Monday, July 25, 2005

LFR Handicaps The Final Two Months

Oakland & Houston To Win Wildcard

Today, USA Today began publishing wildcard standings with their daily baseball coverage. With that, it's time to focus on who are the contenders and pretenders going into the final two months. It's a safe bet that the five division leaders (Boston, ChiSox, Anaheim, San Diego, St. Louis) along with Atlanta, who are currently tied with Washington, will advance. Here's what to look for in the wild card races:

American League
Contender: New York, Oakland
Pretender: Minnesota, Baltimore, Cleveland, Toronto, Detroit

The A's may have gained the advantage over the Yankees this past week by blowing past Texas. Ironically, this may be Oakland's best chance over the mighty Yanks. For the first time in the Beane era, the A's have a uniquely delineated rotation and bullpen. Everyone especially in the bullpen have performed solidly and possess something never before seen in Oakland--hard-throwing relievers with strikeout stuff (Street, Calero, Witasick).

New York is still a sleeping giant because of all the dough lying around Yankee Stadium, but these Yanks are vastly different than other versions. They're decidely showing their age, they lack tradable resources and management seems to be filling its many holes willy-nilly without a plan. Adding pitchers Al Leiter, Tim Redding and Darrell May, only to demote the last two after failing in their initial try.

Many like Minnesota in the wildcard and they currently lead with Oakland, but the lack of offense in the Twin Cities is alarming. Touted power hitters like Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau have combined for only 17 homers while the entire team has struggled average-wise. They're a possibility if Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter begin hitting like Joe Mauer, but not likely.

Baltimore is not ready for primetime and should run out of gas in the next month. The Orioles are similar to the 1999 A's who fell just short of the playoffs in the final week of the season, only to use the experience to contend for the next four years. Erik Bedard is going to be dominant and any offense led by Miguel Tejada will be inspired.

Cleveland, Detroit, and Toronto, however, are teams with talented prospects playing well but lack any impetus to step up to the elite teams. The Tribe and Jays are seemingly a collection of young and talented prospects without any support or on-field direction. The Tigers are harder to figure out. Either this year or next, pitcher Jeremy Bonderman is going to win 20 games and when you couple that with veterans like Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez, suddenly you have young talent with a pedigree.

National League
Contenders: Houston, Chicago Cubs, Florida.
Pretenders: Philadelphia, Washington New York Mets.

The N.L. is far more wide open than the A.L., but, like Oakland, Houston is following the same template. It's usually wise to take the baseball team playing inspired ball like the Astros. Despite missing Jeff Bagwell, the 'Stros have discovered a leadoff man in WIly Taveras and still have the starting staff. Houston is lock because of their two aces and a half--Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

The Cubs and Marlins are two similar teams with gutsy starters and postseason experience. The Cubs are currently hot, but the Marlins continue to flounder around .500. For Chicago, baseball's newest jinx capital, something will go wrong with the fragile Kerry Woods and Mark Prior. Florida is an enigma. Their season may be written on whether a spectacular addition is made this week.

Philly, Washington, and New York have either shown brief glimpses of fine play, feeding off a brief honeymoon period in a new city or a team with the benefit of playing in a mediocre league.

During tonight's Monday Night Baseball telecast, ESPN's Rick Sutcliffe offered support for Major League Baseball reducing Kenny Rogers' 20-game suspension because it disportionately hurt the Rangers more than the offender.

The question is, then, isn't Rogers part of the team? Shouldn't his on-field behavior reflect on the team's performance?

For Rangers fans, this just illustrates that this team wasn't as solid as many people thought. Is it a coincidence that the Rangers tanked seven of eight to the A's the past week, including a four-game weekend sweep in Arlington?

The team's fortunes were obviously banking on a 40-year-old All-Star with dubious leadership credentials. Now, Rogers has squandered, possibly his next four starts during the dog days of August because he's afraid of cameras.

Mychal Urban, the A's beat writer for told that he believes newly acquired Joe Kennedy will be traded along with, possibly, Keith Ginter and some top prospects for either the Reds Adam Dunn or Austin Kearns.

He see Kennedy as nothing more than Mark Redman with blonde hair.

Such a deal would instantly ignite debate over the liklihood of not just the wildcard spot but the A.L. West.