Pennant Race

This is Gene Mauch, who should be the patron saint of lost causes (but hey, Jude got that one) and is most certainly the one man who got more out of little on the baseball diamond.

I knew Gene Mauch well as a baseball fan. He taught me about platooning, using the bench, the importance of veterans and that you can never (ever) have enough pitching.

This Oiler season is starting to remind me of the NL East in 1973. It was a crazy summer that wasn’t decided until the sun faded and the cool winds blew. Allow me to list the final standings:

  1. New York Mets 82-79 (–)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals 81-81 (1.5)
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates 80-82 (2.5)
  4. Montreal Expos 79-83 (3.5)
  5. Chicago Cubs 77-84 (5)

Only the lowly Philadelphia Phillies were out of the race and even they were starting to build toward their world championship club that would bear fruit in 1980. The Expos were the surprise team because it was still an expansion club and their starting pitching was a mess (Bill Stoneman was their ace starter and his arm fell off early) and they had no obvious hitting stars.

They did it using 4 vital things: Mike Marshall in the bullpen (14-11 w/31 saves in 73 appearances), phenom Steve Rogers arrived in time to go 10-5, Ken Singleton had a stunning offensive season (123 walks, 103 rbi’s, 100 runs scored, .425OBP) and Gene Mauch platooned that team to death.

And they were in it, baby. They brought in people (including Felipe Alou) during the stretch run and they played their hearts out. I can still remember the names:

  • Jorgensen and Breeden were the platoon at 1b (combined for 90 rbi’s)
  • Ron Hunt at second when healthy and when he was not, two of the most glorious names in baseball history–Pepe Frias and Larry Lintz–filled in.
  • The fiery Tim Foli at shortstop. No one fights in baseball, they brawl. Everyone jumps on everyone else. Foli fought. I remember him fighting more than a couple of times. Fists and bruises. He was a beauty.
  • Bob Bailey at third. Bob Bailey couldn’t play third base well (or really at all) but my God could that man hit a baseball.
  • Ron Fairly in LF. Fairly had the most beautiful lefthanded swing, it was gorgeous. I don’t follow baseball anymore but there’s probably some lefty batter who makes a fluid motion from beginning to end that looks like every movement is perfectly choreographed. It was a sight to see.
  • Ron Woods and Boots Day in a centerfield platoon. Woods was a fleet player who didn’t have a great bat, and Day could barely play CF but Mauch was always trying to get more lumber in the lineup. A very unlikely platoon.
  • Ken Singleton was a wonderful player, he really was. Patient and strong, he could beat you with a walk, a double and rip a homer too. He was not a good runner and only average in the field even as a young man, but lordy he was a key player for the Expos in 1973.
  • The rotation had veterans Steve Renko (who could hit a little), Mike Torrez (who had some poor outings that summer), Balor Moore (who was my favorite player, he was kind of like Billy Wagner if he’d been, you know, good) and Ernie McAnally who always lost (at least that’s how I remember it). Plus Steve Rogers, whose “exhale” on the mound must have broken his ribs a few times.
  • Mike Marshall was an ass but man could he pitch. He had a weird screwball pitch that behaved strangely but apparently looked exactly like his slider (this is from memory so don’t quote me on it) and MLB hitters had no answer. Mauch also used a bunch of other guys in the bullpen but I can’t tell you much about them without checking and that would ruin the fun.

Anyway, that pennant race was just about the most fun I ever had as a baseball fan. Nothing mattered, not school, not homework, not the chores (we had goats and had to bring coal into the house every night) not even girls (that would happen later–Mauch was gone by then). I carried that pennant race with me in my brain everywhere I went that summer and it was pure joy.

I’m starting to feel the same way about this team. Don’t ask me why, this season is just like many in the MacT era–but for some reason this team has captured my imagination and they matter to me. A kid like Cogliano, who plays in front of his family (apparently, his whole family) and puts on a wonderful performance. A kid like Gagner, who has had a dreadful season but remains confident and is eventually rewarded with a nice little streak on the road which is long overdue. A kid like Liam Reddox, who matured late and must pinch himself when thinking about those Stockton road trips that weren’t that long ago. These kids are the modern Steve Rogers, the new Balor Moore, the latest Pepe Mangual.

Plus the veterans: Fernando Pisani trying to stay healthy and contribute (and you know what? he does. Smart, smart guy–future coach), Dwayne Roloson willing this team to another deep spring, Shawn Horcoff doing the Dad work, Ales Hemsky batting cleanup. These are the Bob Bailey’s, the Ron Fairly’s, and in Hemsky’s case the Ken Singleton’s.

A hockey or baseball season is a massive investment when done right; for Oilers fans of this era it’s an “all or nothing” proposition. I’m older now, a husband and a father and grownup matters take much of my day.

Still, there’s not a lot of difference between watching Steve Rogers find his way as a rookie and seeing Sam Gagner struggle as a sophomore (Rogers would struggle too btw). It’s an emotional investment and a fan must choose well.

I did. And I have.

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218 Responses to "Pennant Race"

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  1. pboy says:

    DBO: I wouldn’t fire MacT right now. Let him coach out the string and let’s hope (I’m not one of these guys who is cheering for the team to lose so the head coach gets fired) the team gets it’s act together, is able to make the playoffs and puts a scare into somebody. But regardless of what happens, either in or out of the playoffs, I think he’s done in Edmonton. Whenever the Oiler’s season ends, they should shake his hand, publicly thank him for everything he has done for this organization and use some of Katz’s money to find the best coach available. I always thought MacT was out there door after the 2006 season but he was saved and given his extension by the
    “run”.

  2. devin says:

    Man, that Penner interview was brutal. The guy is done with Mac, you can tell. On a healthy team a guy would be answering the “how tough has this year been?” with something like: “The important thing is that we’re in a playoff spot…”

    Instead he just sighs, etc. The guy has been kicked to the curb by the coach and no longer feels like he’s a part of the whole operation. That kind of stuff isn’t sustainable — even Nilsson had no real answer as to why he’d been sent out.

  3. knighttown says:

    Dennis/Bruce/LT/Jonathan

    You guys seem connected to the MSM. Are they aware of what we at this blog know about Penner? Do they agree its bullshit?

    I don’t live in Edmonton but if hfboards represents Joe-Fan, the smear campaign on Dustin Penner is working. They can’t stand the guy.

    Someone in the MSM needs to make a stand against this just to prove that MacTavish can’t just ignore facts and get away with it.

  4. Coach pb9617 says:

    Hemsky ES GF/20 w/ Penner: 1.258
    Horcoff ES GF/20 w/ Penner: 1.104

    Hey look, goal-a-game line.

    Hemsky ES GF/20 w/o Penner: .650

    Man, maybe the team already has that left-winger to unlock Hemsky.

    Horcoff ES GF/20 w/ Penner: .879

  5. dubya says:

    Yeah, the Penner interview is awesome.

    Wow, he’s done with MacT. The overwhelming tone was defeat with a side of indignation. I suspect we won’t see a rejuvinated Penner like after the last benching.

    Seriously, this management of this team has me so frustrated (more than the players). MacT always says it’s a results oriented business…what a fucking hypocrite.

  6. DBO says:

    PBoy: agree on mact. just frustrated. Will have a hard time accepting him as a coach next year.
    As for the lines. If you don’t want Penner on the 1st LW, then fine try O’Sullivan and Kotalik. But benching him makes no sense. he’s going with guys who won’t hurt the team (Pouliot, Reddox) but will never win them a game. No way he’s our 13th best forward. Even if you play him with brodziak and Stortini (which for the one game they played together went pretty well), at least give him a chance to play out of the doghouse. Don’t just sit him in the pressbox.

  7. kris says:

    Knighttown:

    Who do you think gave the fans the pitchforks?

  8. Coach pb9617 says:

    Forwards with ~13 minutes+ and 1+ GF/20 mins of ES TOI of ES time this year and their GF/20:

    Player … GF/20min
    RYDER, MICHAEL … 1.406
    DATSYUK, PAVEL … 1.401
    MALKIN, EVGENI … 1.377
    WHEELER, BLAKE … 1.34
    SAVARD, MARC … 1.327
    KREJCI, DAVID … 1.316
    BOURQUE, RENE … 1.304
    CONROY, CRAIG … 1.285

    Hemsky with Penner … 1.258

    ZAJAC, TRAVIS … 1.253
    MARLEAU, PATRICK … 1.251
    WEISS, STEPHEN … 1.25
    PARISE, ZACH … 1.237
    OVECHKIN, ALEXANDER … 1.234
    CROSBY, SIDNEY … 1.23
    HAVLAT, MARTIN … 1.227
    SETOGUCHI, DEVIN … 1.196
    ARNOTT, JASON … 1.193
    IGINLA, JAROME … 1.189
    LADD, ANDREW … 1.189
    HOSSA, MARIAN … 1.18
    LANGENBRUNNER, JAMIE … 1.167
    KOSTITSYN, ANDREI … 1.162
    LITTLE, BRYAN … 1.16
    THORNTON, JOE … 1.155
    BACKSTROM, NICKLAS … 1.142
    BOLLAND, DAVE … 1.136
    REINPRECHT, STEVEN … 1.134
    CAMMALLERI, MIKE … 1.132
    HARTNELL, SCOTT … 1.129
    CARTER, JEFF … 1.124
    KESSEL, PHIL … 1.107

    Horcoff with Penner … 1.104

    PONIKAROVSKY, ALEXEI … 1.098
    GAGNE, SIMON … 1.097
    TOEWS, JONATHAN … 1.092
    RICHARDS, MIKE … 1.091
    ZEDNIK, RICHARD … 1.089
    DUMONT, JEAN-PIERRE … 1.088
    VANEK, THOMAS … 1.073
    KOVALCHUK, ILYA … 1.072
    ST. LOUIS, MARTIN … 1.069
    ZHERDEV, NIKOLAI … 1.069
    ANTROPOV, NIK … 1.066
    LUCIC, MILAN … 1.066
    MOORE, DOMINIC … 1.062
    ZETTERBERG, HENRIK … 1.059
    CLEARY, DANIEL … 1.057
    BOOTH, DAVID … 1.054
    SEDIN, DANIEL … 1.052
    SEDIN, HENRIK … 1.047
    MALONE, RYAN … 1.043
    NASH, RICK … 1.039
    LECAVALIER, VINCENT … 1.038
    ALFREDSSON, DANIEL … 1.034
    SYKORA, PETR … 1.034
    ERIKSSON, LOUI … 1.028
    ELIAS, PATRIK … 1.026
    PERRY, COREY … 1.022
    GIONTA, BRIAN … 1.022
    DEMITRA, PAVOL … 1.022
    WHITE, TODD … 1.014
    AUCOIN, ADRIAN … 1.012
    BURROWS, ALEX … 1.012
    HORTON, NATHAN … 1.012
    GETZLAF, RYAN … 1
    BLAKE, JASON … 1

  9. Art Vandelay says:

    Lowetide: Brilliant post. Wasn’t Fairly the guy who always turned into the pitch so he’d get plunked? And how good was Steve Carlton when he won so often on a Phillies team that won so rarely?

    Bruce: Classic heckling anecdote.

  10. Coach pb9617 says:

    And then

    PENNER, DUSTIN … 0.981

    That’s not Penner with Hemsky, or Penner with Horcoff. Just Penner.

    Goal a game line fellows. Goal a game line.

  11. Coach pb9617 says:

    Rk … Player … +/- per 20 ES min
    1 … WHEELER, BLAKE … 0.831
    2 … RYDER, MICHAEL … 0.808
    3 … KREJCI, DAVID … 0.77
    4 … DATSYUK, PAVEL … 0.652
    5 … ZAJAC, TRAVIS … 0.638
    6 … SAVARD, MARC … 0.619
    7 … LADD, ANDREW … 0.607
    8 … WEISS, STEPHEN … 0.6
    9 … MALKIN, EVGENI … 0.582
    10 … LANGENBRUNNER, JAMIE … 0.571
    11 … BOURQUE, RENE … 0.555
    12 … THORNTON, JOE … 0.546
    13 … PARISE, ZACH … 0.542
    14 … BERGLUND, PATRIK … 0.528

    15 … Hemsky with Penner … 0.514

    16 … HAVLAT, MARTIN … 0.486
    17 … MARLEAU, PATRICK … 0.474
    18 … KESSEL, PHIL … 0.467
    19 … BOLLAND, DAVE … 0.455
    20 … GREEN, MIKE … 0.444
    21 … SETOGUCHI, DEVIN … 0.439
    22 … SEDIN, DANIEL … 0.438
    23 … GAGNE, SIMON … 0.434
    24 … LUCIC, MILAN … 0.421
    25 … OVECHKIN, ALEXANDER … 0.418
    26 … HOSSA, MARIAN … 0.402

    27 … Horcoff with Penner … 0.397

    28 … DEMITRA, PAVOL … 0.369
    29 … CONROY, CRAIG … 0.367
    30 … SEDIN, HENRIK … 0.342
    31 … RICHARDS, MIKE … 0.341
    32 … FRANZEN, JOHAN … 0.332
    33 … BOOTH, DAVID … 0.324
    34 … CLOWE, RYANE … 0.317
    35 … PERRON, DAVID … 0.306
    36 … ZETTERBERG, HENRIK … 0.296
    37 … CROSBY, SIDNEY … 0.292
    38 … STAFFORD, DREW … 0.287
    39 … SYKORA, PETR … 0.284
    40 … ELIAS, PATRIK … 0.262
    41 … ZUBRUS, DAINIUS … 0.261
    42 … TOEWS, JONATHAN … 0.261
    43 … IGINLA, JAROME … 0.258
    44 … GIONTA, BRIAN … 0.256
    45 … KUNITZ, CHRIS … 0.241
    46 … PERRY, COREY … 0.239
    47 … FROLIK, MICHAEL … 0.238
    48 … MALONE, RYAN … 0.238
    49 … REINPRECHT, STEVEN … 0.227
    50 … PAVELSKI, JOE … 0.223
    51 … CAMMALLERI, MIKE … 0.222

    52 PENNER, DUSTIN … 0.212

    53 MICHALEK, MILAN … 0.207
    54 ZHERDEV, NIKOLAI … 0.205
    55 ZEDNIK, RICHARD … 0.201

  12. Coach pb9617 says:

    Oops, I somehow got Mike Green in there. Oh well.

    Not only is Horcoff a top 30 center, he’s a top 30 forward.

    Three top 50 ES forwards – that’s a good thing, right?

  13. shep says:

    i have a question re: penner:

    is he good at zoneshift or is he a beneficiary of more offzone draws?

  14. godot10 says:

    How I wish a so-called “reporter” would ask MacT why Hemsky is twice as productive offensively at even strength when Penner is on the ice!

  15. Bruce says:

    Dennis/Bruce/LT/Jonathan
    You guys seem connected to the MSM. Are they aware of what we at this blog know about Penner? Do they agree its bullshit?

    My only contact is Staples, who I met through the Oilogosphere (and once, memorably, in person). I’ve participated in a couple of his projects, notably the Errors project, cuz I think he’s got a good idea and is sort of on the right track.

    Anyway, all season long he’s been listing the individual plus/minus of Oiler forwards, calculated as even strength points plus “unofficial assists” minus “Errors”, the latter both being his own stats which he has maintained faithfully for the last one and two years respectively by analyzing carefully the video of every even strength goal. They are mirror image judgements meant to identify the guys involved in the goal (against), and to not credit/debit those who are not involved, whereas traditional plus/minus credits everyone on the ice.

    All year long Penner has been leading the way in unofficial assists at both even strength and on the powerplay, and all year long Penner has been comfortably in front of the net result, with an adjusted individual plus of +19. Horcoff and Hemsky are next, tied at +15. Cogliano is at +11, and the rest of the forwards and most of the defencemen are in the single-digit plusses. Seems like a pretty reasonable outcome to my eye, and certainly mirrors the stuff I listed above from TOI and BtN. Penner is just damn good. Invisibly so, it seems. But how can MacT possible deny such results? Or is he just unaware of them?? Either answer is pretty close to a firing offence, to be brutally frank.

    So I daresay if you asked David about the latest indignity to Penner, he would indeed agree it is bullshit, although he might use a slightly more diplomatic word.

    Shep: Good question. He has been sheltered a little bit in this respect (I think I listed him at 0.90 defensive to offensive way up the page). So he should be expected to produce slightly on the plus side just from that.

    Unleaded: Great stuff. I did the exact same calculation and didn’t post it cuz I didn’t consider the two to be linear: a DZone draw is just a potential result, whereas a GA is an actual result. So the one has to be unweighted considerably. Brodziak’s highly skewed result is surely proof of this he’s got a highly skewed workload, but he’s nowhere near the defensive player Horcoff is, as the GA/60 much more surely indicates than anything involving faceoffs. The adjustment is excessive.

    My first attempt would be to take a ratio between GA/60 and the square root of the DZone faceoff ratio, a wild-ass guess but one that forces the result in the correct direction. Trial and error from there, but the two are in no way equal contributors.

    Gotta run, but I might do the math later, if you don’t.

  16. godot10 says:

    MacT

    1) Wrong on Hejda.
    2) Wrong on Glencross
    3) Wrong on Penner

    Not a particularly good pattern developing.

  17. Coach pb9617 says:

    How I wish a so-called “reporter” would ask MacT why Hemsky is twice as productive offensively at even strength when Penner is on the ice!

    They’d have to ask MacT if they could be done first.

  18. Bruce says:

    Wasn’t Fairly the guy who always turned into the pitch so he’d get plunked?

    Nope, that was another Ron of those early Expos, Ron Hunt. He set a still-extant major league record by getting hit 50 (fifty) times in one season.

    And how good was Steve Carlton when he won so often on a Phillies team that won so rarely?

    He was incredible. In 1972 Carlton posted a 27-10 record on a Phillies squad that finished the year 59-103. He had nearly half of their wins, <10% of their losses.

    Bruce: Classic heckling anecdote.

    Glad you liked it, Art.

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