Saturday, December 15, 2012

LA Baseball in a New York State of Mind

Just as the New York Yankees made both winning and spending fashionable in Major League Baseball, nothing proves the two go hand in hand during any given season. Nevertheless, common sense wants us to believe, the team with the best players has the best chance of winning a World Series title in the American Pastime. It’s no secret in any sport, the best players command the highest salaries and so the game begins. To spend or not to spend, that is the question? Neither Chavez Ravine nor Anaheim looks much like the Bronx. You won’t find any subways near Dodger Stadium and the George Washington Bridge doesn’t lead you anywhere near The Big A. The closest body of water to Yankee Stadium is the Harlem River not the Pacific Ocean. While Southern California and New York City may be 2,800 miles apart, the Dodgers, Angels and Yankees are now on the same fiscal playing field. Ever since the Steinbrenner family bought the Bronx Bombers in 1973, the Yankees have set the precedent for baseball team salaries. Excessive spending has without a doubt been successful to a certain degree. Over the last 39 seasons during the Steinbrenner ownership, New York has captured seven World Series titles and 11 pennants. For the last 14 consecutive seasons, the payroll of the Pinstrippers has been the largest in the game and during that time, the result has been five of the franchises record 27 world championships. That’s equates to a lot of winning and it’s caught the eye of both the Dodgers and Angels ownership groups. When the 2013 season throws out its first pitch in April, for the first time in 15 years the Yankees won’t be baseball’s biggest spender, it will be the Los Angeles Dodgers. Under the new ownership of the Guggenheim Group, the Dodgers will be just the second team in big league history to break the 200-million mark in terms of the annual team payroll. With 21 players already signed, the Blue Crew sits at 214. 8 million and they’re not even finished yet! After the bankruptcy of the Frank McCourt era cost the franchise a shot to win its first world title since 1988, the new ownership group has taken Dodger fans on a spending spree that started late last season, hit a high point two days ago and now has expectations on the field at an all-time high! Like the late George Steinbrenner, the Guggenheim Group showed it wasn’t afraid to take chances with star players from other teams through trades, despite their hefty price tags. First there was the trade deadline pick-up of Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Shane Victorino and Brandon League with Ramirez’s 37.5 million in salary the big pick-up of the deal. Since then, League has signed a new three-year contract for a guaranteed 22.5 million. Then came the waiver wire deal acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto, all picked up from a failing Boston team along with their 260 million in salaries. Last week, Dodgers ownership reached a contract with unproven South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin for 36 million over six years. The splurge continued two days later with the signing of pitcher Zack Greinke for another six-year contract at 147 million, the highest in the history of the game for a right-handed pitcher! Not to be outdone, almost in a domino effect, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and owner Arte Moreno picked up where they left off, last off-season. The Halos first stunned the baseball world by signing away Albert Pujols from the St. Louis Cardinals back in January for 10 years at 240 million dollars! Adding to their star-power and payroll that now sits at 99, 7442,857 with only nine players signed, outfielder Josh Hamilton. Hamilton was inked for five years at a total of 125 million dollars on Wednesday. So in the image of the Yankees and “The Boss”, both the Dodgers and Angels have gone all in. Both teams are stacked with all-star line-ups and pitching staffs. Both teams boost the advantages of big market clubs like receiving huge revenues from television deals and now neither club has any excuse to come up short. Of course, with high spending come lofty expectations that can only be satisfied with at least an appearance in the fall classic. As the Yankees have also proven, heavy cash flow for salaries doesn’t guarantee a thing in any sport especially baseball. While New York has won five titles during their 14 year reign as the game’s top spender, what about the other nine seasons the Yanks came up short? While “The Boss” was still alive, those failures were never ignored by him or the New York media. Baseball is such a fickle game where all it takes is a team to get hot at the right time or a club to cool off at the wrong time. You only have to go back to last post-season for a proper example as the Yankee bats went cold against the Detroit Tigers, while the San Francisco Giants who trailed in both of their National League playoff series found a way to win both before meeting that same Tigers team that cooled off after defeating New York. In other words, World Series titles are not captured on paper in the winter, they are won on the field in the fall. While having a high payroll gets the best players, keeps the fan base happy and shows commitment from a management standpoint it still only puts a franchise in the conversation, doesn’t hand over the Commissioner’s Trophy. But as fans, knowing you have a chance is really all you can ask for. Yankee fans are not only proud of their franchise’s rich history and success but also its desire to make it happen year-in and year-out. Now, both Dodgers and Angels’ fans can enjoy that same mindset only on a different coast.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

MLB Looking to go Back to the Future

May not be the best on Paper but you can’t deny they both deserve to be here. Game 1 of the 2012 World Series kicks off Wednesday night and the jury is still out on how compelling of series it will be for fans outside of the competing cities as it will not have the lure of the big name clubs that the Mothership loves to spoon feed us on a weekly basis (ie; Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, etc), or the biggest names but bias aside it will have the teams that best deserve to be there. I’ve read the post on this site as well as others across the net and understand the “best on paper” argument but this isn’t the NCAA Basketball tournament where it’s one-n-done. If you get beat by a team 3 times (DS) or 4 times (CS) they’re simply better than you. The Nats fans have ranted about if they didn’t shut Stass’ down, the Reds fans have countered with 97 wins in the most competitive division in baseball, and of course the Cards have those lovely patches on their sleeves that will now need to go to the tailors before the start of next season. However in the spirit of the debate season let me simply cut you off mid-sentence and say if you lose three closeout games in your own house, blow a 6 run lead in a deciding game, or blow 3-1 lead with your ace taking the bump in any of next 3, you deserve to watch from the comfort of your own home. One the other side, if your payroll is half the national debt and but your batting average in the post season is less than Justin Bieber’s weight you’re not going to be playing much winter ball. Hats off to the A’s fans again trying to urge the little train that could up the hill, and Orioles fans for a second great stretch run but that just shows you how step that hill is to get to top. The Rangers are coming dangerously close to the textbook definition of “Braveish” as they now appear to have the best regular season team in AL history but never stick around for the after- hours party. So let’s give kudos to the clubs that answered the call as the Giants’ run to this point has rivaled any that we’ve witnessed. Not just because of the afore mentioned comeback in the NLCS, starting with 16-1 odds to start the season, then losing the All-Star and team MVP mid-way through while increasing their division lead after he went down despite a “Yankee like” spending spree by the Dodgers to take the division in a 1-n-done effort, and lastly to go 6-0 in elimination games in the post season and outscoring their opponents 45-16 in the process. The Tigers were three games back of the Sox in the AL Central in Mid-September and 5 games out of the wild card race. They only 12-7 to end the season but then kicked it into another gear in the post going 7-2. Also sharing the distinction of starting the season with outside odds to get to the show at 14-1. As the Series kicks off tonight let’s not think about whom we would have wanted to see and instead appreciate the fact that these are the two clubs that are playing the best RIGHT NOW and should be representing their respective leagues in what should be a very competitive and well played series that true enthusiast of the game will appreciate. Now unlike most of you that read blogs and view websites, I am old enough to remember the 1-70 “show me series” between the Royals and Cards that turned out to be a 7-game thriller that not many outside of the mid-west turned on to see but wish they had, 23 years later this could be one worthy of a nickname as well.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Steinbrenner rolling over in his grave

Well, that was a thud, crash and burn that a few years ago would have had “The Boss”, thundering down from his owner’s suite into the Yankee clubhouse with the scythe of the grim reaper himself! After a season of winning the A.L. East on the last day of the regular season and then advancing to the League Championship Series by capturing a deciding game five at home, the Bronx Bomber collapsed in the ALCS, getting swept by the Detroit Tigers 4-0. On the route of the carnage, one very valuable broken ankle, along with a lot of broken bats and egos! So as always, unlike any other franchise is baseball, when the Yankee machine breaks down before the mission is complete, immediately the questions are raised what needs to change and who needs to go? Obviously taking the brunt of the Yanks demise is Alex Rodriguez and he should. A-Rod or maybe it really should be A-Roid; by the way his numbers continue to decline overall, since admitting his performance enhancing drug use several years ago was flat out awful and ended up having the best seat in the house to watch his team’s season end. Rodriguez finished the ALCS in a pinch-hitting role after being benched three times, twice in elimination games and being pinch-hit for in the divisional series. The one-time superstar went 0-18 versus right-handed pitching with 12 strikeouts this postseason. If manager Joe Girardi felt the Yanks chances were better without A-Rod now, why wouldn’t they be later? Well the answer is they probably would be, at least for the amount of money Rodriguez is making and still owed which is a huge problem for the organization. Under his current deal, Rodriguez is still owed 114-million dollars over the next five seasons! That would make him 42 years old when the deal ends, comical isn’t it? Not if you’re a Yankees fan or in the New York front office. The only solutions for the Bombers to this huge problem are the following; find a suitor who is willing to take him off their hands like the Florida Marlins and pay the majority of his remaining salary, which would probably be anywhere from 80 to 100 million dollars without getting much in return or continue to run him out there at third base and hope what happened in the post-season was just a bad slump at the wrong time. A-Rod is not as bad as what we just saw in October but truth be told, he is also not the same player that came over from the Texas Rangers what seems like many moons ago in 2003. In 21 post-season games between 2010 and 2012, Rodriguez is hitting a putrid .160! Over the course of 162 games when healthy, he’s probably .270 hitter, who will pop between 15 and 20 home runs per season with about 65 RBIS. Clearly not enough for 30-million a season, so general manager Brian Cashman has some serious work on his hands without a whole lot of options. Remember, Rodriguez holds a solid no-trade clause in his contract so he has the final say to his future. They only way Cashman might be able to wash his hands of this dilemma is to threaten to platoon A-Rod at third base in certain pitching match-ups and maybe that would make Rodriguez waive the clause and skip town. But A-Rod wasn’t the sole perpetrator in the Yanks post-season debacle. As a team in the ALCS they played 39 innings, failing to score in 36 of them with a team batting average overall in the post-season of .188, the worst ever for a team that played at least seven games. His replacement at third Eric Chavez went 0-for-16 in the entire playoffs. The combination of A-Rod, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano hit a combined 14-for-125 with one home run. Swisher was 1 for 5 with runners in scoring position. Cano endured a 29 at-bat hitless drought over the entire post-season. Those are the type of stats that get you eliminated from the post-season and the roster re-worked for the upcoming year. Swisher, who made 10.3 million this past season will most likely be wearing another uniform next season. The clubs holds options on both Cano and Granderson at 15-million a pop, but expect both to return wearing pinstripes. Ichiro Suzuki will probably be offered a chance to comeback but for much less than the 17 million he made this past season after coming over in a trade from Seattle. You have to figure the franchise will work out a new deal for the recovering legend, closer Mariano Rivera who missed the entire season with a torn ACL, while Derek Jeter who will undergo ankle surgery after being hurt in game one of the League Championship Series, still has two years left on his remaining contract. Chances are pitcher Andy Pettitte will retire for good now at the age of 40, while Hiroki Kuroda could be offered another one-year deal. Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez futures are up in the air at best in New York with Chavez probably looking for another team in-order to keep his career alive. This was the first time the Yankees have been swept in a best-of-seven series since the 1976 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. If “The Boss” were still alive, heads would be rolling by next week! Current man in charge Hal Steinbrenner is not quite as irrational has his father George and much slower to pull the trigger on jobs and careers but you can bet, after the embarrassment the Yankees franchise just experienced over the last four games, this team will look very different in 2013.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Collapse, Conclusion and Continuation

October can be a cruel month for fans of the Great American Pastime. Think about it, only one fan base ends up satisfied while 29 others are left with questions of what if, why and what happened? Most don’t even get to enjoy watching their team play past September but for those who do; become emotionally involved at your own risk. No group of supporters know this better than the 41,142 Cincinnati Reds fans, that crowded into the Great American Ballpark to watch the greatest choke job in the history of Cincinnati sports over the last three days. At least that’s what many of the Cincy media are calling it. You have to remember, the Reds haven’t won a post-season series since beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995 and a post-season home game in 17 years, so after they captured both games one and two of their NLDS over the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park with the series headed to the Queen City for games three with four and five on a….if necessary basis, there was a lot to be pumped up about! But with a change in scenery came a change in focus, execution and momentum. It all started in the bottom of the first inning of game three. Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips was on first and stealing second after the Giants had gone three and out versus Homer Bailey in a must win game, coming off a 9-0 shutout loss in game two. Phillips was safe at second as the pitch from Ryan Vogelsong got by catcher Buster Posey. Instead of being satisfied at second and in scoring position with no outs giving the Reds a chance to jump on the board first and continue momentum, Phillips decides to try and take third. Posey throws him out easily, becoming the first out of the inning and at third base which is a major baseball no-no! After a few hits, Cincinnati does score one run, but the inning could have been a huge one and maybe even put the Giants away early in game three… but they survived and felt relief after the frame. Turns out the single run would be the only run the Reds scored all day long. When Scott Rolen couldn’t make a play on Joaquin Arias’ ground ball in the top of the 10th inning allowing Buster Posey to score from third with the go-ahead run for an eventual 2-1 San Francisco win wasting Bailey’s ten strikeout performance, momentum had shifted. So game four rolls around and instead of going for the jugular, Reds Manager Dusty Baker sits both Rolen and starting catcher Ryan Hanigan against lefty Barry Zito. Todd Frazier and Dioner Navarro are put in the line-up. Maybe its strategy as Navarro is a switch hitter and maybe is just a case of making sure everyone is fresh in case of a game five. Baker also decides to start youngster Mike Leake on the hill, with pitcher Johnny Cueto injured from game one, choosing against starting Matt Latos on three days’ rest. The 24-year-old Leake had shutout the Giants back in June and was 3-0 lifetime against San Francisco but had also never started in a playoff game before. The right-hander gives up a leadoff homer to Pagan and ends up going just 4.1 innings after surrendering six hits and five earned runs. Giants win easily 8-3 as the Reds’ lack of killer instinct now has them tied at 2-2 in the series with all the pressure squarely shifted to their clubhouse as no team has ever blown a 2-0 advantage in NLDS history. Game five matched a rested Latos against Giants game one starter Matt Cain. Both pitchers are great through four innings. In the top of the fifth however, Latos gives up a single to Gregor Blanco and starts to get his strike zone squeezed by home plate umpire Tom Hallion. While Latos is getting annoyed at balls and strikes he then gives up a no-out triple to Brandon Crawford scoring Blanco for a 1-0 Giants lead. After striking out Cain, Angel Pagan hits a ground ball to short. Zack Cozart has a play at the plate on Crawford but fumbles the ball and the San Francisco led is now 2-zip. Latos proceeds to load the bases with Posey the likely N.L. MVP coming to the plate. In a must-win game, already down 2-0, does Baker pull him? No and Posey makes them pay with a grand slam off Latos for a huge 6-0 lead and now its game over. After cutting the deficit to 6-3 in the 7th, the Reds get men on 2nd and 1st with no outs. Could this be a chance to pull this comeback off after all? With Hanigan at the plate and a full count, Baker sends the runners. Hanigan watches a call strike three and Posey throws out the stealing Jay Bruce at third, killing the inning and basically the Reds true chances. Did the Reds have other opportunities in the 8th and 9th innings? Sure but they didn’t close the deal eventually going two for 13 with runners in scoring position in the game and 3 for 24 with men in scoring position in the series. 6-4 turned out to be the final score in the fifth and deciding game with Cincinnati losing the series 3-2, season over. This is one they will not forget about on the banks of the Ohio River for a long time coming. At least, until the Reds finally win another post-season series, after the biggest choke job and collapse in the history of Cincinnati sports. For the amazing A’s this is not how it was supposed to end. After that incredible three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers over the last three days of the regular season to win the division, their fate seemed brighter! Oakland at one time trailed in the A.L. West by 13 games late in June. But with a few trades and some young talent playing the way Billy Beane’s “money ball” system calculated things out, Oakland made a run into the post-season with five rookie starting pitchers, something unheard of! After losing two close games in Motown to the Detroit Tigers, the “never give up A’s” captured games three and four of their ALDS at the Coliseum with the culmination taking place in the bottom of the 9th of gave four. Trailing by two runs with just three outs remaining in their season, the Oakland magic took over! Four hits off Tigers closer Jose Valverde resulting in an incredible 4-3 victory forcing Thursday’s fifth and series deciding game. After a league-leading 14 walk-off victories this season which set the stage for Wednesday’s heroics, it appeared the A’s were the post-season’s team of destiny. But there can only be one true team with the fate of a champion on their side and most of the time that team has a “true ace” on its pitching staff. The Tigers have Justin Verlander. Last year’s A.L. Cy Young winner and MVP can be dominating and unhittable at times, especially when his team needs it the most. Detroit needed something powerful to combat the A’s momentum, magic and Coliseum mastic. What they got was a four-hit, 11 strikeout gem, in a 6-0 series clinching win to save their season. 36,393 loyal Oakland rowdies threw all the “Bernie-mojo” they could into game five but the bottom line proved to be star-power outperforms passion at least on the mound most of the time. Verlander won both the front and back games of the series putting Detroit back into the ALCS. While the majority of the baseball world wanted what seemed like the destined A’s to continue a mythical post-season ride deeper into October, those dreams ended up facing the harsh reality of a deciding game versus a veteran superstar and his right arm of reason. The conclusion here is that will, pride and desire, still have a rough time against a 95 mile per hour sinking fastball. All is not over however in the divisional series. Jayson Werth’s walk-off job, kept the season alive for the best National League team during the regular season. They hadn’t seen playoff baseball in Washington D.C. since 1933 and the Nats faithful certainly weren’t ready for the ride to end yet! The 2-1 victory over the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals, forces a fifth and deciding game today at Nationals Park. The match-up on the hill is extraordinary! Gio Gonzalez, who could win the National League Cy Young, faces veteran Adam Wainwright. The Washington lefty started game one of the series and has not allowed an earned run at home over his last 23 innings of work. The Cardinals went 4-0 last season when facing elimination games to become the champs. Wainwright gave up just one earned run in the Red Bird’s game one 3-2 defeat, earning a no decision. The Cardinals not only have the starting pitching experience tomorrow but also the offensive experience. They’ve outscored the Nats 23-9 in the series and why would that change with the most pressure at bats of the season coming today? St. Louis wins a tough game five on the road to face the Giants in the NLCS on Sunday. Start spreading the news! The Yankees and Orioles will do it again in the Bronx one more time in 2012! Scrappy Baltimore found away once again in extra innings like they have all season long, extending favored New York to a fifth and deciding game at Yankee Stadium, with Thursday night’s 2-1 victory in 13 innings. These two squads played 162 games to decide the American League East title so why should this five game set be any different? Jason Hammel, (5 2/3rds allowing two runs in game one) starts for the O’s, while ace CC Sabathia, who came just one out short of a complete game victory in game one… (7-2 New York) starts the decider for the Bronx Bombers. The big lefty is 6-1 with a 3.29 ERA in 11 playoff starts with New York. During the regular season, these teams played the season series to a tune of 9-9 with Baltimore outscoring New York 92-90. But as resilient as the O’s have been in 2012, (17 straight extra innings wins) this is still a deciding game at Yankee Stadium against a star pitcher. Sabathia’s numbers don’t lie in post-season games nor do they sway in the house Ruth built. Both teams have big names struggling offensively but New York has more chances of a star running into one with the game on the line. The small spenders of the world will be rooting for the Orioles Friday, but the smart money is on the Yankees and their ace in an elimination game in the Bronx

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bay Area Clubs Stay Afloat (at least for one more day)

I think it’s unanimous that the addition of a second wild card was a welcome addition to the mix this year and enabled the MLB season to carry the drama through game 162 as opposed to the banal September months of previous years when everything was decided by Labor Day. However, despite the added drama (and revenues) some clubs may feel like they’re picking up part of the tab for the added party guest. For example the A’s came on strong to sweep the Rangers in the final 3-game set of the season and win the division in the process. The spoils of their victory may have allowed them to hang another pennant on the walls but it also bought them all-expense paid tickets to Detroit to open the playoffs. Not sure how that worked out it Bud Selig’s mind, you win more games, 94 to 85, you win your division, yet you have to go on the road for the first two games of the playoffs and find yourself down 2-0. I mean, this ain’t the NBA where at least it’s a 2-3-2, and a 7-game so losing one at home doesn’t kill you but it does send you home under this format.
So the Oakland A’s now must sweep their second consecutive 3-game series and although they may be in the friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum it is still a tall order bing that they’re going up against the a team with the triple crown winner and is in the top ten of the four major offensive team categories (11th in the fourth). So that may have set the stage and the A’s answered the call in game 1 by winning a thriller 2-0 but is this perpetual death? On Wednesday they go up against 16-game winner Max Scherzer and will try to counter with 24-year old rookie A.J. Griffin. As I mentioned, I’m not sue it’s fair how they got here but this pitching matchup and facing Prince (only hitting .125 in the post season, so due) and Cabrera (who is not due hitting .375) bodes well for the money ballers. Across the bay the Giants also made an amazing run of their own not only taking the NL West crown but doing it in very convincing fashion, smoking their inner-state rivals LA in the process and all without the aid of the All-Star Game MVP who is currently fulfilling a 50-game suspension for PEDs. I don’t think their situation is quite as egregious but still 94 wins and an 8-game cushion, doesn’t go as far as it once did as all the thanks the Giants got was a two game deficit and coming off the hands of a 9-0 thrashing looking more like wild card than the their host for the last two games whom didn’t clinch a post season reservation until game 160. Much like their No. Cal comrades facing elimination they managed to pull out a win however unimpressive it was. The GMen tied a dubious record for winning a game despite notching only 1 hit through nine innings (they scored 2 in the 10th). They also set a record for striking out 16 times in an ALDS and winning. Both don’t say much for their offensive prowess or chances in game 4. But I will close with this, if there is ANY club left in the playoffs that can defy both odds and gravity its San Francisco and if the Reds are wise, like I know Dusty is, they take some pitches and try to get Zito out early and not even give this a chance of going 5 because we’ve seen this “group of misfits” before, they were drinking champagne and getting fitting for rings two years ago.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Welcome to Octoberfest, USA Style

Well 162 games are now in the books and things finally start to get serious! Baseball needed every single day of games, to figure out those worthy to play in the post-season in 2012 but then again that’s what the model is designed to do. So with qualifying now out of the way, five squads remain alive in each league with the dream of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy at October’s end but only one franchise, city and group of fans get to watch the fantasy come true. It all starts with solid preliminary bouts in Atlanta and Arlington. The National League the wild-card match-up on Friday is a damn good one! The defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals head to the A-T-L to face a Braves squad that’s been chomping at the bit for two years to play this game. Remember, The Braves endured that monumental collapse last season and missed the playoffs on the final day of regular season play, while the Red Birds reaped the benefits of Atlanta’s misfortune to take their spot as the wild-card team, which led to an eventual crown. But this is a new day in Atlanta and the Braves have proved they are a different team from last season. Part of the reason has been the pitching of tomorrow’s starter Kris Medlen. The right-hander has been dominating since joining the rotation. He’s started just 12 games finishing 10-1 overall with the Braves winning the last ten games he’s started. With an ERA of just 1.57 he’s been the hottest pitcher in the big leagues over the second half of the season. St. Louis hitters are just 4-25 in the small amount of match-ups to sample. This comes out to an average of just .160 with no walks. For the most part the Cardinal hitters haven’t seen him with last year’s World Series MVP David Freese only facing him once. As a matter of fact, the only Red Birds hitter that has seen much of Medlen is Carlos Beltran and he is 0 for 6 in their match-ups. Medlin is also 4-1 at Turner Field this season in 76 and 2/3rds innings pitched. He did not start against St. Louis but did make three relief appearances, giving up six hits and three earned runs in just 5 and 2/3rds frames. The Cards counter with the reliable Kyle Lohse. There are many more at-bats to look at in the Lohse versus the Braves hitters and the numbers are not as impressive as Medlen’s. Overall Atlanta has a career batting average of .320 against the right-hander. Chipper Jones completely owns him in 20 career plate appearances! Jones is batting .462 with a pair of doubles, a homer, five runs batted in and six walks in the match-up. Martin Prado hits .429 against Lohse and even the struggling Dan Uggla bats .333 with 5 RBI in 15 career at-bats. Lohse however has been a stand-out for the Red Birds on the road going 8-2 overall with a 3.41 earned run average in 103 innings pitched. But in his one meeting with the Bravos this season, he surrendered nine hits and five earned runs in just five frames of work. Atlanta won five of the six meetings this season between the two clubs, but the margin of victory was only a total of eight runs, so these squads have played each other tight throughout the month of May when both three game series took place. Overall in this one game play-in you have to like Atlanta. Medlen is baseball’s best starting pitcher at the moment and the Braves bullpen with Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel arguably is the game’s most nasty group of relievers. If St. Louis doesn’t get to the young guy early who is making his first post-season start, their chances go way down in a hurry. Remember the Cardinals despite owning the experience factor, just crept in to the second wild-card spot on the seasons second to last day but hey, last year they waited until the very last game. The American League wild-card match-up is one of two teams that have vastly different talent levels but as teams and have been playing on different levels as well. Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles might be as much of a surprise to the post-season as the Oakland Athletics, who just swept the Texas Rangers in three game series to capture the A.L. West title and send the O’s to Arlington to face the two-time defending American League Champs on Friday. Despite dropping 7 of their last nine games to blow a five-game lead and lose the division, the Rangers still send a solid Yu Darvish to the hill. The right-hander is a strikeout master that averages ten k’s per night and the free swinging O’s succumb to the strikeout. Baltimore racked up the third most strikeouts in the American League this season. Darvish is 4-0 with a 1.85 earned run average in six starts since being taken out of the rotation in late August for a ten day rest and then re-instated. He’s never faced the Baltimore line-up this season, that is arguably the scrappiest in the majors this season with Adam Jones (32 homers, 82 RBI), Matt Wieters (23 homers, 83 RBI) and Chris Davis (33 homers, 85 RBI). The Orioles are also the masters of the one-run game and extra innings contest as well. The O’s finished the season at 29-9 in one-run games! Only the 1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms and 1883 Cleveland Blues have ever been better in games decided by a single run in baseball history! In extra innings, The Birds are even better. Baltimore posted a 16-2 record overall in games that were played over nine innings and also won their final 16 for a 16-game win streak in those contest! Texas will try to counter The Orioles amazing ability to preserver with experience and star power. O’s starter Joe Saunders will have his work cut out for him against a Rangers line-up that feasted on Baltimore pitching this season, winning five out of seven games overall. They hit .317 overall with the high point coming on May 8th in Baltimore when Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton belted four home runs at Camden Yards. Third baseman Adrian Beltre also hit four home runs overall versus the O’s while shortstop Elvis Andrus hit .313 only to be pushed by David Murphy’s gaudy numbers of .450 and an on base percentage of .522 with six runs scored. However there is the momentum factor in play. You can’t ignore what just happened on the West Coast to the Rangers. If Sanders can keep his club close, (don’t expect him to shut Texas down) Baltimore has a shot. Expect a high scoring game with the Orioles finding a way to win like they have so many times this season. You have to figure the Rangers have had their shot, playing in the last two World Series. But with the way they’ve played down the stretch it certainly looks like their reign of the American League is over and upstart Baltimore has all the intangibles to pull off the one-game upset.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Money Can't Buy You Love or Wins in MLB

Now that The Great American Pastime’s post-season is set, the baseball gods have spoken and they didn’t have much to say for the game’s big spenders. Out of the top six spending franchises in the game today in terms of payroll, four didn’t even make the post-season. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox all bought themselves nothing more than a ticket to watch the playoffs on television. View the Smacchat MLB Playoffs Preview Here. The most talked about spending failures however took center stage in Southern California. Angel’s owner Arte Moreno made it no secret last off-season, he wanted the Halos back in the Fall Classic and was going to open his pocketbook to put his team in contention. The target, free-agency’s 254 million dollar man last winter, Albert Pujols. The former N.L. MVP left his comfort zone in St. Louis after a World Series title for the big cash of Orange County and a ten-year deal the Cards weren’t going to offer, which included 12-million in year one, as most of the contract is back loaded. Along with Pujols’ big bucks, Moreno was on the line for outfielders Vernon Wells and Tori Hunter’s cash flow. Wells made 24.5 million this season and Hunter 18.5 himself. The problem was even with the addition of pitcher Zack Grienke at the trade deadline and his 13.5 million dollar deal, The Halos couldn’t make up enough ground from their bad start. Despite a payroll of 154,298,266.00, third highest in the majors at season’s end, Anaheim started the year with just a 17-26 overall record thru May 21st. On top of that, Pujols didn’t even hit his first home run of the season until May 6th. That was 29 games and 111 at bats into the season, not exactly what the boss man Moreno had in mind. Pujols will finish with at least 30 long balls, 105 runs batted in and an overall average of .286, but the bottom line is the Angels a favorite to finish atop the A.L. West ended up on the outside looking in. On the final day of the regular season, The Halos sit four games out of first place and were eliminated from wild-card contention a few days earlier. But this wasn’t a case of terrible injuries or bad chemistry. The Angels played in very competitive division with the two-time defending A.L. Champion Texas Rangers and the surprise team of the entire major league season, The Oakland Athletics. The bottom line is the Angels never played well enough to overtake either team down the stretch. The Rangers, who have the sixth highest payroll at 135,560,974.00 dollars played steady all season long, while Oakland, who ranks just 27th overall in payroll at 58,335,000.00 made a major run towards the end of the year while using five rookie starting pitchers which of course is simply unheard of and not the norm. For the other Southern California team the Los Angeles Dodgers, the story was a little different. The Dodgers had to wait for a change in ownership pre-season to become a real player once again. After Frank McCourt mismanaged the franchise into bankruptcy court which eventually led to him being forced to sell the team, the club was bought by the Guggenheim Group. The new ownership instantly wanted to push the club back towards its glory days didn’t hesitate adding players and salaries. At the trade deadline, the Dodgers dealt for all-star Hanley Ramirez while picking up both relievers Randy Choate and closer Brandon League. When the season started Los Angeles ranked only 13th as far as overall salary with the payroll being 93,686,077. But even with the help at the trade deadline, injuries to Matt Kemp, Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston Jr. among others stalled the Dodgers early season division lead and had them behind in the N.L. West standings, certainly missing a few pieces to contend for a World Series Title. So the new ownership group went to work on the waiver wire deadline and eventually made the deal of the season in baseball on August 24th. The trade added Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Josh Beckett, the injured Carl Crawford and Nick Punto. With the players of course came salary additions of more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the course of the contracts. The new players moved the Blue-crew all the way up to the number two spot in overall salary at 198,369,359.00 for the 2012 season. The result ended up being far from what Dodgers fans hoped for. With the club only getting a month and a half to gel and figure out roles, it slumped from the get-go finding itself at one point dropping 12 of its first 18 games with the new squad, mostly because of a lack of offense. With a red-hot San Francisco Giants team taking full advantage of the Dodgers slump they ran away with the division title. Los Angeles was left battling for a wild-card berth and despite finally getting hot as team over its last eight games; they were eliminated from playoff contention on the seasons second to last day. The bottom line here is without enough time together to finish off the season the offense started to press when they fell behind in the standings. Players started trying to do too much and you had a team not complementing each other offensively with everyone trying to win games on their own. The result was an offensive slump that ended the season early despite an everyday line-up that resembles something the New York Yankees put on the card game in and game out. While the Yankees are in the post-season with the games highest payroll, they still haven’t won a World Series Title since 2009 and before that hadn’t even been to the fall classic since a 2003 defeat to the Florida Marlins. The Bombers of course did however roll off a run of four World Series Titles in five years from 1996 thru 2000, always with the highest payroll in the sport. Baseball is a funny game indeed where the team with the best overall players, don’t always win. In order to get those types of players however, you have to pay big dollars but those dollars spent don’t guarantee anything on the field. There is something to be said for team chemistry and we’ll see next October after a full season passes, if the money both the Angels and Dodgers spent on some of the game’s best players can actually buy them the success they’ve been swinging for.

Monday, September 24, 2012

No Dust Settling on Wild Card Races

With an average of 15 games left to play per team in the 2012 Major League season, the wild-card races in both the National and American leagues are not only far from being settled, they’ve become more congested! The model of adding another spot on both sides could not have worked out any better for the powers that be, as the extra position has allowed a few late charges from teams to engulf their fans in the excitement and hope of the post-season play. One aspect to the wild-card chase that continues to play true, no team in the running, in either league with the exception of the Atlanta Braves, holds an overwhelming advantage besides the position they now sit, over teams trailing them in the races. All these squads appear to have obvious strengths and some glaring weaknesses which will cause both races to most likely come down to the final days of the regular season. In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals hold the number two spot on September 19th by a game and a half starting the day. The Red Birds have an obvious advantage in the schedule over the trailing Dodgers, Brewers, Pirates and Phillies. St. Louis plays eight more games against both the struggling Astros and Cubs. Their goal has to be opening up their slim lead before they reach the final two series of the season, hosting Washington and Cincinnati the National League east and central division leaders. But the Cards haven’t exactly been on fire as of late, dropping eight of their last 12 games. During that stretch the pitching has given up an average of almost five runs a game with top pitchers Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn all taking at least one loss. However, St. Louis does get back the services of former ace Chris Carpenter for the stretch run making his first start of the season on Friday against the Cubs. Now, what he’ll be able to actually contribute after missing the entire season to this point is still a wild-card in itself. The right-hander of course underwent surgery in July, to relieve nerve compression that resulted in numbness on much of the right side of his body. The offensive line-up is still stout despite missing Lance Berkman who is done for the season due to injury and the Cards of course have post-season pedigree as the defending champs. How can you not like their chances to not only win that second spot but also take down the front-running Atlanta Braves in the one-game playoff? Behind St. Louis a game and a half back are the Los Angeles Dodgers. When the Dodgers made the big trade back on August 24th with the Boston Red Sox to acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and the injured Carl Crawford most thought the Blue Crew would not only take a wild-card spot but win the N.L. West outright. But plenty has gone wrong since then. Matt Kemp ran into the centerfield wall at Coors Field, missing a couple of games and hasn’t been the same. Clayton Kershaw has developed a hip problem and Chad Billingsly went on the shelf completely with elbow inflammation, ending his season. Besides those injuries, the offense has absolutely struggled to score runs, as Los Angeles has managed just two multi-run victories since the deal. The Dodgers received some hope when doctors on Tuesday declared Kershaw’s hip problem would not get worse if he continues to pitch and his season now might continue. Los Angeles however is at a real disadvantage according to the schedule with road series at Washington, Cincinnati and San Diego along with home sets versus Colorado and San Francisco to close the season. Overall, even with the pitching injuries the Dodgers staff overall has hung in there with a team ERA of just 3.44. The bottom line for L.A. appears to come down to offense. If they can’t score more than just three runs per game, which is the team average since the big trade, they have no shot to catch and pass St. Louis. However, with a line-up that includes Kemp, Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier all in a row, they could get hot and turn it around at any time but time is running out. The biggest charge for the second National League wild-card spot is coming from the Milwaukee Brewers. Last season’s Central Division Champs, are suddenly just two and a half games back of St. Louis after putting together a string of 22 wins in their last 31 games. In their last 27 contest, they’ve posted a 21-6 mark, while outscoring their opponents by six runs per game! A big part of the run has also been the pitching of Milwaukee ace Yovani Gallardo. The right-hander, who beat Pittsburgh on Tuesday, is 7-0 in his last nine starts with an earned run average of 2.98. Offensively Ryan Braun continues to make what will eventually be a futile run for a second consecutive N.L. MVP award. After winning the honor last year, then testing positive for testosterone, and eventually having the test thrown out due to improper handling of the sample, no way the voters take a chance on him again. But you can’t ignore the tear he’s on. The outfielder is now hitting .314 with 40 home runs and 104 rbis. You can’t forget also, there is no Prince Fielder now in the Brewers line-up to hit in front of Braun nor behind him for protection. After Milwaukee’s final two games with the falling Pittsburgh Pirates, things get much tougher on the schedule. They travel to Washington for four and then Cincinnati for three. Even their final series of the season at home against the Padres is no free-bee with the emergence of San Diego’s play in the second half of the season. The Brewers have been real good, but they’ll need to be great on the road to have a shot. Speaking of the Pirates, you have to feel for Bucs faithful, the way this is turning out…..again! Last season, a young and inexperienced Pittsburgh team fell apart over the final two months of the season after holding the lead in the central and it’s happening again. The Pirates are 15-29 since August1st. In the month of September the Bucs are a struggling 4-12. Adding it all together the woeful numbers don’t lie, 33-66 in August and September over the last two seasons. Their stumbles have pushed them to 3.5 games back in the wild-card hunt and there doesn’t appear to be any signs of things turning around. In their series opener against Milwaukee on Tuesday, A.J. Burnett, the Pirates best starter suffered a 6-0 defeat. He has now lost five of his last six decisions. Number two starter James McDonald has struggled so much recently he has been removed from the rotation in place of rookie Kyle McPherson. Offensively part of the problem has been the cooling off of NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. After a July where he smoked opposing pitchers with a batting average of .446, he’s fallen off to just .252 with two home runs and 13 rbis in August. Neil Walker, another of the Bucs power hitters is just returning to the line-up after missing almost a month with an injured right hand. Adding to the offensive troubles, Pedro Alvarez who’s hit 27 home runs with 73 rbis this season, has hit just .143 in 43 plate appearances in September. Pittsburgh had a small margin of error coming down the stretch run and they have clearly surpassed it. The Bucs are still two or three players away from having enough to get over the hump. After trading away both Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton to the Dodgers it appeared the Philadelphia Phillies were calling it a season at the trade deadline. But with the return of both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to the line-up from injuries and the Phils starting pitching stepping up, the Fightin’s have put themselves in the race, trailing St. Louis by four games starting the day on September 19th. For Philadelphia the formula is simple. The starting rotation core consisting of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels is no longer fighting injuries and rounding into pennant race form. Philadelphia has won each of Lee’s last five starts. Halladay has won four of his last five and the earned run average of the entire starting rotation is only 3.80, fifth in the National League. Since the end of August the Phillies have won 17 of their last 24 games. But with six remaining against the Nationals and three against the Braves, their pitching super-trio can’t afford to lose an outing in order to catch the Cards. American League Things in the American League are just as complicated but with fewer teams involved. There is virtually a two-team tie between Oakland and Baltimore for the two spots with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim just three games out as of this writing. However, the New York Yankees only hold a half game lead over the Orioles in the American League East chase. The loser of that divisional battle will also be in the hunt for the wild-card or could very easily end up out of the post-season all together! But the team everyone is trying to run down, the surprising Oakland A’s. While their wild-card lead is now just a half a game heading into Wednesday’s game in Detroit the rest of the schedule is not any kinder. The A’s face contenders in 20 of their final 23 games, dating back to September 10th, and you have to wonder if those young arms will start to tire or wilt during the final pennant push. A.J. Griffin (24), Dan Straily (23), Jarrod Parker (23) and Tommy Milone (25) are all throwing more innings now, then they ever have in either the big leagues or the minors. Manager Bob Melvin however has done a nice job of working his rotation into safe pitch counts for each rookie along with an extra day of rest when possible. Behind this young and phenomenal pitching, Oakland has won eight of nine series, including four sweeps to cut the largest lead in any division down to just three games in the west behind the Texas Rangers. Besides the young arms the A’s position players possess enough experience to continue solid run support. While the Oakland line-up is just 29th overall in team batting average, Josh Reddick is having a career year with 29 homers and 79 rbis. Cuban newcomer Yoenis Cespedes has also proved to be worth his hefty 42-million dollar contract with 19 long balls and 72 runs driven home. The A’s have a lot of guys that all do a few things well and with their youth on the mound that has pitched beyond its years up this point, there is no reason to think the pressure will get to this team anytime soon. Baltimore continued its improbable run with an 18-inning, 4-2 win at Seattle on Tuesday Night. The win was par for the course for the O’s who have made a season on finding a way in tight games especially in extra innings. With last night’s marathon victory, Baltimore captured its 14th consecutive extra-inning game! That’s the longest extra-inning win streak since the Cleveland Indians won 19 straight in extra frames in 1949. If you think the 14 straight in extras is something, how about the Orioles record in one-run games? Baltimore is an amazing 27-7 when the final scoreboard has a one-run margin! How obscure is that percentage? The O’s will be just the ninth team since 1900 to finish 20 or more games above .500 in one-run affairs and the first since the 1985 Reds. Right now they have the highest winning percentage in one-run games in baseball history at .794. Behind all that good fortune and luck comes a solid bullpen to go with marginal starting pitching but great offense. Buck Showalter’s club is 12th in slugging percentage and 14th overall in runs scored. Adam Jones’ 29 homers lead the way, while Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis have all thumped over 20 long balls. It’s a good thing they produce offensively because only starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen has double digits in the win column at 12-9. The formula of great relief pitching and timely hits as of right now has Baltimore on course for the post-season for the first time since 1997. At three games back, it’s now or never for an Angel’s team, many picked to win the west after the pick-up of C.J. Wilson in the off-season. The Halos rank second in runs scored, second in batting average, fifth in on base percentage and fifth in slugging. So how are the Angels not only six games back in the west but also on the outside looking in on the wild-card spots? They made up big ground in the second half of the season but dropping three of four at Oakland a week and a half ago threw a serious wrench into the playoff hopes. Los Angeles still has five games left with the Rangers but no more head to head match-ups against the A’s or O’s, so they’ll most likely need some help. The Halos have won 15 out of their last 20 but a terrible stretch of August were they dropped 13 of 18 put them in the hole. While Jered Weaver is a CY Young worthy 18-4, only Wilson at 12-9 has been another reliable starter. Mike Scioscia’s team is built around its ability to score runs in bunches. Unless that offense can take its game to another level in the last two weeks the Angels are going to run out of time and be the disappointment of the entire baseball season.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wild Card Contenders Pulling their Hair Out

With an average of 15 games left to play per team in the 2012 Major League season, the wild-card races in both the National and American leagues are not only far from being settled, they’ve become more congested! The model of adding another spot on both sides could not have worked out any better for the powers that be, as the extra position has allowed a few late charges from teams to engulf their fans in the excitement and hope of the post-season play. One aspect to the wild-card chase that continues to play true, no team in the running, in either league with the exception of the Atlanta Braves, holds an overwhelming advantage besides the position they now sit, over teams trailing them in the races. All these squads appear to have obvious strengths and some glaring weaknesses which will cause both races to most likely come down to the final days of the regular season. In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals hold the number two spot on September 19th by a game and a half starting the day. The Red Birds have an obvious advantage in the schedule over the trailing Dodgers, Brewers, Pirates and Phillies. St. Louis plays eight more games against both the struggling Astros and Cubs. Their goal has to be opening up their slim lead before they reach the final two series of the season, hosting Washington and Cincinnati the National League east and central division leaders. But the Cards haven’t exactly been on fire as of late, dropping eight of their last 12 games. During that stretch the pitching has given up an average of almost five runs a game with top pitchers Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn all taking at least one loss. However, St. Louis does get back the services of former ace Chris Carpenter for the stretch run making his first start of the season on Friday against the Cubs. Now, what he’ll be able to actually contribute after missing the entire season to this point is still a wild-card in itself. The right-hander of course underwent surgery in July, to relieve nerve compression that resulted in numbness on much of the right side of his body. The offensive line-up is still stout despite missing Lance Berkman who is done for the season due to injury and the Cards of course have post-season pedigree as the defending champs. How can you not like their chances to not only win that second spot but also take down the front-running Atlanta Braves in the one-game playoff? Behind St. Louis a game and a half back are the Los Angeles Dodgers. When the Dodgers made the big trade back on August 24th with the Boston Red Sox to acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and the injured Carl Crawford most thought the Blue Crew would not only take a wild-card spot but win the N.L. West outright. But plenty has gone wrong since then. Matt Kemp ran into the centerfield wall at Coors Field, missing a couple of games and hasn’t been the same. Clayton Kershaw has developed a hip problem and Chad Billingsly went on the shelf completely with elbow inflammation, ending his season. Besides those injuries, the offense has absolutely struggled to score runs, as Los Angeles has managed just two multi-run victories since the deal. The Dodgers received some hope when doctors on Tuesday declared Kershaw’s hip problem would not get worse if he continues to pitch and his season now might continue. Los Angeles however is at a real disadvantage according to the schedule with road series at Washington, Cincinnati and San Diego along with home sets versus Colorado and San Francisco to close the season. Overall, even with the pitching injuries the Dodgers staff overall has hung in there with a team ERA of just 3.44. The bottom line for L.A. appears to come down to offense. If they can’t score more than just three runs per game, which is the team average since the big trade, they have no shot to catch and pass St. Louis. However, with a line-up that includes Kemp, Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier all in a row, they could get hot and turn it around at any time but time is running out. The biggest charge for the second National League wild-card spot is coming from the Milwaukee Brewers. Last season’s Central Division Champs, are suddenly just two and a half games back of St. Louis after putting together a string of 22 wins in their last 31 games. In their last 27 contest, they’ve posted a 21-6 mark, while outscoring their opponents by six runs per game! A big part of the run has also been the pitching of Milwaukee ace Yovani Gallardo. The right-hander, who beat Pittsburgh on Tuesday, is 7-0 in his last nine starts with an earned run average of 2.98. Offensively Ryan Braun continues to make what will eventually be a futile run for a second consecutive N.L. MVP award. After winning the honor last year, then testing positive for testosterone, and eventually having the test thrown out due to improper handling of the sample, no way the voters take a chance on him again. But you can’t ignore the tear he’s on. The outfielder is now hitting .314 with 40 home runs and 104 rbis. You can’t forget also, there is no Prince Fielder now in the Brewers line-up to hit in front of Braun nor behind him for protection. After Milwaukee’s final two games with the falling Pittsburgh Pirates, things get much tougher on the schedule. They travel to Washington for four and then Cincinnati for three. Even their final series of the season at home against the Padres is no free-bee with the emergence of San Diego’s play in the second half of the season. The Brewers have been real good, but they’ll need to be great on the road to have a shot. Speaking of the Pirates, you have to feel for Bucs faithful, the way this is turning out…..again! Last season, a young and inexperienced Pittsburgh team fell apart over the final two months of the season after holding the lead in the central and it’s happening again. The Pirates are 15-29 since August1st. In the month of September the Bucs are a struggling 4-12. Adding it all together the woeful numbers don’t lie, 33-66 in August and September over the last two seasons. Their stumbles have pushed them to 3.5 games back in the wild-card hunt and there doesn’t appear to be any signs of things turning around. In their series opener against Milwaukee on Tuesday, A.J. Burnett, the Pirates best starter suffered a 6-0 defeat. He has now lost five of his last six decisions. Number two starter James McDonald has struggled so much recently he has been removed from the rotation in place of rookie Kyle McPherson. Offensively part of the problem has been the cooling off of NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. After a July where he smoked opposing pitchers with a batting average of .446, he’s fallen off to just .252 with two home runs and 13 rbis in August. Neil Walker, another of the Bucs power hitters is just returning to the line-up after missing almost a month with an injured right hand. Adding to the offensive troubles, Pedro Alvarez who’s hit 27 home runs with 73 rbis this season, has hit just .143 in 43 plate appearances in September. Pittsburgh had a small margin of error coming down the stretch run and they have clearly surpassed it. The Bucs are still two or three players away from having enough to get over the hump. After trading away both Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton to the Dodgers it appeared the Philadelphia Phillies were calling it a season at the trade deadline. But with the return of both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to the line-up from injuries and the Phils starting pitching stepping up, the Fightin’s have put themselves in the race, trailing St. Louis by four games starting the day on September 19th. For Philadelphia the formula is simple. The starting rotation core consisting of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels is no longer fighting injuries and rounding into pennant race form. Philadelphia has won each of Lee’s last five starts. Halladay has won four of his last five and the earned run average of the entire starting rotation is only 3.80, fifth in the National League. Since the end of August the Phillies have won 17 of their last 24 games. But with six remaining against the Nationals and three against the Braves, their pitching super-trio can’t afford to lose an outing in order to catch the Cards. American League Things in the American League are just as complicated but with fewer teams involved. There is virtually a two-team tie between Oakland and Baltimore for the two spots with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim just three games out as of this writing. However, the New York Yankees only hold a half game lead over the Orioles in the American League East chase. The loser of that divisional battle will also be in the hunt for the wild-card or could very easily end up out of the post-season all together! But the team everyone is trying to run down, the surprising Oakland A’s. While their wild-card lead is now just a half a game heading into Wednesday’s game in Detroit the rest of the schedule is not any kinder. The A’s face contenders in 20 of their final 23 games, dating back to September 10th, and you have to wonder if those young arms will start to tire or wilt during the final pennant push. A.J. Griffin (24), Dan Straily (23), Jarrod Parker (23) and Tommy Milone (25) are all throwing more innings now, then they ever have in either the big leagues or the minors. Manager Bob Melvin however has done a nice job of working his rotation into safe pitch counts for each rookie along with an extra day of rest when possible. Behind this young and phenomenal pitching, Oakland has won eight of nine series, including four sweeps to cut the largest lead in any division down to just three games in the west behind the Texas Rangers. Besides the young arms the A’s position players possess enough experience to continue solid run support. While the Oakland line-up is just 29th overall in team batting average, Josh Reddick is having a career year with 29 homers and 79 rbis. Cuban newcomer Yoenis Cespedes has also proved to be worth his hefty 42-million dollar contract with 19 long balls and 72 runs driven home. The A’s have a lot of guys that all do a few things well and with their youth on the mound that has pitched beyond its years up this point, there is no reason to think the pressure will get to this team anytime soon. Baltimore continued its improbable run with an 18-inning, 4-2 win at Seattle on Tuesday Night. The win was par for the course for the O’s who have made a season on finding a way in tight games especially in extra innings. With last night’s marathon victory, Baltimore captured its 14th consecutive extra-inning game! That’s the longest extra-inning win streak since the Cleveland Indians won 19 straight in extra frames in 1949. If you think the 14 straight in extras is something, how about the Orioles record in one-run games? Baltimore is an amazing 27-7 when the final scoreboard has a one-run margin! How obscure is that percentage? The O’s will be just the ninth team since 1900 to finish 20 or more games above .500 in one-run affairs and the first since the 1985 Reds. Right now they have the highest winning percentage in one-run games in baseball history at .794. Behind all that good fortune and luck comes a solid bullpen to go with marginal starting pitching but great offense. Buck Showalter’s club is 12th in slugging percentage and 14th overall in runs scored. Adam Jones’ 29 homers lead the way, while Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis have all thumped over 20 long balls. It’s a good thing they produce offensively because only starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen has double digits in the win column at 12-9. The formula of great relief pitching and timely hits as of right now has Baltimore on course for the post-season for the first time since 1997. At three games back, it’s now or never for an Angel’s team, many picked to win the west after the pick-up of C.J. Wilson in the off-season. The Halos rank second in runs scored, second in batting average, fifth in on base percentage and fifth in slugging. So how are the Angels not only six games back in the west but also on the outside looking in on the wild-card spots? They made up big ground in the second half of the season but dropping three of four at Oakland a week and a half ago threw a serious wrench into the playoff hopes. Los Angeles still has five games left with the Rangers but no more head to head match-ups against the A’s or O’s, so they’ll most likely need some help. The Halos have won 15 out of their last 20 but a terrible stretch of August were they dropped 13 of 18 put them in the hole. While Jered Weaver is a CY Young worthy 18-4, only Wilson at 12-9 has been another reliable starter. Mike Scioscia’s team is built around its ability to score runs in bunches. Unless that offense can take its game to another level in the last two weeks the Angels are going to run out of time and be the disappointment of the entire baseball season.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Suddenly more horses in the race as they come down the stretch


National League
Major League Baseball took a gamble in the off-season adding another wild-card spot in both the National and American Leagues. The theory was with an extra spot, more teams would be involved in the race the entire season and therefore more fans would be able to keep hope alive for the post-season. Well the idea has worked to perfection! The reward for winning the division is still in place, as those teams automatically get into a full playoff series. The wild-card spots with just 20 games to play are holding the attention of six teams in the American League and seven in the National.

On the National side, the Atlanta Braves appear to be a just a tomahawk chop away from one of the spots in the one-game playoff. After last season’s complete collapse missing the playoffs, the Braves hold a five game lead over St. Louis in the loss column, for the top wild-card position, which would give them home field advantage in the contest. Although they’d dropped two straight as of this writing, there are no signs of a fold in 2012. Atlanta has won seven of its last ten, although they still must face A.L. East division leader Washington three times and travel to red-hot Philadelphia for a three game set. The Cardinals own the second spot but by no means are the defending champions guaranteed to hold on. St. Louis has dropped six of its last ten games including ace Adam Wainwright getting beat by the Padres on Tuesday night in San Diego. The Red-Birds road record is six games under .500 for the year and of their six series remaining, three of those are away from Busch Stadium, the most important, starting on Thursday at Dodger Stadium. On the Cards side however down the stretch they do get to face both Houston and the Chicago Cubs. Los Angeles sits just one back of the Cardinals and the four-game set could basically separate the two teams for the remainder of the race. The Dodgers however have been struggling to score since the trade that brought them the services of slugger Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and the injured Carl Crawford. Los Angeles is just 6-10 since the deal with Boston and has fallen six games behind the San Francisco Giants in the N.L. West. Over its last four games the Dodgers are just 1 for 24 with runners in scoring position, which has been their doom to this point. The road to winning the second wild-card spot is not an easy one. Los Angeles must deal with St. Louis at Chavez Ravine and then series at division leaders Washington and Cincinnati, not to mention three series against N.L. West teams, San Diego, Colorado and the Giants where they are just 28-34 this season. Since returning from a 7-3 road trip in Miami, Pittsburgh and Atlanta the Dodgers have scored just 66 runs in 20 games putting them 26th in runs scored overall which has been the squad’s undoing. In order to take the second wild-card spot the Dodgers will have to start hitting like their line-up is capable during the final 20 games. Two and a half back of the Cardinals sit the Pittsburgh Pirates. For the Bucs it’s been another 2nd half shipwreck. Pittsburgh led the N.L. Central at the all-star break and since then has gone 24-32, putting them 13 back behind the Reds in the division. They don’t appear to be gaining back any momentum having lost their last five games, finishing a series against the Reds on Wednesday. With series against the charging Brewers, Reds and Braves in their final 20, it’s not looking good for the Bucs. Pitching has been the main culprit of Pittsburgh’s demise as just A.J. Burnett and James McDonald remain their only hurlers sporting a record well above .500. Two teams that were long out of the conversation but have made a charge down the stretch run are Philadelphia and Milwaukee. The Phillies actually became sellers at the trade deadline, shipping Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton to the Dodgers but kept their rest of their starting pitching intact. Philadelphia has come alive by getting hitters Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz all back from injuries. During their run the Phils have won 17 of 23 including six in a row heading into the series finale against the Florida Marlins on Wednesday. With the push the Fightin’s sit just four games behind St. Louis, with a realistic shot as long as the Cards, Dodgers and Bucs continue to stumble. Maybe the biggest obstacle in the Phillies comeback will be the six remaining against first place Washington and three against Atlanta. Of all the wild-card teams, the Philadelphia pitching staff is the one that could win two-thirds of their remaining games all by themselves without much offensive help. Anytime you can win games on pitching alone, you are in business. How Milwaukee finds itself back in the chase is a mystery. The Brew Crew is now an even .500 at 71-71, for the first time since April 24th, and has also won seven of its last ten and 19 of their last 26, tohttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif pull to within four games of the Cardinals. Milwaukee’s offense has woken up as they now lead the National League in runs scored at 678, while outscoring opponents 541 to 471 in the first seven innings per game. That allows the Brewers bullpen to handle business which it has. Over the last 30 days the Milwaukee relievers check in at 14th in earned run average at 3.47, not to mention 27 shutdowns against nine blown saves. Four relievers John Axford, Jose Veras, Francisco Rodriguez and Brandon Kintzler all sport ERAs of fewer than 3.00 during the run. With a four-game series remaining at Washington along with another at Cincinnati and then a tough Padres team heading to Miller Park to close the season…. The Brewers will need to play near perfect baseball to grab the final wild-card spot.

American Leauge
Major League Baseball took a gamble in the off-season adding another wild-card spot in both the National and American Leagues. The theory was with an extra spot, more teams would be involved in the race the entire season and therefore more fans would be able to keep hope alive for the post-season. Well the idea has worked to perfection! The reward for winning the division is still in place, as those teams automatically get into a full playoff series. The wild-card spots with just 20 games to play are holding the attention of six teams in the American League and seven in the National.

On the American Side, there is standing room only at the top for both wild-card spots. The surprising Oakland A’s continue to hang in there as their impressive 38-17 second half mark, has included seven, nine and five game win streaks. How have the underpaid, young Athletics gotten it done? The help of a season long 11-game road winning streak is one strong point. They continue to sit in the middle of the pack as far as runs scored and slugging percent, both 18th overall in baseball. Oakland’s team ERA is also just 3.40 but they could struggle down the final 20 games on the hill with both Bartolo Colon (steroids) and Brandon McCarthy (injury) gone for the remainder of the season. The biggest obstacle Oakland might have to overcome however is their schedule. The A’s get no nights off as their remaining series include Baltimore, at Detroit, at New York, at Texas then finally Seattle and Texas at home. It will be real tough for an over-achieving Oakland team to not tail off over the final three weeks of the season. Tied with the A’s are both the Yankees and Orioles with Tampa Bay just two games behind the leaders. Of course only two of them will eventually compete for the wild-card as one will win the American League East. Both the O’s and Rays have played much better baseball over the second half then the Bronx Bombers. Baltimore has made up an eight game deficit while Tampa has closed the gap from 8.5 to just two games since July 13th. Mark Reynolds has led the Baltimore charge over the last 11 games driving home 17 runs while blasting nine long balls and scoring 11 runs himself. David Price continues to be a killer on the hill for Tampa Bay. In 27 starts, 21 have been quality starts while he’s won 17 and lost just five with an earned run average of 2.54. The Yankees have been battling not only the O’s and Rays but themselves as well. New York has dropped 16 of 23 over the last three weeks and now has slugger Mark Teixeira on the shelf with a calf injury. The Yankees still however possess the best hitting team of the three. With Alex Rodriguez back in action along with Derek Jeter, a struggling Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson along with others, the Yankees have to be the favorite to win either the east or capture a wild-card spot. Baltimore is by far the scrappiest of the three teams. The number of one-run victories for the O’s can attest to that but they are missing outfielder Nick Markakis from the line-up. He is done for the season with a thumb injury and that could end up being a deal closer. Tampa sports the most consistent pitching staff of the three teams and they also possess post-season experience that Baltimore doesn’t have. New York faces Tampa in one more series while the O’s and Rays also scare off one more time to end the season. Just two and a half games back and lurking are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Mike Scioscia’s team has won 15 of their last 20 to get back in the race when it appeared they were finished. The Halos pulled off the run because pitching ace Jered Weaver has remained automatic with a record of 16-4 while C.J. Wilson continues to plug away with 20 quality starts. Offensively all of the Angels big dogs are barking at the plate as they now have six players with double-digit homers and four players driving in over 75 rbis. Rookie Mike Trout fits into both of those categories as he continues to make a serious case for both rookie of the year and the American League MVP. Anaheim does face the Texas Rangers six more times down the stretch run along with hosting the Chicago White Sox in a three game series. They don’t play the game on paper but the Angels have to be one of the favorites to grab a wild-card berth and make the post-season, overtaking Tampa, Baltimore and Oakland with the Yankees winning the A.L. East.

View the Complete NL Wildcard Standings Here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dodgers Address the Symptom but not the Cause - a follow up


Over the past 30 days the Dodgers have been doing their best Yankees impression by spending endless amounts of money on whatever was available in the marketplace to get them the season and hopefully the postseason, with the optimal result being a World Series. If they fall short then they’ll do their best to unload any dead weight and try to squeeze as many runs at the ***le as they can with this group and hope they don’t end up in the same BK court as Frank Mc. That reciprocal to “Money Ball” philosophy has worked in NYC even though they haven’t been fitted for rings lately but because of the lucrative cable and merchandising and the ‘Mother Ship of ESPN” televising more hours of Yankee games than all the political commercials combined they seem to make up any cost expenditures and keep the machine going. It’s a game they’ve been playing for quite some time but you have to be in a marketplace conducive to the requirements but LA is one of them. Unfortunately, for the Dodgers they had plenty of star power before, with a Triple Crown treat in Matt Kemp and Cy Young award winner in Clayton Kershaw and that wasn’t enough to even make the post season let alone the big show. So what’s the problem? Well, all the stick in the world doesn’t do you any good if you don’t get the hits when there’s ducks on the pond and with runners in scoring position the Dodger bats were dormant before which was their achilles heel, and the problem persist today even with threats throughout the lineup. With two chances to pull within a ½ game of the lead in the NL West the Dodgers left 16 men on base against the sub-.500 marlins including 2-17 with runners in scoring position. Then followed that up by getting shut out by the Rockies the next night and now find themselves 3 games out with 33 games to play and the most difficult schedule of the top three teams in the West. At the end of the day the Dodgers don’t need a Yankeeish lineup of future Hall of Famers, what they need are “moneyballers” that can get a timely hit when necessary. That seems to be a commodity that is trading for a premium this time of year, and one that the new management should have looked for as they were droppin’ 400 million plus.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The New Dodgers: Will the Desire Keep Pace with the Deep Pockets?


When Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and the Guggenheim Group purchased the Dodgers from the empty pockets of Frank McCourt they made a commitment to the lost City of Angels fans, that they would do whatever it takes to put a winner on the field. After all, the Dodgers did make back to back NLCS appearances in 2008 and 2009 only to come up short against the Philadelphia Phillies, a more talented team. But under McCourt’s financial mismanagement, his team, only two or three players away from possibly winning the franchise’s first World Series Title since 1988, did not spend money to attain the necessary additions and the team fell into mediocrity. Los Angeles fans then were forced to watch the 2010 version of the San Francisco Giants, arch-enemy number one, catch fire and somehow win the franchise’s first title ever while in the city of San Francisco, with very few big name players. Talk about an extra salty Dodger Dog to digest! Fed up Angelinos then took to the only form of action to get their frustrations across, boycotting their beloved team and stadium. The low attendance not only got the attention of the owner and media but also Major League Baseball. Eventually Commissioner Bud Selig stepped in and that brings us up to date. Not only did the new owners keep their promises at the trade deadline picking up what has been a very well behaved and productive Hanley Ramirez and his 46.5 million dollar salary over the next three years but they also traded for outfielder Shane Victorino and pitchers Joe Blanton, Randy Choate and Brandon League. When the Dodgers continued to appear to be coming up a little short with just over 35 games left in the season, the win at all cost now mindset was taken to another level! The new owners blew the minds of the entire baseball world by picking up first baseman Adrian Gonzalez off waivers from the Boston Red Sox along with embattled pitcher Josh Beckett. Then via trade, brought both players along with injured and unhappy outfielder Carl Crawford and utility player Nick Punto to the Dodgers, in a move unheard of in the new age of billion dollar franchises with multimillion dollar contracts. In return the Dodgers sent away struggling first baseman James Loney along with infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr., outfielder Jerry Sands and pitching prospects Rubby DeLaRosa and Allen Webster. On the field the Dodgers clearly got the better end of the deal on the field right away. What they proved to not only their fans but the rest of the 29 teams competing for the Commissioner’s Trophy though, not only are the serious about winning now but they were also willing to take any chance to reach that goal! What Dodgers ownership really took from Boston was the first baseman they needed to win the National League West and two really bad contracts that might not pan out in Dodger Blue. All together Los Angeles picked up 260 million dollars in salary! An unheard of amount of money taken over in a trade! Now, Gonzalez’s 127 million over the next six seasons is what the Dodgers really needed and were more than willing to take on. Crawford, who is a former all-star but coming off a wrist surgery and Tommy John surgery is due 102.5 million over the next five years. Beckett, who has struggled during his discontent in Boston, will earn 31 million over the next two seasons while Punto is still due 1.5 million. Besides just the sheer numbers of the money now taken on by the fat pockets of the new ownership group there is also the risk of ruining what has been great chemistry in the Chavez Ravine home locker room this season. Despite Loney’s struggles he was a favorite among teammates. Beckett has been called a cancer in the Red Sox clubhouse along with an earned run average that has skyrocketed to 5.23 with a record of just 5-11 this season. However, he is just a season removed from an ERA of under 3.00 and of course has one huge post-season games during his career. Crawford won’t even be on the field until next season and the Dodgers believe he’ll be able to regain his all-star form with the change of scenery. One thing you know Dodgers management is banking on however with Beckett and Crawford is their past performance and reputation. If either player doesn’t act like a team guy and earn his money as a Dodger, all of the bad press they’ve received will come across as just due and the grief they’ve endured will not be about the things simply not working out at 4 Yawkey Way. In other words, neither player has any choice other than to revert back to their earlier days of positive attitudes and production. The two usually come hand in hand especially for high profile pitchers when they switch leagues like Beckett is about to do with his first start against the Colorado Rockies next week. Full recovery from Tommy John surgery is now the norm in baseball and the bounce back time frame for position players is shorter than that of pitchers. Crawford is expected to be ready for opening day of 2013. If both of these players return to the form that made them forces in the American League, than the Dodgers Ownership Group has pulled off the trade of the century in baseball! As for Gonzalez, all he did was crush a three-run homer in his very first at bat on Sunday in an 8-2 Los Angeles win over the Florida Marlins on Sunday. His immediate impact on the National League West race is already being felt. There are no guarantees when making trades in professional baseball. Just hunches, stats and gut feelings to go by. There is also the task of taking chances, spending money to make money in an attempt to win. After what Dodgers fans went thru in The McCourt era, The Guggenheim Group has already hit a home run!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Destination May Surpass the Journey this Year


As they make the final turn into the home stretch the annual MLB marathon is finally coming to a close and much like last season the focus has been taken off most of the division races which have long since been decided and now the Wild Card races take center stage. If they can deliver anything close to the drama of last year it will be well worth the wait. Obviously the purist have never been in favor of Wild Card for a number of reasons but you can’t argue that in recent history the Wild Cards have been playing some of the best ball at the end of the season, with 2 of the last 6 making it to the World Series and the Cardinals winning the whole thing last year. Now it would be an impossible act to follow as who can forget final two weeks of the season as the Red Sox and Braves collapsed with the Sox dropping 7 of their last ten second only to the ATL who could only muster two wins in the final ten games.

This season is shaping up to rival that of 2011 as although four division races are pretty much on ice as the Yankees, Rangers, Nats, and Reds will need to battle complacency more than a divisional foe for the next 50 games, but the AL Central and NL West will come down to that same final two week stretch as last year. The cards will also be wild as there’s nothing like a good ol’ interstate family feud to keep the heat long after the summer has past and with no love lost between the Giants and Dodgers who have continued their street fight across country ever since they left New York, and now are separated by less than a game and haven’t been further apart than six games at any time during the season. Milky out of the lineup should prove to be the difference maker but we’ve counted them out before but with a shortage of beards in the Bay Area this should be the year the wind blows up from So. Cal. The loser finds themselves in third place of a mire that is the NL Wild card, surrounded by the Braves, Pirates, and defending champs St. Louis all within a game and a half where the club with the kindest schedule may be the last one standing. Rest assured it will take much more than 3 out of 10 to win this one.

The AL is even worse as there will be five teams going down to the wire but no teams in the mix via default. The Yankees had the East won with the opening day first pitch but the Rays are coming on strong, winners of 8 of 10. The Orioles are the ‘feel good’ story of the year but with the worst run differential (-47) of any team in contention you have to wonder if their arms will run out of steam as the http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.giftemperature cools down. The AL Central comes in a little short the year and although just 2 games back right now the Tigers would need to make up an additional two games on the Rays if they wanted to make it to the post season. Lastly, how bout’ that AL West? Most of the country will be cheering for the A’s to pull it out thinking that Brad Pitt is going to come out of the dugout but the Money Ballers always come up a buck short and they may have peaked a bit too soon this year as well. Despite getting phat Albert the pitching hasn’t been there for the Angles who score a ton but give up even more and that will kill them down the stretch. But with this cast of characters you can bet that it will be another wild ride that releases the nostalgia hormone in all of us and makes us forget the long weeks of June and July where it seemed no games really mattered and all we’ll remember is another great stretch run that may make the Fall classic seem anticlimactic. Just the same I’m in!
View the Complete Wild Card Standings Here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Milkman Makes a Sour Delivery


In the living spirit of Barry Bonds, another San Francisco Giant has been using steroids, but only this player got caught. Outfielder Melky Cabrera, the San Francisco hits leader and baseball’s All-Star Game MVP, now out for the remainder of the regular season, suspended for 50 games after testing positive for testosterone. Unlike Bonds, who never missed game action because of his steroid use, which took place before Major League Baseball implemented its policy against performance enhancing drugs, Cabrera’s omission is a killer for the Giants. With just 45 games left in the regular season, the Giants will try to have to now win the National League West or a wildcard spot without him, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers heading into Wednesday’s play. Unlike Bonds, Cabrera owned up to his sins right away, saying in a statement released by the players union. “My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used.” “I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down”. “The Milkman”, as he has been affectionately known in the Bay Area, was hitting .346 with 11 home runs and 60 runs batted in, during his first season with the Giants. The 28-year-old has basically been known as baseball’s best hitter in the majors this season with a 51-hit month in May. During that month he crushed pitchers to a tune of .429 with three homers, five triples, seven doubles and 17 RBIs. He also hit safely in 25 of 29 games. His 51 hits in May set a new San Francisco Giants record breaking the old mark of 49 by the great Willie Mays. But we now know there was something else behind those amazing numbers. Ironically another San Francisco Giant breaking the record of another of baseball’s legends with the help of performance enhancing drugs. Bonds was never suspended for using PED’s or convicted of a crime for using performance enhancers. But his record as baseball’s home run king with 762 overall breaking Henry Aaron’s mark and 73 in a single season are widely regarded as tainted records. So what should be made of Cabrera’s All-Star Most Valuable Player Award? Should he simply give the honor back or should baseball take it? There is no previous case to look back on but you better believe this is going to be something for commissioner Bud Selig to think about. There are several years of separation between Bonds play with the Giants and Cabrera’s sudden suspension. But does baseball need to start penalizing clubs for the indiscretions of their playershttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif concerning its substance abuse policy towards PED’S? If so, is the penalty monetary for the club or a forfeiture of games, something like what takes place in the NCAA when a player has been used to win contest, then has been ruled ineligible? All these are questions that must eventually be addressed. If the Giants were to win the division or capture a wild-card spot this season, you’d have to believe there will be a lot of fans and team executives very unhappy that a player who helped win the majority of the Giants victories earlier in the season, played the most of the year with the help of steroids. While much on the subject remains to be discussed and settled by baseball, one thing is still evident. Despite the game’s efforts to push it back to its pre-steroid age, players are fully aware of the advantages of PED’s and are still trying to “spike their milk”, to enhance their play on the field.
Get the complete MLB standings including the Wild Card Race here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Wild Wild West(s)


Does anyone really think the Orioles are going to catch the Yankees in the American League East? I didn’t think so. What about those doubts the red-hot Detroit Tigers, winners of six in a row and seven of their last ten; aren’t going to overtake the Chicago White Sox in the A.L. Central. Not many are there? In the National League the Washington Nationals have owned the east for months now. Unless they suffer severe injuries in crunch time, the experience of the Atlanta Braves will not matter down the stretch for the division title. In the N.L. Central no one expected Pittsburgh to maintain the top spot for the entire season. Cincinnati despite dropping three straight, rolled off eleven wins in a row before hand, taking control and most likely will not look back. So that leaves us with two races to talk about and although they are not the wild-cards, which undoubtedly will come down to the final days of the regular season, they are indeed wild!

Surprisingly in the American League West, we are looking at a three team race and not a two-team battle. The Oakland A’s were the talk of the post all-star break after rattling off a July to remember. To start the 2nd half of the season Oakland pounded out a record of 13-4 heading into August, not to mention winning 12 of 14 at one point. But these are the A’s and we’ve been to this party before. Starts out strong then all the hot babes leave early for the next spot! That could be happening again to Oakland. Five and a half games out of first place behind Texas is certainly in the mix but it doesn’t appear to be lasting long. Heading into Tuesday, the A’s found themselves losers of three straight and six of their last ten before a much needed win over the third place Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Over the last 30 days, Cuban superstar Yoenis Cespedes has been the only player able to keep a post-season deserving, type of performance going. In his last 23 games he’s hitting .412 with five homers and 19 runs batted in. His counterpart Josh Reddick who had basically carried Oakland in the first half has cooled off tremendously. He crushed the ball to a tune of .268 with 20 homers and 43 rbis early. He also added 84 hits while scoring 52 runs. He was basically Oakland’s most valuable player up to that point. Since the break his averaged has dropped to .226. In the last 23 games and 93 at bats he has managed just 21 hits with 13 rbis. The pitching has declined as well. Only A.J. Griffin has three wins over the last month while ace Bartolo Colon is just 2-1 in his last five starts. Both Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker are posting ERAs of over five in the last 30 days and closer Ryan Cook has only converted three of his last seven save opportunities. While the A’s and their money saving ways have produced an exciting product on a severe budget, their lack of experience appears to be catching up. Youth can only get you so far and Oakland has probably peeked out a little early in terms of winning the division. However the wild-card is without a doubt a possibility. The team they’re chasing in the division, Texas and the one closing in, the Angels are rich in experience and talent. L.A. Ace Jered Weaver just keeps on getting better as the season progresses. To open up the latest series between the Angels and A’s the right-hander rolled to a four hit shutout of Oakland for his league leading 15th victory. We can’t forget it was also the Angels who made maybe the biggest move of the trade deadline grabbing Zack Grienke from Milwaukee to solidify their starting rotation. Between Weaver, Grienke and lefty C.J. Wilson, (9-8 with an ERA of 3.34) it’s the Angels not the Texas Rangers or A’s with the top three pitchers in their rotation. This usually tends to pay off in September. Slugger Albert Pujols after arguably the worst start to a season in his career is now back in superstar form. Pujols was just named as the American League’s Player of the Week. He batted .424 with five doubles, six home runs, 13 rbis and nine runs scored in seven games played. That week helped boost his overall stats to 24 homers, 76 rbis with a batting average of .285. Here is the thing about the Angels though. Those numbers aren’t even the best in their line-up! Outfielder Mark Trumbo has crushed 28 dingers with 76 rbis and is hitting .289. Centerfielder Mike Trout has become the unanimous American League choice for rookie of the year. He’s roped 20 homers and driven home 60 runs. The speedster has also stolen 36 bases. Although Los Angeles dropped the final two games of a four game split at Texas at the end of July, it’s the Angels that have the more dangerous overall line-up with five players belting double-digit homers. Expect a big push from this squad to close in on the two-time defending American League Champions despite the fact they sit six games out in the division, as of this writing. The Rangers are the team to beat but their thrown is on shaky ground. The biggest news surrounding the Rangers as of late is not what they’ve done on the field but what they did off of it. At the very end of the trade deadline, Texas was able to pick up right-handed pitcher Ryan Dempster in a deal with the Chicago Cubs. That move paid dividends on Tuesday night as Dempster tossed 6 and 2/3rds innings, allowing six hits and just one walk in a 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox. The three runs he gave up were all unearned as he improved his Rangers record to 1-1. The win stopped the bleeding of a two game losing streak for Texas. As they close out their series in Boston, things then get real tough as the Rangers travel home to face red-hot Detroit for three and then head to the Bronx to deal with the New York Yankees. Offense is not the problem with the Rangers nor has it been during their reign atop the American League. They still have six players with double-digit home runs and eight posting impressive RBI totals. But their pitching is not nearly as solid as the previous two seasons. With Colby Lewis now done for the year with a torn flexor tendon, Texas is lacking a true ace. Matt Harrison leads the staff with 13 wins against six losses but after that it gets thin quick. Newcomer Yu Darvish has been effective in his first season putting up an 11 and 8 record, as of August 8th. But he’s dropped four of his last six starts and seen his ERA rise from 3.59 to 4.57. Walks continue to be a major issue as he given up 74 free passes in 134 innings this season. After that, Derek Holland’s 9-7 mark is the best they got as Roy Oswalt’s struggles have landed him in the bull-pin. The Rangers offense is capable of winning games on its own, as they proved in the final two victories of their last series versus the Angles, both comebacks of 11-10 and 15-9. But in the upcoming dog days of August, without consistent arms to control the opposition, their six game lead is the west is going to disappear before we even get to September. Not to mention you can’t forget, they still have seven head to head battles to play against the Angels.

On the National League side you can flip a coin, pick a number or even draw straws! The three team race between the Giants, Dodgers and Diamondbacks appears to have no rhyme or reason to it what so ever. The last two weeks watched the Dodgers sweep the Giants in impressive fashion at AT&T Park, only to have Arizona come to Dodger Stadium and do the same to Los Angeles. The D-backs then hit the road for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, dropping three of four before picking up a win on Tuesday night. The Giants lead the division by just a game and a half over Los Angeles with Arizona trailing by four and appear to have the easiest schedule over the last two months with more home games than either the Dodgers or Diamondbacks. But these three teams still play each other a combined 28 times so no lead will most likely be safe heading into the final week of the regular season. Without a doubt it was the Dodgers and General Manager Ned Colletti who put in the most work and got the most done by the trade-deadline. Los Angeles’ biggest move was the deal for infielder Hanley Ramirez. The three-time all-star has already paid dividends with a game winning two-run homer at San Francisco to open that series, along with two other game winning hits in his two weeks of wearing Dodger Blue. Colletti also added relievers Brandon League and Randy Choate to the bull-pin to strengthen what has been one of the best pins in baseball overall. The final piece to the puzzle the Dodgers are hoping was the edition of outfielder Shane Victorino to the line-up just hours before the deadline hit. He brings a legitimate lead-off hitter and defensive player to left which is what Los Angeles had been lacking. However even with those moves the Dodgers have watched their offense sputter and remain inconsistent. After the beating they gave the Giants at spacious AT&T Park, scoring five, ten and four runs to win the series, they went cold at home versus the Diamondbacks plating just four runs in three nights. They then rallied to sweep the Chicago Cubs at Chavez Ravine scoring 16 total runs in the series, only to drop the first two games of their current home series against the terrible Colorado Rockies, getting just one run across in two games against the worst starting rotation in all of baseball. The pitching continues to improve for the Dodgers with Chad Billingsly winning his last three starts and Clayton Kershaw rounding into CY Young form again. They also added strike thrower Joe Blanton into the mix getting him off waivers from Philadelphia. He pitched well but received a no-decision in his first start during the Chicago series. For Los Angeles consistency will be the key. If they can find it over the last month and a half of the season they should win the division. They have the most talent on paper and still face the Giants nine times with six coming at Chavez Ravine; along with six more against Arizona with four of those at home. It’s the other series against sub-500 teams the Dodgers must worry about. That’s when their focus seems to drift. While San Francisco holds a small lead they too have proven to be an up and down squad. Matt Cain (10-5), Madison Bumgarner (12-6) and Ryan Vogelsong (9-5) continue to put quality starts to together giving the Giants a chance to win usually when either of the three takes the hill. But the decline of Tim Lincecum has come at a big price. The two-time CY Young winner’s 6-11 record has brought the pitching staff back to earth as he and Barry Zito seem to take turns struggling with every other start. Maybe the biggest obstacle San Francisco has had to overcome is the loss of closer Brian Wilson who went down early in the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Neither Santiago Casilla nor Sergio Romo has been a consistent answer to Wilson’s closing ability. What San Francisco does have going for it is the season-long hitting of Melky Cabrera. The milk-man leads the majors with 152 hits while putting up an average of .353. That offense has also received a boost from Buster Posey. The all-star catcher who ended his 2011 season early due to an ankle injury appears to now be all the way back. His 18 homers and 73 rbis lead the Giants offense. But it’s beyond those two where the problems of inconsistency lie for San Francisco. They too like the Dodgers can go through offensive droughts not scoring enough runs to support their pitching. It hasn’t helped that Pablo Sandoval suffered another injury, this one to his hamstring and is back on the disabled list. After those three players the Giants become very mediocre offensively and definitely have a smaller margin for error than Los Angeles does. The wild-card for the Giants is will the other five position players be able to produce once Sandoval returns? If they don’t, San Francisco will find itself relaying on winning one of the wild-card spots to make the post-season. Arizona is definitely the dark horse is the N.L. West. At one point the D-backs appeared to be fading from the race, falling as far back as nine games in June. But that was June and Arizona has hung in there. The reason they’re only four back is because their offense in that hitter’s park has started to find its bite! Paul Goldschmidt suddenly has 16 home runs with 56 rbis and is hitting .308. Aaron Hill has caught fire lacing 13 long balls with 47 runs batted in. Miguel Montero also has gotten hot driving home 66 runners while Jason Kubel has set the pace. 23 homers with 73 runs batted in and an average of .280 has given Arizona a dominant force in the line-up to fear. At the trade deadline the Diamondbacks picked up Chris Johnson in a trade from the Astros and it has been arguably the quietest and most productive acquisition among the big three teams in the west. Johnson has pounded five homers in just eight games since his arrival. The D-backs have won five of those eight games. Where the Diamondbacks will come up short, at least as far as the division is concerned is pitching. Wade Miley has been superb at 12-7 overall with an ERA of just 2.85, almost as good as anyone in the N.L. this year. But after that Ian Kennedy’s 10-8 mark is as good as it gets. Trevor Cahill continues to be spotty at best, rotating wins and losses over his last eight starts. In a division where both the Giants and Dodgers have superior starting pitching overall, the D-backs might have the most consistent offense at least in early August, as shown by their run differential of plus 44. Far better than the San Francisco’s plus 15 ratio; or the Dodgers plus 11. But on paper both of their line-ups have a better chance of combining great pitching with powerful and timely offense and that’s why Arizona will be the odd man out with Los Angeles winning the division followed by the Giants who will land one of the wild card spots in the National League. But in the Wild West about the only thing known for sure is the race will come down to the final week!
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