2010 World Series offers hope for mid-budget franchises

By Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 11:10 PM

Perhaps the best part of this year's baseball postseason is that it gives hope. The way the Rangers and Giants have reached the World Series is a method within the grasp of almost any franchise.

It's hard. It takes several years of steady, patient progress. Having Yankee or Red Sox money would be easier. But it can be done.

In fact, in recent years, and especially this season, more teams than most fans think are already following this mid-budget method, including the substantially improved Reds and Padres, the under-construction Nationals and perhaps even the Indians.

Four teams show the trend most dramatically. Just three years ago, the Giants, Rangers, Reds and Rays all stunk. They averaged 91 losses apiece. Nobody predicted big gains for any of 'em. Yet Texas and San Francisco will start the Series on Wednesday night. The Rays were already in the '08 World Series and beat the Yanks in the AL East this year. The Reds just won the NL Central.

How did they do it? None have been among the 10 biggest spenders in baseball in the last three years combined. In fact, the Rangers, Reds and Rays all have stringent bottom-half-of-the-sport budgets.

In every case the answer is the same. All these teams allowed tons of runs and paid too little attention to developing young pitching, constructing a deep bullpen and improving their defense. Why? It's a bit boring. It takes multiple years. And if you fail, it seems to fans that you weren't doing anything, except being cheap.

But when the plan works, the progress is melodramatic. How huge an improvement? Just two years ago, the Rangers (in a hitters' park) and the Giants (in a pitchers' paradise) allowed 967 and 759 runs, respectively. They were just awful. This year, their totals fell to 687 and the Giants to 583 (second-best in baseball).

Yes, it's amazing what giving up 175 to 280 fewer runs will do.

Pitching, defense, youth and team speed may sound old-fashioned. And it's probably more fun to run a team if you have a $125 million to $210 million payroll than a budget half that number.

However, for those who can't, or won't afford a higher price, lots of progress can be made simply in trying to prevent runs.

Which teams topped baseball in that category in '10? The San Diego Padres were the leaders, lowering their runs allowed by 188 with a dominating bullpen and young ace Mat Latos. The Pads got 90 wins and almost reached the playoffs.

And what team was the second most improved? To my surprise, it was the Nats who allowed 132 fewer runs in '10 thanks to a completely rebuilt bullpen, the (brief) arrival of Stephen Strasburg and the unexpected staff leadership of Livan Hernandez.

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