The 2007 MLB Awards Bonanza

It’s just about time for the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to turn in their ballots for the yearly Major League Baseball awards. And it is also the time for us bloggers to opine on how staggeringly dumb some of these writers are by casting our own votes on the awards.

At this awards show, no one will be censored like Sally Field.

Sally Field

Some notes about how I determine the winners…

I make heavy use of Sabermetrics, and light to no use of “traditional” statistics like wins and losses, saves, batting average, and the like.

In addition, I intentionally do not take into account the player’s team and whether or not they have been in contention. It is my belief that a player’s contributions on a failing team are worth just as much, if not more than another player’s contributions on a winning team. This is a debate that always pops up around this time of year, so feel free to try to change my mind on it.

The statistics I do use can be found on websites like Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times, and Baseball Reference, among others. I will provide links to both the explanation of the statistic and to the page(s) I pulled the information from. I am using the statistics that are currently up on those websites as of September 20 at 10 AM EST, so it’s highly likely that the values will differ from the ones I will list.

Without any further ado, let’s dole out the trophies.

American League Most Valuable Player: Alex Rodriguez

Even using “traditional” statistics, this award is likely the easiest for which to decide the winner. “Pay-Rod” is fourth in the American League in on-base percentage (.416), first in slugging percentage (.646), first in OPS (1.062), first in runs scored (134), first in total bases (354), first in home runs (52), first in runs batted in (142), and eighth in walks (86).

Add to that his 89.0 VORP that leads the Majors, .427 PMLVr that ranks second, .337 EqA that ranks first in the American League, and 149 runs created that also ranks first.

Congratulations, Mr. Rodriguez, you have easily earned the AL MVP award in a year in which most expected you to fail, and still some expect you to fail when the Yankees reach the post-season.

National League Most Valuable Player: Hanley Ramirez

To non-Sabermetric-using baseball fans, my choice of Ramirez is suspect. He does not lead the league in any “traditional” statistical categories. He ranks 12th in the National League in on-base percentage (.390), sixth in slugging percentage (.568), and eighth in OPS (.958). However, he does rank second in the NL in runs (116) and hits (197), third in total bases (336) and stolen bases (50), and fourth in doubles (43) and extra-base hits (77).

Others have cited Prince Fielder, Matt Holliday, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins as the deserving winner of the NL MVP award. Let’s take a look at some Sabermetrics.

He’s second in the Majors in VORP (89.0) behind Alex Rodriguez, his RAP ranks first in the National League (50.2), and his PMLVr ranks second in Major League Baseball (.427) — higher than Alex Rodriguez (the leader is his teammate, Jorge Posada).

It’s true that Ramirez’s defense needs improvement. He ranks last among qualified shortstops in the National League with a .776 RZR.

However, his offensive contributions, especially compared to his shortstop brethren, outweigh his below-average defense.

And, as I mentioned, the fact that the Marlins are last in the National League East division (65-87, 19.5 GB) is not something I consider.

American League Cy Young Award: C.C. Sabathia

Josh Beckett seems to be the favorite for this award, and I don’t know why. Sure, he leads the Major Leagues in wins, but that statistic tells you next to nothing. He’s got the fourth-best WHIP (1.129), sixth-best ERA (3.20) and the eighth-best strikeouts total (180) in the American League in 188.7 innings. Let’s have a look at Sabathia.

Sabathia has the sixth-best WHIP (1.145), seventh-best ERA (3.21), and the fourth-best strikeouts total (198) in the American League in 227 innings (tops in the league) — nearly more than 38 innings more than Beckett.

On the Sabermetric side of things, Sabathia is second in the Majors in VORP (63.4), behind only Jake Peavy. He has put up these great numbers while pitching in the most innings and despite an unluckily-high .317 BABIP.

In addition, Sabathia leads the American League with 128 PRC, and only trails Beckett by five-hundredths of a point in FIP (.323).

National League Cy Young Award: Jake Peavy

This award, like the AL MVP, is an easy one. Peavy leads the National League in quite a few “traditional” statistical categories, including ERA (2.39), WHIP (1.044), and strikeouts (225). He becomes even more impressive with the use of Sabermetrics. He also ranks sixth in innings pitched (203).

His 72.1 VORP not only leads Major League pitchers by far, but would rank fifth in the Majors if we include hitters. He leads the National League in PRC (138) and FIP by far (2.62).

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American League Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Guthrie

This one was tough to pick, as there wasn’t any really great candidates in the American League. Dustin Pedroia was my #2 pick, but I declined him because he’s simply a singles and doubles hitter with average defense.

Jeremy Guthrie has had a good year for a decrepit Baltimore Orioles team. He doesn’t have Cy Young statistics at all (3.65 ERA, 1.204 WHIP, but he does have a higher VORP than any other American League rookie (37.9) with the exception of Brian Bannister. Guthrie leads Bannister in PRC 79-72.

After Erik Bedard (a Cy Young candidate), Guthrie is the Orioles’ #2 pitcher and he looks to be a promising find for the team.

National League Rookie of the Year: Ryan Braun

Another easy pick. He, by far, leads Major League rookies in VORP (50.6) and, if not for Prince Fielder, is the Milwaukee Brewers’ MVP. He has put up in 405 at-bats what 95% of Major Leaguers can’t do in 600 at-bats. 31 home runs, 85 runs batted in, a .370 on-base percentage, a .637 slugging percentage, and a 1.007 OPS.

Let’s say Braun has the 548 at-bats A-Rod has (Braun played in his first MLB game on May 25, missing about the first two months). His home runs and runs batted in above translate to 42 and 115, respectively.

His .319 EqA ranks eighth in the National League, and his 28.0 RAP ranks fourth behind some excellent third basemen: David Wright, Chipper Jones, and Miguel Cabrera.

Braun’s defense is lacking — just a .565 RZR, easily last in the National League among qualified third basemen– but not even that makes the award’s recipient a tough call.

American League Manager of the Year: Joe Torre

His team has the fourth-best record in the American League, and Eric Wedge is deserving, too, but with what Torre has had to deal with following his team’s dismal first two months (22-29, 13.5 GB in fourth place in the AL East), he has done a remarkable job since (66-35, .653).

The starting pitching was falling apart. Mike Mussina might be done after this season. Roger Clemens wasn’t what they expected him to be. Kei Igawa bombed. Their best pitching prospect, Philip Hughes, got injured in the midst of a perfect game. None of their young pitchers did a good job filling in. They have used 28 different starting pitchers this season.

And there was the offense. Robinson Cano, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, and Melky Cabrera all weren’t hitting for a while. Damon didn’t appear to be able to play center field effectively anymore, so Torre switched him to left field and moved Cabrera to center. Giambi was injured from the end of May until the beginning of August, so they’ve had to plug in Doug Mientkiewicz and Andy Phillips at first base. Nobody on the bench has really contributed much.

Yet the Yankees have the Major League-best offense, and their pitching is still middle-of-the-pack.

After the media was calling for George Steinbrenner to give him the boot in favor of Joe Girardi, Torre has earned the AL Manager of the Year award.

National League Manager of the Year: Charlie Manuel

Like Torre, Charlie Manuel has had a ton of injuries, a bad pitching staff, and media scrutiny to deal with all season long.

In this article, I listed the 15 Phillies to be put on the disabled list at the time. Since then, Cole Hamels missed time with a strained left elbow, and Antonio Alfonseca was described by Manuel as “out of gas.”

Manuel has had to make do with a horrible bullpen that GM Pat Gillick failed to improve during the off-season. In fact, the bullpen was so lousy that Manuel moved then-starter Brett Myers to the set-up role for Tom Gordon (Myers became the closer when Gordon was injured).

Myers’ statistics as a closer: 45.2 IP, 1.226 WHIP, 2.96 ERA, 56 K, 16 BB, 17 saves in 20 opportunities.

In addition, despite the injuries to 2005 Rookie of the Year and 2006 NL MVP Ryan Howard, 2007 MVP candidate Chase Utley, speedster Shane Victorino, and a horrid first-half for Pat Burrell, the Phillies have, by far, the National League’s best offense. First in runs, triples, walks, hit batsmen, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Second in at-bats, hits, doubles, home runs, and stolen bases.

When the Phillies lost to the Mets on April 17, Charlie Manuel blew up at “journalist” Howard Eskin during the post-game press conference, the team dropped to a 3-9 record, quickly 5.5 games behind the Mets for fourth place in the NL East. Now, the Phillies are 12-games above .500 — an 18-game swing — and are battling for playoff berths in either the NL East or in the Wild Card, as they are 2.5 GB the Mets and Padres, respectively.

Honorable mention to Bud Black, but this award isn’t even close — Manuel in a landslide. The Phillies should look to re-sign him at least for another season to finish out Gillick’s tenure (that is, if Gillick does come back for the 2008 season).

American League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award: J.J. Putz
His line: 66 IP, 0.667 WHIP, 72 K, 12 BB, 1.36 ERA

Add to that a 315 ERA+, a 34.5 VORP (behind only Rafael Betancourt and Matt Guerrier among relievers), and his 95.9 LOB%best among qualified relievers — as well.

National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award: Carlos Marmol

His line: 64.2 IP, 1.098 WHIP, 89 K, 33 BB, 1.25 ERA

Add to that a 364 ERA+, a 33.2 VORP (best among NL relievers), and his 91.3 LOB% — behind only Takashi Saito among NL relievers — as well.

American League Gold Glove Awards

Format: Name, (RZR, OOZ) except for catchers (FPct, Assists) and pitchers (regular ZR, and RF)

C: Kenji Johjima (.998, 52)
1B: Kevin Youkilis (.835, 21)
2B: Aaron Hill (.876, 53)
3B: Brandon Inge (.711, 62)
SS: Tony Pena (.846, 68)
OF: Curtis Granderson (.921, 83)
OF: Coco Crisp (.910, 56)
OF: Torii Hunter (.897, 44)
P: Roy Halladay (1.000, 2.19)

National League Gold Glove Awards

C: Russell Martin (.989, 84)
1B: Albert Pujols (.846, 49)
2B: Chase Utley (.876, 47)
3B: David Wright (.699, 78)
SS: Troy Tulowitzki (.858, 82)
OF: Andruw Jones (.924, 78)
OF: Eric Byrnes (.918, 46)
OF: Carlos Beltran (.910, 62)
P: Roy Oswalt (1.000, 2.37)

American League Silver Slugger Awards

Format: Name (PMLVr)

C: Jorge Posada (.464)
1B: Carlos Pena (.263)
2B: Placido Polanco (.223)
3B: Alex Rodriguez (.427)
SS: Carlos Guillen (.178)
OF: Magglio Ordonez (.395)
OF: Vladimir Guerrero (.273)
OF: Curtis Granderson (.243)
DH: David Ortiz (.376)

National League Silver Slugger Awards

C: Russell Martin (.244)
1B: Albert Pujols (.283)
2B: Chase Utley (.365)
3B: Chipper Jones (.426)
SS: Hanley Ramirez (.394)
OF: Matt Holliday (.332)
OF: Barry Bonds (.365)
OF: Adam Dunn (.259)
P: Micah Owings (.245)

There you have it. Feel free to chime in with your picks, or tell me why I’m wrong.

Cardinals-Phillies by the Numbers

In case you missed it, the Phillies came out victorious in one of the most exciting games of the season (after that 11-10 win over the Mets).

Fangraphs

0 – Number of reasons for ever having Abraham Nunez in the lineup

1 – Number of Rod Barajas’ at-bats, hits, runs, and RBI

1 – Number of position players still available in the 14th inning — Rod Barajas, who delivered the game-winning RBI single

1 – Number of Cardinal extra-base hits

1.5 – Number of games the Phillies trail the Mets and Padres by in the NL East and Wild Card, respectively

2 – Number of pinch-runners used each by the Phillies and Cardinals

2 – Number of triples and stolen bases for Jayson Werth (the last person to achieve this feat in the same game was Larry Walker in 1996)

2 – Number of pitchers used by Tony LaRussa to pinch-run

2 – Number of blown saves in this game

3 – Number of 14th inning runs the Phillies scored

3 – Number of innings the Phillies’ ace pitched in his return from the disabled list

3 – Number of pinch-hitters used by the Cardinals

3 – Number of Cardinals pitchers who were in the game, but did not pitch (Wainwright as a pinch-hitter; Reyes and Piniero as pinch-runners)

4 – Number of Phillies relievers used after Cole Hamels to not yield any runs

4 – Number of hits the Phillies had through 12 innings of play

5 – Number of hitless at-bats for Ryan Howard

5 – Number of pinch-hitters used by the Phillies

5 – Number of consecutive losses for the Mets

6 – Number of Phillies fans confident in Jose Mesa when he came in to pitch in the 12th and 13th innings

6 – Number of consecutive wins for the Phillies

6 – Number of catchers used (Ruiz, Coste, Barajas, LaForest; Molina, Stinnett)

7 – Number of people still awake watching the game at its conclusion, around 1:15 AM EST

8 – Number of total hits in the game for the Phillies in 49 at-bats

8 – Number of pitchers used by the Phillies

8 – Number of combined pinch-hitters used

9 – Number of strikeouts from the Phillies’ #1-5 hitters

9 – Number of Phillies relievers to earn a save this season (Clay Condrey earned it in this particular game)

10 – Number of scoreless innings pitched by the Phillies bullpen (Myers allowed one run in the 10th inning)

11 – Number of pitchers used by the Cardinals, a National League record

19 – Number of total pitchers used by both teams

21 – Number of scoreless innings of 28

25 – Number of Phillies players used

28 – Number of Cardinal players used, tying the National League record

53 – Number of combined players used, tying the National League record

168 – Number of days passed since the Phillies were this close to the lead in the NL East

304 – Number of minutes the game lasted

481 – Number of combined pitches thrown

42,170 – Paid attendance at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO

Why?

I’ve been doing some thinking lately (not a frequent activity of mine), and I have some questions that need some answers. Maybe my readers can help me out.

Warning for those with weak stomachs: Heavy political content.

Why do we get upset when head coaches spy on their opponents

…but hardly anyone gets upset when the government starts spying on its own people via wiretap, seizing personal records (bank and library, for example), among other methods?

Why do we get upset when an athlete tortures dogs

…but applaud the government torturing human beings for political reasons?

Why do we get upset when managers leave pitchers in too long

…but no one takes action when the President leaves the troops in the Middle East too long?

Why do we get upset when the commissioner hands out ridiculous punishments to athletes and coaches

…but it’s A-okay to hand out ridiculous punishments to Americans and foreigners alike if you are merely suspected — not proven — to be involved with terrorism?

Why do we get choked up when Kevin Everett suffers a life-altering neck injury

…but say nary a word about the kids being paralyzed and killed in a meaningless war?

Why do we feel sorry for the disabled NFL players who aren’t getting enough disability coverage from the NFL players union

…but continue to shoot down socialized health care in the United States?

Why do we insist at least one minority be interviewed for a head coaching position

…but continue to send out two majorities from which to nominate the U.S. President?

Why do we criticize the Florida Marlins front office for not planning for an obviously upcoming problem

…but give our government a free pass when they failed to prepare for Hurricane Katrina?

Why do we detest athletes and coaches who make public their worship of a deity

…but watch from the sidelines as Christians try to put prayer back in public schools, have creationism taught alongside evolution, and religious dogma hung on courthouse walls?

Why do we frown at fights between fans of different teams

…but attribute fights between sects in Iraq to business-as-usual?

Why did we shake our heads when Latrell Sprewell said “I have a family to feed” in reference to his contract situation…

…but didn’t bat an eye when our Congresspeople voted for a payraise for themselves?

Why do we demand to hear the truth from Bud Selig about the Steroid Era

…but didn’t demand the truth from the Bush administration for many of their wrongdoings?

Why did we lose respect for Tony LaRussa and when he was found intoxicated in an automobile

…but didn’t lose respect for Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) when he crashed his car into a barricade as a result of being on prescription drugs?

Switching it in reverse before I sign off!

Why did we petition for a Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown for Pete Rose amid his gambling issue

…but have said nothing about Congress “severely limiting” online poker?

Hopefully, I will find out answers to these questions. I’m not trying to diminish that about which we are vocal, but I think it’s interesting to note where our priorities lie.

What’s Wrong in Florida?

As the Marlins play their final 16 games of the 2007 regular season, they guarantee themselves no more than 79 wins — a losing season. It will be their second straight losing season just four years removed from their second World Series championship in their 15-year history.

The Marlins have never been known for their devoted fan base, but they have ranked among the leaders in attendance early in the club’s history, but have since fallen on hard times. As the Palm Beach Post notes about the Nationals-Marlins game on Wednesday:

Forget the announced attendance of 10,121 for the Marlins-Nationals game at Dolphin Stadium. When Byung-Hyun Kim threw the first pitch, 375 spectators could be seen.

As they say, pictures speak louder than words, and boy, does this picture scream for the Marlins to take their business elsewhere:

Click to enlarge

A look at the Marlins’ attendance and their rank among the other National League teams (information on the Marlins team pages on Baseball Reference):

1993: 3,064,847 (5th out of 14)
1994: 1,937,467 (6th out of 14)
1995: 1,700,466 (8th out of 14)
1996: 1,746,767 (10th out of 14)
1997: 2,364,387 (5th out of 14)
1998: 1,730,384 (13th out of 16)
1999: 1,369,421 (15th out of 16)
2000: 1,218,326 (15th out of 16)
2001: 1,261,226 (15th out of 16)
2002: 813,118 (15th out of 16)
2003: 1,303,215 (15th out of 16)
2004: 1,723,105 (14th out of 16)
2005: 1,852,608 (15th out of 16)
2006: 1,164,134 (16th out of 16)
2007: 1,230,162 (16th out of 16)

The only team that ranks lower than the Marlins among all of the teams in Major League Baseball this season is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Marlins’ stately “brother.” Unlike the Marlins, however, the Rays haven’t had even one winning season in their ten years of existence (and have clinched another losing season this year), let alone two World Series championships.

It’s not as if either team has been boring to watch. The Marlins have had Gary Sheffield, Edgar Renteria, Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, Cliff Floyd Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell, A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, Josh Beckett, Carl Pavano, Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Willingham, Scott Olsen, Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, and the list will go on. You can even count the overrated Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo as exciting players that have played for the Marlins.

And to continue the name-dropping, the Rays have had Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla, Greg Vaughn , Dwight Gooden (albeit at the end of their careers), Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Aubrey Huff, Scott Kazmir, Danys Baez, Joey Gathright, James Shields, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, Akinori Iwamura, along with Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young (exciting more so for their antics than their play).

The Rays’ attendance figures and ranks:

1998: 2,506,293 (7th out of 14)
1999: 1,562,827 (10th out of 14)
2000: 1,449,673 (13th out of 14)
2001: 1,298,365 (14th out of 14)
2002: 1,065,742 (14th out of 14)
2003: 1,058,695 (14th out of 14)
2004: 1,274,911 (14th out of 14)
2005: 1,141,669 (14th out of 14)
2006: 1,368,950 (14th out of 14)
2007: 1,220,212 (14th out of 14)

Both teams have had talent, but both have failed to fill the seats.

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on the Marlins and their issues with both Major League Baseball and the city of Miami in regards to financing a new stadium, and the possible relocation to another city.

The Devil Rays also have a subpar stadium. As the St. Petersburg Times reported in March of 2005:

A random Times telephone survey of 400 Tampa Bay area baseball fans found 45 percent do not plan to attend games this season. Twenty percent of those said the reason was the Trop’s location – tied for the top answer with “I’m too old.”

The Marlins have been hamstrung by a stingy ownership that has kept the team payroll in the bottom rung among Major League Baseball teams, resulting in the well-known “firesales” following their World Series championships. The Rays, too, have been among the bottom-feeders payroll-wise. A look at both teams’ payrolls over the years and their ranks (information courtesy USAToday.com):

Florida Marlins

1993: $ 18,196,545 (25th out of 28)
1994: $ 20,275,500 (25th out of 28)
1995: $ 23,670,000 (25th out of 28)
1996: $ 30,079,500 (15th out of 28)
1997: $ 47,753,000 (7th out of 28)
1998: $ 33,434,000 (20th out of 30)
1999: $ 15,150,000 (30th out of 30)
2000: $ 19,870,000 (29th out of 30)
2001: $ 35,562,500 (26th out of 30)
2002: $ 41,979,917 (25th out of 30)
2003: $ 48,750,000 (25th out of 30)
2004: $ 42,143,042 (25th out of 30)
2005: $ 60,408,834 (19th out of 30)
2006: $ 14,998,500 (30th out of 30)
2007: $ 30,507,000 (29th out of 30)

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

1998: $ 25,317,500 (25th out of 30)
1999: $ 37,812,500 (21st out of 30)
2000: $ 64,407,910 (10th out of 30)
2001: $ 56,980,000 (19th out of 30)
2002: $ 34,380,000 (30th out of 30)
2003: $ 19,630,000 (30th out of 30)
2004: $ 29,556,667 (29th out of 30)
2005: $ 29,679,067 (30th out of 30)
2006: $ 35,417,967 (29th out of 30)
2007: $ 24,123,500 (30th out of 30)

So, the necessary question is: Do the two Floridian teams need a change of scenery, a change in ownership, or both?

Save the Internet!

Imagine one day calling a hospital to talk with your friend who is recovering from surgery, and not being able to complete the call because you and/or the hospital did not subscribe to the phone company’s “premium package.”

Or, imagine that you are only allowed to use a certain amount of electricity per day because you haven’t yet upgraded to the electric company’s “elite power package.”

Terrible, isn’t it? But that is what they’re trying to do with the Internet.

From CBSNews.com:

The Justice Department on Thursday said Internet service providers should be allowed to charge a fee for priority Web traffic.

The agency told the Federal Communications Commission, which is reviewing high-speed Internet practices, that it is opposed to “Net neutrality,” the principle that all Internet sites should be equally accessible to any Web user.

Several phone and cable companies, such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp., have previously said they want the option to charge some users more money for loading certain content or Web sites faster than others.

This has already been occurring in small instances, most recently with Comcast. As the Washington Post writes:

Comcast has punished some transgressors by cutting off their Internet service, arguing that excessive downloaders hog Internet capacity and slow down the network for other customers. The company declines to reveal its download limits.

Remember when the Internet wasn’t a highway of commerce, when it belonged to and was financed by the public? The Internet was only recently commercialized and now the corporations are trying to funnel as much money out of your bank account as they can.

It’s not enough that companies like Comcast and Verizon offer three-in-one packages that include television, telephone, and Internet, with the former two running your bill into the $200-300 range. Now they want to inflate that bill even more from the $20-40 monthly rate for broadband Internet into the stratosphere with cable and telephone. And they have a near-monopoly on the market, so you almost have no choice but to open your wallet upside-down at the steps of their corporate offices.

The Internet is the last virgin entity of freedom. Let’s keep it that way.

Further reading:

The corporations own everything else. Fight to let us keep our Internet.


Save the Net Now

Phillies Bullpen Isn’t to Blame for This Loss

In poker, you can be at the top of your game, making no mistakes and capitalizing on your opponents’ weaknesses and miscues, but still end up losing. When that happens, you abdicate your chair, shake your opponent’s hand, tell him “nice hand,” and mutter “That’s poker” back to the bar to drown your sorrows.

The same holds true in baseball. Wednesday’s Braves-Phillies game is one of the few where the box score doesn’t tell the whole story. To the many Phillies and Braves fans who stopped watching the game once it was “out of reach” at 8-2 in the top of the 8th inning, the box score will tell you that Tom Gordon and Brett Myers combined for an impressive performance in blowing a six-run lead.

Sure, Gordon did give up a legitimate lead-off double to Chipper Jones. But the three singles that followed were flukey in every sense of the word. After getting Mark Teixeira to fly out to right field, catcher Brian McCann hit a fly ball to shallow right-center field, and neither Aaron Rowand nor Chris Roberson could reach it, and it fell for a single. Jeff Francoeur followed in similar fashion, blooping an end-of-the-bat single to the shallow outfield, well in front of Roberson, allowing Jones to score. As if the game was a perpetual torture machine, Scott Thorman gave us an encore with a bloop single in the dreaded “Bermuda Triangle” between left-fielder Jayson Werth, Rowand, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Things were getting tense, but it’s only 8-3… but it was also a save situation (the tying run is on-deck), so in came closer Brett Myers, who wasted no time in letting the Braves’ fourth run cross home plate by throwing his first pitch in the dirt in front of new catcher Carlos Ruiz. Showing no command, Myers threw three more balls to Yunel Escobar to give him a free ticket to first base.

To Myers’ credit, he made a good pitch to the next hitter, Matt Diaz. He got it on on his fists, and the ball had little momentum, but just enough to get past the pitcher in-between the third baseman and shortstop. One of those flukey base hits again, this one scored Francoeur to make it 8-5. Myers’ lack of command flared up again, walking Willie Harris and forcing in Thorman for an 8-6 bid. Kelly Johnson helped him by fouling out to third base early in the count, and frustrated Chipper Jones by throwing him two straight 3-2 curveballs to fly out to left-center.

To Phillies fans, watching that inning was like passing a kidney stone. And it wasn’t over. Just for the added suspense, what I am about to describe happened after Myers easily retired the first two batters, Mark Teixeira and Brayan Pena.

Braves fluke hits

Francoeur grounded a ball past third baseman Abraham Nunez, just deep enough in the hole so that Rollins couldn’t get enough on the throw to beat Francoeur at first base. Martin Prado came up to the plate and chopped the ball off of home plate. Phillies fans held their breath as Myers and catcher Ruiz stared up into the sky for a good three seconds — enough to ensure an infield single for Prado. The ball had to have richocheted off of home plate into the air at least 50 feet. At this point, Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas was having an aneurysm, and Phillies fans were having flashbacks of the Craig Biggio homerun off of Billy Wagner (spooky — it was almost two years ago to the day). To add insult to injury, Myers walked Yunel Escobar, putting the tying run at second base, and the winning run at first base.

Matt Diaz would be the last batter to swing his bat, ripping the deathblow to right field, off of Chris Roberson’s glove, scoring all three Braves baserunners.

So, in the 8th, the Braves had one legitimate hit (Jone’s double), four flukey hits (McCann, Francoeur, Thorman, and Diaz), a wild pitch, and two walks. In the 9th, the Braves had one legitimate hit that should have been caught (Diaz’s walk-off), two flukey hits (Francoeur and Prado), and a walk.

I can’t blame the bullpen for this loss. I can’t blame Charlie Manuel, either. I blame Lady Luck for choosing the Braves. Maybe she was sympathetic to Chipper Jones’ cause.

As for what the win could have meant for the Phillies, the Mets lost and so did the Padres, Rockies, and Dodgers. The only team the Phillies wouldn’t have picked up or gained ground on were the Diamondbacks, who beat the Padres. Instead, the Phillies have 5 games to pick up in the East, and 3 games in the Wild Card with 23 games to go. They can earn a playoff berth thusly:

Assuming the Mets go 12-11 in their final 23, the Phillies would have to finish the season 18-5 to win the East.

Assuming the Diamondbacks win the NL West, the Padres go 12-11 in their final 23, and no one else in the Wild Card chase picks up ground, the Phillies would have to finish the season 16-7 to win the Wild Card.

Assuming the Padres win the NL West, the Diamondbacks go 11-10 in their final 21, and no one else in the Wild Card chase picks up ground, the Phillies would have to finish the season 17-6 to win the Wild Card.

There’s always next year.

The World’s Tiniest Violin Plays for the Atlanta Braves… Again

Back on August 13, I wrote about the Atlanta Braves’ whining following a 5-3 loss at the hands of a Ryan Howard three-run homerun. Manager Bobby Cox and right fielder Jeff Francoeur complained about the dimensions of Citizens Bank Park, a tactic not foreign to the Tomahawks — John Smoltz loves to hate the “bandbox,” too.

But tonight, the Braves lost by a similar margin, 5-2, to the Phillies and starter Kyle Lohse, who went six and two-thirds innings, allowing only two runs — both at the hands of Chipper Jones. But was that enough for Larry? Of course not. It wasn’t Buddy Carlyle’s fault he went only one and two-thirds innings in the loss, and it wasn’t the Braves’ fault for getting 10 baserunners on base and only scoring 2 of them. It’s the home plate umpire’s fault they lost.

Courtesy FOXSports.com, we have a gem from Mr. Jones:

The first pitch to me with the bases loaded was in my batter’s box, inside. Now you tell me how I’m supposed to hit that. We have to get Questec here in this ballpark. We’ve got to. Umpires have got to be held accountable. That’s Little League World Series stuff right there.

It’s a joke. I’m tired of it. And baseball can fine me whatever they want. I do not care. Somebody’s got to say something. I’ve got more walks than strikeouts in my career – I know what a strike looks like.

You’re going to see frustration from now on as long as the officiating is abysmal. Major League Baseball ought to be ashamed. It’s abysmal. It’s awful. Not all of them but some of them. It’s awful.

Are Jones’ complaints valid? Let’s look at a screenshot of the at-bat on MLB Gameday:

Chipper Jones

Yes, the first pitch was a ball, but it was close. If MLB Gameday is accurate, part of the pitch went across the plate, if only a sliver.

Jones’ complaints are nothing more than [warning: amateur psychoanalysis] pent-up frustration from a season gone awry as a result of the Braves winning only 6 of their last 19 game, and now 8.5 games behind the Mets in the NL East, and 5.5 games behind in the Wild Card. After 14 straight seasons of making the postseason from 1991-2005 (excluding the strike-shortened ’94 season), losing is probably an unpleasant foreign concept to Chipper.

The Atlanta Braves are often said to be a classy organization, and for the most part, they are, but their players and manager act childish when things don’t go their way. They’re sore losers.

Perhaps [warning: more amateur psychoanalysis] it’s the realization that their NL East dominance is fading. Maybe it’s the realization that John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox are close to resigning from their current positions. Maybe it’s that the ownership changed. Maybe it’s the uncaring fanbase (10th out of 16 NL teams in attendance this season, and they’ve given their fans more than enough reason to come out to the ballpark).

For what it’s worth, Carlos Ruiz’s solo homerun (to view it, click here, then click “Top Play: 350K” and select “Ruiz’s Homer” from the list) in the top of the second inning barely cleared the 380-foot mark in left-center. I’m waiting for the Braves to complain about the “bandbox-ish” dimensions of their own ballpark.

Falling Behind, Looking Ahead

They had the Thursday night rush from drinking the Red Bull that was sweeping the division-leading New York Mets, only to have a Labor Day weekend-long crash that saw J.D. Durbin allow the first seven Florida Marlin baseruners to reach base in the first inning, the Phillies pitching fork over a 5-0 lead to the Marlins, and the NL-best offense snooze its way to a depressing 5-1 loss to the downtrodden Atlanta Braves.

The starting pitching had to return to reality eventually — the second-worst pitching staff in the NL had held the Mets to six runs in the first three games of the four-game series that turned up aces for the Phillies. After allowing the Mets to score ten times in the series finale, the pitching seemed to recover, holding the Marlins to only two runs in the opener, in large part to Kyle Kendrick and his typical quality start (two-thirds of his starts have been of the quality variety, tied for ninth-best in the National League). But that was just a tease.

A recap of the Marlins series and the Labor Day game against the Braves:

August 31 @ FLA, Phillies win 9-2

As mentioned, Kyle Kendrick put up seven innings of quality pitching, Kane Davis become the Phillies’ 28th different pitcher used this season (a club record), Jimmy Rollins reached base in four out of five at-bats (two singles, a double, and a walk), Chase Utley knocked in three runs on two hits, and Jayson Werth continued his hot hitting with three hits in four at-bats.

All in all, an impressive offensive showing despite Ryan Howard going 0-5 with three strikeouts. The Mets beat the Braves, and the Padres beat the Dodgers, so the Phillies stayed at two games behind in both the NL East and the Wild Card.

September 1 @ FLA, Phillies lose 12-6

As far as “quick and painless” defeats go, this seemed to be it. J.D. Durbin allowed the first seven baserunners to reach base (five singles, a hit batter, and a walk) before Charlie Manuel pulled him for Clay Condrey, who allowed three of his inherited baserunners to score, putting the Phillies at a quick 7-1 deficit.

However, the Phillies appeared to be on the verge of one of their typical comebacks, scoring three runs on five hits immediately off of Marlins starter Byun-Hyun Kim. The inning could have been bigger, but Clay Condrey failed to get down a sacrifice bunt, and Chase Utley failed to make contact with runners on second and third base.

They failed to score again until the eighth inning, scattering five baserunners over the next five innings. After the Phillies scored those two eighth-inning runs (on an RBI groundout and single), the Marlins came right back and delivered the knockout blow, scoring three times in the bottom-half of the inning on an RBI single and a two-run homerun to Cody Ross, his second of the game.

The Phillies bullpen was responsible for 5 of the 12 runs (Mesa, 2; Alfonseca, 3), but that looks miniscule considering the bullpen was asked to pitch nine innings in relief of Durbin, whose ERA for the game is “INF” (infinite, since he didn’t record an out).

The Mets and Padres both won, so the Phillies moved to three games back in both the East and the Wild Card.

September 2 @ FLA, Phillies lose 7-6

This loss, more than anything, was unnecessary. The Phillies had Marlins starter Scott Olsen on the ropes early, making him throw 97 pitches in three and one-third innings, putting up five runs in the third and fourth innings.

Adam Eaton, though, showed why he has the worst ERA in baseball (among those who have pitched enough innings to qualify) by awarding the Marlins five runs over the next three innings, three of which came via homerun (Cabrera, Ross twice). Kane Davis did a great Adam Eaton impression, allowing back-to-back solo homeruns to NL VORP leader Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla to lead off the bottom of the seventh.

Jimmy Rollins doesn't like the umpire's call

The Phillies mounted a comeback against Marlins closer Kevin Gregg, though. Down 7-5, they put runners on first and second for Carlos Ruiz, who singled to center field to score Aaron Rowand. Chase Utley walked to load the bases for Jimmy Rollins, who was robbed of an game-tying RBI walk by the home plate umpire, who called a fastball that was clearly around Rollins’ chin a strike (replays confirm that this was, in fact, a ball), moving the count to 3-2. Having to swing defensively, Rollins flew out to center field to end the game.

The Mets won and the Padres lost, putting the Phillies at four games back in the East, and three games back in the Wild Card.

September 3 @ ATL, Phillies lose 5-1

The Braves entered the Labor Day game reeling from a three-game sweep at the hands of the Mets — three games in which they managed only one extra base hit and four total runs. Even better was the fact that they were to face Lance Cormier, he of the 57 ERA+ in six starts. Putting the league-best offense against such a pitcher calls for an offensive outburst, but Cormier had everything working, as he held the Phillies to one run on four hits (Utley had three of those hits, Burrell had the only other one). The Braves bullpen pitched three and one-third nearly flawless innings (one walk).

Jamie Moyer pitched well for the most part, but was a victim of bad luck and bad defense. Abraham Nunez, only in the lineup for his defense at third base (because right-handed hitters pull Jamie Moyer’s slow pitches), was unable to barehand a slow ground ball off of the bat of Andruw Jones in the bottom of the fourth inning, loading the bases for Brian McCann. The Braves’ catcher ripped a double to right field, scoring two. Kelly Johnson tacked on one more with a sacrifice fly that allowed Jones to score following an airmailed throw to the plate from center fielder Aaron Rowand.

Moyer’s bad luck came in the bottom of the sixth inning, when he easily retired Jeff Francoeur and Andruw Jones to start the inning, but allowed singles to McCann and Kelly Johnson to put runners at first and third. Pinch-hitter Brayan Pena hit a slow ground ball to Jimmy Rollins, but beat the throw at first base, scoring McCann.

Jeff Francoeur tacked on the fifth run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, sealing the deal for the Braves. Unfortunately for the Phillies, the Mets won handily in Pedro Martinez’s 2007 debut, 10-4 over the Reds, pushing the Phillies to five games back in the East. As of this writing, the Padres have a 4-0 lead on the Diamondbacks in the third inning, so things aren’t looking good.

Looking Ahead

A look at the Phillies’ and their competitors’ schedules for the rest of the season:

Phillies

(2) @ ATL (70-68, .507)
(3) vs. FLA (60-78, .435)
(4) vs. COL (70-66, .515)
(3) @ NYM (77-60, .562)
(3) @ STL (67-67, .500)
(4) @ WAS (61-77, .442)
(3) vs. ATL (.507)
(3) vs. WAS (.442)

Average: .489

12 road games
13 home games

Mets

(2) @ CIN (62-76, .449)
(3) vs. HOU (61-76, .442)
(3) vs. ATL (.507)
(3) vs. PHI (72-65, .526)
(3) @ WAS (.442)
(4) @ FLA (.435)
(3) vs. WAS (.442)
(1) vs. STL (.500)
(3) vs. FLA (.435)

Average: .464

9 road games
16 home games

Padres

(2) @ ARI (76-62, .551)
(3) @ COL (.515)
(3) @ LAD (71-65, .522)
(3) vs. SFG (62-75, .453)
(3) vs. PIT (60-77, .438)
(3) vs. COL (.515)
(3) @ SFG (.453)
(4) @ MIL (69-67, .507)

Average: .494

15 road games
9 home games

Diamondbacks

(2) vs. SD (.551)
(3) vs. STL (.500)
(3) @ SFG (.453)
(3) @ LAD (.522)
(3) vs. SFG (.453)
(3) vs. LAD (.522)
(3) @ PIT (.438)
(3) @ COL (.515)

Average: .494

12 road games
11 home games

So, things look more favorable for the Phillies against the Padres and Diamondbacks for the Wild Card, than against the Mets for the East. The schedule favors the Mets, who have the advantage of both facing weaker opponents overall, and playing the most games at home.

Who’s Up?

Jayson Werth, who had hit safely in nine straight at-bats, just one more hit short of tying the National League record. Werth went 5-for-5 with five singles against the Padres on August 26, and 4-for-4 with four singles and a walk against the Mets on the 27th.

Jimmy Rollins, who had a multi-hit game in seven straight games from August 26 to September 1. He sandwiched those multi-hit games with one-hit games, combining for a nine-game hitting streak that ended today against the Braves. During the hitting streak, Rollins put up a 1.321 OPS (three doubles, a triple, and three homeruns).

Who’s Down?

J.D. Durbin, for his lack of a performance against the Marlins September 1. As mentioned, he allowed the first seven baserunners to reach base before Charlie Manuel replaced him with Clay Condrey.

Antonio Alfonseca, has allowed more hits (eight) than he’s recorded outs (seven), according to Phillies.com. His manager understands why Alfonseca has been extemely hittable lately:

Stop and think about it. He’s given us a lot this year. We’ve asked a whole lot of him, and he’s given us a lot. I tell you what, he doesn’t have a whole lot left in his tank.

Ryan Howard. Not that strikeouts are indicative of a bad hitter, but with three more today against the Braves, Howard’s strikeouts total has reached 168. At this pace, he’ll finish the season with 199, which is four more than Adam Dunn’s all-time record for strikeouts in a season.

Down and Certainly Not Out — Not Anymore

The Phillies tried desperately to give the New York Mets a victory yesterday, squandering a 5-0 lead, and then an 8-5 lead. The Mets — Billy Wagner, specifically — wouldn’t hear of it and promptly forked over 3 runs in the bottom of the eighth and nine innings after taking a 10-8 lead, to lose in dramatic fashion.

The Phillies hit ’em hard (two homeruns from Pat Burrell, a Ruthian two-run homerun from Ryan Howard, and a solo homerun from Aaron Rowand) and they hit ’em soft (bloop RBI singles from Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino, and a slow-rolling RBI single up the middle from Jimmy Rollins).

The most impressive feat of the series, though, was not the offense (outscoring the Mets 27-16 in the four-game series) — it was the bullpen (sans Thursday):

August 27: 2.2 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K
August 28: 4.1 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 2 BB, 4 K
August 29: 3 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 2 BB, 1 K

Total: 10 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 4 BB, 8 K

And then the ugly August 30 day game: 5.1 IP, 7 R, 5 H, 6 BB, 0 K

The Mets’ bullpen, on the other hand… not so fortunate:

August 27: 3.1 IP, 4 R, 8 H, 2 BB, 2 K
August 28: 2 IP, 4 R, 5 H, 2 BB, 0 K
August 29: 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 K
August 30: 5.1 IP, 6 R, 11 H, 4 BB, 5 K

Total: 12.2 IP, 14 R, 25 H, 8 BB, 8 K

Kudos to Pat Burrell for continuing his hot streak. Burrell leads the Major Leagues in on-base percentage and slugging percentage since the All-Star break. He put up a 1.486 OPS in the four games against the Mets, hitting 4 HR and knocking in 7 runs.

Jimmy Rollins put up a 1.342 OPS for the series, hitting 2 HR and knocking in 3 runs.

How about Jayson Werth? 1.278 OPS for the series, and his 2 stolen bases in the 9th inning against Billy Wagner allowed Tadahito Iguchi to knock in the 10th and tying run with a marginally-deep sacrifice fly, or any base hit.

An interesting note about the series: each game was unique. The 27th was a mild blowout, the 28th was a come-from-behind win, the 29th ended on an umpire’s judgment, and the 30th was a mild blowout that turned into a come-from-behind win. Anyone who bought tickets to any of those four games definitely got their money’s worth (especially those who sat in Section 302).

And the Phillies did all this without Cole Hamels starting a game. With Utley missing the third game against Mets starter Oliver Perez. With Shane Victorino playing sparingly. With a makeshift starting rotation. With all the pressure the city of Philadelphia could throw on top of them. Four straight wins against the division leader, where even a series split would have been devastating to the Phillies’ playoff hopes.

Baseball Prospectus now lists the Phillies’ odds of making the postseason at 39% (the Wild Card-leading Padres are at 62%, and the East-leading Mets are at 85%). The Mets are playing two games better than their Pythagorean W-L record, and the Phillies are exactly where the PWL calculates them, which says that the Phillies are on par with the Mets, and a division title is not out of the realm of possibility.

So, now we look on with our newfound playoff hopes.

August 31-September 2, Phillies @ Florida Marlins

Kyle Kendrick (116 ERA+) vs. Sergio Mitre (98 ERA+)

J.D. Durbin (111 ERA+) vs. Byung-Hyun Kim (95 ERA+)

Adam Eaton* (72 ERA+) vs. Scott Olsen (75 ERA+)

This is a sweep-able series. The Mets go to Atlanta to face the Braves, and they have to face both Tim Hudson and John Smoltz. Even better — on Saturday, the Mets will trot out Mike Pelfrey to the bump.

So, by Monday, the Phillies could find themselves in first place in the NL East.

It’s about time the Phillies start getting some respect.

* Cole Hamels was supposed to start in the series finale against Scott Olsen, but, according to Todd Zolecki of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels has suffered a setback and will not start Sunday against the Florida Marlins at Dolphins Stadium.

The Phillies said Hamels had discomfort in his left elbow in his last bullpen session. They will shut him down from throwing for the next few days and progress him accordingly.

Hamels went on the disabled list August 22 with a mild elbow strain. He has not pitched since August 16 at Washington.

Adam Eaton will start Sunday in Hamels’ place.

A Poker Tip for Playing Tournaments

Lately, I have noticed a common trend among most Internet poker players: they don’t know how to play tournament-style poker.

The scenario I am talking about is when a player is all-in, and there are two other players in the hand playing for a side-pot. Oftentimes, one player will bet out at the other in attempt to win the side-pot and go against the all-in player. And, in my experience, the player that bet out at the side-pot ends up losing to the all-in player, allowing him to not only continue playing in the tournament, but to have a good shot at building up his chip stack even more.

The two players should not even bet to create a side pot; they should check the hand down to the river, that way they have two hands that can possibly knock out the all-in player, allowing themselves to move up in the money.

The only time one should ever bet in that situation is if he is sure he has the best hand (i.e. getting the nut flush or a full house) and he is trying to extract chips from his opponent. If your hand is not made (and getting a pair, or even two pair, does not constitute “made”), collude (this is legal collusion) with your opponent. As the proverb goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Just for clarification, here are two scenarios — one is correct, one is not.

Incorrect

Blinds $25/$50

Player A posts small blind $25

Player B posts big blind $50

Player C folds

Player D folds

Player E raises to $250 and is all-in

Player F folds

Player G folds

Player A calls $225

Player B calls $200

Flop [Ks 9d 3s]

Player A bets $100

Player B folds

Turn [5c]

River [2d]

Player A shows [Ac Qd]

Player E shows [8d 8c]

Player E has a pair of eights

Player A has high card — Ace kicker

Player E wins main pot ($750) with a pair of eights

Correct

Blinds $25/$50

Player A posts small blind $25

Player B posts big blind $50

Player C folds

Player D folds

Player E raises to $250 and is all-in

Player F folds

Player G folds

Player A calls $225

Player B calls $200

Flop [Ks 9d 3s]

Player A checks

Player B checks

Player A checks

Turn [5c]

Player B checks

Player A checks

Player B checks

River [2d]

Player A shows [Ac Qd]

Player B shows [5d 5s]

Player E shows [8d 8c]

Player A has high card — Ace kicker

Player B has three of a kind, three fives

Player E has a pair of eights

Player B wins main pot ($750) with three of a kind, three fives

Player E finished the tournament in 7th place

The side-pot-betting isn’t so bad early in tournaments, but when it’s getting down towards the final table, there’s no question you want everyone else to drop like flies. Roughly, you’re cutting down your all-in opponent’s chance to win by 17% regardless of what the cards are (1-on-1 is 50%/50%; 2-on-1 is 33%/33%/33%).