Ten predictions for the stretch run
August, 25, 2013
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
When Alex Rodriguez got caught off second base on Ichiro Suzuki's line drive back to the pitcher in the 10th inning, I was sure the Tampa Bay Rays would win.
When Joba Chamberlain walked Jose Molina leading off the bottom of the 10th, I was sure the Rays would win.
It just seemed like one of those classic Tampa Bay games -- Joe Maddon pulls the right moves -- like not pinch hitting for Molina -- and the Rays scratch out the victory.
But the New York Yankees also know how to scratch, and Boone Logan got a double play, Alfonso Soriano doubled and stole third (stole third!) and scored on a sac fly and Mariano Rivera went 1-2-3 and the Yankees managed to avoid a sweep.
Soriano gave one of the great quotes of the year about his surprise, one-out steal, which he swiped even while stumbling: "Being the DH, my leg is not loose 100 percent. My mind is 100 percent but legs are not."
A lot of legs aren't 100 percent this time of year, making the final stretch run so exciting: Which teams and players will wobble to the finish line, and which will sprint across it? Here are some predictions for the final five weeks:
1. The Yankees finish two wins short of the wild card. They've made it interesting, which is a remarkable feat, but I'm still having trouble seeing them passing three teams to win a wild-card spot. On the other hand, if they stay in it, their final four series are against the Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, Rays and Houston Astros, and three of those teams will be playing out the string. Can you imagine the uproar if the Yankees make it and then Rodriguez plays in the postseason and leads the Yankees to the World Series title and Bud Selig has to hand him the World Series MVP trophy?
2. The Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers will finish with their respective league's best record. It's a great battle for best overall record in both leagues, and I'll go with the Braves and Tigers to lock up home-field advantage, but what's the value in that? Let's check the past 10 seasons:
2012: Yankees (lost ALCS); Washington Nationals (lost NLDS)
2011: Yankees (lost ALDS); Philadelphia Phillies (lost NLDS)
2010: Rays (lost ALDS); Phillies (lost NLCS)
2009: Yankees (won World Series); Los Angeles Dodgers (lost NLCS)
2008: Los Angeles Angels (lost ALDS); Chicago Cubs (lost NLDS)
2007: Boston Red Sox (won World Series)/Cleveland Indians (lost ALCS); Arizona Diamondbacks (lost NLCS)
2006: Yankees (lost ALDS); New York Mets (lost NLCS)
2005: Chicago White Sox (won World Series); Cardinals (lost NLCS)
2004: Yankees (lost ALCS); St. Louis Cardinals (lost World Series)
2003: Yankees (lost World Series); Braves (lost NLDS)
So, five of 20 reached the World Series, and two won. Basically, home-field advantage doesn't mean anything. Going all-out to avoid the wild-card game makes sense, of course, but the playoffs are too much of a crapshoot to worry much about home-field advantage.
3. One team currently out of the playoffs will make it. My pick: the Indians.
Baltimore Orioles or the Yankees. But we have about 32 games remaining, and checking the similar point in the schedule reveals we should see at least one team currently out of the playoff picture climb its way in. The NL seems pretty locked in with the Diamondbacks now seven games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild card, although recent history (see list below) suggests even that isn't an impossible number.
So it's more likely to be an AL team, and nobody seems to be talking about the Indians, who are just 1½ behind the Oakland A's for the second wild card. They do have a tough road trip this week to Atlanta and Detroit and then a home series against Baltimore, but if they survive those nine games, their final seven series are against the Mets, Kansas City Royals, White Sox, Royals, Astros, White Sox and Minnesota Twins.
Question is: Do they catch the A's? Or do the A's catch the Texas Rangers for the AL West title and the Indians then catch the Rangers for the wild card?
2012 -- AL, one of five (Tigers came back from three behind White Sox); NL, none
2011 -- AL, one of four (Rays 8½ games from behind Red Sox); NL, one of four (Cardinals 9½ games from behind Braves)
2010 -- AL, none; NL, one of four (Giants from six behind the San Diego Padres)
2009 -- AL, one of four (Twins came from 4½ games behind Tigers); NL, none (Colorado Rockies were tied with the Giants)
2008 -- AL, none; NL, two of four (Phillies were a half-game behind the Mets, Dodgers from three games behind the Diamondbacks)
4. Max Scherzer will finish 23-1. I know -- and I know you know -- that win-loss records for starting pitchers are overrated and dependent, to a certain extent, on run support. Still, 23-1 would be pretty freakin' awesome, no matter how much you dislike pitcher wins. Scherzer is currently 19-1, which breaks the all-time single-season winning percentage currently held by Roy Face, who went 18-1 as a relief pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959. The best winning percentage for a pitcher who won at least 20 games is Ron Guidry's .893 mark (25-3 record) with the Yankees in 1978.
Scherzer, of course, has received great run support, but he's also been amazingly consistent, never allowing more than five runs and allowing four or five runs just five times in 26 starts. That doesn't mean there hasn't been some good fortune; he's 3-1 in those five starts and is one of just three starters with three wins in such games (Erasmo Ramirez is 3-0 and Tommy Milone is 3-5). Patrick Corbin and Mat Latos, both 2-1, are the only others with at least two decisions who don't have a losing record.
Scherzer should get six more starts. Assuming the Tigers stick to a five-man rotation, giving Scherzer four or five days between starts, his remaining starts should line up like this with predictions:
Thursday, Aug. 29: vs. A's (win)
Tuesday, Sept. 3: at Red Sox (no-decision)
Monday, Sept. 9: at White Sox (win)
Sunday, Sept. 15: vs. Royals (win)
Friday, Sept. 20: vs. White Sox (win)
Wednesday, Sept 25: at Twins (no-decision)
That final start could also be pushed to Friday, Sept. 27, putting Scherzer on track to start the first game of the postseason.
5. Miguel Cabrera versus Mike Trout: Here we go again. Well, sort of. In reality, this debate is stuck in three feet of mud and going nowhere. While Trout now leads Cabrera in both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs wins above replacemnet (WAR), Trout has no chance to win the AL MVP Award. This season would actually be a more interesting debate than last, when Trout was clearly the better -- and more valuable -- all-around player. The two major things that make this argument a nonstarter for voters: (A) The Angels haven't even sniffed the playoff races and (B) Cabrera is hitting .422 with an .867 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position.
6. Andrew McCutchen locks up the NL MVP Award with a big September. My vote would still go to Clayton Kershaw, but with just 13 wins, he's probably a long-shot MVP candidate for the voters. Look for McCutchen to finish strong and lead the Pirates to their first playoff trip since 1992, a storyline MVP voters will fall in love with.
Brad Mangin/MLB/Getty ImagesIf Andrew McCutchen sizzles down the stretch, there's hardware that should have his name on it.
7. Nobody will blame a mattress if they miss the playoffs. No crying in baseball, unless your team blows a nine-game lead in September.
8. Jon Lester leads the Red Sox to the AL East title. Clay Buchholz didn't pitch well in a rehab assignment on Sunday, throwing 38 pitches and walking three batters while recording just two outs. While Buchholz's return would bolster Boston's division title hopes if he pitches like he did the first two months -- over which he went 9-0 -- Lester has been doing his best pitching since before Boston's infamous September 2011 collapse. He's 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break, having allowed more than three runs only once and just three home runs. He's been throwing about nine more fastballs per start and fewer cutters, which is interesting because many analysts have suggested he fell in love with the cutter too much the past two seasons.
Anyway Red Sox win the East, Rays win the wild card.
9. Tigers versus Dodgers in World Series. It the Year of Miggy. It's the Year of Kershaw. Maybe it's World Series destiny.
10. The World Series will go seven games. Kershaw versus Scherzer? Tie game in the ninth, Kershaw still pitching, Cabrera up