The Nub

The Shaky Lesson that Warfare Teaches Baseball

Chances are owners of the Brewers, D’Backs, Rockies or Twins, four so-far surprising, yet modestly financed teams, will be cautious about the possibility of staying playoff-competitive the rest of the season.: “We know we can’t match the wealthier teams in back-logging high-price talent,” they’ll llikely say, “ but we can choose prospects carefully enough to get the job done.”

Hopeful talk, but undercut by this statistical dampener: since addition of the second wild card a half-dozen seasons ago, only six of the 60 low-budget teams involved – Oakland (three times) Kansas City (twice), Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Houston and Tampa Bay – made the playoffs’ final eight. If the explosive MLB season, described as warfare using bats instead of lethal weapons, has taught us anything, it’s the aptness of a lesson embedded in that comparison.

A non-baseball fan, Oxford military historian Cathal Nolan, drove home the lesson from a reverse perspective. He debunked the effectiveness of what is a popular baseball as well as warfare strategy t in a recent book (“The Allure of Battle”) reviewed in the NY Times late last month. Nolan calls belief in the success of blow-them-away, scorched-earth engagements of the enemy a “pernicious myth.” Why? Because annals show slow-and-steady – hanging tough into extra innings – almost always win in a walk-off against super-equipped but restless opponents. Team USA learned that in Vietnam as it is relearning now in Afghanistan.

In the national ballpark, fans of small-market teams can – and do – hope for patient, war-like success each season. But disappointment lies in store: Unlike in warfare, Baseball’s “hang-tough-ers” only have to battle one six-month season at a time. Rested when next season starts, they are almost always the teams with bankrolls that take charge when spring turns to summer.

That is, about now.

Six-Division Update:                                                           –     –     –

Let’s identify teams that, before summer, are already involved in the take-charge process. There are two, identifiable by their leading their divisions by double-digits: the Astros, 12-and-a-half games ahead of the second-place Angels in the AL West, and the Nationals, 11 games up on the Mets in the NL East.

Three divisions are involved in much more interesting, tightly bunched races: NL Central, with only four games separating the first-place Brewers and last-place Pirates; the most truly competitive of all races, that of the AL Central, in which just five-and-a-half games separate the leading Yankees and remarkably resurgent Blue Jays, once thought to have eliminated themselves in April. The close now, but least likely of the three to remain so is the AL Central, in which the Twins stand at the top, six games ahead of Kansas City. Cleveland, considered most likely to run away with the division, is only a game behind the Twins. .

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)