The Shift; And Hoping for Twins-Rays ALDS
After the final game of the season, the White Sox have to play one more game to try to tie the Twins for the AL Central and force a one-game playoff. I hope it never comes to that, but if it does, I want the Twins to advance. It would be Twins-Rays, two teams discussed concerning contraction a few years ago. Of course, should Tampa Bay not support the Rays during the playoffs, as they didn't during the season, they don't deserve that team (but it should go somewhere else that will appreciate them, not just fold altogether). They don't really deserve them anyway; they're probably like Marlins fans and will come out for the playoffs, but once the regular season begins next year, World Series or not, they probably still won't come out to games.
The Mets missed the playoffs on the last day of the season again. There won't be postseason baseball in New York for the first time in 14 years. I'm a little conflicted in that I would like the playoff atmosphere back after the Giants Super Bowl run earlier, but I'm really glad that the overpriced Yankees missed out...badly. As a Braves fan I'm contractually obligated to despise the Mets, but I opt out of this clause once the Braves are out of it.
It's absolutely no secret what the Mets need next year: starters who can go at least 7 innings (aside from Johan Santana, who should win the Cy Young but won't because of the over-emphasis of wins by baseball writers), and a more reliable bullpen. I think some of their bullpen guys are decent but they were overworked having to come in early all year for guys like Pedro Martinez, who should retire. Plus, most of their bullpen guys could only get one side of the plate out: right could only face right, left against left, or else they got pounded.
And the Mets bring up a pet peeve I have about certain batters in this league. And I point specifically to Carlos Delgado. Delgado had an amazing season after nearly being run out of town early on. But Delgado is one of the handful of left-handed sluggers in which teams employ a "shift" to defend them. The third baseman plays shortstop, the SS, at 2nd, the 2B in the shallow part of the outfield between the SS and 1B. I believe I first saw this with Barry Bonds, and you see it with Ryan Howard as well. The upshot is that they are dead-pull hitters when it comes to non-HR fare, and any ball they hit on the ground is going to the right side of the infield.
Now, if these batters had the inclination, they could serve the ball into left field, with no one there to defend it, and not make an out. Many will say, "Well, these guys are paid to hit homers, not singles, so the opposing team will take it as a victory that the batter only hit a single." I am in agreement for the most part, for most of the season I'm with that argument. In an eventual 7-6 Mets win against the Cubs, not hitting to the opposite field cost the Mets a huge 8th inning. Down 6-4, with a runner on first, Delgado hit into the shift and into a double play. The following batters would go on to tie the game, but had Delgado used the opposite field, the game would have been in hand before the 9th. It might have been a blowout by then.
I saw Barry Bonds basically beat the Braves using the opposite field a few years ago. The Braves employed the shift, and Bonds bunted a double. The Giants then played small ball to score the winning run. With two outs, such a play is asinine. Your slugger should try to kill it. But with no outs, especially with men on base, the other team is just giving you a free pass, you should take it. Especially since most of the time, a batter like Delgado has someone good hitting behind him. In this case, the Mets had Carlos Beltran. Not taking the free single (or even a double) is a bit selfish.
Situational hitting definitely sunk the Mets as well this season. Opportunities and clear advantages are rare, so take them.