Examining baseball's final four (cont.)
This Phillies team has major stars, including the last two MVPs in Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, and starting pitcher Cole Hamels, whose changeup has been devastating. But the thing that stands out about these players is their toughness; they're as tough as the town they represent. While there are holes -- the rotation isn't particularly deep (though No. 4 starter Joe Blanton may be the kind who revs it up for the playoffs, judging by his Game 4 performance in Milwaukee), and neither is the pen -- this team does not back down from a challenge. Last year they became the only team to come back from seven down with 17 to play, and this year they're even better.
Los Angeles Dodgers
This is not the same team that muddled through its first 100 games, impressing no one while winning only half its games in the NL Worst. Never has one man transformed a team like this. Ramirez's personal revival has set an example for the Dodgers' young players, spurring them to refocus their energies and commit to the team. It didn't hurt that they had Torre to pull it all together.
Around the Majors
The Yankees are said to want to sign two out of three starting pitchers they're coveting -- CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe. Sabathia is, of course, their No. 1 target. But Yankees players seem to love the idea of signing Burnett, a pitcher who has dominated them.
Some baseball people say the crashing U.S. economy could give the Yankees an even greater advantage in this free-agent season. Some other teams may be affected by baseball's debt rule that limits spending for teams with significant debt, and some owners may be affected by plummeting stock prices and hurting businesses. Meanwhile, the Yankees' revenues are expected to jump by a few hundred million from an already sport-high $400 million.
Jake Peavy is expected to be available, as the Padres will likely scale back. Padres owner John Moores' impending divorce may be affecting his ability to spend.
The Angels don't seem as gung-ho to retain record-breaking closer Francisco Rodriguez as one might think. Executives from other teams have noticed a decrease in velocity -- and yet his performance obviously didn't suffer.
All evidence indicates that the Cubs choked. One Cubs person said the players "were tight as a drum'' before Game 1. And, judging by their performance, it couldn't have gotten any better from there.
Alfonso Soriano shouldn't have been quoted saying Cubs fans "need to be patient.'' Soriano often doesn't even wait for a strike, while the wait of Cubs' fans has hit the century mark.
Two excellent candidates for the Mariners GM job are the Mets' Tony Bernazard and the Brewers' Jack Zduriencik. Up-and-comer Jerry DiPoto has been mentioned, as well, as has the Dodgers' Kim Ng.
Jamie Moyer is said by people close to him to want to pitch until he's 50. That would be five more years, and if he does it that would give him a chance to win 300 games.