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Thursday, October 16, 2014

One win away from two wild cards reaching the finals. How did I get that wrong?

Beats me.  Really.  I'd like to at least be able to explain why and how I was so certain that the second wild card teams would be at such a disadvantage that they would almost never reach the finals and were as likely to win the tournament as an NCAA basketball 16 seed was of beating a one seed, which has never happened, but I can't.  The Kansas City Royals (89 win first wild card) swept the Baltimore Orioles (96 wins) and will play in the finals.  The San Francisco Giants (88 win second wild card) are up three games to one over the St. Louis Cardinals (90 wins; Pythagorean W-L 83 wins) and can win their series today at home.

I went as far as describing the second wild card spot as something for suckers and I encouraged my fellow Yankee fans to reject it and not support a lame late season drive to attain it.  Will the Giants actually reach the finals?  Will the Giants win the tournament?

OK, enough self flagellation.  It's fake anyway because I still don't see where I was incorrect.  The one exception is that the big starting pitchers did not have a big impact.  The basis of my view of the three year old two wild card format was that the wild card winner's pitching would be so depleted and disrupted that it would be irreparably harmed in the five game series and, even surviving that, would continue to be vulnerable in the two seven game series to follow, that there would be a ripple effect.

Royal "ace" James Shields is hardly "big game" and Giant Jake Peavy is the only former Cy Young award winner to win a game in this tournament.  See:

Cy Young or Sayonara: big failures in the 2014 tournament. Thursday, October 9, 2014
Tim Lincecum: 2008 and 2009; not on first round roster
Jake Peavy: 2007 San Diego

Clayton Kershaw: likely 2014, 2013, 2011
Zack Greinke: 2009 (KC)

Max Scherzer 2013
David Price 2012 (Tampa)
Justin Verlander 2011

Peavy and Greinke are the only ones to start a game that his team won.  Peavy the only one to win.


The Cardinals could still win today and then sweep two at home to mitigate the lunacy but it's doubtful, especially given how they lost the last two games on bad throws and the Giants penchant for scoring key runs without hits and on wild pitches.

The Kansas City Royals have won all eight of their 2014 tournament games, the last two by scores of 2-1.  Yesterday both Royal runs scored in the first inning on a good throw to the plate, which eluded the catcher allowing the sliding runner to be safe and a second runner to score.  KC later caught some Baltimore line drives on good but not great plays and advanced to the finals.

Have Kansas City and San Francisco been lucky?  Yes.  Have they been  good?  Yes.  Are they the two best teams?  No.  But I can't tell you which teams were the best.

Willie Mays, Baseball Digest
front cover Sept. 1954
NY Giants swept Cleveland in WS.
The best player is Mike Trout who played on the top seed Angels (98 wins) who were swept in three games by KC.  Trout had one hit, a homer, in 12 AB.  Bryce Harper hit well and heroically but his Washington Nationals (96 wins) lost 3-1 to the Giants, whose only loss was by their best starter, Madison Bumgarner, who pitches today against Cardinal ace Adam Wainwright, so go figure.
The Kansas City Pythagorean W-L: 84-78, FIVE less than their 89 wins, so they may have been lucky just to qualify for the tournament. Of the KC starting non-pitchers, only two had OPS+ over 100, league average: LF Alex Gordon (117) and CF Lorenzo Cain (108). Do fans of other teams really want 1B Eric Hosmer (98) or 3B Mike Moustakas (74)? James Shields will be 33 next season and a free agent after this season. How much would you want your team to pay to sign Shields? Yeah, I know, KC has the hot shot bullpen: most innings - Wade Davis 72.
The San Francisco Giants Pythagorean W-L: 87-75, only one less than their actual 88 wins. Plus, the Giants have two former Cy Young award winners and their 27 year old starting catcher, Buster Posey, was MVP in 2012 and had OPS+ 143 in 2014. Six other Giants classified as starters had OPS+ over 100. Manager Bruce Bochy led San Diego to a pennant and the Giants to championships in 2010 and 2012. The Giants emerging is not nearly as much of a shock as the Royals, but even they are a big surprise.
So how did I get it so wrong? Beats me.

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