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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wake Me Up When September Ends...(Part 1)

For those who love pennant races, this has not been your year. About a week ago the San Francisco Giants had men on second and third and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth against the Wild Card-leading Rockies. Had they driven those men in (all they needed was a couple of well placed grounders or deep fly balls) it would've capped off a series sweep and put them within a game and a half...but they didn't, and so the Rockies lead jumped to three and half, and has remained that or better ever since. Minnesota has taken advantage of a Detroit slump such that the four-game series between the two teams starting Monday still has significant consequence. However, barring a sweep by the Twins, it remains almost certain that the eight teams who entered the month leading their divisions and the Wild Card races will end up being the eight teams playing in October. As I said before, that's unfortunate for those who love pennant races.

However, for those of us that love playoff baseball above all else, this is actually great news. There isn't going to be anybody backing into the postseason. No 82, 83, or 84 game winners this year. Even Detroit has already hit the magic 81 and will likely need at least four or five more in the coming week and a half. Every other playoff contender seems destined to win at least 90, if they haven't already. There haven't been 7 or more 90 win teams in the playoffs since 2004.

Every one of the teams we're going to be watching in October has been realistically considering their postseason rosters since at least the end of July. That's why the Dodgers went out and got Jim Thome. It's why the Rockies acquired Jason Giambi. It's why the Tigers got Aubrey Huff. It's why the Phillies wanted to land Ben Francisco as well as Cliff Lee in their deal with Cleveland. This is the first year in a long while that no National League team is going to be caught with their pants down if they reach the World Series and have to play four games with a DH. The Phillies have Francisco and Greg Dobbs. The Cardinals have Rick Ankiel and possibly Troy Glaus. The Dodgers have Thome and the Rockies have the Giambino, who, by the way, have combined for 261 HR from the DH position, 32 HR against the Yankees, and 70 HR against the Red Sox.

I expect this to be a highly competitive postseason as every team comes with considerable strengths. Detroit may be slumping in September, but they've got superior defense up the middle with Gerald Laird, Adam Everett, Placido Polanco, and Curtis Granderson, and a serious two-headed monster at the top of the rotation with Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson. And has anybody noticed that since the All-Star Break, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, and Magglio Ordonez are all in the top 12 in the AL in OPS?

Here's my breakdown of how the elite eight stack up in four categories critical to postseason success: top-o-the rotation starters, up-the-middle defense, middle-o-the order bats, and back-o-the bullpen relievers

Top o' The Rotation Starters:

1. St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter (16-4, 2.34), Adam Wainwright (18-8, 2.59), Joel Pineiro (15-11, 3.24)

2. Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander (16-9, 3.44), Edwin Jackson (13-7, 3.25), Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.14)

3. Philadelphia Phillies: Cliff Lee (14-11, 2.99), Cole Hamels (10-9, 4.11), Joe Blanton (11-7, 3.82) or J. A. Happ (10-4, 2.77) or Pedro Martinez (5-1, 3.32)

4. Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester (14-7, 3.33), Josh Beckett (16-6, 3.78), Clay Buchholz (6-3, 3.49) or Daisuke Matsuzaka (2-0, 2.38 since coming off the DL)

5. New York Yankees: C. C. Sabathia (18-7, 3.31), A. J. Burnett (12-9, 4.19), Andy Pettitte (13-7, 4.15)

6. Colorado Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez (14-11, 3.47), Jorge De La Rosa (15-9, 4.42), Jason Marquis (15-12, 3.98) or Aaron Cook (10-6, 4.47)

7. Los Angeles Dodgers: Randy Wolf (11-6, 3.24), Clayton Kershaw (8-8, 2.85), Chad Billingsley (12-10, 4.07) or Hiroki Kuroda (8-6, 3.65)

8. Los Angeles Angels: John Lackey (11-8, 3.56), Jered Weaver (15-7, 3.87), Joe Saunders (14-7, 4.63)

Up The Middle Defense:

1. Detroit Tigers: Gerald Laird (42.9% CS), Placido Polanco (9.4 UZR), Adam Everett (6.6 UZR), Curtis Granderson (0.6 UZR)

2. Philadelphia Phillies: Carlos Ruiz (28.4%), Chase Utley (8.9), Jimmy Rollins (4.2), Shane Victorino (-3.9)

3. Los Angeles Dodgers: Russell Martin (31.0%), Orlando Hudson (-3.9), Rafael Furcal (7.2), Matt Kemp (5.3)

4. Los Angeles Angels: Mike Napoli (21.7%), Maicer Izturis (8.2) or Howie Kendrick (5.9), Erick Aybar (5.1), Torii Hunter (-5.2)

5. St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina (40.4%), Skip Schumaker (-7.0), Brendan Ryan (13.5) or Julio Lugo (-36.5), Colby Rasmus (10.7)

6. Colorado Rockies: Yorbit Torrealba (14.6%), Clint Barmes (4.5), Troy Tulowitzki (0.7), Carlos Gonzalez (6.4) or Dexter Fowler (-14.1)

7. New York Yankees: Jorge Posada (29.4%), Robinson Cano (-5.8), Derek Jeter (5.9), Melky Cabrera (3.1)

8. Boston Red Sox: Jason Varitek (13.0%) or Victor Martinez (14.3%), Dustin Pedroia (10.9), Jed Lowrie (22.2) or Nick Green (4.8), Jacoby Ellsbury (-11.0)

Middle o' the Order Bats:

1. St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols (1123 OPS), Matt Holliday (911), Ryan Ludwick (783)

2. New York Yankees: Mark Texeira (950), Alex Rodriguez (921), Hideki Matsui (896)

3. Philadelphia Phillies: Chase Utley (941), Ryan Howard (917), Raul Ibanez (912)

4. Boston Red Sox: Victor Martinez (850), Kevin Youkilis (953), Jason Bay (936)

5. Los Angeles Angels: Bobby Abreu (817), Vladimir Guerrero (811), Torii Hunter (892), Kendry Morales (909)

6. Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton (889), Troy Tulowitzki (908), Brad Hawpe (892)

7. Los Angeles Dodgers: Manny Ramirez (973), Andre Ethier (890), Matt Kemp (860)

8. Detroit Tigers: Magglio Ordonez (765), Miguel Cabrera (958), Carlos Guillen (769) or Marcus Thames (770)

Back o' the Bullpen Arms:

1. New York Yankees: Mariano Rivera (42 SV, 1.88 ERA), Phil Hughes (3 SV, 17 HLD, 1.30 ERA), Alfredo Aceves (10-1, 1 SV, 6 HLD, 3.87 ERA, 1.07 WHIP)

2. Los Angeles Dodgers: Jonathan Broxton (7-1, 35 SV, 2.39 ERA, 13.69 K/9), George Sherrill (21 SV, 10 HLD, 1.81 ERA), Ronald Belisario (12 HLD, 1.89 ERA, 1.10 WHIP)

3. Boston Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon (37 SV, 1.94 ERA), Hideki Okajima (6-0, 24 HLD, 3.30 ERA), Daniel Bard (12 HLD, 1 SV, 3.72 ERA, 11.93 K/9)

4. St. Louis Cardinals: Ryan Franklin (37 SV, 1.98 ERA), Dennys Reyes (18 HLD, 3.29 ERA), Trever Miller (13 HLD, 1.98 ERA, 0.93 WHIP)

5. Colorado Rockies: Huston Street (33 SV, 2.93 ERA), Rafael Betancourt (2 SV, 18 HLD, 2.82 ERA), Franklin Morales (7 SV, 6 HLD, 2.97 ERA, 9.20 K/9)

6. Detroit Tigers: Fernando Rodney (34 SV, 3.76 ERA), Bobby Seay (6-3, 28 HLD, 3.70), Brandon Lyon (6-4, 3 SV, 14 HLD, 2.94 ERA, 70 IP)

7. Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Lidge (31 SV, 7.48 ERA), Ryan Madson (8 SV, 26 HLD, 3.33 ERA), Chan Ho Park (13 HLD, 2.52 ERA, 9.36 K/9)

8. Los Angeles Angels: Brian Fuentes (44 SV, 4.21 ERA), Kevin Jepsen (6-3, 16 HLD, 4.26 ERA), Darren Oliver (5-1, 16 HLD, 2.53 ERA)