We’re heading down the final stretch of baseball’s regular season. That can only mean one thing, dear readers - time to rundown the contenders for each league. I'm using color and everything for this year's list. Hey, I spare no expense for your reading enjoyment.
Right. Enough chit chat. Off we go.
NOTE: All stats as of 9\11\08 as a tribute to 9\11\01.
Tampa Bay Rays (87-57): Who the hell knew taking the ‘Devil’ out of a team name could have this much impact. Thought for sure the Red Sox were going to sweep them out of Fenway and take over first, but this team is tough as nails, resilient and relentless. I kept expecting them to tumble back to earth, but this last week has made me a believer.
Playoff Chances: Young with great pitching, which is a great makeup for a playoff team. Their hitting with men in scoring position (something like 2-36 in the Fenway series) better improve or they’ll have a hard time getting past the first round.
Fun Fact: It was odd rooting for the Yankees when they played the Rays last week. I didn’t feel good about myself at all.
Boston Red Sox (86-20) 2.5 GB: Two red flags rose to full mast during the Rays series. First, the Sox bullpen needs to get their shit together. Second, Papi’s wrist must really be bothering him for him to attempt not one, but two bunts in the same game. One in the bottom of the 14th when the Sox were down by 3 runs. What the hell was that about? He’s the most feared and clutch hitter in baseball and he fakes a bunt?
Playoff Chances: Should make it to October, but if everyone isn’t healthy and Papi’s wrist is more fucked then we know, this won’t be a repeat champion. However, is there a more fearsome playoff pitching rotation then Beckett, Lester and Dice-K? Beckett looked great in his second start back and Lester has been the team’s best pitcher since June. As noted above, the bullpen better get their shit together.
Fun Fact: While everyone is hoping JD Drew is fully healed from his back injury, a majority of fans have been hunting down Julio Lugo to make sure he NEVER heals.
Chicago White Sox (81-64): Yeah, I know they play in a tough division, I know they have good pitching and a solid lineup. Yet, I’m not afraid of this team. At all. They stunk out Fenway two weeks back and just don’t seem to have much fire about them.
Playoff Chances: Should get in one way or another, but look for a first round exit if the bullpen doesn’t improve. Drastically. I thought my Sox team was bad. Boston hammered them during their trip to Fenway. It was ugly.
Fan Fact: Ozzie Guillen does NOT take medication to regulate the chemicals in his brain.
Minnesota Twins (80-65) 1 GB: This is a team that scares me. I really hope they miss the playoffs because they are BUILT for October. Young, fast, hitters throughout the lineup that can hit to any part of the park, over looked MVP candidates, solid starting and bullpen pitching. Imagine what this team would have been like if Santana stuck around.
Playoff Chances: If they get in, don’t be surprised to see them make a run all the way to the World Series. Really. They’re that good. Fundamentally sound, very good defense, nice mix of experience and youth and to top it all off, Liriano is back and healthy and rested. C’mon, White Sox. Hang in there.
Fun Fact: My eight year old calls Joe Mauer ‘Joe Mama’ all the time now. SportsCenter showed Mauer hitting a home run and he said ‘Joe Mama hit a home run? Joe Mama?’ Principal should be calling any minute now.
Los Angeles Angels (88-57): It’s September 12th and the Angels have already clinched their division. One of the two teams that seem to have very few weaknesses (MN is the other). Still, these are the Angels and they way they celebrated Wednesday night after clinching the division seemed a bit over the top. Almost like they expected it would be their only chance to celebrate this year.
Playoff Chances: Actually, very good. Another fearsome AL lineup, one of (if not THE) best rotations in baseball and great defense. The big question will be how spent K-Rod is after chasing the saves record all season. My biggest complaint about previous Angels teams have been their road records. This year they are 43-28, so far. Not good for the rest of the league.
Fun Fact: I just ate a cupcake and feel disgusting.
WILD CARD EXTRAS
Toronto Blue Jays (78-67) 7 GB in Wild Card: Coming on strong at just the right time. Just won 10 in a row but don’t expect them to stick around too much longer. We can only have one Colorado Rockies run in our lifetime, right?
Fun Fact: By trading David Eckstein to the Diamondbacks, the Blue Jays broke up the All Has-Been Duo that was formed every time Eckstein and Scott Rolen took the field together. Pity.
New York Yankees (77-69) 8.5 GB in Wild Card: I know, they’re still here. You’d think with their puny payroll they wouldn’t have hung in this long. Gotta love their grit and determination when facing such long odds.
Fun Fact: The torch for picking up other team’s aging, useless players was officially passed from the 1988-2000 Boston Red Sox to the 2007-2008 New York Yankees when the Yanks signed Richie Sexton followed by trading for Ivan Rodriquez.
New York Mets (82-63): With their easy schedule coming up (four against the Nationals, four against the Braves) the Mets are in prime position to clinch their division by the end of next week. Of course, they were in prime position last year, too. However, this year is looking much different. Santana is still Santana, Wright and Delgado are hitting the shit out of the ball, and Reyes is still wreaking havoc.
Playoff Chances: I dunno. The bullpen is scarily inconsistent. Wagner is done for this year and probably next and nobody knows what to expect from Pedro any more. Hey, maybe they should make Pedro a closer!!!!!! Christ, I’m a genius! Pedro still gets the glory role he craves and he only has to pitch an inning a game. I’m changing this blog to Idea Man’s Daily Diversions.
Fun Fact: Pedro still wants someone to bring back Babe Ruth so he can drill him in the ass.
Philadelphia Phillies (79-67) 3.5 GB: Figure this: Ryan Howard is batting at .241 yet has 42 home runs and 126 RBIs. This effectively means Howard only gets a hit when there is a man in scoring position. Amazing.
Playoff Chances: Not trading for another starter is going to kill this team. They have Hamels, a fairly effective Moyer, then who? Brett Myers is ok, but do you think any Philly fans are comfortable with him as your third starter?
Fun Fact: Imagine what this team would look like had they landed Sabathia. Yeah, I enjoyed rubbing that in.
Chicago Cubs (87-58): Quite possibly the best Cubs team of our lifetimes. Have outscored their opponents by a ridiculous 176 runs, are deep enough to withstand injuries and, hell, even Kerry Wood is still pitching. The stars seem to be aligning. Figure if the Red Sox and White Sox can do it, so can the Cubs.
Playoff Chances: Let’s all hope some bizarre play doesn’t cost the Cubs a series because there will be 32 different television specials about some curse.
Fun Fact: The ivy in Wrigley Field hides over 300 lost baseballs one of which will pop out at the exact wrong moment in Game 7 of the 2008 World Series.
Milwaukee Brewers (83-63) 4.5 GB: Here is the biggest problem for the Cubs. Let’s say both teams get into the playoffs (and it’s certainly looking that way) and the Cubs have to play the Brewers in a 5 game series. They’ll have to face Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia twice. Each. If that turns out to be the case, the drought may indeed continue.
Playoff Chances: Ben Sheets (healthy), CC Sabathia and his crooked cap are the cream of the crop. Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, JJ Hardy, Cory Hart and old friend Gabe Kapler make for a tough lineup. The volatile bullpen (featuring the All Steroid Duo of Mota and Gag-Nee) is the only concern with this team.
Fun Fact: I still have to look up how to spell ‘Milwaukee’. Sad, I know.
LA Dodger (75-71): How do you think the Yankee fans are going to react when Joe Torre takes yet another team to the playoffs and their team doesn’t make it? You think it would get ugly? Since the Manny trade, this team has been playing much better. Not only did Manny seem to inject some life into the lineup, but injected some much needed levity. They seem to be looser and having more fun.
Playoff Chances: Let’s see. You’ve got Chad Billingsly, Derek Lowe and Hiroki Kuroda as your front line starters. Not bad, but can they compete with the Cubs or Brewers? Doubt it.
Fun Fact: Manny has played 38 games with the Dodgers and only has 6 fewer home runs than their team leader – Andre Ethier – who has played 128 games. This is actually true. Ethier has 20, Manny has 14. Fuck me!
Arizona Diamondbacks (71-74) 3.5 GB: Not sure what happened with this team. They made the playoffs with east last season, seemingly improved with the addition of Dan Haren, started off like they would clinch the division by July, then went into a free fall from which they have yet to recover. The talent’s there: Brandon Webb and Haren make a formidable duo; Mark Reynolds, Orlando Hudson, Stephen Drew and Conor Jackson bring it every night; they even added Adam Dunn for the stretch run. So what happened here?
Playoff Chances: Not good. They don’t win the division they don’t get in. Plain and simple. The Dodgers seem to be peaking at the right time while the ‘Backs are slinking away (just lost 6 in a row).
Fun Fact: Eric Byrnes has only played 52 games this year. Wonder if that has anything to do with the current record.
WILD CARD EXTRAS
Houston Astros (79-67) 4 GB in Wild Card: No shit! The Astros are here. Lance Berkman, the unheralded Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, Ty Winnington, and even Miquel Tejada have gone above and beyond this year. If you remove Roy Oswalt (is there a more over looked pitcher in either league?) the Astros throw Randy Wolf, Wandy Rodriguez (who just hurt something), Brian Moehler, and Brandon Backe at opposing teams. What the fuck? How are they even in this conversation?
Fun Fact: Roy Oswalt’s career record is 140-3 in September. OK, not really, but it’s close I’m pretty sure.
St Louis Cardinals (78-67) 4.5 GB in Wild Card: Another team that seems to be put together with chewing gum and tape. I used to think Tony LaRussa was overrated, but I’m beginning to believe he actually knows what he’s doing. Every year his teams are in contention and it doesn’t matter who’s hurt or under performing. Maybe it’s all the booze.
Fun Fact: LaRussa is addicted to plastic surgery.
Florida Marlins (74-72) 9 GB in Wild Card: I’m putting them here solely out of respect for their ability to win games. They’re under .500 on the road, they’ve been outscored by 29 runs over the course of the season, their best starter is Ricky Nolasco yet here they are. I know the Rays are getting all the publicity, but let’s acknowledge what’s happening a bit further south. Both feats are impressive.
Fun Fact: The Marlins’ home run leader – Mike Jacobs – was a batboy for MC Hammer.
What’s that? You want a prediction? Fine.
Cubs and Angels in Series. Cubs lose controversial Game 7 after Frank Drebin takes over as home plate umpire to stop the assassination of the Queen of England.
Today’s distraction: Take the CNN Quiz of the Week. What? I spent enough time on this useless rundown. Didn’t have time to find anything original. What do you want for nothing?