Category: Baseball


In case you didn’t know, BASEBALL IS BACK!!!!

Do you know why winter is so dark, cold and long?  Because baseball is not being played.  Rogers Hornsby famously said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there is no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

This offseason was particularly brutal if you are a Cardinal fan, such as myself.  Two of the top free agents turned down offers to come to the Cardinals in favor of more money (David Price) or a better contract (Jason Heyward) – yes, the Cardinals offered more money, but the Cubs offered a better contract with two opt-out clauses so Heyward could potentially make more money in three or four years.  Lance Lynn was lost for the season, requiring the infamous Tommy John surgery.  And Jon Jay, certainly a fan favorite and great personality for the clubhouse, was traded to the Padres.  All along, though, I was eagerly anticipating the coming season.  With last season’s three best teams all in the NL Central, this year should shape up to be quite a race as well.

BUT, that’s not what I’m writing about today.  This offseason, MLB instituted the so-called “Chase Utley” rule.  Utley famously slide into second, attempting to break up a double play in a playoff game, and proceeded to break the leg of Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada and spark a debate as to whether or not Utley was a dirty player.  Utley wasn’t the only player to have hurt somebody in a way that impacted the playoffs in 2016.  The Pittsburgh Pirates lost their shortstop, Jung Ho Kang, in a similar play in mid-September.

The resulting slide rule is as follows:

a “bona fide slide” occurs when a player: 1. begins slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base; 2. is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot; 3. is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; 4. and slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.

If it is determined that the runner did not make a “bona fide slide,” the runner is out, as is the runner going to first.

Essentially, what this rule is supposed to do is prevent players from targeting middle infielders to break up a double play.  Frankly, some of the collisions are pretty nasty, and there’s no reason why they should happen in the first place.  In Tuesday’s game, the rule turned out to be a game-changer… literally.

In the top of the 9th inning, with the bases loaded and trailing 3-2, the Toronto Blue Jays had Edwin Encarnacion at the plate.  He hit a sharp ground ball that was fielded by the third baseman, thrown to second to get the force out, and the throw to first for the double play got away from the first baseman.  The tying and go-ahead runs both scored, and the Blue Jays had a 4-3 lead with two outs in the ninth inning.  Until the play at second was under review.

In the replay, it was obvious that Jose Bautista reached out to grab the foot of the Rays’ second baseman Logan Forsythe.  Bautista was called out, and as a result of the new rule, the runner at first was called out as well.  Double-play, the runs don’t count, game over, and the Rays win 3-2.  This displeased the Blue Jays.

After the game, Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons was not shy about stating his displeasure, saying, “It turned the game into a joke. That’s flat embarrassing. That cost us a chance to win a major league game.”  Later on, he said, “Maybe we’ll come out and wear dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.”

His comments play into an overarching theme that we are seeing being played out all over.  The “wussification of America” implies that we aren’t as tough as we used to be; that we are a nation of wusses.  A “wuss” is one who is “weak or ineffectual”, or “to fail to do or complete something as a result of fear or lack of confidence.”

Somehow, it has become manly to put people in harm’s way, to intentionally try to hurt somebody for the sake of winning.  That seems to be the implication of what Gibbons is saying.  Something is very wrong here.

Are we okay with people getting hurt unnecessarily?  Are we okay with putting people in harm’s way because we think, somehow, that it is more manly for somebody to slide into the knee of an opponent in an attempt to break up a double play, than to simply play the game.

Let’s not forget, if you’ve seen the replay, then you know what happened, Bautista reached out his hand to grab the leg of an opposing player.  I guess, at least according to Gibbons, that would make him more manly – intentionally tripping somebody.  Let’s say he gets a better hold of Forsythe, upends him and he gets a broken arm as a result.  How would the conversation go?  It would clearly be focused on how dirty the play was.  Just because the result was different, does it make the play any different?

A few years back, Alex Rodriguez tried to slap the ball out of the first baseman’s glove as he was trying to beat out a grounder.  Everybody called it “Bush League” and said he was trying to take a cheap shot.  He was just playing hard and trying to win the game.  Doesn’t that mean he was more manly?  Clearly not.

Playing the game right does not mean that you do whatever you can to win the game.  It means you play it with respect for all people on the field.  It means you don’t try to trip somebody because it may give you an edge.  If protecting the players is “wussification” then, I’d much rather watch a game played by a bunch of wusses than by a bunch of manly men who are going to go out of their way to hurt somebody.

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The Most Wonderful Day of the Year

It’s OPENING DAY!!!!!  Well, okay, officially, the season started whenever the A’s & Mariners faced off in Japan, and some of the rest of the teams don’t start until tomorrow, while others have to wait until Friday.  Okay, it’s the most convoluted opening to the baseball season in living memory, I’ll give you that, but… it’s the Cardinals first game; oops, I’m sorry, the defending World Series champions’ first game of the season, and that’s enough for me to officially call it Opening Day!

Winter is truly behind us once the baseball season starts.  I could snow now, and it’d be a freak spring snow because baseball is starting!  I fully intend on wearing Cardinal paraphernalia today.  There will be steaks on the grill, and my favorite brew from Cooperstown in a frosty glass.  I don’t care what Ice Cube said, or what day he was talking about, but TODAY is a good day.

So, here’s my annual predictions sure to go wrong:

AL East: Yankees

AL Central: Tigers

AL West: Rangers

AL Wildcards: Rays, Angels

NL East: Phillies

NL Central: Reds

NL West: Dodgers

NL Wildcards: Cardinals, Diamondbacks

World Series: Cardinals v. Tigers, Cardinals in 6

Why are these sure to go wrong?  Because I always pick the Cardinals to win it all.  Though I do have a 33% success rate in the last 6 years!

Prognostication Nation

I spent some time going through some of my old tweets the other day, and came across this beauty from July 12th, during the All Star game in Arizona.

 

Matt SwisherMatt Swisher @PastorSwish12 Jul

On behalf of Cardinal Nation, allow me to be among the first to thank Prince Fielder for home field advantage in the World Series. Generous.

Good times, my friends.  Good times.

End of an Era

I’m sure precisely nobody is shocked to learn that my blog post today is regarding the signing of Albert Pujols by the St. Louis Cardinals Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Word came out on Thursday late morning that Pujols had agreed to a 10 year deal with the Angels in the $250-260 million range.  My initial reactions were as follows: shocked, calm, upset, all right with it, slightly bitter, and now I’m graduating to more level-headedness.

I’m not going to lie.  I’m a little heart-broken over the whole thing.  Pujols has been a great player for 11 years who just so happened to wear a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.  In fact, I remember, back in 2001 after the second series of the season, thinking, “This Pujols guy might be pretty good.  It’s nice to have an exciting young player.”  Understatement of the decade in retrospect.

The past 11 years of Cardinal baseball have been phenomenal.  Think about it, since 2001, the Cardinals have only missed the playoffs three times.  Pujols won three MVP awards, and, if it weren’t for Barry Bonds, he’d have at least two more.  The Cardinals have been to three World Series, and won two of them.  As a Cardinal fan, I’ve been able to see one of history’s greatest players wearing the birds on the bat for just over a decade.  It’s been great.

However…

Signing a guy that is 31 right now (and will be 32 when the season starts) to a 10 year contract is risky.  Most sluggers start to have a pretty significant downturn once they pass their mid-30’s.  I don’t doubt that Pujols is going to continue to be a great player for several years, but for 10 years?  I’m not so sure.  The bonus for both parties in this deal is that after 5-6 years, the Angels will be able to put him at DH, but only if Albert isn’t too proud to do it.

The other end of this is the money. $250 million dollars.  A quarter of a billion dollars.  That’s so much cheddar that I’m fairly certain Tex Richman wouldn’t go for it.  (Yes, that’s a Muppets reference.)

If the rumors are to be believed (and who knows if they are), the Cardinals were offering Pujols $22 million/year, which would have put him fourth at his position in terms of average annual salary.  Of course, the players ahead of him on that list: A. Gonzalez, M. Teixeira, R. Howard; players on the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies – the highest payrolls in baseball.  The Cardinals are not on that list.  Their payroll is significantly less than those three teams, as is most of baseball.  They simply cannot afford to put that high of a percentage of their payroll into one player, a player that may not perform as well over the last few years of the contract.

Not, in reality, the Cardinals could have afforded to overpay Pujols for a few years because, let’s be honest, given the market, they’ve been underpaying him for his whole career.  And, indeed, they were going to give him a hefty raise (150%), but it wasn’t enough.

And here’s the thing: Pujols didn’t owe the Cardinals anything.  He doesn’t.  He doesn’t owe them a “hometown discount”.  He doesn’t owe them to finish his career there.  He doesn’t owe the fan base.  He doesn’t owe the city of St. Louis.  He doesn’t owe the people that work at Pujols 5 on the west side of St. Louis.  He doesn’t even owe me for the very nice jersey that I bought not too long ago. The only people he owes anything to are his wife and kids, and I’m relatively certain he didn’t make this decision without consulting his wife on it.  That’s just the way it all goes down.

The unfortunate thing in all of this is not that he’s leaving, but that his legacy as a St. Louis Cardinal will be diminished.  Let’s say he puts together another great 10 years in Los Angeles, hangs it up and Cooperstown comes calling five years later – what goes on his plaque?  Will he be remembered as a Cardinal, or as an Angel?  He will not stand beside Stan, and Bob, and Lou on Opening Day in the future, wearing the red jacket, throwing out the first pitch.  He will just be the greatest name on a list of players who played for the Cardinals for a short time, and then moved elsewhere.  He will be historically great, but he won’t be a living legend, and it pains me to say that.  Is that worth the extra $30 million that he’ll be getting over the next decade?  I hope so because that’s the price he just put on it.

All in all, I wish him the best.  I really do.  The chances of me rooting against him are going to be pretty slim – the Cardinals rarely play the Angels, and the only time they would meet in the postseason would be in the World Series, which is unlikely to happen all that often, if at all – there’s no guarantee that either team will make it there in the next ten years.

The discussion moves on now to what the Cardinals are going to do.  They still have some needs to fill – needs that they had at the beginning of the offseason, regardless of what happened with Pujols.  Most likely, Berkman moves to first.  Allen Craig will be taking over in the outfield (assuming he recovers in time from his knee surgery, news that broke a couple days ago).  The Cardinals have the money to go after higher quality infield help, but there aren’t too many options out there right now.  It’s possible that they go after Prince Fielder, but I doubt it.  There are a couple of bottom lines here:

1) It’s certainly possible that the Cardinals can find 2-3 quality players to replace the .299/37/99 line that Pujols put up last year.  Freese is starting to come into his own.  Allen Craig can mash.  Berkman was back to form last season.  Oh, and maybe Matt Holliday won’t have so many health-related issues moving forward… you know… like a moth in his ear, appendectomy, etc.  Throw in a couple of quality middle infielders into that mix, and you’ve still got a pretty good lineup.

2) In line with that last sentence, the Cardinals are still a pretty good team.  I’m not sold on Tyler Greene at short, but that’s one position.  I like an OF of Holliday, Jay and Craig, and corner infielders of Berkman and Freese.  Even if the middle infield is some combination of Schumaker, Theriot, Greene and Descalso, that’s no worse than it was last year.  Let’s also  not forget that Yadi is still behind the dish, and they have a pretty good pitching staff as well, especially with Wainwright coming back after missing all of last season.

It totally sucks that the Cardinals lost their best player over the last decade, but they aren’t going to suddenly be battling the Cubs and Astros for the cellar of the NL Central.  Unfortunately, losing great players to free agency is just part of the game.  The key is adapting and moving forward.

All the best to Albert, but I hope he never celebrates another World Series championship, and he spends a lot of time watching his former team at the pinnacle of the sport.

Wild Things

I mentioned last week that Major League Baseball had a couple of major changes on the way, and spent some time discussing the Astros’ move to the American League. I also mentioned that there was another change that I wanted to talk about this week.

It has been decided that a second Wild Card team will be added to the playoffs. The two teams with the best non-division-winning record will face each other in a one-game playoff. This is a change that I don’t really like.

My biggest reason: September 28, 2011. On that day, neither league had its Wild Card team nailed down. Both the Cardinals-Braves and Rays-Red Sox were tied. The Cardinals easily took care of the Astros with Chris Carpenter pitching a 2-hit gem of a shutout. But later on in the evening, the Phillies came back to tie the Braves late in the game and then win in extra innings. Not long after the Phillies pulled out their win, the Red Sox blew a lead in the 9th inning to lose to the Orioles, and the Rays, just three minutes after the Red Sox lost, completed a win over the Yankees in which they trailed 7-0 going into the bottom of the 8th.

It was the single most incredible day of baseball in history. And it was just a preview of what the playoffs would look like in what was one of the best postseasons since going to the Wild Card format in 1995. But, if there were two Wild Card teams, it would have just been another uneventful final day of the season.

Now, I’m not saying that there won’t be this kind of drama with the introduction of a second Wild Card, but it’s been quite some time since three teams had a chance to make the playoffs on the last day of the season.

On the flip side, it might make the playoffs more interesting by adding the drama of a one-game round. But at what cost? It seems like it’s more of a punishment for the Wild Card. Sure, you want to reward the division winners, but don’t you already do that with home field advantage?

I’m willing to see how it plays out, but initially at least, I’m not a fan of this change.

Change is a-Comin’

Word has come out that there are going to be a couple of major changes in Major League Baseball. I’ll address one today, and the other sometime next week.

Realignment

It’s not a major realignment like we saw when baseball moved to three divisions in each league, but the Houston Astros will be moving from the NL Central to the AL West starting in the 2013 season.  It seems like a minor move; however, it has some significant ramifications.

In making the move, each league has 15 teams.  So, yes, the leagues are now balanced in terms of number of teams; however, do the math.  That means there will always be at least one interleague series going on.  Having an even number of teams in each league meant that NL-NL and AL-AL match-ups were even: 8 NL games and 7 AL games.  But now, the best you can do is 7 same league games and one interleague game, unless two teams get multiple days off in a row, which isn’t going to happen.

I don’t hate this new development.  The rules are not going to be any different than they are now regarding interleague play.  AL-hosted games will feature the DH, while NL-hosted games will not.  Though, it does make the move to league-wide DH a next inevitable step.  I know the baseball purists don’t like the idea of more interleague match-ups, but, let’s be honest here, in today’s game with so much movement due to free agency, the AL-NL rivalries are getting better, not worse.

I’m sure the old Yankees-Dodgers or Yankees-Giants rivalries were great, but there hasn’t been that kind of rivalry that has develop in the World Series in a very long time.  Any ideas on what the most recent World Series rematch?  In 1999, the Yankees played the Braves, just as they did in 1996.  Before that: ’77, ’78, ’81 – Yankees and Dodgers.  Before that: ’72 & ’90 – A’s and Reds.  Going to the next rematches: ’67 & ’04 – Cardinals and Red Sox, and ’68 & ’06 – Cardinals and Tigers.  It’s just not like it was back in the ’50’s when it seemed like the Dodgers and Giants were always playing the Yankees.  And, I’m sorry, but if you’re still stuck in the ’50’s, then it’s about time you caught up with the rest of the world.  At lot has happened since then.

Now, I will say that I do not like the idea of both leagues going to the DH.  It’s entrenched in the American League, and that’s fine, but there’s no reason why each league can’t have it’s own distinct flavors.  I know that some people would complain that no other sport has different rules for different leagues, and that’s a legitimate complaint.  However, if you want to have the same rules for each league, then we need to start talking about making the stadiums the same in each league as well.  No other sport has such a wide variety of stadiums as baseball does either.

Sure, the outside and the facilities are different, but a football field is a football field, and a basketball court is a basketball court, no matter where you go.  One of the great things about baseball is the fact that the field are so vastly different and unique.  Sure, there are some minimum requirements, but the fences are different depths and heights.  The geometry is different.  And, in some places, there are obstacles that are a pain in the rear, but still have to be dealt with by the player (like the hill in CF at the Juicebox, errr…. Minute Maid Park).

So, the Astros are moving to the AL, and we’re getting a few more interleague games (I can’t verify this right now, but I think I heard an estimate of about 30/team).  Cool.  You still want AL-NL rivalries?  They’ll develop as the teams begin to play each other more often.  You still want AL-NL league rivalries?  That’s what the World Series and All Star Game encourage.

I think this will be a good thing for baseball.  It doesn’t address all the issues that people are crying about, but it’s a start.

Let the Freak-Out Begin

Reports came out yesterday that free agent first baseman and long-time Cardinal great Albert Pujols is scheduled to meet with the Miami Marlins today.  It’s hard to believe that for the first time in his 11-year career, Albert Pujols is free to sign with any team in baseball.

Back in February, Pujols was offered a sizeable contract, but one that would not even reward him as the top-paid player at his position.  Not surprisingly, he turned it down and said that he would not talk about a new contract over the course of the season, and, true to his word, that is what happened.

The time for teams to exclusively negotiate with their free agents has been over for some time now, and Pujols is listening to offers from other teams.  Now, the Cardinal fan in me hopes that this whole situation is resolved shortly with Pujols returning to wear the Birds on the Bat for the rest of his career; however, I know that it probably will not be a quick resolution.  So, each day, there will be a collective Cardinal Nation on the verge of freaking out whenever Pujols meets with a suitor hoping to sign him.

Entitlement

In a story that came out in last week’s Boston Globe, Boston Red Sox pitcher John Lester was named, among other starting pitchers, as participating clubhouse activities during the games when they were not pitching; activities like: drinking beer, playing video games, and indulging in some fried chicken.  Recently, Lester has been saying that the report blew things out of proportion, saying that while they did occasionally drink beer, they rarely played video games and only ordered the take-out chicken three times in six months.  Regardless of the frequency of these events, the larger problem is the fact that it is being discussed at all.

Between the three starting pitcher named (Lester, Lackey and Beckett), we’re looking at about $38 million of Boston’s $160 million payroll.  Three guys that take up nearly a quarter of the team’s pay should be setting an example for the rest of the team.  Now, is that fair?  No, but welcome to the real world, where things are rarely fair.

If any other person were to have a few beers during the course of his/her workday, it would not be unreasonable to expect that person to get fired.  And yet, these professional athletes feel like it’s not that big of a deal for them to be in the clubhouse during a game, taking part in these activities.  What this reveals is a ridiculous sense of entitlement.

If you are being paid a significant amount of money as a baseball player, then you have more responsibility, not less.  You don’t get to do whatever you want; you have to set an example of what it means to be a good teammate and support the guys that are out on the field.  Would it have made a difference?  Probably not, but that’s not the point.

Now, I can hear the objections: they weren’t pitching that day; they weren’t going to go on the field at all; they had no effect on what happened on the field.  I agree.  However, again, that’s not the point.  It betrays a sense of entitlement that these guys can do whatever they want and get away with it.

Down the stretch, as the Red Sox were faltering, I (among others) thought that they would be able to turn it around, and that they would be very dangerous in the playoffs.  However, the way they played (especially compared to the Rays, who eventually caught and passed them) was with the same attitude.  You got the sense that it didn’t really matter that they lost that game, because they could just turn it on the next night and win.  But they couldn’t.

In baseball, it really is an accomplishment to get into the playoffs.  Only four teams from each league make the cut; that’s it – 8 teams in all of major league baseball make the playoffs.  It isn’t the NBA where 16 teams make it in.  It isn’t even the NFL where 12 teams are playoff bound.  If you make the playoffs, you earn it in baseball.  However, it seemed as though the Red Sox just expected their playoff spot to be handed to them, but they didn’t earn it, so they didn’t make it.

It’s easy to point the finger at all kinds of issues down the stretch for the Red Sox.  In fact, that’s exactly what the Boston Globe was trying to do in it’s article.  Everything from Francona to Epstein to beer-drinking to lack of leadership was brought up in the article.  But the underlying issue, the issue that really comes to the forefront as I look at the article and the response, is this sense of entitlement.

Nobody owes us anything in this life, especially not professional athletes.  You go out there, and you compete on a daily basis.  If you deserve to be at the top of the game, then you will earn it, but nobody is going to give it to you.

The World Series!

Tonight is Game 1 of the 2011 World Series.  It is a special year for me: I’ll actually be paying close attention to the Series.  Sure, I follow it every year, but I don’t make sure that I see every game unless my beloved Cardinals are playing, as they are this season.

Back on August 25th, the Cardinals were 10.5 games behind the Braves for the National League Wild Card.  In fact, that night, the Cardinals were playing the Pirates in St. Louis, and they were offering $0.19 bleacher seats for the game.  I thought for sure that it was the end of the season.  I figured they were raising the white flag for all to see.  But then something happened: they started winning.

All the close games that they were losing early in the season were games that they were winning now.  An offense that went dormant at times was coming to life more frequently.  Starting pitching that was iffy early in the season starting playing better.  Something was happening in St. Louis, and the Cardinals were charging forward.

On September 22nd, my dad and I went out to St. Louis to see the Cardinals take on the Mets.  Westbrook was starting the game, and he was on fire early, but then he started laboring.  The bullpen that had been so good collapsed and gave up six runs in the 8th inning, putting the Cardinals behind and seemingly destroying all the momentum they had been building.  In fact, the next day, they lost to the Cubs and found themselves 3 games behind the Wild Card leading Braves with 5 left to play.  Again, I thought the season was done.  But it wasn’t.

The Cardinals then won 4 of their last 5 games, and the Braves ended up getting swept by the Phillies, and losing two more to the Nationals.  The Cardinals went from being 3 games down to 1 game up at the end of play on the last day of the season – a day that will surely go down as one of the best in baseball history, as the Rays and Red Sox also had games that night with playoff implications.  And suddenly, the Cardinals were in the playoffs.

Nobody gave them much of a chance because their first-round opponent was the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that had a stacked rotation, and some guys that could swing the bat pretty well also.  The Phillies.  The team that swept the Braves at the end of the season, a sweep that allowed the Cardinals to storm into the playoffs.  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt.  That’s a scary rotation.  After the first game, a game in which the Cardinals jumped out to an early lead only to see it vanish in now time, most people were still confident that they were going to be swept away.  But the Cardinals prevailed in the series with a 1-0 victory in Game 5… in Philadelphia… against Roy Halladay.

Next up was the division rival Milwaukee Brewers.  Again, they took the early lead in Game 1, only to see it disappear in the blink of an eye.  And again, not a lot of people gave them a shot at winning the series.  They then went out and shut down the Brewers, who also have a strong offense.  It was an improbable series victory; a victory made all the sweeter by the fact that Brewers’ OF Nyjer Morgan, who has been a pain in the rear for the Cardinals all season, tweeted back on September 7th (and I quote directly): “Where still n 1st and I hope those crying birds injoy watching tha Crew in tha Playoffs!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!!”.  I’m pretty sure they did enjoy watching the Crew in “tha Playoffs”.

By the end of Game 6, the bullpen had pitched more innings than the starting pitchers, and had done so with an ERA nearly 5 full points lower.  The Cardinals showed that they had some pretty good bats as well, scoring 12 runs twice… in Milwaukee, the team that had the best home record in all of baseball.

And now, tonight, they begin the World Series against a very dangerous Texas Rangers team.  The difference this time – they have the home field advantage… thanks, ironically, to the Milwaukee Brewers’ first baseman Prince Fielder, who 3-run HR off… wait for it… Rangers’ C.J. Wilson… in the All Star Game, put the National League up for good and earned him All Star Game MVP.

I said at the beginning of the playoffs that my expectations for the Cardinals haven’t been this low since the 2006 playoffs.  All they did that year was become World Series champs, in spite of the fact that they only won 83 games during the season.  Am I saying that they will win their 11th World Series in 2011?  No, I’m not saying that at all.  The Rangers are a great team, and this Series is going to be a battle.  It’s going to be a great Series.  I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t go at least 6 games.  And if the Rangers win, good for them.  Again, they’re a great team and a classy organization.  I can stomach the Cardinals losing to the Rangers much more than in 2004 when they lost to the Red Sox.  If the Cardinals win, I’ll be the happiest guy around… and people will have no problem shopping for me this Christmas.

It’s been an improbable run so far for the Cardinals.  What’s four more wins?

Baseball Predictions Review

Well, the baseball regular season ended last Wednesday night, and it was one heck of a finish.  In case you missed it, Boston and Atlanta each completed their total collapse by losing the final game – a game in which each team had a lead in the 9th inning.  Thankfully, for the Braves, Boston collapsed at the same time, so the spotlight wasn’t shining as bright on them.  The flip side of the collapse is the fact that the Cardinals and Rays played their hearts out and were able to capitalize.

I wanted to take a few minutes to go over the season standings predictions that I had made over on BasesLoadedBalk (my now defunct baseball site) prior to the start of the season.  Some of it went just the way I had thought, while some of it didn’t.  Here we go:

AL East: Like everybody else, I had picked the Red Sox to win the East, and have the best record in the American League.  Like everybody else, I was wrong.  Boston ended with 90 wins on the season (I guessed 99), but that wasn’t enough for them to even get the Wild Card.  That honor went to the Tampa Bay Rays, who finished with 91 wins (me: 84).  Both teams were outpaced by a 97-win Yankee team (me: 92).  I was only a couple games off on the Blue Jays, and the Orioles were actually worse than I thought they would be, but they, predictably, finished in bottom of the division.

AL Central: Led by Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox had some serious mental lapses this season, including major free agent signing Adam Dunn having a sub-.200 season.  My pick to win the division finished 3rd with 79 wins (me: 90).  I felt like the top three teams in this division were fairly close, and for much of the year they were – only, the Indians were at the top, and the Twins were at the bottom, which is completely opposite of what I thought.  Minnesota, with their 63 wins (me: 87), could probably qualify as the most disappointing team in all of baseball this year.  FYI: only one game off on the Royals record.  This division did not turn out at all like I thought it would, with the exception of the Royals.

AL West: I wasn’t too far off here.  I picked the Rangers to win, and indeed they did, exceeding my expectations by 4 wins.  The A’s were a bit of a disappointment, finishing 3rd, and the Angels were a pleasant surprise, being in contention for the Wild Card up until the final 10 days.  The record I was closest on for this division was Seattle, whose 67 wins were 2 more than I had expected.

NL East: I didn’t think there would be a 100-win team this year, but I thought the Phillies would be close.  I picked them for 98 wins; they finished with 102.  The Braves were 4 wins better than I thought, while the Marlins were 10 wins worse.  I am proud to say that I picked the Nationals ahead of the Mets, and that is indeed where they finished.

NL Central:  I am happy to say that I picked the top 2 in this division correctly, but I had them flipped around.  The Brewers, thanks in large part to a monster August, finished 8 wins ahead of where I had them, and walked away with the division.  The Cardinals, with 2 less wins, still won the Wild Card.  The Pirates were perhaps the second-biggest surprise in the National League this year, even finding themselves atop the standings as late as July, but they collapsed at the end of the season and finished with 72 wins (me: 67).  Perhaps the biggest disappointment in all of baseball was the Houston Astros, who crossed the 100-loss barrier for the first time in franchise history, managing a measly 56 wins.  With the exception of Pittsburgh playing better than I had thought and finishing 4th in the division, I pretty well had the final order correct.

NL West: You know how the Pirates were the second-biggest surprise?  The Diamondbacks were easily the biggest.  I had them in dead last, worst in the National League, and they only finished with 94 wins and easily took the West crown.  The Giants offense struggled all season, and they were 5 wins fewer than I had guessed.  In spite of the ownership turmoil, the Dodgers put together a decent season, finishing 3 games behind what I thought, while the Rockies were much worse: 10 games off on the win total.  The San Diego Padres were the team that I was closest on this season, finishing with 71 wins, compared to the 72 that I thought they’d get.

Awards: While the awards will not be announced until after the World Series, I can say, without a doubt, that the only one I may be close on is Roy Halladay for the NL Cy Young.  My AL manager of the year basically got fired (Francona).  With the Diamondbacks surging out of nowhere, I don’t think there is any doubt that Kirk Gibson will win NL Manager (over LaRussa).  C.C. had a good year, but Verlander will take the AL Cy Young.  My MVP picks (Youkilis and Pujols) will be nowhere near the Top 3 in their respective leagues.

All this being said, I did correctly select the Yankees and Rangers to make the playoffs, as well as the Phillies, Brewers and Cardinals.  This was certainly a fun endeavor, and look for more baseball predictions that are sure to go wrong in 2012!