- The blazing Braves:
Left for dead two weeks ago, the Braves have ripped off wins in 13 of 15 games and gotten to within striking distance of not just the Wild Card lead (2 1/2 games behind the Rockies); but a Phillies collapse away from the division title (5 games).
Granted, they've made the majority of their hay against the Mets and Nationals, but they don't make the schedule and they did sweep the Cardinals last week. No matter how and against whom they've done it, the Braves have staged a remarkable and heroic comeback into contention after they were left on life support after being swept by the Reds three weeks ago. With three games with the still fighting Marlins this week, then four more with the Nationals to end the season, the Braves are right in the thick of the Wild Card race.
What's even more impressive is that the Braves have done this with little-to-no help from Chipper Jones, who's struggled so badly that he's openly spoken of retirement. They've also dealt with the job speculation of manager Bobby Cox; the revelation of a rift between the manager and GM Frank Wren; and the announcement that 2010 would be Cox's last on the Braves bench.
Their starting pitching has been the team's strength; the bullpen has straightened itself out from their earlier season inconsistency; and their hitting has been clutch. The Braves have pulled a shocker by getting back into the race and with the schedule advantage, they could pull an even bigger stunner by coming from nowhere to still be alive----and possibly more----a week from now.
I thought they were dead.
But they're not.
- Panic setting in in Philadelphia----and with good reason:
In what's an even stranger confluence of circumstances, the Phillies have what looks to be a safe five game lead in the NL East, but if things go horribly wrong for them (and it's not out for the realm of the possible judging from the burgeoning disaster that is their bullpen), they could actually find themselves sweating their own position come Friday.
The Phillies have today's game against the Brewers (apparently playing----or not playing depending on your perspective----for manager Ken Macha's job), four with the Astros and end the season with the Marlins. If things break wrong for them, they could be in a similar situation to the Mets in 2007 and 2008 and fall completely out of the playoffs. The five game lead with a week to go is tough to overcome----but that's what the Mets thought.
It's highly unlikely that the Phillies will collapse so they blow their lead, but what happens once they do enter the playoffs? With that bullpen in its current state, how can they expect to get through a first round series with the Dodgers or Cardinals? The answer is simple: they won't.
On the bright side, they'll get an earlier start sending Brad Lidge back to the labor-a-tory to find out what's wrong with him, inside and out. That's something to cling to.
- Floating in the wind with the Mets:
There are some strange happenings with the Mets these days and I'm not referring to the ridiculous number of injuries they've sustained to the entire roster. Manager Jerry Manuel fielded a lineup last night that, at best, was strange.
What sense does it make, with a week left in the year and the season lost, to have both Fernando Tatis and Omir Santos in the lineup? Although he homered, Tatis isn't going to be back unless the Mets revert to their trend in the early part of the decade of giving contracts to players based on personalities rather than performance; Santos has proven that he's a backup catcher and little else. Nick Evans is sitting on the bench and needs to be given a close look to see what he is; Daniel Murphy isn't going to get any better hitting against lefties if he doesn't get the chance to hit against lefties. Josh Thole isn't ready to catch or hit in the majors, but they might as well let him play. What's the difference?
The Mets broadcasters Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez were openly wondering about this themselves. The conversation turned to the possible Manuel concerns about his job security and the idea that he might be thinking he needs to try to win as many games as possible over the last week of the season. This leads me to wonder if it's floating around the club that there could be a managerial change. Occasionally teams float trial balloons disguised as rumors into the air to get a gauge on fan reaction; I doubt most Mets fans would care if Manuel was shown the door; someone has to be sacrificed for this and the manager is the easiest solution. And realistically, even if the Mets all of their remaining games, it'll be like dressing up a D grade on a test with a plus. D? D+? Who cares?
Darling brought up a good point when he said that the injuries shouldn't be discounted as a major factor for the downfall, but that's not an excuse for everything. I hate to keep returning to the same theme over and over again, but a decisive maneuver has to be made to reignite interest in this team and with the Wilpon financial situation still murky, buying their way out of trouble by going after the likes of John Lackey or Matt Holliday won't solve the underlying issues that have plagued the club since the end of 2006.
The Mets history has been to vacillate. When the Bobby Valentine/Steve Phillips era was drawing to a close, they were intent on dumping both if they dumped one; instead, they hedged and allowed Phillips to fire Valentine and hire Art Howe, setting the organization back further than they would've been if they'd pulled the trigger on both. With Willie Randolph, the voices wanting to replace him after 2007 were quieted and it left the manager hanging in the wind, with both him and the club----and most importantly, the players----knowing he was under a death watch and would be fired with the slightest hiccup. Sometimes taking a step back and holding back on such a move is smart; but in most cases, a decision of finality is better than the alternative even if it means making a mistake. In the case of Manuel, I can't imagine that the final week is going to alter that conclusion one way or the other. If the decision's been made, it's been made no matter what they look like in the final days of the calamity of 2009.
Are the Mets going to make the same mistake of letting the circumstances play themselves out before taking action and have no solid alternative? They need to make a bold move and that is to bring Bobby Valentine back right after the season ends. If they don't, someone else will hire him and they'll again be on the outside looking in on what they "should've" done. This Mets foundation can be scotch-taped together very quickly for a playoff run next year, but not if they're still too nice and try to be all things to all people. They need to be brutal this one time and make the move before it's too late.
- La Russa wins in more ways than one:
Since the firing of Tony La Russa cohort Walt Jocketty and the prior stripping of his organizational power as owner Bill DeWitt somewhat cleverly played the stat zombie/scouting operations against one another with the hiring of Jeff Luhnow and a sudden reliance on numbers and cheapness, La Russa has quietly stewed over the penny-pinching and ignoring of his suggestions.
Now, with another division title in the bag and a pretty good shot to win the pennant, the Cardinals placated their free agent-to-be manager with the aggressive and expensive acquisitions of Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa. DeWitt has stated his intention to not just lock up Albert Pujols past his current contract (expiring after 2011), but to do everything he can to keep Holliday. La Russa looked like he was halfway out the door several times with the interference of armchair experts who disregarded his and pitching coach Dave Duncan's advice, but he's won in more ways than just on the field. He's not going anywhere; and even with Duncan's anger at the treatment by the club of his son Chris, it's hard to see him leaving either. He and La Russa are attached forever; where La Russa is, so will be Duncan; and where that will be is St. Louis.
- Viewer Mail 9.27.2009:
Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Joba Chamberlain:
Joba would never have gone past the sixth, perfect or not. The point was for him to pitch well, and he did. But it would have been fun if he'd retired every Red Sox hitter he faced.
You're right and it would've been interesting, but the organization did not need the aggravation that would've come with yanking a guy who had a perfect game going. It's just as well that things transpired as they did for everyone involved.
- Overt scumbaggery:
Jeff at Red State Blue State mentioned the John Stossel-Kevin Trudeau interview yesterday, so I found it on YouTube and posted it below. It has that rare combination of Scientology, snake-oil and horseshit. It's a textbook case of capitalism at its worst and you have to grudgingly admire it.