It won’t be the madness for which some of us longed, the three-way doomsday playoff prelude to the playoff prelude, but an extra regular season game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers is a solid reward nonetheless. Not just for baseball fans but for the American League’s division winners. For they are the real winners of baseball’s newest playoff gimmick.
Should the winner of game 163 tonight go on to triumph over the awaiting Cleveland Indians Wednesday night, they will have earned the right to take on the Boston Red Sox on Friday night in the first game of the American League division series. Should Tampa Bay win tonight, they will have travelled from Toronto to Arlington to Cleveland and then on to Boston to begin their post-season journey. Texas has the advantage of sitting home, a not-insignificant advantage for the moment.
But they are all single baseball games – in a single baseball game, anything can happen. With Texas starting their ace Yu Darvish on Sunday, they must turn to rookie Martin Perez with their season on the line. Such is the price of finishing second.
The funny thing about boiling a 162-game season down to one game is it proves even the hoariest of cliches true: anything can happen. In a one game playoff (or two), the “better” team has a marginally greater chance of winning but crazy stuff happens in a baseball game. Weird bounces and infield flies and fluke performances or flu-like symptoms: it’s the reason the regular season is 162 games long in the first place. Maybe the Rays run this gauntlet and emerge victorious – stranger things have happened. An impressive feat no doubt but no more unlikely than having three straight coin flips come up heads.
Trying to equate a baseball game field with strategy and skill and physical performance to a coin flip is borderline insulting, but as far as giving the cream a chance to rise to the top, one game typically isn’t enough time. Meanwhile, the division leaders are home and cooled, lining up their rotation just right and getting some much needed rest for their battered bodies.
The rust narrative might enter into the equation, should the long-waiting Red Sox stumble against the Wild Card champion. Tired and worn out as that line of thinking might be, there aren’t many times during a regular season when a player does next to nothing for two straight days, let alone four idle days during the most important point of the season.
Which is a long-winded way of saying – the playoffs are awesome. The one-game playoff system works, inasmuch as it creates interest and excitement. Thanks to the Rays Canaidian Collapse and the Rangers Long History of Rangerdom, we’re treated to a bonus game with the highest possible stakes. Not quite a game seven but a similar atmosphere for the low, low, price of zero personal investment. Just tune in and enjoy the drama (until Joe Madden chokes the life from the game with his fourth pitching change of the 8th inning.)
Cleveland’s flag flies forever?
Speaking of investment, the Cleveland Indians made a significant investment in their not-too-distant future this off-season, spending on free agents while saving money by trading away a potential free agent. Where they didn’t skimp, however, was on a manager. They wrestled Terry Francona out of the broadcast booth to steer their ship and the results have been spectacular.
The Tribe a brilliant mix of veterans and kids, all overseen by a manager with a stellar track record of negotiating big personalities while discreetly putting a fine product on the field. Just like his BoSox heyday, Francona seems to pull the right lever with regularity, either by making great use of the positional flexibility provided by Carlos Santana, Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes or the found money production of Ryan Raburn.
Cleveland is good. They won 92 games to earn the right to host a play-in game. The pushed in their chips in the winter and received a nice balance of good performance and good luck and rode it to the post-season for first time since 2007. Maybe the back-end of the Bourn and Swisher deals leave much to be desired but the current economic landscape in baseball suggests these sins are easily washed away when October baseball comes around. And here it is, back in Cleveland for the first time in six years.
Henderson Alvarez throws a no-hitter
Watching Henderson Alvarez come up through the Blue Jays system, “Henderson Alvarez throws a no-hitter” is not a sentence (fragment) I ever thought I’d write. Not because he’s a bad pitcher per se, but he’s a prototypical ground ball machine. Not a lot of strikeouts absent a good out-pitch means relying significantly on the defense behind him.
Henderson Alvarez took wonderfully to his move the National League. He’s basically the same guy as he was last year. Of his 57 strikeouts on the year (102 innings), 12 came against the opposing hurler. His non-p strikeout rate of 11.2% is about in line with his AL numbers.
In throwing a bizarre no-hitter at “the Detroit Tigers” yesterday, Alvarez induced 14 ground balls and 10 fly balls, all of which his defense recovered with aplomb. His first strikeout didn’t come until the 6th inning, when he struck out Justin Verlander. The opposing pitcher.
It might not rank among the greatest no-hit performances of all time but it was easily one of the weirdest, as the scoreless game was not decided until the bottom of the ninth – with the pitcher himself standing in the on-deck circle. From there, he had a front row seat to the wild pitch that ended the game and put the name Henderson Alvarez among the games greats. Or, at least, made him one of the guys who threw a no-hitter. For that, he should be congratulated.
Game chart of the weekend
The power of baseball, in chart form. Even though these two mediocre teams were playing for absolutely nothing, this was an incredibly entertaining game. Rather than give up, the Giants fought all the way back to topple the Padres before a happy and appreciative crowd at AT&T Park. Newly minted zillionaire Hunter Pence drove in the winning run with the bases loaded.
The Giants served Huston Street just his second blown save of the year, thanks to Pence’s shot into a two-man outfield and Francisco Peguaro’s homer to lead off the ninth. Peguaro was only in the game because Gregor Blanco was hurt chasing down a fly ball on the second last batter of the season. A walkoff win in a game featuring some nice ovations for departing players and a lovely fan appreciation ceremony after the game. No playoff implications but it still made for a fine way to send the regular season off in style.
RELATED – The Kotsay Way
Mark Kotsay quietly walked away from the game yeterday, striking out in the 7110th and last plate appearance of his career. Mark Kotsay had a fine career in baseball – anybody who started in 1997 and played until yesterday cannot say otherwise.
Kotsay struck out against Barry Zito in the 8th inning of the above game, Zito’s final appearance as a member of the Giants. Kotsay said some terrific things after the game, expressing the respect felt league-wide for Zito.
“If I had to strike out in my final at bat, I’m glad it was against a former teammate whom I respect and love,” Kotsay said. “I’m happy for Barry.”
That’s a pretty cool thing to say after ending your career with a whiff.
Kotsay’s career followed the typical “non-star” road map – some good peak seasons in his mid-to-late twenties, then sort of trading on the name he made then as a role player and then bench player before serving as the bringer of veteran presents for a young ballclub. Kotsay played in more 1900 regular season games and 26 post-season games as well. He leaves with a .276/.332/.405 line, which translates to a 95 wRC+. He hit 127 home runs in his career and totaled just over 20 Wins Above Replacement. Congrats on a great career, Mark.
With a home run and a walk yesterday, Mike Trout finishes the season with a .323/.432/.557 slash line, 27 home runs, 33 stolen bases, and 110 walks.
In posting a 10.4 WAR season, Trout brings his career total over 21 fWAR – slightly ahead of Mark Kotsay, who played more games than Mike Trout has plate appearances. Please note: this says more about Trout than it does about Kotsay. Here is a list of 70 active players with more than double his career PA total but fewer total Wins Above Replacement. Mike Trout – good at baseball!
Matt Carpenter Scores
Matt Carpenter lead baseball this season with 126 runs scored. Though he managed one of the highest single-season totals in doubles with 55 (one of only 19 players to ever hit that many in a season), Carpenter only slugged 11 home runs. If you want to score that many runs and can drive yourself in less than a dozen times, you need to get creative. Scoring for second on a walk, for example. That’s exactly the kind of outside-the-box thinking that lets you put up one of the most surprising seasons in recent baseball history.