MLB Postseason Pitching: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As with the regular season, the 2014 MLB postseason is likely to hinge on pitching

When pitching began to dominate Major League Baseball in the late-1960’s, the game responded with a number of concrete moves designed to change the game and bring back offense. When hitting began to dominate Major League baseball in the late-1990’s, the game responded by finally addressing the PED issue. Now, runs are down about 1 per game, and batting averages are down about 20 points since 2000.

Baseball has ebbed and flowed over it’s century and a half existence, alternating “dead ball” eras with “live ball” eras, allowing hurlers their day, and then propping up batters for a bit. In the last few years, there has been a steady decline in offense and a rise in pitching influence. Now here in the 2014 postseason, as in the regular season, it is likely to be the best pitching that wins it.

Which playoff team is best positioned for a deep October run this time around? Here are some thoughts, with a nod to an old Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, on which pitching staffs will give their club the best chance at lifting a World Series trophy at the end of the month.


THE GOOD

Washington Nationals
Owners of not only the best pitching staff in all of baseball, but also the deepest, Washington sits at the very top of the Fangraphs Pitching WAR rankings. The Nats had five (5) starters with double-digit Wins totals this season, and in the post-season will send out perhaps the best front four in Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez. They have two experienced closers, each of whom registered double-digits in Saves. The bullpen features not only those two right-handed closers in Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano, but a trio of left-handers as well in Matt Thornton, Jerry Blevins, and Ross Detwiler. The righty relief core of Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, and the under-appreciated Aaron Barrett will be supplemented in post-season by the usual 5th/6th starters, Tanner Roark and Blake Treinen. This team isn’t really just “good” on the mound, they are elite. This group has the best chance, the most options, to get their team all the way through to the Promised Land.

Underrated Doug Fister a Nats rotation key

Detroit Tigers
The best pitching staff that the American League has to offer, Detroit is 3rd in Fangraphs Pitching WAR, and one of only a couple that could matchup well with Washington in a World Series. Four (4) starters won in double-digits: Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello. A fifth would have were it not for injury, and that pitcher, Anibal Sanchez, may give them a strong bullpen option in post-season play. They have a bunch of lefty options out of the pen with Phil Coke, Ian Kroll, Blaine Hardy and Kyle Lobstein. They have veteran righty options in Evan Reed, Joba Chamberlain, and Al Alburquerque. But it all may hinge on the effectiveness of closer Joe Nathan. One of the best in the business for the last decade, Nathan had a poor season overall. But in September, the veteran registered 7 Saves and 1 Win across 10 appearances, with just a single blown Save opportunity. His last three appearances were all “clean” – and that is the kind of consistency this club needs for him to carry over into October.

Kansas City Royals
It has been well-publicized that KC is back in the post-season for the first time in nearly three decades. That return was largely predicated on pitching and defense. The Royals have the best ‘D’ in baseball to help out a staff that doesn’t really need much help to begin with. The Fangraphs 5th-ranked WAR staff had four (4) starters with double-digit Wins totals, and a fifth just miss out in Danny Duffy. He will likely give them a strong southpaw option out of the bullpen in post-season. The front four of ‘Big Game’ James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Jeremy Guthrie, and Jason Vargas all logged over 180 IP this season. In addition to Duffy, they have Bruce Chen as another lefty with starting experience who could help in the pen. That bullpen is baseball’s best and deepest. Righties Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, and perhaps the best non-closer in the game in Wade Davis, and lefties Tim Collins, Scott Downs, and young Brandon Finnegan join Duffy and Chen as options to setup elite closer Greg Holland. 

Oakland Athletics
The big additions during the season of Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and to a lesser extent Jason Hammel to the rotation joining Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez took a weakness and turned it into an Oakland strength. This post-season was the reason that the now 8th-rated Fangraphs Pitching WAR club made those moves. Hammel and Chavez become righty bullpen options now. The Lester-Gray-Samardzija-Kazmir front four give the A’s strong matchups every time out. Lefties Tommy Milone and Drew Pomeranz have starter experience, and at least one could be a key if Eric O’Flaherty continues with recent physical troubles. Chavez and Hammel join Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook, and Dan Otero in an embarrassment of righty bullpen riches. They all setup one of the game’s best, most under-appreciated closers in Sean Doolittle. All this pitching depth only helps either Kansas City or Oakland, as they meet in the AL Wildcard. The winner will move into an ALDS with a pitching staff superior to the team they will meet, a division champ that is the next club on the list below.


THE BAD

Los Angeles Angels
It didn’t hurt them one bit in the regular season. On the contrary, the loss of young frontline starters Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs seemed to galvanize the Angels. But despite their excellence and the late, strong burst, the Halos were just 12th in MLB at Fangraphs in Pitching WAR. In Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, the Angels have a pair of veterans who are capable of matching up with anyone, but also are capable of the odd blowup start as well. Matt Shoemaker has been excellent down the stretch, but is trying to battle back from a rib cage injury in time to help. Hector Santiago, a lefty, has been the 4th starter, with Cory Rasmus stretched out from the pen for a handful of short emergency starts down the stretch. I said at mid-season that the Angels needed to add not one, but a couple of proven starters if they wanted to win this season. They proved me wrong in the regular season, but I believe that I will be proven correct now in post-season. The Angels simply do not have enough, or good enough, starting pitching to win this thing. Huston Street is an elite closer. He is setup by strong righties in Ernesto Frieri, Jason Grilli, Fernando Salas, Mike Morin, Kevin Jepsen, and Joe Smith. The main, possibly only, lefty out of the pen is Wade Leblanc.

Closer Huston Street was a key Halos pickup

Los Angeles Dodgers
Whaaat? Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, Kenley Jansen bad? No, of course not. But there is a reason that the Dodgers ranked just 13th in MLB in Pitching WAR at Fangraphs. Beyond their elite guys, there are tons of injuries and under-performers. If Hyun-Jin Ryu is healthy, a big “if” since he has been battling a shoulder issue for a while now, then LA has a 4th strong SP option. They absolutely must win on days that Kershaw and Greinke pitch. Losses on any of those days could be devastating. The bullpen has experienced arms in righties Jamey Wright, Chris Perez, Brian Wilson, and Roberto Hernandez, the latter of whom may be called on to start a game or two if Ryu cannot go. The lefties out of the pen are likely to be J.P. Howell and some combo of Paco Rodriguez and Scott Elbert. Most of the bullpen options have been inconsistent, to say the least. That bullpen could prove an Achilles’ Heel…or the vets could get their acts together and turn a weakness into a difference-making strength. That is probably what will be needed if they want to go all the way.

Baltimore Orioles
Ranked one spot below the Dodgers at Fangraphs Pitching WAR, the O’s pitching has been masterfully handled by manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Dave Wallace. Rookie Kevin Gausman and perennially injured Miguel Gonzalez emerged in the 2nd half to give a major boost to the rotation, bumping veteran Ubaldo Jimenez to the pen. Gausman is likely to join Jimenez in the post-season bullpen, with Gonzalez joining Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Bud Norris in the rotation. They have all pitched well at times and struggled at times. It’s hard to imagine them all suddenly turning it on together. Even if they don’t, Buck goes to the pen and trots out righties Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter, and Ryan Webb or the impressive lefty trio of Andrew Miller, T.J. McFarland, and Brian Matusz to get him to young closer Zach Britton. If the rotation guys don’t absolutely blow up, the Orioles always have a chance, as their regular season record demonstrates.

Saint Louis Cardinals
The rotation is led by one of the best in the business, Adam Wainwright, and the other options are all talented in John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Michael Wacha. The bullpen has a big strikeout guy in closer Trevor Rosenthal, but he also is wild at times. He is setup by a strong righty trio of Pat Neshek, Seth Maness, and Carlos Martinez with the experienced Jason Motte around as well. Lefty options include Randy Choate, Sam Freeman, and Kevin Seigrist. The Cards staff ranks just 18th in Fangraphs Pitching WAR, and a great deal of that is the inconsistency shown by almost everyone except Wainwright and Neshek. They could really use Wacha returning to his magical post-season performance level of a year ago.


THE UGLY

San Francisco Giants
Hard to believe that a San Fran playoff team pitching staff is being called “ugly”, but they are here. Much as with the Cardinals, the Giants rotation is led by one of the best in Madison Bumgarner. The season-ending injury to Matt Cain and continued deterioration of Tim Lincecum were off-set by the solid free agent signing of Tim Hudson and the trade acquisition of Jake Peavy. Hudson and Peavy are proven veterans with post-season experience that could be invaluable this October. The Bumgarner-Peavy-Hudson troika should be joined by Yusmeiro Petit, with both Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong heading to the pen, joining Jean Machi and J.C. Gutierrez as righty options. Javy Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt give the GMen a pair of veteran lefties in the pen. Santiago Casilla has supplanted Sergio Romo as the closer, but both are capable veterans who have shown they can shut the door at the back end of that bullpen. Despite pitching half their games in a pitcher’s haven, the San Fran staff was near the bottom, 28th overall of 30 MLB teams, in Fangraphs Pitching WAR. Aside from Bumgarner, they don’t overpower people. That should open up more opportunities for opposition hitters than most of the other staffs they will faceoff against in post-season play.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Only the Mets kept the Giants and the 29th-ranked Pirates from the bottom of Fangraphs Pitching WAR rankings. The individual pieces don’t look all that bad. Gerrit Cole was an exciting 2nd year starter who is one of the game’s rising star pitchers. Veterans Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano pitched well. Vance Worley and Jeff Locke were solid, if unspectacular, 4th and 5th starter options. Mark Melancon emerged as a solid closer, and he is setup by spectacular righty rookie John Holdzcomb, righties Jared Hughes, John Axford, Jeanmar Gomez, Stolmy Pimentel, and Brandon Cumpton, and lefties Justin Wilson and Tony Watson. Overall, the group tends towards inconsistency, walking too many while striking out too few, and giving up too many longballs. Like the Giants, they have enough talent to put it all together. But to do so against stronger, deeper, more consistent, proven staffs over the next month is asking a lot. The Bucs and GMen should enjoy the NL Wildcard Game, since the winner has to face Washington, and likely won’t last too long.

MLB Defensive Team of the Year 2014

Andrelton Simmons of the Braves is the best
defensive shortstop in the game today

For the casual fan of the game, the least appreciated and valued part of most baseball games is defense.

Until some egregious error is made that costs their team a run, or worse yet, a game, many fans simply do not value this part of the sport nearly enough.

Simply put, good defense is vital to a team succeeding over the long haul of a 162-game season, and can prove the difference in what are often tough, low-scoring playoff and World Series games.

Just as much as a massive homerun in a close game, or a key base hit at clutch time, or a pitcher striking out a batter in a pivotal moment with runners on base, a sensational dive, leap, catch, throw…sometimes all four together, can change the course of a game, a series, and a season.

Many of my fellow Phillies fans, who shared the thrill of the 2008 post-season run to a World Series crown, might have a hard time remembering some of the big hits during that series against the Rays. But every single one of those fans remembers “The Deke“, the Chase Utley defensive play that may have been the real difference.

The Phils were up 3-1 in the series and trying to win it at home, avoiding a return to Tampa where anything could happen. Game 5, tied at 2-2 after 6 innings, had been delayed by monsoon-like rains that had caused a suspension of play for two days.

The teams finally returned to action, exchanged runs, and went into the top of the 7th tied at 3-3. The Rays had shortstop Jason Bartlett on 2nd base as the potential go-ahead run with two outs as speedy 2nd baseman Akinori Iwamura stepped to the plate and shot a grounder up the middle.

With Iwamura’s speed, it looked to at least be an infield hit. Utley fielded, and turned as if to throw to try to get Iwamura at 1st base. Tampa’s 3rd base coach, Tom Foley, sensed an opportunity to take the lead at a pivotal moment and frantically waved Bartlett to the plate for the go-ahead run.

It was here that Utley made a play for the ages, the type of heads-up, hustling play that has defined the Phillies’ 2nd baseman’s career. Instead of throwing to first, Utley actually pumped his arm, and in the same motion turned and fired a one-hop throw to catcher Carlos Ruiz. “Chooch” fielded it and dove to tag out Bartlett, who himself was diving headfirst for the plate.

The Phils scored a lone run in their half of the 7th to re-take the lead at 4-3, and two innings later Brad Lidge dropped to his knees after striking out Eric Hinske to give the club it’s first championship in 28 years. As much as any other factor, it was the Utley play that keyed the victory.

Jim Edmonds, June 10th, 1997, my personal fave

Whether it was Willie Mays’ “The Catch” in the 1954 World Series, Joe Rudi leaping against the left field wall in the early 1970’s, or Ozzie Smith diving into the hole in the 1980’s, Derek Jeter’s “The Flip” in 2001, or my personal favorite of all-time, Jim Edmonds’ version of “The Catch” in 1997, defense has not only sparked victories, but defined them.

The following are my own choices for the 2014 Major League Baseball Defensive Team and Player of the Year.

———————————————————–

Best Defensive Team
Kansas City Royals

Defensive Player of the Year 
Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta (shortstop)

Defensive Team of the Year
1B – Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B – Dustin Pedroia, Boston
SS – Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta
3B – Chase Headley, NYY
C   – Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee
LF – Alex Gordon, Kansas City
CF – Jackie Bradley Jr, Boston
RF – Jason Heyward, Atlanta
P    – Zack Greinke, LAD

21st Century Dynasty: Why Not Phillies?

The night of October 26th, 2000 was a beautiful, cool but comfortable one in New York City. In the pre-9/11 world of the Big Apple, this would be a far from typical Autumn evening.

The 5th game of the 2000 World Series, the last official Fall Classic of the 20th century, was being held that night at Shea Stadium. What made it all the more special was that it was the first ‘Subway Series’ since 1956.

The visiting New York Yankees took a 3 games to 1 lead into that 5th game over the host New York Mets. The game would feature a matchup between a pair of classic lefties: Andy Pettitte for the Yanks, and Al Leiter for the Mets. The two neighbors battled into the 9th inning tied at 2-2, the Mets looking to stay alive, the Yanks looking to win the series.

With two outs in the top of the 9th, the Yankees pushed across a pair of runs against the always-tough Leiter, taking a 4-2 lead. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, in a matchup between a pair of likely future Hall of Famers, closer Mariano Rivera got Mets catcher Mike Piazza to fly out to the deepest part of the ballpark as the tying run.

The Yanks mobbed one another around the mound, celebrating the 3rd World Series title in succession for future Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre’s club. There was really no more fitting way to end the century, as this third straight crown made it 26 World Series titles for the Bronx Bombers during the 20th century, 17 more than the next-highest club had won.

During that 20th century, a parade of superstars had succeeded one another across the legendary sod and under the rooftop frieze of old Yankee Stadium. The names are a veritable roster of baseball royalty: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Yogi, Mickey, Whitey, Reggie, Goose, Thurman, Mariano, Boggs, Donny Baseball, Jeter. Too many more to name them all.

But how did it happen? Why the Yankees? Why so many titles? Sure, it’s New York. But there were, for more than half the century, other good teams right there in the same city. The Yanks didn’t win their first crown until 1923. By that time, the Boston Red Sox franchise already owned 5 World Series titles. The Philadelphia Athletics and New York Giants had 3 each.

So how did the Yankees become the ‘Team of the Century‘, and more importantly for this discussion, why can’t the Philadelphia Phillies become the ‘Team of the Century‘ for this, the 21st? The short answer is, they can. There is no reason that the Phillies, already with a good start, can’t set that as a legitimate goal, and there is no reason for them to not work as hard as possible to attain that goal.

The combination of good business and personnel moves is what drove the Yankees to the top, and then returned them to the top three different times in the 20th century. It first started with a business arrangement among the Yankees, Red Sox, and Chicago White Sox just before the 1920’s began which directly led to the Yanks acquisition of Ruth, by far the greatest player in the game’s first half-century, from Boston in 1920.

Key trade took ‘The Babe’ from Sox hurler to Yanks masher

With The Bambino on board, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert undertook the next big step, the building and opening of Yankee Stadium in 1923. That first season in their new 58,000 seat, triple-deck palace saw the Yanks finally overcome their cross-river rivals, the New York Giants, to win their first World Series title.

These early “Murderer’s Row” Yankee teams featured not only Ruth in rightfield, but also 5 other future Hall of Famers in 1st baseman Lou Gehrig, 2nd baseman Tony Lazzeri, centerfielder Earle Combs, pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock, and a parade of strong supporting characters. These players would make up the core of the first Yankee dynasty.

The dynasty would build again over the next two generations of stars led respectively by Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Over the 40 seasons between 1923 and 1962, the Yankees would win half of the World Series crowns contested. Ten of those would be won after World War II ended, in the 15 year stretch between 1947-1962 dominated by Joe D and The Mick.

After a deep lull in the post-Mantle years, the Yankees came back strong under the ownership of George Steinbrenner in the mid-1970’s. He took advantage of the new free agency era to add stars like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, and Goose Gossage to homegrown stars such as Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry, and the Yankees tacked on 2 more World Series crowns in 1977 and 1978.

After another slip in the mid-late 1980’s, the Yanks again emerged with a new dynasty at the end of the 1990’s led by players like Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, and the homegrown “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. They would close out the century with 4 World Series wins in the final 5 years, raising the total to 26 for the franchise.

The two key factors in all of this winning by the 20th century New York Yankees were the ability and willingness of dedicated and competitive ownership to spend money, and the ability to evaluate and cultivate championship-caliber talent. In the first decade of the 21st century, the Philadelphia Phillies exhibited both of these traits masterfully.

The club ownership undertook a pivotal move from crumbling, artificial turf, multi-purpose Veteran’s Stadium to a new baseball-only, grass field, glistening open-air ballpark. Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, and it was and is a beautiful, downright fun place to enjoy a baseball game.

In anticipation of their new home, the team began to spend money on talent acquisition, bringing in stars such as slugger Jim Thome and closer Billy Wagner. They hit it big in developing their own talent as well, with a homegrown core of shortstop Jimmy Rollins, leftfielder Pat Burrell, 2nd baseman Chase Utley, 1st baseman Ryan Howard, catcher Carlos Ruiz, and pitchers Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, and Brett Myers among others.

First basemen Jim Thome (L), Ryan Howard (R) powered Phils in 00’s

The Phillies would begin the century by recording a winning record in all but one season of the entire first decade. They would win 5 straight National League East Division crowns from 2007-2011. And to cap it all off, they won the 2008 World Series, and returned for a 2nd straight appearance in the Fall Classic in 2009. In that ’09 series, they were kept from back-to-back crowns by none other than those Yankees themselves, who finally earned their own first title of the 21st century.

Both the Saint Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox have each won a pair of World Series in the years between 2001-2013, but the Phillies have been unable to follow-up that 2008 crown with another. Despite the 5 straight division crowns, their post-season finishes proved to be steadily declining disappointments.

That loss in the World Series in 2009 was followed by a loss in the 2010 National League Championship Series to the Giants. This was followed by a loss in the 2011 NL Division Series to the Saint Louis Cardinals, after having set a franchise record with a 102-win regular season. All of the clubs they lost to: the Yankees, Giants, and Cardinals, would end up winning the World Series in those years.

Management tried to keep contending by supplementing the homegrown core of Hamels, Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Ruiz by bringing in a succession of strong veterans. Pitchers Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, and Jonathan Papelbon. Hitters like Raul Ibanez and Hunter Pence. But none of it ultimately worked to win another title.

Phils’ 2011 rotation “Four Aces”: Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, Hamels

Over the last 3 seasons, that homegrown core has grown older, has at times been injured, and has become less effective. That is only natural, and it is something that frankly should have been anticipated. Nothing lasts forever, least of all athletic ability to compete at the very highest professional levels as one ages.

As of today, the Philadelphia Phillies will spend a 3rd consecutive season out of the MLB playoffs. It will be the first time since the late-90’s that the team has suffered through 3 consecutive non-winning seasons. The minor league system is ranked as no better than middle-of-the-pack by most outside evaluators, near that bottom by many.

They major league club appears tied to a number of contractual and sentimental situations that will likely hamstring some necessary moves for at least another year or two. In short, the Phillies have fallen in their efforts to become the ‘Team of the Century‘ – but they can get up. There are still key pieces in place to make this happen.

First, they have the base of a record from which to begin such a claim. Most other MLB teams do not have such an early 21st century history from which to build their own claim to the “century” mantle yet.

Second, they have the ballpark and the fans. They have lit a spark in a generation of fans with that first decade of excellence in Citizens Bank Park. But the crowds have steadily dwindled as the competitiveness of the on-field product has lessened, drawn back only by occassional giveaways and gimmicks.

Third, the team has a new, lucrative financial TV arrangement in place with Comcast. This will bring in a steady stream of dollars to the coffers for the forseeable future, something that the team must use to it’s advantage in putting a consistent winner on the field.

Winning will result in more people in the stands, and even more money in the coffers. It is an inevitable cycle in a sports-crazed town that wants to be in love with it’s ball team during the warm weather summer months.

The talent has taken a hit, and the ability of current management to right the ship quickly is perhaps the biggest question mark right now. General Manager Ruben Amaro inherited a winning situation built mostly by his two immediate predecessors: Ed Wade and Hall of Famer Pat Gillick. Amaro has tried to recapture or extand that magic, both at the major and minor league levels, but has thus far failed.

GM Ruben Amaro now tasked with finding right mix for next Phillies title

The burden right now is squarely on Amaro’s shoulders to make the right decisions to make the quick turnaround happen. He has not shown that ability as of yet. If he doesn’t soon, it should be his head that rolls as a result. If he doesn’t, and a change is not made, then it will be squarely on ownership for not making the correct decision on behalf of the team.

The Phillies have the money. They have shown in the last 5-6 years following the 2008 World Series victory that they have a willingness to spend it. Now they must have the other piece: proper talent evaluation and acquisition. With the right decisions made in the next year or two in that regard, the team could quickly return to winning, and a 2nd dynasty could rise to push forward this ‘Team of the Century‘ goal as the 21st century marches onward.

MLB Mid-September 2014 Power Ranking

Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg front
the NL-best Wasington Nationals top-ranked pitching staff

This marks the 6th Power Ranking released in the 2014 season, with previous versions released on June 1st, July 1st, August 1st, August 15th, and September 3rd.

In each of those previous versions, the focus has largely been on teams from the American League. Frankly, that is because the Power Rankings are based on overall performance in the areas of Hitting, Pitching, and Defense over the course of the full season to that date, and the teams of the A.L. have just simply been better than their National League counter-parts.

But today we can finally focus on an N.L. club, because the top team in the league has clearly caught up with the top A.L. clubs. The Washington Nationals are that team. With a losing record, they were not even given a “Best of the Rest” mention in that first June ranking article. But they took off, and have pulled away in the N.L. East Division.

Saint Louis, Atlanta, and the LA Dodgers are lined up behind the Nats in the N.L. Rankings. But all four of those clubs are significantly behind Washington. This would appear to be the Nats year, finally. The talent is clearly there. Now it is going to be up to the team to actually perform under the glare of the October post-season spotlight.

Meanwhile, over in the A.L., the Royals, Angels, and Orioles remain the clear top three teams. But Kansas City is still in a tough divisional race with the more veteran and proven Detroit Tigers. Here then is the next-to-last MLB Power Ranking of the 2014 season.

POWER RANKING – SEPTEMBER 15TH

1. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
The Royals led the ranking of July 1st, and then returned to the top again in the most recent ranking on September 3rd. They have held on to the top spot as we enter the final two weeks of the regular season, despite having fallen behind the Detroit Tigers in the A.L. Central race. KC’s problem seems to be that they just can’t figure out a way to beat the more seasoned, 3-time defending divisional champs head-to-head. In a pair of series over the past two weeks, one at each home park, the Tigers took 5 out of the 7 games, and now lead by 1.5 games. The Royals are holding on to the 2nd A.L. Wildcard spot, but only lead that race by a single game over Seattle. The club remains 1st in Defense, and they are 4th in Pitching. But the inconsistency of their 12th-ranked Offense keeps holding them back. They will post a winning record for the 2nd straight season. But a return to the post-season for the first time since 1985 is still not assured.

2. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
The O’s have the 2nd best overall record in all of baseball, behind only the LA Angels, with whom they are now tied here in the Power Rankings. I am listing the Orioles first, because Baltimore took 4 of 6 head-to-head meetings between the two teams in the 2nd half of July. Both clubs will make the post-season, and could be headed for an ALCS showdown. The Orioles have the #2 Offense and Defense in the entire game. It is their 16th-rated Pitching that is keeping the club from being truly dominant. Their ‘X-factor’ is manager Buck Showalter, who has been an absolute magician under the circumstances, and who is a serious AL Manager of the Year candidate because of it.

2. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The Halos have been at or near the top of the Power Rankings all summer long. They now possess the best overall record in all of Major League Baseball. They have opened up a massive 10 game lead in the A.L. West Division. They are hot, having won 9 of their last 10 games, 16 of their last 19. The only losses in that stretch have inexplicably been to Houston. Led by A.L. MVP front-runner Mike Trout, the Angels have the game’s top Offense, are 7th in Defense, and are 12th in Pitching. It is the possibility that their starting pitching could falter in a short playoff series that could be their biggest Achilles’ heel.

4. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Battling with the Angels for Power Ranking supremacy for much of the summer, and leading the A.L. West for much of the first half, the A’s have seriously faltered over the last month and a half. They are just 5-8 so far in September, and that’s having won their last two games. This follows a 12-17 month of August. Overall, the team is still 6th in Offense, 8th in Defense, and 12th in pitching. Much has been made of a collapse following the trade deadline deal of slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for lefty starter Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. But the A’s were struggling before that, and the deals to bring in Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel to shore up what was a weak point in the rotation, while sound on paper, has not worked in practice. The division is lost to the Angels now, but Oakland still owns the top Wildcard playoff spot by 1.5 games over KC, and a playoff berth by 2.5 over Seattle. There is no reason that they shouldn’t be able to right the ship enough to battle for a post-season berth right to the end.

5. BOSTON RED SOX
Nothing has confounded me more than running the Fangraphs numbers every month, now every two weeks, relating to MLB Offense, Pitching, and Defense, and come up with a result showing that the Boston Red Sox are one of the game’s top 5-10 teams statistically each and every time. But that has indeed been the case, despite the fact that measured by win-loss record, this has been a dismal season for the defending World Series champions. The Bosox now rank as the game’s #3 Defense and #8 Pitching club. As I surmised previously, the Offense, ranked just #16, is the single major reason that they have not been able to win consistently. The sum of the parts is not bad. With a couple of tweaks, there is no reason that this team cannot return to contending next year. Time will tell.

6. SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS

7. ATLANTA BRAVES

8. LOS ANGELES DODGERS

9. TAMPA BAY RAYS

10. TIE – SEATTLE MARINERS / NEW YORK YANKEES

Best of the Rest:
Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh

My Call:
The Orioles, Angels, and Nationals have made their winning of the A.L. East, A.L. West, and N.L. East respectively easy calls with their play over the first two weeks of September. The call here is also that the Saint Louis Cardinals, currently with a 3.5 game lead, will win the N.L. Central. The Cards have gone 10-4 in September, the only blemish being a 3-game sweep of them by the Reds in Cincy last week, and they don’t play 2nd place Pittsburgh again. On the other hand, I am not calling the N.L. West, where the Dodgers lead the longtime rival Giants by 3 games. San Fran took 2 of 3 over the weekend, and the two clubs meet head-to-head in a 3-game series next Monday-Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. That series should decide things. The same could be said in the A.L. Central, where the Tigers lead the Royals by just one game in the loss column, and the two clubs are slated to meet this coming weekend in KC’s Kauffman Stadium. The AL Wildcard race is being fought among Oakland, Seattle, KC and Detroit. The NL should see one Wildcard spot go to the Giants. For the other, the Pirates hold a 2-game lead on the Brewers and a 4-game lead on the Braves in the respective loss columns. Both those two trailers have been playing awful. The Bucs have enough weaknesses that they shouldn’t run away and hide, so if either Milwaukee or Atlanta can right their ship in the final two weeks, that final NL spot could still be a race.

Phillies:
Nothing to see here, unless you’re looking for some good, R-rated entertainment for the kiddies, supplied by Jonathan Papelbon. Very likely he just burned his last bridge here in Philly with his crotch-grabbing, er, athletic cup-adjusting antics yesterday. Shame, because he has actually been very good for the Fightins this season. The bullpen, especially with Jake Diekman and heir apparent closer Ken Giles setting up, has been excellent as the Phillies have gained some measure of stability over the last month or so, having gone 21-19 since August 1st. Still, in the full Power Rankings of all MLB clubs, the Phillies rank 27th of the 30 teams, and they are at the very bottom of the NL rankings.

Shady Tip-Gate

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’-iyvKz07S0tL9kj7fd7KXA’,sig:’j_GdGcWrihPADH7fD9WjuwtwXDelgCPoiITGq0oeUlo=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’135647617′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});//embed-cdn.gettyimages.com/widgets.js

McCoy during a December 2011 game with the Eagles

I’ve always operated by a credo that I heard Steve Martin use in the film “My Blue Heaven”:

It’s not tipping that I believe in: it’s over-tipping.

I almost always tip well. Check comes, I do the math out to 20%, and then usually round-up a bit. I realize this is how many servers make much of their real money.

But…and this is a key “but”…whether it’s me, or Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy, or you, or anyone else, a tip should always reflect what the customer feels is appropriate based on the service that they received in their given situation. 

I could care less if the server is a “great guy”, or if everyone else on earth had them before and the server was “great” to them. What matters is how you are treated/served in your specific encounter.


If Shady felt that he was treated poorly in his encounter at the PYT restaurant in Philly, then he would have been reasonable in leaving nothing at all. A “tip” is something one has to work in order to earn, it is not something to be assumed. It is a bonus, something placed by the customer on top of the check. But only if the customer feels they received good service.


Many sources that I have read report that Shady usually tips, and tips very well. This is the case with many pro athletes and others of means. I feel very secure saying that had Shady received good service at this local joint, that he would have again tipped well.


That he chose to make a specific point of his poor service by leaving a tip, but one that reflects his quite obvious poor opinion of the specific service that he received is entirely appropriate. 


Had he left no tip at all, it could perhaps have been speculated that he simply had forgotten. By leaving the .20 cents, he made a statement. There is nothing wrong with that statement.


In fact, the server here should have been happy. 


Happy? Yes. He got a tip. Sure it was just .20 cents. But guess what? He earned nothing as a tip. He simply earned his salary. It is the customer who determines tipping, not the server. So he got more than he earned…again, in THIS specific encounter.


Now if Charlie Sheen wants to send the server a $1,000 bucks, or others want to give the server their own money, that is those folks business. But to do it because the server was only given a .20 cent tip by Shady McCoy only shows that all of these folks are idiots. Period.

Work in a service industry and have a bad day, or a bad moment, or just don’t for some reason get along with and have a bad experience with one customer? Then don’t expect a tip at all. If you get a small one, even an embarrassing one, take it, learn from the encounter, and move along. Don’t blast your poor moment all across the internet and in the media.

Good for you in this particular instance, Shady McCoy. Shame on you, Charlie Sheen.