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Setting the table (cont.)

Posted: Friday September 1, 2006 1:17PM; Updated: Friday September 1, 2006 1:46PM
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Need a miracle

ASTROS (66-68, 3rd in NL Central, - 2 games in NL wild card)

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We all know the Astros' problems, and we all know it's too late to fix them. If the team can't hit -- and this one most certainly cannot -- it can't hit. So the only way the Astros can win a place in the postseason is to shut down the other guys. Roger Clemens can do it. Roy Oswalt, too. Andy Pettitte ... well, he's looking better. But from there, we're not real sure, and with the problems Houston has in its bullpen, this is one huge uphill climb.
Coming up: 15/13; Sept. 21-24 vs. STL; 3 at PIT, 3 at ATL
Odds: About 11 percent to make the postseason

REDS (67-67, 2nd in NL Central, -1 games in NL wild card)
After holding the wild-card lead for weeks, the Reds finally gave it up with six straight losses in their current 10-game West Coast trip. For a change, the lineup has been as bad as the pitching. Ryan Freel (.220) and Adam Dunn (.188) were ice-cold for most of August, and just about everyone was missing in L.A. What the Reds need is more hitting, more good starts (Kyle Lohse has a 2.78 ERA in five starts) and a healthy Eddie Guardado. Oh. And that miracle.
Coming up: 15/13; Sept. 12-14 vs. SD; 3 at FLA, 3 at PIT
Odds: 11 percent to win the NL Central, 21 percent to make the postseason

MARLINS (65-68, 3rd in NL East, -3 games in NL wild card)
Good young pitchers (Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Scott Olsen, Dontrelle Willis). A legitimate hitting stud (Miguel Cabrera). A surprise All-Star (Dan Uggla). A young speedster (Hanley Ramirez). A seasoned closer (Joe Borowski). And a manager -- for now -- that has brought it all together (Joe Girardi). A lot of their success in September will rely on the youngsters, especially the pitchers, holding on. They're a long shot, to be sure, especially with their September schedule. But bet against these guys? You'd be a betting fool.
Coming up: 13/16; Sept. 7-10 vs. PHI; 3 vs. CIN, 3 vs. PHI
Odds: About 8 percent to make the postseason

GIANTS (66-68, 3rd in NL West, -2 games in NL wild card)
Sure, they're old, and yeah, they have problems. Mainly, they're old and breaking down. But Omar Vizquel isn't acting his age (.327 in August), and neither is Ray Durham (.340). San Fran's September rests on the shoulders of young starters Brad Hennessy, Noah Lowry and Matt Cain and old starter Matt Morris. And, of course, that left-fielder, whatshisname, has to play like he has lately (.538, three HRs and a 1.657 OPS in his last nine games). It's hard to see the Giants in the postseason. But, after all, this is the NL West.
Coming up: 16/12; Sept. 8-10 vs. SD; 3 vs. ARI, 3 vs. LAD
Odds: About 3 percent to win the NL West, 8 percent to make the postseason

BRAVES (63-69, 4th in NL East, -4 games in NL wild card)
With John Smoltz and a cast of thousands for a rotation, and a bullpen that has been reliable only in being unreliable, the Braves have given no indication that they can keep up their string of 14 straight postseason appearances. But ... since the break Adam LaRoche (.362, 1.207 OPS), Chipper Jones (.327, 1.125 OPS), Andruw Jones (.967 OPS), Matt Diaz (.366, .955 OPS) and the rest of the Braves have pounded people. Maybe that'll get them there. Yeah. Sure it will.
Coming up: 14/16; Sept. 12-14 vs. PHI; 3 vs. NYM, 3 vs. HOU
Odds: About 4 percent to make the postseason

DIAMONDBACKS (64-69, 4th in NL West, -4 games in NL wild card)
Save for NL Cy Young front-runner Brandon Webb (14-5, 3.02 ERA), this is a team with a mediocre pitching staff (4.63 ERA, ninth in the NL) and a mediocre lineup (.761 OPS, eighth). Which is why they have a mediocre record. How can a team like this get over the hump? The pitching doesn't seem capable. Maybe a youngster like Stephen Drew (.345, .898 OPS in August) can lead the way. Realistically, though, they need about three more of him to have a chance.
Coming up: 15/14; Sept. 7-10 vs. STL; 3 at SF, 4 vs. SD
Odds: About 3 percent to make the postseason