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Padres face Rockies for Wild Card

I tend to shy away from previewing individual games, because the variance in performance by a team from one day to another is so wide (it's part of what makes baseball such a beautiful game). With that being said, I can't resist previewing tomorrow's one-game playoff between the Padres and Rockies:

Padres vs. Rockies, October 1, 4:37 PDT

Probable Starters: Padres - Jake Peavy (100) vs. Rockies - Josh Fogg (67)

Starting Lineup Ratings: Padres - 76, Rockies - 83

Adjusted Lineup Ratings: Padres - 84, Rockies - 58

Bottom Line: Jake Peavy is a bona fide ace, and arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball. Josh Fogg is a serviceable fifth starter at best. Though Colorado clearly has the better lineup, is at home, and also is clearly the hotter of the two teams, all of that is more than neutralized by Jake Peavy. For the Rockies to win, Josh Fogg must keep the Padres in check for five or six innings, because the odds are Colorado won't be scoring much. The Padres do have the better bullpen, but the gap between the two bullpens is nothing compared to the difference between Fogg and Peavy. Plus, a close game will keep the crowd in play.

Expected MLB Standings

How to read the projected standings:
Team name, Expected Record (actual wins better/worse), Games back

Angels90-72 (+4)-Rockies91-71 (-2)-
Mariners80-82 (+8)10Padres89-73 (0)2
Athletics80-82 (-4)10Dodgers83-79 (-1)8
Rangers79-83 (-4)11Diamondbacks79-83 (+11)12

Giants78-84 (-7)13
Indians91-71 (+5)-Cubs85-77 (0)-
Tigers89-73 (-1)2Brewers81-81 (+2)4
Twins81-81 (-2)10Reds74-88 (-2)11
Royals74-88 (-5)17Astros71-91 (+1)14
White Sox68-94 (+4)23Cardinals70-92 (+8)15

Pirates69-93 (-1)16
Red Sox102-60 (-6)-Braves89-73 (-5)-
Yankees97-65 (-3)5Phillies87-75 (+2)2
Blue Jays87-75 (-4)15Mets86-76 (+2)3
Orioles72-90 (-3)30Marlins72-90 (-1)17
Devil Rays68-94 (-2)34Nationals70-92 (+3)19
Wild CardWild Card
Yankees97-65 (-3)-Padres89-73 (0)-
Tigers89-73 (-1)8Phillies87-75 (+2)2
Blue Jays87-75 (-4)10Mets86-76 (+2)3
ALDS Match-upsNLDS Match-ups
Angels vs. Red SoxCubs vs. Rockies
Yankees vs. IndiansPadres vs. Braves

The expected record is calculated according to my adjusted Pythagorean theorem, which takes Bill James's pythagorean theorem but also factors in strength of schedule.

It seems plausible that a 162-game season would dampen a team's chance to over or underachieve to the point that their record is completely indicative of how they played. That simply is not the case. While a majority of teams do perform as would be expected, every year has exceptions, and this year's exceptions are particularly interesting to look at.

Starting with the American League, the four best teams made the playoffs. In fact, the ALDS match-ups are exactly as how they turned out in reality. However, it is clear that the Red Sox and Yankees should have been the two best teams, instead of all four teams finishing with nearly the same record. The National League is much more interesting to look at, where the Rockies on paper should have home field throughout but instead they must play a one-game playoff with the Padres (statistically the second best team in the NL) to make it as the Wild Card. This is thanks to the Diamondbacks, who miraculously exceed their expected win total by a whopping 11 games, easily the greatest anomaly of 2007. In the NL East, there should have been no race, because as it turns out the Mark Teixeira trade did make the Braves much better. However, oddly enough, it did not translate into wins on the field.

The expected record ultimately has no bearing on actual results; wins and losses only correlate strongly with the formula. What it does is show who the best teams really were, and give an idea of how the playoffs will most likely go. It also illuminates teams like the Mariners and Diamondbacks, which have to improve in the off-season just to match their win totals this year because they overachieved greatly.

M's Fall Apart In Critical Stretch

Horacio RamirezMuch was made of the Mariners recently completely stretch where they played 17 out of 20 games on the road. At the start of the 20-game stretch, I wrote that the Mariners were going to have a hard time falling out of contention because all their competitors were conveniently playing each other. There was only the potential for one team to pull away by winning every game, or for one team to fall out of contention by losing every game.

Well, congratulations to the Mariners for losing almost every game and taking themselves out of the hunt. How things unfolded is literally the ONLY way they could have fallen out of contention in the much-feared 20-game stretch.

The Mariners ended up going 6-14 in their 17 of 20 games on the road (4 of those wins were in the first 7 games). Hypothetically, suppose they went 10-10 in those 20 games, which would be in line with how they have performed on the road all year. That would put them only 1.5 games behind the Yankees right now. However, the Mariners did play the Yankees in that stretch, so suppose that they won a game in New York that in reality they lost. That would put the M's only half a game back.

Maybe expecting .500 during the brutal stretch is too much. Suppose they ended up going 8-12 in those 20 games, with 1 of those extra wins against the Angels at home, but still dropping 2 out of 3 in New York. That would still leave them 3.5 games back in the Wild Card, and 5.5 back in the division. The odds would be stacked against the Mariners, but with a hot stretch and a little luck they could make it.

Last night's paid attendance was only 26,698. There's an understanding that this team's playoff aspirations were extinguished over the course of the last couple weeks. The season is not a failure, but given the position the M's worked themselves into, September has been a big disappointment. Realistically, the Mariners were always on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but they were threatening to kick down the door, and the odds were that they would keep the pressure on all the way to the end of the year. Now they are not. As it turns out, 8-12 was too much to ask for.

Ankiel's HGH Use Not a Big Deal

Rick AnkielI can't believe how much press this story about Rick Ankiel using HGH is getting. It's being twisted into something that it simply is not. Ankiel, of course, was a promising 20-year-old pitcher with a killer curve ball that out of nowhere lost all his control and never regained it. He got injured in 2004, then attempted a comeback as a position player. Against all odds, he made it back to the majors, and is succeeding beyond anyone's wildest dreams. It's a classic tale of good, old-fashioned, American perseverance. It's the story of a kid who had it all, lost it all, and got it all back with hard work, because he had a burning passion for the game (or at least that is how it has been portrayed).

Here are the facts about Ankiel's situation. He pitched in only six games in the minor leagues in 2004 before suffering a serious injury. To aid in his recovery, he used HGH, a substance now banned by baseball but at the time perfectly legal. In fact, to my knowledge, HGH is a legal substance to use with a doctor's prescription, which also to my knowledge Ankiel had (admittedly my knowledge is limited here, so feel free to call me out on this one). Furthermore, it is safe to assume that many, if not a vast majority, of baseball players have used HGH to recover from injuries, but none have completed a comeback as remarkable as Ankiel's. So, his HGH use should not take away from his comeback at all. The only reason it is being spun that way is because his use of HGH contradicts the American values that have been infused into his comeback tale.

Ankiel's HGH use is nothing like steroid use. If anything, it is similar to Mark McGwire's use of andro during the 1998 season. Andro is now a banned substance by baseball, but at the time it was not. In the cases of both McGwire and Ankiel, it may seem like they cheated, but they were playing by the rules of the time. That's why I'm particularly irked that Ankiel's alleged HGH use is being spun as a sign of how corrupt baseball is, and especially how corrupt it has been for the past decade. There is no denying that plenty of cheating was going on, but why not point to the banned substances that Troy Glaus and Jay Gibbons allegedly acquired, both allegations that were published in the same report that claims Ankiel received HGH? Furthermore, the report says Gibbons received shipments of HGH in 2005, and it was a banned substance by that time. Those are the damaging parts of the report, not Ankiel's HGH use. However, because Rick Ankiel has become a pseudo-American hero with his uplifting tale of hard work and perseverance, his story is getting a vast majority of the attention, and the facts are being falsely manipulated in a way that makes him look like a fraud, and baseball look like a fraud.

I try to stick to more concrete analysis on my blog, but the continuing coverage of Ankiel's HGH use and the way it is being presented is getting on my nerves. In general, sports reporting tends to be solid and fairly impartial, especially when compared to other areas, such as political reporting. However, the Ankiel story is getting warped. The facts are out there, but they are being weaved together wrong. Ankiel is not a cheater, and his 2004 HGH use does not show how flawed baseball is. Gibbons and Glaus don't have the same name appeal as Ankiel right now, but the allegations against them are much more damaging to baseball than Ankiel's. It is unfortunate how the situation is currently being portrayed.

Quick Look at September Call-Ups

Jeff ClementWith September comes expanded rosters, and the Mariners plan to take advantage of it. Yesterday, they announced that they planned to call up a total of 10 players. Five of them are part of the ballclub now, and four more will join it when the AAA season ends on Tuesday (John Parrish was supposed to be called up today but wasn't, so it is unclear what the Mariners are planning to do with him now). Here is a quick look at the players the Mariners are adding, and the impact of the moves:

  • UT Mike Morse (69) - Morse had a knee injury that kept him out for a couple months, but he when healthy he was productive. For as big of a man as he is, he still hasn't flashed much power, though he has shown the ability to hit for average both in AAA and the major leagues. Ultimately, Morse's greatest value to the team is his defensive versatility, and he'll likely see a few at-bats as a right-handed pinch-hitter.
  • OF Charlton Jimerson (56) - With 25 home runs and 35 steals in the minors this year, Jimerson possesses a nice power/speed combo. However, his power is wiped out by an obscene number of strikeouts - 139 in 387 at-bats to be exact. He'll be the designated pinch-runner, a role that he should thrive in.
  • C Rob Johnson (62/73) - The Mariners have long been high on Johnson, and though he likely won't play much he should make his major league debut sometime in the next month. Johnson's strength is his defense, and his hitting has developed some. Still, he will be the third-string catcher, so he will see little playing time.
  • LHP Ryan Feierabend (59/67) - Since struggling mightily in the majors, Ryan has settled down and ended up having a solid year in Tacoma. Still, he's not ready for a pivotal role on this team. He should take over mop-up duty in any potential blow-outs down the stretch, freeing up Ryan Rowland-Smith for more important innings.
  • RHP Sean White (68) - The Rule Five draft pick is back, and he is the biggest addition of the guys called up today. White will join Feierabend as a mop-up man, though he is a better pitcher than Ryan right now. The two of them should ease concerns of burning out the bullpen.
  • OF Jeremy Reed (68) - To a certain extent Reed has re-discovered the stroke that once made him a top prospect. He should be a good left-handed pinch-hitting option off the bench. McLaren may also use him as a defensive replacement as well, but that would be a mistake if he picks Reed over Adam Jones in any situation.
  • OF Wladimir Balentien (71/83) - It will be interesting to see what the Mariners do with Balentien once he is called up. Wladimir is yet to make his major league debut, but he is the best player the M's are calling up. Balentien's greatest strength is a powerful bat, though he also has underrated speed. He has started to tap into his power potential thanks to remarkably improved plate discipline the last couple years. The odds are Wladimir will get very little playing time, though he should share pinch-hitting duties with fellow call-ups Mike Morse and Jeremy Reed.
  • INF Nick Green (69) - Green has been tearing the cover off the ball ever since joining the Rainiers. Nothing about the rest of his career says he can maintain the type of hitting he has shown, but maybe this is just his year. Green can play around the infield, though his best position is second base, which has value on this team given Jose Lopez's struggles.
  • C Jeff Clement (71/83) - Clement might be even more interesting to watch than Balentien in September. The former first-round pick is yet to make his major league debut, but after a slow start he really heated up. Thanks to his patience and power, he should see some pinch-hitting opportunities. Clement bats left-handed, but he absolutely crushed left-handed pitching. Hopefully McLaren realizes that he is much better against southpaws.
  • LHP John Parrish (64) - When the Mariners traded for Parrish he had a 70 rating, but his rating has since dropped significantly despite very few innings pitched. He was supposed to be called up today, so I'm simply guessing that he will eventually be called up. Parrish should not be anything other than another mop-up man, but he is a better pitcher than he has shown in Seattle.
To make room on the 40-man roster for a number of these players, the following players had to be removed from it. They all are still part of the Mariners organization, but there is now a chance they could lose all of them (to put a complicated process way too simply):
  • OF Mike Wilson (44/63) - Wilson got off to a horrible start, and though he had a much better second half, it still wasn't that impressive. He has great power, but struggles to make contact.
  • INF Oswaldo Navarro (57/67) - Oswaldo looks like a light-hitting, decent-fielding shortstop at best. I don't know how he ever got on the 40-man roster to begin with.
  • C Rene Rivera (41/59) - All I'll say is that I'm very glad the Mariners have Jamie Burke, because another year of watching Rene Rivera flail at the baseball like he's blindfolded was going to be painful. Rivera has inexplicably regressed as a hitter the last couple years to the point that he is not a viable option in the majors. How he stayed on the 40-man this long nobody will ever know.
  • LHP Jake Woods (50) - After a pleasantly surprising season out of the bullpen last year, Woods has had a not-so-pleasantly surprising disaster of a season in Tacoma. Woods probably is not as good as he pitched in 2006, but also not as bad as he was this season. Still, given all the lefties the Mariners have on the roster, this was a logical move.
The Mariners September call-ups could actually be major difference-makers down the stretch. For the most part they won't be pitching or hitting in crucial situations, but they will allow McLaren to rest important contributors in non-crucial situations. It will allow important players to have days off that they otherwise would not get, especially in the bullpen. That will be especially valuable given how few days off the Mariners have the rest of the way.