Realism Runs Rampant in ’58 (The Replay Zone – September 2012)

By Jeff Polman
September ruminations from your trusty Strat-O-Matic replay addict.
So I’ve passed the ’58 All-Star break in my 1958 murder mystery replay, and things are starting to get awful realistic around here. While the National League pennant race is nearly as tight as the actual one was at this point, the American League is quickly becoming the same Yankee mashing party.
Here’s an update on all the teams. I’ve included their Mystery Ball records and in parentheses, their actual records through July 20th.
BRAVES 50-39 (48-37)
Hank Aaron has finally cooled off, but his blistering pace after the break vaulted Milwaukee to the top. It took a long time to adjust the lineup, but now it’s paying off. The Braves have a lot of fielding problems and easy-to-roll injury issues, but their pitching is deep and unmatched in the league, which always counts for a lot. They’ve also begun to win the one-run games they were losing constantly in the first half.
GIANTS 49-42 (50-38)
A real sketchy bullpen has been whittled down to Paul Giels vs. lefties and Gordon Jones vs. righties, and the rise of Orlando Cepeda (up to .304 with 60 RBIs after a slow start) has mirrored a rash of clutch come-from-behind wins of late. S.F. leads the NL with 27 of them, and they have the second best home record after the Braves, at 28-23. Mays, naturally, is busy being Mays, with a .348 average, 20 homers and .981 OPS. Also, Johnny Antonelli, after losing his first ten decisions, has now won five out of six.
CUBS 47-45 (46-44)
Ernie Banks may be at .296 with 24 homers and 67 RBIs, but the Cubs are far from a 1-man team. They’re second in the league with 115 team bombs and feature a very balanced attack with Dale Long, Walt Moryn, and Bobby Thomson all going long with regularity. They’ve also had the best relief combo in Don Elston (2.15, 11 saves) and Bill Henry (8-0, 1.53). Probably the main reason they’re the best team in one-run games, at 21-14.
PHILLIES 46-43 (39-44)
Still the nicest surprise team in the set. Philly is second to Milwaukee in team OPS and have gotten great pitching from Robin Roberts and Don Cardwell, among others. With their league-high on-base percentage, they’re rarely out of any game, and have driven the Dodgers absolutely nuts.
DODGERS 45-46 (41-47)
Plenty of power in their lineup and seemingly a dozen pitchers in their pen, but all except Craig are time bombs. The short left field screen at the L.A. Coliseum creates many slugfests, the majority of them losses for the Dodgers, who sport a mediocre 22-28 home record. Big L.A. surprise has been Don Zimmer, at .305 with 17 dingers, but Koufax and Drysdale are still way too young to be the Koufax and Drysdale that became famous. Sandy has walked 62 men in 95 innings and has a 5.46 ERA.
CARDS 42-45 (41-43)
These guys are about where they’re supposed to be, meaning they just don’t play well. Stan the Man (.343, 1.003 OPS) has bouts of inspirations, but also a deadly 2-column with scads of double plays that get rolled way too often. Team MVP has actually been Joe Cunningham (.326, .466 OBP) who leads off, gets on base and usually gets driven home. Unfortunately, St. Louis’ pitching other than Vinegar Bend Mizell (12-4) has been pretty wretched.
PIRATES 43-47 (41-47)
The big underachievers, at least in relation to their eventual second place finish in real life. Chief reasons have been Bob Friend (5-10, 155 hits in 126 IP) who somehow won 22 that year, and slugger Frank Thomas, who is at .252 with just 15 homers (he hit 35) fails repeatedly at key moments. They also never walk (194, worst in either league) or hit homers (66, worst in the NL), meaning they never score enough runs.
REDS 38-53 (40-46)
Despite Frank Robinson’s heroics (.340, 28 HRS, 89 RBIs, 1.080 OPS), the Cincy pitching is awful and keeps them from getting anywhere. Last in ERA, homers allowed, WHIP, you name it, Crosley Field’s short HR factors have been a blessing for some of their hitters but a major curse for their entire staff.
YANKEES (62-30, 58-30)
Doing what they’re supposed to do in spades: getting great pitching (Whitey Ford is 14-3, 1.99), and ambushing teams late in games (33 comeback wins). In the Bronx they’re just brutal, with the best home record in the set at 36-15. Like Aaron, Mantle is putting up MVP numbers (.334, 28 HRS, 77 RBIs, 1.122 OPS), but their offense is a perfect machine with a different clutch hero every day. Granted, Johnny Kucks won’t be getting the 15 starts he turned in for Casey Stengel, but you can say the same about second-place Boston…
RED SOX (52-38, 47-41)
…where Dave Sisler (25 starts in ’58) hasn’t needed to see the light of day. Not that the rest of their rotation or bullpen are anything great, but the Bosox don’t need pitching when they can hit the way they do. They lead the world in runs scored, on-base, slugging and team, OPS, and get this, they’ve walked 419 times, which is 90 more walks than the next team in that category, Cleveland. Ted Williams won’t win the batting title due to a lack of at bats, but he helps out quite a bit with his .393 mark, 71 RBIs and 1.177 OPS. First-sacker Dick Gernert recently went on a ridiculous home run binge, swatting eight balls out of Fenway in just six games. If the Yanks slip at all (unlikely), watch out.
ORIOLES (52-41, 43-44)
Runaway winners of the overachieving award, the Birds swooned recently, but continue to pull out games with great pitching and timely key hits. Still, with their extremely weak bottom of the order, they are the best candidate to drop out of sight.
WHITE SOX (48-45, 43-47)
This bunch eventually finished in second, but I’ve been waiting all year for them to get hot. They just finished getting swept in a weekend series at Griffith Stadium, so if that doesn’t get them angry, nothing will. Their lack of power (54 homers is lowest in either league) and erratic pitching (“Ace” Billy Pierce has surrendered 20 homers in just 139 innings) had seemingly doomed them to also-ran status.
INDIANS (46-47, 41-49)
Playing a bit better than expected, largely due to Rocky Colavito (.309, 25, 77, 1.072) but like the White Sox, have gotten very little good pitching outside of Gary Bell (11-5, 3.18) and Cal McLish (11-8, 2.86). Their offense can compete with Boston and New York’s on occasion, but then Preston Ward or Billy Harrell will fumble a ball in the field in the 9th inning and that’ll be that.
TIGERS (45-46, 42-45)
See Indians’ comment. Good batting averages, not enough power, and unreliable pitching. Gus Zernial is sure fun to stick in the lineup part-time (.379, 1.061 OPS) but his 5e17 rating in left field never keeps him around for long.
ATHLETICS (36-55, 41-46)
It’s always fun to play with a Kansas City A’s team, but this one’s supposed to be much better. Roger Maris came over in a trade from Cleveland a month ago, but hasn’t exactly sparked them. Other than Bob Cerv (.329, 26, 72, 0.999 OPS) there just isn’t enough of anything on this team to get excited about, and their records against New York (3-11) and Boston (3-12) have been atrocious.
SENATORS (27-66, 38-51)
Don’t be fooled by their just-finished sweep of the White Sox. This is far and away one of the worst Strat teams I’ve ever played with. Last in virtually every offensive and defensive team category, they find new ways to lose practically every day. Roy Sievers has been a beast (.318, leader in both homers with 34 and RBIs with 82, 1.015 OPS) but other than Eddie Yost’s walks, the offense is a sinkhole. Jim Lemon (.213, only 12 HRS) strikes out nearly every time and was dropped to seventh in the order. The least they could do is battle K.C. for 7th place.
To sum up, is it just me, or do these standings seem extremely close to where they were in actual 1958? Hmm…Here are the plus or minus differences (in games over or under .500) from their true records:
Milwaukee: EVEN
San Francisco –5
Chicago: EVEN
Philadelphia +8
Los Angeles +5
St. Louis –1
Pittsburgh +2
Cincinnati –9
New York +4
Boston +8
Baltimore +10
Chicago +7
Cleveland +7
Detroit +2
Kansas City –14
Washington –26
Pretty good, four teams in the National league within two games of their actual records, and only the A’s and Senators in the AL playing far worse than they should be. The Reds are nine games worse, but keep in mind they were actually in first place a few months ago after a hot streak. Anything is possible in this ’58 world of “two walks and a long fly ball.”
See you next month with news about my upcoming Best of 2011 Tournament, which like last year’s, will be open to all.