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The Wild Card: The Fantastic Finish
"We were playing as if we were waiting to lose."
That quote is not from Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca. What Lo Duca said after the Nationals completed their sweep of the Mets on Wednesday night to reduce the Mets' lead in the NL East to one game was, "It seems to me we're all waiting to lose."
The quote at the top is from Johnny Callison, the slugging right fielder of the 1964 Phillies, who endured the most infamous September collapse in major league history (though, statistically speaking, only the 10th-worst). Callison made the statement in 1994, reflecting on the state of the team after a loss reduced the Phillies' lead, which had been 6½ games with 13 left, to half a game. The full quote from Callison: "It was as if [manager] Gene [Mauch] didn't know what to do to stop the losing streak. The panic set in after that game. We had lost our confidence. After that, we were playing as if we were waiting to lose."
Lo Duca couldn't have said it better himself.
The '64 Phillies lost again the next day to slip into second place. They lost the next three days as well to extend their losing streak to 10 games. They'd win their final two games, but it was too little, too late.
Thursday night, the Mets also lost again to slip into a tie with, ironically, the Phillies.
Amazingly, with just three games left in the season, not a single team in the National League has clinched a playoff berth, and there are still seven teams fighting over the four playoff spots. That's because five of those seven teams -- the Diamondbacks, Padres, Mets, Phillies, and Rockies -- are all within two games of each other, meaning there's still a chance, albeit a slim one, that the team that currently boasts the best record in the league (the Diamondbacks at 89-70) could miss the playoffs entirely.
The race that was closest last week is the one that's closest to being decided today, that being the NL Central, where the Cubs hold a two-game lead over the Brewers with the Cubs in Cincinnati and the Brewers hosting the Padres over the final three days. The Brewers are 0-4 against San Diego thus far this season, including last night's 9-5 Pads win. Greg Maddux starts for the Padres against Chris Capuano tonight in Milwaukee. Carlos Zambrano, who lost to the Reds on short rest last week, starts for the Cubs on regular rest against Bronson Arroyo. If the Cubs win or the Brewers lose, the Cubs clinch a tie. If both happen, the Cubs will clinch the division, becoming the first NL team to earn a playoff berth.
The Padres, meanwhile, are just a game behind Arizona in the West and are still leading the Wild Card race, though the Phillies and Mets are just a game behind them. So are the surging Colorado Rockies, who have won 11 straight, including a sweep of the Padres last weekend, to thrust themselves into the playoff picture. The Rockies finish the season by hosting the division-leading Diamondbacks, whom they trail by two games. The Rockies don't control their own destiny, however, because, even if they sweep the D'backs, the Padres could win the division by sweeping Milwaukee. The pitching matchups for Colorado and Arizona are aces Brandon Webb and Jeff Francis tonight, Edgar Gonzalez versus Mike Redman tomorrow night and Doug Davis against Ubaldo Jimenez in the finale. The surprising name there belongs to Redman, who was released by the Braves in late May, signed a minor league deal with the Rockies in late August, was called up three weeks ago, and earned a rotation spot with five scoreless relief innings against the Phillies. Since joining the Rockies, Redman has lowered his ERA by nearly three runs (though it's still at 8.67).
That brings us back to the East. No one expected the Washington Nationals to be a factor in the pennant race, but the Nats have taken five of six from the Mets over the last two weeks while dropping three of four to the Phillies in between, and it is the Nationals who are traveling to Philadelphia to decide the outcome of the Phillies' season. Meanwhile, the Mets host the Marlins, who could prove to be the Mets' saviors, as the Mets' 4-10 record over the last two weeks includes three wins (in four games) over the Fish in Miami.
Both the Phillies and Mets are 10-5 against their final series opponent this year, but the events of the last two weeks, which have seen the Mets fritter away their seven-game lead in the NL East, likely have more relevance on how the two teams will play this weekend. The Phillies, who have gone 11-3 over that span, have young ace Cole Hamels starting tonight followed by Adam Eaton and Jamie Moyer over the weekend. Amazingly, Hamels has yet to contribute to the Phillies' surge, having pitched poorly in his first start since coming off the disabled list last Tuesday (a game the Phillies won in 14 innings), then turned in five solid innings in the one game the Phils lost to the Nats last weekend. For their part, the Mets will send Oliver Perez, John Maine, and Tom Glavine to the hill this weekend. Perez dominated the Marlins last Saturday in Miami (8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K), but Maine has struggled of late, posting a 8.24 ERA over his past four starts. Maine did fairly well against the Marlins on Sunday (5 IP, 3 R, 9 K), but that sort of five-inning outing is what's killing this bullpen-strapped Mets team.
Over the last 12 games, the Mets' starting pitcher has lasted more than five innings just three times. Pedro Martinez went seven last night, Perez pitched eight frames in the above start against the Marlins, and rookie Mike Pelfrey lasted 5 2/3 against the Nats on Monday. As a result, the Met bullpen, which, until Orlando Hernandez went out there Wednesday night, was really just three-men deep, has been exposed. That domino effect of failure by the pitching staff has been the No. 1-reason for the Mets' collapse. Just three of the Mets' losses over the last two weeks have come in games in which their opponent scored fewer than eight runs. What's more, the Mets got out to early leads in six of those 10 losses, rallied to tie up a seventh, and came within one run of tying an eighth with a six-run ninth inning Tuesday night against the Nats. The Mets' three low-scoring losses over the past two weeks were the first two -- a pair of heartbreakers against the Phillies that saw the Mets get out to early two-run leads only to have the Phillies rally to win 3-2 in 10 innings and 5-3 -- and last night, when the Met offense finally ran out of gas, managing just three hits and a walk in a 3-0 loss to Joel Pineiro and the Cardinals. Maybe they were just tired of waiting to lose.
Cliff Corcoran wrote about the 1964 Phillies for the recently released It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book.
NL East: Dishing out the hardware
It's been something of an odd season for the NL East, which features four teams that have disappointed and one (guess which) that has wildly exceeded expectations. Still, the division's chock full of players who have turned in excellent -- and in the cases of a few hitters, historic -- years. Were the NL East a league unto itself, and I its benevolent president-for-life, here's how I'd distribute the postseason hardware.
MVP: David Wright, Mets 3B
I recently expounded upon Wright's merits, and nothing has changed. Unless, of course, the Mets miss the playoffs. Then the trophy will have to go to J-Roll, who also joined the 30-30 club for the first time this season.
Odds he'll win the NL-wide award: 3-2.
Also considered: Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez, Chipper Jones.
Cy Young: Cole Hamels, Phillies SP
This has really not been a banner year for NL East hurlers, and the real award's a lock to head out west to Jake Peavy in San Diego. Hamels (14-5, 3.54 ERA) takes divisional honors by default, for being the one bright spot in the Phillies' rotation -- even though he recently missed a month.
Odds he'll win the NL-wide award: 40-1.
Also considered: John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Oliver Perez.
Rookie of the Year: Peter Moylan, Braves RP
I bemoaned the unusual lack of quality rookies in the division back in April, and that dearth continued all season. One rookie (Matt Chico) ended up qualifying for the ERA title, and no one's eligible for the batting title. The East's top home run-hitting rookie -- Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz -- has slugged 18% as many bombs (6) as has Ryan Braun (33). So the award goes to Moylan, the bespectacled Aussie with the 1.82 ERA, at whom I believe the Braves should take a hard look as their closer next spring.
Odds he'll win the NL-wide award: 5,000-1.
Also considered: Ruiz, Kyle Kendrick, Yunel Escobar, Matt Lindstrom.
Manager of the Year: Manny Acta
An absolute no-doubter. Acta's worked wonders with the Nats, who have somehow gotten better as the season has gone along -- they're currently riding a four-game winning streak, and are on pace to finish with 73 wins, at least a dozen more than anyone expected of them. Acta has to be in the conversation for the NL-wide award (I think the NL West trio of Clint Hurdle, Bud Black and Bob Melvin might split that vote, especially after Black inadvertently tore the ACL of his own player this week), and one has to wonder whether the Mets think about their former third-base coach and wonder what might have been. In SI's Baseball Preview I wrote, "The Nationals will be hard-pressed to equal last year's win total of 71." Whoops.
Odds he'll win the NL-wide award: 3-1.
Also considered: Charlie Manuel.
Executive of the Year: John Schuerholz
Sure (Schuer?), Schuerholz's many trade deadline moves didn't work -- but not one of them appears to be a misstep, especially not the acquisition of Mark Teixeira, who has 54 RBIs in 51 games since coming over from Texas and could be the Braves' first baseman for years to come. I'm not blaming Schuerholz for failing to pick up the one asset that will keep the Braves out of the postseason -- an asset that was simply not available on the market: a quality starting pitcher.
Odds he'll win the MLB-wide award: 200-1
Also considered: Jim Bowden.
-- How bad a collapse would it constitute if the Mets fail to make the postseason? The second worst EVER, writes Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus.
-- Even so, the Phillies' mathematical odds of making the playoffs still significantly less than 50/50.
-- As Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post writes, the Marlins may now have "the most overqualified bullpen coach in baseball history."
-- Talking Chop unearths one stat Scott Boras will likely use to get Andruw Jones an inevitably massive free-agent deal.
-- The Nats are so hot right now that they're winning even with their closer doing this in the bullpen.
Labels: NL East
AL West: End-of-Year Awards
The Angels reign over the AL West this season has been pretty remarkable. When September comes to a close, Los Angeles will have finished every month atop the division standings. With the regular season coming to a close this week, it's time to hand out AL West awards. Fittingly, the Halos dominate the hardware aspect of the AL West, as well.
AL West Most Valuable Player: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels. I quickly contemplated Ichiro Suzuki and his .350 batting average for this award, but truth be told, Vlad's far more valuable. In fact, it's hard to identify another player in baseball who means more to his team than The Impaler does to the Angels. As the sole big bopper in a small-ball lineup, Big Daddy Vladdy accumulates RBIs in bunches (123) and hits for average (.322). It's hard to imagine where this team would be without its free-swinging right fielder.
AL West Cy Young: John Lackey, Angels. The Angels nailed down the division title on Monday, appropriately with Lackey on the hill. While Kelvim Escobar has enjoyed a breakout season, Lackey has been the Angels' rock since Day 1. The Halos' ace boasts the second-highest ERA in the American League (3.11). J.J. Putz and Dan Haren both merited serious consideration, but Lackey's 18 wins and division title pushed him over the top.
AL West Rookie of the Year: Reggie Willits, Angels. With an extremely limited number of impact rookies in this division, Willits is a runaway winner here. Willits doesn't possess much power -- as evidenced by his zero homers -- but he hits for average (.296) and simply gets on base (.394 OBP). Willits' scrappy style -- he leads the majors with 4.43 pitches per plate appearance -- is a perfect fit for the Angels.
AL West Comeback Player of the Year: Jose Guillen, Mariners. Bill Bavasi took a big gamble in signing Guillen to a one-year, $5.5 million deal. Tommy John surgery effectively ended Guillen's 2006 campaign and left him questionable for spring training in '07. But the Mariners rolled the dice and hit pay dirt. Primarily hitting third and cleanup, Guillen currently has 97 RBIs and a chance to hit the triple digits for the first time since 2004. On top of this offensive upsurge, Guillen -- a notorious hothead -- quickly established himself as one of Seattle's biggest clubhouse leaders.
AL West Manger of the Year: Mike Scioscia, Angels. In his eighth season as the Halos' skipper, Scioscia has established himself as one of the game's master technicians. It's hard not to love his approach to the game, which produces an exciting, active style of play. Scioscia constantly puts his baserunners in motion, applying massive pressure to the defense. Scioscia's squad took sole possession of first place in late April and basically cruised through the next five months.
AL West All-Star Team
C: Kenji Johjima, Mariners
1B: Nick Swisher, A's
2B: Ian Kinsler, Rangers
3B: Chone Figgins, Angels
SS: Orlando Cabrera, Angels
OF: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
OF: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
OF: Jose Guillen, Mariners
SP: John Lackey, Angels
RP: J.J. Putz, Mariners
Labels: AL West
NL Central: Wade in Review
The Brewers made up some ground on the Cubs with wins over the Cardinals on Tuesday and Monday, but the Brew Crew are still two games out with five to play, and will kick off a season-ending four-game set against the wild-card-leading Padres on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Cubs, who are 4-1 over the last week, are wrapping up against the Marlins and heading to Cincinnati. The Brewers may be clinging to life, but this division race is over. All that's left for the Brewers is to pick up one more win to clinch their first winning season since 1992. That is not a typo.
Rather, the big news in the division is that Houston and Pittsburgh have new general managers. The Astros hired former Phillies GM Ed Wade late last week, and the Pirates just announced Tuesday that they've hired Neal Huntington, who was the special assistant to the Indians' general manager.
Wade is the more familiar of the two, having helmed the Phillies from December 1997 until his October 2005 firing. Indeed, the core of the Phillies team that is currently threatening the Mets and Padres in the NL East and wild card, respectively, was assembled under Wade. Jimmy Rollins is the only current Phillie who predates Wade, while Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Kyle Kendrick, Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson were all drafted, and Carlos Ruiz was signed as an international free agent on Wade's watch. Wade also claimed Shane Victorino from the Dodgers in the 2004 Rule 5 Draft and signed Tom Gordon, Chris Coste, Abraham Nuñez and Clay Condrey.
Wade inherited a Phillies team that had lost 189 games over the two seasons before his hiring and, in three years, turned it into ... well, into a perennial bridesmaid, really. Wade's Phillies averaged 85 wins over his last five years at the wheel, finishing second three times and third the other two. In his final season, the Phillies were unable to catch the Astros for the wild card, falling a game short. That was the final straw for ownership, which fired him just eight days later.
Wade worked in public relations for the Astros from 1977-80, and for the consulting firm of current Astros president Tal Smith from 1986-88. One wonders if the Astros weren't also impressed by the way Wade fleeced them in the Billy Wagner salary dump following the 2003 season, picking up Wagner for three minor league pitchers who have yet to amount to anything in Taylor Buchholz (since flipped to the Rockies in the Jason Jennings deal), Brandon Duckworth and Ezequiel Astacio, none of whom are still in the Astros' system.
Using a method I developed for Baseball Prospectus' It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over, I've tallied the value exchange in each of Wade's major trades with the Phillies by crediting him with the remaining career WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) of the players acquired and subtracting the remaining career WARP of the players dealt. By that standard, the Wagner trade (+20 WARP) was Wade's best. Impressively, his next most successful deal was the Scott Rolen trade (+14.1 WARP), as Placido Polanco (32.4) has nearly equaled Rolen's WARP (36.3) due to the latter's inability to stay healthy, and Wade also got Mike Timlin (18.0) in the deal. Wade also nearly broke even on the Curt Schilling trade (-0.9 WARP), impressive work given that he was more or less forced to make both trades.
Then again, the reason he was forced to make those trades was that both players wanted out of Philadelphia due to what they saw as the organization's lack of commitment to winning (Wade's Phillies didn't sign an impact free agent until inking Jim Thome after the 2002 season). Schilling demanded a trade, and Rolen feuded with the fans and manager Larry Bowa (whom Wade had hired, replacing Terry Francona), then refused to sign an extension entering his walk year. Neither of those players have reputations for being easy to deal with, and the source of the Phillies' low payrolls was ownership, not the GM, but having his two best players whine their way out of town doesn't reflect well on Wade.
Wade also undermined his good work on the Rolen trade by letting Timlin walk as a free agent that winter and flipping Polanco for Ugueth Urbina and infielder Ramon Martinez three years later (-11.9 WARP). Of course, there were extenuating circumstances in the Polanco trade. Wade couldn't have known that a conviction for attempted murder in his native Venezuela would end Urbina's career that winter. The Urbina trade wasn't Wade's worst, however. His acquisition of Eric Milton from the Twins for Carlos Silva, Nick Punto and minor league reliever Bobby Korecky comes in at -15.3 WARP, while his trade of Paul Byrd to the Royals for reliever Jose Santiago tips the scales toward Kansas City at 21.4 WARP. Still, totaling up 18 of Wade's most significant swaps, he comes out ahead by 21.2 WARP.
Wade has already made one deal as Astros GM, flipping arbitration-eligible outfielder Jason Lane to the Padres, who lost both Milton Bradley and Mike Cameron to injury on Sunday, for a player to be named later or cash. His next move will likely be to make a decision regarding interim manager Cecil Cooper, whom Wade has hinted he might retain as the full-time skipper for 2008.
Ultimately, Wade looks like a lazy choice, a retread GM with existing ties to the Houston front office. The Pirates, however, have done something truly impressive by raiding one of the smartest front offices in baseball, Mark Shapiro's Indians, for a young front-office talent in the 38-year-old Huntington. The early hype on Huntington suggests a true rebuilding process for the Pirates that will focus on the draft and international free agents. It'll be a long haul, but it sounds as though, after a decade and a half of futility, the organization has finally found a meaningful direction. In that sense, the Huntington hiring could do for Pittsburgh what the Dayton Moore hiring has done for the Royals: give a moribund franchise a glimmer of hope for the future. That said, Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? sees both pros and cons to the hire.
Labels: NL Central
AL Central: End-of-Year Awards
With the Indians having locked up the division days ago and the Tigers clinging to the most tenuous mathematical probability for the wild card -- their elimination number is one -- 'tis the season for end-of-year awards.
Division's Most Valuable Player: Magglio Ordoñez. Though the Tigers fell off the pace down the stretch, it was through no fault of Ordoñez, who is hitting .358 with 27 homers and 133 RBIs. He'll likely win the batting title and finish second only to A-Rod in RBIs. And he stayed consistent while Gary Sheffield was alternately streaky and hurt, Craig Monroe was terrible, and the two corner infielders, Sean Casey and Brandon Inge, both have sub-.400 slugging percentages.
Finishing at a very close second is Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez. He's the only Indian with at least 100 RBIs (he's got 107), a .300 average (he's an even .300) and a .500 slugging percentage (he's at .505), and he's tied with Grady Sizemore for most home runs (24). And he's done all that while playing 117 of his 143 games at catcher.
Division's Least Valuable Player(s): It's a tie! When comparing the lack of merits on the hitting resumes of Minnesota's Nick Punto and Kansas City's Tony Pena, I just couldn't come to a decision about who hurt their team more this season. Punto has managed to play 145 games with 458 at bats ... and not even reach 100 hits! He's stuck on 97 for now, good for a .212 average. Well, he must at least have a lot of walks to justify that playing time, right? Wrong again! He's walked only 54 times, so his on-base percentage is a piddly .293. And with just 22 extra-base hits, he slugs only .273. Somehow, he's expected to start again next year.
Pena, meanwhile, reaches base even less frequently. In 146 games and 490 ABs, he has more hits than Punto, with 126, but has walked only 10 times, which is just one walk fewer than teammate Reggie Sanders accumulated in 122 fewer games. That means, at first glance, we can only confirm that Pena has taken 40 pitches this year. He has a .257/.275/.335 split for average/on-base/slugging.
Division's Cy Young: C.C. Sabathia. An 18-7 record, 3.19 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 205 strikeouts in 234 innings of being Cleveland's never-miss-a-start, superstar ace all speak for themselves. Sure, Detroit's Justin Verlander and Minnesota's Johan Santana both had outstanding seasons, with Verlander even throwing a no-hitter, but Sabathia led the Indians to a runaway division title while mentoring young Fausto Carmona, too.
Division's Mike Maroth: Cliff Lee. The award, so named for Maroth's 2003 season in which he posted a robust 9-21 record with a 5.73 ERA, goes to Lee, who is 5-8 with a 6.40 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. He not only lost his spot in the rotation but also was demoted to the minor leagues -- hard to do after going 46-24 the last three seasons. (For the record, Maroth, who was traded to St. Louis in June for the ubiquitous player to be named later, is 0-5 with a 10.93 ERA and 2.35 WHIP in 37 innings for the Cardinals.) I must apologize to Sidney Ponson, as he'd have been a shoo-in for this award had Minnesota not cut the cord when it did. Jose Contreras, John Danks, Todd Wellemeyer, Ramon Ortiz and Joe Borowski all receive honorable mention. OK, I'm kidding on Borowski. Mostly.
Division's Rookie of the Year: Brian Bannister. This was the toughest award to give, as so many players were very close, but not for the expected reason. Looking at the list of AL Central prospects in the preseason read like a roster of some of baseball's best: Bannister, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Luke Hovechar, Matt Garza, Alexi Casilla, Andrew Miller, Josh Fields, Aaron Laffey and Jensen Lewis, among others who conceivably could make an impact on the 2007 MLB season. Sadly, none, sans Bannister, quite lived up to the unrealistic hype in Year 1. But Bannister has pitched very well (12-9, 3.61) for a team 21 games under .500.
Division's Disappointment of the Year: Gil Meche's lack of run support. Meche, Fungoes' unabashed favorite AL Central player, has a 3.69 ERA and 1.29 WHIP but is just 9-13 with the Royals' lineup failing to support him.
Manager of the Year: Eric Wedge. This one was unanimous. OK, they're all unanimous because I'm the only one voting, but I raised both my hands for Wedge. He led the Indians to the division title despite fielding an overall less talented team than Detroit, and Wedge did it despite several ups and downs, including a subpar year from Travis Hafner.
Best surprise: Carmona. But I've already written about him, oh, 6,287,948 times this season. And the close runner-up is the Indians' bullpen, led by Rafael Betancourt (5-1, 1.41 ERA, 0.76 WHIP) and Rafael Perez (1-1, 1.69, 0.90).
Worst surprise: Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome. Apparently the fountain of youth is running a little low. The three are 31, 33 and 36 years old, respectively, and figured to be due for a small decline in which they didn't duplicate their cumulative 2006 production of .306, 121 HR and 342 RBIs. In 2007, however, with six games to play, the heart of Chicago's order has combined for only .260, 88 HR and 249 RBIs.
Breakout Player of the Year: Curtis Granderson. He has produced only the third 20-20-20-20 season in major league history (doubles-triples-homers-steals) and did so with style, humor and a wardrobe from Wal-Mart. Check out colleague Albert Chen's great feature on him in last week's magazine.
Best Season by a Guy with Too Many Letters in His Last Name: Mark Grudzielanek. He edged out A.J. Pierzynski.
Best Season by a Player with Repeating Initials: Placido Polanco. Honorable mention to Brian Bannister, Billy Butler and Jair Jurrjens. Dishonorable mention to Mike MacDougal and Boof Bonser.
Worst Cameo by a 40-something Player: Jose Mesa. Forget that he pitched for Detroit this season? Tigers fans don't, despite his not having appeared for them since May -- a 12.34 ERA in 11.2 innings is hard to repress. Dishonorable mention to Roberto Hernandez.
Best Quote: Casey Blake. After his 26-game hitting streak was broken in June, he had this to say about Joe DiMaggio's 56-game record: "I didn't want to break the record. People would have been wondering 20 or 30 years down the road, 'Who is Casey Blake?' You want the big name in that spot. It's better if I leave DiMaggio's record alone. That's a record that should be broken by somebody people have heard of."
Labels: AL Central
NL West: Rockies in the Discussion
Flying around the bend like Franz Klammer at Innsbruck '76, the Colorado Rockies, with an eight-game winning streak capped by a three-game sweep at San Diego this past weekend, are still vying for a medal with one week remaining in the regular season. If the Rockies can get over the hump, do they become the worst nightmare for their potential NL Central and NL East playoff opponents? Or do Arizona and San Diego still offer the biggest challenge? Sunday, I asked several online baseball writers for their thoughts:
Rich Lederer, Baseball Analysts: Arizona has the best record in the National League since the All-Star break, yet it has been well-documented that the Diamondbacks sport a negative run differential. San Diego has allowed the fewest runs in the majors, although skeptics say that is in large part due to the fact that the Padres play their home games at spacious Petco Park. Colorado has the longest current winning streak in baseball, but is still four games back in the West. Hey, it's the playoffs. Throw out the analysis and logic, and bring on the Ouija board. Anything can happen come October. My hunch is that Colorado would do the best in the postseason, but the Rockies have to get there first.
David Pinto, Baseball Musings: Which would I least like to face? The Arizona and Padres offenses just don't produce. They're both around 4.45 runs per game, near the bottom of the league. Adjusting for parks, however, gives San Diego an edge. San Diego's lineup sends good hitters to the plate, where that's not true for the Diamondbacks. [Jake] Peavy and [Chris] Young make a terrific 1-2 punch in the rotation, but Young hasn't pitched well since returning from his injury. All three teams own strong bullpens, at least among the pitchers they will use in the playoffs. The Rockies, at this point, are better than the other two clubs. With an 84-run difference, they lead the National League. As they showed in San Diego this weekend, they can score away from Coors. The starting pitching is good enough for the offense, and the bullpen does a good job of holding leads. If Young were healthy, I'd go with San Diego, but right now, the Rockies are the NL team to beat if they make the playoffs.
Joe Sheehan, Baseball Prospectus: San Diego by just a little bit, mainly for the edge Jake Peavy has on Brandon Webb, and their having the best offense of the three teams.
D.J. Short, MetsBlog.com: I feel that the Diamondbacks are the biggest threat, simply because of Brandon Webb, who had a 42-inning scoreless streak earlier this year. Something tells me that he could be Orel Hershiser of 1988 revisited. Led by a scrappy Eric Byrnes, the D'backs show a lot of fight and are more of an offensive force than the Padres. The Mets have dominated the D'backs at Bank One Ballpark in recent seasons, including taking three of four there in May, but all the stats in the world mean nothing once the playoffs begin.
Dave Studeman, The Hardball Times: I'd pick San Diego and Arizona over Colorado, because their pitching staffs are built for the postseason: ace starter, good No. 2 and 3 starters, deep bullpen. Of the two, I'd give a slight edge to the Padres because their offense seems just a bit better, and I think a visiting team might have a hard time adjusting to their ballpark.
Bob Timmermann, The Griddle: A question as puzzling as this requires a nap. And after thinking about the topic, I started napping. But once awake, the answer became no clearer. Each team, if viewed objectively, looks like it should not be able to make the playoffs. I would have originally tabbed the Padres because of their pitching, but I'm just not sold on it. I would have to go with Arizona because they actually have a manager (Bob Melvin) who seems to best be able to wring out the most from the talent he has available. The Padres are reminding me a lot of the 2004 Dodgers -- in a bad way. And I think the Rockies are not as formidable once Matt Holliday (who missed games Saturday and Sunday with a strained left oblique muscle, but will try to return Tuesday in Los Angeles) is subtracted from the lineup.
Ken Tremendous, Fire Joe Morgan: I think it's unquestionably the Padres. Although Young hasn't been quite as good since the injury, he still has a WHIP of 1.06 for the season, and he and Peavy are easily the best 1-2 combo in the division. No one on the entire team can hit, but no one on the Diamondbacks can hit either, and they only have one good pitcher. Assuming the Pads make the playoffs, I wouldn't be shocked if they went to the World Series.
A potential run to the World Series by San Diego threatens to be overshadowed, if not derailed, by what happened to the Padres on Sunday. In a sequence that appeared to be tailor-made for his detractors, San Diego outfielder Milton Bradley was injured while arguing with umpire Mike Winters. This came an inning after Bradley stepped on teammate Mike Cameron's hand while trying to avoid a collision with him on what turned out to be Garret Atkins' inside-the-park home run for broom-wielding Colorado.
Though Bradley has been a lightning rod for injuries and criticism of his emotional outbursts, his coach and front office said he was baited.
"In 26 years of baseball, I can honestly say that's the most disconcerting conversation I have ever heard from an umpire to a player," first-base coach Bobby Meacham told The Associated Press. "It was almost like he wanted to agitate the whole thing. He wanted to get Milton boiling for some reason. Milton, he held his cool. I was just appalled."
Added The AP<:
Padres CEO Sandy Alderson ... used to work in the commissioner's office, where one of his duties was overseeing umpires. "We're not going to sit by and see an umpire bait a player," Alderson said. He added that if the commissioner's office concludes the situation was handled appropriately, "I'll be shocked."
With or without Bradley (who feared he might be out for the season as he was on his way to an MRI for his right knee), and Cameron (who might return Monday night), the Padres will enter their final seven regular-season games with a lead in the NL wild card race that has been reduced to half a game over Philadelphia and 1½ games over the Rockies. The Padres do get their next three games at last-place San Francisco to try to turn things around.
Colorado hasn't tasted postseason play since 1995. Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News compares that year with this one: "What 1995 did was create unfounded expectations that the Rockies could be an annual factor in the West," Ringolsby said. "The Rockies spent the next six years trying to bandage their roster to make a run at a championship, failing to put the proper resources and effort into developing the homegrown foundation. ... This year is different.
"Unlike that 1995 team -- a hodgepodge of expansion draft picks, high-priced free agents and minor-league free agents, with a couple of products of the draft sprinkled in -- this year’s version of the Rockies has a solid homegrown base with its best years ahead."
The Dodgers completed their meltdown this past week with a seven-game losing streak and the rending of garments within the clubhouse over what the reasons for the collapse were. At Dodger Thoughts, I made my own attempt to counter those who think the Dodgers' focus on youth did them in, but the line of the week might belong to Tony Jackson of the Los Angeles Daily News: "This clubhouse has become what MTV only wishes The Real World could be."
Nick Cannata-Bowman of Giants Cove notes, in case you missed it, that San Francisco shut down rookie Tim Lincecum for the season.
Oh, and Barry Bonds said he isn't welcome back to San Francisco next year. That, you probably didn't miss. Here was Sheehan's reaction at Baseball Prospectus:
"Well, bad guys can rake, too," Sheehan wrote, "and whatever you think of Bonds as a person, Bonds as a baseball player has been a force of nature. Even at 43, he's the best hitter in the NL on a per-AB basis, and second only to Alex Rodriguez in the majors. His defense, despite appearances, is just a bit below average, and his baserunning costs his team a few runs a season and isn't among the worst in the game. That player -- best hitter, so-so-defense, essentially neutral baserunning, moderately durable -- is an asset to 30 out of 30 teams, a championship-caliber baseball player who will be the best player on the market this winter, and almost certainly the lowest-risk one. Torii Hunter for five years and $75 million? Andruw Jones for five years and $70 million? Kyle Freaking Lohse for Gil Meche's deal? Or Barry Bonds for one year at $18 million plus an option? Which of those sounds like the most sensible deal to you?"
Finally, Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star looks at the future of Diamondbacks third baseman Chad Tracy, who had microfracture surgery on his right knee last Thursday. As hard as it has been for basketball players like the neighboring Phoenix Suns' Amare Stoudemire to recover from it, Arizona is remaning optimistic about Tracy.
Labels: NL West
AL East: Prepping for October
The Red Sox became the first American League team to qualify for the playoffs (the Indians and Angels won their respective divisions over the weekend too). Josh Beckett is the first 20-game winner this season, and wouldn't you know it, David Ortiz is leading the league in OBP (.436), ranks third in slugging (.596) and is second to Alex Rodriguez in OPS (1.032). After losing the series finale to the Devil Rays on Sunday, Boston's lead over New York was just 1½ games (the Yankees were to play Toronto on Monday afternoon) -- but does it really matter who wins the division and who wins the wild card? Baseball Prospectus's Joe Sheehan doesn't think so:
The difference between winning the division and advancing as the Wild Card doesn't mean a thing. ... Does the famed Red Sox Nation consider its 2004 World Championship diminished because they won it coming from the Wild Card slot? Do Tigers' fans not wear 2006 AL Pennant gear because of their shame at going 7-1 against the Yankees and A's when they shouldn't have even been there? Angels fans? Marlins fans? Any of you feel a bit queasy about raising a World Series flag without a divisional one to go with it?
The Red Sox are concerned with preparing for October. Dice K is being rested, while Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramirez try to get healthy. It doesn't matter what happens this week, doesn't matter if they win the wild card or division. This isn't 1978. What matters is who plays the longest into October.
The Yankees bent the so-called "Joba Rules" on Sunday. Joe Torre told reporters before the game that Joba Chamberlain would not pitch -- he threw two innings on Friday night. But Torre spoke with Yankee pitching instructor Nardi Contreras, author of the "Joba Rules," shortly thereafter and was given the OK to use Chamberlain. In what was clearly a playoff preview, Torre brought Chamberlain in the game with two outs and two men on in the eighth inning with the Yanks leading 7-5. It was the first time Chamberlain has entered a game with runners on base. He threw five straight sliders to Adam Lind and struck him out swinging. Then, Chamberlain retired the side in order in the ninth, striking out the final two batters, good for the first save of his career.
After the game, Torre told reporters, "I told him when I shook his hand, 'You grew a little more at the end,'" Torre said. "Today was probably the toughest test for him." Mike Mussina, who earned his 250th career win on Sunday, added, "I think, when it's time, he'll be available every day."
It is often said that Derek Jeter's game is bigger than his numbers. That may be true, but as another season draws to a close, Jeter's offensive numbers are where they always are. He's batting .319 with 195 hits and 95 runs scored.
"I think consistency is what marks most great players," says teammate Johnny Damon. "If you can be consistent over a long period of time, you'll be looking to go to the Hall of Fame."
Yes, Jeter's power numbers are down, which isn't a complete surprise. He's also been playing on a bad knee for most of the summer. And unlike previous seasons when Jeter gave Torre a hard time for giving him a day off, there have been at least two occasions since August when Jeter has rested without protest. He cannot run at full speed, and two weeks ago, he looked exhausted. From Aug. 1 to Sept. 12, Jeter hit .265/.351/.346. Then, he hit a big home run against Curt Schilling in Boston and suddenly he's got life in his tired body again. From Sept. 13-22, Jeter is .372/.386/.581, numbers in line with his career splits. Jeter's OPS is highest in September/October, .876.
"He knows exactly what he's doing," Damon continued. "He's been in pressure situations ever since he broke into the league and because of that nothing ever seems too difficult or too hard for him."
Although the season has been another downer for the Blue Jays, there is plenty to be excited about with their pitching staff. Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum have strong, live arms, and round out one of the best rotations in the league behind Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett. The Blue Jays swept the Red Sox earlier this week on the strength of fine outings from McGowan, Burnett and Jesse Litsch.
Before Sunday's five-inning start against the Yankees, McGowan had a 3.18 ERA over 87 innings in the second half of the season. In his third seasaon, Marcum is 12-6 with a 4.15 ERA in 156 innings (he threw just 78 last year). Unfortunately, Marcum left Saturday's start in New York with a knee injury. He will have surgery this week.
Burnett has been sensational since returning from the DL in mid-August, going 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA over 59 innings. Burnett has pitched into the seventh inning in all eight starts since coming back, and pitched at least eight innings in his previous three starts.
Burnett is the most maddening of pitchers. For all of his talent, he's never won more than 12 games in a season. Still, if he can somehow remain healthy, and if McGowan and Marcum manage to improve, the Blue Jays could be tough next year.
Now, if only they could hit. John Brattain examines the Blue Jays' offensive woes over at The Hardball Times. The thing of it is, only Aaron Hill, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells have played in more games than Frank Thomas, who has delivered a productive season -- .270/.375/.475, and leading the team in home runs (25) and RBIs (91). It is a modest year when compared with the value Thomas gave the A's last year, but the Big Hurt has been surprisingly durable. I predicted a second-half fade for Rios, but he's got a higher average and on-base percentage in the second half. His power is down, from .520 slugging to .471, but, in the end, he has put together a fine season. The Jays can only hope it is just the beginning for Rios.
Labels: AL East
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