September 24, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Twins clinch AL Central Division
Congratulations to the Minnesota Twins for clinching the American League Central Division title, the first team to clinch a division title this year. Making full use of their sparkling new home at Target Field this year, the Twins began a hot streak in August, while the rival Chicago White Sox fell way behind in the standings. Another reason for the Twins to celebrate: they just broke their single-season attendance record, with 3,063,327 fans at Target Field in its inaugural year thus far. Their previous annual attendance record was 3,030,672, at the Metrodome in 1988, the year after they won the World Series. See MLB.com.
Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds, and the Philadelphia Phillies are each virtually guaranteed a division title, with magic numbers of three or four. Two of those teams, the Rangers and the Reds, have not reached the postseason in over a decade, so this will make for some interesting matchups. In only two divisions is there any drama left: the National League West, where the Giants have surged ahead of the slumping Padres, with the Rockies not far behind. The Rockies have been extremely hot lately, reminding one of their amazing finish of the 2007 season, when they reached the World Series for the first time. The Giants last reached the postseason in 2003, but they have not won the World Series since they moved to San Francisco 52 years ago. The Padres last made it to the playoffs in 2006. In the American League East, meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays refuse to give up in their race against the Yankees to claim first place in the AL Eastern Division. After losing the first two games in the series at New York this week, they bounced back with two straight wins. The opponents they are set to play against next week are much less formidable than the Yankees' opponents, so one can't rule out a divisional title for the Rays. Whoever loses in that race will become the AL wild card team. As for the NL wild card spot, the Atlanta Braves have a razor-thin lead over the Padres right now.
In Our Nation's Capital, the Washington Nationals (65-88) are virtually guaranteed to finish in last place for the fifth time in their six years of (relocated) existence. If they win all nine of their remaining games while the New York Mets (74-78) lose all ten of their remaining games, however, then those two teams will end up tied in fourth (but still last) place. The Nationals are going for their fourth straight win tonight, facing the Atlanta Braves in Nationals Park. That would be the Nats' longest winning streak of the 2010 season -- not much to brag about. During each their first five years, they had a winning streak of at least six games. Whether or not the Braves' long-time manager Bobby Cox retires on a happy note will depend to a large extent on how the series in Washington goes this weekend...
Suzuki sets hits record
In Toronto yesterday, Ichiro Suzuki hit safely for the 200th time this year, the 10th year in a row he has reached that very high plateau. Wee Willie Keeler did so for eight consecutive years, once upon a time, while Pete Rose reached the 200-hit plateau in ten seasons, but not consecutively. With 2,230 total hits in career thus far, the 37-year old Suzuki could conceivably reach the 3,000-hit mark. Unfortunately for him, the 1,278 hits he had during nine seasons in Japan won't count for MLB records. See MLB.com. It's too bad the Seattle Mariners can't field enough players of his caliber to be a postseason contender. Among active players, the current career hits leader is Washington's own Ivan Rodriguez, with 2,815.
I had the pleasure to watch Suzuki in action at Target Field last month, but he did not get any hits that day, or even a walk.
Miller time, again
Finally, I have slightly revised the 2001 version of the Miller Park diagram, taking into account an "insider tip" shared with me by Mark London: the distance to right field has been 345 feet ever since the stadium was built. According to Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals (2006), the right field distance in 2001 was 355 feet, and was then reduced to 345 feet a year later. That is erroneous, as it turns out: Mark's source states unequivocally that the foul pole has not been moved. Well, nobody's perfect, not even the widely-acknowledged original authority in the field. The old scoreboard in that corner of Miller Park was positioned diagonally, with a triangular space between it and the seating section in back. With the new picnic area, the fence in right field is parallel to the seating section in back. Mystery solved!