September 25, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.]
As recently as a week ago, it seemed like a fairly safe bet that the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox would make it to October via the wild card route. After losing their respective series over the weekend, however, those two teams' hopes of playing into October are in grave jeopardy. Thanks to wins by my two favorite teams -- the Nationals and the Yankees -- the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays are only one game behind in the respective races.
In Washington, those late-blooming, suddenly feisty Nationals came back from their defeat on Friday night to win the second and third games of the series against the Braves. In both games, solid pitching was a critical factor. On Saturday, Chien Ming-Wang only allowed one run and four hits over six full innings, his best outing of the season. That game was notable for being Ivan Rodriguez's probable last start as catcher for the Nationals. "Pudge" got a single and made a great throw to second base, stopping a stolen base attempt. He wants to continue playing in the majors and reach the 3,000-hit mark, but it would probably be with a different team next year. See the Washington Post. On Sunday, Ross Detwiler kept his cool under pressure and went six innings without giving up any runs. Home runs by Wilson Ramos and Michael Morse (#29!) provided the winning margin for the Nationals. It was their last home game in Washington this year, and 37,638 fans showed up for the bittersweet occasion. See MLB.com.
In The Bronx, the Yankees and Red Sox played a double-header today. The home team won the afternoon game, making up for Friday night's rain-out, and they held the lead in the second game until the seventh inning. If the Red Sox had lost that one, they would have been tied with the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild card race. But the game was tied 4-4 after nine, and in the top of the 14th inning Jacoby Ellsbury hit a three-run homer, and Boston eked out a precious win, 7-4. See MLB.com.
Odds would seem to favor the Cardinals on the National League side, and the Red Sox on the American League side. The Braves finish their regular season facing the top-seeded Phillies (99-60) at home, while the Cardinals play on the road in Houston against the "bottom-seeded" (55-104) Astros. Meanwhile, the Red Sox head to Baltimore for their last three games, hoping to avoid becoming the first team to blow a 10-game lead in the wild card race since the divisional playoffs were expanded (or would have been expanded, were it not for the strike) in 1994. The Orioles (67-92) may be in last place in the AL East, but they are no pushover, having just split a four-game series in Detroit against the AL Central champion Tigers. For their part, the Rays face a much more daunting task, hosting the Yankees (97-62) in St. Petersburg. The Angels have pretty much dropped out of wild card contention, putting an end to fears of some kind of "massive tie" scenario, requiring extra playoff games.
In preparation for another thrilling, action-packed October, I have included a highly conjectural 2011 postseason matchup on the Postseason scores page, subject to last-minute revision, of course. It will automatically begin displaying at the bottom of the Baseball blog page at the stroke of midnight on the first of October. Scores on it will be updated daily.
Having swept the Phillies and prevailed over the Braves in two of three games, the Nationals have raised their win-loss record to 78-80. The amazing feat of winning 12 of their last 15 games keeps their hopes alive for ending the season over .500 for the first time since their 2005 "rebirth" in Washington. All they need to do now is sweep the Florida (soon to be Miami) Marlins in the final baseball series ever to be played in Sun Life Stadium. The team seems very psyched up, looking forward to becoming real contenders next year, and Michael Morse has the added incentive of trying to get his 30th home run. That would be twice as many as in the year before, and five times as many as in the first five years of his career, when he was plagued by injuries. Hit for the fence, Michael!
According to my records, the Nats had an average home attendance of 28,356 during September, their best month all year. Usually, attendance drops in September, but the return of Stephen Strasburg generated a lot of fan excitement. For the year as a whole, the Nationals recorded a total paid attendance of 1,940,480, a modest improvement over the two preceding years, but still less than in any of their first four years in Washington.
Over the weekend, I finally completed one of the biggest and most irritating maintenance chores, making the layout of the stadium pages consistent. (In fact, I missed all of the Nationals-Braves game and most of the Yankees-Red Sox game while I sweated over the HTML code. ) The transition in page layouts began about a year ago, and I never imagined it would take so long to get them all done. In some cases, because of the way CSS works, page layouts were horribly out of whack, but I'm pretty sure that is no longer the case. From now on, all stadium pages have the same navigation system, showing the hierarchical structure in the line of links just below the masthead. The masthead itself is a clickable link to the Baseball home / navigation page, as distinct from the Baseball blog page, which is where the home plate icon still takes you. As another convenience, clicking on any of the same-stadium dynamic links (as opposed to the links to other stadium pages) will automatically position the page so that the navigation link line is at the very top of the Web page.
Aside from the stadium-specific pages, there are still a few baseball information pages to revise, and of course a number of diagrams that are still in the works. Rest assured: steady progress is being made!
One of the most outdated pages was Mile High Stadium, but that is no longer the case. Instead of having a separate "sideways" diagram to facilitate comparisons between the baseball configuration and the football configuration, I now rely on a new "full-size" diagram in which center field is at the top. Most of the revisions are minor in nature, focusing mainly on the profile, but there is a brand-new (though incomplete) 1960s version diagram, back when it was called "Bears Stadium." I may add an original (1948) version and an early 1970s version later on.
Terry Wallace has been sending me more information on baseball stadiums in football configuration, a diagramming task which I do indeed plan to "tackle" this fall. Speaking of football, while watching Sunday Night Football this evening, I was reminded that I had stopped to take a photo of Lucas Oil Stadium while visiting downtown Indianapolis last month. It's a unique structure, with massive exterior brick walls and a roof that slopes down from the center, like a typical single-family house.
Mike Zurawski informed me that the Marlins' new 2012 logo (with an "M" for Miami rather than an "F" for Florida) was accidentally unveiled by somebody. Some people think it may have been intentionally leaked by the Marlins as part of a publicity campaign. See ESPN.
New fan Daniel Francis writes: "Too bad the Montreal Expos didn't play their home games in Vancouver. Instead they went to Puerto Rico to play their home games there. Maybe a new retractable-roof baseball-only ballpark can be built in the PNE at the site where the temporary Empire Field is located if Vancouver get's an MLB franchise." Hmmm, I dunno... As Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) said in the movie Jerry Maguire, "Show me the money!"