Baseball BeatSeptember 20, 2007
...And Down the Stretch They Come!
By Rich Lederer

The famous horse racing call is an appropriate description as Major League Baseball winds down its six-month regular season with four division titles and two wild cards still to be determined. The postseason horses are on the board in the American League but there is a stakes race in the East in which the betting public anxiously awaits the finish while holding onto their exacta tickets.

In the meantime, the tote board is working overtime in the National League as all three claiming races and the wild card are up for grabs. The Mets, Cubs, and Diamondbacks are in front by a length or two but the Phillies, Brewers, and Padres are going to the whip as they try to overtake the lead pony in each of their respective divisions.

TEAM           W    L    PCT  GB    Comments
Red Sox       90   63  .588   -     Lug
Yankees       88   64  .579   1.5   In the Money
Blue Jays     77   75  .507  12.5   Show
Orioles       64   87  .424  25     Checked
Devil Rays    63   90  .412  27     Untried

Red Sox-Yankees. Yankees-Red Sox. Does it really matter? You bet it does. These rivals are playing for first place, possible home-field advantage, and pride. It looked like Boston in a breeze at the clubhouse turn but a sweep at the hands of Toronto has turned this race into what could amount to a photo finish.

TEAM           W    L   PCT   GB    Comments
Indians       90   62  .592   -     Handily
Tigers        83   70  .542   7.5   Hung
Twins         75   77  .493  15     Evenly
White Sox     66   86  .434  24     Washy
Royals        65   86  .430  24.5   Scratch

For those of you with blinkers on, the Indians and Angels now possess the best record in the majors. Cleveland effectively put away Detroit during a three-game sweep with C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and the bullpen leading the way. With three games in Kansas City on the final weekend, the Tribe may take the opportunity to position its rotation for the ALDS against either the Red Sox or Yankees.

TEAM           W    L   PCT   GB    Comments
Angels        90   62  .592   -     Lock
Mariners      81   70  .536   8.5   Faltered
A's           74   80  .481  17     Eased
Rangers       70   82  .461  20     Under Wraps

The Angels were tested by the Mariners last month but met the challenge head on with a sweep in Seattle. The placing judges have been reassigned to the AL East as the Halos gallop to the finish line.

TEAM           W    L   PCT   GB    Comments
Mets          84   67  .556   -     Prep
Phillies      82   70  .539   2.5   Closer
Braves        79   73  .520   5.5   In Hand
Nationals     68   84  .447  16.5   All Out
Marlins       65   87  .428  19.5   Distanced

With 10 of its last 11 games against Washington and Florida (and the other a make-up game at home vs. the Cardinals, who most likely will mail it in), the Mets can thank the stewards for what should be a hand ride over the next one-and-a-half weeks. The Phillies (Fillies?) have a favorable schedule as well, facing the Nationals in seven of their final 10 contests.

TEAM           W    L   PCT   GB    Comments
Cubs          80   73  .523   -     Blanket Finish
Brewers       78   73  .517   1     Extended
Cardinals     71   80  .470   8     False Favorite
Reds          69   83  .454  10.5   Also Ran
Pirates       66   86  .434  13.5   Steadied
Astros        66   86  .434  13.5   Breakdown

Consider Chicago as the favorite to take the NL Central. The Cubs will not play a playoff-bound team the rest of the regular season while the Brewers will be jockeying for position against the Braves and Padres with the latter running as hard as possible in search of their own postseason berths.

TEAM           W    L   PCT   GB    Comments
Diamondbacks  86   67  .562   -     Overlay
Padres        84   67  .556    1    Stretch Runner
Rockies       80   72  .526   5.5   Solid Horse
Dodgers       79   73  .520   6.5   Winded
Giants        67   85  .441  18.5   Taken Up

Only the Giants have been mathematically eliminated but the NL West is really a two-horse race between the Diamondbacks and Padres. Both teams are odds-on choices of making the playoffs, either as the division champ or the wild card representative. With six games remaining against Arizona and San Diego, Colorado is still in control of its own destiny and can't be ruled out quite yet.

TEAM           W    L    PCT  GB    Comments
Yankees       88   64  .579   -     Romp
Tigers        83   70  .542   5.5   Bobble
Mariners      81   70  .536   6.5   Pocket

Either the Yankees or Red Sox will *win* the wild card in the American League. Think of it as a consolation prize for not winning the AL East. And let's not kid ourselves here that it will be anything more than that. Sure, Boston won the World Series as a wild card in 2004 but capturing a title for the first time since 1995 would be the next best thing for the perennial runners-up in the AL East.

TEAM           W    L    PCT  GB    Comments
Padres        84   67  .556   -     Front Runner
Phillies      82   70  .539   2.5   Place
Rockies       80   72  .526   4.5   Maiden
Dodgers       79   73  .520   5.5   Lunge
Braves        79   73  .520   5.5   Driving

If the Padres don't win the NL West, look for them to take the allowance race. San Diego has won six in a row and has a three-game edge over the Phillies. The Rockies, in order to have a realistic shot at the wild card, will need to sweep the Friars when these two division rivals face each other this weekend. The Dodgers and Braves are all but out of it at this point.

How would you handicap the AL East, NL East, NL Central, NL West, and NL Wild Card? Let's see who can be the best tout.


Carmona pitches today. So Indians swept without his help.

Perhaps I worded that sentence wrongly. I just meant to say that Sabathia, Carmona, and the bullpen have been the driving forces behind Cleveland pulling away from Detroit down the stretch.

I adventurously picked Yankees, Red Sox, Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay as the order of finish in the AL East, and I am sticking to my story.

When I was in high school, there was an award for Teacher of the Year. Every year, before I started going, even, the same teacher won it, and deserved to. However, the whole affair got to be so lopsided that finally they amended the voting rules and limited the number of times you receive the honor.

That's kind of how I feel about the Wild Card and the Red Sox right about now. Boston has gotten in to the postseason by the Wild Card berth in three of the past four postseasons, and if they keep slipping the way they have lately, it'll be four of five. Jeez, give somebody else a shot, wouldja?

..."a teacher was eligible to receive the honor."

There's been quite alot of speculation that the Sox have just been playing out the string and setting up for the postseason for weeks. Extra rest for Manny and now the Oki "injury" etc. Do you think there is any merit in this?

I don't see that the Red Sox were figuring to just play for the post season. A division win would be a big thing for them.

Their bullpen is a bit beaten up. Gagne has been really poor. Okajima was touched up a lot lately, and he was over used early in the season. Many games he was in instead of the closer. Papelbon's velocity is down.

Manny was obviously hurting. Youkilis is hurt, and some may be that he is more sensitive to pain than other players, IMHO.

The talk about just setting up for the playoffs is an excuse for poor offense, even when they are pitching well. Schilling can't seem to buy a win, he is something like 2-8 since his injury and has pitched pretty well.

Offensively, the RS have Ortiz (who is talking of sitting down for the Tampa opening game), Lowell and Pedroia. Pedroia is in a little bit of a slump right now. Who else is really hitting big?

Pitching is a key component to a winning team, but you have to have some kick to the offense, and the Sox are lacking that right now.

Who holds the various tiebreakers between the Sox, Yankees, Angels, and Indians. If the Indians and Angels finish tied, who holds that tiebreaker. The AL matchup possibilities are SO confusing!

The Brewers will probably have to go something like 7-3 the rest of the way to have a shot. While their playoff chances are slim, the Rockies win the award as the surprise team of the year.