Monday, September 9, 2013


Ah, schadenfreude: where would we be without it??

It's time for a few extreme scenarios as we enter the final three weeks of the 2013 regular season. Which means it's time to turn to four teams whose fortunes have been, shall we say, overrepresented in the non-mainsteam media.

Greg Holland: a season for the ages...
First, and quickly, the Royals. We told you they'd most likely be above .500 in 2013. They've shored up their starting rotation, their bullpen is still functioning on all cylinders, and they've been resilient at home, where they've done a good job of stealing a few extra wins. This week is likely where it makes or breaks for them--six games on the road against the two teams ahead of them in the AL Central (Indians and Tigers).

Of course, what's happened is that the AL East teams (Rays, O's and Yanks) have flattened out, and this has created a muddle of mediocrity in the standings region where the Wild Card teams are decided.

And that brings us to our next topic: the Rays and the Red Sox. Two years ago on this date, the Red Sox had a 6 1/2 game lead over the Rays for what was then a lone wild card slot. (Any resemblance of that to "lone gunmen" theories is to be strictly tossed overboard...)

You all remember what happened. And you can bet that the Red Sox-Rays series in Tampa starting tomorrow night will have fans and team officials holding their collective breaths. The Boston brain trust has done a wonderful job of reassembling their team, with some canny platoons and a wholesale return to form for most of the players who sleptwalked through the dismal 2012 season.

The hitters have shown a marked tendency to hit the long ball when the team has a lead: their OPS in that situation (.835) is fifty points higher than the Tigers. They put on a tremendous demonstration of that in the just-concluded series with the Yankees, coming close to turning the tables on the stumbling Bombers for several of those ill-remembered "Boston massacres" (2006 and 1978).

Could this man--discarded like moldy lunch
meat by the Red Sox after their 2012
"rope-a-dope disguised as meltdown"--
come back to haunt them in September 2013??
The Rays have had a lot of trouble recently, losing ten of their last fourteen, and they had a very slow start in their head-to-head with the Sox, losing nine of the first twelve games in '13. This is the last series between the two clubs, and if the Rays are to mount a comeback resembling what they pulled off in 2011, they'll need to get the broom out.

The Sox are well-set of the series: they have Clay Buchholz back, and they've got late-season acquisition Jake Peavy going in game three against the Rays' struggling Jeremy Hellickson. While the Rays still have a solid shot for a wild card slot, those of us who pride ourselves as "agents of discord" are holding out for the prospect of a sweep and some sweat-band moistening in Beantown.

We can't really expect that the Sox can take a tumble like the one that put them into the "for the ages" pages in 2011, but consider this: despite winning six of eight thus far in September, the Boston staff has an ERA of 5.33. 'Twas the pitching that killed them down the stretch in '11. (Just sayin'!!)

Finally, there's Pittsburgh. Seems as though every time the Pirates get close to the 80-win mark, they come down with a case of scurvy. They've lost four in a row since winning #81, and despite their improvement they still have a frightening knack at losing ugly. The first part of the week doesn't look good: they've got to take their reeling pitchers into Arlington to play the Rangers. Offense is down in the Texas park this year, however, and that might be a silver lining....the Bucs will have ace Nelson Liriano on the mound in tomorrow's game.

Remember, kiddies, it's not a genuine Bud Selig Kewpie Doll™
unless it has the signature hand-to-the-right-ear feature. Don't
settle for a cheap imitation... And remember to pound that Bud!!
While we don't want to see a Bucs collapse, fans in DC and Phoenix have mostly that hope to hold onto for a chance to get back into the playoff hunt. The races for the post-season in the NL have been a snooze-fest since the Dodgers turned into superheroes back in late June; the cruel result of the wild card structure is its ability to create a scenario where what would be a very interesting three-team race is merely a footnote.

What happens when the wild card produces something as dreary as what's likely to happen in the NL this year? This is the time for an enterprising entrepreneur to manufacture the Bud Selig Kewpie Doll™, which shouldn't merely have pins stuck in it--you can use it as a chew toy for the family dog, or drop it out on your driveway and run over it as many times as will be therapeutic--or you can assuage any pyromaniac tendencies and light the sucker on fire.

Choose your favorite method--but, hey, feel free to use trial and error to determine which one you like best...

[UPDATE: There will be no Red Sox "fold" in 2013. They've won four of five this week and they've got the Yankees right where they want them going into what will be the final contest between the two arch-rivals this year--pinned nearly a dozen games back in the standings, and tied for the bragging rights at Fenway. A win tomorrow (the Ides of September...) will give them the lead, and an entire off-season to savor it.

The Pirates got a great performance from rookie Garrett Cole to get them their eighty-second win; buoyed by that, they rolled through Texas with nothing less than panache. The NL Central's lock on the post-season still looks likely, though the Nationals have been making a last-minute charge.]