Shock and Thaw

A number of Red Sox and Braves fans are in shock after last nights developments.  Perhaps the steady dip in the standings over the month of September prepared them for the downfall.  Now they have to watch other teams participate in the playoffs and then thaw out over the winter months before hope springs eternal for 2012.

The biggest surprise was the collapse of the Red Sox.  After starting the season 0-6, there was some discussion how few teams made the playoffs with that poor a start.  The Red Sox turned their season around and even were in first place by a few games over the New York Yankees.  Adrian Gonzalez was having an MVP season and the pitching staff was still not a car wreck waiting to happen.

September rolled around and the Red Sox could have been mistaken for a AAA team.  Actually, many of their players had to be called up from AAA to take the place of some of their injured regulars.  A 7-20 record ensued and a playoff chance eliminated.  It doesn’t help that they went 5-18 against the American League East in September, including 2-5 against the last place Orioles.

Many Red Sox fans will blame the Yankees for their playoff absence.  Playing a roster of minor leaguers the Yankees jumped ahead of the Rays 7-0 only to lose it in extra innings 8-7.  Of course, five of the seven runs the Rays scored were scored on veteran relievers on the 25 man roster, Boone Logan and Luis Ayala.  You can’t blame the Yankees for wanting to rest the 41 year old Mariano Rivera for the playoffs.  Allowing the Red Sox to back door their way into the playoffs is not the Yankee’s responsibility.  They had a chance to win it on their own with a 3-2 lead going into the top of the ninth against the lowly Orioles with Jonathan Papelbon on the mound to protect the save.  The pretty reliable 2011 closer turned into the inconsistent 2010 version and blew the save and the Red Sox playoff hope.

And how about those Rays?  They also started out 0-6 and things didn’t look too promising for them.  They were relying on first baseman Dan Johnson to take the place of departing Carlos Pena and he struggled up to the middle of May with a .115 average.  Casey Kotchman took over the first base responsibility and Johnson was banished to the minors where there was some doubt whether he would return.  Who needs a slugging firstbaseman that could not slug.

Unlike the Red Sox 0-6 start, the Rays lurched quite a bit out of the playoffs, taking their place as the third best team in their division. Dan Johnson was called to the majors on September 14.  They were still a long shot to make the playoffs.

Dan Johnson is the epitomy of the success/failure continuum.  Many were wondering why the Rays kept Dan Johnson on the roster after he hits just .198 in 2010 and .192 in 2008 for the Oakland Athletics.  In 2009 he tried to play for the Yokahama Bay Stars, but after hitting only .215 they let him go.  Dan Johnson shows you that even the most insignificant player or person can make a pretty significant impact in life if given an opportunity.  On September 28th with two outs in the ninth and the Rays down 7-6, Dan Johnson and his .115 average was called upon to pinch hit.  Do you think many fans had any hope that he would save the Rays season?

The Braves continued to march out ex-Red Sock Derek Lowe to the mound and watched his ERA rise from 0.00 after a shutout in March to a very respectable 3.21 at the end of April to a miserable 5.05 ERA after his last start in September.  The Braves lost all five September games that he started.

A 9-17 September didn’t help either, including losing their last five September games.  A little three game sweep by the Cardinals in the middle of September certainly added salt to the wound that was beginning to fester.

The St. Louis Cardinals did not have a lot of hope about a playoff appearance coming into September.  The Brewers had raced ahead of them in the Central and the Braves were not yet in sight.  An 18-8 September allowed them to gain 9 games.  About the only player that was hoping for a one game play in was Albert Pujols.  He finished the season hitting .299 with 37 homeruns and 99 RBIs.  He needed that one game to drive in one run to tie Al Simmons to become the only major leaguer to drive in 100 runs in his first 11 seasons.  Only Jimmy Foxx and Alex Rodriguez have had more than 10 consecutive seasons with thirty homeruns and more than 100 RBIs.

Now that the Cardinals have made the playoffs, the bargaining positon of Tony LaRussa becomes more interesting.  There are a lot of rumors that he is not happy in St. Louis.  The last team he managed prior to the Cardinals were the Chicago White Sox.  The management group has expressed regret over the firing of LaRussa.  With the departure of Ozzie Guillen to the Marlins they now have a managerial opening.  Something tells me that they will wait until the end of the season before they begin negotiating for their new manager.

Baseball.  That is why you have to love it.

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