Monday, September 22, 2014


There are now seven days left in the 2014 baseball season...a year that has been slow-cooked in a weird kind of high-achieving mediocrity. Two teams in the AL (Angels, Orioles) and one in the NL (Nationals) have managed to break through the gauzy veil of "meh-ness" that has enveloped the season from the first pitch of the year (which happened on foreign soil and at an ungodly hour--more artifacts of the "BS Era").

What typifies this pervasive, pervading torpor can be found in what would at first seem to be an exciting race for the AL Wild Card slots. As has often been the case, there are anywhere from three to six teams vying for what is now a double shot of post-season love, depending on how you read the tea leaves. We're going to leave the Tigers out of the mix for now and leave the Indians and Yankees in, if only to cherry-pick some data.

Our cartoon--stolen with rueful impunity from this week's New Yorker--sums up the situation quite nicely. There's a whole lotta flatlinin' goin' on, to put it in the twangiest parlance we can muster. (After all, the excitement is killing us!)

But the batting data summary for the five teams slouching toward the post-season (if not Bethlehem...and which teams would W.B. Yeats be rooting for, if his swoony, spectral ectoplasm could be summoned from the mists of Lethe? Perhaps we are better off not knowing...) indicates that all of these guys are stuck in a vat of offensive molasses that seems to have extended from coast to coast.

In short, none of these teams (Royals, A's, M's, Yanks, Indians) is hitting, and during the month of September they collectively under .500. Did we say that the excitement is killing us? (Is this thing on??)

The week ahead will certainly bring things to clarity, but probably more in the whimper vs. bang category. The Yanks and the Indians have to pretty much run the table this week to have a chance; frankly, that looks more doable for the Tribe, particularly since they are in position to add a delayed win to their total today, playing the "bottom of the ninth" at home against the Royals in a game suspended due to weather back in August. But they're going to have to sweep KC to get into it, and the vagaries of the schedule have deemed that they'll have to do that without ace Corey Kluber (17-9) in the mix.

Will KC put James Shields on the
mound twice this week??
Both the M's and the A's have to play the Angels this week; both teams have things set up as well as possible in terms of their rotation (A's will have Samardzija-Gray-Lester; M's will have Iwakuma-Paxton-Felix). They've each got to get at least two out of three in those series.

The Royals, those counterintuitive darlings of the "midwestern angst" branch of the neo-post-neosabes, are in need of a turnaround. They were hurt when Danny Duffy missed two starts and Jason Vargas returned to earth; what may have hurt most, though, was when Salvador Perez neglected to tag up on a lineout and wound up running into a game-changing double play against the Tigers. In a pinch, they could opt to put their ace James Shields on the mound twice on three days' rest; that move will likely be dictated by how things go in Cleveland over the next two days.

Well, now, look at this: excitement despite everything. But it's really just the hope that, somehow, something will prove to be exciting. Right now, we have no such proof--we have only the pudding. Stay tuned!

[UPDATE: The Royals have gotten their turnaround, in the form of their two young starters--Duffy and Yordano Ventura, who each posted scoreless outings after Cleveland held on to win the "suspended animation" game, 4-3. The Indians are now 4 1/2 back with five to play instead of just a half-game behind--which means they are through, despite a closing schedule just as favorable as the one they had last season and parlayed into the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Mariners' starting pitching betrayed them--first James Paxton was roughed up, and then--incredibly--Felix Hernandez, too as the Blue Jays put on their hitting shoes and reminded us of how good they can look when they do that. They are three games back, and need to run the table and get some help from the White Sox, who've made things easier for KC by ensuring that Chris Sale will miss their season-ending series with the Royals.

So whimper, si...bang, no--but the whimpering seems to have gotten over and done with. "Midwestern angst" returns to the post-season for the first time in a generation: praise the Lord and pass Joe P. a tablet that types its type in white-on-white...]