NOT THAT WILD
The wild card was designed to keep more teams involved in playoff races, but the reality is that late-September rallies are rare. Since the format began in 1995, none of the 64 playoff teams started September more than 2� games out of a postseason berth, including the wild card. Of those 64 postseason teams, 56 began September as a division or wild-card leader, an 87.5% conversion rate.
Only eight teams in eight years reached the postseason after starting September out of playoff position with a deficit. Here are those teams, including the 1995 Mariners, who trailed the wild-card-leading Royals by percentage points but made up 7� games on the Angels to win the American League West.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
The Blue Jays called up Kevin Cash, 25, to handle the bulk of the catching for the rest of the season and prepare him to be their regular backstop in 2004. General manager J.P. Ricciardi sees Cash as a solid defensive player who can hit 15 homers a year. How unusual is that kind of production from a young catcher? At week's end only two catchers who are younger than 29 had hit 10 or more homers this year: the Athletics' Ramon Hernandez and the Devils Rays' Toby Hall. Cash and the Indians' Victor Martinez, 24, may be the next best hopes at the position until Twins prospect Joe Mauer arrives.
BACK TO EARTH
The Angels jumped from 75 victories in 2001 to 99 wins and the world championship last year mostly by raising their team batting average from .261 (Nth in the AL) to .282 (first in the league). "Everything seemed to fall in for them last year," one AL scout said in spring training this year. "No way it happens again."
With essentially the same cast—though DH-first baseman Brad Fullmer, centerfielder Darin Erstad and third baseman Troy Glaus have been injured—Anaheim was hitting .271 (seventh) through Sunday. Of the 11 returning Angels who had played the most in 2003, all had hit worse this year except Fullmer, catcher Bengie Molina and leftfielder Garret Anderson. In particular, infielder Scott Spiezio (.258, down 27 points), Erstad (.252, down 31), shortstop David Eckstein (.254, down 39) and second baseman Adam Kennedy (.273, down 39) have been much worse. Anaheim is in danger of joining the 1998 Marlins to become only the second team to finish last the year after winning the World Series.
One American League executive gives Seattle the edge over the Yankees as the best team in the league. " New York has a slight edge in starting pitching, but Seattle's bullpen is better—hands down," the executive says. "[Derek] Jeter is not the same at shortstop because of the [shoulder] injury. He can't reach balls to his left that he should get."...