- Jockeying for position....and someone's gonna collapse:
There are three weeks left in the season and given the way the last days have been frantic, hectic, indescribable and unpredictable in recent years, anything can happen.
Let's take a look at the remaining contending teams (even if their chances are minuscule) and their prospects for a playoff spot and beyond. Today, the American League; tomorrow the National League.
New York Yankees:
They're going to the playoffs; and despite silly assertions to the contrary, it makes little difference whether it's as a Wild Card or division winner aside from Steinbrennerean bloviation of the phantom "Yankee Pride" which has nothing to do with anything. The assertion that the Yankees won the division every year they won the World Series since 1996 is easily refuted by the fact that they also won the division in the years that they got bounced (aside from 1997 and 2007 when the won the Wild Card....and got bounced).
Manipulating the opponent is dangerous and a colossal waste of time because there's no way to determine what's going to happen once the playoffs start. It takes one career game from one player or pitcher to detonate any and all plans.
One game changes all.
The one thing I'd be concerned about in this area is a team with a superlative bullpen----which the Twins have.
So, the Yankees are making the playoffs; so are the Rays. They're playing seven games against the one another down the stretch; and the Yankees have six with the Red Sox. The Red Sox would love nothing more than to do whatever they can to sabotage the Yankees, but there's little they can do at this point to stop the twin freight trains in the Yankees and Rays.
The questions the Yankees have are relating to the playoff roster and whether they get Andy Pettitte back in time to not be reduced to relying on A.J. Burnett is an early playoff game. Much is being made of the decision to skip Phil Hughes so he can fall within the prescribed innings limit, but it's essentially irrelevant now; since they're making the playoffs and Hughes hasn't been pitching all that great and they're not pulling him while he's in a groove, they can rest him without consequences.
With Jorge Posada having a possible concussion; Pettitte's rehabbing from injury; that Javier Vazquez may not be on the playoff roster; and Burnett having been terrible, they have to get these issues straightened out on the way into the playoffs. Lucky for them, it's not a question of making the playoffs.
They're going to have a problem if they have to rely on Burnett in a game 2 or 3 rather than Pettitte; if Francisco Cervelli is behind the plate (and, more importantly, in the lineup); if Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are still slumping; and if they run into the bullpen-heavy and determined Twins in the first round.
Tampa Bay Rays:
Like the Yankees, they're going to the playoffs. Like the Yankees, they have questions.
In a weird way, the Rays are in a better position than the Yankees because of front office realism and fan apathy. The Rays don't care whether they win the division or not aside from keeping up appearances; they know that it doesn't matter one way or the other and don't have a fan base freaking out if they don't win the division.
The lineup has been streaky and contains the dead spots I've often alluded to; but B.J. Upton has been playing as if he actually cares since the dugout blowup with Evan Longoria; their starting pitching is deep enough to account for any lineup they're going to face; the bullpen has plenty of arms and although I don't trust Rafael Soriano is a big game, he's been brilliant this year.
One thing to keep an eye on----and I'm saying this now----is Carl Crawford and how big a post-season he has. I expect him to go on a Carlos Beltran-2005 style streak of "look at me on the big stage and pay me" to raise his asking price as he goes free agent after the season.
Boston Red Sox:
They're still alive.
Playing the Yankees six times is one reason; playing the Athletics, Mariners and Orioles nine times is another; and that the Yankees and Rays are playing each other seven times gives them a small opening to try and make a run. It's hard to see happening, but given their injuries and subpar performances they've endured from John Lackey and Jonathan Papelbon, it's a credit to the organization that they're still hanging around.
Barring anything unforeseen, the Red Sox are not making the playoffs, but it's not due to a lack of courage or ability in overcoming adversity.
With 12 games against the Indians, Athletics and Royals, it would take a Mets-style 2007 collapse to blow a playoff spot now. They do have three games with the White Sox in Chicago next week; if the White Sox are going to make a move, it has to be then.
This Twins team is different than the prior groups that have been abused by the Yankees on an annual basis. For one thing, Joe Nathan is out; as great as Nathan's been in the regular season, it was his meltdowns that cost the Twins more than anything against the Yankees. The repeated references to Yankee dominance over the Twins is taken out of context; a hit here and there; an executed pitch and the Yankees might've gotten picked off by the Twins one of those times.
Chicago White Sox:
With 12 games against the Indians, A's, Angels and Royals, there are teams they should beat; but their timing's been off this year----they lose to teams they should beat and blow games they should win because of bullpen shakiness. J.J. Putz is taking over at closer for the struggling Bobby Jenks, but I don't exactly trust him either.
They have those three games with the Twins next week and don't have to sweep, but it would certainly help. If they get some help, they, like the Red Sox, are not dead in the Wild Card race. Having been so inconsistent, they're going to need something special like Manny Ramirez going on an utter tear to jump back in----it could happen. Maybe.
The Athletics are not a threat in any way, shape or form to the Rangers unless the Rangers lose all the rest of their games. The Rangers are going to the playoffs.
It's very interesting how the Rangers have been one of the most aggressive clubs in trying to improve in-season, but the trades haven't really worked out at all. Cliff Lee has not been good and now he's got a back problem. For all the icy resolve the Stone Cold Killer showed in the playoffs last year, if his back isn't healthy, he's not able to perform up to his capabilities, nor will he be able to put an exclamation point on his free agent gravitas.*
*Regarding Lee, with the way the Mariners have been torched by the acquisition of Josh Lueke, the varied tales of how it went down and that it appears as if Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is dancing around the truth and propriety in his playing the Yankees to get what he wanted from the Rangers, I'm not going too far out on a limb to say that the combination of the Mariners' PR nightmare with Lueke's legal issues----Geoff Baker Story, their GM's shady behavior, along with the Lee back problem and poor performance with the Rangers ends with one thing----somewhere, Brian Cashman is laughing.
Every question can be subverted if Lee pitches a masterpiece in game 1 of the ALDS regardless of the opponent. Their bullpen isn't very trustworthy----it can go either way with a rookie closer. Either Neftali Feliz will feel no pressure and blow people away, or he'll carry a gasoline can in with him from the pen. And the strategies of manager Ron Washington aren't exactly stellar.
They have the luxury of having a playoff spot locked up to get their ducks in order.
- Viewer Mail 9.10.2010:
Mark my words. The Dodgers will be sold and the new owners will keep Torre (and he'll want to stay).
Jane's pretty dialed in out there and has been right on the money (pardon the pun) with the silliness that is the Moneyball movie. But it would take a very fast sale for that decision to be made. If Torre knows the team is being sold, okay; but if it's still in court (and I don't see how the divorce and decision to sell could happen that quickly) and Torre is either staying with the Dodgers regardless of the payroll and off-field fighting or has to look for another job, the timing will have to be perfect.
If he's staying, the decision will be made no matter what----sale or no sale; divorce of the owners; a dramatic payroll slash----but if he's got his eye on the Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, whoever, they're not sitting around and waiting for him. The only situation that could drag out is the Cardinals and Tony La Russa; aside from that, the Mets and Cubs will hire their manager quickly once the season's over. Torre's rolling the dice in any case.
I am a fan of Torre in the 'Lou. I don't know why. The Cards weren't good with him at the helm in the early 90s. Then again, we didn't have Carp, Waino, Albert and Holliday then either.
What's your take on the Hoffman 600? I feel like hijacking a team to reach a "milestone" is a bit selfish and inappropriate, but that's just me.
Torre is the only viable solution for the Cardinals if they've had enough of La Russa. It all depends how bad things get over there and the Colby Rasmus stuff could be the last straw.
With Hoffman, I don't blame him for the overdone celebrations for a questionable accomplishment. Goose Gossage must be punching things in reaction to the way the save stat has been turned into something not all that difficult to accumulate and diminished what it was he, Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle and Bruce Sutter used to do. This is the way the game's played now.
I truly haven't been paying attention to Hoffman; how did he hijack the team? The Brewers are going nowhere. What's the difference? Let him get the save "milestone"; he's not going to be back next year anyway.
Gabriel (Capo) writes RE Hoffman, Torre and the Manager of the Year:
The Manager of the Year is always a somewhat interesting judgment call. Joe Girardi won it in 2006 (and got fired immediately after the season) simply because of the perception that the stripped down Marlins were going to lose 100 games and he brought them in close to .500. The Reds have lost 5 straight, so if they fall apart, Baker isn't winning the award; Bud Black will get support; but Bobby Cox might get a lifetime achievement award; and what about Charlie Manuel? Under the Girardi logic, how about Brad Mills of the Astros?
In the AL, Ozzie Guillen should get some support; as should Terry Francona; there might be some punishing backlash against Washington for his failed drug test last year; and Ron Gardenhire has always been underappreciated.
Presumably my pre-season pick in the NL of Jerry Manuel is not going to happen. I did pick Ozzie in the AL.
John Seal (West Coast Spiritual Advisor) writes RE Bob Welch:
Ah, Bob Welch, how we loved him. Even though, deep down, we know he didn't deserve that Cy Young in 1990.
I was 18 at the time and thought that his 27 wins did warrant the award. From memory, he wasn't even the best pitcher on his own team----Dave Stewart had a far better year. It appears as though the days of rewarding the guy with the most wins is over; but we'll see what happens with the C.C. Sabathia-Felix Hernandez debate before coming to a conclusion either way. (And I'm not commenting on that until the season is over and I look at everything involved.)