Sep 30, 2013, 8:40 AM EDT
We still have one game left that, technically and statistically speaking, belongs to the regular season. But practically speaking — and in our hearts — we are into the playoffs now. Game 163 between the Rays and Rangers is do-or-die and very, very few regular season games can say that. So: toss your technical orthodoxy. It’s playoffs time.
And what an intriguing time it proves to be. In some ways for who is on the outside as opposed to the inside. The Yankees will be home watching the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and for only the second time since 1994. The teams which made big offseason splashes — the Angels and Blue Jays — lost all hope long before the weather turned cool. Everyone’s favorite in the National League — the Washington Nationals — finished strong but it was too little, too late. The 2013 season looked at all of the experts’ predictions and said “ha!”
Expectations notwithstanding, at the 2013 playoff party are 11 teams with pretty compelling stories. Some of those stories are mere dramatic narrative which will be beat into the ground by playoff game broadcasters over and over again. Or, at least until the results on the field render those narratives nonsensical. Some of the stories, however, truly do tell the tale of 2013 and the lasting power of those stories will determine how long their authors continue to play.
Here’s an overview of the party-goers
- Red Sox: This club may have the biggest disparity between the storylines we’ll hear and actual baseball relevance. What we’ll hear? Beards! Chemistry! Redemption after the collapse of 2011 and the horror of Bobby Valentine’s reign in 2012! Bad seeds like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford gone! John Farrell restoring order! The part about Farrell is definitely true. And there are certainly better feelings surrounding this team. But they also happen to have the best offense by far in the AL, a healthier, outstanding pitching staff and good team defense, and those things are way more important than any facial hair bonding.
- Tigers: There are big stars here. The likely Cy Young Award winner in Max Scherzer and the likely two-time MVP in Miguel Cabrera chief among them. Cabrera was very ordinary and very hurt in September, however, and the Tigers as a whole stumbled to a 13-13 record in the month’s final season. That said, momentum is your next day’s starting pitcher, and the Tigers have had very good, very consistent starting pitching in 2013, with only five guys accounting for 156 of the team’s 162 starts. When they’re on, there are few teams better than Detroit. Jim Leyland just has to find a way to flip that switch after a quite ignominious end to the regular season.
- Athletics: For the second year no one picked the A’s to win the AL West. For the second straight year they won it. Still, people will sleep a bit on the largely unknown-to-the-nation A’s (maybe unknown to Oakland too). But after you get past decade-old “Moneyball” jokes about how this team is defying gravity and economics, know that they have the third best offense in the AL (after Boston and Detroit) and were third in home runs and walks. Know also that they allowed fewer runs than all but two teams in the AL (Kansas City and Detroit). It’s a very balanced team which, unlike Boston, Atlanta and Los Angeles, actually won its division last year too. Still: they’re likely to be treated as newbie over achievers because people love those kinds of cliches.
- Indians: A new manager in Terry Francona and a new motivational leader in Nick Swisher will get the credit for their presence in the playoffs. A very solid outfield defense has helped the pitching staff rebound this year, and the biggest rebound came from starter Ubaldo Jimenez. The Tribe went 21-6 in September, though a lot of that came against poor competition. Expect them to get a lot of “they have the momentum!” talk. At least until they play the wild card game on Wednesday.
- Rays/Rangers: One of them will make it in after tonight. If it’s the Rangers, it could very well be because of the return of Nelson Cruz, who will be activated following is PED suspension (and whose suspension coincided with the Rangers playing poorly in the final month and a half of the season). The Rays have good overall starting pitching which, unfortunately for them, has feasted on poor teams but not always come up so big against the contenders. Neither of these clubs seem like good bets for long playoff runs. But note the above stuff about the value of predictions.
- Braves: A new look after the trade for Justin Upton last winter and the continuing dominance of closer Craig Kimbrel get the headlines. But the second banana in the Upton trade — Chris Johnson — hit .321 on the year and the offense was buoyed by Freddie Freeman and his .319/.396/.501 line. The real secret weapon on this team, however, is shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who may have just posted the best defensive season by a shortstop in baseball history. The Braves were noted for their ball-bashing ability early in the year, but they ended up allowing fewer runs than any team in the NL this season, and Simmons’ sparkling defense had a lot to do with that.
- Cardinals: The best team in the National League just keeps rolling along, producing talented player after talented player from its exceedingly fertile farm system. Adam Wainwright is still the ace, Matt Holliday led the team in OPS+ and Yadier Molina will get a ton of MVP votes, but it’s not a team that is overly-reliant on their big-name players. Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller and, if he makes the post-season rotation, Michael Wacha are some of the younger and, to some, unknown weapons at manager Mike Matheny’s disposal. Carlos Beltran has continued his wonderful play years after many considered him a top-flight star (note: he’s still pretty awesome). There are questions in the bullpen, but the Cardinals have been able to handle just about everything thrown at them for the past few seasons. Expect it to continue.
- Dodgers: Derided in the spring as a chemistry-free team of high-priced parts assembled by owners with too much money to burn, the Dodgers’ amazing midseason turnaround has helped put lie to the notion that you can’t assemble a winner with high-priced free agents and trades for embattled (and highly-paid) veterans. Adrain Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were deemed part of the problem in Boston yet now find themselves on a winner. Flashy and, at times, controversial rookie Yasiel Puig is showing that young ballplayers can — shockingly — enjoy themselves on the field and still be productive. The real strength here, though, is the rotation. Clayton Kershaw should win the NL Cy Young. Zack Greinke posted a 1.85 ERA in the second half. If you’re playing the odds, you’re looking at the competition facing an 0-2 hole in a short series. A key concern, though, is the health of Hanley Ramirez and the absence of Matt Kemp, who will miss the playoffs. The Dodgers may have also played their best baseball in July and August (they were a mere 12-15 in September) and will be yet another test as to whether momentum matters.
- Pirates: The Cinderella story of 2013. The Pirates sloughed off over 20 years of losing records and broke through this year, led by MVP favorite Andrew McCutchen, NL home run co-leader Pedro Alvarez and a stingy bullpen. If they win the Wild Card game against Cincinnati on Tuesday expect the bandwagon to overflow.
- Reds: An up-and-down team this year which at times looks far better than the second wild card team that they are and other times looks a bit lost. The Reds were third in the NL in runs per game this year, but are pretty reliant on Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo. If they’re cold on Tuesday or beyond, runs may be hard to come by.
Those are the partiers. Now the party begins.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin suffered a right shoulder strain near the end of February and hasn’t progressed as quickly as hoped. So, as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding writes on Tuesday, it’s “almost a certainty” that the right-hander will begin the 2014 regular season with a 15-day disabled list stint. Chacin played catch at 90 feet on…
Mar 11, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT
The Indians announced Tuesday, via Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that right-hander Justin Masterson will start for the club on Opening Day against the Athletics. That game is scheduled for Monday, March 31 at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum. It was an easy decision for the Tribe, who will likely follow Masterson this season with…
Mar 11, 2014, 8:31 PM EDT
From MLB.com beat reporter Mark Bowman … LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez confirmed on Tuesday that Brandon Beachy will not make his next scheduled Grapefruit League start. Beachy exited Monday’s start against the Phillies after grueling through two innings during which he was burdened by tightness around his right elbow and biceps muscle. Beachy…
Mar 11, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday that Josh Hamilton — who has been sidelined because of an early-spring calf strain — was on track to make his Cactus League debut this week. It won’t happen. Scioscia was asked again about Hamilton’s status on Tuesday in camp and told Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register that…
Mar 11, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
This particular free agent saga is almost complete. According to beat writer Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun, right-handed starter Ervin Santana is “likely to make a decision on his destination within the next day or two” because he wants to get into a camp as soon as possible to get properly tuned up…
Mar 11, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
Justin Verlander got a late start to his spring training thanks to a core-muscle repair surgery in early January. But one gets the sense that he’ll be ready for the season regardless. Verlander pitched four innings against the Blue Jays today, throwing 52 pitches while giving up a single, walking two and striking out two. The key for…
Mar 11, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT
I saw Mark Prior at the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Indeed, he and I were staying on the same floor, so I saw him a lot. Walking up and down the hallway pretty frequently, always with a cell phone to his ear and a notebook in his hand. At various points I saw him in…
Mar 11, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Barry Bonds is back in a Giants uniform as a spring training instructor and Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com writes that “his every word was met with rapt attention” from players. For instance, outfielder Michael Morse got some tutoring on his swing and afterward told Baggarly: Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? The guy’s amazing.…
Mar 11, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
I love when old stories like this surface. A few years ago Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre and manager Ron Washington were tossed out of a spring training game by an umpire and then … well, I’ll let Stefan Stevenson of the Forth Worth Star Telegram take it from here: However, after the ejection Washington…
Mar 11, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
A little sigh of relief from Nationals camp, where right-hander Doug Fister was able to play catch this morning without any issues after previously being sidelined by elbow soreness. Fister first complained of soreness in early February and James Wagner of the Washington Post reports that he’s “been treated with anti-inflammatory medicine, ice and rest.”…
Mar 11, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT
This is odd. And potentially distracting: The Red Sox tried to spice things up in spring training Tuesday. After each pitch, it was mandated that the JetBlue Park public address announcer would announce the ball or strike call, and the count. Rob Bradford of WEEI talks to the guy whose idea it was, how it will work and…
Mar 11, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT
Oscar Taveras‘ ankle problems have lingered following last season’s surgery and now the stud outfield prospect is having hamstring issues in the same leg, so it sounds like the Cardinals have all but ruled out his making the team. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch that Taveras “needed…
Mar 11, 2014, 1:13 PM EDT
New Tigers manager Brad Ausmus accidentally gave a steal sign in a spring training game, so old Tigers manager Jim Leyland talked to Chris Iott of MLive.com about a time he once did that same thing while with the Pirates in 1992: “Tom Prince was on first,” Leyland said. “He was a slow catcher. We…
Mar 11, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
ESPN shows us what a renaissance man Barry Bonds truly was: Impressive! RT @AviMillerBSR: According to @ESPN, Barry Bonds holds the record for most home runs in @NBA history. pic.twitter.com/6UHpTVS8QV — Bob Harkins (@Bharks) March 11, 2014 Also: he scored more goals than Muhammed Ali and was the last horse to win the Triple…
Mar 11, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT
People love to use baseball analogies because baseball is a pretty common and relatable frame of reference. But one thing you can be sure of: nearly 100% of the time someone is using a baseball analogy in politics, they are either mangling the baseball or mangling the politics. To wit, a senator using it to…
Mar 11, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
Mark Mulder, whose comeback attempt ended before it even really began thanks to a torn Achilles’ tendon, has been released by the Angels. Mulder has said that he’s not ruling out attempting another comeback next year, but he’ll miss the entire season recovering from the injury and at age 37 the odds of him succeeding…
Mar 11, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT
Braves right-hander Kris Medlen will seek a second opinion after an MRI exam on his sore elbow showed “some involvement of the ligament.” In other words: Not good. Medlen exited Sunday’s game after grabbing his elbow following one pitch and then short-hopping his next pitch to the plate, making his way into the Braves’ dugout.…
Mar 11, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
This time last year Brandon League had just signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract to become the Dodgers’ closer and now he’s in danger of not even making the team out of spring training. League was awful last season, losing the closer gig and being demoted to a mop-up role while posting a 5.30 ERA…
Mar 11, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Signed largely for his career-long durability, 37-year-old Bronson Arroyo has been sidelined with a bulging disk in his back for almost all of Diamondbacks camp and the injury hasn’t shown much improvement. He’s able to play catch, but Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports that Arroyo was sore and stiff after doing so Monday and could…
Mar 11, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Say what you want about Ryan Braun but now, as opposed to in the past, he is realistic. He talks to Bob Nightengale of USA Today about what it’ll be like to be Public Enemy Number One when he goes on the road this year: “I’m sure it will be a bit adventuresome at times…
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