Baseball in September is a wonderful, exciting thing. With the extra Wild Card, it feels like every game means something. Even random interleague encounters take on extra significance.
The Pittsburgh Pirates took their second straight game against the AL Wild Card-leading Texas Rangers, one win from a sweep we all thought would drip playoff implications when we circled “Pirates @ Arlington” on our schedules six months ago.
The Pirates need these wins badly, to keep pace with the re-juggernauted Cardinals and to right the ship after a rough weekend sweep in St. Louis. They need these wins to hold off the hard-charging Reds if they hope to at least host the play-in game.
The Rangers? They need these games too. The AL Wild Card just keeps bunching up as no one team appears capable of asserting itself and taking control of the race. The Rangers are stumbling badly in September – again. Luckily for them, it might not matter.
Despite going just 2-7 so far in September, the Rangers maintain a 2.5 game lead over Tampa Bay for the first Wild Card spot, holding a four game lead over Cleveland and Baltimore with just 18 games to play. Facing a 2 games deficit behind Oakland with a weekend series looming, it feels safe to say the Rangers are in.
They can still fall flat on their faces but even this early Sept swoon hasn’t undone their chances significantly. According to CoolStandings.com, they had a 95% playoff chance on September 1st and a have a 85% chance today. With 18 games left, that feels pretty safe.
The Rangers struggles are strange since they went out and improved their team at the trade deadline, first acquiring Matt Garza and then Alex Rios to push them in October. Garza has been okay with Texas, allowing 30 earned runs in 62.2 innings, striking out 57 against just 13 walks. The team is 6-3 in games Garza started. Not quite Cliff Lee in 2011 but hardly the source of the Rangers woes. having started just one game in September.
Alex Rios started slowly in Texas but has become something of a beast of late, going .424/.486/.788 in September with four homers. When the Rangers acquired Rios, this would have been their best case scenario.
But it isn’t helping them win, not this month anyway. It isn’t helping them win baseball games but all the other games they won this year gives them that extra big of leeway when a slump settles over Arlington like a persistent cough.
Look at what Miguel Cabrera is doing right now for the Tigers. Battling an injury, Miguel Cabrera has been downright dreadful in September. Just two hits in 18 at bats with three walks. No extra base hits. Something to remember when his “winning team” credentials are trumped at MVP time?
Not exactly. The Tigers sit 5.5 games up 17 remaining. All the hits Miguel Cabrera totaled during June, July, and August helped build that lead. Without hits and home runs and walks, they might need more from him here in September.
Just like Alex Rios cannot will the Rangers to win more games, Miguel Cabrera cannot single-handedly kill their chances. It takes nine. A pitcher like Garza might pitch the game of his life one day but he can only watch and wait for four days until it is his turn to pitch again.
Sometimes a performance transcends the turn-based team structure of baseball. Sometimes it really does seem like one great player will drag an inferior cast to the playoffs, like CC Sabathia and the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers (who, of course, had Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder and Ben Sheets in their mix.) But it just isn’t the case. To succeed in September, it takes the full roster. Bit players and fourth starters and pinch runners and video coordinators.
One player cannot save or make a season over the span of a dozen games. It might be inconvenient for scapegoaters and myth-makers but it’s the way it goes.
And the rest
Billy Hamilton got to play the field and hit! How exciting…
|Billy Hamilton CF||2||0||0||0||0||0||.000||.000||7||5||3|
What winning 82 means to Pirates fans [Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?]
Speaking of Van Slykes…
Japanese home run record falls, a nation feigns indifference [HBT]