This week in: Baseball

At the beginning of September, there seemed to be only one playoff spot up for grabs, the race for October being a mere saunter in every division except for the AL West.  The standings before play on 9/1 were thus:

AL                                                                                               

East – Red Sox 1.5 games up on Yankees

Central – Tigers 5.5 games up on Indians

West – Rangers 3.5 games up on Angels

Wild Card – Yankees 7.5 games up on Rays

NL

East – Phillies 7.5 games up on Braves

Central – Brewers 8.5 games up on Cardinals

West- Diamondbacks 6 games up on Giants

Wild Card – Braves 8.5 games up on Cardinals

Fast-forward less than 2 weeks and, though most of the races continue to look decided, the AL Wild Card is suddenly up for grabs. In the AL East, the Yankees have made up 5 games on the Red Sox in the month of September and are now 3.5 up

Lackey just found out his ERA is higher than AJ Burnett's

with 17 left to play.  This has not been because New York has been playing unbelievable baseball – they themselves just snapped a four game losing streak – rather it’s a result of a faltering Boston team who, having posted a 2-9 record so far this month, are now only 3 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays for the Wild Card.  This is a team who were being written in as the Phillies opponents for the World Series prior to the season began, and whom the jingoistic New England press were lauding as being able to surpass the 1927 Yankees as the greatest in history, merely making 100 wins was a foregone conclusion.  (Spoiler alert – unless Boston ends the season by winning 15 games out of 16, they’re not going to make it to 100 wins)

A look at the statistics makes it clear were the Red Sox problems lie:

Team Rankings (All of MLB)

Batting

Runs – 1st; Batting Average – 1st; On Base – 1st; Slugging Percentage – 1st

Pitching

ERA – 19th; Quality Starts – 26th; WHIP – 11th; BAA – 6th

While there have been problems all season long with the Red Sox pitching, September has seen the issues get deeper.  The rap sheet is as follows: 73 runs given up in 11 games; an injury to Josh Beckett; and projected closer of the future, Daniel Bard, taking the loss in 4 of the 9 defeats this month.  Meanwhile, 45 year old Knuckleball pitcher, Tim Wakefield, has been stuck on 199 career wins, unable to get 200 in any of his last 5 starts.

With a four game series coming up at Fenway Park against the Rays next weekend, Boston needs to get back to their winning ways, and fast.  If they manage a split with Tampa Bay, then they still need to look out for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, currently only 5 games back of the Red Sox, and with winnable series against the A’s and Orioles this week.

Elsewhere this week, with most of the playoff spots decided, an emphasis will be put on individual milestones being reached for both this season, and overall in players’ careers:
  • Yankees legendary closer Mariano Rivera has 599 career saves after picking up his 40th for the year on Sunday in a 6-5 NY win over the Angels.  As well as 1 more taking him to 600, 2 more saves sees Mo tie Trevor Hoffman for first on the all time career saves list.  Rivera’s teammate, Curtis Granderson, goes into the week looking for his 40th Home Run of the season.  The center fielder’s previous season high was 30 back in 2009 with Detroit.  (This week: NYY @ Seattle x3, @ Toronto x3)
  • Also in pinstripes, pitcher CC Sabbathia looks to become the first Yankees pitcher to record back-to-back 20 win seasons since Tommy John (he of the famous surgery) did it back in 1979/80.  (CC Scheduled start: 9/17 @ Toronto)
  • For the Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander continues his quest to become the first pitcher to win both the Cy Young and MVP since Roger Clemens did it for Boston in 1986.  With a league leading 22 wins, the joint lowest ERA in the AL and the most strikeouts, Verlander looks a certainty for the Cy Young, and with Detroit playing .500 baseball when anyone else pitches, strong starts for the rest of the regular season might persuade the voters to make a pitcher MVP once again.  (Verlander scheduled starts: 9/13 @ White Sox; 9/18 @ Oakland)
  • Adrian Beltre hit his 300th career home run on Sunday (along with his 301st for good measure), next up for that milestone is Carlos Beltran who sits on 297 all time.  However, personal glory will only be worth so much – since Beltran joined the Giants from the Mets, they have dropped out of 1st and look likely to miss the opportunity to defend last year’s World Series win this October. (SF: San Diego x3, @ Colorado x4)
  • The AL Batting Title is turning into a two horse race between Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez (.339) and the 2005 Batting Champion from Texas, Michael Young (.334).  With both of their teams in playoff races, they will be looking for the hits to keep on coming in the next few weeks. (Boston: Toronto x2, Tampa Bay x4) (Texas: Cleveland x3, @ Seattle x3)
  • And finally, old man Wakefield gets his 6th chance at number 200, in Boston’s next game against the Blue Jays on Tuesday September 13th.  A win for him might just be the catalyst to see the Red Sox into October – as a Yankees fan, I sincerely hope not.
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