Thursday, July 17, 2008

It's a race

With the MLB All Star Game come and gone — and boy was it stubborn with a game that lasted four hours and fifty minutes — it's about time we do some reflection. Reflecting on that marathon the other night, it threw off my entire work week because I was watching it in Manhattan and didn't return to my apartment in Brooklyn until around three in the morning. But I would have been fine with it going longer just to see J.D. Drew and David Wright pitch in the 16th inning.

But now that the All Star Game is finally over, focus rightfully turns back onto the division races at hand. Four out of the six divisions are pretty much too close to call at this point. The Red Sox are a 0.5 games up on the Rays, and six games up on the Yankees. The White Sox are 1.5 games up on Minnesota, with Detroit looming seven back. The Angels are six games up on the Athletics. The DBacks are a game up on the Dodgers, despite having a record below .500. The Cubs, with the best record in baseball, are 4.5 games up on the Cards, and the Brewers are right there as well. And last, and as I will explain, certainly not least, the Phillies sit 0.5 games up on the Mets.

Clearly, a lot of these races are yet to be determined considering how close they are currently. Let's not forget there's something like 70 games still to play for most teams. But I think there's only going to be one race that actually goes down to the wire, and it's one that has developed only recently. I'm talking about the Mets and Phillies.

A lot of people, especially people here in New York, left the Mets for dead after a sluggish start prompted the firing of Willie Randolph. Now, about a month later, it appears as if the firing was just what the doctor ordered. They've won nine straight and are nipping at the heels of those Phillies.

And when you take a look at each team's rosters, this race has all the makings of something that goes down to the final day — just like it did last year. The Phillies clearly have the superior lineup. It's pretty tough to find another team with names like Rollins, Utley, Howard, Burrell in the heart of the order. To be fair, the Mets counter with Wright, Reyes, and Beltran, but that just doesn't have the same pizazz, if you will. Each team also has a solid closer with a propensity for blowing saves in really high-pressure environments in Brad Lidge and Billy Wagner.

The similarities go even further down to the starting pitching. Both teams have a dynamic front line starter (Johan Santana and Cole Hamels). Both have a solid No. 2 starter (Jamie Moyer and John Maine). And then each have sometimes brilliant, sometimes erratic back-of-the-line grinders. The real wild card in all this is Pedro Martinez. Right now he's pitching no better than a No. 4 starter, but we all know when the lights come on Pedro can be brilliant if he's got any gas left in the tank.

So that leaves the Phillies with a superior lineup and the Mets with (potentially) a superior rotation. Who wins out if everything remains the same is really unknown in my book. I could see either team winning. Now, if the Phils or Mets conduct some sort of trade, this concersation could get thrown out the window. Some writers have floated rumors of the possibility that the Mets could be chasing after a trade for Matt Holliday, since the Rockies can't seem to get him signed to a long term deal. And it's been widely reported that the Phillies are in the market for another starter, with names like Erik Bedard being thrown.

If either team can swing a significant trade, which both of the possibilities I just threw would be, then the division could have a favorite.

As for the other divisions, as much as I like the Rays ownership I think the team is one year away. I see them finishing somewhere around the 85-90 win mark, and looking a lot like last year's Brewers. Minnesota has been admirable this year, but they don't have the horses to hang in long term. I could see Detroit getting hot late, but I think they've dug themselves a hole that is too crater-like to climb out of. The Angels will run away from their division. And anyone writing off the Yankees for that wild card spot are just crazy.

My lone bold prediction coming out of the All-Star break.

In the National League Central, the Cubs should win the division, no matter how good that C.C./Sheets combo looks and sounds. And the Diamondbacks just have too much pitching for whatever postseason magic Joe Torre can conjure up with the Dodgers.

So with 70-some odd games remaining, here's a stab at what the playoffs will look like come October:

AL EAST: Red Sox
AL WEST: Angels

NL EAST: Mets (closing out Shea in style)
NL WEST: Arizona

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