Now, I do understand that a big part of that was likely the story of Pittsburgh. The Pirates have had a rough couple of decades, but they finally broke through this year, and the nation (and national media) took notice fairly early on. I’m sure flirting with winning seasons the past couple years was a good tip off to start paying attention early instead of perception usually taking a couple seasons to catch up to reality. But I’ll be damned if the Pirates didn’t live up to that story. I do agree with Dan Dakich* on this one, though for different reasons. Calling Pittsburgh to win that game last night was one of the easier calls in recent memory. The only reason to give you any pause was that the Pirates just finished sweeping the Reds, it’s awfully hard to beat a team four times in a row. Not impossible (obviously), but enough that it might make you pause for a second.
*I have praised Dakich on this blog before, but I’ve largely turned him off at this point. Maybe I should listen to him again, but there for a good while he had just turned to tiresome, combative schtick. His show seemed to invariably open with whatever “media guy” he disagreed with that particular day and start spouting off stuff that would inevitably get callers rankled up, which led to combative and, frankly, unlistenable calls on both sides of the phone. And, yes, Dakich, whether you like to believe it or not, you are media guy now. I know you used to coach and all, but you have been a member of the media for some time now and it is your role now, whether you like it or not.
Now, most of Dakich’s reasoning for why the Pirates were going to win that game was because of momentum. He has been railing on and on for the bits of his show I’ve listened to against “academics” who say momentum doesn’t exist. He knows it exists because he’s “been there.” Now, for one, I think this is a pretty disingenuous statement. For one, I don’t think anybody questions that momentum is created and shifts during an individual game, or that team morale (or chemistry, if you prefer) means something. But as far as momentum carrying on between seasons or from game-to-game in a longer season, well, it’s hard to argue with the data. Dakich might have been right about this game, but it was for totally the wrong reasons. The same reason why Brandon Phillips really shouldn’t say the Reds choked last night.
Mostly, that game last night came down to the Pirates are just simply a better team than the Reds. The Pirates were well ahead of the Reds in the standings for virtually the entire season, and typically comfortably so. While the Central was certainly a three-team race, the Reds were pretty consistently third in that race. You can’t say you choked when you were never in a position to win. The Reds were never in that position during the game last night, nor were they ever truly in that position for the entire season. You can’t choke when you’re constantly playing catch up. In that case, you just lost. In a very related story, Clint Hurdle is a few orders of magnitude better at managing a major league game (and season) than Dusty Baker. I’ve been a Baker apologist for some time, certainly during his Cub days and probably even during his Giant tenure. But there is no doubt he badly mangled that game last night, as he has generally badly mangled these sorts of situations his entire career. I would spell it all out here, but Jonah Keri already broke it down over at Grantland. At this point, it’s pretty clear to me that Dusty Baker is the National League equivalent of Ron Washington. And, well, when the best thing you offer to a ballclub is “intangibles,” that usually means you’re really doing more harm than good. And looking at Baker’s postseason pattern, it seems pretty clear he’s generally succeeded because, with the talent he’s normally given, it’s impossible to screw up too badly over the course of 162 games. In a do or die situation? Not so great.*
*Ditto for Washington and the latter day Rangers.
Looking forward to tonight, it ought to be a hell of a game. Two very good teams with the two best managers in the American League.* It’s hard to see how this really goes wrong. The only real downside I see to this game tonight is the use of the DH, and, unfortunate as it may be, I don’t think that’s a winning argument anytime soon. I’m taking the Indians in this one, but I certainly would not be shocked if the Rays pull this one off. Still, given the extra rest to get their rotation and roster exactly set, and given what will likely be a lively crowd in Cleveland, I’m giving them the edge. Besides, Cleveland could really use this win.**
*It’s possible you could talk me out of this with Mike Scioscia or even Ron Gardenhire, but I doubt it.
**Can’t they always? There’s a reason “God Hates Cleveland” is a valid and unarguable point in practically every sports discussion. Maybe any discussion.