- Some teams can coast....others can't:
Because the Cardinals have played so terribly, gotten swept by the lowly Cubs (who must be thrilled to essentially stick knife in the Cardinals hopes for a playoff run), the Reds don't have to worry about a playoff spot. That assertion is contingent on the Reds avoiding an utter collapse over the last 16 games and the Cardinals go on a blazing hot streak----highly unlikely. An 8 game lead with 16 to play is safe, hence the Reds are safe.
You can add the Rangers to the list of "safe" teams as well; it's interesting that they pushed Cliff Lee so deeply in the game on Sunday against the Yankees, but it was indicative of the organizational philosophy against babying a pitch counts and that they're going for it now. It may have been a self-defeating strategy had Lee's back acted up again or he was rendered unavailable for the playoffs----the reason they acquired him in the first place----but he appears to be alright; the Rangers are rolling to the playoffs in part because of talent and in part because of a dearth of competition in their division.
Then there are the other races which are either separating or tightening. The Yankees playoff spot is safe, again, barring an utter collapse. There are warning signs that the Yankees may get a scare in the coming weeks; they have six games with the streaking Red Sox and four at home with the Rays. Their pitching is in absolute disarray and, shockingly, there is a legitimate possibility of the Red Sox making a run at them for the last playoff spot.
If things continue as they have been, there will be questions as to the Yankees bullpen management in games like Monday's when neither Mariano Rivera nor Joba Chamberlain were used and the Rays wound up winning on a Reid Brignac homer off of Sergio Mitre. I completely agreed with manager Joe Girardi's decision to use prudence in resting his better relievers in a game that should have little consequence in a playoff berth.
The Yankees, with the amount of money they're paying the likes of A.J. Burnett, shouldn't have to worry about Burnett as if he's a frightened rookie from whom they won't know what kind of performance they're going to get. They overpaid for a mediocre pitcher in Burnett; perhaps they felt they had to to get him; the Braves offer was similar to that of the Yankees and, akin to the signing of Mark Teixeira, they swooped in and grabbed the pitcher with a bold offer.
The Yankees strategy of having a high-powered offense and a starting rotation filled with questions (Burnett); youngsters under constraint (Phil Hughes); mental disasters (Javier Vazquez); and an aging veteran (Andy Pettitte) should not have resulted in any worries down the stretch. They'd built up enough of a lead that their playoff spot should be secured----and it is....I think.
One thing is certain, there is some concern----not worry, concern----that the Red Sox have managed to stay withing striking distance and the Rays are playing so well. the Yankees are in Baltimore starting tomorrow night and historically in their championship years, they've fattened their records on teams they should hammer; but this is a different Orioles team under Buck Showalter and one would assume that Showalter is going to treat these games as if it's the Orioles who are in fact within striking distance of a playoff spot; that he's going to want to show his young players what it's like to be in a playoff game so they have a reference point when they are in a playoff game; and I'm sure he'd like to stick it to the Yankees as a side benefit.
The Yankees had better take care of business in Baltimore and they need a strong performance from Burnett tomorrow night not just for the race, but for peace of mind for everyone from the ownership all the way through the fan base.
Then you have the Twins.
It's as if you look up and they're starting the games with a 3-0 lead.
There's something different about the Twins this season and it's not only that they spent some money in opposition to their usual decision to let expensive veterans go. They brought in players under their rules----both Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson are on 1-year deals; they have a set of mid-rotation starters who throw strikes and play to their defense; but, as usual, they haven't missed a step with injuries to key players Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau.
You can question their decision to trade their top prospect, catcher Wilson Ramos, for Matt Capps, but do you want to see them in the playoffs the way they're on a mission this year? And it's easily forgotten that one of the main reasons the Yankees have beaten the Twins so many times in the playoffs is because of blown games at the hands of Nathan. Had Nathan not gotten injured, those traumatic losses would've been hanging over his head; the Twins would've been compelled to continue using him in the ninth inning as a matter of course; and it's probable that he would again have been the main cause of their demise.
With Capps, he's going to be thrilled that he's actually playing meaningful games after spending his career with the Pirates and Nationals; Brian Fuentes is also available and the rule of "closer by rote" won't apply if Robinson Cano is coming up to the plate in a game-breaking situation. This Twins team has the freedom to do what needs to be done rather than go with the "he's my closer" argument.
The way the Twins have dispatched the White Sox is a warning sign to all other playoff opponents that they mean business this year.
And finally you have the two major races----the NL East and West. The Phillies deserve all the credit in the world for the way they rose from rampant panic and two games over .500 in late July to 3 games up in the division and seemingly unstoppable on the way to the playoffs. The Braves can't be losing series to the Pirates and Nationals if they truly want to be a playoff team, but they haven't played poorly per se; they've done enough to maintain their status, it's that the Phillies have played like world-beaters.
People don't want to hear this, but much of the Phillies success has been due to luck. They fell into the Roy Oswalt deal while others were savaging them for going after a starting pitcher when they'd already had a great starting pitcher----Lee, remember him?----that they traded to get Roy Halladay and supplement their minor league system. Others are giving the Phillies grief over the struggles of the acquired players in the Lee trade; I'm not; I hated the trade, but the prospects had nothing to do with it.
When they traded for Oswalt, there was talk that the Phillies might be preparing to bag the season; I don't think that was even on their minds. They were listening to offers for Jayson Werth in part to the definite loss of him as a free agent at the end of the year; and maybe because of off-field clubhouse rift between Werth and some of his teammates. As it turned out, the acquisition of Oswalt may not have been as important as the injury to Shane Victorino that made trading Werth an impossibility.
Luck along with a powerful lineup and those three starting pitchers Halladay, Oswalt and Cole Hamels have put the Phillies on track to waltz into the playoffs.
Finally, the NL West.
The Padres trades for offense haven't really worked. Ryan Ludwick hasn't hit and one has to question how much Miguel Tejada's lack of range at shortstop is sabotaging what the Padres do with pitching and defense. They've shown heart in fighting back after that 10 game losing streak and won their series with the Rockies; the Rockies are such a streaky team and they play with immense confidence in September that it may be the mental aspect that determines which of the three teams between the Padres, Rockies and Giants takes the division. The Wild Card will presumably be an opening to the playoffs on the last weekend; and it's going to see-saw with all three teams down the stretch.
You can quantify it all you want; say that a team has to go all out for the whole season or risk entering the playoffs in cruise control and be shocked with a quick exit; there's evidence on both sides of the argument to justify keeping the foot on the accelerator or backing away; teams have done both and won. Only in retrospect will we be able to point to mistakes; but everything the individual teams are doing----agree or disagree----makes some sort of sense; and that's all you can really ask for.
- Viewer Mail 9.16.2010:
Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Michael Kay:
I was watching the game on the MLB Network since it was on My9 and we don't get that in CA. So I missed Kay's latest mistake. I probably wouldn't have noticed anyway. I was too caught up in the game itself!
It's not the mistake that makes me go off. It's this self-created portrayal of expertise from Kay that makes me shake my head; then shake my fist. You remember last season when Phil Hughes was in the bullpen in some kind of stance and a couple of players were surrounding him and Kay said something to the tune of, "that's what brings a team closer together". How could he: A) know what brings a team closer together; and B) know what they were talking about in the first place?
This mistake was one of simple baseball knowledge. He should have known the genesis of Rafael Soriano's trade to the Rays; and if he didn't and planned to discuss it, someone should have told him. We all make mistakes, but that's simple laziness and arrogance to believe that no one's going to pick up on it.
Before last year's Future's Game in St. Louis, I hung in the outfield chatting up Mat Latos and Kyle Drabek. Latos was being a (jerk), teasing kids by fake throwing balls in the stands then laughing at them. Drabek tried to distance himself from such sophomoric tomfoolery.
In doing so, he instantly gained my respect.
I actually forgot about Drabek until about 7:20; then I realized and put the game on. He doesn't get as low as his dad Doug Drabek did in his delivery, but his motion appeared almost identical from the position on the mound to the deliberate step back and rapid leg lift with his hands rising simultaneously. I was very impressed.
As for Latos, he's an excellent pitcher and I have to say I'm a bit biased because his fiancee is on Twitter and is a very funny, intelligent, beautiful young woman; we've chit-chatted and she seems to be calming him down a lot. Youngsters get a pass for being obnoxious and stupid as long as no one's seriously hurt. Give Latos another chance, Street Boss!!!
- The Prince on the Podcast:
I'll be a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz later today.