- The annual NL playoff rasslin' match:
It's become a rite of passage for National League teams to rise and fall and create history. Whether it's a 2007 Mets-style collapse; the Rockies' hot streaks; or a rage-fueled blowup from a player due to a perceived slight (Eric Byrnes of the Diamondbacks in 2007) that leads to the drama, it seems to happen every single year. The intention of the Wild Card was to, of course, bring in more post-season money; but it also created a greater frenzy of teams who were still alive for longer periods of time late into the season.
It's happening again.
All of it.
Yesterday, I looked at the American League teams still within striking distance of a playoff spot; now, here's the National League.
I'll refrain from the comments about Ruben Amaro Jr. and how he should play the lottery.
One has to wonder if the second half streak was a direct result of the trade for Roy Oswalt or that the injured players all began trickling back into the lineup in time and with the team in reasonable striking distance to make a run. For all those who were intimating at a Phillies sell-off, it was obviously ridiculous (and I said so at the time) to count them out.
In fact, I never said a word of negativity about them aside from their needing to get Jayson Werth out of there if the off-field rumors were true. The luckiest thing for the Phillies wasn't how Oswalt fell into their laps; nor was it the struggles of the teams with whom they were competing; it was that Shane Victorino got hurt and they were unable to trade Werth in the waning days of July because they had no one else to play center field.
Bottom line, this team has guts, an aura and does what it needs to do to win. They have 6 games remaining with the Braves, the last 3 of which constitute the final series of the season in Atlanta. In what would be a Shakespearean/Rod Serling-level of irony, the Wild Card may not be an option in those final days for the team that doesn't win the NL East.
If the Phillies fall short, it'll be because of the bullpen and possibly a Roy Halladay big game gack----he's never, ever pitched in a game with playoff implications and as great as he is, one never knows how a player is going to react to such a situation.
It's going to come down to that final weekend to make the playoffs.
Their schedule is similar to that of the Phillies aside from the two remaining games against the Cardinals today and tomorrow.
What would concern me is Billy Wagner. Believe me when I tell you that down the stretch, Wagner is going to blow at least one important game and possibly two; those games could mean the difference between making the playoffs and not.
They're 50-20 at home and have 11 games left at Turner Field. Their success at home and deep pitching staff are two reasons I feel the Braves are going to be the last team standing in the NL East. In addition to that, Eric Hinske's teams find a way into the playoffs somehow, some way. Scoff if you like at the implication of a player's luck being of any importance, but I believe it.
Something is telling me that the Wild Card is either going to come down to a one-game playoff or that it's going to come out of one of the other divisions. The division title----and possibly a playoff spot proper----are going to come down to the last weekend against the Phillies.
Every time they've appeared ready to start faltering, they fight back. They were swept by the Cardinals in that contentious three-game series in Cincinnati, fell out of first place and went on a tear to take command in the division.
Two major reasons the Reds are going to the playoffs: 1) their schedule; 2) Dusty Baker.
18 of their 21 remaining games are against the Pirates, Diamondbacks, Astros and Brewers. The Pirates are a travesty; the Diamondbacks have been getting solid starting pitching, but teams like the Reds find a way to beat rebuilding clubs riding out the string; the Astros have been playing terrific baseball, but the Reds will do what needs to be done; and the Brewers pitching will be a buffet for the Reds' bats.
Regarding Baker, aside from the 1993 Giants and 2004 Cubs, when his teams have gotten a smell of the playoffs, they've made it; this Reds team will do the same.
Considering the inconsistency of the Cardinals and the weakness of schedule, the Reds would have to fall off a cliff to miss the playoffs.
St. Louis Cardinals:
They're not dead and could still make a run into division and Wild Card contention heading into the last days. The schedule isn't easy, but it's not bearish either. With 12 games against the Pirates and Cubs; that the Phillies and Braves are ready to beat on each other; and the Giants and Padres doing the same, the Cardinals can sneak into the Wild Card picture if they get hot.
With the inexplicable stumble the Cardinals have endured, they can again wash away any negativity as they did in 2006 when they nearly collapsed out of the playoffs themselves and went on to win the World Series. If this team makes it into the playoffs, they're extremely dangerous with Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter on the mound and Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday in the lineup.
Colby Rasmus has been on a tear since the revelations of clubhouse problems; it could be that he feels better with the story out there in the public----perhaps it's a freeing experience and he relaxed once it was out in the open.
Don't count them out.
San Diego Padres:
The last three weeks are going to be a defining moment for a young team. Will they hold onto the playoff spot that no one expected them to be competing for prior to the season? Can they salvage the Wild Card if they blow the division?
The strength of the team, pitching from top-to-bottom and defense, has been unable to account for the hard-charging Giants and Rockies. Ryan Ludwick hasn't hit since coming over from the Cardinals; and I am not a fan of manager Bud Black. The Padres blew a playoff spot they never should have blown in 2007 and may be on the way to doing it again. Black handles the pitching staff well, but his in-game lineup decisions are, at best, bizarre.
The schedule-makers haven't done the Padres any favors either. They have 5 games against the Giants (the last 3 games of the season in San Francisco); 3 against the rampaging Rockies in Colorado; 4 against the Cardinals in St. Louis; 3 in Los Angeles against the Dodgers; 3 with the Reds in San Diego; and the only respite, 4 against the Cubs in Chicago. The Cubs have played better under Mike Quade and have the pitching to cause a light-hitting team like the Padres trouble.
I had thought the Padres were a shoo-in for the playoffs, but now I'm not so sure.
Not so sure at all.
San Francisco Giants:
When this team gets into a race, they turn it up a notch. Always more than the sum of their parts, they're loaded with players the likes of Juan Uribe, Brian Wilson and Aubrey Huff who simply find a way to get it done.
Bruce Bochy is another manager who always steers his contending teams into the playoffs. There's something about this team.
With 5 games remaining against the Padres (and, as mentioned earlier, the last 3 of the season in San Francisco); 3 with the fading, dysfunctional Dodgers; 9 games against the Brewers, Cubs and Diamondbacks; and the Rockies the only contending team aside from the Padres on their docket, the Giants are in a great position to make it to the playoffs either as the NL West champion or Wild Card.
The other contenders would prefer to see the Giants bounced; you do not want to deal with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum 4 times in a 5 game series; and in a big game, Wilson will pitch as long as he needs to without complaint.
The Giants are going to the playoffs.
Do the Rockies do something differently in spring training for their players to awaken at the exact same time every single year?
They did it in 2007; they did it in 2009; and they're doing it now.
Having won eight in a row, every contender is looking over their shoulders at the Rockies. They've done it without contribution from Todd Helton; Dexter Fowler having an awful year; Ubaldo Jimenez up-and-down for the last three months; and a shaky closer in Huston Street. Brad Hawpe was so bad that he was released.
You can look at their roster and wonder how they're doing it, but what's the difference? They are doing it. The schedule has 11 games against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers; 6 against the Padres and Giants; and the final 4 games of the season in St. Louis against a Cardinals team that might have been already eliminated and be ready for the season to end and get out of Dodge.
I don't think the Rockies are going to the playoffs, but they're blazing and have those other assets----too much has gone right for them late in seasons in the past several years to count them out.
As of right now, I'd say the playoff teams are going to be the Braves, Reds, Padres and Giants. This is subject to change by interference of reality and other unforeseen factors, but it's September----stuff happens.
- Viewer Mail 9.11.2010:
I still like the Rays in the AL even though my heart says Yanks all the way. I'm just thankful it's not the same old thing (NYY/BOS). Throw in the Rangers and we got ourselves a good show!
As for Hoffman, he blew a lot of games early this season when it was very clear that he wasn't the same Hoffman as he'd been previous. If he had any other name he would've been DFA'd or moved to middle relief or mop-up duty. Who knows what could have happened had the Brewers gotten off to a good start. I feel like keeping him in the closer role as long as they did (eventually they moved him, but it was too late by then), Hoffman essentially hijacked the team.
He is what he is. I hope he hangs it up next year, saving some dignity along the way.
Without partisan politics or overt hopes to say "I was right" in pre-season picks, it's always a good thing to have different teams making playoff runs.
The Brewers were never in contention; they tried (and were successful) with John Axford closing; and Hoffman's time with the club is nearly over. Truthfully, what's the difference?
I remember reading Jim McMahon's book about the 1985 Bears in which they were 12-0 and went into Miami hoping to get the undefeated season and surpass the 1972 Dolphins. The Dolphins are super-protective of that record (to the point of being obnoxious about it) and were determined for it not to happen; the Dolphins took a big lead and Bears coach Mike Ditka sent a few passing plays to McMahon; McMahon changed the plays for Walter Payton to get the rushes in an attempt to get his 100 yards. (There was some record involved; I can't remember what it was exactly); Ditka asked McMahon if he knew what plays had been sent in; McMahon responded with something to the tune of "Let's get Wally his 100 yards." Ditka responded with an, "Oh, okay" sort of response. The game was over; the Bears weren't going to win; let the guy get his record.
It's the same thing with Hoffman. Let him get the record. I'm quite sure that this season will be it for Hoffman.
Hoffman owns the largest Phantom Number in all of Baseball. Lee Smith was better. ROBB NEN was better! Let me not go down that path! Disregard.
I think the Reds will be stopped cold in their tracks. I predict a fold and a Cards resurgence; Pitching says the Cards have it. The Reds ace is (Bronson) Arroyo if ya get right down to it.
The Yankees are fragile. They are ripe for a first round elimination. For the second year in a row I say the Yanks go as far as Andy (Pettitte) takes them. That's becoming worrisome for them. The Twins been knocking on the door for a long time. I'd would be nice to see them win a round.
As a kid in the 70's and even into the 80's, Dodgers wielded more power than even George. The O'Malleys were still one of the major power players. What the McCourts have done to the Dodgers is embarrassing. The Dodgers carry no more weight than wet toilet paper these days.
I'm not sure if Lee Smith was "better", but Hoffman is right in that group with Smith, John Franco and Jeff Reardon----I'd put Hoffman slightly above these pitchers; he had some terrific years, but the save stat is what it is now and it's questionable in value.
The Reds can really hit and the Cardinals haven't been able to find any consistency. The Cardinals aren't dead as I said earlier, but the Reds schedule is ridiculously weak.
I too am starting to think the Yankees are in a lot of trouble once the playoffs start.
I've defended the McCourts; they've still put a solid and successful product on the field, but like the Mets, the more I learn, the less I can give them a pass for the way the club has left the back of the newspaper and made it to the front in such a humiliating way.