Thoughts from the Dugout: Movers and Shakers

Writing a weekly column is fun! Writing a weekly baseball column about the state of the postseason in the middle of a busy week with work, class, and other assorted pastimes is challenging. This results in last minute updates of respective standings, one which I promise to you I will fulfill. I just want everyone to know exactly what’s up.

Let the Good Times Roll/I’ve Seen Better Days

Image of the Kansas City Royals dugout

These guys are probably having a way better time than you.

We’re leading with dueling song titles, because the state of the league has entered into something approaching wonderful flux. The big money teams are down (with two rather notable exceptions in SoCal), the little, scrappy teams are up, and some old stand-bys are plugging along, doing what they do year in and year out with remarkable consistency. On the one hand, if the season ended today, the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, and Phillies would all be out of the postseason. This shift away from the East Coast powerhouses of the last decade has been transplanted by the rise of the West Coast, with both LA teams, the Giants, and Oakland representing sunny Cal in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, downtrodden teams are in prime position for series action, including the Pirates, the Royals, and the Mariners. Add in Baltimore’s sustained quality over the past three years and the return to (two years’ gone) glory of the Nationals, and you have a very different postseason picture from when October was an annual draw between the Yanks and Sawks. For fans of the downtrodden, things haven’t been this good since the cocaine-fueled parity of the 80’s. Long live October. There’s relevant baseball being played in worn-down, beat up locales like Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cleveland. Teams endowed with beautiful ball parks like Seattle and (again) K.C. will get to envision what they’ll look like in the playoffs. (Best of all, MLB doesn’t seem to be run by a soulless, worthless, corporate suit like some other leagues I know….) It’s a great time to be a baseball fan.

Goodbye Mr. Washington

Image of Texas Rangers ex-manager Ron Washington

Last week, the manager of the Texas Rangers, Ron Washington, announced that he would be retiring, effective immediately, to take care of a “personal matter” involving his family. Somewhat unfairly (in this columnist’s eyes), speculation immediately flashed towards his admitted cocaine problems, which Washington revealed in 2010. His actual reasons for leaving have not been disclosed, and we’re not going to try and delve into them – in this social media obsessed age, people deserve any shreds of privacy they can get. What we will state is that the Rangers are bidding farewell to their most successful manager in their existence, having won 90 games for four straight years before this sinkhole of a season happened. Baseball fans will always have that gloriously epic World Series of 2011 to look back upon, easily the best seven game series of the last five years. I still remember watching Game 6 on MLB’s Gamecast in a friend’s apartment in Cleveland, only for things to get so tense in the final innings that I sprinted down the street at 10:00 at night in my pajamas, desperately seeking a bar to watch the game at. I remember Josh Hamilton’s home run that would have gotten him a statue built in Arlington had the Rangers finished out that game. I remember Ron Washington dancing in the dugout. I also remember how his bone-headed lack of any kind of knowledge of late game defensive needs left Nelson Cruz in to let the World Series fly out of their grasp. Washington may not have been the best in-game tactician, but he was certainly an indomitable spirit and a winning manager to boot, respected by players and media alike. Here’s hoping that he can work through whatever problems he and his family are dealing with at the moment.

State of the Races

Same rules as last week – if you’re more than five games out of any race, you’re off my chart for the moment. This week, I’m also adding in elimination numbers, or the combination of wins and losses it takes to knock a team out of the race. The clock is ticking.

Note: All standings and playoff percentages are current as of last night’s games. You’re welcome.

AL East

1. Baltimore Orioles: 86 – 59, 99.9% playoff percentage
2. Toronto Blue Jays: 76 – 69, 10 games back, 5.5%, E – 8
3. New York Yankees: 74 – 69, 11 games back, 1.6%, E – 8

If you can see across the vastness of the difference in the standings between these teams, you don’t need glasses.

AL Central

1. Kansas City Royals: 80 – 64, 78.9%
1. Detroit Tigers: 80 – 65, 1 game back, E – 17, 67.1%
3. Cleveland Indians: 75 – 69, 5 games back, E – 14, 5.1%

And NOW we’re getting interesting. Kansas City gutted out a 3-0 shutout of Detroit last night, preventing the Tigers from sweeping, and maintaining an ever-tenuous hold on the division lead. Things haven’t been easy for the Royals for the last 29 years, and the Tigers certainly don’t intend to make things easy for them now as they try and make the playoffs again. Just as an indicator of how important each game is now, glance at the swing in postseason probability percentages after last night: before, KC had a 68.3% chance of making the playoffs – as of now, they’re sitting at 78.9%, a ten point swing. Meanwhile, the Tigers were at 70.5% last night – now they rest at 67.1% (That second wild card slot sure opens up some options.) Things are by no means assured for anybody, but take into account that in September, the Royals have the easiest schedule in baseball. If they blow it…they have nobody to blame but themselves.

AL West

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 90 – 55, 99.9%
2. Oakland A’s: 81 – 64, 9 games back, E – 11, 95.4 %
3. Seattle Mariners: 79 – 66, 11 games back, E – 9, 46.4%

What’s happened to the Oakland A’s? Well, the Angels are stampeding towards the playoffs, and of all teams in baseball, they’re the most likely to reach 100 wins. The A’s have essentially no chance of winning the division, and are slowly slipping towards falling out entirely. So what happened? Well, a combination of hitters such as Brandon Moss and Derek Norris going ice cold combined with terrible bullpen play means that after my proclamation that Oakland and Detroit would be likely competitors in the ALCS following their deadline deals, I am eating a plateful of crow. This is why I run an independent culture blog from my basement in Chicago as opposed to forecasting results on ESPN. (Although I might be as qualified as anybody on ESPN2…)

AL Wild Card

1. Oakland A’s: +1.5 games up
2. Detroit Tigers: even
3. Seattle Mariners: 0.5 games back
4. Toronto Blue Jays: 3.5 games back
5. Cleveland Indians: 4 games back
6. New York Yankees: 4.5 games back

I’m cheating by including the Yankees here (my rule is 5 games or less), but it’s close enough as to be negligible. Also, I have years and years of watching the Yankees be on the verge of going under only to rally, so they’re hanging out here for the time being.

There’s two chance scenarios here, and both should best be categorized as “slim” to “Kim Kardashian disappears from popular culture”. The first is that Oakland’s plummet towards mediocrity carries it right below a surging Seattle team that smells blood and has King Felix taking the ball every five days. Billy Beane has constructed too talented a team to let that happen, though crazier things have happened. (See Red Sox/Atlanta Braves, 2011) The second scenario is that one of the Central teams currently fighting for the division lead blinks and falls out of this race entirely. Again, there’s too much talent there to see that happening, particularly with the Tigers. What will most likely happen is that the race comes down to the final day and Seattle sneaks in at the last second. There’s also a third chance that both Oakland and the other Central team fall out of the race (somewhere on par with Beyonce starting a hipster-folk band) That might, might give hope to Toronto, Cleveland, or New York fans. I’d still hold off on printing playoff tickets, though, if I were fans of those teams.

(Now I just want to hear Beyonce sing “I’ll Fly Away” over banjo picking. MAKE THIS HAPPEN, INTERNET.)

NL East

1. Washington Nationals: 82 – 62, 99.9%
2. Atlanta Braves: 75 – 71, 8 games back, E – 10, 20.7%

Over their last ten games, the Nationals are 5-5. They’ve been aided in keeping their division lead by Atlanta’s 4-6 record over a similar time frame. This isn’t a race, it’s a dog paddle to the finish.

NL Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals: 80 – 67, 95.9%
2. Pittsburgh Pirates: 76 – 69, 3 games back, E – 14, 65.9%
3. Milwaukee Brewers: 75 – 71, 6 games back, E – 12 , 18.3%

The Cardinals looked as though they might seize control of the division. Then they lost two straight to the Reds, including a 1-0 loss today. (Sorry, I had to – suck it Cardinals fans) Meanwhile, Andrew McCutcheon has romped his way into the MVP discussion (again), next to Kershaw and Giancarlo Stanton. If the Pirates overtake the Cardinals, something which is not out of the realm of possibility, I see voters giving him the trophy simply because he’s a position player and not a pitcher. (My heart weeps for Kershaw, should this happen, even though McCutcheon is certainly deserving.)

NL West

1. Los Angeles Kershaws Dodgers: 83 – 63, 99.9%
2. San Francisco Giants: 80 – 65, 2.5 games back, E – 15, 98.3%

Boy, this is fun. Two teams who hate each other, both playing in beautiful ballparks, with the one coming together at just the right time (the Giants, but more on that in a second), the other being carried by a historically great pitching performance (This column might as well be sponsored by Clayton Kershaw at the moment).

Image of Clayton Kershaw breaking the Space-Time Continuum.

Thoughts from the Dugout: brought to you by Clayton Kershaw

(For the record, the guy shaking his head as Kershaw breaks the Space-Time Continuum is my favorite.

NL Wild Card

1. San Francisco Giants: +4 games up
2. Pittsburgh Pirates: even
3. Atlanta Braves: 1.5 games back
3. Milwaukee Brewers: 1.5 games back
5. Miami Marlins: 4.5 games back

Yes, by the virtues of my system, the Marlins have a chance at claiming that second wild card spot. Going 6-4 over their last 10 combined with Milwaukee’s swoon to end all swoons will give you that kind of chance. Having said that, I don’t see the Marlins as having the pitching to overcome the deficit between them and whoever makes it out of the NL Central. I’m not counting them out, but I’m not holding my breath either.

Big League Chew of the Week Award

Image of Buster Posey

The San Francisco Giants have been right in the thick of things for much of the year (their 20-36 June/July/early August swoon nonwithstanding)…except that nobody east of the Mississippi has really payed much attention. That’s what happens when your swoon coincides with the return of the Left Arm of God Dodger’s pitching ace Clayton Kershaw, as well as a full league of noteworthy stories. Much of that tepid decline could be attributed to heart of the order and one time MVP Buster Posey. Hitting .279/.339/.422 as of August 19th, Posey somehow tapped into the mystical aura of famous Giants past (HE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED) and is hitting an astronomical .493/.514/.925 since that date. (One might quibble that he’s still not walking, but when you’re hitting (almost literally) every other ball a country mile, it’s hard to find time to take a walk) Coinciding with the return of leadoff hitter Angel Pagan, a filling of the black hole at second base by Joe Panik, and a return to form by newly acquired pitcher Jake Peavy, the Giants are rolling at the right time, and will not be a fun draw in the Wild Card game or beyond.

Series to Watch This Weekend

3. Yankees at Orioles

Because the Yankees are fighting for their playoff lives, the Orioles are fighting to clinch a division title all their own, and Camden Yards is a beautiful god damn ball park.

2. Athletics at Mariners

Because the Athletics are all of a sudden fighting for their playoff lives, the Mariners are fighting to make the postseason for the first time since the Bush administration, and Safeco Field is a beautiful god damn ball park.

1. Dodgers at Giants

Because the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw pitching on Sunday, the Giants are hot at the right time, both teams are fighting for playoff positioning, their rivalry is inarguable in its place among the top two in baseball, and because Pac Bell SBC Park AT&T Park is a beeeeeautiful god damn ball park.

Image of AT&T Park in San Francisco

Play ball.

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook is the Editor-in-Chief and one of the original founders of the Addison Recorder. He writes about baseball, movies, and music, among other topics. He resides in a hole in the ground near Wrigley Field.

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