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Posts Tagged ‘Oakland Athletics’

Top 10 MLB pre-playoff chokes

In MLB on September 30, 2011 at 11:39 PM

“7-20 in September. We go 9-18, we’re where we want to be. 9-18 is what, winning a third of your games? The worst teams in baseball win a third of their games.”
–Theo Epstein

First of all, I recommend checking out the timelines of what went on Wednesday. Having three games like that happen at once doesn’t happen in the playoffs, that might be more memorable than anything I have to say about how historic the “collapses” (euphemism for choke) were.

Here are three good timelines:
HuffPo
MLB
ESPN

Obviously the Rays have returned to the playoffs with a vengeance, but the main topic I still want to talk about is how they and the Cardinals got there, and I also wanted to give some historical perspective on those collapses. That’s why I don’t blog about baseball much. By the time you sit down to think about it and research and so forth, something else important is going on. The Yankees/Tigers game was postponed as I was writing this, so that helped me finish without too much distraction.

I mentioned in a couple of places after the Red Sox had the 3-13 stretch (or some approximation thereof) that I couldn’t find another team that had ever done that in September, not even the 1964 Phillies, who had a 10-game losing streak in September. Those Phillies went 4-13 for one stretch, but that was followed by two wins (in the last two games of the season) and preceded by a 3-game winning streak. The Phillies were 2 ½ behind in the second-to-last game but technically were not eliminated until the next day. So that was also less dramatic.

Looking at the full month though, it’s not even closer. The Phillies won 13 games in September ’64, the same number the Angels (a team I follow a good bit) won this September. The Angels gained 6 ½ games against the Red Sox in the month. After the 3-13 stretch by the Red Sox and before the Angels finished with four consecutive losses, the Angels had gained 8 games on the Red Sox for the month.

So if you compare the Septembers of the 2011 Red Sox and 1964 Cardinals, the Red Sox would have lost 13 games against the Cardinals. So that’s about twice as many games as the Phillies lost (the Phillies actually lost 7 games in the standings from the beginning of the month to the end, but that regular season actually ended on October 4; the Phillies lost 6 ½ in the last 28 days of their season, so by that calculation, it is twice as many games).

I did notice the coincidence of the Phillies playing the Braves on Wednesday and helping to send the Cardinals to the post-season yet gain. It’s also a coincidence in that by causing the Braves to lose, that’s arguably another team that passes up their 1964 team in choking.

The Braves’ 9-18 September record ties the Phillies’ (the rest of this discussion will be about the 1964 Phillies of course) worst 27-game stretch. The Braves preceded that with a 2-3 stretch and the Phillies preceded that with a 3-2 stretch, so that’s inconclusive. But the Phillies’ largest September lead was 6 ½ games as compared to the Braves’ largest September wild card lead of 8 ½.

What clinches it for me about Braves’ choke as being worse is the competition. The Braves played only 9 games in the month of September against teams that won 85 games or more on the season. The Phillies played 17 or 18 such games, depending on how you count the last month of the season. If you limit it to just September and eliminate the two October games, it’s still 16. The Phillies’ entire 10-game losing streak was against teams that won 88 games or more on the season. From September 1 on, the Phillies only lost one series against a team than won fewer than that, the Dodgers, who finished 80-82. The Braves’ opponent in their third-toughest series (based on record) was…the Dodgers, who this year finished 82-79, pretty similar (the Braves lost that series as well). The only team the Phillies played in the last month who finished with fewer than 80 wins was Houston, whom they beat 2-1 in a series on the road. The Braves played 11 such games, 6 at home, and went 6-5 in them. Also, the Phillies had two teams chasing them: Cincinnati as well as St. Louis got really hot late. In the last month, the Phillies played the Reds 5 times and the Cardinals 5 times. That alone is more than the 9 games the Braves played against 85+ win teams (actually against any team that won over 82) in the last month.

Highlights of the seven other biggest pre-playoff chokes
(I didn’t bother to rank them, but if you’re so inclined, this is a good starting point: http://baseball.about.com/od/majorleaguehistory/tp/pennantcollapses.htm. These are my next 7 though.)

The 2007 Mets
Those Mets are similar to the ’64 Phillies in that they also had a late lead, 7 games on September 12, but it was down to 1 ½ only 6 days later. But what sealed it for the Mets was ending the season by losing 6 of 7. So they went a total of 4-11 from September 14 through September 28. (Their last off day had been September 13.) It also helped that the ’07 Phillies won 12 games from September 13 to September 28.

The 1995 Angels

This was more of a long-haul choke, as the lead was 11 ½ in August. On the morning of September 1, the lead was already down to 7 ½ and it was never 7 ½ again after that. The Angels had a 9-game losing streak from late August through early September and only won 3 games from August 16 through September 3. It was the second 9-game losing streak (9/13 through 9/23) that was the problem though. That one cost the Angels 8 games, as they went from 6 games ahead to two games behind. The 6-24 stretch is worse than any 30-game stretch of any by the higher-rated teams on this list, but half of that was in August, and the Angels actually rallied at the end of the season, winning 6 out of 7 before losing the one-game playoff to the Mariners. That’s the only reason 4 teams are ahead of them.

The 1978 Red Sox

This was actually the only 3-14 stretch I noticed. So not even this year’s Red Sox did that. The problem was this one started August 30. These Red Sox were at one time up 9 games, but after their last August game (on the 30th), they were 6 ½ ahead. But they had already lost the lead for good on September 13. They had an even better finish than the ’95 Angels, winning 12 of 14 to force a one-game playoff against the Yankees (which they lost). The end-of-season tie was the first since losing the lead.

The 2009 Tigers
I mostly remembered the microscopic choke at the end. They lost 3 games in a 4-game period. Their magic number was 2 after they beat the second-place Twins on September 30 and they played those same Twins the next day, but the only decrease to the magic number would come on October 4, the last day of the regular season. This also required a one-game playoff, which the Tigers lost. There was a prior 3-10 stretch from September 8 to 19 that cost Detroit 5 games. The Tigers’ lead had peaked at 7 games after the games of September 6.

The 1951 Dodgers
This one gets a lot of fanfare because there were two New York teams battling for the pennant, and New York does tend to create attention for itself. 13 ½ games on August 11 is substantial of course. But rightly, the Giants get more credit than the Dodgers get blame. Brooklyn went 26-22 to end the season. That would normally be more than enough (see the Epstein quote), but the Giants won a ridiculous 37 of 44 to end the season, not counting the 3-game playoff. The Dodgers did have a 4-8 stretch from 9/17 to 9/28 that dropped them into a tie from being up by 4 games. The Dodgers were also up 4 ½ as late as September 21 pre-game (the last originally scheduled game was 9/30).

The 1969 Cubs
Back to the New York/East Coast bias topic, you don’t ever hear about the team that lost the race to the Mets in 1969. The Cubs also didn’t have enough of a lead to start out with for a really high-quality choke. Although they once led by 9 games, their largest September lead was 5. After they lost 11 of the next 12, they were already 4 ½ games behind and, despite playing 10 of the final 13 at home, never challenged again, finishing 8 games behind. Also, the 5-game September peak only came after a 5-game winning streak. Before that winning streak, the Cubs were only up 2 ½. If the Cubs’ 8-18 stretch (which included the 5-game winning streak) had been to finish the year, they would have an argument for the top 5. For the record, they were up 8 games before that stretch began with a loss on August 20 and 4 ½ behind when it concluded on September 15.

The 1993 Giants
I’m going to share my own story about this. This is the first one I remember and although I grew up in Louisiana and the first team I really supported was across the bay in Oakland, I never disliked the Giants. Also, I never liked the Braves. I would either watch one of the Chicago teams or whatever big game the networks saw fit to show instead. I don’t know what it was about that team, but I just did not like to watch them. I was also annoyed that they were on so much. The Cubs were at least competitive in the late ’80s, and the White Sox were pretty good around this time, so that didn’t bother me as much. I eventually started to dislike the Cubs too, because I didn’t like that so many people just went along with the herd and followed the Braves or the Cubs because they were on TV so much. Anyway, my anti-Braves sentiment was furthered by fervently cheering against them when they played the Pirates (twice…I liked skinny Barry Bonds), the Twins, and the Blue Jays. Three of those series went to 7 games. Even if you start out only marginally liking one team more, usually a 7-game series will make it more intense. I probably would have cheered for the Iraqi national team to beat the Braves in the 1992 World Series and in the 1993 regular season. By the way, skinny Barry Bonds had moved on to the Giants.

This was in part another matter of timing for why they aren’t a more prominent example. The Giants slipped 11 games in the standings from the start of play on August 23 to the end of play on September 15, but the reason this one is even farther down the list is they won 6 games during this period. The end of that stretch was an 8-game losing streak (which was followed by a day off for the Giants, when the Braves increased their lead to 4 games), but that was followed by 14 wins in 16 games. Both teams were tied before their respective last games of the season. Neither game was very interesting, but the Giants lost 12-1 to the Dodgers to miss the playoffs despite 103 wins. The wild card began the next season (although the wild card would not be awarded until 1995 because of the strike). Of course, I was happy that the Braves didn’t make the World Series that year, so I wasn’t that upset in the long term, but I wasn’t happy that the Braves won something that came down to the last game again (although they had lost to the Twins in that situation).

Honorable mention?
I also considered the 1987 Blue Jays and the 1962 Dodgers for this list, but they were both examples where a team had a really good stretch and then a not-so-good stretch, but over the last 20 games in each case, the team was .500 or better. The Dodgers finished 40 games above .500 before the playoff games, and the Blue Jays finished 30 games above .500. The Dodgers maxed out at 5 ½ ahead for the season in early August (4 in September), and the Blue Jays were only a high of 3 ½ ahead, albeit with 7 games to play (but with 10 games to play, the Blue Jays were only ½ ahead).

The other teams listed by about.com didn’t seem to really choke at all, the other team in contention just seemed to do really well. There weren’t any meaningful September losing streaks or bad stretches to elaborate on. One of them had a 1-9 stretch in August, one of them lost 6 of the last 7 after barely being in playoff position, but those aren’t chokes to me. To me a choke is when you have it right in your grasp and you blow it, not when you have a somewhat decent chance and you don’t do much with it.

NOTE: It’s still nothing like my TSN numbers, but last month more than doubled my previous best month on this site (I got just under 500 views), so thanks to whoever is out there reading this.

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Some closing thoughts on the Angels

In Me, MLB on September 27, 2011 at 12:02 AM

NOTE: My college football rankings will be released on Wednesday. People will have less time to complain that way.

If you’ve been following my writing, you know that I don’t get around to blogging about baseball much. Much of my baseball time is spent either watching games (there are a lot of them) or looking at box scores and other stats (there are a lot of those too). The reason I find football so blog-worthy is all the time between games to reflect. It’s not, “Well, that was nice, but now we have to make sure we win the series, not just the game. Who’s our starting pitcher tomorrow?” My favorite teams are the Mets (for whom I gave up hope some time ago, not that I ever had too much) and the Angels. Since moving to Southern California seven years ago (where does the time go?), I’ve become more and more of an Angels fan, since they’re on TV almost every day, and it’s not all that hard for me to go to Anaheim to take in a game either.

At least as far as the Angels, there is now plenty of time to reflect. I didn’t expect the Angels to be completely eliminated this soon after being so alive yesterday. I’ll recap why. But on the other hand, when they had elimination magic numbers of 4 and 5 six days ago, I didn’t give them much of a chance.

Anyway, the Angels should have been only one game behind Tampa Bay and two behind Boston headed into tonight.

But with the Boston/New York night game still to go yesterday, All-Star rookie closer Jordan Walden absolutely choked. After the Angels gave up two runs in the top of the 8th–their first two runs given up of the game–Walden did get that final out with no drama. Then the Angels padded their lead from one run to three in the bottom of the 8th. They seemed to be on their way to victory, and a Boston loss would have meant that they would have trailed both Boston and Tampa Bay by only a game each. The Rays began a three-game series at home against the Yankees today, and the Red Sox began a three-game series in Baltimore against the suddenly good Orioles. Starting today, the Angels face the Rangers, who have sewn up the division, at home for a three-game series.

One game behind going into these series would have given the Angels a fighting chance. So in this context, Jordan Walden returned to the mound to hopefully complete a 1 1/3- inning save of Joel Pineiro’s start in which he allowed no runs over 6 1/3 innings. Walked allowed three hits and one run out (HR) in his first four batters faced. But then he fielded a ground ball with a chance for a double play. Not only did his throw prohibit a game-ending double play, it resulted in no outs as it sailed into the outfield and allowed the A’s to score yet another run to get within 1 and leaving runners on the corners. This was followed by a double, which put runners on second and third and tied the score. Mike Scioscia had seen enough and had Walden intentionally walk the next batter and then removed him from the game. Walden left to some fairly heavy boos (in light of the shock of some and relatively laid-back attitude of others [Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers fans… people just enjoying the day] in attendance). The A’s took the lead on a sacrifice fly, and the Angels got a baserunner in the bottom of the 9th but never seriously threatened.

Anyway, for the format, I decided I wanted to write open letters to both Walden and the fans who booed.

Dear Jordan,

First of all, congratulations on your first full season in the big leagues. We’re lucky that we happened to have a closer as capable as yourself on the team without having to pick one up through a trade or free agency.

Pleasantries out of the way, you screwed up. I’m sure you’re well-aware of this. Next time if you’re nervous or not confident in a throw, it’s all right. We’ll take one out in that situation. Maybe you’ll get taken out of the game. So what? It happens to the best of pitchers. Maybe you’ll get a loss, but not likely. Runners on the corners with two outs and a one-run lead is not a terrible situation. Even if you allow another hit, then it’s just a tie game unless the hit clears the bases. That’s not a loss.

I know closers are generally more emotional than starting pitchers, but watch Ervin Santana when you get a chance. He can give up a multi-run home run, and all he wants to do is concentrate on getting the next out. Keep perspective and don’t feel like you have to win the game on your own because you allowed a few hits. You can’t control what’s already happened.

That’s even true of Sunday. A win could have helped complete a miraculous wild card comeback, but it was one game. There were 161 others scheduled this season, and there are 162 scheduled next season. We know you’re not going to get a save in every opportunity, but if you can get a hold and someone else gets a save, that’s all right. If you blow a save and someone else on our team gets the win, that’s all right too. It didn’t work out that way this time, but there will be times where the hitters will come up with one more run than they were planning on needing.

I’ll get into this more with my next open letter, but we don’t expect you to be Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, or Mariano Rivera in their prime when to be honest I had never heard of you going into this season. I know you pitched a few times, but the race was over and if I watched, it wasn’t intently enough to notice you. Every save you got was more than I expected and probably more than some of those baseball fans who watch every pitch of the whole season expected. If you become one of those guys (and I see no reason why you can’t), great, but do what you can do first.

Please don’t let one inning negatively affect what you do this offseason or what you do from here forward. Also, don’t let the fans’ reaction get to you. Even many of those who have been complaining about blown saves since long before Sunday still want you to do well and want to support you. Some of the anger is because of other close losses this year, some of it is because of frustration with what used to be a consistent playoff team losing the division two years in a row and not even making it interesting at the end. Or if you’re so inclined, forget the fans. I’m sure there are people in your life who are proud of you. I can’t imagine someone I even know in passing being in your position. Enjoy it. Be proud of yourself.

Also, maybe part of the thing with the fans is the ones who can play baseball know they could have gotten at least one out there. Of course, you could have as well, but that’s what I mean by doing what you can do. If it’s not a perfect double-play throw, you’re not the shortstop, it’s not the end of the world. But you can do better than that every time.

Dear Booing Fans,

Booing this guy, really? We didn’t spend $10 million on him. $400,000 is a lot of money to us (and I know what you’re thinking, pay me 1/10 of that and I’ll throw to second instead…yeah, we’ll let you know when there are designated mound-fielders [MF’s for short]), but find me someone in major league baseball with paid fewer dollars per save.

He was just sort of around the organization and pitched a few decent innings in the last month of last season. If you’re not happy we had him this season, you’re crazy. Go cheer for the Yankees if you can’t appreciate that kind of season-long effort from a previously anonymous player, especially a 23-year-old rookie.

Yeah, I know, it was a pressure situation, and he choked. But this is the team that lost 3-1 on Friday and lost in extras on Monday and Thursday. They also lost by 1 to the Yankees a couple of weeks ago due to a fielding error, and about a week before that, they lost to the Mariners 2-1 without allowing an earned run. Sure, this game, the bullpen had what should have been ample room for error (in the strict statistical sense and otherwise), but we all know there wasn’t quite enough run support for a number of pitchers throughout the year, so there were more tense situations like this one than there should have been. Boston won anyway last night, Tampa Bay won today, and we just lost to a guy named Hamburger (loss by 1 again). Just like I said above, this was one game or 162.

Other pitchers generally had someone else’s error to blame or someone else’s failure to get a hit with runners in scoring position (for example), but a fielding mistake by a relief pitcher? Say it isn’t so. Come on, and a rookie on top of it?

Boo someone who doesn’t run out a ground ball. Boo someone who lazily lets the ball drop right in front of them. Don’t boo someone for trying too hard to fix their own mistakes, which if he had done, it would have made you all happy, at least temporarily. We can all appreciate trying hard on some level, but how many of you were ever in a similar situation? You can’t say the pressure wouldn’t have gotten to you in that moment or that wouldn’t have been the one time you screwed up. If you don’t want him to be the closer, first, you’re crazy if you thought we had better options on the team this year, and second, I don’t care if you boo the manager’s decision to put him in. I don’t mind booing in that situation. To me it says, “Skip, I’m paying attention, I care, but I disagree with what you’re doing right now.” Nothing wrong with that (not that Scioscia causes people who know what they’re talking about to want to do that very often). Just don’t boo when the manager takes him out.