Catching Up

Some lessons are learned the hard way. For instance, my daughter discovered why it’s important not to open unfamiliar e-mail attachments. The resulting ker-splat of my system gave you a week off from my rambling, occasionally-but-not-often coherent synaptic flatulence that I try to pass off as a column.

My editors handled my absence rather well for the most part, and am grateful for their understanding and patience.

Regardless, I have officially added the people who create and distribute malicious software to my mental rolodex of people I use naughty words about (see: David Samson) .

But I digress, (again).

First up …

The AL East

One thing I learned from the Boston Massacre 2.0 is that Toronto’s bullpen mismanagement is by no means unique to the Blue Jays. Yes, the Yankees were the better team, but Terry Francona repeatedly made the mistake of not using his best relievers in high leverage situations. There are two kinds of saves; one is a statistical entry—the other is when the game is on the line. The ability to distinguish the two is often the difference between whether October means nine innings or eighteen holes. Twice, the Red Sox blew leads by going “by the book,” rather than with their best relievers.

Once again the Yankees are on top of the division, and despite some injuries, have a decent cushion. Each of the last few years, I predict that the Yankees are too old and at the end of their success cycle; and every year it seems they start slow, making me feel smart, and then finish hot, making me feel like myself.

One day, I’ll learn. But this year is the end of the Yankees’ run. Honest. Next year for sure. Absolutely. They cannot keep this up forever.

Much has been made of John Gibbons going after Ted Lilly earlier this week after being spotted an eight-run lead against the A’s and deciding to give it back. Gibbons chased after Lilly in the tunnel under the stands to confront him—a sentiment shared by 28,280 people in the vicinity. I’m sure his teammates were miffed as well—blowing leads like that is the bullpen’s job.

Actually, that snark is a bit over the top. It should be noted that the Jays pen has been superb in August. Jeremy Accardo, Brian Tallet, Davis Romero, Brandon League, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs and B.J. Ryan have combined for a 1.57 ERA in 69 innings. Even without Ryan’s efforts, the other six are good for an ERA mark of 1.77. As I mentioned in my previous column, I think the Jays have the makings of a fine relief corps, and expect them to do well in 2007.

So why aren’t the Jays doing better this month? Well a .253/.286/.382 line from their four outfielders, and an 8.94 ERA from their third through fifth are the prime culprits.

The AL Central

The Twins aren’t going away. Well, that’s not entirely true. The White Sox and the Red Sox haven’t let them fall out of the wild card hunt. The Twins have been 12-9 in August, while the Pale Hose are 13-10, and their Crimson brethren weigh in at 7-14.

So, do they have a chance? Well Boston is in a tailspin (not the only spinning they’re doing, it should be noted) and Manny Ramirez might have to go on the shelf and give David Ortiz a small taste of the Barry Bonds lifestyle. The ChiSox vaunted rotation of Jose Contreras Javier Vazquez, Mark Buerhle, Freddy Garcia and Jon Garland have combined for a 4.75 ERA on the year—4.89 this month—and Jim Thome might be injured.

On top of that Brad Radke has gotten hot (last 10 starts: 5-2, 2.76 ERA; 4 BB/33 K in 62 IP—3-1, 1.67 ERA in August), taking the place of Francisco Liriano, who might yet return. On top of all that, the Twins have an absolutely sick bullpen (3.01 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.27 K/9, 2.39 BB/9).

Yeah, I’d say they’ve got a shot.

Finally, congrats to the Tigers for guaranteeing a .500 or better season, and hopefully their first playoff appearance since 1987. I hope you’ve learned a valuable lesson: break the hearts of Blue Jays fans, and wait almost two decades before seeing postseason baseball.

The AL West

Late last month, the A’s had lost consecutive series to the Tigers and Red Sox. They salvaged the final game of the Boston series, and along came the Jays…

Well, back on July 25 the A’s were tied for first in the AL West. After winning 21 of their next 27, they’re now five up on the Angels. Nothing to see here, just the annual Oakland second half hot streak. The Halos, to their credit, have won 12 of their last 18. The A’s will cool off at some point, but the question remains: Will the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim be close enough—and have enough of the season remaining—to take advantage when they finally slow down?

Between the Milton Bradley walk-off three-run shot on July 30, and the willy-nilly Ted Lilly-of-the-power alley histrionics of last Monday, the A’s haven’t made me feel this miserable since October 1989.

The NL East

The acquisition of Shawn Green was the final piece of the puzzle to sew up a THE NEW YORK METS (happy, Mr. Bleiberg?) NL East Championship.

(Waits for double takes to wrap up)

Nah, they had it wrapped up before the arrival of Carlos Delgado’s best buddy, (by the way, congrats to Mr. Delgado on home run number 400). The only other question remains is whether Carlos Beltran can cop the NL MVP and how healthy Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine will be come October.

The NL Central

Back on July 29, the Reds were 55-49—3.5 games out of the NL Central lead. They went on to win just 11 of their next 24 to close to within a game of the division lead.

Re-read that last sentence. Sound a little weird? Well truth is stranger than fiction. As bad as the Reds have gone of late, the Redbirds have been worse. Both teams are scouring the waiver wire hoping to stay afloat. It’s not a question of which team will win—it’s a question of which club will lose the division. Picture a canoe race where two boats are sinking and both paddlers are alternating between rowing, bailing water, and trying to plug holes.

Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of both clubs:

Team       Runs     OPS      ERA (SP)     ERA (RP)
Cardinals  614     .775        4.92         4.00
Reds       637     .798        4.69         4.65

They don’t face each other again this year. The Reds have seven games against both the Giants and Cubs; six each against the Pirates and Padres; and three each against the Dodgers, Marlins and Astros. The Cardinals face the Astros and Brewers seven times, Arizona four times, the Cubs, Marlins, Pirates, Nationals, Padres, and Giants thrice each, and the Mets tonight.

Advantage Reds.

The Reds struggles coupled with the Phillies resurgence (courtesy of the best starting pitching they’ve gotten this year to date—including the nifty pickup of Jamie Moyer from the Mariners) have accomplished two things: one, getting the Phillies back into the hunt, and two, putting Ryan Howard on the short list of MVP candidates, along with Albert Pujols and the aforementioned Beltran.

If the Phillies rotation can sustain its recent success (a definite possibility with Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Jon Lieber and Jamie Moyer) and they can make do without regular closer Tom Gordon (the Phillies have had among the best bullpens in the NL this year, not to mention the best offense) they may, in true Philadelphia style, come off the canvas and waltz into the postseason.

The (wild wild) NL West

It looks like a two-team race with both remaining in the Wild Card hunt. The Dodgers were red hot until being swept by the suddenly-getting-hot San Diego Padres. The two teams’ starting pitching is even. The Padres have a much better bullpen. The Dodgers have the better offense. They have one more four-game series on tap from September 15-18. The Friars also have six left against their Wild Card competitors from Cincinnati and three against the Redbirds. The Dodgers only have three against the Cardinals.

Neither club has any against the Phillies.

The nine games both clubs have against the Reds, coupled with their four game September series will most likely decide things. Although I think the Padres have the most control over their destiny, the Phillies might end up in the postseason by default if they play well and the Dodgers, Padres, and Reds end up splitting their games. If the Padres go 3-3 against Cincinnati, 2-2 against the Dodgers, 2-1 or 1-2 against the Cardinals and the Dodgers also go 2-1 or 1-2 against the Reds …

Let’s just say there’s a pretty fair chance there may be a one-game playoff somewhere. Here’s how the four teams in the NL Central and West are situated:

Teams        W   L
Cardinals   66  59
Reds        66  61
Dodgers     66  61
Padres      65  62

Gonna be a wild finish.

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