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And down the stretch they come…    Share

22 August 2010

There are six weeks to go in the marathon that is a Major League Baseball season.  If you haven’t been paying attention, don’t worry – there is still a lot of meaningful baseball to be played.  With all the football coverage in the next month, you may not even notice that five of the six divisions are still battling it out for their respective championships. In the National League three teams are within two games of the Wild Card, which is an opportunity for the team in each league that has the best record of the non-division leaders to go to the league playoffs.
 
In the American League, the biggest story is probably the success of the Rangers.  Last season the Rangers finished eight games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card race.  This season, they are firmly in control of the AL West, the one division of the six that really isn’t close.  Not only are they winning, they also acquired the best player available before the trade deadline, Cliff Lee, who at times can be a dominating pitcher.  The Rangers are a shoe-in to finish on top of their division, if only because they happen to play in the weakest division of the six in Major League Baseball.  Their success in October (playoffs) is in question, though, because they built their success on offensive firepower which often fails when playoff teams face each other and the pitching gets a little bit tougher.  The Cliff Lee acquisition will be a case study in how a late season acquisition can affect playoff success.

In the National League, the upstart San Diego Padres are the story.  As of Saturday, the Padres are only two wins away from matching their win total from all of last year.  The Padres, firmly in control of the NL West, are doing it with pitching and defense.  Their offense ranks near the bottom of most categories, but their pitching is first in the majors in two of the key statistical categories (Earned Run Average and Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched).  Those two categories basically tell us that the Padres give up fewer runs and allow fewer baserunners than any other team in baseball.  Their hitting is so weak that it will be very interesting during the playoffs when the level of competition is ticked up a notch to see whether they will be able to score enough runs to win.  Historically pitching wins in the baseball playoffs, so the Padres should be alright.

Of course some of the most popular teams in sports are winning like usual.  The Yankees have the best record in baseball, despite fielding a relatively unimpressive squad in the Bronx.  In the National League, the Atlanta Braves have risen back into relevance and lead their division by a few games as we round the final turn on the regular season. 
 
The Wild Card leaders invoke memories of the World Series only two years ago.  The Tampa Bay Rays have returned to the winning form they unveiled during the 2008 campaign, when they made it to the World Series.  The Rays have the second best record in baseball and are in the driver’s seat to win the Wild Card in the AL and get another shot at the World Series.    
 
In the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies, the NL’s representative in the previous two World Series, are clinging to a slim lead over the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Wild Card is the last chance to get into the playoffs for those teams that cannot win their division. 
 
There is definitely a lot of baseball left to play.  If you haven’t been paying attention, don’t worry, they haven’t handed out any awards or titles, yet.  This is the perfect time to tune in! 
 
One-liner:  “Even though the Rangers and Braves look pretty good, I bet it will be another Yankees versus Phillies World Series.”

Send comments to: Mike@notasportsguy.com

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Terminology:

Win (for a pitcher):  A pitcher must complete five innings of pitching and his team must be leading when he exits for him to get a win.  A pitcher with 15 wins in a season is doing well; 20 wins is the recognized plateau of excellence.

ERA:  Earned Run Average.  A statistic which measures how many runs a pitcher averages surrendering to opposing teams based on pitching nine innings.  For instance, a pitcher with an ERA of 2.00 would on average give up 2 runs over the course of 9 innings.  ERA’s are always measured to the hundredths.  An ERA of under 3.00 is considered good.  An ERA under 2.00 is excellent and only a handful of pitchers are able to sustain an ERA under 2.00 for an entire season.

Pinch Hit:  when a player that did not start the game comes in to bat for a player that did start the game. 

Batting Average:   How often a player gets a hit.  Batting average is calculated by dividing the number of hits by total chances to hit.   If a player walks or is hit by a pitch, such actions are not counted as a chance to hit in calculating the batting average.  A .300 batting average (getting a hit 30% of the time) is considered to be above average for a MLB player.

Mendoza Line:  A euphemism for a .200 batting average.  The term came from a reference to Mario Mendoza, a light hitting infielder in the 1970s that usually batted around .200.  A player that is hitting around the Mendoza Line is lucky to still have a job in the Major Leagues.

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