October 2, 2012
As the Major League Baseball regular season reaches its climactic final days of the regular season, there are still plenty of teams alive and kicking when it comes to focusing on the playoffs. No fewer than eight teams in the American League and six in the National League have aspirations of still playing deep into October in the pursuit of a World Series championship with three games to play in the regular season.
Of course, that list will be pared in the coming days: after all, Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are on life support for the wild card, trailing Oakland by three games with three to play. The same can be said for the Chicago White Sox, who have dropped 10 of 12 and are now three games behind the Detroit Tigers. The White Sox have to hope for a sweep of Cleveland while rooting for Kansas City to take three straight from Detroit to have a shot.
In the National League, it’s pretty much all over but the shouting: the Dodgers trail the Cardinals by three games for the final wild card spot. The Dodgers close out their season with the Giants while the Cardinals face the Reds, a rivalry laced with bad blood and questionable intentions. The Reds are tied with the Nationals for home field advantage in the National League, so it seems unlikely that Cincinnati will just roll over and die, especially given the fact that the Cardinals are a division rival.
With all that excitement still on the horizon, it’s easy to forget that there are other games on the schedule. Realistically, why would you care, with all those possible games with playoff implications and bad blood on the docket? Well, someone has to and in this particular case, I’ll take the hit for the good of the team.
In a battle of two disappointing teams playing out the string from a ball that unraveled months ago, the Chicago Cubs finish up the year at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field and host the equally dismal Houston Astros, who most people may have forgotten about existing as a franchise due to their inept performance so far this season.
The Cubs won their 60th game of the season with a 7-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks Sunday, snapping a string of 18 consecutive losses on the road against teams from the National League West this season. All five teams (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Arizona, Colorado and San Diego) swept the Cubs in their ballparks this season. Chicago caught a break getting to go to Arizona a second time and after dropping the first two contests of the series, broke through in the finale with Chris Rusin (2-3) picking up his second big league win.
Of course, the Cubs do have 99 defeats to go on the other side of that ledger, a number that is particularly galling when one considers the team lost 100 games in a season just twice in its long history prior to this year. Dale Sveum’s troops need to sweep their final series in order to avoid becoming the third team in franchise history to break the triple digit plateau for defeats. Regardless of what transpires in the final series, the Cubs won’t break the franchise record for defeats: the most they can ring up is 102; the franchise mark is 103 set in 1962 and matched in 1966. The team did, however, set a franchise mark with 58 road defeats, breaking the mark of 56 set in 1956.
The only good news for the Cubs as they attempt to stave off this level of ineptitude and futility is that their opponent is the only team in the major leagues with a worse record than themselves. That’s right, the Houston Astros are coming to town, bringing with them a record of 53-106. The Astros are trying to avoid a dubious distinction in their own right: one loss by them would break the franchise mark for losses in a season, one they tied over the weekend with their 106th defeat. Houston did win two of three over the weekend against the Brewers, uncharacteristically slamming 11 home runs and scoring 19 runs during the series.
If the 1927 Yankees were Murderer’s Row, the 2012 Cubs and Astros would be the Jaywalking Gang and the Littering Lot. The two teams are near the bottom of the majors in runs scored (the Cubs are 27th with 608, while the Astros are dead last with 573), team batting average (Chicago is 26th with a .241 mark, Houston is 29th at .237), on base percentage (Chicago is 28th at .303, Houston is 29th at .302) and slugging percentage (Chicago is 26th at .381, Houston ranks 28th with a .372 mark.)
So, the two worst teams in the bigs lock up to close out the season. What’s there to watch for, you ask? Well, certainly nothing as earthshattering or spellbinding as what may unfold in some of the other ballparks around the majors but there are a few things to keep an eye out for. For example, Alfonso Soriano is third in the National League in both home runs (32) and runs batted in (108) on the season. The RBI count is a career high for Soriano, breaking the mark of 104 he set as a member of the Rangers in 2005. The 32 home runs is the second-most he’s hit as a Cub: he hit 33 long balls in 2007, so he has a chance at besting that mark as well.
Starlin Castro won’t lead the league in hits again this season but he’s got a shot at being in the top five: he ranks fifth with 181 hits going into Monday. He also is leading the league in putouts and assists by a shortstop, in addition to errors. That part of Castro’s game is something that he still needs to work on going forward. Darwin Barney had his errorless streak snapped at a Major League record tying 141 games on Friday night but he’ll be able to start a new one.
For the Astros, things aren’t overly exciting for them either. The team has dismal numbers when you break things down: Justin Maxwell leads the team with 17 home runs, while J.D. Martinez is the high man in runs batted in with a paltry 55. To put that in perspective, Anthony Rizzo has driven in 48 for the Cubs…in 85 games and smashed 15 home runs. Both would put him near the top of Houston’s lists. Jose Altuve leads the team in hits with 166, while no other Astro has even 100. Brett Myers is the team leader in saves with 19 but he hasn’t pitched for Houston since July, as he was moved before the trade deadline.
It’s the final matchups between the two teams before the Astros move to the American League West in time for the 2013 regular season. Isn’t that enough to make you tune in or be interested?
No? Well, you can’t blame me for trying to get your interest in something that may rank up there with table tennis, badminton, paint drying and cow chip pitching in the television ratings.