Early Returns

October 4, 2012

67% of the viewers polled expressed their opinion that Mitt Romney won the debate last night with President Obama.  On its face that is a shocking development, given that the President is considered just short of Jesus in his communication skills and that, in the 30 year history of the poll, no candidate has ever been declared the clear winner of a debate by more than 60% of the viewers.

So, what of it? Is this the harbinger of a future shocker, (the defeat of an incumbent Democratic president has happened only once in the past 135 years) or simply the misleading data of a marginally significant event early in the stretch run to the championship on November 6?  Stay tuned, at least until the next debate when Romney’s expectations will be so high that he may have to walk on water to satisfy the pundits and best his opponent.

Speaking of expectations and miracles, the Texas Rangers led the AL West division for 178 days this season and were widely expected to win the division and possibly a third consecutive AL pennant.  The Oakland A’s had sole possession of the lead for one day, and were expected by no one to finish even within the  13 games by which they trailed the Rangers on June 30.  The A’s, however, exceeded those expectations, to say the least.  The Rangers did not.

Playing the best baseball of anyone over the last three months, the A’s miraculously went  from holding the second wildcard position, to the first wildcard position, to winning the AL West on the last day.  The Rangers apparently forgot that there were a few more days left in the long MLB season when they had a 5 game lead with just 10 days to go.  Lesson learned for future campaigns: one day in the lead is better than 178, so long as it is the LAST day.

So, the  Rangers are in the post-season again but they must feel like failures.  No team had ever lost a division title after leading for so many days, and they sure didn’t look like a winning club in game 162.  Does this mean the Rangers are dead?    Or, are they even now plotting to become the Comeback Kids? Would Nolan Ryan – or President Bush – let them adopt Bill Clinton’s nickname?  Probably so, if it means another trip to the Series.  That journey starts Friday when the Rangers must face another team whose presence in the post-season is just as shocking as the A’s – the Baltimore Orioles (more about them below).  And the Rangers will be starting their version of a rookie pitcher, Yu Darvish.  Stayed tuned for a very interesting primary battle, the very first official “play-in play-off” game.

Now back to the A’s, who are a miracle team that exceeded even Hollywood’s expectations.  Is this the team destined to fulfill Billy Beane’s dream of winning the last game of a baseball season? Hollywood does love sequels, right?   How else but by destiny and a Hollywood script can you explain a team winning 94 games in a season in which rookie pitchers started 104 of the 162 games?  Oh, and this is a team with one of the lowest batting averages (28th) and on base percentages (24th) in all of MLB.  This is not a classic Moneyball team, except for having one of the lowest payrolls (29th).   Seems like destiny to me, but the A’s have company in that department.  I remember someone once wrote about destiny being a two-timer, but on occasion she can apparently even be a three-timer.

The aforementioned Baltimore Orioles deserve some destiny discussion of their own.   If it were not for the A’s, Buck Showalter and the O’s would be the talk of baseball.  Or rather, perhaps Dan Duquette would be.  He’s the architect of the Orioles’ rise and was the GM for Boston immediately prior to Theo Epstein. Take a look at the Red Sox 2002 roster right before Epstein took over.  It looks an awful lot like the World Championship team of 2004.   Maybe Duquette could get his own movie deal with Tom Hanks as the star (he turned down the role as Billy Beane).  As for Hollywood drama, I have to say I would love to see the Orioles take on the Yankees in the Division Series just to see Buck Showalter get his shot at revenge against the Steinbrenners.  He certainly made them miserable for the past two weeks.

Finally, there is one other amazing story from this MLB primary season, and it comes from inside Beltway where destiny is always part of the discussion.  Only our reigning B.A.B.E.S champion Leo G. foresaw the stunning primary victory of the Washington Nationals in the NL East.  Another crusty baseball veteran, Davy Johnson, should get some credit, but most of the praise belongs to Mike Rizzo, the GM you have probably never heard of unless you followed the debate about whether to cancel the season of one of baseball’s top pitchers – Stephen Strasburg – even in the heat of a pennant race.  Rizzo did just that, and yet the team he put together is so solid that it still finished with MLB’s best record.

Other than paying Jayson Werth a king’s ransom when he was perhaps worth the price of a knight, Rizzo has made very successful deals that make the Nats a favorite in the post-season.  One of those deals landed star pitcher Gio Gonzalez from Billy Beane and the A’s in exchange for Tom Milone and others.  Can you imagine Gonzalez facing Milone in Game 7  of the World Series at Nationals Park on November 1, only 5 days before the election?  How many congressional candidates would abandon the campaign trail to join together in non-partisan support for the Nats?  Or would they be forced to pull against the Washington team to show their constituents that they are not a Washington insider?  Would the president throw out the first pitch? If you’ve seen him throw, you know he truly stretches the definition of “crafty lefthander.” My guess is that his handlers would advise against the photo op (for you older Society members, think Michael Dukakis riding in a tank with a helmet on.)   Oh, the beauty and complexity of post-season baseball in an election year!

Ok, enough punditry for now. Time to get down to  reporting the official early returns.  We have some society members who have shown themselves to be true experts, helped out by the late season surge of DET, the survival of NYY and the collapse of TEX.  Others among us have shown themselves to be the opposite – namely me, but I am at least for the moment ahead of my wife (and no one else).

Three members scored big with the selection of Miguel Cabrera as the AL batting champ, and one succeeded with the pick of Buster Posey for the NL batting title, aided by Melky Cabrera’s drug suspension. (Interesting note: how weird would it have been to have both batting titles won by players named Cabrera?)   There are many other aspects of the primary season to report and much of the campaign remains, so here is the current election tabulation for each of you along with my forecast for your prospects for ultimate victory in November:

THE FRONTRUNNERS:

23 points

Steve J.– CIN (3) SFO (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) Cabrera (10) – the rare NYY lover who is realistic about that team; his pick of DET v. SFO in the Series looks promising, as does his pick of Cabrera for AL MVP.

Tim T.-   SFO (3) ATL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) Cabrera (10) – a rare Cubs fan who knows good teams when he sees them, and knows the Cubs aren’t one;  could win it all with DET in the Series and Verlander as AL Cy Young;

19 points

Leo G.– SFO (3) STL (3) WAS (3) STL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – backs up his 2011 B.A.B.E.S. title with 6 direct hits! But his selection of TEX as WS champ and hard-luck player picks make a repeat title unlikely. Sadly, Votto as NL MVP and Batting Champ could have happened if he had not gotten injured.

Pete H.– STL (1) SFO(1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) Posey (10) – nice pick of Posey as NL batting champ, but not much hope with TEX as WS champ and only Verlander with a chance among his player picks; perhaps blind loyalty to NYY would have been better.

18 points

Thomas F.– SFO (3) CIN (3) ATL (3) STL (3) DET (3) TEX (3) – kudos to our youngest society member (13 years) who picked 6 direct hits! Unfortunately, none of these 6 were his picks for the WS (LAA, PHI) which destroys the chance for any more team points, and his only possible player pick is Verlander.  Therefore, he can’t beat Turek, who also picked Verlander.  However, Thomas had an excellent rookie campaign and undoubtedly will be a contender for years to come.
17 points

Matt B.– STL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1) Cabrera (10) – right picks, wrong places; as a former catcher at Trinity, Matt usually does better with his location, but could still find the zone with DET in WS and Verlander as AL Cy Young, but would still lose to Turek.

STILL IN THE HUNT(?):

15 points

Eric H.– SFO (3) CIN (3) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) – 5 direct hits is very well done, indeed.  Could be rewarded for his loyalty to NYY in WS.  Add that to Price as AL Cy Young and Eric is a dark horse for the title.

14 points

Marc W.– CIN (3) ATL (1) SFO (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) – good showing with 6 correct picks; could score more with SFO as NL LCS and Price as AL Cy Young, but needs a lot of help for a title.  Definitely a long-shot.
13 points

Carl R.-   CIN (3) ATL (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) – beloved LAD let him down, but could still compete for the title with DET in WS, Cabrera as AL MVP and Verlander AL Cy Young (hey, all 3 could happen).

Bruce R.– SFO (3) STL (1) ATL (3) DET (3) TEX (3) – could score more with SFO as NL LCS, but LAA in WS and player picks limit upside.  Does get kudos  for picking Chris Sale as AL Cy Young. He won’t win it but was in the race in September (and I had never heard of the guy).

11 points

Gus P. – SFO (3) STL (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – could make a major move up with SFO v. TEX in Series, Cabrera as AL MVP, Verlander as Cy Young (possible 44 more points on the board).

Tony L. – CIN (3) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – perennial top-tier finisher has work to do; could improve dramatically with NYY in WS, Cabrera as AL MVP and Weaver as AL Cy Young

Jed M. – SFO (3) STL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1), not bad but no hope for the future with only TEX as WS champ and Verlander as AL Cy Young to bank on (Hosey has the same picks and leads by 8)
10 points
Rob C. – SFO (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – Theo did not bring Rob a WS title in year 105 of the drought. Did anyone know that the Cubs’ last title was actually the second of back-to-back wins? ‘O7-‘O8, that’s 1907-O8, of course.  Weaver as Al Cy Young could improve his finish, but no B.A.B.E.S. title for Rob this year.  “Wait till next year!”

Tom M. – SFO (3) STL (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – The right picks in just the right places can take you a long way; could make a run to the top with NYY in WS and Verlander as AL Cy Young;

STAYING IN FOR THE EXPERIENCE:

9 points
Bill C. – STL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) –  path to the title blocked by Marchiando, with NYY in WS and Verlander as AL Cy Young; their positions flipped when TEX choked. At least Bill got to enjoy a full year of agony for the Red Sox Nation to go along with last year’s September collapse.   Sadly, he won’t have Bobby V. to kick around anymore (but wait, Nixon said the same thing about himself and then won two presidential elections!).

8 points

Rip L. – STL (1) ATL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1) – another victim of right teams, wrong spots. No shot with TEX as WS champ and Verlander as AL Cy Young, as others ahead of him also picked.

Scott R. – STL (1) DET (3) NYY (1) TEX (3) – those that can, play baseball; those that can’t play, become B.A.B.E.S.’  winners; those that can’t play or predict winners, become the Commissioner.

4 points

Jennifer R. – ATL (3) TEX (1) – but for DET’s surge and TEX’s collapse, she’d be ahead of me.  Jen still gets kudos for that PIT pick which looked brilliant for 120 games. And of course, she is still a BABE in every sense of the word.

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