Tidbits – September 20
In this issue – why 2007 is not like 1978; JC Bradbury on head size; Steve Phillips.
1) The Yankees are gaining fast on the Red Sox, having gained four full games on the Red Sox in the last four days. As you all know, I’m sure, the Yankees stood 14 and a half games in arrears of the Sox on May 29, and as of this morning, are one and a half back, one in the loss column.
The Sox appear beat up right now. Manny’s been a no-show for the second September in a row; their sensational set-up man, Hideki Okajima, has been shut down, following a three-week stretch in which the American league appears to have finally figured him out. Jonathan Papelbon, it turns out, is mortal. Coco Crisp is hurt. Dice-K’s ERA is 11.20 in September and a Jaret Wright-esque 5.37 since the All-star break. Sean MacAdam has a lengthier litany of their current woes.
But, and this may be belaboring the obvious, comparisons to 1978 are silly.
First, the Sox have been playing like a team that’s known for weeks that they’re in the playoffs. Dice-K’s start was moved back several days, specifically to set up their playoff rotation. Manny’s being treated in a highly pre-cautionary manner. Okajima’s being shut down during what would have to be considered a pivotal week in the season, if the Red Sox actually thought it were pivotal. Which they don’t. Yes, winning the division is nice and having home field advantage is better than not. But, the Red Sox well know that a World Series can be won from the wild card position – it’s happened four times in the past ten seasons.
The last truly great divisional race was the NL West in 1993 (the last pre-wild card season) when a great Atlanta team won 104 games and the Bonds-led Giants won 103 games, and we’re never going to see the likes of that again.
Second, momentum in baseball means – not a whole lot. Gordon Edes in the Boston Globe has the goods on this point:
A year ago, the Detroit Tigers took the lead in their division May 21, led by as many as 10 games Aug. 7, then blew it. They lost their last five games of the season, all at home – the last three to the Royals, 100-game losers – and had to settle for the wild card. They were lousy the last month of the season, going 12-16.
Then they shocked the Yankees in the first round of the postseason, rolled over the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series, and played in the World Series. No one even notices there isn’t a divisional flag flying in Comerica Park.
Then there were the Cardinals, who had a seven-game lead in the National League Central a year ago today, then lost seven in a row and eight of nine, their lead shrinking to a half-game, before they righted themselves. The Cardinals won the World Series.
So, would anyone in New England like to take a deep breath, especially with the Sox’ magic number to qualify for the playoffs just three after the Tigers were swept by Cleveland?
Edes also could have mentioned the 2000 Yankees, who lost fifteen of their last eighteen games in stumbling to a division title despite an 87 win season. Furthermore, the Yankees lost during that stretch in abject and humiliating fashion. In their final gasping wheeze to the finish line, the Yankees lost games by such scores as 15-4 (twice), 11-1 and 11-3 (to a Devil Rays team worse than the current edition), 13-2 and 16-3.
None of which stopped the Yankees from winning the world series.
In fact, 2005 is another instructive year. Like this year, the Yankees got off to a horrible start, 11-19 in their first thirty games. The Sox took a while to get going, but took over first in late June. As of early September, they were four games ahead of the Yanks, before sputtering down the stretch and finishing in a tie for first (the Yankees won the division because they won the season series 10-9).
2005 didn’t work out so well for the Sox, but it’s worth noting that they got swept by eventual champion Chicago, which also spluttered in September that year, until the final week of the regular season; and, the Yankees strong finish in 2005 didn’t serve them any better than the Bosox’ weak finish that year.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that nothing’s been decided yet, except that the Bosox have a seat at the table in October and are about 200 runs better than their opponents, the best spread in baseball. Were I a Sox fan, I’d be nervous; but, not too nervous.
2) Just a quick note, from JC Bradbury of Sabernomics. Readers of Dwil’s have long known that, contrary to the endless harping in the media, expanding hat size is, in fact, a normal feature of male adulthood.
What’s notable about Bradbury is that he’s quoting from what is, apparently, a popular textbook and, therefore, fully in the realm of common knowledge:
Skeletal maturity is one example of continued growth into the adult years. Although most epiphyseal growth is completed in late adolescence (16 to 18 years), the long bones may continue to grow until approximately age 35, and the vertebral column until about age 30. This continued growth in the long bones may add up to one-fourth inch to an individual’s height. In addition, certain areas of the braincase do not reach maturity until well into adulthood. This continued growth is evident when men (and women) who wear hats notice that they have to purchase larger sizes as they age. [Emphasis added]
This is from Lifelong Motor Development (4e, 2004) by Carl Gabbard of Texas A&M.
In response to a reader who accused Bradbury of a “defense” of Bonds, Bradbury notes that, given the endless number of references to Bonds’ supposedly ever-expanding head (on their recent Letterman appearance, Mike Greenberg of Mike and Mike, made a joking reference to Bonds’ head three times, if I am not mistaken), shouldn’t we have heard, even one time, from a mainstream media source, that this is, in fact, a common occurence.
Asking for a minimal level of factual accuracy shouldn’t have to be confused with an apology or a defense. But, in a world in which pointing out the blatant factual inaccuracies of an administration leading us into war can be dismissed as un-patriotic, or undermining the troops, or being on the side of the terrorists, I guess this is too much to ask.
3) I had to laugh last night when I heard Brian Kenny tell Steve Phillips, on sports center, that Phillips has been predicting “all along” that the Mets would lose the division. That’s one way of looking at it. Back In August, Phillips made a series of predictions: 1) that both NY teams would miss the playoffs; that the Mariners would win the wild card; that the Braves would win the NL east, and that the Rockies would win the wild card. Now, all of those outcomes remain mathematical possibilties, but I’d say Phillips stands a really good chance of taking the collar on this one. Short-term predictions are next to impossible to make, especially in baseball. In May, I was sure the Yankees were finished (though I knew better by August). So, let’s take that as a given. But, Phillips has been coming on and getting it wrong week after week (two weeks after he first counted the Mets out the playoffs, he called them a “lock” to win the division).
And, one of the most bizarre things about Phillips’ predictions is that, in almost every case, when he was counting a team out, he did so because of their poor pitching, even though the team he was picking to finish ahead of them, in every case, had worse pitching (come to think of it, maybe that’s why he was wrong in every case).
Wouldn’t it be nice if ESPN at least ran a scroll at the bottom of the screen when one of its prognosticators is on, letting fans know something of their track record?