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Game 146: Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals, Sep 11, 2011 1:15 PM CDT

If the season ended today, the playoff teams would be as follows.

Division Leader # of Games Ahead
AL East Yankees 2.5
AL Central Tigers 9.5
AL West Rangers 1.5
AL Wildcard Red Sox 4.5
NL East Phillies 12
NL Central Brewers 6
NL West D'Backs 9.5
NL Wildcard Braves 5.5

The Phillies are looking to put up a monster season built on the back of their incredible starting pitching staff. They're in pace to win 107 games right now in a very different fashion than the 2004-2005 Cardinals teams. Back when we were the juggernauts (and, ungratefully, that feels like a long time ago) it was the offense with the MV3 that carried the team. The pitching rotation was comprised of 5 very good, very durable starters but no standouts. For all intents and purposes, the opposite is true in Philadelphia where Hamels, Halladay & Lee comprise the core of that team. (Also, Shane Victorino has a .388 wOBA this year. I have no idea how that is possible.)

The Cardinals continue to cling to some inane nonsense about being in the race or "finishing with pride" or whatever foolishness Tony La Russa spouts off to justify giving Tyler Green 0 at bats thus far in September. If you needed a more obvious example of the differences of opinion in among the Cardinals staff, look no further than Tyler Greene in September.

I struggle for the wherewithal to watch a 3 hour baseball game in September when there are no young/unkown/interesting players getting playing time to give a better picture of the assets for next season. Months from now, I'll berate myself for not watching Lance Berkman hit a scorcher down the first base line to score Matt Holliday. I'll be frustrated that I can't watch Jason Motte and the Second Pitch as he transitions to the closers role. I'll wonder whether I should have watched Albert Pujols take a few more cuts in a Cardinals uniform while he remains unsigned. But now, today, I'll probably watch tennis again.

We spend a lot of time at VEB talking about baseball and a fair amount of time talking about other sports. As I was watching tennis yesterday, I realized something about both sports. I'll watch the occasional non-slam event (i.e. not the U.S./French/Australian Open or Wimbledon) but those I watch a great deal of. There's something very simple and straightfoward about watching tennis that I find enjoyable. It's a sport that largely defies advanced, intricate strategies or complicated statistical analysis. It is elegant in it's simplicity and yet the difference between the world's top players and the rest of the pack is entirely evident when the play one another.

In tennis, I can watch the great players -- people like Roger Federer, Rafeal Nadal & Novak Djokovic -- and they standout on their individual acheivements for everyone to see. They make incredible plays; they do seemingly impossible things; they run faster, hit harder and return better than everyone else. It's so apparent. And it is so easily attributed to the individual.

Baseball is, obviously, a team sport. But it is the team sport that, I would argue, is most easily broken down into a set of (dependent) one-on-one events. Batter vs. pitcher. Batter vs. defense. A series of events that can be, to a degree, isolated. The great baseball players are still obvious to the eyeball. Albert Pujols would not be any less impressive if I was unable to disentangle some of his on the field contributions from Chris Carpenter's. Baseball is similar to tennis in that ability to parse events to the individual. It's much cleaner in tennis -- there are only two people on the court -- and it's not a perfect science in baseball but there are reasonably good approximations of individual contributions towards the game.

That's very different from other sports where the events are much less isolated and much more interdependent. Football has more players on the field doing more things during each play. How important are the block's at the line of scrimmage to let a running back go up the middle compared to the running back's ability to bulldoze through. How do evaluate how much better Stephen Jackson is at something like that compared to Marshall Faulk who were very different kinds of running backs.

Basketball involves ten players with a series of passes and positioning (often the hardest aspect of any game to capture statistically) as they attempt to score. The concentration of shots towards star players indicates who the best shooters are but differentiating the pack is difficult to say the least. Soccer seems similar in that regard given how important positioning is and how difficult it can be to isolate the set of plays that actually set up a scoring opportunity versus the longer series of plays that simply happened before the goal. The demarcation point between events and events-required-for-scoring is much fuzzier than in baseball.

That's not to say that any of those sports aren't fun to watch -- well soccer really isn't -- but our ability to parse other sports simply isn't as far along as baseball is right now. Maybe it will be someday but I doubt that. The nature of baseball lends itself to compartmentalizing of data and events. It's easier to pick out the individual from the team. I know Albert Pujols is a good player -- statistics tell me he's one of the greatest players to play. Baseball, like tennis, offers a venue where the individual accomplishments are apparent and that's part of why I like watching both.

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Game starts at 1:15pm. This will serve as your game thread as well. A pair of groundball specialists in Jake Westbrook and Tim Hudson will be the starting pitchers.

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I know some here have raved about late author David Foster Wallace and his works of fiction. A republished piece of his on Roger Federer was the muse for today's post, which is certainly not on par with it's inspiration. If you enjoy Wallace and know anything at all about Roger Federer and tennis, I'd suggest giving this a read.


My favorite sport to watch besides baseball is:

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Hand-egg (American Football)
    (236 votes)
  • 9%
    Kickyfoots (European Football/Soccer)
    (44 votes)
  • 13%
    (62 votes)
  • 13%
    (63 votes)
  • 3%
    (16 votes)
  • 5%
    Mixed Martial Arts
    (24 votes)
  • 3%
    (18 votes)
463 votes total Vote Now