We've had this year's first sighting of that old baseball manager's chestnut, the quote about how the club just has to make up one game a week.
There's no surer sign that a team's goose is cooked in a race than when the manager of a team several games out of first place in the second half of the season starts talking about how all they have to do is make up one game a week and they'll be fine.
"Hey, man, we have time," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said as his team headed into a weekend series in St. Louis, where they lost two of three to fall from six to seven games back in the National League Central. "That's what I was taught. You don't have to make it all up right away. I was taught in my Dodger days by Tom Lasorda. A game a week -- that's all we ask. Pick up a game a week."
Actually, with 11 and a half weeks to go, the Cubs would win the division going away if they picked up a game a week. Here's the problem: You don't pick up a game a week. It doesn't work that way.
Remember, Baker didn't say, "If St. Louis would only collapse, we'll be fine," so let's assume the Cardinals will keep playing at the .621 pace they've set so far. If they do that, they'll win just about four games a week, on average. So Baker's asking his team to gain a game a week on a team that's going 4-2 or 4-3. That means the Cubs have to go 5-1 or 5-2.
In the 14 full weeks of the season so far, the Cubs have won five games in a week three times.
Put another way, if the Cardinals play .580 ball the rest of the way, the midway point between their surprising first-half run and the Cubs' disappointing .540 winning percentage, St. Louis will end up with a record of 98-64. To win the division, the Cubs would have to go 52-23 the rest of the way. That would be way better than anybody's played so far this year in either league. It would be six and a half games better than the surging Marlins played after the All-Star break last year on their way to the championship.
Teams come from seven games out and farther, but they don't do it by gaining a game a week. They do it by going on a hot streak, preferably while the team they're chasing is on a cold streak. They make up five games in one week, not one game a week for five weeks. A shortcut is to beat the first-place team a bunch of times, which the Cubs can't do now because they only play the Cardinals two more times. They've gone 8-9 against St. Louis so far.
So why would a smart guy like Dusty Baker say such a dumb thing about making up a game a week? Because it's seen as unmanly to talk about the wild card this early in the season, like you're giving up on the division race. But the name of the game is to make the playoffs, and the Cubs' goal for the season has to be to do that as the wild card. At the break they trail the Giants by a game and lead the Reds and Padres by half a game. The Brewers, Braves, Marlins, Mets and Astros are also all within four and a half games of the wild card lead.
That game-a-week stuff is code for "Stay interested, boys. We can still make the playoffs even though we're not going to win the division."
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The future is now for 19-, er, 23-year-old [PERMALINK]
The All-Star weekend kicked off in Houston Sunday with the Futures Game, a minor-league All-Star game. The game features players from all minor league levels, and pits a World team, foreign-born players, against a USA team. The Futures Game is one of the nice consequences of the ever-growing, days-long hype of All-Star week. It's great to have all these top prospects, from all minor league levels, playing a ballgame on national TV.
The best moments came early and late. After Rockies Double-A left-hander Jeff Francis of the World team pitched the first inning, he was interviewed in the dugout by Gary Miller of ESPN, which carried the game on a henchnetwork, ESPN2. An on-screen graphic had identified Francis as a 19-year-old as he warmed up. Following a couple of questions about the inning, Miller asked the thin, baby-faced Canadian about his youth.
"You're still a teenager," Miller gushed. "What does it mean to be in this game?"
"I'm not a teenager," Francis said with the poise of a 23-year-old. "I'm 23."
Miller laughed nervously. "All right, that's a teenaged question, sorry."
I don't know if Miller's mirthless laugh was a result of embarrassment at his gaffe or anger at whoever was feeding him info for making him look bad. It's just a shame there was no convenient place for Miller and the ESPN crew to go to find out Francis' true age.
The other great moment came at the end of the game. USA recorded the final out on an infield grounder, and a moment after first baseman Prince Fielder, a Double-A Brewers prospect and the son of former Tigers slugger Cecil Fielder, squeezed the throw, fireworks went off. Fielder flinched. Actually, he ducked. I guess the Huntsville Stars don't shoot off fireworks at the end of games.
The MVP was Aaron Hill, a Blue Jays Double-A shortstop who turned a 2-0 game into a 4-0 game with a double in his only plate appearance. It actually should have been a line out to left, but Jorge Cortes, a single-A player in the Pirates chain, took a fatal step in, then watched the ball sail over his head. Oh well, that's why they call them the minor leagues.
Jose Capellan, a Double-A pitcher in the Braves organization, was the most impressive player, flashing a blazing fastball as he struck out two in his only inning for the World team. He gave Fielder, one of the most promising hitters in the minors, the old good morning, good afternoon, good night treatment, whiffing him on three pitches. Fielder did have a solid base hit against another impressive pitcher, Felix Hernandez, an 18-year-old right-hander working in Single-A for the Mariners.
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Did you know? [PERMALINK]
I hadn't realized this, but it turns out the Futures Game wasn't exactly World vs. USA, since the U.S. team had help from the Coalition of the Willing. That explains why players from Palau and Azerbaijan were eligible, not to mention that all-Estonian outfield in the third inning.
That wasn't a bad-hitting outfield, by the way, but they all had gloves of Estonia.
Previous column: Junk stats with no context
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