That's Debatable: Who wins the AL?
"With the Rays in a slump and the Red Sox on a tear and the Angels just cruising along, who's your pick to come out of the American League?"
THE CASE FOR THE RED SOXThey're the defending champs. They're 23-10 since Aug. 1. They have Josh Beckett back. They have Mike Lowell back. They lead all the contenders in runs scored and OPS. And nobody would want to face Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka in October.
THE CASE FOR THE RAYSYeah, they've had a rough week. But before that, they hadn't lost a single series since the All-Star break, had the best record in baseball for the full season, had the best record in baseball since the break and led all the contenders in ERA, rotation ERA, bullpen ERA and defense. And their MVP, Evan Longoria, should be back in their lineup by the end of the week.
THE CASE FOR THE ANGELSWell, they have the best record in baseball. That ought to tell us something. True, they're only 11-13 since Aug. 12. But that's about as meaningful a factor as Mike Scioscia's biorhythm chart. We know now that, unlike any of these other teams, the Angels are going to be able to use September to rest their weary roster and get their pitchers recharged. And that's a huge deal. In the three-tiered-postseason era, half of the eight teams that went into September with leads of 15-plus made it to the World Series.
THE CASE FOR THE WHITE SOXThey may be the most banged-up club in this group. But the White Sox have actually lengthened their lead (from a half game to 2½) since Carlos Quentin got hurt. Their underrated bullpen has a better ERA than the Red Sox, Angels or Twins. And even if Joe Crede doesn't return, their October lineup could feature eight guys who have started a postseason game (everybody except Alexei Ramirez).
THE CASE FOR THE TWINSYeah, they've had a messy, exhausting past couple of weeks (4-11, with five blown saves). But I have a new rule in life: Never, ever count out the Twins. They spend the next week playing the Royals and Orioles. They have just seven games left all year against teams with winning records. And if the Twins find a way to get to October, look out. These guys actually have scored as many runs since the All-Star break as the Red Sox, and they have a better second-half ERA than the Red Sox, Angels or White Sox.
THE VERDICTIf the real Josh Beckett is alive and well, I'll take the Red Sox. I'd like them better if they win the East and don't have to start their October adventures in L.A. of Anaheim (a team they're 1-8 against this year). But now that they look as if they're positioned to win their division, I'll pick the most well-rounded team in the field. Care to differ? Be my guest. That's what we're here for.
Every week, we'll give you the topic and then we'll have one of our writers stopping by to debate the issue with you. To suggest a topic for "That's Debatable," go here. Or check out the full archive.
Jayson Stark (1:02 PM)
Everybody out there got your debate caps on? Cool. Then let's get started.
I don't see how this is even questionable. It is the Angels. They have the best record baseball, with plenty of time to address any questions heading into the post-season. If you want to point to Boston's experience edge the Angels are the only other team who can match them as they have proven post-season pitching with Lackey, Rodriguez, etc. and a proven manager who has routinely been mentioned as the best in baseball
Jayson Stark (1:05 PM)
Bobby, this is very close. Closer than you make it out to be. I agree that this team can be very formidable. And there are actually more players on this roster with postseason experience (22) than you'll find on the Red Sox roster (21). But this team's record just feels misleading. I know run differential can be overrated. But at plus-55, the Angels have about the same run differential as the Cardinals, and not that much different than the Indians (who have a losing record). And the Red Sox are at plus-155. That's a difference of 100. Not that that means anything in October. But if we're projecting right now, it means something to me.
Don't forget that the Red Sox have consistently had the Angels number in the post season. The Sox swept the halos last year and in '04 on their way to the world series.
Jayson Stark (1:07 PM)
You're exactly right. The question is: Is this year different. Last year, the Angels were so banged up when they went into that series, they weren't even an approximation of the team they'd been all year. And this season, they have Mark Teixeira in the middle of the order -- and they're 8-1 against Boston. So if they play this year, it could very well hinge on whether the Red Sox have to go in as the wild card, starting and finishing the series in the Pacific Time Zone, or whether they meet in the ALCS, where Boston could still have home-field advantage.
The AL East has 4 teams playing above .500, while the West only has 1, the Sox and Rays have both played superior teams.
Jayson Stark (1:09 PM)
Sorry, Steve. That one doesn't wash. The Angels are 28-15 against the AL East. In fact, they have almost as many wins against the East as the Red Sox (30-26). So we can't use that as an indicator of anything.
Simply put - I'll take Beckett in any game versus any pitcher in the playoffs. PERIOD! That give the Sox a HUGE edge
Jayson Stark (1:10 PM)
If it's the real Josh Beckett, I agree. I remember sitting with Johnny Damon in spring training, talking about whether the Red Sox were the favorite back then. And he said, "They have Josh Beckett, don't they?" But Beckett hasn't been the same this year. So that jury is still deliberating.
Looking at the Rays and Bosox in the AL East, a potential sticking point for the Rays could be their starting pitching. Although they've been solid most of the year you've gotta wonder how they will respond to pressure innings once they hit that 190+ IP. Boston on the other hand has a habit of shutting down pitchers during the season (see: Beckett, Dice-K, Wake, Lester) to limit innings.
Jayson Stark (1:15 PM)
We're not necessarily here to analyze who wins the East, but your question applies both to that race and October. So let's think about it. The Rays have the best starting-pitcher ERA among any of these teams (3.86). And they're 36-16 when James Shields and Scott Kazmir start -- including 9-6 when they pitch against any of the teams in this debate. But you're right. None of these starters have pitched innings this meaningful this late in any season. And none of them has started a game in October. So even though the Marlins won a World Series with a rotation like that, it's hard to pick this team.
I agree the Red Sox are the best team. David Ortiz has slowly been climbing back up to more familiar #s, the injured players are coming back, they are batting incredibly no matter what they make the order, and their starting pitching is legit.
Jayson Stark (1:16 PM)
Ortiz's health is one of the biggest Red Sox questions. This guy just homered for the first time in 20 games yesterday. So we'll be looking at a very different Big Papi than the guy who has dominated Octobers past, and with no Manny around him. So he's still an X factor for me.
CH - Calgary
I'm a bit biased, but it's still the Sox...until the Angels can win when it counts, they haven't proven anything. Plus, the Sox are loading up with great pickups such as Byrd and Kotsay. It reminds me of how the Jays used to load up with the Rickey Hendersons and David Cones of the world just at the right time. Don't underestimate those pickups.
Jayson Stark (1:19 PM)
I agree with this in general. The Red Sox additions have really helped them. But I'm not sure about your argument that since the Angels haven't won, they can't win. Postseason track record is one big reason I'm picking Boston. But remember something: Just about every year, some team wins that has never won. So how much did lack of previous postseason express hurt all those other teams?
Grant College Park, MD
The biggest issue here is that of road games. With the Angels holding the best road record in the majors it will be a very hard road for the Red Sox in the playoffs. As mentioned before, the Red Sox have had the Angels number over the previous two seasons during the post season. The Angels are comming off a rather rough stretch, but the emense lead they have in their weak devision should only improve their health. The Red Sox are peaking at the right time with most of their key players returning off the DL back into the line up. Expect the next two series' between the Red Sox and Rays to determine the playoff frontrunner. If the Angels have to face the Red Sox in the ALCS with the home field deficit expect the Red Sox to end up on top. The Red Sox are a very different team in the playoffs especially with home field advantage.
Jayson Stark (1:21 PM)
Grant, I agree that home/road is going to be a bigger factor this year than ever. The Angels have exactly the same record on the road as they have at home. But look at the Boston splits (48-19home, 36-39 road) and Tampa Bay splits (53-21, 32-35). I think home field is really important to both those teams. And right now, that home-field advantage throughout the postseason could still go to any of these three teams.
When you really look at it, the Red Sox' rotation isn't poised for the post-season this year. Beckett's having a flop of a year. I've never trusted Matsuzaka in the post-season because he allows entirely too many baserunners and in October that will eat you up. You can't always make the perfect pitch to get out of a jam in October. And Lester... He's Jon Lester. Certainly nothing special. Top it off with the most underwhelming post-season pitcher in history, Paul Byrd, and the guy who threw 1 pitch and sent the Yankees to the World Series, Tim Wakefield. I like the Twins. You gotta love a rotation of 5 rookies, getting out there and pitching with every ounce of life they've got because they know they might never get this chance again.
Jayson Stark (1:24 PM)
Hey, Peter. You're kidding, right? Beckett's a flop? Yeah, it's a down year, but he's averaging 8.9 strikeouts per 9 innings, with a better strikeout-walk ratio than last year. So he can still dominate any game any time. And you've "never" trusted Dice-K in the postseason? He's only had one postseason And he's been much more comfortable this year than last. And Lester is "nothing special?" He's one of the top five lefthanded starters in the whole sport. You must be watching a different team than I've been watching.
Come on, I know ESPN is SoxNation and all but the Angels are head and shoulders above the competition. The Sox rotation is battered beyond Lester and Dice K...Beckett is 12-9, hardly an ace these days...LACKEY WEAVER GARLAND SANTANA AND SAUNDERS....thats ridiculous...Also the Angels that got beat by the sox didnt have the calming clubhouse leadership of Torii Hunter... That team does everything right and they are the MLB's best
Jayson Stark (1:27 PM)
Hey Gus, there's a great case to be made for the Angels. But "head and shoulders" above the competition? I don't see that. Weaver and Garland have been anything but dominating this year. Saunders has never started a postseason game. Santana has a 6.17 postseason ERA. And Lackey has struggled in the second half. I agree that adding Torii Hunter and Teixeira changes the way we should look at this team. But head and shoulders above everybody? Take another look.
I'd have to agree that the solid starting pitching and balanced lineup make the Red Sox the favorites. However, how do you think they'll respond if the Patriots have to go the season without Tom Brady?
Jayson Stark (1:28 PM)
It's true. That just might cast a pall over all of New England that even the Red Sox can't shake. Thanks for bringing that up, Jay.
I know some people feel that postseason numbers don't amount to a hill of Boston Baked Beans but I can't ignore what an atrocious postseason hitter Vlad is. His numbers (.183/.258 /.233) are just awful in October and we have no idea what expect to from Tiexiera in October. So, if Vlad is his typical self in October the Angels are a whole lot less intimidating, even if they can pitch with the best of them. I have to go with the Red Sox as the better team.
Jayson Stark (1:29 PM)
Vlad has always found himself in the position of trying to carry his whole offense in every October he's ever been in. Different year. Different lineup. Different team. I'd never bet against that guy.
Despite the injuries to key players, the Rays have virtually the same record as the Angels, better than the Sox, and have dominated the Angels in head to head play. The Rays are the best team.
Jayson Stark (1:33 PM)
Hey Phil, have you watched any games in the last week? The Rays have had a special year. But these last six games have demonstrated all the stuff they have to worry about. They've overachieved. Their lineup isn't nearly as deep as these other teams in this field. They don't know what kind of health Longoria will be in when he comes back. They don't know if Carl Crawford will be able to make a contribution, no matter how deep into October they play. Troy Percival has a 40.50 ERA since he came off the DL. And they'll be the least-experienced team in the tournament by far. I don't want to count them out, because they have great arms and something special going on. But it's almost impossible to pick this team to get through the October minefield.
I think that the Red Sox will come out of the AL. History suggests that it's the hottest teams that appear in the post season (see Rockies 2007 edition) and the Red Sox are very hot right now. They're also getting back key players and have exorcised the "Manny Demon". They have excellent starting pitching, a good back end of the bullpen, a long line-up (even back end guys (e.g. Varitek, Crisp) are getting hot), good defense, a terrific manager, a deep bench, experience and even some speed. I think that the Angels are very good, just a shade below the Sox, but haven't been tested the same way and I think the Rays are very good and going to get better, but I think they'll fade enough to make the playoff, but lose the division.
Jayson Stark (1:36 PM)
Wow, you're the most upbeat Red Sox fan I've ever come across, Dave. They're good, but they're not perfect. 1) You have to worry about a team that hasn't won a game in Tampa Bay or Anaheim all year (0-9). And 2) the Red Sox were NOT the hottest team last October. Nobody was as hot as Colorado, and a lot of good it did that team. I think the Angels have a bigger advantage in getting to breathe and recharge down the stretch than the Red Sox will have by getting hot down the stretch.
Matt (Los Angeles, California)
Two Words: Pythagorean Wins Angels: 76.7-65.3 Rays: 79.4-61.5 Red Sox: 86.2-55.8 The Angels are just luckier than any other team. See last years diamondbacks. Well Maybe they're better than that.
Jayson Stark (1:39 PM)
I just wanted to get "Pythagorean" into this chat. But while I disagree with you about luck, you make a valid point, Matt. For those who don't understand Pythagorean Wins, this is basically what a team's record OUGHT to be, based on its raw numbers. The Angels and Rays have both outperformed their expected records because they've been at their best in finding ways to win the close games. The unanswerable question is whether that carries over to October. There's no definable pattern in my experience. There are a lot of years it does. But you can never predict when it will or won't.
Joe (Billings, MT)
Jayson, while I agree with you that Longoria's and CC's health are concerns as are their experience, passing judgment on them based on their past week is short-sighted. They played very good teams (Yanks and Blue Jays) while the Red Sox played the O's and Rangers, which closed the gap in the standings.
Jayson Stark (1:41 PM)
I'm not passing judgment on them based only on the past week. I actually think the narrowing of their lead has more to do with how the Red Sox have played than how the Rays have played. I've tried very hard to assess their situation without focusing on the last week. But the one thing that has been relevant about those games is that they've made a lot of mistakes that no team can afford to make in October.
Is it fair to say that this is baseball, and everything is unpredictable? Tampa Bay is inexperienced, but so were Anaheim and Chicago when they won the World Series this decade. If Boston's rotation isn't healthy, how good are they? How many people can even name any players in Minnesota not named Mauer or Morneau? That being said, I'd pick Boston because they seem to always come alive in September and October, but I'm not putting any money on it.
Jayson Stark (1:44 PM)
October is never predictable. That's the best thing about it. Anybody see the Cardinals winning in 2006? Or the Marlins in 2003? I didn't. So you're right about a lot of this -- and especially this statement: How many people can even name any players in Minnesota not named Mauer or Morneau? You're right. Nobody has argued for the Twins in this chat because nobody has heard of the Twins. I'm willing to bet 75 percent of non-Twins fans can't even name their whole starting lineup.
Will (midlothian, Illinois)
No love here for the whitesox? With Gavin Floyd and jon danks have breakout seasons I think it gives the sox one of the best overall rotation in the AL. Not to mention our offense from top to bottom is one of the most potent offenses in the al, with or without carlos quentin.
Jayson Stark (1:46 PM)
Believe it or not, Will, you're the first person in this chat to make a case for the White Sox. And it's about time somebody did. You've stated the case just fine. Now here are my reservations about that team: Health (obviously). Quentin and Crede are major, irreplaceable losses. And age (five every-day position players 32 or older). And pitching (3.60 ERA first half, 4.70 second half -- including a 5.13 bullpen ERA since the break). And an offense that is way too dependent on the home run. They've still won just eight games all year in which they didn't hit a homer. Unbelievable stat.
Spencer (Los Angeles, CA)
Just a note about the fact that "you have to go with the hottest team": The Cardinals were the worst and the least hot team in the playoffs a couple of years ago, and won. And the White Sox barely fought off the Indians in 2005. Yankees backslid into a championship a few years before that. So the hottest team doesn't always come out on top.
Jayson Stark (1:47 PM)
Exactly right. We have lots of examples in recent years of teams that have gotten on a roll in September and ridden it all the way to the World Series. But we have plenty of examples of teams that were just the opposite. Good job laying that case out, Spencer.
Gary (Los Angeles)
You pointed out the Angels' record against the AL East and how the number of wins nears that of the Red Sox. I think the bigger indicator is the win percentage and how dramatically better it is than that of the Sox. What's more, the Angels have a fantastic record against teams with a .500+ record. Don't you think you're short-changing the Angels by virtue of a perceived "harder road" for the Red Sox when, by all statistical accounts, the Angels would be travelling that road easier were the settings reversed?
Jayson Stark (1:48 PM)
I've been trying my best not to short-change the Angels, I thought, because I believe they have a great shot at winning it all. There's a quality to this team that's bigger than the sum of its numbers. And that means something to me. But I have to admit some of those numbers scare me. And I think they scare Mike Scioscia, too.
Tom P (Palm Bay, FL)
Jayson, you're seriously overemphasizing the Angels' ability to rest regulars and starters in comparison to other teams. Any team that's confident of a playoff berth with three weeks to go (and that includes the Sox, Rays, and Angels) is going to have an equal opportunity to get healthy and rested for October. Josh Beckett credited his playoff success in '07 to the rest he was able to get from his DL stint. If he can trust his elbow, the same will be true this year. In addition, Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis have had significant downtime -- and that's important for players with a record of tiring out in the second half, as they have. I'm picking the Sox. I think they're perfectly positioned to succeed in October, whether they wind up winning the division or not.
Jayson Stark (1:51 PM)
I don't think I'm overemphasizing it at all. It's possible four of these teams will clinch a playoff spot so early that it will even out. And since one of the AL series doesn't start till four days after the season ends, that's two teams that get a built-in rest. But the Angels are the one team that knows right now it's going to have a couple of weeks to take its foot off the pedal. The others don't have that assurance. Not yet anyway.
Grant College Park, MD
Rest is a funny thing. Look at the teams of last year. Rest ended hurting a couple of them eventhough the other teams had to fight to win their devisions.
Jayson Stark (1:52 PM)
It hurt the Rockies. But you're talking about a team that was on the most historic postseason roll of all time, and then had to sit around for eight days. That's TOO much rest. I'm just talking about the ability to skip a start, limit pitches and relax -- not a forced vacation. Big difference.
Matt (London, Ontario)
There's a distinct problem with this debate. You include the Twins and White Sox, yet not the Blue Jays. The Jays have won 8 in a row, including sweeping supposedly better teams (Rays and Twins), they have by far the best pitching staff in baseball and yet they get no love. Sure it could be a case of too little too late, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be included in the conversation. If they manage to sweep the White Sox, or even take 3 of 4, you would have to make the case that the Jays are better then any team in the central.
Jayson Stark (1:54 PM)
Hey Matt, have you checked the standings? If the Blue Jays were in the AL Central, this would be a totally different conversation. But they're eight games out in the wild card race. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team in history has ever been eight games out this late in a season and made it to the postseason. So "hot" is one thing. "Reality" is another.
Jonathan (San Francisco, CA)
Yes the Red Sox have Beckett, but Beckett hasn't been true to form this seasons. Even with his two marvelous post-seasons with the Marlins and last year with the Red Sox, there is still a VERY good chance that he'll simply be above average in the post-season this year rather than exceptional. If this holds true, how much worse off are the Red Sox?
Jayson Stark (1:56 PM)
I agree that it's dangerous to assume that Beckett can just snap his fingers and go right back into his traditional October mode. Nevertheless, this guy is one of the greatest October pitchers ever. And I don't think that's something that just kind of happened by accident. It's because he understands how to rise to meet those huge October moments. So while I think we still have to see how the rest of September goes, it's hard to believe he's going to throw a bunch of clunkers out there in October. His time of year.
Just one small note, It appears that the Red Sox have the best advanced scouts in baseball. The Red Sox have carved up teams, they don?t just win in October, they dominate. (after their usually early collapse in the ALCS, of coarse)
Jayson Stark (1:58 PM)
Yeah, they dominate except for those series where they fall "hopelessly" behind, right? But I do think you're onto something, Tim. The Red Sox do as good a job of assembling information and using it to their advantage as any team in baseball. And that's definitely shown up in their two championship postseasons.
Jayson Stark (1:58 PM)
Uh-oh. There's only time for one more, and I don't think we've settled anything yet.
I guess that 8 games out thing means the Yankee's are out also? (I know ESPN requires at least one Yankee mention per chat. ) Your welcome.
Jayson Stark (2:01 PM)
OK, thanks. You're absolutely correct, Jim -- uh, not about that ESPN requirement, but that the Yankees are out. Did you check out ARod's quotes on that topic from yesterday? Let's just say he had a little trouble tap-dancing out of this argument. But if the Blue Jays are out, the Yankees by definition have to be even more out. In Toronto's case, not enough games left. In the Yankees' case, not good enough.
Jayson Stark (2:01 PM)
Thanks to everybody who checked in. Just to make this clear, all my predictions are guaranteed to be absolutely wrong. So don't take this one to Vegas. OK?
SportsNation on Facebook
THIS WEEK'S CHATS
- 11:00 AMFantasy's Matthew Berry
- 12:00 PMPatriots with Mike Reiss
- 12:00 PMTideNation's Scarborough
- 12:00 PMWolverineNation's Rothstein
- 12:00 PMMLB Insider Keith Law
- 1:00 PMNFL blogger Mike Sando
- 1:00 PMGiants with Youngmisuk
- 2:00 PMNASCAR with Terry Blount
- 2:00 PMBuckeyeNation's Ward
- 2:00 PMSport Science's Brenkus
- 2:30 PMNFL with Bill Williamson
- 3:00 PMNFL with Paul Kuharsky
- 4:00 PMFootball Scientist KC Joyner
- 11:00 AMNoleNation's David Hale
- 12:00 PMNFL with Dan Graziano
- 1:00 PMSweetSpot's Schoenfield
- 1:00 PMCubs, Sox with Levine
- 2:00 PMNFL blogger Kevin Seifert
- 2:00 PMGeauxTigerNation's Laney
- 2:00 PMBoxing with Brian Campbell
- 3:00 PMGolf columnist Bob Harig
- 3:00 PMFantasy's Stephania Bell
- 3:00 PMNFL columnist Ashley Fox
- 4:00 PMNFL with James Walker
- 4:00 PMHornsNation's Strickland
- 11:00 AMFantasy's Eric Karabell
- 12:00 PMNFL with Matt Williamson
- 12:00 PMDawgNation's David Ching
- 1:00 PMMMA with Brett Okamoto
- 1:00 PMNBA Insider Chad Ford
- 1:00 PMDallas' Jean-Jacques Taylor
- 2:00 PMNFL with Jamison Hensley
- 3:00 PMFantasy NASCAR Focus
- 4:00 PMGatorNation's Mike DiRocco
- 5:00 PMWeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz