Last week was the unofficial beginning of school, and as a result This Week in Baseball went unwritten. Between the moving and the preparations, there was just not enough time to write about baseball to the extent that it deserves.
That all changes this week as we take a double dip into the MLB races by catching you up and handing out grades for the playoff teams as they come down the home stretch.
Please note grades are based on the last two weeks, not the entire season since I am catching you up on those weeks, not the entire season.
New York Yankees
The Yankees have been playing fantastic baseball as of late, streaking through their schedule like Will Ferrell in Old School. Few teams can score with them, and even when the offense struggles on that rare occasion, the pitching is more than adequate to pick them up. They really only have one problem (and we will get to that in a second), but even with that they are almost a lock to make the ALCS. Oh, and A-Rod comes back soon.
Tampa Bay Rays
The only problem the Yankees have are the Tampa Bay Rays, who are winning at the same impressive clip as the Yankees. In fact, it has been so close that, as I write this, the Yankees and Rays have been tied for over a week atop the AL East, and atop baseball. The offense has been timely, the pitching has been solid, and while attendance continues to haunt the Rays, there is no doubt that those seats should be filled given the quality of the team on the field.
The Twins have stayed solid, as they always seem to do and have not really given us much to talk about lately. They did add Brian Fuentes, who I think can be an excellent setup guy or lefty matchup guy (notice, not a closer) down the stretch, but have otherwise stood pretty much pat as far as any big roster changes. They might have a payroll of $100 million dollars, but some things in an organization do not change. Solid as they go, and I still have them winning the Central.
Chicago White Sox
Just as things don’t change in Minnesota, things do not change in Chicago either. Kenny Williams went big once again and got his hands on Edwin Jackson and Manny Ramirez to help the playoff push. I would like to get up on my soapbox for a second to point out why I am not a fan of Kenny Williams as a GM. I can appreciate that he makes aggressive moves for his team, but he also sacrifices some big things in the process. He has the money to do it, so I have no issue with the Manny signing. The only real issue I have is how Chicago is a big market team that expects to be treated like a small market. With all that money, there is no excuse for not being the best team in a division with a bunch of mid-market teams (though this is changing somewhat). There is no excuse for the White Sox not winning the Central regularly with their resources, but they manage to just be decent. Whether that is Williams or Ozzie, I do not know. But back to the Kenny Williams aggression. He traded away a gem of a pitcher in Daniel Hudson to get a 3rd starter? Really? And if you don’t believe me about Hudson, look at his numbers in hitter-friendly Arizona. Williams brings in lots of guys, but he fails to develop the farm system sometimes in doing so. But anyway, it will not matter because the Twins are still going to win the division and the White Sox will remain the second city’s second team.
Sorry, Sox fans. I am just feeling very anti-White Sox lately. I am not going to bash you in the grades though, just on your management. The team has been playing outstanding baseball, and there is no denying that. Especially big has been the re-emergence of Gordon Beckham, who has had a dreadful year until recently. Also, for the record, I think Manny will just be an adequate acquisition, nothing to put them over the top.
This is a very interesting case. The Rangers have been fairly lackluster lately, and I am not sure whether they have simply taken their foot off the gas with the division all but in hand, or if the Texas heat has completely sapped them of their energy like it seems to every year. Cliff Lee has been getting roughed up by the likes of the Orioles and guys that used to be consistently killing the ball have slowed down (Josh Hamilton, AL MVP, excluded). They are still in, but there is some cause for concern in Texas.
Ok, they are not making the playoffs, but I have been on this team all year, and I don’t plan on stopping now. Going into the season, I thought their pitching would be solid, but what they have done is incredible. Since July 6th, Trevor Cahill had a 0.77 ERA (before he was again roughed up by the Yankees). Gio Gonzalez, I guy I saw and loved in spring training this year, has been very good. Ben Sheets is injured (as we, and everyone else predicted), and the A’s just keep plugging without him. They are not a team that will frighten you going into the series, but when all is said and done you look back and wonder how they took 2 of 3 from you. Facing them is like facing Jamie Moyer: you keep going up there pretty comfortable and not too anxious and you end up 0-4 and wondering how it happened. I bought my seat on the A-Train (my unofficial name for their miniscule bandwagon) and will gladly keep my seat for the rest of the season.
The Braves have tripped up a little lately, but since the Phillies keep falling on their face they have kept the top spot out east. Perhaps the low point of the stretch was blowing that 9 run lead to the Rockies in Atlanta just as the Phillies were doing their best to let the Braves run away with the division. It was also very un-Braves of them to blow a lead considering they have won more games from behind than anyone else, have more walk off hits than anyone else, and have a great home record, which is where they blew the lead. Very unlike them, but the more time passes, the more I think that they are going to make the playoffs and be contenders when they get there. The grade will be low since it is based on recent performance,
When it isn’t one thing, its another. When it isn’t the offense not being able to hit anything, it is the runners asleep on the bases (I’m looking at you Jayson Werth and Ben Francisco).. When it isn’t the pitching not quite living up to admittedly lofty expectations, it is Ryan Howard getting tossed and his spot in the oder coming up with the game on the line for Roy Oswalt to take his hacks. I still think the Phillies have the quality to go to the World Series, but they are making it very hard for me to pick them. THe Braves get swept by the Rockies and the Phillies capitulated instead of capitalizing by getting swept in a 4 game series. At home, By the Astros. I mean everyone loses sometimes, but who loses in clutch time like that? It is almost as if Jerry Manuel and the Mets have occupied the Phillies souls and are showing them the despair inherent in just not being able to win when it counts. I am going pretty low on the grade here, but still expect the Phillies to make the playoffs. They have to figure it out eventually, right? Right?
The Reds have built up a 6 game lead in the NL Central (with a little help) and now look set to win the division easily. I have been on record of picking the Cardinals to pull the division out, but the Reds have given me no choice but to label them a LOCK to win the division. Failure to do so at this point, with the way they are playing, would be Mets-esque. They are the beneficiaries of some good luck, so while I cannot give them an A, I will go fairly high with my grade. They are also the beneficiaries of the fact that no one is really playing well in the NL right now.
St. Louis Cardinals
Oh how the mighty have fallen. 5 games under .500 against teams below .500 in August? Yikes, no wonder they have fallen out of the race against the Astros and Nationals. At this point, the Cardinals have to realize a few things. The first is that they desperately need another consistent bat. Pujols is still there, but Holliday has not filled in quite as they expected, and the rest of the lineup is far from frightening. John Jay went through his expected slump, but he is probably the only other guy I am nervous about pitching to in the entire lineup. It should be priority #1 this offseason. The other thing they need to realize, and are probably in the process of realizing right now, is that they are finished. Done. They just failed their class in Playoffs 2010.
San Diego Padres
The losers of 6 straight (as this is written) have got to be biting their nails like LeBron (damnit Jim Gray) as their inexperienced squad stumbles toward the postseason. I still think they can hold on, but they had better stop the bleeding soon. They have been so great this year that it is hard to look at them and be surprised when they lose, even though that is exactly what we predicted entering the season. I think the Padres are still going to pass the class overall, but they are not doing so well over the last 2 weeks.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants have been enigmatic on the best of days this year, and this has not changed much lately. They drop series you assume they would win, win series they should probably lose, and just generally keep us on our toes. They have undoubtedly been playing better than the Padres, but I do not think they can outplay them to the level they would need to to catch them. 4-6 in their last 10 is not good, but it is still a step up on the Padres, I guess. I am pretty sure they are missing the playoffs at this point although they are still in the race.
Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed a great race for NL MVP. Joey Votto and Albert Pujols are both in Triple Crown contention ,though neither will get it, and both are on fire. However, I am sticking to my Joey Votto MVP pick from my mid-season review as Omar Infante will win the batting title when he gets enough at bats (which he will with Chipper out).
The Rookie of the Year has also gotten complicated since the Cardinals started hemorrhaging wins. Jaime Garcia is still in the running, but it is also hard to ignore a guy like Jason Heyward who looks like he might help lead his team to the playoffs. I would not be unhappy with either one.
I know this is absolutely killing Cardinals fans to read, but they dropped out of the Cy Young race too. Adam Wainwright has lost 3 straight starts (for the first time in his career) and has been at the helm of the House of Cards has come crashing down. Josh Johnson was already OTC’s pick, but he has been more-or-less confirmed with Wainwright’s struggles.
The AL has seemed pretty solid for a while. Austin Jackson (our pick) or Brendan Boesch for ROY, and David Price for Cy Young (with honorable mention for CC Sabathia). However, someone stepped up and claimed the MVP, and that man is Josh Hamilton. We saw how hot he was in July, but we figured it was just a hot streak that can be expected by a player as talented as he was. However, he stayed almost as hot in August, absolutely crushing the ball and earning the nickname “The Natural” from fans and teammates. Miguel Cabrera still deserves mention and he did nothing to lose the award, Hamilton just stepped up and won it.