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Tag: Pennant Race

The Final Day (Maybe)

The Phillies clinched the NL East by beating the Nationals yesterday, but there are still two unclaimed playoff spots heading into the final day of the season.

In the National League, the Mets tied the Brewers for the Wild Card lead yesterday when Johan Santana started on three-day’s rest for the first time in his career and shutout the Marlins on three hits. Mets turn to Oliver Perez for today’s finale, which could also prove to be Shea Stadium’s final game, while the Brewers send ace CC Sabathia to the mound against the Cubs and Angel Guzman. If both teams win (or lose), they’ll have a one-game playoff for the Wild Card at Shea on Monday.

The In the AL, the Twins hold a 1/2 game lead over the White Sox in the Central after both teams lost yesterday. If both team’s win (or lose) the White Sox will have to make up a game against the Tigers at home on Monday. If they win that, they’ll force a one-game playoff with the Twins in Minnesota on Tuesday. If they Sox to the Tigers, they’ll hand the Twins the division. If the Chisox win and the Twins lose today, Chicago will still have to play the Tigers on Monday, but would win the division if they beat Detroit and would still have the Tuesday playoff against the Twins if they lost. If the Twins win today and the White Sox lose, the Twins will win the division in the traditional manner.

Here’s the relevant for schedule today:

1:10 Fla @ NYM (Scott Olsen v Oliver Perez)
2:05 CHC @ Mil (Angel Guzman v CC Sabathia)
2:05 Cle @ CHW (Brian Bullington v Mark Buehrle)
2:05 KCR @ Min (Brandon Duckworth v Scott Baker)

Amazingly, none of these games is being televised nationally.

The Final Weekend

As we head into the final weekend of the 2008 baseball season, there are still five teams fighting for three playoff spots.

Three days ago, the White Sox pulled into Minnesota with a 2.5 game lead hoping to put the Twins away. Instead, they got swept and now trail Minnesota by a half game with three left to play. Both teams finish at home, the Twins hosting the Royals, and the White Sox hosting Cleveland. The Royals arrive at the Metrodome on an 11-2 tear, but I give the advantage to the Twins, as the White Sox will have to face Cliff Lee on the final day of the season if the race isn’t settled by then, while the Twins will kick off their series with Francisco Liriano on the mound tonight.

Things are even tighter in the National League, where the Mets and Brewers both won in walkoffs last night and remain tied for the Wild Card lead, and the Mets are just a game behind the Phillies in the East, opening up a possibility of a three-way tie for the league’s last two playoff spots. The Astros are technically still alive in the Wild Card race as well, but a win by either Milwaukee or New York, or a Houston loss, will eliminate them, likely tonight.

The Brewers face the stiffest competition this weekend by hosting the Cubs, though Lou Piniella was unapologetic about resting some of his starters against the Mets this week. The Mets will host the Marlins in what could be the final three games at Shea Stadium this weekend. Neither the Mets nor the Brewers has a definite starter for Saturday. The Mets have lefty Jonathon Niese lined up, but could replace him with former Yankee righty and 2008 Olympian Brandon Knight given the Marlins’ righty-heavy lineup. The Brewers, meanwhile, are hoping Ben Sheets can return from elbow tendonitis to start on Saturday. If not, they’ll could wind up starting Dave Bush on three-day’s rest. Sunday, both teams will send out their ace: Johan Santana for the Mets, CC Sabathia for the Brewers.

As for the Phillies, they seem likely to hold on to the division as they’re hosting the Nationals and will have Cole Hamels going on Sunday if necessary. Of course, as with the Mets and Brewers, using their ace on the final day to secure a playoff spot would prevent them from using him in Game 1 of the NLDS, but you have to make it there first.

Oh, and it could rain.

The Final Week

With six days left in the regular season, five of the eight playoff spots are still in play and nine teams are still in the hunt.

In the NL East, the Phillies have won ten of their last 11 to build a 2.5 game lead over the Mets. They have just five games left, two against the Braves, and three against the Nationals. The Mets have six games left, the first three against the NL best Cubs. That race looks over.

Fortunately for the Mets, they still hold a one-game lead over the Brewers in the NL Wild Card race. The Brewers also have three games left against the Cubs and have gone just 5-15 on the month. Milwaukee’s other three games are against the Pirates, the Mets’ against the Marlins. Since the top two teams here are choking their seasons away, it’s worth mentioning that the third horse in that race is Houston, which is 3.5 games back this morning and has seven games left against the Reds, Braves, and a season-ending makeup game against the Cubs. All four teams mentioned above play all of their remaining games at home. The other two teams still alive in the NL Wild Card race are the Marlins and Cardinals, both of whom could be eliminated to day with a loss and a Mets win.

The Cardinals host the Diamondbacks for the next three days, then send them home to face the Rockies. The D’backs trail the Dodgers by two games in the West. Joe Torre’s team finishes up against the Padres and Giants.

The AL finds four teams still in play for the remaining two spots, though one of them is the Yankees, who can do no better than tie the Red Sox for the Wild Card. The Sox will clinch the Wild Card with a win or a Yankee loss. Boston also has a chance to pass the Rays for first place in the East (they trail by 2.5 games), though that’s less significant since the Rays have already clinched a playoff spot.

That just leaves the race in the Central, which is where the real action is over the next three days as White Sox, who hold a 2.5 game lead in the division, travel to Minnesota to try to put away the second-place Twins head-to-head. If they fail, the Twins will finish at home against the Royals, while the White Sox host the Indians (actually, that will happen anyway, it just won’t mean as much if the White Sox clinch in Minneapolis).

Here’s the schedule for the White Sox’s series in Minnesota:

Tue 9/23 8:10 (Vazquez v Baker)
Wed 9/24 8:10 (Buehrle v Blackburn)
Thu 9/25 8:10 (Floyd v Slowey)

Sadly, none of these games will be nationally televised.

Boston Red Sox V: One More Time, With Feeling

In recent years, as the Yankees have found themselves fighting an uphill battle toward the postseason in the final weeks and months of the regular season, I’ve often stressed the importance of the team controlling it’s own destiny. Any time a team either holds a potential playoff position, or has more games remaining against the team they’re trailing than the number of games by which they trail that team in the standings, they control their own destiny. In those cases, all the team in question needs do to make the playoffs is match their rival’s record against third-party opponents and take care of business in their head-to-head matchups.

Right now, the Yankees do not control their own destiny.

Team Record Games Ahead Games v. NYY
Tampa Bay Rays 79-50 9.5 6
Boston Red Sox 75-55 5 6
Chicago White Sox 75-56 4.5 4
Minnesota Twins 74-57 3.5 0
New York Yankees 70-60 - -

Despite having six games left against the Yankees, the Rays have put the AL East out of reach. Meanwhile, it would behoove Yankee fans to root strongly for the second-place Twins to overtake the division-leading White Sox in the Central, as there’s some chance of the Yankees gaining control over their Wild Card destiny before the Chisox visit the Bronx in three weeks provided it’s Chicago and not Minnesota that they’re chasing. As it stands, however, the only opposing team over which the Yankees have any meaningful control is the Boston Red Sox, who come to the Bronx tonight for a three-game series that will be the last meeting between the two rivals at Yankee Stadium.

The Red Sox are limping into town. Josh Beckett was supposed to start tonight, but has been scratched due to numbness in his pitching arm. J.D. Drew hasn’t played in more than a week due to back pain and is likely headed to the DL. Already on the disabled list is third baseman Mike Lowell, and replacing Beckett tonight is Tim Wakefield, who will be activated from the DL to make the start. Despite these set-backs, the Sox have played well in August, posting a .667 winning percentage, their best single-month mark of the season. Still, they remain vulnerable. The Yankees took two of three from the Sox at Fenway at the end of July. This week, the Bombers really need to sweep.

Consider that idea of controlling one’s own destiny. If the Yankees sweep the Sox, they’ll wake up Friday morning two games behind Boston with three games remaining at Fenway and right in the thick of the Wild Card race (the White Sox are off Thursday, so a sweep would also move them within four games of Chicago with those four head-to-head games remaining). However, if the Yankees lose just one game in this series, they’ll wake up on Friday four games behind Boston with those three left to play. With a single loss in this three-game series, the Yankees will forfeit their control over their rivals, leaving them completely at the mercy of the teams ahead of them in the standings.

No Excuses

It’s been a rough season for the New York Yankees, but if they think the Red Sox have had it any easier, they’re wrong. It all started with Curt Schilling’s season-ending biceps injury at the outset of spring training. Since then, Beckett, Wakefield, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz, and Bartolo Colon have all spent time on the DL. Lowell is currently on the DL for the second time this season, he’s joined there by Julio Logo, who has missed more than a month with a quad tear. Drew has avoided the DL thus far but could land there any day, and David Ortiz missed two months due to a wrist injury. In the bullpen, Mike Timlin and David Aardsma have made repeat visits to the DL. Both Alex Cora and Sean Casey hit the DL for several weeks as April turned in to May, and Casey has sat out the last week with a stiff neck.

That’s just the injuries. Buchholz, the Red Sox’s answer to Joba Chamberlain, struggled upon his return from injury and has since been demoted due to poor performance. Julian Tavarez pitched his way off the team entirely. Though he enters this series coming off a solid week and a half, Jason Varitek was hitting just .212/.304/.338 for the season on Aug 15. David Ortiz came off the DL to face the Yankees on July 25 and hit well in his first week, but without Manny Ramirez hitting behind him, he’s batted .237/.376/.421 in August with just three home runs.

Of course, Ortiz’s struggles likely have more to do with his wrist than who’s hitting behind him. To begin with, it’s not Jason Bay, Ramirez’s replacement in left field, but Kevin Youkilis who is now hitting behind Ortiz, and Youkilis has hit .333/.397/.621 since moving to that spot in the order. Bay bats behind Youkilis and has thus far done an excellent job of matching Ramirez’s production for the Sox this season:

Manny w/ BOS: .299/.398/.529
J. Bay w/ BOS: .333/.385/.529

The Sox have turned over their four, five, and six-place hitters since last facing the Yankees in late July–replacing Ramirez, Drew, and Lowell with Youkilis, Bay, and Jed Lowrie–but their offense has only improved over that span, with Lowrie chipping in with a .343/.425/.600 line since taking over for Lowell two weeks ago.

Still, the Red Sox are vulnerable. With Lowrie and company moved into the middle third of the order, the bottom third looks like what the Yankees had been running out there much of the season. Also, with Beckett out of this series, the pitching matchups give the Yankees hope.

Untitled
Wakefield and Pettitte debuted with their current teams in 1995. They first faced each other in May 1997.

Wakefield comes off the DL tonight to face Andy Pettitte. The Yanks touched up Wakefield for six runs in 5 1/3 innings on July 26. In that same game, Pettitte struck out seven Sox in six innings and surrendered just one earned run. Over his last three starts, Pettitte has posted a 3.00 ERA and struck out 14 in 21 innings against six walks and no homers. Tomorrow, Sidney Ponson faces Paul Byrd. Ponson’s two worst outings as a Yankee were his last and his last against the Red Sox, but the Yankees scored nine runs in 12 innings against Byrd over two starts earlier in the year, when Byrd was with Cleveland.

Those two games set up a potential pitching duel on Thursday as Jon Lester, who was rocked by the Blue Jays in his last start but has dominated the Yankees in two starts this year (17 IP, 14 H , 2 R, 3 BB, 16 K), takes on Mike Mussina, who has a 3.00 ERA, and 24 Ks against 4 walks and a homer in 33 innings over his last five starts and threw six shutout innings at the Sox in early July, the last time he faced them at the Stadium.

This is easily the most important series the Yankees have played all season, which is exactly as it should be. Whatever happens, the Red Sox’s final visit to Yankee Stadium will be one worth watching.

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Kansas City Royals III: Things That Make You Go Hmmm Edition

Let’s get right into it. The Yankees just made three roster moves. The first was obvious: Dan Giese, who left Wednesday’s game with shoulder tendonitis, has been placed on the DL and replaced with Chris Britton, who will reprise his role as roster filler until the Yankees are forced to call up a fifth starter, likely Phil Hughes, next weekend.

Untitled The second was somewhat overdue. Melky Cabrera, who has hit .226/.274/.293 since May 1, was optioned to triple-A and replaced by Brett Gardner. In fairness to the Yankees, they tried to motivate this exchange in early July by calling up Gardner and giving him 16 starts in an 18-game stretch (enabled by Johnny Damon’s shoulder injury), but Gardner made Melky look like Mickey Mantle by hitting .153/.227/.169. As I reported in my Farm Report this morning, Gardner got back in the grove after his late-July demotion, hitting .339/.429/.390* in his return engagement in Scranton. He also returns to the Bronx coming off a 3 for 4 day (with a triple) and on a seven-game hitting streak. After his July performance, it’s difficult to say Gardner couldn’t be worse than Melky, and there’s legitimate concern that his total lack of power will allow major league pitchers to challenge him and thus negate his ability to draw walks, which is a huge part of his game, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and this doesn’t even qualify as the latter.

Gardner will start in center tonight and bat eighth ahead of Andy Pettitte’s new personal catcher, Jose Molina. It remains to be seen if Joe Girardi will platoon the lefty-hitting Gardner with the right-handed Justin Christian, though one suspects he will. The way I see it, if they’re going to give Gardner a second chance, they might as well let him play full time, though certainly Gardner’s performance will play a large part in determining how much playing time he loses to Christian. As for Melky, he’ll be back when rosters expand in two weeks.

Untitled The third and final transaction saw the Yankees call up Cody Ransom, whom I also discussed in my Farm Report, and release Richie Sexson. I have to say, I’m confused about this one. Sexson was hitting .250/.371/.393 as a Yankee, which isn’t season-changing, but if nothing else, gave the Yankees a solid on-base performance from a bench player. Against lefties, Sexson hit .273/.393/.455 as a Yankee, which meant he was doing what the Yankees picked him up to do. Ransom, as I said in my Farm Report, is essentially a right-handed Wilson Betemit, but five years older and with a fraction of the big league experience. Originally a shortstop, Ransom can play all four infield positions and spot in the outfield. He transitioned to third base in 2006, but in the wake of the Alberto Gonzalez trade was moved back to short in Scranton a couple of weeks ago. He’s got some pop in his bat (22 homers in 116 games for Scranton this year, 49 in 257 games over his last two minor league seasons), but his plate discipline is ordinary at best and he strikes out a lot and hits for a low average.

Other than position flexibility, I’m not sure what Ransom offers that would be enough for the Yankees to pass on having Sexson on the bench earning the major league minimum. Derek Jeter’s in the lineup tonight at shortstop, so it doesn’t seem as though his bruised instep is enough of a problem to motivate a roster move that costs the team a productive player. The only thing I can think of is that having the extra infielder on hand will allow Joe Girardi to apply some pressure to Robinson Cano, whose play over the past two weeks has become downright problematic as he’s made numerous mental mistakes on the bases and in the field, enough so that his effort and concentration have been called into question (Cano’s also hitting .210/.279/.323 since the end of the Yankees’ eight-game winning streak coming out of the All-Star break). Still, I’m not sure it was necessary to release Sexson in order to give either Betemit or Ransom some starts at second base. Besides which, Cano’s in the lineup tonight in his usual spot.

Still, it seems to me that these last two moves are designed primarily to make the C + C Music Factory sweat, while giving Girardi some viable alternatives in the meantime. Sexson’s departure doesn’t represent a huge loss, particularly with Jason Giambi having heated back up (.288/.447/.515 since the day before the All-Star break, .364/.533/.773 on the just-completed road trip), but Cody Ransom, a career .236/.331/.364 hitter in 140 major league bats at age 31, is still a downgrade, no matter what positions he can play.

*the stats in my Farm Report don’t include Thursday’s games; these do

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver