I guess all of that extra weight CC Sabathia has been carrying around has been muscle because he put the entire Milwaukee team on his back over the past couple months, propelling them into the playoffs. After a series of good and bad streaks, the Brewers earned their way into the Wild Card by winning 6 of their last 7 games, thanks to Sabathia on the mound and Ryan Braun at the plate. Ben Sheets is out for the season, but if Braun stays hot and Sabathia continues to dominate even on 3-days' rest, the Brewers should give Philadelphia a good series.
In Chicago, the White Sox will play Detroit this afternoon (weather permitting) for the chance to get into a one game playoff with Minnesota Tuesday. The White Sox are in the opposite situation of the Brewers, having backed their way into this situation thanks to a 1-5 record in the last two series. Despite the problems, luck has shined on Chicago in the form of a coin flip they won weeks ago which grants the White Sox home field in the potential one game playoff with Minnesota. Chicago has looked anemic in the Metrodome, but should have a fighter's chance at U.S. Cellular Field. First thing's first for the Pale Hose, however: they must defeat Freddy Garcia (2-6, 5.691 ERA since leaving the White Sox after 2006) and the Tigers this afternoon or they can schedule tee times for Tuesday instead of batting practice.
One more note: Chicago's starter, Gavin Floyd, was traded to Chicago for Freddy Garcia in December 2006.
Limping to the finish:
The White Sox only needed one victory to put the pressure on Minnesota but have lost 5 straight and counting. The Twins could have put the Sox away, but have lost 2 straight to the Royals. If Chicago can't escape the weekend (and possibly Monday and Tuesday) with a division championship, I will have plenty to say about the topic of "choking." It's been a hot topic on TCO in past years, and it will come full circle if the White Sox can't win a game against a no-name starting pitcher.
Please be patient while I attempt to update the look of The Commish Online. What you see on the homepage will slowly be transferred to all the existing pages on the site. The new look is more professional, more streamlined, and easier to read. Stay tuned for a mobile version of TCO in the future as well! If you have any comments about the site's new look, let me know.
The AL Central race is as close as ever, but the competition hardly appeared playoff-worthy the past few days. Chicago looked downright listless against relatively unknown starting pitching in Baker, Blackburn, and Slowey. Minnesota made the White Sox look silly and the Twins have tailored their team to fit their stadium perfectly, but with players like Span, Harris, Casilla, etc., they will have difficulty winning a game away from Minnesota in the playoffs if they should get there. The Twins riddled the White Sox with bloops, bunts, and choppers, and the Sox didn't have the fielding prowess or range to make a play when it mattered. Chicago will look to regroup against Cleveland tonight while the Twins will try to keep the pressure on against Kansas City.
Regardless of who makes it, look for the Rays (assuming they secure the AL East) to make short work of either team in the ALDS. Tampa has managed to overcome injuries, a low payroll, and a non-interested fan base to accumulate the most home victories in baseball. Don't expect that to slow down in the playoffs.
There's just one week to go, and all the drama sits squarely in the National League and the AL Central. In the AL, the Rays and Angels are in while the Red Sox are all but in, so the race between Chicago and Minnesota is a true division battle where the loser stays home. It heats up tomorrow as the White Sox begin a 3-game series in Minnesota with a 2.5 game lead on the Twins.
In the National League, the Cubs can celebrate, but everybody else will be fighting to the finish. Philly and LA are looking strong, but Arizona is still alive in the division hunt, while New York, Milwaukee, and even Houston and Florida are still believing they have a shot. Look for the Phillies and Dodgers to hang on while the Mets and Brewers battle it out for the wild card. Both teams are fading fast, so the one who can pull it together for a week will get to play on.
As always, stay tuned to TCO for 2008 playoff previews and predictions in the coming weeks!
The great thing about baseball and sports in general is that despite all the analysis, some things you just can't predict. Looking at the league leaders, no one could have predicted the following: Cliff Lee at 22-2 and positively dominating a hitter-friendly league, Tim Lincecum throwing with Cy Young stuff on the same team that has committed a fortune to Barry Zito, Carlos Quentin still leading the AL in home runs despite being lost for the season, Francisco Rodriguez setting the saves record with weeks to spare (and doing so with very few innings pitched), Aubrey Huff leading baseball with 320 total bases, etc. etc.
Many of the fixtures are always present at the end (Pujols, ARod, Santana, etc.), but it's always interesting to see October approaching and suddenly names like Dustin Pedroia are being mentioned for MVP. That's why we watch.
On the heels of the Cubs impressive feat of hurling 15 consecutive innings against Houston, the Astros will try to take pitching matters into their own hands, or more specifically, Roy Oswalt's hand as he attempts to extend his 32 1/3 scoreless inning streak against Florida tonight.
Since my preseason picks were a flop (I don't think Seattle will be celebrating a World Series Championship a month from now), let me pat myself on the back for an individual prediction I made in June.
"...and if you are looking for a good fantasy deal, trade for the struggling Oswalt right now. He'll come a lot cheaper than Santana would and you won't be sorry."
Sure enough, Roy Oswalt has been absolutely "lights out" the past couple months, currently riding a 32 1/3 innings scoreless streak, helping the Astros to their 14th win in the past 15 games. After starting 6-8, Oswalt has upped his record to 15-9, and the underlying stats are just as dominant (ERA dropped from 4.77 to 3.54, his WHIP is a low 1.19, etc.).
Hopefully the money you win in your fantasy league thanks to trading for Oswalt will help offset the losses from the futures wager you made on the Mariners in March.
In April, if you were told that only one between Joe Torre and the Yankees were going to be in the playoffs, few of you would have chosen the former manager in the Bronx. Yet here we are, with just three weeks left, and New York is all but done while the Torre's team is starting to play some of its best baseball of the year. Of course, it always helps when the team you are managing picks up Manny Ramirez along the way, but the Dodgers have had star talent in the past and haven't been able to make it work.
This year's results so far are hardly dominant (75-71), but the goal is to make the playoffs regardless of record and then win in October. With a 3.5 game lead on Arizona, Los Angeles is starting to approach the first goal. Lucky for them, they have a guy at the helm with plenty of experience in achieving the second goal should they need it. Meanwhile, the Yankees will be watching from home, faced with a roster of aging stars, injured pitchers, and a manager not named Joe Torre in charge of making it all work.
The Boston Red Sox are surging and may soon take over the division lead in the AL East. It's not the Tampa Bay Rays that are nervous, however, but rather the White Sox and Twins. For a while, it was looking like the AL Central runner up would still sneak in as the Wild Card, but now Boston has positioned itself a whopping 6.5 games ahead of Minnesota.
In the National League, the Cubs keep losing but Milwaukee is hardly gaining any ground, running in place as of late (5-5 in last 10 games). Luckily for the Brewers, they have built a nice cushion over St. Louis and company, so just like the AL East, the NL Central appears to have two teams in - it's just a matter of order.
As it stands now, even though the Yankees won't be playoff-bound, there would be one New York team, two Los Angeles teams (technically speaking), and two Chicago teams in the playoffs, not to mention nationally popular Boston. The last two teams (Tampa and Milwaukee) have enough intriguing storylines that it should make for a very entertaining (and well-watched) October. As last year has shown, however, September 8th is still a long way from the end of the season.
While many Cubs fans are suddenly fretting, horrified about Chicago's current 5-game losing streak, the reality is that they are still in the driver's seat. Along with holding a comfortable 5 game lead on Milwaukee for the division, the Cubs still hold a 9 game lead over Philadelphia for what would be the Wild Card. In other words, rest easy, Cubs fans, your team is in one way or another.
On the other side of town, however, what was already shaping up to be a harrowing September for White Sox fans is becoming downright scary. Dealing with the sudden ineffectiveness of the entire bullpen sans Bobby Jenks, now the White Sox are being told that Carlos Quentin, the team's surprising MVP this year, will be lost for the season thanks to a fractured wrist. It's going to be near impossible to replace Quentin's production in left field, so players like Konerko will have to step up and start playing like they are capable if the south side of Chicago wants to join in the October fun with the north side.
As expected, the Twins and White Sox continued to display their road struggles last night and proved that they are still a notch below the top teams in baseball. Today, let's look at the close race in the NL West and use the magic 8-ball on the remaining schedule. Arizona currently holds a 1 1/2 game lead on Los Angeles. Will it be enough?
Overall observation: better at home (39-31) than road (31-37), but hardly dominant, great success only against COL (10-2), poor record against other NL leaders (10-16 vs CHC, MIL, PHI, NYM), plays division rival even (8-7 vs LAD)
Despite facing Lohse today, Arizona should win its last game in the St. Louis series. Then, the D-Backs have a chance at a 3-3 road trip at LA and San Fran with Haren and Webb throwing a combined 3 times. The 7-game homestand will yield a 4-3 record over Cincy and San Fran before they head to Colorado. Look for just 1 of 3 at Coors Field even though Arizona has dominated the Rockies this year. Colorado is playing better of late. A 4-game split in St. Louis is reasonable before finishing up at home against Colorado. Just a hunch, but I see the Rockies evening things up a bit as the D-Backs only win 1 of 3 at home. That puts Arizona at 12-12 down the stretch, or 82-80 for the season.
Los Angeles (69-70)
Overall observation: consistently mediocre (11 to 16 wins each month, 46-49 in the first half, 23-21 in the second half), great success only against CIN (7-1), mediocre against other NL leaders (13-15 vs CHC, MIL, PHI, NYM), plays division rival even (7-8 vs ARI)
LA plays one more game against San Diego before welcoming Arizona for a 3-game series. The Dodgers will go 2-2 in these games. Then, a 10-game road trip against all sub-.500 teams (San Diego, Colorado, Pittsburgh) could yield some victories. Unfortunately, LA's poor road record (28-40) means they will be happy with a 5-5 road trip. More poor teams (San Fran and San Diego) come in to Chavez Ravine for a 6-game homestand in which the Dodgers will win 4 games. Finishing up in San Francisco for 3 games, LA's poor road performance will continue and they will only take 1 of 3. That puts Los Angeles at 12-11 down the stretch, or 81-81 for the season.
The Dodgers just don't have enough depth to put up a big run in September. It's also a lock that either Arizona or LA will finish with at least a .500 record, so if Colorado (66-74) wanted to make another historic run, they would have to finish at least 16-6 - unlikely to happen this year since a .500 record has been unattainable all year and the pitching depth is a little suspect this season. So, almost by default, Arizona should remain atop the division and hope to catch lightning in a bottle come playoff time.
With just 25 games left, the AL Central race looks to be going down to the wire. Minnesota and Chicago (deadlocked at 77-60) have proven to be consistently good teams in 2008 - rarely great, but almost always beating the teams they should and struggling against the tougher teams. Looking at how the year has progressed so far, we should be able to prognosticate about the next four weeks:
Overall observation: dominant at home (46-23), struggles on road (31-37), plays division rival even (7-8 vs CHW), beats up on rest of Central (29-13 vs DET, KC, CLE), under .500 vs rest of AL playoff teams (7-10 vs BOS, LAA, TB)
The Twins have just eight series left, so we should get a good indication of where they will finish. They haven't beaten the Blue Jays yet, so look for the Twins to win just 1 of 3 in Toronto before heading home. In the Metrodome, Minnesota should easily take 4 of 6 against Detroit and KC, then they are likely to go 3-3 against Baltimore and Cleveland, all on the road. A lot will be riding on the 4 games in Tampa. I expect a split from the Twins since they have been playing well of late and Tampa is dealing with injuries, not to mention the Rays might have an opportunity to rest some players if they clinch the division by then. Finishing up with 6 home games against Chicago and Kansas City, look for the Twins to win four of them. That puts Minnesota at 14-11 down the stretch, or 91-71 for the season.
Overall observation: dominant at home (46-22), struggles on road (31-38), plays division rival even (8-7 vs MIN), beats up on rest of Central (28-15 vs DET, KC, CLE), under .500 vs rest of AL playoff teams (10-14 vs BOS, LAA, TB)
The White Sox have a nice homestand coming up, but the road is rocky after that. Let's hypothesize. Chicago should split the last 2 games in Cleveland before heading home for a 10-game stint against LA, Toronto, and Detroit. The LA series looks like a difficult one based on the pitching matchups, so the Sox will be lucky to get 2 of 3 from that series. Also winless against Toronto, Chicago should get at least a couple Ws in the 4-game series. Finishing up with Detroit, I think 6-4 is a realistic mark for Chicago before hitting the road again. The Yankees are struggling right now, so the Sox might be able to steal a couple games and go 2-2 in New York, and 2 of 3 should be attainable in Kansas City. Look for the White Sox to struggle in Minnesota and escape with just 1 win while they finish off they season taking 2 of 3 against Cleveland at home. That puts Chicago at 14-11 down the stretch, or 91-71 for the season.
Prepare yourself for a 1-game playoff, assuming Boston secures the Wild Card spot. Minnesota and Chicago get it done in very different ways, but the results are practically identical. I fully expect Minnesota to win 2 of 3 in the head-to-head series and despite having a combined 0-7 record against Toronto so far, I think both teams will find a way to win their share of games against the Blue Jays.
The key series will be Minnesota's ability to escape Tampa Bay with at least a split while Chicago must find a way to win their home series against the Angels. If Chicago can't take 2 of 3, then it won't matter if they make the playoffs or not because they need to prove they can beat playoff teams.