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October 14, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Red Sox, Astros, Braves advance; Dodgers survive

Thus far the 2021 MLB postseason is proceeding in a rather predictable, consistent way. The home teams won the two wild card games (see below), and did likewise in the opening games of all four divisional series. In contrast, the visiting team prevailed in Game 2 of three of the four divisional series, and three of those four series were ultimately decided in Game 4.

The American League divisional series got underway in St. Petersburg and Houston last Thursday, October 7th. Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. went 6 2/3 innings without giving up a run, and the Chicago White Sox won easily, 6-1. In Game 2 the White Sox took a 4-2 lead in the top of the 5th inning, but the Astros came right back to tie it, as their star ace pitcher Lucas Giolito (a former National) faltered. Thanks to a 5-run rally in the 7th inning (for which Chicago relievers Aaron Bummer and veteran Craig Kimbrel were jointly responsible), the Astros secured the 9-4 win. At home on Sunday, the White Sox fell behind 5-1 in the top of the 3rd, but just when things looked bleakest they came roaring back with 5 runs in the bottom of that inning, and 3 more in the 4th. Final score: 12-6. Rain forced a postponement of Game 4 until Tuesday. The White Sox took an early lead when rookie Gavin Sheets* hit a solo home run in the 2nd inning, but that was the last run they would score as the Astros eventually won it, 10-1.

* While chatting about baseball with a retail cashier last month, I learned that he was a second cousin of Gavin Sheets, who was born in Lutherville, MD and played college baseball at Wake Forest. It's a small world! Sheets was called up by the White Sox from the AAA Charlotte Knights in late June, and hit a home run in his second-ever MLB game! He went back down to Charlotte in early August, and then returned to Chicago at the beginning of September. He finished the regular season with an amazing 11 home runs, in only 160 total at bats. He seems to have quite a promising future!

The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Boston Red Sox 5-0 in their series opener, sparked by Randy Arozarena who homered in the 5th inning and actually stole home in the 7th inning. You don't see that very often! Game 2 was a wild one, as the Rays came right back with 5 runs after Boston scored two runs in the top of the first inning. As the innings passed, the Red Sox kept putting runs on the board, and the Rays' relief pitchers couldn't seem to stop them. Former Cardinal pitcher Michael Wacha gave up 6 runs in the final three innings, as the Red Sox won it, 14-6. In Boston for Game 3, the Rays rallied to tie it 4-4 in the top of the 8th inning, but wasted crucial run-scoring opportunites as the game went on into the 13th inning. That's when Christian Vazquez hit a 2-run homer to give the Red Sox a 6-4 victory. Game 4 featured a similar heroic comeback effort by the Rays that wasn't quite enough: Down 5-0 after 3 innings, they tied it 5-5 in the top of the 8th, only to lose the game and the series on a walk off sac fly by Enrique Hernandez in the bottom of the 9th. The Fenway Park faithful went wild at yet another epic postseason triumph!

In the National League, the Atlanta Braves faced the Brewers in Milwaukee's American Family Field (formerly Miller Park) last Friday. (History-oriented fans noted that this matchup took place in the Braves' former home city.) Braves pitcher Charlie Morton (formerly with the Rays and Astros) struck out 9 batters and only allowed 3 hits over 6-plus innings, but one of those was a 2-run homer by Rowdy Tellez in the bottom of the 7th. A solo shot by Joc Pederson in the top of the 8th inning narrowed the gap, but the Brewers remained on top, winning 2-1. The Braves won Game 2 thanks mainly to Max Fried, who struck out 9 batters over 6 innings -- the same as Morton the day before. An apparent home run in the 3rd inning by Ozzie Albies (it bounced back from the top of the right field wall) was ruled a double after further review, but the Braves won it anyway, 3-0. In Game 4 on Monday Joc Pederson hit a 3-run home for the Braves in the 5th inning, the only scoring play of the game, as Atlanta took the NL divisional series 3 games to 1.

The exception among the four divisional series was the "clash of titans" between the two winningest teams in the majors this year: the wild card Dodgers (106 - 56) vs. the NL West champion Giants' (107 - 55). It has been a back-and-forth series, with the Giants taking Game 1 by a 4-0 score, handing a rare defeat to Walker Buehler. The Dodgers won Game 2 by a score of 9-2, thanks in large measure to clutch RBI doubles by Cody Bellinger and A.J. Pollock. In Game 3, former Nationals ace Max Scherzer took the mound, and he lived up to his reputation, striking out 10 batters over 7 innings, giving up just 3 hits, one of which was a solo home run by Evan Longoria in the 5th inning -- the only runs scored in that game. Max was furious when he was replaced in the 8th inning, reminiscent of his days with the Nationals. (Too many times in D.C. he didn't get enough run support.) It was the first time Scherzer was tagged for a loss in a Dodger uniform; he was 7-0 with them in the regular season. In Game 4 on Tuesday night the Dodgers took an early lead thanks to an RBI double in the 1st inning, and they never looked back. Final score: 7-2, evening the series at two games apiece and forcing Game 5, which is taking place at Oracle Park in San Francisco this evening. (It's 1-1 as of the 8th inning.)

Wild cards: Red Sox, Dodgers win

The Red Sox made full use of home field advantage in Fenway Park, taking an early 2-0 lead in the AL wild card game against the New York Yankees thanks to a home run by Xander Bogaerts. Former National (and Cub) Kyle Schwarber hit a solo homer in the 3rd inning, and center fielder Alex Verdugo contributed 3 RBIs to Boston's total. The home team prevailed in convincing fashion, 6-2. (See the Postseason scores page.)

With a win-loss record of 106 - 56, the L.A. Dodgers ranked high above the other wild card team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Max Scherzer was pitching for L.A. in Dodger Stadium, but he had kind of an off day. The Cardinals scored a run when he threw a wild pitch in the top of the 1st, but that would be their last run scored. Justin Turner tied the game with a solo homer in the 4th inning, and Chris Taylor hit a fabulous walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th to win it for the home team, 3-1. Dodger Stadium was virtually filled to capacity, with 53,193 happy fans in attendance.

Tricky dealings in Tampa Bay

A public relations goof put the damper on spirits in St. Petersburg, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The front office thought it would be a good idea to promote the idea of having the Rays split their season between Florida and Montreal, Canada. The banner they put up behind the outfield seats caused an uproar, however, and was quickly taken down. Personally, I kind of like that idea, but if it is to succeed, it will have to be handled in a very delicate fashion.

Back in May, the minority owners of the Rays filed a lawsuit against franchise owner Stuart Sternberg, accusing him of leaving them out of secret negotiations with Montreal. See tampabay.com

Nationals end bad season badly

The Washington Nationals came close to winning the final two games of the season, facing the visiting Boston Red Sox, who were in a tight four-way race for the two AL wild card spots. In all three games the Nats' starting pitchers pitched into the 6th inning, and in the latter two games they were in line for the win until the bullpen crumbled once again. Friday night's game was quite a pitchers' duel until the 6th inning, when the Red Sox scored 4 runs on back-to-back home runs by Hunter Renfroe and Bobby Dalbec. It's a shame Josh Rogers couldn't keep up his otherwise-stellar pitching record for just one more inning. Final score: 4-2. On Saturday Nats rookie pitcher Josiah Gray (formerly with the Dodgers) struck out 7 while only giving up one run in 6 innings, and the game was tied 1-1 after 8 innings, but the Red Sox scored 4 runs in the top of the 9th and won it, 5-3. In the finale on Sunday, a rookie named Joan Adon (from the Dominican Republic) was the starting pitcher for the Nationals, and he did amazingly well: 9 strikeouts and just 2 earned runs over 5 1/3 innings. The Nats led 5-2 when Erick Fedde gave up 3 runs to the Red Sox in the top of the 7th inning. Kyle Finnegan gave up a 2-run homer to Rafael Devers, and the Red Sox completed their sweep of the Nationals with a 7-5 victory. That put them in the top-seed position for the wild card game, which proved to be crucial. And thus, a very bad season for the Washington Baseball Team (!) ended on a gloomy note.

In Sunday's game there was an emotional moment when Ryan Zimmerman trotted out to first base alone in the top of the 8th inning, then did a ritual U-turn waving to the crowd when it was announced that he was being replaced. He got a standing (and teary-eyed) ovation from the big crowd of nearly 34,000 fans. Since Zimmerman has not decided whether he will return to play with the Nationals this year, that may have been his final moment on the field in a Nats uniform. I certainly hope not. I was aware of the solemnity of the occasion that day, and did my best to see that game in person:

Nationals Park SW ext 2021

It was a beautiful day for baseball in Our Nation's Capital on October 3rd, and since I happened to be in Washington, I drove right past Nationals Park about three hours before game time. Unfortunately, however, I had to attend to More Important Obligations, and was therefore unable to see the Nationals' 2021 finale. The road construction in the foreground is where South Capitol Street is being re-aligned to more smoothly access the newly-completed Frederick Douglass Bridge, just southwest from the old bridge of that same name.

The astonishing magnitude of the Nationals' second-half collapse got me to thinking how this year compares with preceding years, so I came up with the following table. From April through the end of June this year, the Nats won 40 games and lost 38 (.513), but from July until the end of the season their record was a horrific 25 - 59 (.298).

Nats' 1st & 2nd halves

YearWinning %
April - June
Winning %
July - September
Difference
200560.3%40.5%-19.8%
200640.7%46.9%6.2%
200740.0%50.0%10.0%
200839.3%33.8%-5.5%
200930.3%41.9%11.6%
201043.0%42.2%-0.9%
201149.4%50.0%0.6%
201257.9%62.8%4.9%
201350.6%55.6%4.9%
201453.7%65.0%11.3%
201555.8%47.1%-8.8%
201660.0%57.3%-2.7%
201758.8%61.0%2.2%
201851.9%49.4%-2.5%
201950.6%64.6%14.0%
2020-43.3%NA
202151.3%29.8%-21.5%

The data above pertain to the first and second three-month periods of each season (including March games under April, and October regular-season games under September), not to the actual 81-game halves of each year. (In 2020, no games were played until late July.)



September 30, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Red-hot Cardinals grab a wild card spot

By the beginning of September, three teams in the National League had essentially claimed a berth in the 2021 postseason: the San Francisco Giants and L.A. Dodgers fighting it out neck and neck in the West Division, and the Milwaukee Brewers who were dominant in the Central Division. For most of the month, the Atlanta Braves clung to a small lead over the Phillies in the NL East, and just tonight they finally clinched the division title. Waiting in the wings as contenders for the second wild card slot early in the month were the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds, while as of September 12, the St. Louis Cardinals were estimated to only have a 5 percent chance of making the playoffs. But then the Cardinals won 17 games in a row, surging ahead of the Padres and Reds to take the second NL wild card spot. It was an incredible late-season burst, somewhat reminisiscent of the 1969 New York Mets. The Cardinals finally lost a game on Wednesday night (to the Brewers), but they then beat the Brewers on Thursday. Now all that's left to decide in the National League is the West Division championship, but the Giants are virtually assured of winning.

Four-way wild card race in AL

In contrast to the National League, the race for the two wild card slots in the "Junior Circuit" is still wide open as the final weekend of regular season play is about to begin. The amazing Tampa Bay Rays clinched the AL East title a week ago, and yesterday they claimed top seed in the American League, getting home field advantage until the World Series. There was likewise little doubt that either the Chicago White Sox or the Houston Astros would win their respective divisions (AL Central and AL West), but there has been a great deal of volatility as far as the wild card slots. The New York Yankees have gone through big ups and downs, losing seven games in a row in mid-month, after a 13-game winning streak in late August. They recovered late in the month, and now have the inside track in the AL wild card race. The Boston Red Sox had been contending with the Toronto Blue Jays for the second wild card spot, but both teams began to flag somewhat late in the month. The Oakland Athletics looked promising for much of the 2021 season, but they have had a poor month. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners seemingly came out of nowhere to tie the Red Sox in the wild card race, one game behind the Yankees. The Mariners have accomplished almost as big a surge as the Cardinals, winning nine of their last ten games. The Blue Jays are one game behind those two teams. So everything comes down to who wins their respective final regular season series this weekend.

As is customary, the postseason scoreboard begins to appear on the first day of October at the bottom of my baseball blog page. (Since the regular season extends into October this year, that scoreboard is only provisional at this point.)

Max Scherzer tops 3,000 strikeouts

It was a painfully bittersweet moment for Washington Nationals fans when their former ace pitcher Max Scherzer threw his 3,000th career strikeout on September 12. He threw eight perfect innings, including nine strikeouts, against the visiting Padres before giving up a single to Eric Hosmer in the top of the ninth inning. Scherzer was then relieved, and the Dodgers soon completed an 8-0 shutout victory. After striking out five batters in a rare mediocre outing against the Padres yesterday, he now has 3,020 strikeouts altogether, seven more than his former team mate (with the Detroit Tigers) Justin Verlander, who has not been healthy enough to pitch for the Houston Astros this year. Scherzer remains at 15 wins for the year, with just four losses. Since joining the Dodgers at the beginning of August he has won seven games and lost none. Until recently, he led the majors in ERA, but Corbin Burnes (of the Milwaukee Brewers) just took the lead in that category. Ironically, Burnes was the pitcher who followed Max Scherzer in the 2021 All-Star Game, and in fact he was the one who took the loss. Here is a quick look at Max Scherzer's career:

From Until Team Strikeouts
2008 2009 Arizona Diamondbacks 240
2010 2014 Detroit Tigers 1,081
2015 2021 Washington Nationals 1,610
2021 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers 89
2008 2021 TOTAL 3,020

Nationals show some improvement

After two straight "hellish" months (8 - 18 in July and 7 - 20 in August), the Washington Nationals performed just a little better in September, with a record of 10 wins and 16 losses. After enduring a second seven-game losing streak this year (August 28 - September 4), they won almost every other game for the next two weeks, and they even won three games in a row, two of which were against the Marlins in Miami, on September 21 and 22; that was the only series they won this month. Losing series to the Mets (Sept. 3-6), Braves (Sept. 7-9), and Reds (Sept. 23-26) was understandable, but they really should have won more of the series against the Pirates (Sept. 10-12), Marlins (Sept. 13-15 and Sept. 20-22), and Rockies (Sept. 17-19 and Sept. 27-29). They managed to avoid getting swept by any of those teams, at least. Back home in D.C. this weekend after a long road trip, the Nationals will face the Boston Red Sox, who are highly motivated, needing at least two wins if they are going to take a wild card slot. After the last regular season game is completed on Sunday, I will update the Washington Nationals page with data for September (including October).

One of the most amazing statistics from this year is that the Nationals are actually leading the National League with a .249 team batting average. How can that be when they have lost so many games? Partly it is the poor pitching, with a 4.79 team ERA (ranking 24th out of 30 MLB teams) and the second-most home runs given up of all MLB team: 241. (The Orioles "lead" with 247 home runs given up.) Somehow the Nationals pitchers have tied a record (14) for most number of grand slams given up in one season. Will they break that record this weekend? But it is also partly the failure to provide run support when pitchers do have good outings. The Nationals batters have been notoriously weak in clutch situations, leaving many runners on base.

Another weakness of the Nationals is their failure to score in extra innings. According to my calculations, they have won only two extra-inning games this year, while they have lost eleven. (This includes games lasting eight or nine innings in double-header games that last seven innings under the special rules instituted last year.)

Among the many positive developments is that Juan Soto has fully recovered from his mid-season injury, and now has 29 home runs and a .318 batting average. He briefly had the highest average in the majors this week, but former National Trea Turner (now with the Dodgers, batting .325) reclaimed the number one position in that category. Soto has 94 RBIs, and with a little luck can break into the triple digits during this final weekend.

It is also worth pointing out that several of the newly-acquired players have performed exceptionally well. Josh Rogers, who was designated for assignment by the Orioles early in the year, has really blossomed with the Nationals since being called up at the beginning of September. In five starts, he has a 2.73 ERA, 19 strikeouts, and a 2-1 record. Former Cardinal Lane Thomas is batting .285 and has hit seven home runs; he is now the regular center fielder, replacing the disappointing Victor Robles, whose days with the Nationals may be numbered. Two young catchers show great promise as sluggers: Keibert Ruiz (part of the mega-trade with the Dodgers) and Riley Adams. Meanwhile, veterans Ryan Zimmerman, Alcides Escobar, Josh Bell, and Yadiel Hernandez are also hitting well on a regular basis.

All these things point to a big improvement for the Nationals next year. But how big??? Are the Lerners going to put down some big bucks to acquire first-class pitchers in order to become contenders once again, or will the "rebuilding" process take two or more years?




 

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What's this about?

This blog features commentary and musings on a diverse but well-defined set of topics, from a critical-minded conservative point of view, featuring a veritable library of original graphics and statistical information. It is distinguished in many ways from the rest of the "blogosphere." My blog entries cover a rigidly defined set of topics, with varying degrees of intensity according to how much is going on in each area, and how much time I have. Being somewhat of a "do-it-yourselfer," I chose a "home-made" approach rather than conforming to the common blogging systems such as Blogger or WordPress. The blog entries and archives are arranged in a sort of "proprietary" scheme that I have gradually developed over time. Finally, being an old-fashioned, soft-spoken kind of guy, I avoid attention-grabbing sensationalism and strident rhetoric, and strive instead to maintain a reasonable, dignified, respectful tone.

"It's not just a blog, it's an adventure!"



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My blog practices

My general practice is to make no more than one blog post per day on any one category. For this reason, some blog posts may address more than one specific issue, as indicated by separate headings. If something important happens during the day after I make a blog post, I may add an updated paragraph or section to it, using the word "UPDATE" and sometimes a horizontal rule to distinguish the new material from the original material. For each successive day, blog posts are listed on the central blog page (which brings together all topics) from top to bottom in the following (reverse alphabetical) order, which may differ from the order in which the posts were originally made:

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* part of "Macintosh & Miscellanous" until Feb. 2007

The date of each blog post refers to when the bulk of it was written, in the Eastern Time Zone. For each blog post, the time and date of the original posting (or the last update or comment thereupon) is displayed on the individual archival blog post page that appears (just before the comments section) when you click the [LINK / comments] link next to the date. Non-trivial corrections and clarifications to original blog entries are indicated by the use of [brackets] and/or strikethroughs, as appropriate so as to accurately convey both the factual truth and my original representation of it. Nobody's perfect, but I strive for continual improvement. That is also why some of the nature photos that appear on the archive pages may differ from the (inferior) ones that were originally posted.

The current "home made" blog organization system that I created, featuring real permalinks, was instituted on November 1, 2004. Prior to that date, blog posts were handled inconsistently, and for that reason the pre-2005 archives pages are something of a mess. Furthermore, my blogging prior to June 1, 2004 was often sporadic in terms of frequency.



 

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