren’t enough to determine which teams deserve to play in the postseason.
The obvious argument in the case of each game mattering is to say that had Tampa Bay won one more of those meaningless April games where they were floundering needlessly, or had Texas not slipped QUITE so badly during the month of September (maybe they go 3-7 instead of 2-8!), we wouldn’t be having this conversation about Game 163 at all, because one of those teams would have clinched its spot.
At the same time, there’s a can of worms argument to be made concurrently that goes something like: Hey, but if Texas doesn’t fall apart, or if Tampa is more dominant from the start, then the Indians don’t have an opening, and their late season charge has no merit! And maybe the Yankees and Royals don’t get into the mix! And maybe there’s a way for Mo Rivera to pitch forever, because he’s perfect! So perfect! So beautiful! So consistent! Why are we out of the playoffs? What happened to us? What happened to Mo winning the World Series and riding into the sunset? WHY MUST WE SUFFER SO? THERE’S SO MUCH UNCERTAINTY! WHAT IS GOING ON? WHY IS BREAKING BAD OVER?! WAS THAT REALLY IT?!
(I’m not sure why the can-of-worms argument is a Yankees fan in my brain (and a poorly constructed one, at that), but that’s how this column is shaking out. There’s just not enough coffee, I guess.)
Tonight’s game (which matters an incredible deal if you’re from Arlington/Dallas/Ft. Worth or simply mildly interested in the Tampa Bay Rays) will feature David Price going against the rookie, Martin Perez. While the fact that they’re playing at Tampa Bay with last year’s Cy Young winner taking the mound, it should also be noted that this is not last year’s edition of David Price; rebounding from an injury, Price only pitched in 26 games, looking more like his semi-inconsistent, while still high-quality, 2011 version where he went 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA. This season, his ERA jumped, his BABIP spiked (a return to the norm), and his strikeout rate declined, all similar features which we’ll identify in another prominent pitcher later this week. (Hint: he previously won the AL Cy Young) One improvement in Price’s game, however, has been his walk rate, which he slashed from 2.5/9IP to 1.2/9IP. He’s still Tampa’s ace, if not quite as dominant as he was last year. Although that doesn’t necessarily bode well for the postseason, where he has a career ERA over 4.00 if you discount his 5 relief appearances in 2008.
Meanwhile, Martin Perez, in his first extended cup of big league coffee, is 7-3 with a 3.26 ERA over his last 10 starts. Perez strikes me as a pitcher with low strike-out totals, a fairly high WHIP (1.35 this season), but a solid ground-ball pitcher with a GO/AO ratio of 1.25. (That’s ground-outs to air outs; if I use a stat and you don’t understand, please mention it in the comments below and I’ll try to supplement your knowledge in the future. As it stands, I’m honestly not sure who’s reading these already.) So, what you have is a work-horse pitcher who (judging by his wins and losses) pitches to the competition, relying on his offense to carry the day. Also, he got to play Houston twice in the last 10 games; I’m fairly sure I’d be 2-0 with a complete game and 16 K’s. These types of workhorse pitchers are fantastic for the grind of the regular season, where outright dominance is encouraged but reliability is equally important. (Take a look at the careers of Mark Buehrle, Bronson Arroyo, Tim Wakefield, and Jamie Moyer as further evidence of this)
However, this is the postseason, where the Rangers have one game to make up for their September failings, and where Tampa Bay has one chance to show that they’re a quality team through and through, putting their roller-coaster season behind them. This is the kind of game where the Clayton Kershaws and Justin Verlanders of the world make a difference, pitchers completely able to take over a game, put their stamp on it, and impose their wills on opposing hitters. This is the time of Johnson and Schilling, Gibson and Koufax, Ford and Grove, Mathewson and Alexander, and countless other dominant pitchers. Not that I’m saying that Martin Perez is a nice guy; I’m sure he is. I just know that at the end of the day, I’d rather have David Price on the mound. The pick: Tampa Bay 4, Texas 3
Check back tomorrow for my super-quick Wild Card round preview!