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Crunch Time
Tom Verducci
September 05, 2005
Twelve (contenders) doesn't go into five (postseason spots up for grabs), so which teams will make the cut?
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September 05, 2005

Crunch Time

Twelve (contenders) doesn't go into five (postseason spots up for grabs), so which teams will make the cut?

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3. INDIANS Led by closer Bob Wickman, Cleveland has the majors' best bullpen (2.83 ERA). Its offense is deep now that red-hot Victor Martinez (.401 since the All-Star break) is protecting MVP candidate Travis Hafner. A soft schedule will also help the third-best road team in baseball. Look for the Indians to buck the trend and win the wild card despite not leading the race for it on Aug. 28.

4. YANKEES Shawn Chacon and Jaret Wright (a combined 5-0 from Aug. 14) have rescued a patchwork rotation, and Randy Johnson looked sharp last Friday against the Royals, but it's too little, too late. Of the top six AL contenders, New York has the second-worst run differential (outscoring opponents by 77) and the worst clutch hitting (.235 with two outs and runners in scoring position), which is why the Yankees will miss the postseason for the first time since 1993.

5. A'S Rich Harden and Barry Zito lead the toughest pitching staff to hit in baseball (.240 average against), and Oakland has a talented rookie closer in Huston Street. But the A's are too reliant on inexperienced arms and too inconsistent on offense to win a playoff spot.

6. TWINS No AL team has ever made the postseason with an offense this bad. Minnesota, likely without centerfielder Torii Hunter the rest of the way, is on pace to score 703 runs, well below the previous post-1995 low-water mark for a playoff team (768), which was set by the 2002 Twins and the '03 A's.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

1. BRAVES Atlanta has never blown a September NL East lead in the wild-card era, and two of the best big-game starters in the business, John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, won't let it happen this year. An inconsistent bullpen, however, makes the Braves vulnerable in October.

2. ASTROS Among NL contenders no team has a better Big Three than Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte or a better closer than Brad Lidge. Houston also has the easiest schedule, playing 14 of its last 16 games against teams with a losing record, which will help the Astros nail down the wild-card spot.

3. METS Hot at the right time, New York has outscored every NL team except the Reds since the All-Star break, and its rotation is rolling. The Mets finish with four games at home against the Rockies, the worst team in the league, while the other NL East teams battle each other. But six games against its nemesis, the Braves, will be New York's undoing.

4. PHILLIES Philadelphia plays 25 of its final 31 games against NL East teams and 12 of its final 15 on the road. That's not good news for a team that's 22-28 in intradivision games (worst in the East) and 30-33 away from home.

5. MARLINS This talented but confounding team has the worst record in one-run games among NL contenders (15-20) and a brutal closing schedule: 32 straight games against teams with winning records.

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