Sunday, September 30, 2007

A great day . . . for parity

Today was a great day to be a baseball fan, no doubt. There was excitement all across the National League, as two playoff spots were pursued by four teams. The American League was sewed up a while ago -- it should be Red Sox/Angels and Indians/Yankees in the ALDS -- but the National League came into this weekend with no teams having clinched a postseason berth. The D-Backs and Cubs clinched a spot on Friday, and they will face each other in the NLDS. But the NL East and NL Wild Card came down to today and, amazingly enough, only one race was settled.
The Mets got blistered by the lowly Marlins and lost 8-1, with Tom Glavine getting knocked out of the box in the 1st inning. So the Mets had to hope for the Phillies to lose, which would result in a tie and a one-game playoff tomorrow (it actually could have been even more complicated; if both teams had won today, there was a possible 4-way tie with the Rockies and Padres for 2 playoff spots. I don't even want to contemplate what that would result in; there's never even been a 3-way tie for a postseason spot before, let alone a 4-way tie for two spots).
Instead, the Phillies routed the Nationals and clinched the NL East, their first postseason berth since 1993. The Phillies were 7 games back with just two weeks left in the season and somehow managed to come back -- perhaps the most amazing comeback in baseball history. Which, conversely, makes it one of the worst collapses in history for the Mets, right up with the '64 Phillies, '51 Dodgers, and '95 Angels. The borough of Queens might spontaneously explode with anger pretty soon, so I expect ownership to throw some sacrifical lambs to the crowd (Willie Randolph, first of all) to prevent an armed uprising.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pending Options

Let's have a look at the players who still have options pending for the 2008 season and see what we think of them:

First Base
Kevin Millar, Baltimore Orioles
2008 Age: 36
2008 Option: $2.75 million (guaranteed with 475 PAs in '07)
Millar's option has already vested, as he's hit 252/363/421 this year. It's not so hot for a first baseman, but the Orioles are desperate, and $2.75 million isn't bad for that kind of offense, even if it's not up to par for the position.
Second Base
Mark Ellis, Oakland Athletics
2008 Age: 31
2008 Option: $5 mil. club option
Ellis is hitting 274/336/438 this year and is still one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball. What the A's do here depends on how far they go in their quest to rebuild. If they're really going all scorched-earth on us, then they could pick up Ellis's option and trade him. They'd probably get a decent return, too, considering the free agent class of 2Bs.
Marcus Giles, San Diego Padres
2008 Age: 30
2008 Option: $4 mil. club option

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Home Stretch

There's a lot to be excited about as we head for the last 10 games of the regular season. The AL playoff field is pretty much established: Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, Angels. Although, as you may have heard, the first two teams on that list have been engaging in a life-or-death struggle simply to determine who gets to face which of the latter two teams.
The above-linked article compares the Red Sox situation to that of the '78 team that blew a comfortable lead to the Yankees and then lost it all in a one-game playoff. In a sense, the comparison is valid; the '07 Sox had a quite comfortable lead in the AL East and have seen it dwindle to 1.5 games with 9 games remaining (the Yanks have 10 to play).
But in the realistic sense, this is nothing like '78. The AL East race is an overblown battle of collective egos in New England. It has basically no bearing on the postseason. In '78, the team that lost the race went home in October. This year, the team that loses this particular race will be the Wild Card rather than the AL East Champion. And that is absolutely no big deal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jim Thome

Jim Thome recently hit his 500th career home run, as you may have heard. Since he's reached this milestone, there's been some discussion as to whether or not Jim Thome is a Hall-of-Famer. From what I've heard, Thome isn't any kind of lock for Cooperstown; players from his era have to do more than hit 500 HR to merit consideration.
So let's take a look at Thome and see if we can come to our own consensus, shall we?

Let's start with the numbers and see what we can see. Thome is 37 years old and in the middle of his 17th big-league season. (* indicates numbers are through 2006. dt indicates Davenport Translations)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

State of the MLB Union . . . AL West

Before I get to the AL West, a few observations about some baseball games I'm watching on this lazy Saturday afternoon:

  • The Pirates just beat the Brewers 7-4. This leaves the Brewers just 1/2 game ahead of the Cubs atop the NL Central. The NL Central race between the Cubs and Brewers looks like it's going right down to the wire. Luckily, the Cubs finish up their season in Cincinnati, so (if it's not sold out) I might get the opportunity to see some history made at the GABP.
    The Pirates telecasts are very odd. They have a lot of product placements, but the most puzzling one by far is the Etch-a-Sketch renderings of the players as they come up to bat. Does this mean that most of the Pirates' audience is 5 years old? It would help explain all the empty seats at PNC Park -- I think they actually ran out of people to show in the crowd shots.
    I'll be doing another entry soon, weighing in with my opinions and predictions about the various division races. Although it's getting clearer and clearer who's going to the postseason, and there aren't a lot of really fascinating races left.
  • The White Sox are leading the Indians 5-1 after five innings, beating up on Jake Westbrook. I don't worry about the Indians, who have a pretty safe lead in the AL Central. Their only competition is Detroit, who will be without Jeremy Bonderman now.
  • The Royals are beating the Twins 4-0. Boy, the Twins were one of my big misses in my preseason predictions. And Gil Meche is pitching a pretty nifty game. I must admit that Meche's contract hasn't been as disastrous as I anticipated, but I stand by my opinion that the deal will be a poor one. It's great that Meche is having such a good year, but will it really continue?
And now, on to the AL West.

Los Angeles Angels (85-59)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

State of the MLB Union . . . AL Central

  • The New York Daily News is reporting that Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel received a year's supply of HGH from Signature Pharmacy in Florida. This is part of a large-scale steroids/HGH bust involving doctors and pharmacists from New York to Florida. A number of other athletes have been implicated with the sketchy practices of Signature.
    I'm not going to have burst a blood vessel and call for blood tests, a la Buster Olney. I think Jayson Stark offered the most reasoned response to the Ankiel story. The most important thing to remember is that HGH was not prohibited at the time Ankiel received his shipments (circa 2004). MLB may try to find some way to slap Ankiel on the wrist, but without more evidence, there's no way any punishment would survive an appeal. Nor should it. Whatever we feel personally about the HGH story (and the related story concerning Troy Glaus), there is nothing yet to merit any punitive action by the MLB.
  • The Pirates have fired GM Dave Littlefield. In other news, word has finally been relayed to the captain of the Titanic that he has been relieved of his duties.
Cleveland Indians (81-60)
My Prediction: 94-68
On Current Pace: 93-69

Saturday, September 01, 2007

State of the MLB Union . . . AL East

If I may ...
  • It looks like Cecil Cooper will stay on as Astros manager after this season, but the position of GM remains open for the moment. I have to say, if Astros owner Drayton McLane wanted to create some scapegoats by getting rid of Phil Garner and Tim Purpura, the move has backfired. Since the firings took place, McLane himself has been the one to get flamed in the media, and very few people are optimistic about the chances of the next GM to serve under the meddlesome McLane.
  • It's getting to be quite an exciting time for a baseball fan, as competitive balance rages on, especially in the NL, where nobody's sure of anything anymore. So hold on to your uniforms, and let's get started.
The AL East has been exciting, but as Rob Neyer pointed out today, it's an excitement that doesn't extend far beyond the northeast. Both the Red Sox and Yankees have really strong odds of making the postseason, so the only real drama is who wins the division and who wins the Wild Card. So unless you're a diehard fan of one of these teams, the excitement has to be tempered.
Still, there's a lot of good baseball to play, and there are still some very curious storylines to be played out in Baltimore, Toronto, and Tampa Bay.

Boston Red Sox (80-55)
My Prediction: 91-71
On Current Pace: 96-66