September 12, 2014 [LINK / comment]
Divisional races start to heat up
With a little more than two weeks left to go in the 2014 regular season, three of the divisional races (NL-C, NL-W, AL-C) are very close, while the other three (NL-E, AL-E, AL-W) are pretty much wrapped up.
Until late July, it appeared very likely that there might be another Bay Area World Series, between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's, just like in 1989. But now it's the Los Angeles teams that dominate their respective leagues, or their divisions at least. We could have the first-ever Los Angeles-only World Series next month, or the first-ever Baltimore-Washington World Series.
NL East: not much drama
In the National League East, the Washington Nationals are still 8.5 games ahead of the Braves, even though they lost 4-3 to the Mets tonight. (Thanks go out to the Texas Rangers, who beat the Braves, 2-1.) Anthony Rendon hit a solo homer and went 3 for 5, but his teammates grounded into double plays three times, killing potential rallies. Gio Gonazalez gave up a three-run double in the bottom of the first inning, and even though he composed himself and went another five innings, he still got charged with the loss. (He's 8-10 this year.) Jayson Werth was out of the lineup tonight with those "flu-like symptoms." I sure hope it's not that dreaded enterovirus that has afflicted so many people in the Midwest.
I'll admit I'm a bit worried about Bryce Harper. He's getting semi-regular hits and occasional homers, but is still not performing like he ought to, and you can tell he is getting very frustrated with himself. In yesterday's Washington Post, there was a big photo of him angrily yelling after hitting a fly ball out. He really needs to keep his composure.
On a brighter note, the Nationals pitchers have the best team ERA in the National League (3.11), just behind the Mariners (3.01), who are the best in the majors. The Nats' starting rotation is solid as can be, and their relievers are very reliable for the most part. The question of who (if anyone) will be the regular closing pitcher during the postseason is the only problem.
NL Central: back & forth
In the NL Central Division, the first-place St. Louis Cardinals lost three straight games (until winning tonight), while the Pittsburgh Pirates have surged ahead of the woebegone Milwaukee Brewers and are now just 2.5 games behind the Cardinals. I get the sense that many people were surprised that the Brewers were doing so well earlier this season, almost expecting them to fall back eventually. The Brewers lost 13 out of 14 games from August 26 through September 9, a disastrous reversal of fortune. But in Miller Park tonight they got a much-needed jolt of energy when pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay hit a game-winning RBI in the bottom of the ninth inning, beating the Reds, 3-2. That makes three wins in a row, so maybe there's still hope.
NL West: long, hard grind
In the NL West, the Giants continue to keep pace with the Dodgers, who surged into first place toward the end of July. The Giants won three straight games against the Diamondbacks, putting them just two games behind the Dodgers. Their rookie infielder Joe Panik, who briefly caused panic in Washington with his slugging prowess last month, was voted "Mr. Energy of the Month." (See MLB.com.) He is considered a future team leader. After losing two out of three to the visiting Nationals last week, L.A. won five out of six games. The Giants and Dodgers are playing a high-stakes series in San Francisco this weekend.
AL East: Orioles fly high
The big news in the American League is the Baltimore Orioles, who have won six in a row after beating the visiting New York Yankees in a double-header today. Their magic number is now five. In the afternoon game, neither team scored for the first ten innings, and then the Yankees' Chris Young hit a solo homer in the top of the eleventh. But the Orioles loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning, and with two outs, Jimmy Paredes hit a two-run double to win the game in dramatic walk-off fashion. This came one day after the Yankees came back from a 4-0 deficit against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, getting two runs in the eighth and three runs in the ninth, thus winning 5-4.
The Orioles got a rude shock when they learned that first baseman Chris Davis received a 25-game suspension after testing positive for the prescription drug Adderall. (Perhaps he was flying too high.) That means he can't play for the rest of the regular season, and will miss at least the divisional series in October, depending on how far the Orioles go. See MLB.com.
AL Central: Tigers-Royals
The Kansas City Royals withstood a fierce challenge from the Detroit Tigers in this week's series in Motown, winning the final game on Wednesday to avoid being swept, thereby remaining in first place. But the Royals lost the first two games of a four-game series against the Red Sox yesterday and today, while the Tigers beat the visiting Cleveland Indians. That puts Detroit in sole possession of first place in the AL Central for the first time in two weeks, with a half game lead. But don't think that the traditional powerhouse in the AL Central has got the inside track to another division title. The Royals have proven themselves worthy competitors, and they've got plenty of support from the community. (Perhaps the Royals will benefit from the lackluster performance of the Kansas City Chiefs, attracting football fans from next door in Arrowhead Stadium over to Kaufmann Stadium.)
AL West: Angels astound
The L.A. (Anaheim) Angels are simply awesome this year, and with a winning percentage of .623 (91-53), it's hard to see how anyone except perhaps the Orioles can beat them. The Angels' magic number is now seven. Their big-salary roster of sluggers (Pujols, Trout, Kendrick, Aybar, Hamilton*) is well known, but their pitchers are less prominent, from what I can tell. *Josh Hamilton has been out with a sore shoulder since September 4, and in spite of cortisone shots he isn't making a very fast recovery. As for the Oakland A's, it's a mystery what befell them after doing so well for the first four months. All they can realistically hope for now is to get home field advantage for the wild card play-in game. Meanwhile, with a best-in-the-majors pitching staff, the Seattle Mariners are just a half game behind the Kansas City Royals for the second AL wild card spot. Many possible outcomes still remain...
Stadium chronology fixup
The Stadium chronology, annual page has been updated to include the impending demolition of Candlestick Park and possible demolition of the Astrodome next year. It also lists the expected 2015 groundbreaking on the new Atlanta Braves stadium, yet to be named. In addition, that page now shows the years lights were installed in the "Classical" (Early 20th Century) and "Early Modern" (1920s & 1930s) baseball stadiums. Previously, the only place where that information was compiled was on the Stadiums by class page, soon to be updated.
More on Braves Field
After taking a close look at some old photos of Braves Field (found on baseball-fever.com), I made some significant discoveries. In particular, in 1937 there were distance markers of 407 feet and 404 feet to the left and right (respectively) of the corner in right-center field. Also, home plate was only about 45 feet from the backstop, rather than about 60 feet as it was for most of its lifetime. Those clues allowed me to reconcile the reported distances of 368 (left field) and 376 (right field), which had seemed implausible to me. It also explains why such a big chunk was taken out of the pavilion near the right field corner that year: All of that space was in fair territory until 1940, when an inner fence was added. And so, I added a 1937 version diagram to the Braves Field page. Fortunately, I didn't have to make any noticeable changes to the other diagrams, as was the case with Angel Stadium recently. ("Take two!")
Oops, I did it again
Thanks to Zach LaFleur for pointing out (via the stadium impressions feedback feature) that I had a broken link on the Busch Stadium II page, after doing a big batch of stadium page data table updates earlier this month. That's because I have been working on an upper-deck version diagram for that stadium, but it's not yet ready for publication. [That page is] fixed now. I do depend on fans to bring such mistakes to my attention, which reminds me that I need to streamline the feedback mechanism. Plus I need to reformat the pages to more suitably display on mobile devices, etc., etc., etc. Sigh...