One month and 10 key questions
One month to go.That's all. There's just one month to the day before this amazing baseball season hits the finish line. It's hard to know where to train your eyes in this 87-ring circus. But Rumblings is here to help, as always, by presenting 10 key questions for the final month:
|1. COULD THE YANKEES AND RED SOX BOTH MISS THE PLAYOFFS?|
We've done all the research. And just as we all suspected, the last time a postseason arrived minus the Yankees and Red Sox was way back in 1896.OK, no, it wasn't. It only seems like it. But now an actual fact: There hasn't been a single postseason in the wild-card era that didn't feature at least one of these teams. And seven of those 13 postseasons included both of them. In those 13 Octoberfests, the Yankees and Red Sox have played a combined 163 games, including 17 against each other. Several of them even ended before 3 in the morning.
|2. CAN THE RAYS FINISH THE MIRACLE?|
|3. CAN THE CUBS WIN 100?|
|4. WILL THE ANGELS LOSE THEIR MOJO?|
|5. CAN THE BREWERS PUT OCTOBER BACK ON THEIR CALENDAR?|
|6. WILL THIS METS-PHILLIES SAGA HAVE A DIFFERENT ENDING?|
Privately, the Mets don't seem optimistic they'll get any meaningful contribution from John Maine (8-1 lifetime against the Phillies and Marlins). They're not so sure about Billy Wagner, either. There are no impact pitchers they can trade for. And now consider this stat:Here's the record of these teams in games decided after the sixth inning (meaning the score was tied after six, or the lead changed): Phillies 31-15, Mets 11-22. Nobody we've talked to thinks that stat is an aberration. "One part of it, obviously, is the difference in bullpens," one scout said. "But the other part of it is heart. I love the Phillies' grit. And now that [Jimmy] Rollins is hitting again, they're the team to beat again."
|7. WILL BOTH CHICAGO TEAMS MAKE IT?|
|8. CAN THE ROCKIES DO IT AGAIN?|
|9. WHICH NONCONTENDER CAN WREAK THE MOST HAVOC?|
You know some noncontender will hear the alarm go off on Labor Day and decide to ruin the season for its favorite pennant chaser. It's always somebody. But who? Well, here are some nominations:The Blue Jays are nine games better than .500 (26-17) since the Fourth of July. They still employ Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan. And they'll play 24 more games against the Rays, Yankees, Twins, White Sox and Red Sox. So watch out for that team.
The Indians, meanwhile, have the same record since the Sabathia trade (28-16) as CC's new team. They've won 10 in a row. They've passed the Tigers in the standings. And boy, could they cause some trouble. In the last two weeks, they play the Twins, Red Sox and White Sox.And our National League havoc-wreaker nomination goes to the Braves. Yeah, they've been a mess. True, they're 10-20 since Tim Hudson exited. Granted, they haven't won a one-run game on the road all year. But they'll play 15 straight games in September against the Rockies, Mets and Phillies. Why do we have a feeling one of those teams won't enjoy that matchup a whole lot?
It's not a memorable year in the old History Department. There's K-Rod's quest for 60 saves, of course. There's Cliff Lee, who has a shot at going 25-2 for a team with a losing record. There's Ryan Howard's impending founding of the 200-Whiff Club.
|10. WILL THE NL BATTING RACE MAKE HISTORY?|
Chipper Jones is trying to win the first batting title of his career, at age 36. Only one player in history has ever won his first batting title at an older age. Can you name him? (Answer later.)
Ready to Rumble• Bronx glue: The best thing that could happen to Mark Teixeira's checking account is the Yankees' missing the playoffs. Even though Jorge Posada's long-term future might well turn out to be at first base/DH, missing the playoffs -- because of an offense that will score nearly 200 fewer runs than last year -- likely would make the Steinbrenner family just desperate enough to put the team in the mix for Teixeira. And it's a good thing for him, because it now seems like virtually a lock that that other team in New York, the Mets, will pick up the $12 million option on Carlos Delgado (who actually leads Teixeira in homers, 30-27). • Boras' auction house: But how much is Teixeira worth? If Scott Boras is serious about establishing a 10-year, $230 million price tag on Teixeira, he won't have many bidders to play the Yankees against. Most teams view him as a five-year, $90 million kind of guy. "What really stands out, when you've got Vlad and Teixeira back-to-back in the same lineup, is what he isn't," an official of one club said. "Let's put it this way: I know which one I fear, and it isn't him. To me, when you see truly great players, they always have that extra edge, that killer instinct. Well, if this guy has it, he doesn't project it. Hey, he's a good player, obviously. But is he a guy who's going to legitimately carry a club for the money he's asking? I don't see that." • What's free about free agency: Whether Teixeira ends up in the Bronx or not, the Yankees' free-agent hyperactivity figures to make this an expensive market for any team to shop in. The Yankees have about $90 million in expiring contracts (most of it courtesy of Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Carl Pavano, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Pudge Rodriguez/Kyle Farnsworth). Even if they bring back a couple of those guys at reduced rates, that's way too much money for a team like this to have burning a hole in its pocket as it heads into a new ballpark. So other clubs already are hearing that the Yankees plan to put a full-court press on CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets (if Sabathia rejects them) and Teixeira. And that will drive up free-agent prices for everybody, as agents everywhere rejoice.
Stat of the week
Here's our latest brainstorm for illustrating how RBIs are overrated -- a new stat concoction we're calling Runs NOT Batted In (RNBI).To compute it, you start with number of runners on base when a hitter bats, subtract the number of those runners knocked in and compute how many of those runners each hitter didn't drive in. The leaderboard, through Aug. 26 (data from baseballprospectus.com):
• Out like a Lamb: We're hearing that Mike Lamb, just designated for assignment by the Twins, has told his old buddies in Houston he'd love to play in Philadelphia. And with the Phillies still hunting for a left-handed bat off the bench, they clearly would be interested. One big question is whether the Phillies (or anyone else) would try to trade for Lamb or just wait until the Twins release him. He can't be released until next week, meaning he wouldn't be eligible for postseason play. But because he already has cleared trade waivers, he could be dealt at any time.• Raul-less in Seattle: The Mariners took a hard line on trading Raul Ibanez, both before the deadline and in August (after the Tigers claimed him) -- because they appreciate his professionalism and because they figure to get two compensation picks for him if he leaves. But if they think they have a shot at re-signing him as a free agent, one old friend of Ibanez says they'd better think again. "What's the sales pitch they could possibly make?" his friend asked. "What's his reason to want to go back? He's tired of losing." • A test in the West: It's never too early to look ahead to October, especially if you're a Cubs fan. But you might not enjoy the view. If the Brewers win the wild card, the Cubs would get stuck with a first-round date against the NL West champ. And that's a more terrifying proposition than it might seem in the W-L column. If it's Arizona, that means a Game 1 date with Brandon Webb (4-1, 2.53 lifetime against the Cubbies), a Game 2 match with Dan Haren (7 IP, two earned runs in his only start against the Cubs as a D-back) and a Game 3 nightmare against Randy Johnson (13-0, 1.84 in his career against the Cubs, the third-best record in history for any pitcher against any team). But even if the Dodgers win the West, we remind you that the Cubs scored only 19 runs in seven games this year against Dodgers pitchers. Some fun, huh? "You can argue that there's no better chance for an upset [in the first round] than the Cubs face," one scout said, "because pitching can be the great equalizer. And remember, all the pressure will be on the Cubs to get to the World Series." • The Buc stops: Pedro Alvarez's conscientious objection to signing his own contract isn't the Pirates' only issue. Scouts who have followed the Pirates have been buzzing about Andy LaRoche's lethargic play since he arrived from the Dodgers, who traded him because they had the same concerns. "To see that effort level is really disappointing," one scout said. "I'm stunned that the effort level has been so poor. To see a kid hitting .170 and not running ground balls out, it's hard to fathom. This isn't the kind of player this team needs. They need more dirt balls and fire guys who scratch and claw."
• Blakes all around: The Dodgers have interest in bringing back Casey Blake. But that wouldn't mean that the guy he deposed at third base, Blake DeWitt, would be consigned to two years in Las Vegas. Scouts report the Dodgers have been playing DeWitt at second base in Triple-A because they believe he might be versatile enough to supplant Jeff Kent there next year.• The hit squad: You've heard of basketball teams that play better defense when they're making shots? Well, Charlie Manuel has an interesting theory about the Phillies -- that they play with more energy when they're hitting than when they're not. "When things are going good on our team," he said, "our guys really love to play. And I think that carries over to the rest of their game, and they really get into it. When they feel good and things are clicking and guys are having fun, these guys play the game right and play hard. I never would have thought we would have gone so long without consistent hitting. And that definitely took its toll. But I feel us getting back the same kind of energy on offense. And that's what it's going to take for us to win."
Barry Bonds, at age 38, in 2002.
Quote of the weekFrom the Angels' Torii Hunter, on what he told his trainer after getting nailed in the helmet by a throw during Tuesday's game against Oakland: "He asked what day it is. Then he asked where I was, and I said, 'Minnesota.'"
Headliner of the weekLoyal reader Wil Shepard alerted us to this blockbuster headline from the new "Fake News" department for weei.com, the Web site for WEEI AM radio in Boston: "DUSTIN PEDROIA: 'I WILL REPEAT AS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR'"
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.