Sep 30, 2013, 8:40 AM EST
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.
Dec 9, 2013, 11:57 PM EST
After accepting minor league deals in seven straight years, free agent reliever Jamey Wright appears primed to receive a major league contract this winter. According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Wright is currently deciding whether to return to the Rays for another season or sign with the Dodgers, who he pitched with in 2012. The…
Dec 9, 2013, 11:27 PM EST
We have seen some conflicting reports in recent days about whether the Rakuten Golden Eagles will post much-hyped right-hander Masahiro Tanaka this winter, but Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports brings word on why there could finally be some clarity on the situation this week: The will-he-or-won’t-he question may find resolution in the next couple of…
Dec 9, 2013, 10:23 PM EST
It was reported last month that Justin Masterson was open to a long-term deal with the Indians, but FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal hears that the team is willing to listen to trade offers. Masterson is just one year away from free agency, so the Indians would prefer pieces that they can control for the long-term.…
Dec 9, 2013, 9:35 PM EST
Mark Prior has attempted numerous comebacks in recent years, but the oft-injured right-hander told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press earlier today that he has officially retired and could accept a front office position with the Padres. Prior, now 33, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006. He made seven relief appearances with…
Dec 9, 2013, 9:13 PM EST
Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times has been checking in all day with updates from the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Earlier this evening, he unleashed this interesting little nugget: There are rumors that free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz turned down the Mariners’ offer of 5-years, $75 million. That’s a lot of money for a guy…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:33 PM EST
It’s been suspected all offseason that the Mets would shop second baseman Daniel Murphy and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports hears that they are pushing “very hard” to move him at this week’s Winter Meetings. Nothing appears imminent, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Orioles are among the teams who…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:16 PM EST
Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Phillies reliever Mike Adams recently required surgery to repair a sports hernia, which is a fitting end to a disappointing year. Adams joined the Phillies last offseason on a two-year, $12 million contract, but he made just 28 appearances prior to undergoing surgery in July to repair…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:50 PM EST
There was renewed chatter over the weekend about the Red Sox possibly making a play for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, but Rob Bradford of WEEI.com hears from major league sources that there’s “nothing to” the reports. In fact two sources said the two sides have “barely touched base.” Kemp’s agent, Dave Stewart, told Dylan Hernandez…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:35 PM EST
This is Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval as he appeared last season. This is Pablo Sandoval now, courtesy of a pic he posted on twitter this afternoon. Now, the shirt is a kinda baggy. There’s probably still some flab hiding under there. But at the rate he’s going, there might not be for much longer.…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:17 PM EST
With Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury off the board, Shin-Soo Choo is the biggest name remaining in the free agent market. And it sounds like he could find a new home during this week’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida: Sources: Choo talks appear to be reaching critical stage. #Rangers, at least one other club in.—…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:59 PM EST
ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent right-hander Jason Hammel is looking for a three- or four-year deal in free agency. This is an excellent market for starting pitching, with Phil Hughes and Scott Feldman both recently receiving three-year deals, but it’s not that good. While Hammel was one of the Orioles’ best starters in…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:43 PM EST
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has routinely downplayed a potential trade of Mark Trumbo so far this offseason, but things are heating up at the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Sources: Chances of Trumbo trade increasing. #Angels more open. #Dbacks pushing. Other teams in, all with improving offers.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 09, 2013 The Diamondbacks…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:29 PM EST
The Cubs are one of a handful of clubs without a closer and it appears that they could turn to the trade market to fill the role. According to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs are eying deals for Nationals relievers Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard among other possibilities. Adam Kilgore of the…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:15 PM EST
Danny Espinosa lost his starting second base job to Anthony Rendon this past season and now he could be on the move. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the Nationals are listening to offers on the 26-year-old infielder. Espinosa attempted to play through wrist and shoulder injuries in 2013 while batting just .158/.193/.272 with…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:49 PM EST
According to FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi, the Blue Jays and Rangers were involved in a three-team deal last month that would have sent reliever Sergio Santos to Texas, but that the deal fell apart because another player failed his physical. Santos would have helped make up for the loss of Joe Nathan to Detroit. He missed…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:30 PM EST
A’s starter Brett Anderson is the subject of a lot of rumors lately. Brett Anderson is also a pretty heavy Twitter user. That leads to things like this: .@Joelsherman1 so I’m like the morning-after pill? — Brett Anderson (@BrettAnderson49) December 9, 2013 Pretty slick, Brett. I also feel like if I were the subject…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:15 PM EST
After two seasons as a below average starter, Wade Davis broke through as a reliever for the Rays in 2012, amassing a 2.43 ERA and striking out 87 in 70 1/3 innings. The Royals plan after picking him up in the James Shields-Wil Myers trade? Move him back to the rotation. Luke Hochevar was a…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:03 PM EST
The guy works for George Steinbrenner’s son and, I assume, he also happens to believe it. But know that Yankees president Randy Levine says that The Boss should be in Cooperstown. From Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York: “I think it was a mistake,” Levine told ESPN New York by telephone. “I congratulate Joe Torre, Bobby…
Dec 9, 2013, 4:50 PM EST
Eric Thames was once a decent prospect for the Blue Jays, but he’s bounced around with four different teams in the past two seasons and now the Astros have released the 27-year-old outfielder so he can go play in Korea. Thames hit .262 with 12 homers and a .769 OPS in 95 games for the…
Dec 9, 2013, 4:33 PM EST
First the good news: Three managers, all deserving and perhaps even overqualified, were elected into the Hall of Fame on Monday. If you are going to have managers in the Baseball Hall of Fame — and you are — then Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre are all obviously deserving Hall of Famers.…
- Roy Halladay is retiring 53
- Tony La Russa Bobby Cox, Joe Torre all unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame 43
- Tony Blengino says recent report on Seattle front office is “just the tip of the iceberg” 60
- Rakuten Golden Eagles appear likely to allow Masahiro Tanaka’s departure to MLB 49
- 2013 Winter Meetings Preview 23
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- Report: Yankees have agreed to a three-year deal with Carlos Beltran (125)
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