The past few weeks have been extremely impactful, both in performance on the field and transactions outside the lines. Teams in Houston, Florida, plus both Chicago franchises improved their auras in July, while other teams like Seattle, Milwaukee, and the Mets extinguished all glimmers of hope.
Here's our monthly snapshot of what we feel will happen this October...
Phillies, Cubs, Dodgers, & Cardinals (wc)
Red Sox, Tigers, Angels, & Yankees (wc)
NL: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
AL: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
NL: Tim Lincecum, Giants
AL: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
Rookie of the Year
NL: Colby Rasmus, Cardinals
AL: Elvis Andrus, Rangers
Manager of the Year
NL: Tony LaRussa, Cardinals
Cubs over Phillies
Dodgers over Cardinals
Cubs over Dodgers
Red Sox over Angels
Yankees over Tigers
Red Sox over Yankees
2009 World Series
Red Sox over Cubs
Please keep in mind, this is part of our running experiment of what we are "thinking" on the first of each month. We will always stick with our Opening Day predictions for any sort of record keeping. This is more of a monthly diary of the soap opera that is major league baseball.
The Phillies GM, Ruben Amaro Jr, did a fantastic service to the obnoxious fans of Philadelphia. He got them another frontline starter with Cy Young credentials, Cliff Lee, without giving up key prospects Kyle Drabek, Dominic Brown, or Michael Taylor. This vaults the Phillies to favorites to win the National League again this season, while being competitive for years to come.
The Marlins and Braves have done an admirable job of staying in the hunt. Florida made a nice move acquiring Nick Johnson, from the Nationals. He will help them with his ability to get on base, as well as his ability to get Emilio Bonifacio and his .270 wOBA. The Braves have also been practicing the art of addition by subtraction. They jettisoned Jeff Francoeur and Casey Kotchman out of town and relewgated Kelly Johnson to the bench, in favor of Martin Prado.
The Mets have truly become an embarrassment. First, the team played lousy ball and never picked up the slack when veterans starting dropping to the DL. Then, Tony Bernazard took his shirt off to challenge the Double-A affiliate to a postgame fight. Finally, in the press conference to announce Tony B's dismissal, GM Omar Minaya acted like a lunatic and accused the Daily News' Adam Rubin of having inpure motives reporting the story, even though the story was true. While the Nationals are the worst club in this division, but they are working to get themselves out of the Jim Bowden hole. Minaya and the Mets seem to be going in the wrong direction.
The Cubs, Cardinals, Astros, and Brewers are involved in what could be the best race of the year. We feel the Astros & Brewers may have fallen into the second tier of these teams. Injuries to Berkman and Oswalt may be too much for Houston to overcome. Plus, neither team made any last minute moves to get better. Felipe Lopez was an exciting move by the Brewers, but the Brewers need to get more pitching to improve their standing. Maybe they can find some that gets through waivers. Sorry Cheeseheads, but signing Corey Patterson is definitely not a step in the right direction.
Walt Jocketty & Dusty Baker of the Reds are crazy if they think that Scott Rolen is ever going to play a postseason game for them. We noted in this space last week that he looks horrible. Sure, he's been productive in 88 games this year, with slash numbers of .320/.370/.476. His power has diminished, through injury and aging, so he appropriately only has eight home runs. Anyway, the Reds are too far away from seriously competing. What's worse, they actually gave up a couple of good pitchers in this deal, which is what they actually need. I don't see the Reds being a factor at anytime during the rest of Rolen's career.
As we've known all season, the Dodgers will win this division. I love the addition of George Sherrill to the bullpen. He and Broxton are going to be incredible together. Against lefties this season, Sherrill's OPS allowed has been a mindboggling .356. Again, that is a .356 On-Base PLUS Slugging. (h/t R.J. Anderson)
The Giants improved their hitting enough that I think they will finish in second place, ahead of the Rockies, D'backs, and Padres. It's an interesting bit of computations that has baseball prospectus postseason odds showing the Rockies as the most likely team to win the NL Wild Card. Going into Saturday's games, Colorado had a 52% chance of winning the wildcard.
The titans of industry still reside in the AL East. The Yankees are in first place. Their offense is terrific, and they've been getting marvelous pitching from a variety of places, namely Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Mariano Rivera. I can't say I like the Jerry Hairston trade, but at least they aren't trading the farm for a number 3 or 4 starter.
Boston has struggled lately to score runs, plus they've suffered from poor defense and some inconsistency in the starting rotation. Their recent acquisition of Victor Martinez should help them score runs, but he offers little more than flexibility with the leather. He can allow them to platoon Varitek, Lowell, and Ortiz at the C/3b/DH spot, while having Victor play everyday. On days he plays first, Kevin Youkilis will slide over to third.
Tampa didn't make any moves, but they're the defending champs. They need their starting rotation to carry them on a tremendous hot streak the rest of the way, if they're going to make the playoffs. That means that Scott Kazmir and David Price need to pitch a lot better. I think Price is a better bet to figure it out. Kazmir looks/sounds injured to me.
The Blue Jays and Orioles aren't in the class of the above three, yet. The O's have the best quadruple-A team in the major leagues. Chris Tillman made his splash last week, and I expect continued success from the, as Harry Caray would say, "tall, handsome, young pitcher".
My instincts tell me that Toronto erred in holding on to Halladay. They won't get as much for him in the offseason, or next year. Hopefully, for them, they'll have a better season next year and have Halladay pitching meaningful games. They have a lot of good pitchers, and should be able to build an offense around Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Travis Snider, Edwin Encarnacion, the Wells/Rios Experience, and power hitting catcher J.P. Arecibia.
I've been leaning towards the Twins all year, while still leaving hope for Jimmy Leyland's club in Detroit. In fact, earlier this spring or summer, I went to a baby naming ceremony. At the point of the service where they ask people for anyone that they would like to have blessed, a gentleman who was also there for the baby naming asked the rabbi to bless Jeremy Bonderman. Afterwards, I discussed baseball with this old-school Tigers fan from Detroit.
The first thing I mentioned to him endearingly was, "I love Jim Leyland." Sorry, that's neither here nor there. I have two reasons to pick the Tigers right now. First, is the chance that Jonah Keri is right, and Jarrod Washburn has reinvented himself with a new pitch and a new attitude, ala Cliff Lee last season.
The Twins' chances took a blow when they lost Kevin Slowey for the season, and that's the second reason I'm predicting the Tigers will finish first. But, I have to consider that this is just Kevin Slowey. He's not really that fantastic. Although it seems extremely unlikely, if Francisco Liriano can have a vintage second half, they'll be in contention the last week of the season.
If I had to pick, I'd say the White Sox will finish in second place. I've never liked them, as you know, but they did get a stud in Peavy. He may not be lights out ever again in his career, but if he can throw, he'll be able to win games. The White Sox also have some potential thunder to call up in September with trade chip Josh Fields and Double-A baby Dayan Viciedo.
The Indians had an eventful July, retooling their farm system after sending Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez packing, along with Mark DeRosa, Rafael Betancourt, and Ben Francisco. I've been a fan of Justin Masterson for some time now. It'll be nice to see if they give him a chance to start this season. Carlos Carrasco, whom they got from Philadelphia in the Lee deal, should be a starter for them no later than next spring. According to Keith Law, he doesn't have any plus pitches, but he does have three above average pitches.
The Royals so bad... I mean, look at what the Yuniesky Betancourt trade has done to Joe Posnanski.
The AL West is rapidly becoming a very likeable division. The Angels and Athletics have ruled this land for quite a while. I've always appreciated the Angels National League style of play, as well as the way Mike Scioscia can build a bullpen with nasty boys at the end. The A's, of course, have the Hollywood story of Moneyball and their hotshot GM, Billy Beane, who builds competive rosters (usually) despite miniscule payrolls.
I begun to love rooting for Nolan Ryan and Jack Zduriencik, who are currently running the Rangers and Mariners, respectively. They each have been charged with the daunting task of rebuilding two lousy franchises, and they each have a process I respect.
Ryan has a philosophy on pitching that is different from others in the game. He's protecting his young pitchers, but he also has them strengthen their arms and throw more in the offseason than any team outside of Japan.
Jack Z, as he's affectionately called by the supportive Seattle faithful, has a decent payroll budget and a beautiful stadium in Seattle. He unfortunately also inherited Bill Bavasi's roster. As most of you know, Bill Bavasi was probably a worse GM than Jim Bowden. Let us never forget that Bavasi is the guy who gave Carlos Silva 48 million dollars and acquired an over-the-hill Jose Vidro to be his Designated Hitter. Anyway, I digress. Jack Z got my attention and respect when he first assumed the position of GM. He layed out his process and clearly implemented a staff that combines some of the sharpest minds in scouting and sabermetrics. He hired Tom Tango as a consultant, for crying out loud.
What does all of this tell us? Nothing really. It's likely going to be the Yankees and Red Sox battling it out against the Phillies, Dodgers, Cubs, or Cardinals. Maybe the best thing about this great game is how even the lousy teams have great stories, great characters. Until we meet again, go cubbies...