It's September 3rd, and the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers are tied for first place in the AL West. They are each 79-58, which means that they are essentially starting a brand-new 25-game season to see who wins the division. If any of this is breaking news to you, then welcome to your first visit to Athletics Nation! You're going to love it here -- we frequently post pictures of Spongebob and make silly goat-related puns. And sometimes talk about baseball. If you're bored, just write the words "Daric Barton" in a comment and sit back. Trust me, it works every time.
So the A's and Rangers are tied for first place with identical records. However, they haven't taken identical roads to get to this point. Surely there must be something within the standings that can set these teams apart and tell us something useful. Granted, baseball is a jerk who likes to throw numbers at us with the caveat that only 1% of them end up meaning anything, but that isn't going to stop me from trying. Let's take a look at the full divisional standings first:
|3rd||LA Somethings||W < L||lots|
|4th||Seattle Whose-Its||mostly losses||a jillion|
|6th||Houston LOL's||(censored)||all the games|
Note: Artist's conception
OK, so we've learned that it's a two-team race. The most obvious way to set the Rangers and the A's apart is to look at their run differentials, to determine if one of the teams has gotten a bit luckier than the other:
|Team||Runs Scores||Runs Allowed||Differential||Expected W-L|
These, and all forthcoming stats, taken from ESPN for some reason.
Oh c'mon, baseball, you're just trolling us now. The two teams have allowed exactly the same amount of runs in two vastly different ballparks, and they've scored within five runs of each other. Can we just cancel the AL Central and give both of these teams division titles?
How about their home and away records? Is one team benefiting from a particular home-field advantage which might be exposed in the stretch run or the playoffs?
Ehh, nothing extreme there. The A's are clearly better at home, but they're still a winning team on the road. The two teams' away records are separated by only four games -- that doesn't seem like a huge deal.
What about their records in close games?
|Team||One-Run Games||Extra Innings|
The Rangers have struggled a bit in extra innings games, but that's probably a fluke. They likely have the best bullpen in baseball (scroll down to the section about Neftali Feliz in that link), and extra inning games rest largely on the shoulders of the relief corps. Let's keep looking.
|Team||Day Games||Night Games|
Yeah, OK, that's pretty meaningless. Furthermore, although those Night Game records appear to be quite different, it's just an optical illusion because one win total starts with a six and the other with a four; the winning percentages are almost identical (61.6% and 60.5%). What's interesting in this table is how many more day games the A's have played -- 56, compared with 38 for the Rangers. I guess that's a factor of the Rangers playing in arid Texas, where it's illegal to go outside during the midday hours, and the A's playing on the coast, where a sunny afternoon feels like getting a back massage from a kitten.
|Team||vs RHP||vs LHP|
Ugh. They might just be the same team. Has anyone actually seen the Rangers and A's in the same place at the same ti...oh, they just played each other yesterday? Shoot, there goes that theory.
Wait, I think I've got something:
|Team||vs AL East||vs AL Central||vs AL West|
Well that's interesting. The Rangers actually have a losing record against the East and Central divisions, which means that their entire success has come from beating up on their own division. (Note: The A's are also 13-7 in interleague play, and the Rangers are 10-7 with three games to go against Pittsburgh -- that's close enough to call it a wash.) The A's have done well against the West, but not nearly as well as Texas has. Let's break it down a bit further:
|Team||vs Each Other||vs Angels||vs Mariners||vs Astros|
The Rangers have a slight edge in the heads-up season series, but that could easily be tied by the end of the week. They have absolutely dominated the Astros, but so have the A's. Both teams have crushed the Angels, with Texas again having a slight edge. The big difference comes against the Mariners, where the Rangers have treated them like the team they are and the A's have played them like its 2001. What conclusions can we draw from this for the rest of the season?
1. Most of both teams' remaining schedules come against AL West opponents.
The Rangers play 15 of their final 25 games against divisional foes, while the A's play 18 of 25 against those same teams. Luckily, only three of Oakland's games will come against the terrifying Mariners. It would seem that those records against the AL West are actually quite meaningful indicators...except that Oakland's out-of-division games are entirely against the Morneau-less Twins, while the Rangers have to play Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City (if you're reading this in 2007, I promise that that's a tough schedule). The remaining schedule definitely favors the A's.
2. I'd rather beat good teams than bad teams.
Every win counts the same in the regular season. However, neither of these teams are interested in just making the playoffs; they are trying to go all the way. In order to do that, they'll need to beat really good teams in October. The A's have beaten up on good teams, while the Rangers have fattened up on cream puffs. To illustrate this, here is how each team has done against the biggest AL contenders:
|Team||vs Bos||vs Det||vs TB||vs Bal||vs NYY||vs Cle|
As you can see, there is a huge discrepancy in the wait what they are almost identical against every team. Turns out that Texas has made up for most of its extra success against the doormat AL West teams by going 1-6 against the doormat Blue Jays and 2-4 against the doormat White Sox. Turns out that they're about equally as good against quality teams as the A's are.
That's it. I give up. The A's and Rangers are as tied as two teams can be. I don't even know which team I'm watching anymore when Ron Washington orders Travis Blackley to make a pick-off throw to Adam Rosales covering second base.
My head hurts. I'm going to go lie down. Let's go...whichever team I usually root for. The green one.