Alright, before we get to Edwin Jackson’s no-hitter, let’s play a little Contender-Pretender, but with a twist. Since it seems like you need oodles of money to be a title contender in baseball these days, let’s change it up to Playoff or Way Off. Obviously there is some room in between there, but just treat it as if it was contender-pretender. Batter up.
Playoff or Way Off
San Diego Padres, 42-30, 1st in NL West
The Padres snuck up on everyone this year with outstanding pitching and timely hitting, which is a recipe for success for any team, but especially a small market like San Diego. Mat Latos has been a stud for the Friars, but so have guys like Wade LeBlanc, Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, Kevin Correia, and just about anyone to take the mound for the Padres. Joe Maddon went as far as to call it the best staff in baseball. I also like their blend of youth and veteran leadership on this team which means that the ups and downs of July will not be as cruel to them as they will be to others. Ultimately, I think it is going to be hard for them to keep up in this extremely competitive NL West, but I think they are good enough to earn the label.
Cincinnati Reds, 41-33, 2nd in NL Central
At this point, no one thinks the Reds are a fluke. They have an abundance of young talent and have been using it to great effect all season. We are not questioning their quality. However, what we are questioning is the overall longevity of the pitching staff. Mike Leake has been great this year, but as a guy fresh out of college, I think he is going to hit a wall around the 150IP mark or thereabouts. You can also call me an Arthur Rhodes skeptic and put me down for his ERA not remaining at 0.29 for the rest of the season. I mean holy crap, it is Livan Hernandez all over again. I am not sure if I think he is going to fall apart a little with old age, or if averages will just catch up with him. He has had a very fortunate BABIP (batting average on balls in play) so far, and he is getting more flyballs than ground balls, which is not something a reliever wants. I think he comes unglued a little, and the Reds youth does not serve them well down the stretch. Definitely a team for the future, but for this year…
Verdict: WAY OFF
New York Mets, 42-31, T-1st in NL East
So they have done all this without Carlos Beltran and a team many (myself included) thought was on its last leg, is all of a sudden right back in the hunt. However, allow me to be the one to put a damper on Mets’ fans already dampened spirits. The Mets are not contenders. In fact, as a general rule, no team with a road record 5 games below .500 is a contender, regardless of its talent level. Their starting pitching has been superb, but given that home/road split, I have to think a little bit of that has to do with the cavernous Citi Field. The Mets will find themselves really struggling in July as a large number of their games are on the road, and unable to catch the Phillies and Braves down the stretch. Sorry Mets fans, you are not in the playoffs, you are…
Verdict: WAY OFF
Detroit Tigers/Chicago White Sox, 39-32/38-34, T-1st in AL Central/3rd in AL Central
Why am I lumping these two together? To save space. We are going to get to the Tigers first. Remember how we talked about Cincinnati’s young pitching getting tired and the Mets’ bad road record. Well, when you combine those two things, you have the Detroit Tigers. Their pitching staff is younger than Lawrence Taylor’s liason (too soon?), and their road record is just atrocious. Tigers, you know your fate. The White Sox are getting a lot of talk right now because of their big winning streak. Color me unimpressed. They have done it all against the bottom-feeders of the NL East and the weak Chicago Cubs and although their pitching has really picked it up since the start of the year, I will echo my concerns in my AL Central preview when Is ay that you need roster continuity to do anything big. The roster is too piece-meal and I think we are just finally seeing them start to gel, not start to make a prolonged move.
Verdict: WAY OFF
Texas Rangers, 44-28, 1st in AL West
Conventional wisdom is that the heat in Texas in June and July saps the team for late summer runs toward glory. I am not going to necessarily defy this wisdom and say the Rangers are big time contenders, but something has to be said for a team that is in the driver’s seat for the AL West. I think I am sticking with my pick of the Angels because of the heat issue, but we need to talk Rangers baseball here. They have that combination of youth and veteran leadership you want, they have exciting players that are getting fans to the ballpark, all the fans are creating an atmosphere the players can feed off of, and the pitching has been better than expected. I am still skeptical of their big winning streak when it all came against the usually-inferior NL, but even without the winning streak, the Rangers are doing some things. I would be a little more confident in them if they had a veteran in the rotation they could really, really hang their hat on, but I think I am leaning toward a positive verdict regardless.
A Quick Note on the Blue Jays
Playoff quality, AL East poverty. That is the story for the Blue Jays. I like their team a lot, and despite an over-reliance on the long ball, the Blue Jays have made themself a very respectable team post-Halladay.
… And a Quick Note on Joe Maddon’s Ejections
I love them. Creativity, efficiency, good timing. I love the guy. Reminds me of an artist when he/she is in their element. Maddon is taking Umpire Ejection Fantasy Leagues by storm.
Edwin Jackson’s No Hitter
E-Jax defenders, we are going to war. Edwin Jackson’s no hitter today was really impressive. I mean, how does a guy walk 8 batters and still get mobbed on the mound? That has to be one of the least impressive and effective no hitters I have seen in a very long time. The whole point of a no hitter is that you are keeping guys off base and limiting the threats the opposition has. 8 walks does not do that, Hear me loud and clear: I would take a 2 hit complete game with a walk over an 8 walk no hitter every time. Sure, it is impressive that he did not give up a hit, but to me it is far more impressive that he was able to walk 8 guys and throw a no hitter.
We all know he is a physical specimen and that throwing 95 on his 140th pitch was impressive. No one is debating if the guy is physically impressive. I am just here to say that this is the most underwhelming no-hitter I have personally lived through. No hits is great, but the reason a no-hitter is great is because it limits the opposing offense and because it is difficult. It reminds me of little league games where the kid who throws the hardest goes out there and is unhittable, walks 7 guys, gives up 3 runs (errors too), and then gets a pizza party for it. A kid deserves the pizza party, a professional pitcher deserves a trip to the Pitching Coach’s office to look at tape of why his mechanics were so dreadful in the first 3 innings.
But congratulations, Edwin. Enjoy your pizza party, but don’t overeat, you might not be able to walk afterwards. Just kidding, you won’t have any problems with walking anyone.