Apparently the Billy Wagner deal went through anyway (ESPN removed the original story and Wagner's agent claimed that Wagner changed his mind at the last minute) and he will be set to join the Boston bullpen shortly. While I'm not sure how much it will help the Red Sox, it's a very low risk move that, at the very least, will grant the team two extra draft picks.
The risk is the $2 million it will cost Boston for 5 weeks of service from Wagner. The reward is any game he can help them win in that time frame AND a couple compensatory draft picks once the Red Sox offer arbitration and watch Wagner sign with someone else next year. Not a bad deal for a team with money to spare.
In the NL, the Rockies did it again, beating the Dodgers in 10 innings and sitting just 2 games back in the NL West. With San Fran trying to keep pace, LA better get it in gear because (as the Mets can tell you) there is still plenty of time to play yourself out of the postseason.
There weren't many games on the schedule last night, but it was still a busy night for baseball. Most notable was the thrilling 14-inning game won by the Rockies 6-4 thanks to a 5-run inning capped off with a Ryan Spilborghs grand slam. After 13 innings of a 1-1 score, Colorado outscored San Fran 5-3 in what turned out to be the final frame.
Elsewhere, Billy Wagner nixed the deal the the Red Sox, citing the desire to finish his career as a closer. I understand Wagner's motivations, but his quote that he was "too old to set up" was odd. Age has nothing to do with it. If the talent is there, Wagner will close somewhere. If not, he should be thankful to contribute any way possible. I've always admired Wagner, but I found his comments about trying to increase his saves total a little off-putting. The save is a made up conditional stat that is only relevant over the past few decades, and the idea that he wouldn't be happy coming into a bases loaded jam in the 8th inning because it's considered "set up" duty bothers me. I always support professional athletes when they choose to play past their prime because normal "9 to 5'ers" do the same thing, but when the reason for playing is to chase a statistic, it usually means the player will end up on a losing team (Fred McGriff and Wade Boggs come to mind) with little focus on teamwork and a greater need for filling the stadium. These players always claim to want to finish "on my terms," but I find the above scenario to be anything but, and I think that's where Wagner will be headed if he tries to force himself into a specific role with a club.
Philadelphia is really coming into its own at the right time and adding Cliff Lee has made them a dangerous foe come October. With all the talk of the infield and the great signing of Ibanez, maybe the most unheralded player on the team is outfielder Jayson Werth. People love to talk about Ryan Howard's immense power, but regardless of the distance, if it clears the wall, you can only hit one home run at a time. Howard's balls may go further, but Werth has put them over the fence at a similar clip, with 29 HRs to Howard's 32.
Moreover, Werth actually has a higher OPS (.897 vs .891), can steal a base, has good speed and has played a very strong defensive right field. It's almost impossible to pick an MVP on the Phillies this year, but Werth should deserve as much a mention as anyone else.
Texas has taken over the lead for the AL Wild Card, but there is still plenty of baseball left this season. Atlanta failed to take advantage of a 3-game series with the Phillies, so Philadelphia has positioned itself comfortably while Colorado, San Francisco, Florida, Chicago, and Atlanta battle for the remaining postseason spot in the National League.
It seems like Chicago and Atlanta can't seem to get over the hump when needed, and I expect Colorado to slow down a bit, so my pick to sneak in is the Giants.
As well as the Yankees are playing of late, there are a handful of teams with the ability to win it all this year, and that should make this postseason an exciting one.
With Boston's recent slump, the American League divisional races are starting to separate, but the Wild Card race is more up in the air than ever. Boston still holds a lead, but Texas and Tampa Bay are still very much alive, especially given the way the Red Sox have played lately.
After removing Smoltz from the rotation and placing him on waivers, you can see why Atlanta was willing to offer Smoltz a large incentive-laden deal but with very little guarantees. When a pitcher is on the wrong side of 40, regardless of the loyalty factor, it's just not good baseball business to spend guaranteed money on that player when it can be used in much better ways. Boston will figure that out soon enough, but with no salary cap, it's okay to have a slow learning curve as long as the wallet remains open.
Imagine a mix of new and old school, mixing the genres by having just one large division in each league but still taking the 4 best teams in each league to the playoffs.
The AL would be a slightly different race, with New York, LA, and Boston in good position while Tampa Bay and Texas battle it out for the last spot. Basically, the AL Central would be left out as of today and, truth be told, the playoffs would probably be better with a team like the Rays or Rangers playing than the Tigers or White Sox.
In the NL, things would be very different but very much the same. LA would have a generous lead on the pack, and 6 teams would be within 5 games of each other for the last 3 spots, not to mention Atlanta, Houston, and Milwaukee close behind.
Sure, the schedules would have to be more balanced than currently set up, but I think the single division format would make things even more exciting because it would be more transparent in the standings how close a playoff spot is for your favorite team and it will also eliminate some mediocre teams sneaking in simply because of a weak division.
Basically, teams would have to earn their way in, and none of the excitement would be lost. Are you listening, Commissioner Selig?