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Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis Cardinals’

Updated NFL Relocation Proposals

In History, NFL, Realignment on January 30, 2016 at 7:33 PM

I don’t want to get right into it, because when you talk about this subject, it provokes a lot of gut reaction, so I’ll start with a little background.

Post-merger to 2002 Realignment

Beginning with the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, there was a division known as the NFC West that included the Los Angeles Rams, the San Francisco 49ers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Atlanta Falcons.

Apart from the Saints, these teams had been in the Coastal Division with the Baltimore Colts, who I suppose were theoretically potential rivals to the Falcons, while the Saints were supposed to be potential rivals to the Cowboys.

Anyway, that all got scrambled with the merger, but it was decided Saints-Falcons was a better rivalry, partly because they joined the league only a year apart. The Cowboys were also a fairly new team but had already accelerated into a top team with one of the best hires ever, Tom Landry.

Of course, logically, one team was in the central United States and another was in the East. I guess it would have been more correct to call it the NFC West and South, but that would have been too wordy.

These four teams remained in this division until 2001, although tin 1995 it got even more ridiculous as the Rams moved to St. Louis and the expansion Panthers were added.

The 2001 NFL divisional alignment with 6 divisions.

The 2001 NFL divisional alignment with 6 divisions.

In the 2002 realignment, the Rams and 49ers only retained one divisional opponent apiece, and the Cardinals and the Bucs retained none.

A couple notes on the last two. After playing in the AFC for its inaugural year, Tampa Bay had joined the NFC Central in 1977. Arizona had started in the NFC East when that franchise was in St. Louis, moving in 1988.

In 2002, the Seahawks changed conferences and of course didn’t retain any divisional opponents either.

In the AFC, the Titans and Jaguars retained only one divisional opponent apiece, and the Colts retained none.

Changes in 2002.  Same key as 2001 with the two new divisions noted.  The North in both conferences was exclusively comprised of former Central teams.

Changes in 2002. Same key as 2001 with the two new divisions noted. The North in both conferences was exclusively comprised of former Central teams.

The point of all of this is to disabuse people of the notion that new rivalries can’t be formed fairly quickly and that we should not place teams into logical divisions.

The Effect of the Rams and Relocation

My primary proposal last time had the Rams in kind of a mid-South division with the Titans, Panthers, and Chiefs, so of course that idea is now obsolete.

I had thought since there were exactly four West coast teams, it made sense to put them all together, but there is a problem with that in the TV markets since the 49ers and Raiders are in the same market.

So when you have more than four teams, I think it makes sense to respect the idea that there should only be one CBS team and one Fox team in a given market. I didn’t see any reporting about this, but I suspect TV might have been one of the factors many owners switched from the Raiders-Chargers proposal to the Rams one.

Had the Raiders-Chargers proposal gone through, there would have been about six weeks where one of the two would have had to play a night game because every other week, CBS is restricted to one game on Sunday during the day. (You can get it down to six given that each team has a bye week, the two teams would play each other twice, and both networks have a doubleheader in Week 17.)

Accordingly, I have one proposal for the Chargers staying in San Diego and another in the event they move to Los Angeles.

The West

I know it was ancient history to some younger fans; but before realignment (as indicated above), the Seahawks played in the AFC against the Raiders, Broncos, and Chiefs. I would preferably bring that back.

Why? The two closest locations to San Diego are going to be Inglewood, CA, and Glendale, AZ. I don’t agree with the idea that the Chargers shouldn’t be in a conference with either of those just because before 1970, they were in the AFL instead of the NFL.

Arizona also is in a situation that doesn’t make any sense, as can be seen on the current map.

I’ll admit that in recent years, the best intra-state rivalry in California has been the Raiders and the Chargers. However, a big reason for that is the large group of Raiders fans extending from the Bay Area to Southern California. I think the Rams moving and the Raiders staying (or perhaps moving to another state) will completely change that dynamic anyway.

If the Chargers move, I would just keep the current alignment as is. Besides, I think I have enough ideas that will challenge the status quo.

There could be an all-California division and everyone else if the Chargers move, but two reasons I don’t think that’s a good idea: (1) it would require two pairs of teams switching conferences, and (2) even if one shared market can be accommodated, two is probably pushing it.

So this is my proposal for the Western teams if either the teams stay put or it’s decided that to allow two Los Angeles teams in the same conference.

West 1

Messing with Texas

The Cowboys’ and Texans’ divisions don’t make a bit of sense, and I have no qualms about removing them from those divisions.

When the Houston Oilers still existed, they played the Steelers, Browns, and Bengals. The Texans playing the Jags, Colts, and Titans is better, but not that much better. It was really a collection of mismatches. The cities that were least appropriate for the central were removed, and the city that was least appropriate for the East was removed, and they were all put together.

The Colts are close to enough other teams that there is no reason to share a division with anyone south of Nashville for sure.

The Jaguars’ closest divisional opponent is 600 miles away even though 5 non-divisional teams are closer.

I get that Tennessee and Indianapolis worked because they were both kind of leftover mismatches and aren’t that far from one another, but the triangular divisional configuration is ridiculous.
As for the Cowboys, I have yet to see a real argument as to why that’s not a misfit that needs to be corrected. Why is it better than the Oilers in the AFC Central, the Falcons in the NFC West, the Cardinals in the NFC East, or the Bucs in the NFC Central? They were all used to it as well.

The NFL was correct in the late 1960s when it saw two teams in bordering states, the Cowboys and the Saints, and put them in the same division. Adding in a Houston team in somewhat comfortable driving distance or sub-60-minute flying distance from both only makes more sense. The Falcons would be a bit more removed, but Falcons-Saints was one thing the NFL got right in 1970. It would make no sense to undo it. Texas isn’t as close to Atlanta as Carolina of course, but it’s better than San Francisco, Los Angeles, or even St. Louis.

Given the Rams’ move back to Los Angeles, I can’t think of one alignment where I wouldn’t want this division.

Two Obvious Divisions

The first keeps together four teams that have been in the same division (which they shared with Tampa Bay years ago) since the merger: the NFC North (previously the NFC Central, or as Chris Berman calls it, the Norris Division), made up of Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit.

The second one is the current NFC East minus the Cowboys. Their replacement is perfectly obvious on the map, the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore is about 40 miles from Washington and about 100 miles from Philadelphia. Philadelphia is less than 100 miles from New York. I don’t think you can get a more ideal division than that.

It would mean Baltimore changing from the AFC to the NFC, but Baltimore was never an AFL city. Apart from some overlap with Steelers fans in rural Maryland, I think Baltimore fans encounter would-be rival NFC East fans a bit more often as well. This would also make it so that the rural Maryland/Northern West Virginia/Southern Pennsylvania/inland Northern Virginia area could have the Ravens on one network and the Steelers on another.

The More Traditional Approach

I used a different color scheme for these.

I used a different color scheme for these.

Obviously, the most traditional thing to do would be to leave everything the way it is, but one of the things I’m not in favor of is radical realignment. This would be blowing up all the existing divisions and conferences as if they never existed. When I talked about the western teams, I even talked about trying to limit the number of teams who change conferences.

I call it radical realignment because that was the name for the proposals in baseball after the strike when it was suggested that teams like the Mets and Yankees should be in the same league and no attention be paid to which franchises were traditionally in which league.

But anyway, I’ve said how I feel about the 8 western teams, the 4 teams of the current NFC North, the 4 teams of my proposed NFC South, and the 4 teams of my proposed NFC East.

I have mixed feelings about the other. The more traditional approach would start by leaving the current AFC East (Buffalo, New England, Jets, Miami) in tact.

That leaves Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Carolina, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay. I would just make the teams north of the Ohio River the AFC North and those to the south the AFC South.

The More Geographic Approach

East 2

You can figure out which one of the AFC East is not like the others. Miami isn’t so close to New York, and it’s even farther from Buffalo and New England.

So why not start by putting all the Florida teams into one division instead? None of them currently have rivalries that make sense anyway.

But they need another team. While the Falcons would be ideal, I’ve put them in the NFC South already to keep their rivalry with the Saints.

The Panthers are the logical choice here. They would maintain their series with the Bucs, but it would add a team in between in Jacksonville. I know the Jags haven’t had a good season in a while, but it could evolve into something like the Saints-Falcons rivalry with two franchises of a similar age in the same general part of the football landscape. This arrangement would have the added bonus of making it so the Florida television map doesn’t look like a Jackson Pollock painting (see below).

florida pollock

This would require the AFC East to add a fourth team, and the remaining team closest to the coast is the Steelers, who seemingly could develop a natural rivalry with Buffalo and already have had a competitive rivalry with the Patriots, although not in the same division of course.

This would leave sort of a Ohio River division centered around Cincinnati, with the Titans to the South, the Browns to the Northeast, and the Colts to the Northwest.

Appendix

I’m done. I just wanted to post some television maps of Florida from last season if you didn’t get my Pollock remark and picture. They’re not even consistent. Sometimes West Palm Beach goes with Miami, sometimes it goes with the panhandle or the rest of the country. Sometimes Ft. Myers goes with Tampa, sometimes it goes with Miami.

florida tv 2

florida tv 3

florida tv 4

florida tv 5

florida tv 6

florida tv

Reaction to the Los Angeles NFL Announcement

In NFL on January 16, 2016 at 2:19 PM

Since I weighed in before the decision was made, I felt it was right to respond now.

Again, I’m going to talk about my personal reaction and the reasons why (in the first two sections below) as well as the implications for football fans more generally.

Saints vs. Rams

I don’t like the Rams. I never have liked the Rams. I don’t feel as negatively toward them as I did between 1988 and 2001 though. 1988 was the first full football season I remember watching, and 2001 was the Saints’ last year in the NFC West, which used to comprise the Saints, Falcons, 49ers, and Rams.

2000 was an especially big year in the rivalry. The Rams and Saints played three times from November 26 to December 30. They split the regular-season matchups, with the road team winning each game. Then the Saints narrowly won in the wild card round of the playoffs, New Orleans’ first playoff win as a franchise.

Brian Milne of the New Orleans Saints recovers a muffed punt to secure the Saints win over the Rams in the Wild Card Round in 2000.

Brian Milne of the New Orleans Saints recovers a muffed punt to secure the Saints win over the St. Louis Rams in the Wild Card Round in 2000.

Even though realignment took place after the following season, there were a lot of feelings that carried over. Cultural and geographic factors also helped intensify the rivalry with the Rams being in St. Louis instead of Los Angeles. New Orleans is the one large primarily Catholic city in the Deep South; but of course Missouri was a border state in Civil War times, and St. Louis has a long Catholic tradition as well. It’s not uncommon for people to travel from one to the other for college, work, and family reasons.

Many Saints fans also have a feeling of rivalry with the Cowboys even though (except for a couple of seasons in the 1960s) the Saints and Cowboys have not been in the same division, so it’s not like realignment necessarily changes everyone’s feelings.

I will say that I disliked the Rams the least among the four NFC West teams before they moved to St. Louis and also in their first couple of years there. The Saints’ #1 enemy has been and still is the Falcons, but the team that kept winning the division in the late 80s and early 90s was the 49ers.

That’s not to say there was no animosity though. The Rams and Saints often vied for a wild card spot in the same seasons. In 1988, for instance, the Saints, Rams, and 49ers all finished 10-6. Due to tie-breakers, the 49ers won the division, the Rams got a wild card spot (of only two that were available), and the Saints stayed home. (San Francisco went on to win the Super Bowl over Cincinnati.)

In 1989, a loss to the 49ers dropped the Saints to 1-4. They would rally to finish 9-7, but again, this was not good enough to get one of the two wild card spots. An overtime loss to the Rams in late November ultimately cost the Saints a playoff spot. The 49ers would return to the Super Bowl as NFC champions after beating the Rams in the championship game.

The Saints again had a rough start in 1990, with Bobby Hebert off of the team. They were only 5-7 going into the last four games, two of which were against the Rams and the other against the 49ers. They won all three of those divisional games, including beating the Rams with a Morten Andersen field goal in the final game. Even though this was the worst New Orleans season since 1986, it was the first year of the six-team playoff, and the Saints made it in as the third wild card.

So when you’re competitive with teams that are playing for and winning conference championships and Super Bowls while you don’t even make the playoffs (partly because you had to play those teams multiple times), that can build up a dislike of those other teams.

Even though the Rams would not make the playoffs again until 1999 (when they won the Super Bowl over Tennessee), it wasn’t like there was no history before that. I remember trying to boycott the Saints when Jim Everett played for them. I could not stand him when he played for the Rams, and I refused to change my mind about him.

More Personal Feelings on the Move

I do feel a little bit bad for the St. Louis area, which has now lost two teams in my memory. I guess the NFL thinks the fans can just distribute themselves to other teams. Of course Los Angeles went as a largely untapped market for over 20 years, so I guess the NFL doesn’t see it as a huge problem.

Maybe one day there can be a gigantic new stadium somewhere between St. Louis and Memphis and everyone in that middle region can have a team to share. Maybe there will be some advance in transportation that allows people to get there at 100 miles per hour. Here is a map of where St. Louis is (the clear star in the middle) relative to the interstate highway system and other NFL teams.

St. Louis

If it had to be one team (although the Chargers may still come later), I was hoping it was going to be an AFC team.

Even though (as I explained in the last blog on this issue) it’s better to be in a secondary market than a primary market, I would have gotten to see the Chiefs, my favorite AFC team, more. I would have seen them play the Chargers or Raiders twice. I may see some of those games still, but if they’re on in the afternoon and the Rams are on in the afternoon, NFL rules prevent another game from being on television at that time.

Also, if the Saints are playing at the same time as the Rams, I won’t see them. If the Saints are playing a day game and Fox doesn’t have a doubleheader, I also will be almost guaranteed not to see the Saints. The only possible exceptions to the latter item are the two times per year that the Saints will host an AFC team (which makes it a CBS game).

As I said last time, the Chargers are the only one of the three applicants I have ever cheered for even a little bit. So not only are the Chargers not the home team now (at least not for the time being), Los Angeles is also no longer a secondary market for them.

Television tends to favor games involving a team’s divisional rivals. I have no interest in seeing the Seahawks or 49ers more often. I’ve never minded the Cardinals (another team that was previously in St. Louis) and actually am hoping they win the NFC in these playoffs, but that’s not much of a comfort. But if they stay good and Patrick Peterson and Tyran Mathieu keep playing for them, maybe they’ll solidify their spot as my #4 team (I also like the Dolphins, not that I’d see them much regardless).

The main positive is I am more likely to see the Saints when they actually play the Rams. You play teams in your conference more than you play the teams from outside of your conference (an average of once every two years vs. an average of once every four years). I might even try to save up and go to a game if the Saints come to town.

Fan Bases and History

The Rams do have a lot more history in Los Angeles than the other two options. The Raiders were only in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994, although they did get a lot of followers from that time. The Chargers were only in Los Angeles in 1960, but still being in Southern California resulted in them still having a lot of fans that aren’t too far away.

I mentioned last time that a lot of the support for the Rams has dried up, but I also mentioned fans around here can be kind of fickle. I’m sure many of the people who only recently became Chargers fans can now easily become Rams fans. Even longstanding Raiders fans may cheer for the Rams at least when it doesn’t hurt or distract from the Raiders.

I’m not sure about all the people who claim to be fans of the Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, etc.; but it probably depends on whether those teams are any good in a given season. It also helps fans to move away from those teams the more removed they get from their last Super Bowl. (I know the Cowboys were a long time ago, but not as long ago as the last time Los Angeles had an NFL team.)

The NFL left the door open to a second team with the Chargers. With the elimination of the Raiders from consideration though, that avoids the huge headache of sorting out two teams of the same conference in one market, which has never been done before.

I think the Raiders are settled in Northern California, and the Chargers are settled in Southern California. So if the Chargers move, I think their San Diego fans are less likely to give up on them. If they don’t move, they’ll likely still have some fans in the outlying areas of Los Angeles who will support them.

I will be interested to see if support for the Raiders dissipates in Southern California. I think some of the Northern and Eastern parts of the Bay Area would have felt really abandoned by the NFL since the 49ers moved to the suburbs south of San Francisco.

Obligatory Game 6 Blog

In Me, MLB on October 28, 2011 at 4:45 PM

About 4 weeks ago, I wrote about the last day of the season and mentioned what great baseball viewing it was. I still think that was the best day based on the fact that two series were tied and three of the four games went down to the wire, with a rain delay in Baltimore perfectly timed, combined with a late finish in Tampa. But I’m having trouble coming up with a World Series game better than the one last night. I am old enough to remember 1991 Twins-Braves, 1993 Blue Jays-Phillies, 1997 Marlins-Indians, etc., and obviously there were some great Game 6/Game 7 hits in those series, but the three instances of the Cardinals coming back to tie before the game-ending home run has to put this over the top for a single game. Now, if I had to choose between being there last night and being there for Don Larsen’s perfect game, I would have chosen the perfect game, but I wasn’t around back then and even something that historic has a sort of predictable flow to it. At first, it was simply an early-game lack of offense, then after a handful of innings, with each out it became a bigger and bigger deal. This was a complete roller-coaster though, and it looked like completely different Cardinals teams (except for Lance Berkman anyway).

I love the weird facts and statistics that come up in baseball so you can have a long list of the first team to do x, the first player to do y, etc., even after 106 World Series. So that’s what I’ll start with.

The Cardinals are the first team to score in the 8th, 9th, and 10th in a World Series game (then they added the 11th). They are the first team to come back from down 2 runs twice in 9th or later.

The last team to win a road Game 7 was the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates. At least the Pirates did some things before I was born, because other than almost beating the Braves in the early ’90s, they haven’t done much since.

8 teams since then have won seventh games at home, 7 of them were down 3 game to 2 before winning the last two.

Two teams during that time period had won Game 6’s on the road, the 2003 Marlins and 1992 Blue Jays. The other exception (the winner at home who didn’t trail 3-2) was also the Marlins, the 1997 edition, which lost to the Indians in Game 6 at home before winning Game 7.

I have to single out a certain player, David Freese, of whom I became a big fan earlier in the playoffs, and now he might be my favorite player. I thought the Cardinals were going down most of the night of course, but I knew he wouldn’t get the last out. I don’t remember ever being that confident that a player would somehow reach safely. Based on his interviews, he wasn’t that confident himself (he said what was going through his head was something to the effect of, “Seriously, I dropped a ball on my head and now I’m going to be the last out in the World Series?). Two innings after hitting the game-tying triple, Freese hit the first walk-off home run in Game 6 or 7 since Joe Carter in 1993. Others in recent history: Kirby Puckett in ’91, Carlton Fisk in ’75, and Bill Mazeroski in ’60. Freese was the first player to hit tying or go-ahead hits twice in 9th or later in single WS game.

But it’s important not to overlook Lance Berkman. He doesn’t get that home run in the first and the gradual bleeding by the Cardinals’ pitching staff would have made the lead insurmontable, barring a Rays-esque comeback, but of course the opposing team was not the Yankees trying to keep guys fresh for the playoffs, so that just wouldn’t have happened. Berkman also scored a run in the 4th, a run in the 6th, and the tying run in the 9th; and he batted in the tying run in the 10th. So he scored and/or drove in 6 of the Cardinals’ 10 runs.

I actually got to see Berkman play once, for the New Orleans Zephyrs when they were an Astros farm club. This was only about 10 years ago, so it was after he had played for some time in the majors already. At the time, I wondered if his career was winding down, but apparently it was not. I was never a big fan of Texas teams though (and I was decidedly on the side of the Cardinals when they battled the Astros in the Central in the ’90s), so I wasn’t much of a Lance Berkman fan back then, but I knew the Cardinals picked up a guy with some skill when they got him.

This is honestly not to rub it in, and I know the Rangers have what it takes to win tonight if the opportunity presents itself, but there are some facts about the Rangers that should be mentioned.

This was the first time in a World Series that a team had 3 blown saves in one game. If you can’t remember the first one, it was by Alexi Ogando in the sixth inning when he walked Yadier Molina with the bases loaded, which tied the game at 4. But since he did not give up a run that was charged to him and got credited for an out when Matt Holliday was picked off third, he actually improved his ERA for the series to 11.57. Without the pick-off play, his second walk issued may have resulted in a run as well (but again, it would not have been credited to him, nor would it have been an earned run anyway). I say “may have” because of course, we don’t know how the pitches might have been different and so forth, but I think he was having enough trouble finding the strike zone that he would have issued the walk. Putting Ogando into the game in that situation was one of many baffling decisions by Ron Washington.

To give Wash some credit, he may have honestly believed the problems would work themselves out. Against Detroit, Ogando had allowed only one earned run in 7 2/3 innings pitched. But when a pitcher doesn’t have his stuff (and/or is facing a team that seems to be seeing his pitches really well), you don’t put him into a one-run World Series game with the bases loaded and one out in the hopes that his problems will suddenly vanish. If Wash had put him in at the start of an inning or when the bases were empty and then put Derek Holland in if he ran into problems, that would have made a lot more sense and may have resulted in no damage being done even with the same pitches.

“The Rangers had gone 5-2 in the postseason when walking five or more batters; that’s just not sustainable. When doing that in the regular season, they went 7-19. They walked seven batters in Game 6.”

ESPN’s David Shoenfield mentioned the above quote as well as some other interesting facts and strange decisions (including the Ogando decision) here.

I’ve been a Tony LaRussa fan since I was 7 years old, and as I learned the rules and strategy, I became more and more of a fan of his, but I did have a similar issue with him. I question possibly misplaced loyalty by LaRussa in reference to Rafael Furcal. He might get 3 hits from the leadoff tonight (in which case the announcers will heap praises upon LaRussa for sticking with him), and I understand him being in the game yesterday because it’s important to have a good shortstop (the 5-6-4 double play was beautiful), but the leadoff batter going 0/5 was a big part of the Cardinals’ offensive woes before Allen Craig’s home run in the 8th. The #2 and #3 spots didn’t help much either, going a combined 2/11, although of course Albert Pujols got the double to start things off in the 9th (later scoring on Freese’s triple) and former LSU star Ryan Theriot at least put the ball in play for an RBI in the 10th. Theriot went 0/3 though. The one hit from the #2 spot had come in the first inning and made Berkman’s home run count for two runs.

Well, they scored 10 runs, what offensive problems am I talking about? Don’t forget that the Cardinals had only two hits (in the second and fourth AB’s of the game) in the first 5 1/3 innings. They had three runs because of the two-run home run, and the following fourth inning:
Berkman safe on error.
Holliday walked.
Freese grounded into fielder’s choice (Holliday out at 2nd, Berkman to 3rd).
Molina grounded out to third (Berkman scored).
Punto struck out swinging.

After Berkman’s infield single in the 6th (which led to the run on Ogando’s bases-loaded walk), the Cardinals actually batted around without a hit. So there were still only three hits before the Craig home run with one out in the 8th (and we thought with only 5 outs to go before a trophy presentation).

So that’s a good way to get your second and third blown saves. Give up 6 runs on 10 hits, 2 walks, and a sacrifice while only getting 8 outs. Still, I think it’s fair to criticize the line-up that made that necessary for the Cardinals to win.

But Tony may put Furcal 9th in the order for all I know. He’s done similar things before, although probably not in the World Series. This will be LaRussa’s first World Series Game 7. Incidentally, yesterday was his first Game 6.

Of course, this will be the first Game 7 since the Angels (my AL team of choice and the only local MLB team I’ve ever had…I don’t count the Dodgers) beat the Giants in 2002.

All the people watching the game probably missed this, but I did post a college football blog about reorganizing the conferences here if you didn’t catch it. By the way, I sort of rushed this (not used to writing something overnight on a week day), so excuse any errors. I’m editing bit by bit. I just couldn’t not write a blog about this.

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.