King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Stumbling to glory: The Tigers and Cardinals ride banana peels into the playoffs. And it might not matter. Plus: NFL wisdom.


Salon Staff
October 2, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

The 2006 baseball season: The year of the almost pratfall.

It probably won't go down in history because they made the playoffs as the wild card, but the Detroit Tigers completed a swan dive for the ages Sunday, losing the American League Central Division title on the last day of the season after having held a 10-game lead on the morning of Aug. 8.

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That's a big lead to lose from such a late date. The team that won, the Minnesota Twins, actually came from 10 and a half back on that day of the Tigers' biggest lead.

Just by way of comparison, the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers were 13 games out on the morning of Aug. 12 and lost the pennant to the New York Giants. A bigger lead and a little later, but close enough to be notable considering people have been writing books about that season ever since.

The St. Louis Cardinals, the beneficiaries of the most picturesque late-season collapse in baseball history, the 10-game late-September losing streak by the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, almost added one of their own to the pantheon, blowing nearly all of a seven-game lead in the last week and a half but hanging on to win the National League Central on the last day of the season thanks to a loss by the Houston Astros.

The Cardinals' skid -- they lost seven straight starting Sept. 20 -- won't cost them anything except momentum entering the playoffs, and since momentum is that thing you have until you don't have it, it doesn't matter if you have it.

Bromides aside, writer Dave Studeman showed in the Hardball Times last year that how teams finish the regular season doesn't have much effect on how they do in the playoffs.

Cast your mind back to the 2000 New York Yankees if you need anecdotal convincing.

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The Tigers will pay for their slide, or at least it looks like they will. If they'd hung on to win the division, they'd have opened the playoffs at home against the Oakland A's. Now they have to open in the Bronx against the Yankees.

The playoffs are a crapshoot, so it might end up not mattering, but going in it seems like it does. All you had to see to believe that was the devastated looks in the Tigers dugout Sunday after they lost in extra innings to the Kansas City Royals, handing the division to the Twins.

The Royals came to town Friday having already lost 100 games. The Tigers, as it turned out, just needed to win one game to take the division, and they got swept. If that's not a face-plant, I don't know what is.

And I suppose I should mention the Boston Red Sox, for the page views if nothing else. The Sox entered August playing .606 baseball -- a 98-win pace -- and holding a one-game lead over the New York Yankees.

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They stumbled a bit in the first half of the month, losing five straight to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Kansas City Royals at one point, but the Yankees were only playing so-so ball and Boston was just a game and a half back entering a five-game series at Fenway Park starting with a double-header on Aug. 18. The Yanks won five straight and that was that. Counting that weekend, the Sox played sub-.400 ball the rest of the way.

But blowing a one-game lead with two months to play doesn't get you listed among the all-time great collapses. Fortunately for the Tigers, neither does blowing a 10-game lead with less than two months to play, as long as you hang on to win the wild card.

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Come on, October, do your stuff [PERMALINK]

When the baseball playoffs start this column turns its attention to them and mostly away from the NFL regular season. And not a moment too soon.

It's a core belief of mine that my NFL prognosticating ability improves when I'm distracted by baseball. The less I obsess over scouting reports, break down film with Ron Jaworski and watch at least the "Short Cuts" version of about 10 games a week, the better I'm able to predict who'll win next Sunday.

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It's not really true. I think it happened one October, though to be fair the NFL was a lot more predictable in the single-wing days. But it's all I have right now, so I'm sticking with it. Here's my game-picking record for the first three weeks:

Week 1: 8-8
Week 2: 8-8
Week 3: 7-7

Detect a pattern? Me neither. My record Sunday was 6-7, and I'll post a fourth straight .500 week if the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Green Bay Packers Monday night, as expected.

Just in case this isn't obvious: This ain't baseball, and .500 is really bad. The goal is .700. The entire Panel o' Experts, not counting me, is at .635. I'm three games behind Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News, who has been over there lamenting his lousy season since Opening Night.

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My only consolation is being a proud papa, since my son Buster, the rootinest, tootinest coin-flipper west of the Pecos -- and by west I mean east -- is back on top of the Panel o' Experts standings at 43-16 (.729), one game ahead of erotic model Adriana Sage and Yahoo writer Charles Robinson. Buster, thanks to his coin, was the only member of the panel who correctly picked Houston over Miami and Baltimore over San Diego Sunday.

I'll catch him now that I'm going to have a whole month when I won't be able to fool myself into thinking I know what I'm talking about.

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Table Talk chat, Bob Edwards show [PERMALINK]

And now the calendar section.

The October Table Talk chat will be Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. EDT. We'll try again with this new earlier time, which didn't work out so well last month. Join me to talk about the baseball playoffs, the NFL or whatever else.

And I'll be appearing on "The Bob Edwards Show" on XM Radio Channel 133 Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. EDT, repeating at 9 and 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. You can also listen online at XMRadio.com. The hourlong show repeats through the next morning.

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