Bad omen for Red Sox? Not necessarily

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youkilis_090929.jpgAs bad as they’ve looked over the past five games, the Boston Red Sox are once again back in the playoffs, thanks to the Los Angeles Angels, who eliminated the Texas Rangers from contention on Tuesday night.

That’s a record seventh wild card berth for Boston, as well as its sixth playoff appearance in the last seven seasons. But after two championships since 2004, simply making the postseason is no longer good enough for Red Sox fans.

So after five straight losses – including a weekend sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees – there has got to be plenty of handwringing going on over at Red Sox Nation headquarters. The good feelings of a hot September start have faded during a 5-8 run that could have been even worse if not for a three-game sweep of the pathetic Orioles.

In light of the current losing streak, is there reason for worry in Boston? Is the recent swoon a sign of terrible things to come?

Not necessarily.

According to some research by blogger Lisa Swan at The Faster Times, a hot run in September has little bearing on what happens in October. Also, a fade at the end of the regular season does not spell doom in the postseason.

Ever since three Wild Card teams in a row – the 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins, and the 2004 Red Sox – won the World Series after sizzling Septembers, people have thought that ending the season on a hot streak is the key to postseason success. Only thing is, it’s not often the case.

True, going on a run down the stretch – like the 2007 Rockies did, when they went 21-8 over the last month of the regular season – will frequently catapult a team into the playoffs. But it doesn’t necessarily increase the likelihood of postseason success.

Swan looked at the results of all 72 playoff teams from 2000-08, and found that of the 10 teams that won more than 70 percent of their regular season games in September and October, only the 2007 Rockies made it was far as the World Series, and they were swept by the Red Sox. Only four of the 10 even made it past the first round.

On the other hand, during the same stretch there were six playoff teams that finished with a losing record down the stretch. Four of those teams made it the World Series, and the 2006 Cardinals and 2000 Yankees took home the big trophy.

After Tuesday night’s loss, the Red Sox are 15-12 in September, a perfectly fine .555 winning percentage. Sure, there are concerns, primarily on the pitching side of things. Josh Beckett’s back might be ailing him, Jon Lester is recovering from taking a liner off his knee, Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden don’t appear to be ready for prime time, and Dice-K is – well, who knows what you’ll get from Dice-K.

But now is not the time to be worried, Red Sox fans, as a September swoon has little bearing on what happens in October. Just take a cue from your ever-calm manager:

“We don’t really look at it like that,” Francona said. “Whatever happened nine days ago is not going to affect tomorrow. What we’re thinking about is today.”

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.

 

Sure, Carlos Gomez is the problem in Houston

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Associated Press
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No one will claim that Carlos Gomez is playing up to his ability. He’s got a .634 OPS in the 65 games he’s played for the Astros between last year and this year. Not good at all.

Still, he seems to be taking an outsized amount of the blame for the Astros’ slow start to this year. I do a weekly radio hit on a Texas station and Gomez has been the talk for three weeks when the Astros’ troubles are mentioned. Today Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle spends a whole column going at Gomez, with the usual dash of “you can’t be flamboyant if you can’t back it up” sentiment often given to players like Gomez when they struggle but which is seemingly never given to players whose act is more “tough guy.” Funny that.

More notable: nowhere in the column is it mentioned that, overall, the Astros’ offense is above league average and that, in reality, it’s the pitching that’s killing them. Gomez may not be carrying his weight, but his teammates in the lineup are for now, as teammates do for every hitter at one time of the year or another. Meanwhile, Smith doesn’t seem to be writing columns about how three of the Astros’ five starters have ERAs above 5.00 and how the bullpen has been a disaster. Gomez, however, gets a “Rally Killer” subheading in reference to his performance in a game his team actually won, primarily due to the offense.

There’s also an unfortunate quote in the article. Specifically, Smith quotes Gomez as saying “For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.”

I’m sure that’s what he said, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the quote’s imperfect English fits satisfyingly into a column designed to rip Gomez and that it’s going to play right into stereotyping a certain sort of reader who has just HAD it with those allegedly lazy, entitled Latino players likes to engage in. For the record, its not uncommon for other players whose grammar is less than perfect to get [the bracket treatment] to make the mistakes less noticeable. Or, if the quote is less than clear or enlightening, to get the paraphrasing treatment and have his sentiment conveyed in keeping with the intent of the sentiment. I guess Gomez doesn’t get that treatment. He gets to be portrayed in such a way that a certain sort of reader will unfortunately interpret as him being too dumb or too lazy to learn proper English or something.

And no, it’s not just sensitive old Craig noticing that:

Empathy is the key word here, I think. Smith as no interest in portraying Gomez as a player who, like all players, struggles from time to time. He has to be the bad guy who is responsible for all of the Astros’ woes, it seems.

Puerto Rico official calls MLB’s likely series cancellation “an act of touristic terrorism”

Ricardo Arduengo -- Associated Press
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On Tuesday it was reported that Major League Baseball is on the verge of cancelling the upcoming series in Puerto Rico between the Marlins and the Pirates due to Zika concerns. Puerto Rico is not particularly pleased with that.

As this story from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review makes clear, their displeasure is being expressed in totally calm and rational terms:

“It’s an outrageous situation,” Rep. Angel Matos, head of the tourism commission for Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, told the Tribune-Review. “The reality is that this cancellation is unfair, disproportionate, and makes our country look bad. It’s an act of touristic terrorism.”

I will grant that a cancellation wouldn’t be great for Puerto Rico. I will also grant that an expert cited in the same article claims that the odds of any players contracting Zika are very, very long. Indeed, he compares it to someone hitting 20 homers in a single game. Which, sure, Giancarlo Stanton is involved here so you can never totally rule it out, but it’s super unlikely.

But MLB, the union and the players involved aren’t in the business of dealing with the probability of disease contraction. They’re dealing with a bunch of players being really nervous about something vs. a two-game series in May that, while carrying big meaning for Puerto Rico, is sort of meaningless to them in a lot of ways, even if they won’t say so publicly. They’re weighing this a lot differently than tourism commission executives.

My guess is that it still gets cancelled. My guess is that, even if it does, Puerto Rico will survive this act of alleged “touristic terrorism.”

Yasiel Puig caught a big fish

Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig looks to the dugout for signs as he steps out of the batter's box while facing Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jordan Lyles in the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, April 24, 2016, in Denver. Puig drew a walk, the first of three in a row yielded by Lyles. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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I know I’m in the tank for Puig and have been for years now, but it’s a pretty fun tank so I don’t care.

Lately I’ve been taken with his hashtag game. Last week we encountered #PuigYourFriend. This one is not as good, but #PuigHungry is pretty solid too.

I just hope this isn’t ruined by word that he’s hired some social media professional to curate his feed. It’s possible and maybe likely, but I just don’t want to hear about it if it’s the case: