It Ain’t Over, But It Is Out

Very briefly, amid what’s already shaping up to be a crazy and somewhat stressful week full of deadlines and mortgage agita (the closing process on my apartment has finally begun, at precisely the wrong time):

• A quick trip to Barnes and Noble’s Astor Place branch in New York City revealed a pleasant surprise: It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book is actually on the shelves, consistent with the previously announced August 13 publication date. In the company of BP colleagues Steven Goldman (who edited the project), Clay Davenport (who devised the methodology by which we selected the best races), John Erhardt, Kevin Goldstein, Rany Jazayerli, Christina Kahrl, and Nate Silver, as well as special guests Kevin Baker, Allen Barra, Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, I’m proud to say that I have six chapters totaling somewhere around 60 pages in the book, including the two top-ranked races:

* “1967 American League: To Fight the Unbeatable Foe” – in which the Red Sox shook off decades of indifferent management and institutional racism, joined the 20th Century, and beat out the Tigers, White Sox, and Twins

* “The Summer of Loving Carl Yastrzemski” – the impact of Triple Crown winner Yaz and superstars in general on their teams’ pennant chances

* “1959 National League: Alston’s L.A. Confidential” – in which the impressively flexible Walter Alston helped the Dodgers score their first triumph on the West Coast by beat out the Giants and Braves, the latter in a best-of-three playoff

* “The Braves Dynasty that Wasn’t” – how a team with future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn won just two pennants and one World Series during an eight-year span in which they won more games than any other NL team

* “The Replacement-Level Killers” – a recurrent theme of great pennant races is one team blindly sticking with an unproductive player when better options exist, thereby dragging its performance down and sometimes making the difference between winning and losing

* “The Say-Hey Savior: Rookies and Pennant Races” – timely contributions from the new kids on the block

That represents my biggest contribution to any book thus far. I’m damn proud of this one, and hope you’ll take the time to check it out.

• Last week’s Hit List is here. Once again, the 2nd-ranked Yankees are closing the gap on the Red Sox, but there’s a reason:

Hot Knife, Meet Butter: the Yanks finish the easy portion of their post-break schedule having played themselves into the Wild Card hunt by going 19-8 and scoring 7.8 runs per game off .328/.401/.556 hitting, with Jorge Posada (.395/.511/.711) and Robinson Cano (.416/.479/.693) leading the way. The road ahead gets tougher; just two of those 27 games were against teams above .500, but 17 of their next 20 are against contenders. Alex Rodriguez becomes the youngest player to reach 500 homers, Jason Giambi returns, and 2006 supplemental first-rounder Joba Chamberlain arrives to aid a bullpen that’s only eighth in the league in WXRL.

Many other outlets have claimed that all of those 27 games were against sub-.500 teams, though your eagle-eyed correspondent here took note of the Blue Jays poking their heads above .500 a couple times in that span.

The Yanks do look a great deal better than they did six weeks ago, when I shoveled dirt on their graves by noting they would need to play at a .690 clip the rest of the way in order to reach the 95-win plateau that the last two AL Wild Card winners attained. They were 37-41 then and have gone 29-10 (a sizzling .744) since, including the completion of that suspended game against Baltimore which is retroactively considered to have been completed on the date started. Even without that game, they’ve been far and away the best team in the AL since that point. From Baseball-Reference.com:

AL      W   L    GB      WP      RS      RA
NYY 28 10 - .737 285 168
BOS 21 16 6.5 .568 210 159
TOR 20 15 6.5 .571 160 128
SEA 20 17 7.5 .541 178 175
BAL 19 16 7.5 .543 171 168
LAA 18 16 8.0 .529 178 164
KCR 17 17 9.0 .500 171 159
CHW 19 20 9.5 .487 200 242
DET 18 19 9.5 .486 196 212
TEX 17 19 10.0 .472 150 172
MIN 16 21 11.5 .432 138 167
CLE 16 21 11.5 .432 159 173
OAK 14 23 13.5 .378 163 199
TBD 12 25 15.5 .324 166 239

Thanks to slumps from Cleveland and Detroit, they’ve gained 11.5 and 9.5 games, respectively, on their two most likely Wild Card competitors at the time, not to mention 6.5 games on Boston. Furthermore, they’ve gained 10.5 on Boston since May 29, with a record of 45-22, as compared to 34-32 from the Red Sox.

While the Yanks still need to play at a searing .644 clip to get to the 95-win level, the Wild Card-leading Mariners (who are just percentage points ahead of the Yanks, owing to a pair of snowed-out games in hand) are only on a 91.5-win pace. And with six games left against Boston, the division now appears back in play. The Baseball Prospectus Postseason Odds report gives them just a 12.5 percent chance on that front but a 57.5 percent chance at the Wild Card, for a cumulative 70 percent shot at October — about double what their chances were 10 days ago and quadruple what they were less than four weeks ago. Things are definitely looking up for the Bronx Bombers.

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