Contender concerns (cont.)
Riding a 10-game winning streak and cruising toward their fourth straight NL East title, it almost seems like the Phillies have no issues lately. But they do have a couple of concerns. One is Jimmy Rollins' hamstring. He hasn't played since Sept. 8 and Phillies people would like to see him get in against live pitching soon, but leg problems have bothered Rollins all year. Wilson Valdez has done an excellent job defensively in Rollins' place, but he can't hit like Rollins.
Another concern is their bullpen, which isn't as bad as folks think but ranks eighth in the NL with a 3.97 ERA. Although as one NL scout said, "They don't need much bullpen depth when they get seven innings from their starters.''
Their starting rotation "doesn't stack up to the Phillies,'' one NL scout said. Well, that's really not such an insult. And if the Braves make the playoffs, they won't have to face the Phillies in the first round, anyway. The loss of Chipper Jones hurt their middle-of-the-lineup presence. Derrek Lee helps, but he isn't having the best of seasons, and though he's hitting a solid .280 since coming to the Braves in an August trade with the Cubs he's hit just two homers in 100 at-bats. It's a lot of good, solid players but unless rookie Jason Heyward hits his potential now, they really don't have anyone hitting like a No. 3 or 4 batter.
The biggest question about the Reds may be their experience, as only seven players have ever been in the postseason (the one with the most experience, Jim Edmonds, is out with an Achilles injury). It helps, though, that manager Dusty Baker has 36 playoff games under his belt as a manager. The rotation, while decent, isn't as good as some others in the NL, with its 4.11 ERA ranking 11th in the 16-team league.
San Francisco Giants
Their starting rotation has the vaunted one-two punch of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain which could carry them far, but Lincecum has struggled a bit lately, at least by his standards. He has allowed nearly a hit an inning and has a 3.60 ERA overall. Barry Zito is back to struggling, so one NL scout said he'd employ Madison Bumgarner ahead of him.
Their offense has been bolstered with several second-half additions but still isn't great. Their 649 runs rank them 18th in baseball. Among all their many relative newcomers, Pat Burrell has provided 16 home runs and Jose Guillen is hitting .301, but Cody Ross (.208, 0 home runs, 2 RBIs) has done nothing since being acquired from the Marlins in August.
San Diego Padres
They are a young team on a deep slide, having lost 18 of their past 27 games, and that has to take a psychological toll. Their starting rotation, while solid, is "soft,'' according to one NL scout. Mat Latos looked like a world beater until the last few starts (7.36 ERA in September after leading the league in that category when the month began). Chris Young gets his second start since coming off the disables list on Friday night, and his success will be a key to helping them reach the postseason. Clayton Richard recently threw the first complete game by a Padres left-since Sterling Hitchcock in 1999, so it's a mixed bag.
And their offense, long an issue, took a hit with the loss of Jerry Hairston with a stress fracture in his right leg for the remainder of the year. Their 639 runs ranks them 20th and their .697 OPS ranks them 24th. But give them credit for hanging at the top of the division when last place was everyone's expectation.
The biggest issue at this point is that they are running short on time. They carry a four-game losing streak into a crucial weekend series against the Giants in Denver, and they need to turn things around immediately. With a 3 1/2 game deficit and two teams to chase in the NL West, they need to get as hot as they were in early September, when they won 10-in a row at one point, to have a chance at their first division title.
And while they've played very well overall this month, there are still a couple pitching issues. Ubaldo Jimenez hasn't been anywhere near the same pitcher he was at the start of the season. He was 15-1 record with a 2.20 ERA before the All-Star break but is just 4-6, 4.29 since the break. Also, Jason Hammel has been complaining about a tired arm, lasting just four innings in each of his last two outings.
The Yankees will likely be most focused on Cliff Lee as a free agent. With Brett Gardner playing well in left field, they don't seem quite as anxious to put on a full-court press for Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth (though of course, you can never count them out). One other player that may interest them is Adam Dunn, who could hit 50 home runs in Yankee Stadium. One scout said of Dunn, who's spoken optimistically about re-signing with the Nationals, "He should go to the American League.''
It was curious to see Nationals president San Kasten resign yesterday, effective at the end of the year, following all the Nats' turn-around moves via the draft. Kasten was interviewed within the past year by the Blue Jays but there was no word on his immediate plans, and his friend Paul Beeston now seems entrenched in Toronto. Kasten, who lives in Atlanta, said by phone the plan was for him to leave after 2010, but it's still rare to see someone resign such a good job.
Agent Scott Boras does not believe the $66-million, four-year contract Jason Bay got from the Mets last winter is a comp for his client Jayson Werth. "Remember, with a platform year where Bay had many more home runs and RBIs, Holliday gets nearly double AFTER Bay signs,'' Boras said via text of the seven-year, $120 million contract Matt Holliday signed with the Cardinals last offseason. "The [Bay] signing (due to medical predisposition) had no impact on Holliday. Why should it have relevance to Werth or Crawford?''