Baseball Is Awesome

If you missed last’s action around the league, let’s let the win probability graphs from FanGraphs do the talking:

Starting with Phillies-Braves…

The St. Louis Cardinals, vying with the Braves for the NL Wild Card, beat the pulp out of the Houston Astros 8-0. As a result, the Braves needed to win to force a one-game playoff on Thursday, their only hopes for the post-season. The Braves were up 3-1 going into the seventh, but the Phillies started to chip away. They scored once in the seventh and tied the game against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth. Hunter Pence broke the tie in the 13th with a BABIP-fueled RBI infield single in the hole between first and second. David Herndon nailed down the bottom-half for the save, dashing the Braves’ playoff hopes.

At one point in mid-August, the Braves had 26 more wins than losses and appeared to be locks for the post-season. In September, the Braves lost 18 of 27 games while the Cardinals won 18 of 26. Simply put, the Braves ran out of gas — and healthy players. The Braves’ loss was the Phillies’ 102nd win of the season, setting a new franchise record for wins in the regular season, beating the 101 wins of the 1976 and ’77 Phillies.

Meanwhile, the Yankees-Rays game wasn’t too interesting. The Yankees took a 7-0 lead, putting the Rays’ fate firmly in the hands of the Boston Red Sox, who were playing the Baltimore Orioles. In the eighth inning, Yankees relievers Boone Logan and Luis Ayala had complete meltdowns. Logan allowed all three hitters he faced to reach base, departing with the bases loaded. Ayala forced in two runs with a walk and a hit batter, followed by one more on a sacrifice fly. With two outs, Evan Longoria capped the inning with a three-run home run to bring the Rays within one run at 7-6. Suddenly, it was a game. The reset button was pushed with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Dan Johnson — who hadn’t reached base via a hit since April 27 — hit a home run down the left field line to tie the game and breathe life back into the Rays’ playoff hopes.

Over in Baltimore, the Red Sox had gone up 3-2 thanks to a Dustin Pedroia solo home run in the fifth. The score held going into the bottom of the ninth inning as the Orioles attempted to rally against closer Jonathan Papelbon. At the same time, the Rays and Yankees were going back and forth, the score holding at seven apiece as the game went deeper and deeper into extra innings. Papelbon retired the first two Orioles he faced on strikeouts, giving Red Sox Nation confidence that they would at least have the opportunity to have a direct fight with the Rays for post-season rights.

The 68-93 Orioles weren’t going down without a fight. Chris Davis doubled on a line drive down the right field line. Nolan Reimold promptly doubled to right-center, tying the game at threes. The Rays fans in Tropicana Field went nuts when they heard the news. Moments later, Robert Andino singled to left. The ball was misplayed by Carl Crawford, allowing Reimold to score the winning run uncontested.

How did that feel? Have a look at the graph:

No more than three minutes later in Tampa with Scott Proctor on the bump, Longoria hit a solo home run down the left field line to clinch the AL Wild Card for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Like the Braves with the NL Wild Card, the Red Sox at one point appeared to be locks for the AL Wild Card. In fact, the Sox were in first place in the AL East as recently as September 1. However, their September was even worse than the Braves’, winning just seven of 27 games. The Rays won 17 of 27, including their last five games to finish out the season. If you thought the Mets’ collapse in 2007 was bad, the Braves and Red Sox arguably exceeded that — in the same season.

One night after we saw this dramatic comeback…

… we were treated to three. On the same night. As it pertains to the AL Wild Card, within minutes of each other. Each game had drastic playoff implications.

I don’t think it would be outrageous to say that Wednesday, September 28, 2011 was the wildest day of baseball in history, all things considered. Cherish what you witnessed on that day; you will go a long time before witnessing something like that again.

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11 comments

  1. Daniel

    September 29, 2011 12:22 AM

    Bill, thanks for staying up and providing such great analysis. It’s sincerely appreciated. Today was a great day in the Baseball world. Like you said a couple of posts ago, the nerds already won, and I think this September was only more evidence of that with the rise of the Rays for instance.

    However, even with all the data we have in the information age as pertains to sports, you can’t beat nights like tonight. What a game in Atlanta! What a game in Tampa and Baltimore! What a way to set franchise records.

    Go Little Red Machine, Go!

  2. hk

    September 29, 2011 07:16 AM

    Awesome is an understatement. Thankfully, baseball hasn’t implemented the second Wild Card yet.

  3. hk

    September 29, 2011 07:47 AM

    I give a lot of credit to the Baltimore Orioles for playing as hard as they did. I wonder whether the mid-season David Ortiz / Kevin Gregg bench clearing brawl gave the Orioles a little more incentive to beat Boston than your typical last place team might have while playing out the string.

  4. Rob

    September 29, 2011 10:57 AM

    Amazing night.

    What happened to the Red Sox should remind us that stacking your team with top notch talent doesn’t guarantee anything and make us that much more appreciative of the Phils’ season.

  5. Buzzsaw

    September 29, 2011 11:27 AM

    We need to somehow combine the two and do a minute-by-minute track on the Red Sox chance to make the playoffs. Should be quite a cliff they fell off at the end since both games ended within minutes of each other.

  6. hk

    September 29, 2011 12:42 PM

    When the Red Sox went into the clubhouse for the rain delay and the Rays were trailing 7-0 in the 7th, the odds that their season would end last night had to be 1 in 3,000 or less.

  7. Css228

    September 29, 2011 05:26 PM

    exactly HK, why do you need a wild card when you’ve got this

  8. LTG

    September 29, 2011 06:19 PM

    As I understand it, trying to guarantee more competitive races is only part of the justification for adding a wild card team. Another part is to account for the unfairness of the divisional structure.

    Also, with a second wc we would have had races up to the last series in both leagues, and those races would have been monitored for longer since they would have been close for longer. Perhaps the drama would not have been as high this year, but the same last-minute situation could arise in the 5 team format anyway under different conditions.

    Nothing that happened last night, which was awesome, obviated the question of a second wc.

  9. hk

    September 30, 2011 06:42 AM

    LTG,

    That’s why I used the word “yet”. Clearly, in future years, the season could come down to two teams in each league playing for that 5th Wild Card entering game 162. Having said that, 2 divisions in each league with 2 Wild Cards or eliminating divisions and having the top 4 in each league make the post-season would increase the fairness and keep the playoffs with only 8 teams instead of 10.

  10. Jim

    September 30, 2011 06:50 AM

    On the bright side for Sox fans, they only had to root for the Yankees for three minutes…

  11. Phillie697

    September 30, 2011 08:52 AM

    More teams in the post-season = worse post-season play. That’s just logic; you’re allowing teams with less talent into bonus play. Yes adding more WC team will not prevent what happened Wed. night from happening, nor will it make Wed. night happen more frequently; I don’t know why people would argue about either side.

    But at some point, how enjoyable is it when the 5th WC team knocks out the league-leading team? The more WCs you add, the more likely that will happen, as you multiply the chance of what we have coined “crapshoot” to happen. I’m against adding more WC because the only peoeple who it truly benefits long-term is the people making money off of baseball: the owners. It won’t benefit the fans or the players the least bit.

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