So, Kenny, What Next?

There’s no World Series game to discuss today, let’s take a few minutes to reflect on
some other stuff.

Say it is So

I’m pissed at Tony La Russa. I’ve been watching Cardinals
fourth outfielder So Taguchi closely this postseason, because he was on pace
for a historic performance and I was hoping to get an article out of it.
Check this out: Taguchi’s first post-season at bat came in
the Game 3 of the NLDS against the Padres. Taguchi led of the 8th
inning as a pinch-hitter and promptly hit the ball over the fence.
His next plate appearance occurred in Game 2 of the NLCS, against the
Mets. Taguchi entered the game as a defensive replacement in the
bottom of the 8th and led off the 9th inning. Boom, home-run off Billy Wagner to give the Cardinals the lead. Taguchi had a bad day in Game
4, where he appeared as a pinch-hitter in the 8th inning and only
managed a single. In Game 6, the Cardinals’ late-game weapon pinch-hit
again and knocked a 2-run double (again off Wagner). So, through the
NLDS and NLCS, Taguchi had this line:

AB   R   H   2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB    AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
 4   2   4    1   0   2    4   0  1.000  1.000  2.750  3.750

A little light on walks, but we’ll take it. Only one other player in
baseball history has managed a 1.000 BA and 1.000 OBP in the
postseason with at least 4 plate appearances: Bobby Brown went
3-for-3 with a walk for the 1947 Yankees. But Brown only slugged
1.667, he couldn’t come close to Taguchi in power numbers. Dusty
Rhodes
, the extraordinary pinch-hitter for the 1954 World Champion
Giants put together a nice low-stat series that year: 4-for-6 with a
walk and two home runs, for an OPS of 2.381.

But, as I say (did I say it?), La Russa likely knocked Taguchi out of the running by
starting him in Game 1 of the World Series. So went 1-for-4 with a puny single, causing
his postseason line to plummet to .625/.625/1.500. That would drop
him below Lou Gehrig‘s 1928 performance (.545/.706/1.727), but still in second place all-time
(ranked by OPS, 12 PA min). Somehow, I doubt he’ll keep it up.

Kenny Rogers — Postseason Hero

Detroit pitcher Kenny Rogers is seriously exorcising some postseason,
big-game ghosts this year Consider his pre-2006 post-season
performance: 20.1 innings, 8.85 ERA, 0-3 record. But, this year, at the age
of 41, Rogers is making us forget all that. Let’s do a little postseason statistical
comparison:

            IP     ERA     W     L    
 pre-2006   20.1   8.85    0     3 
  2006      23     0.00    3     0 

This kind of performance merits a comparison to some of the all-time
great postseason performances. Only three pitchers have ever finished
the post-season with at least 20 innings and an ERA of 0.00. Christy
Mathewson
threw three complete-game shutouts leading the Giants over
the Athletics in the second World Series (in 1905). Waite Hoyt ran
into some tough luck in 1921: he was the losing pitcher in the final
game of the Yankees-Giants World Series, despite pitching nine innings and allowing only one unearned
run. For the Series, he went 2-1 with an ERA of 0.00 in 27 innings. Finally,
Carl Hubbell threw two complete-game shutouts (one of them went 11
innings) in the 1933 Giants 4-1 Series victory over the Senators. Matty, Hoyt and Hubbell all have
plaques in Cooperstown.

Of course, there have been many great postseason performances other
than those three. In 1965, Sandy Koufax pitched 24 innings, gave up 13
hits, one earned run, and struck out 29 against five walks. The Dodgers
(barely) beat the upstart Twins that year in seven games. More
recently, John Smoltz, in 1996, went 4-1 with a 1.39 ERA in five
postseason starts (38 IP).

Getting back to this post-season,
unless somebody wins three games in a row, Rogers will pitch again on
Saturday. If he can throw scoreless ball (or something close to it)
one more time, he’ll join some
pretty good names of the best postseason pitching performers in
history. Who’d’ve ever thunk it?

The Worst of the Best (and vice versa)

You may have heard that the Cardinals’ win total of 83 is the
lowest ever to get to the World Series, with the sole exception of the
1973 Mets, who finished the season at just 82-79. Much was made of
the Mets’ uninspiring record at the time —remember, divisional
play had only been around five years and, of course, it was the
separation of the league into divisions that got the Mets into the
playoff. There were four teams in the NL West that had a
better record than the Mets that year.

On the other hand, the Mets entered the playoffs on a roll. On
Sept. 1, the Mets were in fifth place in the NL East, 4.5 games
back of the Cardinals and Pirates. The Amazin’s went 19-8 the rest of
the way to overtake the field and win the divisional flag. They beat
the heavily favored Reds, who had won 19 more regular season games
than the Mets, in the NLCS. Game 3 of that series featured the famous
fight between Pete Rose and Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson.
In the World Series, the Mets took the Oakland A’s to seven games
before finally succumbing.

The Cardinals this year, of course, got into the playoffs in a very
different way. They squandered nearly all of their big lead, going
11-17 in September, but managed to slip into the post-season when the
Astros fell just short. Still, they easily handled the Padres,
dispatched the heavily favored Mets, and now have gotten a split from
the Tigers in the first two games in Detroit.

If the ’73 Mets were the worst team to get to the World Series, what
was the worst team to actually win the championship? The 1987 World Champion
Minnesota Twins won only 85 games during the regular season. That was
the ninth highest total in baseball that year. Even more damning was
the fact that the Twins derived a huge advantage from their home park,
the Metrodome: they were only 29-52 on the road. The Twins beat the
Tigers 4-1 in the ALCS (yes, they did manage two wins in Detroit) and
beat the Cardinals 4-3 in the World Series, dropping all three games
in St. Louis, but winning the four games played at the Metrodome. If
Bud Selig had been Commissioner then, the Cardinals would have another
championship on their resume’: the NL won the All-Star game in
1987, 2-0. If only it had counted!

Here’s a list of the 10 worst teams to
win the World Series:

+------+------+------+------+-------+
| Team | Year | W    | L    | Wpct  |
+------+------+------+------+-------+
| MIN  | 1987 |   85 |   77 | 0.525 |
| NYA  | 2000 |   87 |   74 | 0.540 |
| OAK  | 1974 |   90 |   72 | 0.556 |
| PHI  | 1980 |   91 |   71 | 0.562 |
| KCA  | 1985 |   91 |   71 | 0.562 |
| CIN  | 1990 |   91 |   71 | 0.562 |
| FLO  | 2003 |   91 |   71 | 0.562 |
| LAN  | 1959 |   88 |   68 | 0.564 |
| SLN  | 1982 |   92 |   70 | 0.568 |
| NYA  | 1996 |   92 |   70 | 0.568 |
+------+------+------+------+-------+

Hmmm, two of the Yankees’ recent championships make this list. If the Cardinals win the Series this year, they will move to the
top of this list, of course.

What about the flip side of the coin? Which are the best teams who haven’t won
a league pennant or World Series? The team with the best regular
season record to not win the pennant (since 1903) was the 2001
Seattle Mariners, who, you’ll remember, went 116-46 but lost the ALCS
to the Yankees, four games to one. The best team to not win the Series was the 1906
Cubs, who happened to be the winningest team in baseball history, period. They went 116-36 on
the season, but surprised everybody, maybe even their opponents, the White Sox, by losing the Series to the “Hitless Wonders”.

At least these teams made the
postseason, though.
A number of teams have won at least a hundred games in
the regular season without tasting October baseball. Here’s a list of
the top 10 best teams (based on regular season winning percentage)
who failed to reach the playoffs:

+------+------+------+------+-------+
| Team | Year | W    | L    | Wpct  |
+------+------+------+------+-------+
| CHN  | 1909 |  104 |   49 | 0.680 |
| BRO  | 1942 |  104 |   50 | 0.675 |
| NYA  | 1954 |  103 |   51 | 0.669 |
| DET  | 1915 |  100 |   54 | 0.649 |
| PHA  | 1928 |   98 |   55 | 0.641 |
| SFN  | 1993 |  103 |   59 | 0.636 |
| NY1  | 1908 |   98 |   56 | 0.636 |
| PIT  | 1908 |   98 |   56 | 0.636 |
| SLN  | 1941 |   97 |   56 | 0.634 |
| NY1  | 1906 |   96 |   56 | 0.632 |
| PIT  | 1905 |   96 |   57 | 0.627 |
+------+------+------+------+-------+

Man, that 1909 Cubs team ran into some tough luck. Their .680 winning
percentage in today’s 162-game schedule corresponds to 110 wins.
Unfortunately, the Pirates went 110-42 that year, coasting to the
pennant by 6.5 games. In 1954 the Yankees string of pennants was
briefly interrupted by the Indians, who, led by their excellent
pitching staff, won an astonishing 111 games and left the Yankees eight
games back. More recently, the Giants won 103 games in 1993, but ended up working on their
golf swings in October when the Braves (still in the NL West back
then) edged them by just one game. Since the advent of the Wild Card
in 1995, the best team to miss the playoffs was the 1999 Reds, who went
96-67. The Mets won the NL Wild Card that year with 97 wins.

Only one team with a losing record has ever made the postseason: the
1981 Kansas City Royals hold that honor. It was a unique case,
though: after a midseason strike of several weeks, baseball decided
to split the season in two and have the winners of each half play a
division series. The Royals, by dint of their 30-23 second half, got
the right to lose to the Athletics 3-0 in the makeshift playoff format. The Cardinals and the Reds were pretty unhappy
about the split season, though, since they each had the best overall record in their division, although neither team made the playoffs.

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