Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Playoff Picture 

With just three weekends remaining in the 2006 season I thought that now might be a good time to take a quick peek at the playoffs and see how they are shaping up. Let’s look at the American League first. I think there are a few things that we can take to the bank here:

-The Yankees will win the AL East. That is as much of a lock as the Mets winning the NL East. I was laughing at Fox's promos where they talked about the Red Sox "jump-starting their playoff chances" this weekend against the Yankees. That is a done deal - there is no chance for the Sox. This will be the twelfth year in a row that the Yankees make the playoffs and their ninth consecutive division title. It is depressing to see the Yankees win because it convinces you that the system is stacked against the little guy. Speaking of the Little Guy…

-The A’s are in control in the AL West. Yeah, I know that the Angels are still in striking distance, but I don’t think they have much of a shot. The A’s are playing their usual great baseball and are well-poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. I also think that this will be the eighth consecutive season that the A’s win 87 or more games, a phenomenal streak by such a small-market club. The A’s continued success since they dealt away Mark Mulder and Tom Hudson certainly flies in the face of Braves GM John Schuerholz’s argument that the A’s succeeded solely because of the Big Three.

-Two of the three teams in the AL Central will make the playoffs: the Tigers, the White Sox and the Twins. Wouldn’t it be astonishing if the Tigers collapsed at the end and finished their storybook season with a collapse? … I personally don’t think that will happen. I’d bank on the White Sox as being the odd team out.

-I can’t say enough by how impressed I am that the Twins are poised to make the playoffs. Back in the middle of June they were mired in fourth place behind the Indians, White Sox and Tigers and have stormed back to get into the race. Even losing Francisco Liriano didn’t slow them down. These guys are going to be tough to beat. Imagine facing Johan Santana in a three game series …

-This will be the first time since 2002 that the Red Sox failed to make the playoffs. I anticipate the Red Sox really storming back with a vengeance in ’07, but this is still pretty humiliating for them.

In: Yankees, A’s
On the bubble: Tigers, Twins, White Sox
Out: Indians, Royals, Angels, Rangers, Mariners, Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Orioles, Red Sox

Assuming that I am correct and that the playoff teams are the A’s, Twins, Yankees and Tigers, there are some interesting matchups there. Specifically, I’d love to see the Yankees and the Twins tangle in the first round because I think that the Twins have the kind of pitching to put the Yankees down. If the Yankees falter in the playoffs this will be a tremendous victory for the down-markets in the American League: the Tigers have been a laughingstock historically and don’t play in a major market, while you can’t get more small market than with the Twins and A’s. I think the A’s are the most likely to advance to the World Series, followed by the Twins, Yankees and Tigers.

On to the National League …

-We know for a fact that the New York Mets are in the playoffs.

-We can safely say that the St. Louis Cardinals will make the playoffs. The Cards don’t have a lock on it yet and have struggled, but there is no way for the Reds and Astros to close that gap.

-The NL West is fluid. But with the Diamondbacks and Rockies falling out of the race, the winner is going to be the Dodgers, Giants or Padres. My money is on the Dodgers. They have been streaky, but they are playing decently good baseball at the moment and are my pick to win it.

-The runners-up in the NL West and the Phillies and Marlins will battle for the wildcard. I don't see one team running away, so it will probably go into the final weekend of the season. I really can’t see the sagging Reds and Astros getting back into this race, but never completely count them out.

-I think that the Reds, Giants and Astros will quietly fade from the picture this week and leave us the Padres, Marlins and Phillies. I also think that the close competition between the Marlins and Phillies – they play six of their final ten games against each other – will probably work in the Padres favor and give them a leg up because the Marlins and Phillies will probably split their games.

In: Mets, Cardinals
On the bubble: Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Phillies, Marlins, Reds, Astros
Out: Diamondbacks, Rockies, Pirates, Cubs, Brewers, Nationals, Braves

So let’s assume that I am correct and say that the playoffs feature the Mets, Cardinals, Padres and Dodgers. The Mets have to be feeling pretty good about themselves then because the Cardinals are far too weak to mount a serious challenge, while the Padres lack the offensive firepower and the Dodgers are too streaky. Honestly, I think that the Dodgers are the sole team with a shot at beating the Mets and even then, the Dodgers will have to have everything click to make that work. No, the NL playoffs are the Mets to lose. And I bet they won’t.

Wildcard Watch! … Last night was a fairly disasterous loss for the Phillies. I sat there gritting my teeth as Chase Utley grounded out weakly to end the game because the Phillies needed to sweep the Braves to hang in the playoff hunt. This weekend the Phillies match up the Astros in Houston and play them just one more time, a makeup game in Philadelphia on September 25th. Now is a golden opportunity to knock the Astros out of the hunt and make up a little ground on the Pads. The Padres play the Dodgers in L.A. and could make things interesting be either sweeping the Dodgers and taking control of the NL West, or by getting clobbered by the Dodgers and allowing the Phillies to creep back into the race. I guess we’ll see …

1. San Diego: 76-69
2. Philadelphia: 74-72 (2.5)
3. San Francisco: 74-72 (2.5)
4. Florida: 73-73 (3.5)
5. Cincinnati: 72-74 (4.5)
6. Houston: 71-74 (5.0)

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Know Thy Wildcard Rival: The San Diego (Yawn) Padres 

As I sit here and write this the San Diego Padres are presently sitting in first place in the wildcard race, holding a slim lead over the San Francisco Giants and the Phillies. A few days ago I profiled the Reds and yesterday I took a look at the Marlins. Today I’d like to take a look at the Pads, the team that many people believe will hold onto their thin lead and make the post-season as the wildcard or may still edge out the Dodgers for the divisional crown.

The Padres aren’t exactly the most exciting team in baseball and while they come from a big market, San Diego, it is a market usually over-shadowed by San Francisco and L.A. I was commenting on how little the MLB must like having Florida in the playoffs and I note all of that in the context that I am sure baseball would prefer to see the Phillies make the playoffs: big market team with passionate fans, plenty of offense … what’s not to love?

I actually think that the Padres are a pretty good team. They don’t score many runs – they currently rank fourteenth in the NL at just 4.44 per game – but they are a very good pitching / defense team. While they rank near the bottom in the NL in every major statistical category, the Padres lead the NL in ERA and Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER): (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs. The Padres have a number of excellent players in the field, including their centerfielder, Mike Cameron, one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. The left side of their infield, with Mark Bellhorn and Kahlil Greene, is also extremely good. Greene, in my opinion, is a very under-rated shortstop and is very important to their defense.

The Padres pitchers also rank second in the NL in FIP ERA, or Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor. Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed). Their rotation of Junior Peavy, David Wells, Woody Williams and Chris Young is unheralded, but solid. Their biggest weapon in terms of pitching is their closer, the All-World Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman has 473 career saves, just five shy of the all-time record of 478 set by Lee Smith. Hoffman is a phenomenal lights-out kind of closer. In a tight 2-1 game, Hoffman can be the difference-maker.

Both of these facts bode very well for the Padres playoff chances because their consistency in defense and pitching will enable them to weather power outages in their offense. Adrian Gonzalez, their young first baseman, is a good hitter, but the core of the Padres lineup is past its prime: Mike Piazza is 38, Brian Giles is 35 and Cameron is 33. This is an older, veteran team that has a lot of trouble scoring runs. The future doesn’t bode well for the Pads, but for now they can get by.

If you are going to place bets on who will make the playoffs, the Padres are a smart bet. With their emphasis on pitching and defense they won’t fall victim to the kind of feast-or-famine slumps that impact the Phillies or the Reds. This is a team that doesn’t stand a chance of beating the Mets in the playoffs, but they should be good enough to get there.

Wildcard Watch! … Just seventeen games to go and the Phillies helped their cause big-time by winning two last night, decisively sweeping a double-header against the Braves thanks to the Braves Diaz’s stunning error on David Dellucci’s fly in the eighth inning of game one, which allowed two runs and gave the Phillies the lead. Despite winning their own game, the Padres saw their lead over the Phillies shrink a little to a game and a half. Notice that I’ve trimmed the list down to six teams: I think we can finally write-off the Braves, who are six and a half games back.

1. San Diego: 75-69
2. Philadelphia: 74-71 (1.5)
3. San Francisco: 73-72 (2.5)
4. Florida: 73-73 (3.0)
5. Cincinnati: 72-73 (3.5)
6. Houston: 71-74 (4.5)

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Marlins: Who The Hell Are These Guys? 

I’ve often said (one of those topics that I beat to death) that the two Florida teams are a real burr in baseball’s saddle. After getting intense pressure from politicians and civic leaders in Florida, MLB decided to locate two of their four 1990’s expansion teams there. I can’t say that the Arizona D-Backs and Colorado Rockies have been huge successes, but they both seem to be doing much better than the two Florida teams, which are treated by their fans in their cities with what can only be described as raging apathy. Nobody gives a darn about sitting in a stadium when you could be at the beach in the summer time. Florida is about sun, surf and retirement.

So the Marlins are a real problem for major league baseball. They’ve actually had success, winning the World Series twice since ’93 and threatening to make another run this season. The Devil Rays are a franchise that the MLB can be content to ignore: they play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox. Good luck. But the MLB can’t ignore the damage that the Marlins do to the game. They actually win and bring championships home to a city where people simply don’t care about baseball. Enthusiasm for the 1997 Marlins was so low that the head of NBC hoped that the World Series would be a sweep so he could put his usual primetime lineup of Friends, Frasier and Seinfeld back on the tube because they got better ratings than the Marlins – Indians World Series. When the Fishstripes won, the people shrugged their shoulders and didn’t care because they knew that the Marlins were being dismantled in the off-season, which they were. Instead of excited fans lining up to buy season tickets for the champs, you had people staying away from the Marlins in droves. Flash forward to 2003, when the Marlins came from nowhere and spoiled a Cubs – Yankees World Series that MLB clearly wanted (though Red Sox – Cubs would have been better). The anti-climatic ’03 Series then saw the generally no-name Marlins triumph over the Yankees.

This season the no-name Marlins are once more threatening to destroy the post-season for Fox. I’d love to see the Fox guys trying to write promos for some of these games. Fox Writer #1: “Um … who plays short for the Marlins?” Fox Writer #2: “Uhhh … I dunno … That rookie guy …” I can imagine the promo: “Some guys play Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, tonight on Fox!” Meanwhile Fox Execs are sitting there thinking: “Jeez, sweep them so we can get Prison Break back on the air!”

So who are these guys? Who are the 2006 Florida Marlins?

Well, I would first off retract my description of the Marlins as being a crew of no-names. They have a few really good players, chiefly, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

Cabrera is quietly having another terrific season down there in Miami. He’s hitting .340, which narrowly leads the National League, with twenty-five home runs and 109 RBIs (fifth in the NL). Cabrera is also leading the NL with 132 Runs Created, three more than Albert Pujols and fourteen more than Ryan Howard. But Cabrera isn’t the marlins sole threat at the plate. Even more quietly rookie second-baseman Dan Uggla and shortstop Hanley Ramirez are having a great seasons. Uggla: .352 OBP, 24 Home Runs, 85 RBIs, and 100 Runs Created. Ramirez: .352 OBP, 13 Home Runs, 108 Runs Scored, 47 Stolen Bases, 94 Runs Created.

The Marlins aren’t exactly an offensive powerhouse – they rank in the middle of nearly every category and only really seem to excel at power hitting – but they are pretty efficient. Given that they are able to score near the league averages in every major offensive stat with a crew of rookies batting around Cabrera tells you that they are jelling better than expected.

Willis anchors the pitching staff. While he isn’t having the sort of season that he had in 2005, Willis is still one of the better pitchers in the NL and seems to have really come on of late. Since the All-Star Break Willis has lowered his ERA from 3.94 to 3.46 and has dramatically increased his strikeouts per nine innings from 5.54 to 8.08. In many ways he’s back to his ’05 form when he was nearly unhittable.

Again, the Marlins aren’t doing that well statistically, but they are doing it with largely inexperienced pitchers surrounding Willis and without a particularly good defensive alignment. They are jelling better than expected.

A few weeks ago I’d say that the Phillies were the team in the National League playing with momentum. They spent most of August defying expectations and getting back into the playoff race with an exceptional push. The Marlins now feel like the team of … well, not destiny, but they feel like the team that has big mo on their side. The race between the Marlins and Phils could ultimately fizzle if the Padres run away with the wildcard, but I suspect that the Pads will fade and make this a battle between the Fishstripes and Phils. Watch out, Fox. You could see the Fishstripes on your ‘net in October.

Wildcard Watch! … The Phillies and Braves were rained out and are slated for a makeup double-header today. Meanwhile the Padres lost to the Reds. If the Pads lose and the Phillies sweep the double-header, then the Phillies could move within a half game of the wildcard lead. Something to look forward to…

1. San Diego: 74-69
2. San Francisco: 73-71 (1.5)
3. Philadelphia: 72-71 (2.0)
4. Florida: 73-71 (2.0)
5. Cincinnati: 72-72 (2.5)
6. Houston: 70-74 (4.5)
7. Atlanta: 69-74 (5.0)

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

When the Phillies traded for the Mariners Jamie Moyer I greeted the deal with a big shrug. So they dealt for a 43-year old pitcher with experience. Moyer wasn’t going to make any sort of an impact, I was certain. So far Jamie Moyer has pitched four games for the Phillies and he’s had a decidedly positive impact on the team. Statistically and mentally, Moyer’s presence has bolstered the rotation and given the Phillies a boost in their quest for the post-season:

Here is a quick look at Moyer’s numbers:

HR/9: 0.66
BB/9: 0.99
K/9: 4.94
ERA: 3.95
FIP: 3.39
WHIP: 1.06

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
Hr/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

These are based on just four starts and twenty-seven innings, but they are pretty impressive. Few walks and/or home runs allowed. He’s turning into a pretty tough guy to get much of a hit off of. Moyer’s FIP ERA ranks him first amongst the Phillies starters:

Moyer: 3.39
Hamels: 4.14
Myers: 4.15
Lieber: 4.37
Wolf: 5.43

Moyer is a major reason why the Phillies much-maligned starting rotation has been doing well of late. He’s a solid pitcher with a nice array of off-speed pitches to keep the opposition off-balance. Thus far he is doing what I always hoped that Jon Lieber would do: throw lots of off-speed junk to keep the opposition’s batters off-balance and swinging. Moyer has had a lot of success.

This article from ESPN.com by Jerry Crasnick high-lights another thing that Moyer brings to the table: experience. Moyer has pitched in twenty MLB seasons, breaking in with the Cubs in 1986. He’s a great player to mentor Cole Hamels and give the team the experience they need to pursue the wildcard down the stretch.

Obviously I was wrong to write-off the acquisition of Moyer as nothing: it was a much savvier deal than I realized and Pat Gillick deserves credit for it. Good work, Pat.

Wildcard Watch! … The Phillies and much of MLB didn’t play last night, so there was very little movement in the wildcard standings aside from the Marlins 16-5 butt-kicking of the Mets, which shaved a half game off the Marlins deficit.

Here are the standings …

1. San Diego: 74-68
2. Florida: 73-71 (2.0)
3. Philadelphia: 72-71 (2.5)
4. San Francisco: 72-71 (2.5)
5. Cincinnati: 71-72 (3.5)
6. Houston: 70-73 (4.5)
7. Atlanta: 69-74 (5.5)

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Monday, September 11, 2006

I Have Returned.... 

First off, let me say that it is good to be home again. My wife and I had a blast in Mexico. We stayed seven days at a hotel in Puerto Vallarta, which is on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and had a terrific time playing in the surf, sight-seeing and eating food. I hate coming back, but everyone has to return to the real world sooner or later.

I really didn’t pay any attention to anything while I was gone. While we were away the Mayor of Pittsburgh died, the Crocodile Hunter died, and Paris Hilton had a DUI. Oh, and the Phillies played okay baseball. There just nineteen games left to the season and the Phillies continue to sit within striking distance. I have a few thoughts and then I’ll return to “regular” posts tomorrow:

1. Regardless of if the Phillies make the playoffs, Ryan Howard should be the NL MVP. He’s leading the NL in home runs and RBIs and he’d probably have a shot at the batting title as well if the opposition pitched to him, but they are clearly scared to these days. Nobody is more important to their team than Ryan Howard is to the Phillies. He should be a lock to be MVP.

2. I was focusing my attention on the Phillies catching up to the Reds these last few weeks, so I was stunned to see the Reds essentially collapse and fall out of the playoff race upon my return. Since August 22, the Reds have gone 5-12 and went from leading the pack by about three games to trailing it by three and a half. The Reds have no staying power. They are done.

3. Once more the Florida Marlins rear their ugly heads. I bet Major League Baseball hates these guys: smaller market, full of no-names (aside from Dontrelle Willis), solid pitching-and-defense sort of team … this is starting to look a lot like 2003 again, when the Marlins overtook the Phillies and made the playoffs after being left for dead midseason and spoiled a perfectly good Cubs – Yankees World Series. Seriously, though, the Marlins do frighten me. They are full of rookies who have no clue of the enormity of what is going on. They’ve got nothing to lose and they are playing darn good baseball right now. The Phillies are playing with pressure. They need to win. Charlie Manuel needs to win. The Phillies need to make the playoffs. The Marlins are content to play the spoilers. They are dangerous. That season-ending series in Florida from September 29 – October 1 might just be the final battle. I have a bad feeling about this race to the finish…

4. Dynasty Death Watch, Con’t: The Braves continue to sink out of the playoff race. I believe that they are officially mathematically eliminated from winning the NL East crown (or darn close to it), and their chances of making the post-season are slim at best.

5. College Football season got started. My alma mater, Pitt, won their first two games in convincing fashion with a 38-13 victory over Virginia and a 33-15 win over Cincinnati. Cincy isn’t that good, but the win over the Cavaliers is impressive stuff. Up next, Michigan State. I hope they can beat the Spartans and make it to their game against Rutgers on October 21 undefeated (7-0). They probably won’t, but it would be nice, because after that they have Louisville and West Virginia to contend with.

6. Pro Football is back as well. I watched the Cowboys drop a 24-17 loss to the Jags on Sunday with no little delight. Bledsoe looked clueless and a sitting duck despite having T.O. out there. Seeing T.O. yapping to Bledsoe about being open after a play convinced me that he’ll wear out his welcome in Big D sooner than in Philly.

The Eagles played a pretty dominating game of football against the Texans on Sunday. McNabb was the McNabb of old: 24-of-35, 314 yards, 3 TDs. He was sharp and he looked like he was having fun again. Even better news was that the Eagles actually ran the ball with some authority: Westbrook got 71 yards and Buckhalter got 50. This team finally has a running game! I’m looking forward to next week’s game against the Giants. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the G-men looking up at the Birds at 0-2?

7. Today is the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Nobody will ever forget that day…

I leave every one with … Wildcard Watch!

1. San Diego: 74-68
2. Florida: 72-71 (2.5)
3. Philadelphia: 72-71 (2.5)
4. San Francisco: 72-71 (2.5)
5. Cincinnati: 71-72 (3.5)
6. Houston: 70-72 (4.0)
7. Atlanta: 69-73 (5.0)

At this point any team more than five games out is finished. This is starting to shape up to be a three-way race with the Pads, Phillies and Fishstripes. The rest of these guys look like also-rans. More tomorrow.

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