ALCS Coverage: Boredom in the Bronx

If one of the concerns of this space is to consider occasionally what about baseball is exciting, or to explore — as Ken Arneson puts it — the “why we watch” question, then last night’s contest between Los Angeles of Anaheim and New York of the Bronx makes an interesting study of three things we expressly don’t look for in a baseball game.

First, consider this graph:

20091016_Angels_Yankees_0_blog

With the exception of a brief downturn in the fourth inning — a frame which saw the Halos’ WE% improve from 25.4% after Torii Hunter‘s fly-out to all of 34.9% after an RBI single by Kendry Morales — the slope of that line is depressingly even, inching ever upward to an increasingly predictable result: a Yankees victory.

Why? Because CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera allowed only six baserunners between them on the night. Moreover, they allowed only one extra-base hit: a double by Vladimir Guerrero in that same fourth inning. In such a case when one team (in this case, the Yankees) scores early, Win Expectancy is unlikely to change dramatically unless the other team (read: the Angels) either (a) gets guys on and/or (b) moves them over. As L.A. was doing little of either after the fourth inning, the WE% of the game was unlikely to change.

Next, consider Leverage Index (LI). The average LI (aLI) of the game was 0.75 and the peak LI (pkLI) was 1.80 — just before Hideki Matsui‘s fifth inning double with runners on first and second. By comparison, Game 163 between Minnesota and Detroit — what you might call an Instant Classic — had an average LI of 1.94. In other words, we can say roughly that the average plate appearance in Game 163 was more exciting than the most exciting plate appearance in Game One of the ALCS.

Egads, indeed.

Finally, on a more anecdotal note, Hideki Matsui’s first inning “single” — that is, the very catchable pop-up that fell between between hapless Angels infielders Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar — marked a sort of moment that one doesn’t particularly like to see in a game.

In his excellent Man, Play, and Games, Roger Caillois writes that an absolutely necessary component of the successful construction and/or playing of a game, is the impression that all parties involved are absolutely trying to win. It’s for this reason, I’m sure, that we hear color commentators, sports journalists, and whatever Skip Bayless is — it’s for this reason we hear those guys praising players for their competitiveness, or, less fortunately, their “want-to.” Despite the often repetitive and hyper masculine nature of this sort of eulogy, the reason it exists points to Caillois’ observation. That neither Figgins nor Aybar really seemed determined to catch Matsui’s pop-up inevitably left a sour taste in the spectator’s mouth.



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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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Seideberg
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Seideberg
6 years 10 months ago

Can we officially put to rest the idea that “small ball” and “doing the little things” is what wins playoff games? Isn’t it pretty clear that pitching and general success while batting are more important?

If I have to read one more article about how the Yankees “out-Angeled the Angels,” I think I’m going to throw up.

joser
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joser
6 years 10 months ago

I haven’t seen one. But then I don’t read sites with bad analysis. Vote with your eyes. Vote with your feet. Vote with your pocketbook. Don’t reward fuzzy thinking and lazy, ignorant opinions.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

Ugh, I’m gonna have to deal with a Yankee championship this season one year after dealing with a Phillies one (I’m a Mets fan). This suckkkkkssss. Maybe a salary cap will be discussed at the next collective bargaining meeting.

steve
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steve
6 years 10 months ago

yes, a mets fan should bitch about a salary cap.

outspend the entire NL, finish in 4th place!!

MPC
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MPC
6 years 10 months ago

I’d love to see how any team would do with 4 of your best players on the DL for an extended period of time.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

The difference between the Yankees’ payroll and the Red Sox’ (the next closest AL team) is roughly $20 million greater than the difference between the Red Sox’ payroll and the A’s one (the lowest in the AL). The spread between 1 and 2 is 30% larger than the ENTIRE spread between 2 and 14. Simply put, the Yankees are literally in a league of their own when it comes to spending power. That’s not in the interest of competitive balance.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

And yet, they’re in the LCS for the first time in five years. What happened to all those titles they were buying?

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

When did I say they were “buying titles”? They buy playoff appearances. There should be four spots open for competition. That simply isn’t the case. They have one year where they finish below 90 wins, and then they go out and buy a 5 win hitter, and two 5+ win pitchers. The Yankees never have to go through a rebuilding phase, even if their management completely fucks up. Every other team has to. There’s something wrong about that. This isn’t pure capitalism, it’s a sport where competitive balance is essential to it being interesting.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

This isn’t pure capitalism, it’s a sport where competitive balance is essential to it being interesting.

And yet, despite the so-called competitive imbalance, the sport’s popularity is at an all-time high. The Yankees spike attendance in whatever city they visit. Glam teams are certainly beneficial to the sport.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

…I’ve noticed there’s a very high correlation between people being adamantly opposed to a salary cap, and people being a fan of the team that far and away benefits the most from having unlimited spending power.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

So, because I’m a fan of the Yankees, my reasons for being opposed to a salary cap can only be because I am a Yankee fan. It can’t be because I oppose wealth transfers from players to owners. It can’t be because I feel that teams should be allowed to have an advantage for doing a better job at generating revenue. When I point out glaring flaws in your logic, it is not my argument that is rebutted, but rather my fandom attacked.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

Wait, are you really gonna pretend your Yankee fandom has no bearing on your opinion of salary caps? Really?

And besides, your argument has “glaring flaws” as well:

“Despite the so-called competitive imbalance, the sport’s popularity is at an all-time high.”

Yeah, so is the popularity of the NFL, which HAS a salary cap.

“The Yankees spike attendance in whatever city they visit. Glam teams are certainly beneficial to the sport.”

You know what spikes attendance more? Fielding a competitive team. Besides, the Yankees would be a big road draw even with a salary cap, just because they’re the Yankees and they have the history.

Let me ask you something, how many fantasy leagues give one owner $80 more dollars to start with than the next closest one?

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

Yeah, so is the popularity of the NFL, which HAS a salary cap.

I never claimed a salary cap made a league unpopular. You said competitive balance was required for it’s popularity. That’s apparently untrue, since the game has reached an all-time high in popularity despite what you describe as competitive imbalance.

You know what spikes attendance more? Fielding a competitive team.

Tell the Twins that.

Let me ask you something, how many fantasy leagues give one owner $80 more dollars to start with than the next closest one?

Let me ask you something, how many auction fantasy leagues allow you to control the best young talent without bidding for fractions of your budget?

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

“Tell the Twins that.”

Yeah, and how about the Rays, who’s 2008 pennant run saw their attendance spike by half a million from 2007? Oh, btw, they sustained that rise this year, drawing over 1.8 million. Are we really gonna pretend that the Yankees having no spending limit is better for franchises than those franchises being on equal competitive footing with the Yankees?

“Let me ask you something, how many auction fantasy leagues allow you to control the best young talent without bidding for fractions of your budget?”

Fine, you’re right. You start up an auction league where people can hold onto young talent cheaply, but you get an extra $80 of starting money, I’ll start up one where everyone gets equal starting cash. We’ll see which one has more participants.

———————————————————

Listen, I get it, you think I’m just a stupid, bitter fan I KNOW there are arguments against salary caps that can be made by even non-Yankee fans, I’ve heard them. But to pretend like the team you root for has no bearing on your opinion of this issue would be like pretending race has no effect on how people vote. C’mon…

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

Funny you bring voting into it. I’m a Libertarian, so yes, my tendencies are against the artificial restriction of markets. I’m also a Nets fan. Even with the salary cap, my team is slashing payroll while the Lakers can consistently be over the luxury tax. I don’t complain about this, because I understand that my team is bleeding cash right now and can’t fund a payroll on the level of other teams, and that they’ll likely never have the ability to consistently be a luxury tax payer. They’re going to go through cycles. I’m okay with knowing that if they make smart personnel decisions, however, that their will be times when they can compete.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

1. I’m a libertarian too, believe it or not. But sports exist as constructs- they’re not full representative of real life, nor should they be. We could just spot certain teams an extra run each game to emulate real life natural advantages, or we could do everything possible to create a battle between competitors with equal initial resources. I’d go for the latter.

2. Funny you should bring up basketball. I’m a Knicks fan, and I’m fine with the thought that LeBron will likely end up in MSG come 2011, because we had to dump players and work within the confines of equal competitive footing to create room for him. In baseball on the other hand, all my NYY fan friends (read: all my friends) are already licking their chops at future Yankee Ace Felix Hernandez, and wondering where they can move players to make room for Pujols. The sad part is, they’re probably not far removed from the truth.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

Equal competitive footing? Hardly. More equal than baseball, perhaps, but certainly not equal in any absolute sense. When teams trade stars in exchange for players whose value lies not in what they produce on the floor, but when their contracts end, that’s a perversion of competitive maneuvering. To harken back to your fantasy analogies (which are kind of silly, but you started them), which fantasy league is going to be more popular – mine, where Pau Gasol gets traded for Jose Calderon, or yours, where he’s traded for Kwame Brown? In baseball, teams at least get prospects back who have tangible value.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

“Perversion of competitive maneuvering.” Wow. The Grizzlies weren’t a competitive team. They weren’t a skeleton of a competitive team. It made no sense to hold onto a high contract player when the team had nothing to put around him.

I’m tiring of this argument. Not because your points don’t make sense, it’s just we’re never going to see eye to eye. If you really wanna convince me, pull out a correlation chart between team salaries and winning percentage. If there isn’t a significant positive association between payroll and games won, then that’ll suffice. Otherwise, I’ll continue to maintain that leveling the economic playing field as best we can (obviously not ALL factors can be equalized) is the best course of action.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

Wow. The Grizzlies weren’t a competitive team. They weren’t a skeleton of a competitive team. It made no sense to hold onto a high contract player when the team had nothing to put around him.

Of course it didn’t. But they didn’t trade him for basketball assets, they traded him for a player whose contract ended soon. Baseball doesn’t deal with the hypocrisy of trading for expiring contracts. Non-contenders trade high-priced veterans for prospects who will help them.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

And really, I wasn’t disputing that payroll was an influencing factor to how successful a team was. I was disputing that it was absolutely necessary for the sport to level the economic playing field.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

A contract ending soon IS a basketball asset, because salary space is an issue. Just like when the Knicks made those mid-season trades to clear space for future acquisitions.

In baseball, certain teams have to deal within the confines of fiscal limitations, while others don’t.

Like I said though, I’m done arguing this.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

In baseball, certain teams have to deal within the confines of fiscal limitations, while others don’t.

Which is only different from basketball in terms of spread, unless you think anybody can run $30 million into the luxury tax like Dallas and New York do. It takes a little bit of creativity, but the haves can still significantly outspend the have-nots.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

That “little creativity” is pretty significant, when you consider that the Knicks are perennially golfing come May, and Dallas, despite being a playoff regular, really had a three year window where it was a legit title contender (basketball playoffs are much less crapshooty than baseball playoffs).

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

So, teams outspending everybody else is okay, as long as they’re poorly run? I’m not sure what the point is. While more restrictive, basketball still allows teams to regularly outspend the competition and thus remain a perennial contender.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

It’s a question of degree. ENTIRE NBA spread < $60 million. Spread between Yankees and AL team #2 ~ $80 million.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

Can we start a petition for DC to write an article about this? Whaddya say, Dave? Please??

JJFO
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JJFO
6 years 10 months ago

last time someone tried to institute a salary cap the players revolted and all of pro baseball went bankrupt and a minor league was able to become bigger than the well established league

As a fellow New Yorker I’m sorry you ended up following the horribly managed joke team, but I hope you can take solace in the fact that our city will always dominate the sport while shitholes like Pittsburgh and their 300k citizens manage to dominate the other ones

Cory
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Cory
6 years 10 months ago

How would a salary cap help the mets?

Jeff
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Jeff
6 years 10 months ago

The Mets total DLed payroll would exceed the salary cap.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 10 months ago

It wouldn’t, but I hate the Yankees as much as I like the Mets.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

So, basically, you’re just whining. Got it.

Chris
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Chris
6 years 10 months ago

I agree, The Twins supposedly did all the little things right too until they bleeped up a couple little things and lost. Nowadays, playoff baseball is more like fantasy baseball. If you have a really powerful lineup and a decent pitching staff, you will win. The Yanks will win this year if they can continue hitting because they have the best lineup and the best lineup will dominate middling pitching and helps them overcome mediocre defense.

It wasn’t like this in the 60s, 70s and 80s when usually the best pitching staffs won, not the best lineups.

J Bravo
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J Bravo
6 years 10 months ago

Then why haven’t the Yankees been to the World Series since ’03? Their lineup was the best in the game in ’06 and ’07. Your argument is unconvincing.

Seideberg
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Seideberg
6 years 10 months ago

Well, I would venture that several of their players performed worse than their average, which is pretty common over any 4 game stretch? That is, unless you buy the argument that Alex Rodriguez struggles in the playoffs…

dante23
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dante23
6 years 10 months ago

Up until this season Arod was terrible for the Yankees in the postseason. The argument is valid.

Tom B
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Tom B
6 years 10 months ago

arod has better numbers than jeter in the post season. your uninformed opinion is painful to read.

pitching, pitching, pitching.
nothing else matters.

Chris
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Chris
6 years 10 months ago

pitching is all its about??

Hardly, if that were the case, the Twins would be playing the Angels right now as their starter outpitched the Yankees in 2 of the 3 games. It’s only by the much more powerful lineup and stupid Twins mistakes that the Yankees are still playing.

Sheesh, it hasn’t been all about pitching for at least 20 years…

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

Pitching doesn’t automatically starting pitching. The Yanks’ superior bullpen was a big reason they won that series.

Oh, and it’s kind of hard to argue Pavano out-pitched Pettitte. Pretty even, but out-pitched? Same thing with Burnett/Blackburn.

JJFO
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JJFO
6 years 10 months ago

Having a great team doesn’t help you much in the playoffs, its pretty much a crapshoot because series are so short and how good every team that makes the playoffs is.

The Yankees have had some great teams since ’03, it’d be hard to find anyone who thinks that the ’06 Cardinals or the ’05 White Sox were better than the Yankees of their years

For all the talk of the Yankees choking in the playoffs they’ve done pretty well, in the wild card era they’ve had 4 (lookin like 5 soon =D) in about 15 years, 1 in 3 is way more than you can accept from a team

dante23
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dante23
6 years 10 months ago

What a ridiculous article. Who writes this stuff?

dante23
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dante23
6 years 10 months ago

I thought it was a great game. The Yankees won. I know that’s a hard one for Red Sox, Mets fans, etc. to swallow. Deal with it. #27 is on the way.

The Yankees win!!!! The Yankees win!!!

Patrick
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Patrick
6 years 10 months ago

Dante, his byline is on the article, but hey: Carson Cistulli.
Maybe… Um. He just meant it was a boring game? The Yankees won, which is great if you’re a Yankee fan. But I don’t think even a Yankee fan would pretend it was dramatic. CC was great and that was cool..

Carson seems to stir up controversy because he tries to write about a bit more than the stats, etc.

And Carson, I liked the article a lot. It captured how I felt about the game – Though I’m not sure I agree as much about the popup. It just seemed like a sad screw up – But maybe you’re right. If they had both really wanted it, they would’ve been there shouting at one another and going for it until one called the other off. It was ugly, and it sure wasn’t fun to watch.

For what it’s worth, I like most of your articles a lot. And I love the change of pace. Wish we’d had a few more in last night’s game. Maybe tonight’s will be better!

Joe
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Joe
6 years 10 months ago

A less boring game tonight, eh?

Patrick
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Patrick
6 years 10 months ago

It’s like they read Carson’s post.

So about bunting in extra inning tie games as the home time…
I know it reduces the overall run expectancy for the inning – But does it increase the expectance of one run?
If it does, I’m sure it’d only be in the case of nobody out when the bunt is done.

Anywho, good game tonight! They’ve got to run out of pitchers one of these hours.

Tom B
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Tom B
6 years 10 months ago

you can’t add an out and increase run expectance, for 1 run or 70…

Roland
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Roland
6 years 10 months ago

I remember an article on THT about this, but I can’t find it, so I might be wrong, but I think the odds of scoring are greater with a runner on second one out than a runner on first none out. The reason total run expectancy decreases is because multi-run inning are much less likely with one out, but if all you want is one run there is a very slight advantage. Now bunting is not a sure thing, and I think the success rate had to be near 100% or the small advantage would be wiped out, and so bunting is a bad idea, but not so obviously a bad as many would assume.

Patrick
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Patrick
6 years 10 months ago

… damn.

sabes
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sabes
6 years 10 months ago

So when a pitcher pitches a great game in the postseason, it’s boring? Just because the lead didn’t change 5 times doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good game to watch. Or exciting. Not everything is quantifiable.

dante23
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dante23
6 years 10 months ago

It’s like this guy just started watching baseball. Sometimes you get games where the pitcher dominates and the game isn’t really in doubt. That’s how it goes. That’s baseball. Doesn’t mean it’s not exciting. I thought Sabathia’s performance was very exciting. Each game is different. Over the course of a long season, that’s how it goes. Last night’s game wasn’t really in doubt because of the great performance by Sabathia. Tonight’s game was back and forth and went down to the wire. That’s baseball. It’s been the same for well over a hundred years.

Marcus
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Marcus
6 years 10 months ago

Yawn…… I can stay up all nightlong watching playoff baseball but this article put me to sleep in under thirty seconds.

Wrighteous
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Wrighteous
6 years 10 months ago

Yanks are a much better team than the Angels, they will probably sweep. This could turn into a series-long yawn…

RollingWave
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RollingWave
6 years 10 months ago

I think the better solution would still be to

A. add 2 team to the North east, or at least one in NY.

B. change the playoff to a 6 team per side formula , (2 division winners, 4 wild card, division winner skip the division series. )

john
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john
6 years 10 months ago

Two significant problems with this article:
1) Linking the probable outcome (as determined by a statistical model) to how ‘exciting’ a fan would perceive the game assumes that fans understand how each event is impacting the probable outcome. This is not true. There are a number of cognitive biases that impact our ability to ‘think’ in this way. A good example would be the ‘availability’ heuristic. This heuristic is probably still in play right now in the ACLS, with Angels fans over-estimating their chances of coming back to win in this series because they have done so against the Yankees in the past.
2) Your suggestion that Aybar / Figgins were not determined has no grounds whatsoever and the fact you brought up Skip Bayless to support this position is even more damning. Do you really believe that neither player had sufficent ‘want-to’? Or could there be more plausible explanations like a combination of weather, crowd noise, pressure and bad play got in the way? No your probably right, more likely that two players on this years 2nd best AL team, who helped get the team where they were over the course of 160+ games didn’t have sufficent ‘want-to’ in a play off game agan the Yankees.

Laza Morgan
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Alexandra Burke’s latest single Start Without You is very catchy! The single without a doubt earned the #1 spot on the UK singles charts and I wish Alexandra releases her second album soon! I wanna listen to Laza Morgan’s new album, too.

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