World Series Recap: Royals Take the Crown for the First Time Since 1985

Kansas City Royals def. New York Mets, 4-1
Game 1:  Kansas City 5, New York 4 (14 innings)
Game 2:  Kansas City 7, New York 1
Game 3:  New York 9, Kansas City 3
Game 4:  Kansas City 5, New York 3
Game 5:  Kansas City 7, New York 2 (12 innings)

For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are baseball’s champion, winning the title in a five-game series that was much less one-sided than the 4-1 result would indicate.

All four Royals wins in the Series were after Kansas City trailed, and all featured late-inning heroics which have come to be expected from the team, as they came up clutch for the entire postseason.

Starting Point:  A Classic Opener and a One-Way Sequel
In the opener in Kansas City, the Mets took a 4-3 lead in the eighth when Wilmer Flores scored on an error by Eric Hosmer.  Alex Gordon tied it in the ninth with a solo homer, and after five excruciating extra innings, Hosmer went from goat to hero when his sacrifice fly won it for the Royals in the 14th.  The game was the longest opener in World Series history, and included a little bit of everything, including a leadoff inside-the-park home run by the Royals’ Alcides Escobar, and a power outage in the television production truck that caused a blackout of the game’s broadcast.  In Game Two, after the Mets led 1-0 halfway through, the Royals took a 4-1 lead with consecutive RBI singles by Escobar, Hosmer (2 RBI), and Mike Moustakas.  In this contest, their late-inning magic wasn’t to take a lead, but instead to put it away, as three runs scored on the eighth, with one each on an RBI double by Alex Gordon, a sacrifice fly by Paulo Orlando, and a triple by Escobar, making it 7-1, and sending the Series to the Big Apple with the Royals up 2-0.

Turning Point:  The Mets Defense
After the Mets won Game 3 by scoring nearly as many runs in that game (9) as they did in the rest of the Series combined (10), and David Wright starring with 4 RBI, they went into Game 4 looking to even the Series at 2-2.  Instead, New York ended up down 3-1 and a game away from elimination.  In the eighth inning, with the Mets up 3-2, an error by NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy allowed Ben Zobrist to score, tying the game.  Ensuing RBI singles by Moustakas and Salvador Perez gave Kansas City a 5-3 lead, and the Royals got within a win of the title when Lucas Duda lined into a game-ending double play as Yoenis Cespedes was caught wandering too far off first base.

In Game 5, Curtis Granderson’s first inning homer and Lucas Duda’s sixth inning sacrifice fly gave the Mets a 2-0 lead through eight innings.  Starter Matt Harvey went out for the ninth after talking his way back into the game, but allowed a walk and an RBI double by Hosmer, and was pulled with a 2-1 lead.  With one out, Perez grounded out to Wright, the third baseman, but when Wright threw to first, Hosmer, who was on third, broke for the plate.  Hosmer would have clearly been out with a good throw, which would have been the final out of the game, but Duda rushed the throw home and threw it away wildly, allowing Hosmer to tie the game, 2-2.  Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who had relieved Harvey, became the first player to blow three saves in one World Series, although this one wasn’t the most fair blown save, as he didn’t allow a hit.

Ending Point:  A Big 12th Inning for the Champs
As Game 5 continued into extra innings, neither team posed a strong threat to score through the 10th and 11th.  In the 12th, after Perez singled to lead off the inning, pinch runner Jarrod Dyson stole second, and advanced to third on Gordon’s groundout.  Christian Colon, in his first at-bat of the postseason, singled to left to score Dyson, and the Royals led for the first time in the game, 3-2.  After another Murphy error on a fielder’s choice, Colon scored on an Escobar RBI double, before, two batters later, Lorenzo Cain’s three-RBI double cleared the bases and gave the Royals a 7-2 lead.  Closer Wade Davis, who allowed just eight runs all season, and none in the postseason, got three outs, and the Royals were World Series champions.

The Royals title provides a happy ending to a long stretch for this franchise after its last title in 1985.  There were no playoff appearances, and only seven winning records, from 1986-2013, and while the drought ended last year with the team reaching the postseason as a Wild Card team, and winning eight straight to reach the World Series, it ended in heartbreak, with the tying run stranded at third base in the ninth inning of Game 7.

This year, the Royals led the AL Central nearly wire-to-wire, as they were on a mission to win one more game than last year–the clinching game of the World Series–and won a division title for the first time in 30 years.  This team with such an aptitude for coming from behind to win close games in the postseason used its skills in doing so to avoid elimination in a classic series against the Astros, before beating the Blue Jays in six games to reach the Fall Classic again, and winning the world title in five games over New York.

Therefore, while a lot of things can be said about this Royals team, one thing is for sure about both the team and its fan base:  they have unquestionably earned a title they’ve waited an entire generation for–World Series champion.

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World Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals

111th World Series:  New York Mets (NL Champion) vs. Kansas City Royals (AL Champion)
Game 1:  Tuesday in Kansas City
Game 2:  Wednesday in Kansas City
Game 3:  Friday in New York
Game 4:  Saturday in New York
Game 5:  Sunday in New York (if nec)
Game 6:  November 3 in Kansas City (if nec)
Game 7:  November 4 in Kansas City (if nec)
All games are at 8:07 pm ET on FOX

This year’s World Series is a bit of a throwback, as the Fall Classic is between two teams trying to win their first title since the mid-1980’s, with the Royals trying to win their first since 1985, and the Mets trying to win their first since 1986.  Both franchises are in their second World Series since then, with the Mets losing to the Yankees in 2000, and the Royals losing in seven games to the Giants just last year.

At the same time, this World Series has a very modern feel, as it is the first World Series ever between two expansion franchises, after the Mets were founded in 1962, and the Royals in 1969.  In addition, both teams are made up of fairly young rosters (particularly the Mets), adding to the contemporary feel, as the game continues to get younger.

By the accounts of most this series is very even and should be very close, although these teams got here two different ways.  The Mets started 49-48, before catching fire on their way to the NL East title, and sweeping the Cubs in the NLCS.  The Royals led their division for 164 days, and never trailed by more than one game, but played a closer, six-game ALCS.  Here’s a breakdown of who will have the advantage:

Starting Pitching:
The Royals had the worst starting ERA of all 10 postseason teams (4.34), although they did pitch very well in the ALCS.  However, the Mets have baseball’s best young rotation, and will send Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71 ERA) to the mound in Game 1, followed by Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54), Noah Snydergaard (9-7, 3.24), and Steven Matz (4-0, 2.27).  Collectively the Mets rotation posted a 2.16 ERA in the four games of the NLCS against a good Cubs lineup.
Advantage:  Mets

Bullpen:
The Mets have a very solid relief unit, sporting a 3.48 relief ERA, led by Jeurys Familia (43 saves, 1.85 ERA).  However, they are matched up against a relief corps for Kansas City that has a 2.72 ERA, the second best in baseball, but one I will call the best bullpen in the game.  Wade Davis (17 saves, 0.94 ERA) showed his value as the leader of this ‘pen with a strong ALCS performance.
Advantage:  Royals

Lineup:
Both of these teams have been hitting well during the postseason, with the Mets averaging 4.8 runs per game in the playoffs, and the Royals averaging 5.7 per contest, and scoring 38 runs in the six games of the ALCS.  In the regular season, the Royals had a team batting average 25 points better than the Mets (.269 to .244), and although the Mets’ average is a bit misleading, as they were much better offensively in the second half (.257, after a .233 first half average), there is still an edge for the Royals, even when they can’t use the DH in the games under NL rules in New York.
Advantage:  Royals (barely)

Atmosphere:
On one hand, the Royals fans experienced the World Series last year, while Mets fans haven’t since 2000, and on the other hand, the Royals have four of the seven games at home.  But both teams are looking for their first title in at or near 30 years, and Royals fans are hungry to go one step further than last year’s loss in Game 7 of the Fall Classic, and won’t be content with just another AL title.
Advantage:  even

Experience:
The Royals experienced the World Series last year, but that’s not solely why I’m giving them the advantage here.  Kansas City has trailed in four of their seven postseason wins this year, taking the lead in the seventh or later in three of those wins, in addition to their clutch hitting to take an eighth inning lead in Game 6 of the ALCS (although they never trailed that game).  Two of the Mets wins in the NLDS were comeback wins, although they were down earlier in the game, and they never trailed a game against the Cubs in the NLCS.  The Royals seem more equipped to win the close games in this series, because they’ve done it throughout this postseason.
Advantage:  Royals

Managers:
Yes, Ned Yost was here with the Royals a year ago, and Terry Collins is in his first postseason, let alone his first World Series, but both of these managers have done superbly with young teams in leading them to get better each year, culminating with the two meeting in the World Series.  Giving an edge to one or the other is both unreasonable and unfair.
Advantage:  even

While the Royals have the advantage in three of these six criteria, and the Mets only do in one, with two even, this series is more even then that would indicate.  However, the Royals have been dominant all year, and although this pick is very close, they look more primed to win the series, and trends show they fit the mold of a champion better than the Mets.  That being said, because of how strong both teams are, I think this series will go the distance.

The Royals will win the series, four games to three.

ALCS Recap: Royals def. Blue Jays

Kansas City Royals 4, Toronto Blue Jays 2
Game 1:  Kansas City 5, Toronto 0
Game 2:  Kansas City 6, Toronto 3
Game 3:  Toronto 11, Kansas City 8
Game 4:  Kansas City 14, Toronto 2
Game 5:  Toronto 7, Kansas City 1
Game 6:  Kansas City 4, Toronto 3

After ending a 29-year playoff drought a season ago by advancing to the World Series, and losing it in seven games to the Giants, the Royals have booked their return trip to the Fall Classic, eliminating World Series favorite Toronto in the process in a six-game series.  The Royals are the first team to repeat as AL Champions since the 2010-11 Texas Rangers, and will face the NL Champion New York Mets in the World Series.

Starting Point:  Kansas City Domination in First Two Games
The series started with both teams coming off the emotional highs of winning their Division Series matchups in winner-take-all fifth games against Texas and Houston, and in Game 1 Kansas City picked up right where they had left off, while Toronto appeared to have a slight hangover.  The Royals scored two in the third, on RBI hits by Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, and another in the fourth on a Salvador Perez solo homer.  That was all starter Edinson Volquez needed, as he went six shutout innings, allowing just two hits, before turning it over to the game’s best bullpen, with Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales adding to the lead with RBI in the eighth.  Game 2 looked different for six innings, as the Blue Jays led 3-0 on a third inning RBI double by Ryan Goins and an Edwin Encarnacion RBI single and Troy Tulowitzski RBI double in the sixth.  But Blue Jays starter David Price came unraveled in the seventh, and suddenly it was 5-3 Royals after RBI by Hosmer, Morales, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, and Alex Rios, and the excellent Royals bullpen didn’t need any more help, although they got some in the eighth from Moustakas with another RBI, as the Royals won 6-3 to take a 2-0 series lead.

Turning Point: 14 Royals Runs in Game 4
The Royals took their momentum from the ninth inning of Game 3, when they turned an 11-4 deficit into a more respectable 11-8 loss which made it a 2-1 series, into Game 4, roughing up Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey for four runs in the first, with the biggest blow coming from a Ben Zobrist two-run homer, and an add-on run in the second, courtesy of a Rios long ball, giving the Royals a quick 5-0 lead.  Toronto scored a pair in the third on a Josh Donaldson ground rule double and a Jose Bautista RBI groundout, before Kansas City blew it open with four in the seventh, three in the eighth, and two in the ninth.  The 14-2 win meant the Royals were up 3-1, and within a game of the World Series.

Ending Point:  Lorenzo Cain’s Baserunning and Wade Davis’s Pitching
The series finally produced a classic game in Game 6 in Kansas City.  The Royals took an early 2-0 lead on homers by Zobrist in the first and Moustakas in the second, before Bautista countered with a long ball in the fourth to make it 2-1.  The Royals increased their lead to 3-1 on a seventh inning RBI single by Rios, before Bautista homered again, this time hitting a two-run shot, to tie the score at 3-3 in the top of the eighth.  Closer Wade Davis got the Royals out of the inning with no further damage, but then a 45-minute rain delay halted the game before the bottom of the eighth.  Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna came in after the delay in the bottom of the eighth, walking Cain to start the inning.  On an ensuing Eric Hosmer single down the right field line, Cain scored from first, a rare feat of baserunning excellence, giving the Royals a 4-3 lead.  Osuna eventually got a double play to escape the inning.  Despite the delay, and having not thrown a pitch in over an hour, Davis returned to the mound for the ninth, and at first didn’t look quite as sharp, as Russell Martin singled to center and, after pinch-runner Dalton Pompey stole second and third, walking Kevin Pillar to put both the tying and go-ahead runs on base with no one out.  Davis then turned the switch back to his normal, 0.94 ERA self, striking out Dioner Navarro and Ben Revere, before getting possible AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground out to third to end the game.  Like last year, a groundout to Moustakas was the final out of the ALCS, clinching a World Series berth for the Royals.

The Royals won the fourth American League championship in their franchise history, with previous titles in 1980, 1985, and 2014, and advance to play the Mets in the first ever World Series between two expansion teams, beginning Tuesday in Kansas City.

MLB Pennant Races with Two Weeks Remaining

October is just a few days away, which for baseball fans means the regular season is closing down and the playoffs are close.  And while for some teams it is, at this point, just a formality that they will make the postseason, for others, they still have very meaningful games left, as they need to survive September if they want to experience October.

Some will say that whoever the last couple of teams to get in the playoffs are won’t be irrelevant because they have no chance of winning the World Series, but that simply isn’t true.  Both teams who reached the World Series a year ago, the Giants and the Royals, were Wild Card teams, with the Giants being the last team to get in the NL, and both franchises not clinching their spots until the season’s final weekend.

That being said, here is a look at every playoff race in baseball, with some expected to come down to the wire, while others are already a foregone conclusion.

(Note: this post uses the “magic number”, which tells how close a team is to clinching.  The number reduces by one each time the team leading wins a game, or the team chasing them loses a game, and the team leading clinches when the number hits zero.  It is explained more in-depth here.)

Division Races

American League

AL West
Texas  80-69  —
Houston  80-71  -1.0
LA Angels  76-74  -4.5

The Rangers were 9.5 games back on May 20, and were 47-52 on July 28, just two days before they acquired Cole Hamels, but thanks to a 33-17 stretch since, and a four-game sweep of Houston last week, they have passed the Astros, who spent 139 days in first place.  The Angels, who were the favorites of many before the season, have very gotten back within arms reach of first after sitting 65-66 on August 31 after a 2-9 stretch.  The Angels are in Houston for three games this weekend, and the Rangers head to Houston for three this weekend, giving the Astros a change to rectify their 6-12 September record before ending with six games on the road.  Should the Angels be able to get any closer to the Rangers, they’ll have a great chance to win the division when they play a season-closing four-game set at Texas.  This race is the most up in the air of all of the division races, as it is the closest, and also has three teams involved, but with Texas’s recent run I expect them to win the division, albeit by a very narrow margin.  The Rangers’ “magic number” is 12.

AL Central
Kansas City  87-62  —
Minnesota  76-73  -11.0

The Royals have the best record in the American League, as they have for a majority of the season, and have been in first place for 150 days.  The Twins have been a nice story as a surprise contender, and have a shot at the Wild Card, but this division race that’s been “over” for quite a while will officially, mathematically be over very soon; the Royals “magic number” is down to three.

AL East
Toronto  86-64  —
NY Yankees  82-67 -3.5

The AL East race has been a fun one all year, with the Yankees, Orioles, and Rays taking turns in the lead through the first half, although the Yankees led the most, totaling 100 days in first place for the season.  The Blue Jays were 50-51 and eight games back on July 28, just before they acquired Troy Tulowitzki and David Price.  By August 12, in the midst of an 11-game winning streak, the Jays were up a half game on the Yankees.  They’ve led every day since August 23, and have led by as many as four and a half games, but for most of that time the Yankees have stayed much closer than that.  Toronto and New York are currently in the midst of a huge three-game series in Toronto through Wednesday, which Toronto won the opener of, after which both teams will play out the regular season against teams that are going to miss the playoffs.  While the Jays do play their last seven games on the road, I expect them to ride their hot second half all the way to the division title, although it may come down to the final weekend.  The Blue Jays’ “magic number” is 10.

National League

NL West
LA Dodgers  85-64  —
San Francisco  78-71  -7.0

Many thought the NL West would be a three-team race, with the Padres acquiring several big name players in the offseason, but San Diego started 39-49 and never recovered.  The Dodgers have led the division nearly wire-to-wire, and have led every day since May 29.  The Giants were within a game and a half as late as August 23, but the Dodgers swept them in a three-game series from August 31 to September 2, which stretched the lead to six and a half.  The Giants are the defending World Series champions, but don’t have the momentum to catch the Dodgers, whose “magic number” is seven.

NL Central
St. Louis  94-56  —
Pittsburgh  90-60  -4.0
Chic. Cubs  88-62  -6.0

This is a strange division race, because all three teams are realistically guaranteed to make the playoffs, with the Cardinals already clinching at worst a Wild Card berth, and the Pirates and Cubs also about to do so as well, with the nearest Wild Card challengers nine games behind the Cubs.  But all of these teams want to avoid the one-off Wild Card Game, so they all want to win the division.  The Cubs and Cardinals have been over from the beginning, with the Pirates struggling early to an 18-22 record before an 11-2 stretch got them into the race.  The Cardinals have the best record in baseball, as they have most of the season, and these three teams have the best three records in the NL.  The Cubs won two out of three over the weekend in their last series of the regular season against the Cardinals, and host the Pirates for three games this weekend.  Pittsburgh then hosts St. Louis next week for three games.  The Cardinals and Cubs finish with six straight on the road, while the Pirates finish with six straight at home, although overall between now and the end of the season, all three teams have six at home and six on the road.  The Cardinals are the best team in baseball, so they should be able to hold their four game lead over the last two weeks, and their “magic number” is nine.  It is really unfortunate that two of these three teams are going to be in the Wild Card Game, and one of them will lose it, meaning their season will be over on October 7.

NL East
NY Mets  85-65  —
Washington  78-71  -6.5

The Mets are looking for their first playoff berth since 2006, but New York winning the division didn’t look likely before the season, with the Nationals being picked by every single season preview I read, and in a “World Series-or-bust” state of mind.  The Mets strong pitching staff, and their resurgent offense since trading for Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline, took the lead for good on August 3rd, after the two teams had gone back-and-forth on top for most of the season.  The Mets steadily built their lead up to nine and a half games on September 13, a seemingly insurmountable gap for the Nationals, but Washington has closed the gap a little bit coming into the season’s final stretch.  Both teams have games exclusively against teams under .500 until the season’s final weekend, when they play each other, but by that time the race will very likely be over.  The Mets’ “magic number” in seven.

Wild Card Races

AL Wild Card
NY Yankees  82-67 +3.0
Houston  80-71   —

Minnesota 76-73  -3.0
LA Angels  76-74  -3.5
Cleveland  74-74  -4.5

The Yankees and Astros have both spent a lot of time in first place, with the Astros only spending 31 days not in first, but have been the victims of big second half pushes by the Blue Jays and Rangers and, should they not come back to win the division, are currently positioned to appear in the Wild Card Game.  The Twins were not picked by anyone to be in this position, but can be very proud of their contention to make the postseason.  However, three games may be hard to make up with this little time left in the regular season.  It’s even more unlikely for the Angels and Indians to reach the playoffs as they have multiple teams to pass at this point, although they can still keep fighting with the hope of a strong finish and some help from those above them.  The Yankees are currently playing division leader Toronto, but have an easy finishing stretch after that series is done.  Houston is hosting the Angels this week in a big three-game set, which they took the opener of last night.  The Twins and Indians have seven games left against each other, and since both need an excellent stretch to catch Houston, if they split these games fairly evenly, it may end both teams’ playoff shot, but if one wins five or more out of the seven, that could be the team to make a run.  The Astros’ “magic number” is 10, and the Yankees’ is 8.

NL Wild Card
Pittsburgh  90-60  —
Chic. Cubs  88-62  -2.0

Washington  78-71  -9.5
San Francisco  78-71  -9.5

The Nationals and Giants both came into the season with the playoffs as a goal, but both are closer to their division leaders than they are to the Wild Card at this point, a race that is nearly over.  The only part of it that isn’t realistically over is between the Pirates and the Cubs to see who will host the Wild Card Game, although one or both of them could catch the Cardinals in the NL Central to shake things up as well.  A big series towards determining that home field advantage for the one-game happens this weekend in Chicago, when the Cubs host Pittsburgh.  As for clinching a playoff berth, the Cubs’ “magic number” is four, and the Pirates’ is two.

 

While this isn’t necessarily the closest pennant race we’ve ever seen, with many of the races being a foregone conclusion, this should be an excellent postseason.  We know this because all of the teams in playoff positions are very deserving, and there are some very good teams that are going to be left out, no matter how these last two weeks play out.  We also know this because teams like the Mets, Cubs, and Astros haven’t been in the playoffs in a while, and the Blue Jays haven’t been in them in my lifetime, not appearing in the postseason since Joe Carter’s World Series-winning walkoff homer in 1993, the last year before the Wild Card era began.  Add the teams that haven’t been in the playoffs in this decade to teams like the Rangers and Yankees that have but have had a couple of down years in between, as well as the Royals, who appeared in the playoffs last year for the first time since 1985, and teams like the Cardinals, Pirates, and Dodgers who we’ve become accustomed to seeing in the postseason, and there will be no shortage whatsoever of storylines this October.

Handicapping Each MLB Division Race With 20 Games Remaining

After each team has battled through approximately 142 games out of the 162 in professional sports’ longest regular season, we are now in the stretch run.  And while some division races are realistically over, others are a real tossup.  Here is the chance I give each contender to win their division.

I am focusing here on the division races, and not the wild card races, due to the importance of avoiding the Wild Card Game, the one-game playoff in each league between the top two non-division winners.  Everybody wants to avoid that one-off scenario, so the focus in each clubhouse is on winning their respective division.

AL East
Current standings: Baltimore Orioles (84-59), New York Yankees (73-68, 10 GB), Toronto Blue Jays (74-69, 10 GB)
Key Series:  New York at Baltimore, September 12-14 (Doubleheader on 9/12)
This is one of those that is, at this point, realistically over.  The Orioles took the division lead on July 5, and haven’t looked back, stretching the lead to 10 games as of yesterday.  With a magic number of 11, the O’s have an outside chance of clinching during this weekend’s Yankees series, should the Yanks and Blue Jays both struggle this week, and while they do play Toronto six more times and the Yankees four more after this weekend’s series, it is very unlikely that these games will matter in the division race (they will matter in the Wild Card, as well as Baltimore’s playoff seeding).
Baltimore: 99%, New York: <1%, Toronto: <1%

AL Central
Current Standings: Kansas City Royals (79-63), Detroit Tigers (79-65, 1 GB), Cleveland Indians (74-68, 5 GB)
Key Series: Detroit at Kansas City, September 19-21
This is undoubtedly 2014’s best divisional race.  The Tigers, who have both a great pitching staff and a good lineup, and were picked by many (including me) to win the AL, are pitted up against the upstart Royals, looking for their first playoff appearance since winning the World Series in 1985.  Kansas City took the lead for three days in mid-June, only to fall as many as eight games back by July 21.  Remarkably, after an incredible run of 16-3, they were back in first just 21 days later on August 11, and haven’t trailed since.  The two teams did fall into a tie last week, but the Royals took a two game lead into their current series, before the Tigers won the opener yesterday.  The teams play tonight and tomorrow, before meeting on the penultimate weekend of the regular season.  The Indians have snuck into the race by charging after hanging around the .500 mark for much of the season, and got within two and a half games on Labor Day weekend, currently sitting five back.  However, the Indians are running out of games and will have to pass two teams to win the race.
Kansas City: 50%, Detroit: 45%, Cleveland: 5%

AL West
Current Standings: Los Angeles Angels (88-55), Oakland Athletics (80-63, 8 GB), Seattle Mariners (80-64, 9 GB)
Key Series: Oakland at Seattle, September 12-14
For the first half of the season, a team winning the AL West by eight games, or more, seemed feasible, but the thought existed for the Oakland A’s, not the Los Angeles Angels.  After a 47-28 start for Oakland, the season seemed to become World Series-or-bust.  But to the Angels credit, they never trailed by more than six games, and have caught Oakland, who fizzled in August despite the acquisition of Jon Lester.  Now the Angels are the favorites to represent the AL in the World Series, with neither Oakland nor Seattle in shouting distance.  When the Athletics and Mariners play their final series against each other this year over the weekend, it should eliminate one from any shot to catch the Angels, and will also have big Wild Card implications.  The Angels do have seven more against Seattle, and three more against Oakland, but the games aren’t likely to matter, with the Angels magic number currently sitting at 12.
Los Angeles: 98%, Oakland: 1%, Seattle: <1%

NL East
Current Standings: Washington Nationals (81-61), Atlanta Braves (74-70, 8 GB)
Key Series: Washington at Atlanta, September 15-17
Last night’s Nationals win over the Braves stretched the gap to eight games in this race, which has been a close, back and forth race all season, with the Nationals pulling away late.  The two teams are currently in the midst of a three game set in Washington, and with the Nationals magic number at 12, it is possible (although not likely) that they could clinch on their rival’s field when the teams meet in Atlanta.  The Braves offense hasn’t shown many signs of life lately, but during Fredi Gonzalez tenure (particularly the last two years), the team has had a tendency to get very hot, very quickly, with little explanation.  They would have to do that to have any shot to catch Washington, and even then the chances would be low with such a deficit, but with five games remaining between the teams, it is possible.  Otherwise, the Nationals could clinch relatively early and focus on trying to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Washington: 96%, Atlanta 4%

NL Central
Current Standings: St. Louis Cardinals (80-64), Pittsburgh Pirates (75-68, 4.5 GB), Milwaukee Brewers (74-70, 6 GB)
Key Series: Milwaukee at Pittsburgh, September 19-21
After the Brewers had led the entire season, the Cardinals tied Milwaukee on August 31 and took the lead September 1, and in just over a week, the Brewers have fallen six games back, with the Pirates moving into second place at four and a half games back.  St. Louis is trying to reach the playoffs for the fourth straight year, after winning the World Series in 2011 and reaching it in 2013, and now have the momentum in this race to go with that experience.  Pittsburgh and Milwaukee still have a shot, as this is, in fact, the third closest division race in the game, although their focus is also on each other as they battle with the Giants and Braves for two wild card spots, and their series against each other at PNC Park next weekend will go a long way towards determining that winner.  The Brewers have little division shot, due to the gap as well as a recent scuffle, losing 12 out of 13, while the Pirates have played well to get into, for now, the second wild card spot, but I don’t expect either to make a run at the Cardinals.
St. Louis: 90%, Pittsburgh: 9%, Milwaukee: 1%

NL West
Current Standings: Los Angeles Dodgers (82-62), San Francisco Giants (78-65, 3.5 GB)
Key Series: San Francisco at Los Angeles, September 22-24
At the start of the year, the West looked like it was the Giants’ division to lose, leading by 10 games on June 8.  Then the Dodgers caught fire through the rest of June, just like last year, and by June 30, the race was tied.  The Dodgers took the lead for good on July 27, after the teams had gone back and forth throughout July, and by August 15, with a five game lead, the Dodgers looked like they were going to run away with the title.  The Giants have fought back, however, hovering at two games back most of last week, and currently sitting three and a half back.  The teams play a pair of three game series over the next couple of weeks, with the first coming this weekend in San Francisco, and the second coming during the final week of the regular season in Los Angeles.  Both these teams have great pitching staffs, and although the Dodgers overall team looks better on paper, the Giants just don’t seem to go away.
Los Angeles: 75%, San Francisco: 25%

World Series Breakdown: Cardinals vs. Red Sox

The 2004 World Series Trophy in City Hall Plaz...

The Commissioner’s Trophy, given to the World Series champion.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 109th World Series begins tonight between the National League champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the American League champions, the Boston Red Sox.  Both of these franchises have a strong tradition as well as a rich recent history, as the Cardinals will be playing their 4th World Series out of the last 10, and the Red Sox will be playing their 3rd out of the last 10.  The Cardinals won it all in 2006 and 2011, with their lone Series loss in this stretch coming to the Red Sox in 2004, with the Sox also winning the Series in 2007.  These two teams have met in three previous Fall Classics, with the Cardinals winning in 7 games in both 1946 and 1967, and the Red Sox sweeping the Cards in 2004.  Let’s have a look at some of the matchups in the 2013 Fall Classic.

Lineup:  Red Sox (barely).  The Cardinals will have some help from the returning Allen Craig, who will be able to play DH in the games in Boston.  It is unsure, however, how well Craig will hit, since he last played on September 4.  He joins clutch hitters Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday in a very solid Cardinals lineup.  But the Red Sox have a tendency to force opposing pitchers to throw more pitches, wearing them down over time, and eventually get the big, timely hits to beat them.  Expect Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia to shine, and we know David Ortiz will be strong for the Sox.

Bench:  Cardinals.  With Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma platooned at shortstop, one will always be on the bench.  In addition, Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers have contributed throughout the playoffs.  The Red Sox bench, which I had doubts about at the beginning of the playoffs, have also proven their worth, with contributions by Jonny Gomes, Matt Carp, Quentin Berry, David Ross, and the platoon combination of Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks at third base.

Rotation:  Cardinals.  This was a tough call, as the names in the Red Sox rotation are more recognizable and the players are much more experienced.  Jon Lester will start Game 1, and will be backed up by John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy.  But what the Cardinals lack in experience, they make up for in stuff and nerves of steel, with Lance Lynn, in just his second full season, and rookies Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha, who won the NLCS MVP award after being extremely stellar.  And of course, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is always brilliant, and hasn’t allowed a run in 3 innings of previous World Series action (he was the closer for the 2006 Cardinals).

Bullpen:  Cardinals.  This is another tough decision (kind of a theme in this series).  I had seen the Red Sox bullpen as a weakness going into the playoffs, but they have been very solid, with Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Franklin Morales shining so far in the postseason.  The Cardinals’ bullpen ERA during the regular season was 0.36 better than the Red Sox, and like the rotation, they simply have a bunch of good, strong arms, including Edward Mujica, Seth Maness, and John Axford, in addition to the 38-year-old veteran of the staff, Randy Choate, whose last World Series appearance was with the 2001 Yankees.

Closer:  Red Sox.  I’ve given the edge to the Cardinals opponent in each round on this criteria, but in this case it isn’t because of Trevor Rosenthal’s inexperience, but instead Koji Uehara’s excellence.  Rosenthal has proven himself as a viable option, not allowing a run in 7 innings this postseason, and 8.1 innings in the playoffs last year.  Uehara, however, showed the world why he would have been 2nd on my Cy Young ballot, if I had one.  His ALCS MVP award was earned with 3 saves and a win, with 6 innings pitched in the series and 9 strikeouts, while allowing just 4 hits and no runs.  Expect Uehara to continue to shine in the World Series

Manager:  Red Sox.  Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would have the edge in this category against most opponents, as all he’s done in his two years is get within a win of the World Series last year, and reaching it this year, after taking over for future Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa, who retired after the Cardinals 2011 title.  John Farrell, however, took over the Red Sox last winter after they had gone 69-93 under Bobby Valentine.  Following some offseason roster changes, and the inspiration the team led in Boston after the Marathon bombings on April 15, the team proved they were the best in the east, going worst to first, and beating the Rays in the ALDS and the Tigers in the ALCS.  Even before the playoffs, Farrell showed why he should be AL Manager of the Year, and has now solidified that award that he is likely to win.

Home-field/crowd:  Red Sox.  This is a tough one, as these two teams have equally proud and intense fan-bases who know their baseball and have had a lot to cheer about over the last decade.  In the end, the Red Sox would have 4 games at home, if the series goes the distance, and the Cardinals would only have 3.  Therefore, give the slight edge to the Red Sox because of the incredible atmosphere created during playoff games at Fenway Park.

In all seven of these criteria, it was very difficult to choose one team with a better unit or individual, and the Red Sox ended up with a slight edge in 4 of the 7 criteria.  Therefore I think they will win the series in 7 games, 4-3.  If this happens, it would be the first time the Red Sox win in a World Series Game 7, as they are currently 0-5.  That being said, since Game 7 in 1986, the Red Sox have not lost a World Series game, sweeping in both 2004 and 2007.  Regardless, this should be an excellent series, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cardinals win the series, even though I’m picking against them.  The only thing that would surprise me is if the series was a sweep, either way, or even if it ends in 5 games, because both teams are too good for that.  This is, after all, the first World Series since 1979 to include the teams with the best records and the best run differential from both leagues.  One final note is that tonight’s Game 1 will be pivotal, according to this trend:  the winner of Game 1 has won 21 of the last 25 World Series.

Leyland Steps Down As Tigers Manager

Jim Leyland

Jim Leyland (Photo credit: Keith Allison/Public Domain)

Jim Leyland announced this morning he is resigning as manager of the Detroit Tigers, after the Tigers loss to the Boston Red Sox in the AL Championship Series, 4 games to 2.  Leyland had informed the Tigers front office of his decision on September 7, while on a road trip in Kansas City, and told his players after they were eliminated on Saturday night.  Leyland has been in professional baseball as a player, coach, and manager for the last 50 years, and says he will continue to be involved in the Tigers organization in a role yet to be determined.

Leyland, in his 8 seasons in Detroit, has become one of the Tigers all-time greats.  His 700 regular-season managerial wins rank 3rd in franchise history, behind Hall-of-Famer Sparky Anderson and Hughie Jennings (who managed the Tigers from 1907-1920).  This year Leyland joined Jennings as the only two managers to take the Tigers to the playoffs in 3 consecutive seasons.

Leyland took over in 2006 for a franchise that had not had a winning season since 1993, and had finished either last or next to last in their division in 9 of those 13 seasons.  In one season Leyland took a previously struggling franchise to the AL Wild Card title, before winning the ALCS over the Oakland Athletics on a Magglio Ordonez walk-off homer to win Game 4 and complete a series sweep.  The Tigers eventually lost in the World Series, 4-1, to the St. Louis Cardinals, but baseball was back in Detroit.

In 2007, the Tigers finished 2nd in the division, behind a Cleveland Indians team who would get within a win of the World Series.  The next year the Tigers were in rebuilding mode, and finished 5th in the AL Central.  In 2009, the Tigers were back in contention, and tied for the AL Central title, but lost the tiebreaker game to the Minnesota Twins.  The following year the Tigers contended, but fell short, finishing at .500 with an 81-81 record.  In 2011, the Tigers returned to the playoffs, winning the AL Central by 15 games, and made it to the ALCS, before losing to the Texas Rangers in 6 games in the ALCS.  Last year, Detroit won a tight division race with the Chicago White Sox, before beating the Oakland Athletics 3-2 in the ALDS and sweeping the New York Yankees in the ALCS to return to the World Series.  Unfortunately for Leyland and company, the San Francisco Giants swept the Tigers to win the World Series.

It can be said a big part of the TIgers’ success is Leyland in the dugout.

After the 2006 and 2012 World Series losses, and this year’s elimination, the Tigers franchise is still looking for its first World Series title since 1984.

But managing the Tigers isn’t the entire story of Leyland’s managerial career.  His managerial career also included stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, and the Colorado Rockies.

Before that, he spent years in the minor leagues as both a player and a manager.  He was signed as a 19-year old catcher by, ironically, the Detroit Tigers, in 1963, and played 7 seasons in the minors, never getting past Double-A.  By his final year of playing career, he was already acting as an unofficial coach for the Montgomery Rebels, the Tigers Double-A affiliate.   He then managed around the Tigers farm system from 1972-1981.  He left the Tigers franchise in 1982 to become Tony La Russa’s third-base coach with the Chicago White Sox from 1982-1985 (that’s quite a coaching staff).

After the stint working under La Russa, who would go on to win 6 pennants and 3 World Series with the Athletics and Cardinals, Leyland got his first major league managerial job, working for the Pittsburgh Pirates, beginning in 1986.  The Pirates had been struggling through the previous few seasons since their 1979 World Series title.  In Leyland’s first three seasons, the Pirates finished 6th, 4th, and 2nd in the old NL East (the Pirates are now in the NL Central after the 1994 re-alignment).  After a setback in 1989, the Pirates won 3 straight division titles in 1990-92, losing the NL Championship Series to the Reds in 6 games in 1990 and to the Braves in 7 games in 1991 and 1992.  After the 1992 season, much of the Pirates roster and front office was completely revamped, and the team lost talent such as Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Tim Wakefield, and Andy Van Slyke.  As a result, Leyland struggled for the next four seasons, before resigning at the end of the 1996 season.  One of his staff in Pittsburgh was current New York Mets manager Terry Collins, who today wears #10 in honor of Leyland, who also wears #10.

After Leyland resigned in Pittsburgh, he was quickly hired by the Florida Marlins, a 1993 expansion who had struggled in their first four seasons but had built a little bit of momentum with a 80-82 record in 1996.  In 1997, Leyland’s first year, he led the Marlins to the Wild Card title, before defeating the Atlanta Braves in 6 games for the NL Pennant, and winning the World Series in 7 games over the Cleveland Indians.  Edgar Renteria’s walk-off hit in the bottom of the 11th of Game 7 is a classic World Series moment often played today during collections of postseason moments.  The Marlins had become the fastest expansion team to win a World Series (a record since broken by the Arizona Diamondbacks).  After the title, the team was dismantled in the so-called “fire-sale”, a technique repeated when the Marlins won another title six years later.  Leyland remained as manager, but after a 54-108 record in 1998, he resigned, saying he thought his job was to win championships, but that wasn’t what the ownership wanted.  The title he won in Florida was his only World Series championship as a manager.

After leaving Florida, Leyland had an insignificant stint as manager of the Colorado Rockies, going 72-90 in 1999, before resigning just one year into a three-year contract.  Leyland would later regret his abrupt departure from an organization that had treated him well, saying he was frustrated with trying to manage a pitching staff in the Denver altitude (this was in the days before baseballs used at Coors Field were placed in a humidor), and thought he would never manage again.

From 2000 until 2005, Leyland worked as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals in the Pittsburgh area, generally scouting Pirates games.  He wanted to get back into managing, and saw an opportunity when the Phillies job was open in the offseason after the 2004 season.  That job eventually went to Charlie Manuel, but Leyland saw another opportunity to manage the Tigers, the organization he had begun his career with, when Alan Trammel was released as manager.  The Tigers hired Leyland, who was 61 at the time, and they haven’t regretted it.

Leyland is one of seven managers to win pennants in both leagues, and joins La Russa and Bobby Cox as one of three managers to win Manager of the Year in both leagues.

Now the question will be raised if Jim Leyland should be a Hall-of-Famer (assuming his managerial career is over).  Leyland won 1,769 major league games (regular-season), which is 15th all-time, won 3 Manager of the Year awards, 6 division titles, 3 pennants, and a World Series in an organization that may be the least likely in baseball to ever win a title.  If I had a Hall of Fame ballot, there would be no doubt in my mind that I would definitely vote for him.  The fact Leyland is such a class act should nail it down even more.  Yet, there are still skeptics (then again, there are a few people who argue that Chipper Jones is not a Hall-of-Famer).  In an ESPN.com survey today, 80% of readers said that Leyland should be in the Hall of Fame, while only 20% of readers said he should not.

Leyland had, as recently as this summer, shown a desire to manage into next year and beyond.  Tigers executives said both publicly and to Leyland that he was welcome to manage as long as he wanted.  Leyland, however, said the fuel was running low, particularly on long road trips late this season, and that “it’s time”.  I personally thought that if the Tigers had won the World Series or even if they had won the AL Pennant that Leyland would retire (going out on top), similar to Tony La Russa in 2011.  Leyland, however, had already made his decision privately in early September, before publicly announcing his plans today.

Who will replace Leyland?  If the Tigers choose to promote someone within the organization, there would be a couple of likely candidates.  Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon and bench coach Gene Lamont both have major league managerial experience, with Lamont being named AL Manager of the Year in 1993.  Third-base coach Tom Brookens has minor league managerial experience.  Another less likely candidates would be first-base coach Rafael Belliard.  If the Tigers choose to go the route of the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, and Miami Marlins in recent hirings of recent major league players, there are a couple of candidates.  One would be Phil Nevin, who played until 2006 and is currently the manager of the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers AAA affiliate.  Other candidates would be Dave Martinez, currently the Rays bench coach, and Brad Ausmus, a former Tiger.  Current and/or recent managers that could be pursued include Dusty Baker, Charlie Manuel (although the age of both Baker and Manuel may be a deterrent), Kirk Gibson (former Tiger), and Ozzie Guillen.  Actually, the only one of those four with a current job is Gibson, with the Diamondbacks.  Tony Pena recently managed the Dominican Republic team to the World Baseball Classic title, and Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo has Tigers ties.  Lastly, Alan Trammell is a Tigers legend from his playing days, but is also a former manager; his miserable stint came with some terrible rosters, so perhaps he’ll be given another chance.  Don’t be surprised at all if the Tigers manager next year is someone not on this list, as I have read other names mentioned in news articles and blog posts today.

 

 

Jim Leyland Managerial Record
(Year:  Team, Record, Finish, Postseason)
1986:  Pittsburgh, 64-98, 6th, none
1987:  Pittsburgh, 80-82, 4th, none
1988:  Pittsburgh, 85-75, 2nd, none
1989:  Pittsburgh, 74-88, 5th, none
1990:  Pittsburgh, 95-67, 1st, lost to Reds in NLCS (NL Manager of the Year)
1991:  Pittsburgh, 98-64, 1st, lost to Braves in NLCS
1992:  Pittsburgh, 96-66, 1st, lost to Braves in NLCS (NL Manager of the Year)
1993:  Pittsburgh, 75-87, 5th, none
1994:  Pittsburgh, 53-61, 3rd, n/a (strike-shortened season)
1995:  Pittsburgh, 58-86, 5th, none
1996:  Pittsburgh, 73-89, 5th
1997:  Florida, 92-70, 2nd, def. Indians to win World Series
1998:  Florida, 54-108, 5th, none
1999:  Colorado, 72-90, 5th, none
2006:  Detroit, 95-67, 2nd, lost to Cardinals in World Series (AL Manager of the Year)
2007:  Detroit, 88-74, 2nd, none
2008:  Detroit, 74-88, 5th, none
2009:  Detroit, 86-77, 2nd, none
2010:  Detroit, 81-81, 3rd, none
2011:  Detroit, 95-67, 1st, lost to Rangers in ALCS
2012:  Detroit, 88-74, 1st, lost to Giants in World Series
2013:  Detroit, 93-69, 1st, lost to Red Sox in ALCS
Career record:  1,769-1,728 (.506), 44-40 in postseason (.524)