- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The Rays, Yankees and Twins are fighting for home-field advantage in the AL playoffs, but as Kenton Wong of ESPN Stats & Information writes, history tells us that it really doesn't make that much of a difference.
This from Kenton:
- "On Sept. 22, the Yankees and Twins were tied for the best record in baseball at 92-60. The Rays were just 1.5 games back at 90-61. The Twins had already clinched the AL Central and the Yankees and Rays had firm grips on the AL East and wild-card spots.
"The three teams still had home-field advantage to play for, but it seems like no one really wanted it. Since Sept. 23, the Twins have gone 1-5, the Yankees have gone 2-5 and the Rays have gone 4-3. Hardly spectacular play from three of the best teams in baseball -- but maybe they are on to something. Since 1995 (in the wild card era), the team with home-field advantage in the division series has won just 31 of the 60 series. Since the division series adopted a 2-2-1 format in 1998, the team with home-field advantage has won 25 of 48 series. (It was a 2-3 format from 1995 to 1997).
"It's a similar story when we get to the league championship series. Teams with home-field advantage in the LCS are actually under .500 since it began in 1969: 39-41. The win percentages for division series since '95 for the team with the 'advantage' are just .517, while in the championship series, the 'advantaged team' has a .488 win percentage."
All three of those teams played Wednesday.
Some Yankees don't want to rest down the stretch, Ben Shpigel writes. A-Rod slammed his 30th homer on Thursday; according to Stats & Info., he is now tied with Barry Bonds for most consecutive seasons with 30 HRs (13) and trails only Hank Aaron (15) for most career seasons with 30 HRs (14).
Justin Morneau has been feeling better and will take batting practice today, but keep in mind, his return is an extreme long shot. Assuming that he doesn't have any setbacks -- and Aaron Hill and others who have suffered from concussions will tell you that setbacks are just part of the equation -- Morneau would need a consistent regimen of workouts and then about a week's worth of games in instructional ball. And then the Twins would have to evaluate whether he had made enough progress to return to the lineup. From the outside looking in, it would seem that if he was to return, the best shot would come if the Twins reached the World Series. It's a race against time.
With head injuries, there's nothing to do but wait, writes Jeff Blair.
• Brooks Conrad continues to do his best Lou Gehrig impression (to Martin Prado's Wally Pipp). In consecutive days, the 30-year-old has mashed a crucial triple and a home run, nudging the Braves closer to a playoff spot, as Atlanta completed a sweep of the Marlins.
There are only standing room tickets available for the last regular-season game of Bobby Cox's career.
• Tim Lincecum was outstanding, striking out 11 against the Diamondbacks despite a sluggish first inning. Pat Burrell got the Giants going with a long home run. There was a safety net for Brian Wilson in his most recent save, writes Steve Kroner.
Check out where Lincecum stands (already) with the Giants on some all-time lists.
These are Giants pitchers with the most 10-strikeout games since 1900:
Christy Mathewson: 28
Jason Schmidt: 27
Tim Lincecum: 26
Juan Marichal: 25
For his own part, Wilson is now just one behind the late Rod Beck for most saves in a season in Giants history, with 47. Beck had 48 in 1993.
• The Padres won a must-win game, Bill Center writes.
• Last October, Damaso Marte emerged from the disabled list to essentially become the Yankees' most valuable player in the World Series, with the way he handled the Philadelphia left-handed hitters. In that vein, it's worth noting that the Rangers' Mark Lowe hadn't pitched since May 4 before climbing the mound in Texas on Wednesday -- and what he did raised the eyebrows of some talent evaluators, who walked away thinking that Lowe could become an important factor for the Rangers in the playoffs. "He was throwing 94-95 mph," said one evaluator. "He looked really good."
The Rangers need help in their setup corps, having just determined that Frank Francisco is not going to be ready for the division series.
• With the Mariners playing against Texas, Justin Smoak had his latest at-bats in front of a small army of scouts, and at least a couple walked away impressed. "He's further along than I thought he would be," said one talent evaluator. "He's got a long swing, but he is showing big-time power, which is what the Mariners need for their ballpark."
• There were more than a dozen scouts on hand to see Brandon Webb pitch in an instructional league game on Wednesday, and the former Cy Young Award winner threw an inning, with his fastball clocked at 80-82 mph, with his off-speed stuff in the low 70s. It's just his first outing, and he'll need to continue to rebuild arm strength.
Webb told Nick Piecoro that he felt good, as mentioned within this notebook.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Some rival executives are convinced that at the heart of the Carl Crawford sweepstakes this winter will be a wallet versus wallet battle between the Boston Red Sox and the Angels. He would be a seamless fit for either team: You can imagine a 1-2-3-4-5 for the Red Sox of:
DH David Ortiz
Or a 3-4-5 for the Angels of Crawford, Kendry Morales and Torii Hunter. Crawford would give the Angels some outstanding outfield defense, and if he played in Fenway Park on a daily basis, he would shut down left field in front of the Green Monster.
2. High-ranking executives with other teams are hearing that the practical impact of the Rangers' new television deal won't be as dramatic as the published numbers might suggest, because of the contract's financial structure. But no matter how it's sliced, it's a great thing for the Rangers, and the expectation is that the team has a chance to climb from the 26th-ranked payroll to somewhere in the second tier, among clubs like the Mariners, Giants and Cardinals.
The Rangers' playoff run will help the team and the community, writes Susan Schrock.
3. The Diamondbacks will finish this season as the first team in history to accumulate more than 1,500 strikeouts, and about a quarter of those belong to third baseman Mark Reynolds (206) and first baseman Adam LaRoche (169). There's a very good chance that neither player will be with Arizona at the start of next season.
LaRoche and the Diamondbacks have a $7.5 million mutual option for 2011, so Arizona may well walk away from that deal and look for a different first baseman through a trade or free agency.
Reynolds' situation is more complicated, because he is signed for the next two years for $5 million in 2011 and $7.5 million in 2012 (plus an option for 2013), and because he has had a terrible year, in the minds of some rival evaluators. "He's hitting below .200, and I'm not sure if he'll ever make adjustments," one GM said the other day.
But at a time when there is a lack of power hitters, some teams will be tempted by Reynolds' can-hit-it-out-of-the-Grand Canyon ability, and heartened by the fact that his defense has seemingly improved.
4. The Cardinals' GM vows the team will improve for 2011, Bernie Miklasz writes. The priority presumably is going to be fixing the middle of their infield.
7. The Marlins have chosen to snub Bobby Cox, writes Dave Hyde.
8. Buck Showalter will inform the Orioles' coaching staff about his decisions for 2011, Jeff Zrebiec writes.
9. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo says the team wants to land a No. 1 type starting pitcher, Adam Kilgore reports.
11. Some writers addressed the Tigers' offseason.
13. The decision on the McCourts could turn on the validity of the post-nup, Carla Hall and Bill Shaikin write.
14. The Angels fired Eddie Bane.
15. Mike Quade has gotten a blue-collar boost by the Cubs' performance.
Dings and dents
3. Joel Zumaya is on track to return to the Tigers in spring training without restrictions.
The Reds and Phillies
Here's an educated guess of what the Phillies' postseason will look like, courtesy of David Murphy. The Phillies' subs won in Washington. Joe Blanton has been outstanding of late, Marc Narducci writes.
From Andrew Davis, how Blanton won:
(A) The Nationals were 0-for-5 with four strikeouts against Blanton's off-speed pitches, the first start this season Blanton hasn't allowed a hit against an off-speed pitch.
(B) Four of Blanton's six strikeouts came on pitches away. Over his last five starts, Blanton has struck out 23 batters with pitches away.
(C) Blanton held the Nationals to 0-for-6 with two strikeouts with runners in scoring position, the third start in Blanton's last four he hasn't allowed a hit with RISP.
The Reds got to lounge, writes Tom Groeschen.
• John Zoni of Stats & Information notes that it has been a really, really long time since we've seen an NL team win 100 games: "Neither league will have a 100-win team this season (Philadelphia can top out at 98 wins in the NL, while Tampa Bay can top out at 99 wins in the AL entering Wednesday's games). For the NL, it will be the fifth straight season in which no team has won 100 games. St. Louis was the last NL team to win 100 games (winning an even 100 in 2005).
Since the NL went to a 162-game schedule in 1962 (one year after the AL did), this is the second-longest drought in terms of the NL not having a 100-win team. The longest such drought for the NL since '62 was a seven-season span from 1978-84, which included the strike-shortened 1981 campaign:
NL longest spans without a 100-win team since going to 162-game schedule (1962-present):
2. The Marlins are staggering to the finish line.
7. The Rockies lost their home finale.
9. The Royals racked up 15 strikeouts.
10. The Indians swept a doubleheader.
12. The Angels climbed past Oakland to move into second place in the AL West. Their recent progress might wind up costing them a first-round pick if they sign a Type A free agent (like Crawford) this offseason.
The Patience Index
• Bob Feller has gotten a pacemaker.
• Manny Acta mixes optimism with honesty in his review of the 2010 Indians, writes Terry Pluto.
• The Rangers owe a big thanks to the commissioner for this playoff run, writes Jennifer Floyd Engel.
• DeMarlo Hale took over Terry Francona's managerial duties for a day.
• Vanderbilt's backup quarterback exudes confidence. Vanderbilt plays at Connecticut this weekend.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Players and coaches constantly reference the comforts of home, and the edge built in when the locals are pushing them on. But a look at the numbers says that, be it the divisional or wild-card era, the home-field advantage is more myth than reality.