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Futon Report: Who’s in, who’s out of AL playoffs

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During the All-Star break, 11 of 14 teams were viable candidates for the postseason. Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles were all division leaders with the following tight Wild Card race:

Minnesota . . 48-38 GB
Baltimore . . 47-40 1.5
New York. . . 46-40 2.0
Texas . . . . 46-40 2.0
Cleveland . . 47-41 2.0
Oakland . . . 44-43 4.5
Toronto . . . 44-44 5.0
Detroit . . . 42-44 6.0

So now it’s about 50 games until the end of the regular season, and the face of the Wild Card race has changed a bit. The A’s began surging. The Orioles began reeling. Tampa Bay stayed the same. Who’s left in this thing?


Eliminating the obvious: Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Seattle

Detroit is 6 games under .500, 20 back of Chicago and 8 1/2 back of Wild Card leader Oakland/Los Angeles. After dropping 3 straight to the Indians at home (two of those they had leads and lost them) and trading closer Kyle Farnsworth for two promising pitchers, the Tigers are reloading for next year, so they’re out.

Baltimore fired Lee Mazzilli, their pitching has spiraled downward, and oh by the way their slugger is shrouded in steroid controversy (and I’m not talking about Sammy Sosa). And if today’s injury suffered by Sidney Ponson lingers, they have no chance. They’re out.

“The Blue Jays are the epitome of Jan Brady this season.”

As much as I love the small market teams like Minnesota, they haven’t been making good moves. Bret Boone turned out to be a waiver bust, plus home run thief Torii Hunter is out for the season and everyone this side of Lew Ford is on a dismal slump this month. As much as I love that pitching staff and bullpen, they’ve fallen 7 games back in the Wild Card after possessing the lead by 3 games. It’s tougher to climb back up, and the competition ahead is much tougher. Sorry Cullen, but they’re out.

Yes, Toronto still has an outside chance. This weekend home series against the Yankees could have been a big statement in that division. It’s a team with Roy Halladay and nobody else famous, and Halladay’s hurt. The Blue Jays are the epitome of Jan Brady this season. Nobody’s talking about this team, yet they’re only 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card. The coming week’s schedule features two teams down on their luck — 4 hosting the Tigers and 3 at the Orioles. If the Jays have any chance of staying in this, they need to win 6 of those 7. If and only if they accomplish that, they’re 61-55 and in — barely. Otherwise, they’re out.

Texas lost a series to Tampa Bay. They’re sitting 7 1/2 back of both Oakland and Los Angeles, and they’re tied with Toronto and Kenny Rogers is still on suspension. Plus, their upcoming schedule isn’t too inviting: 10 games, all on the road, against Boston, New York and Cleveland. Despite picking up Phil Nevin and bringing up Steve Karsay from AA (what the hell was he doing down there in the first place?), while their record hasn’t gotten much worse, it hasn’t gotten better, and that’s not a good sign. They’re out.

Cleveland was was not a team that started out good at all. But they began playing to their potential in June and now see themselves 4 1/2 back of the Wild Card. And to take a page out of Woody Paige’s philosophy, “Look at the schedule, jabroni!” They will not play Boston, New York or Los Angeles for the rest of the season, and have one series each with Oakland and Chicago. Watch out, they’re very much in.

You know you want to count New York out. It’s the fun thing to do. But they’re the underdog here. Of course, if Boston didn’t win the World Series last year we would be saying it’s only a matter of time before their 3 1/2 game lead dissolves. But the Yanks still have some tough series ahead of them: 2 against Chicago, one at Oakland and two against the Red Sox. It may be those series against Boston — one of them the final games of the season — that could determine who wins that division, and the other team may not have a Wild Card to fall back on. It’s sad to say it, but never in the year did I count them out and yet they’re still in.

League Leaders: Boston, Los Angeles/Oakland (tied for the lead, the other would get the Wild Card.)

Locked in: Chicago. 13 games ahead. You do the math.

NL soon to follow. Futon Report soon to be your home page.

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About Suss

  • Texas proves once again that PITCHING IS KEY. It doesn’t matter if you have talented young hitters…

  • But the reason Minnesota is out is because they can’t score a run to save their life.

    However you’re right Tan. More often than not it’s the pitching that falls apart (see: Baltimore)

  • Finally, a baseball topic 🙂

    Oakland amazes me. I too doubted Billy Beane, but he should never be doubted again. He deserves all the Moneyball hype.

    Minnesota’s still dangerous even without Torii Hunter and even with their poor lineup. Santana, as hard as it is to believe, has pitched below his ability for most of the season and that pitching staff is dangerous. The young hitters don’t seem to have it figured out this year, though, which makes Cleveland the more dangerous team for the stretch.

    Cleveland made a mistake in not trading some of its expiring veteran contracts for prospects. They had a real chance to trade aging players like Wickman for prospects that would have ensured a long rivalry for dominance with Chicago in the AL Central. Detroit will also be competitive with top young players like Bonderman and cash to spend.

    The Yankees are just so flawed and uneven a team this year with no real help in sight. I don’t think Giambi can keep up this hot streak and even with one of the Top 5 hitters in the world (ARod) and one of the Top 25 hitters in the world (Sheffield) playing up to par, they don’t have the pitching or defense to win this year. They are atrocious defensively in the outfield and mediocre to below-average in the infield, with poor range and old legs.
    They have enough bats to get hot and possibly give the slightly less flawed but nonetheless flawed Red Sox some heat, but they’re not the better team this year. If they DO make the playoffs, this is not a team that can win this year. They’d be lucky to win 2 games in the first round. I’d like to see what happens in the front office if the Yanks stay home during the playoffs this year. Cashman will probably get fired, along with some of Torre’s coaches, but there’s not much the Yankees can do about old, aging players with massive contracts. I think Steinbrenner’s going to seriously reconsider spending extravagantly on underperforming stars in favor of the farm-system approach that shaped the Yankees dynasty of the late 90s. The problem with developing players is that the Yankees have almost no talent left and it’ll take years to get good and win again. The Yankees will just have to wait out the big, bad contracts like Bernie, Giambi, Kevin Brown, Pavano, Randy Johnson (yes, it’s only downhill from this year’s slightly above-average performance), Jeter (most overpaid, overrated player in the game), Wright, et al, while buying mid-level free agents for short term deals and developing talent.

    Texas doesn’t have the pitching and they lost Rogers at a bad time. Toronto doesn’t have enough hitting or pitching and the Halladay injury basically sank their chances.

    That is all.

  • Minnesota does have great pitching. Carlos Silva might be the best pitcher on that staff this year, and nobody knows who he is.

    Agreed on Oakland, Texas and Detroit.

    But had Wickman been traded, instead of compiling 30 saves this year, they would be lacking veteran leadership and the eldest player would be Jose Hernandez (only active player with 1300+ career strikeouts and fewer than 200 career HR).

    You said just about everything on the Yankees I agree with, and since I try to give all other teams equal air time, I won’t go into too much on them. (But I disagree on Jeter being the most overrated player.)

  • Who’s more overrated, Sussman?

    Jeter’s a winner and a hero, yes, but he gets more undeserved superstar status than anyone in the game.

    The greatest example of this was his Gold Glove last year, which was one of the most ridiculous fielding awards ever given out in baseball history. Jeter fielded for a high percentage, but educated baseball fans know better. Jeter has consistently been in the bottom 10-20% of shortstops in the AL in range for several years and last year was no exception. Rob Neyer wrote an excellent column about this a couple of years ago when Jeter was younger and in his prime that showed Jeter to be in the BOTTOM 3 in range among AL shortstops for 3 or 4 consecutive years. Yet he gets tons of praise for his fielding because of the vivid memories of plays he made in the World Series. Fielding % is a misleading statistic because it only reflects which balls you get to that you handle.

    Jeter quite simply gets to far fewer balls than good or even average defensive shortstops do, so he has less opportunity to make a mistake on a tough ball he barely reaches or on a throw outside his comfort zone. Jeter may be a Yankee legend for his clutch play, but the ARod experiment at 3rd is a travesty made possible only by Jeter’s outsized ego and overhyped media celebrity. ARod has been the FAR better defensive shortstop over his career, consistently being among the upper 1/2 to 1/3 of shortstops in range and easily among the best in fielding % as well. ARod’s simply the faster, better athlete, with better footwork, reaction time, defensive placement and anticipation as well. Yet the Yankees struggle by placing him at 3rd, where he is a slightly above average defensive 3rd baseman yet nowhere near as proficient as at the SS position. The smart move would have been to place Jeter at 2nd, where his limited range but good hands would have been perfect and placed him in the top half of defensive second basemen.

    Jeter gets credit for being one of the smartest, “headiest” players ever. I hate to be pedantic, but his defensive stats would work against that assumption. Shortstops live and die on defensive placement — the only conclusion to draw from his low range factor, especially given his above-average footspeed, baserunning, and stolen bases, is that he simply does not anticipate or study hitters, pitch location and where to position himself on the field. Other, far less athletic and far slower shortstops like Cal Ripken Jr. had far better range because they anticipated plays before they would unfold. Jeter does seem to perform his best in October and has made some truly memorable plays, but on a day-to-day basis from April to September, he doesn’t seem to be the baseball savant on the field that casual fans and even grizzled writers who should know better view him as.

    Jeter’s career OPS is .800 something, which is respectable, but not $18 million a year respectable. He’s had some strong years, but his batting average and power numbers (which were never great to begin with) are clearly on the downside compared to earlier in his career. Jeter’s a good situational hitter, but he’s also not a walk or on-base machine, which is critical given that he’s been a leadoff or #2 hitter for much of his career. Jeter does a lot of things very, very well. He doesn’t do any one thing great and that’s why he’s the most overrated player in the game. Based on his hype, you’d think he was all-time legend.

    I love this argument 🙂 The rest of you are welcome to join in as well on who the most overrated player in baseball is.

    And to be fair, I don’t mean aging superstars in decline like Sammy. We have to set the ground rules at someone who’s still reasonably close to performing near their career average.

    That is all.

  • You make a great case. His regular season production isn’t that great.

    But if I said that to him and got socked in the face by him, I would have 4 ring imprints on my forehead. That’s one stat that’s hard to ignore.

    Jeter’s career OPS is .848, which is impressive but not amazing, but I can think of a future first ballot Hall of Famer who has a .788 career OPS: Cal Ripken, Jr.

    Sometimes the stats don’t tell the story, and I think Jeter is an example.

    Same thing with Tom Brady. He has a career 87.4 quarterback rating, which is poorer than the career rating of Trent Green.

    > Who’s more overrated?

    Mike Piazza.

  • Sussman, dude.

    You have to try again 🙂 Piazza’s a classic case of age-related decline. But in his prime, he was not overrated in the least.

    In his prime, unquestionably the greatest hitting catcher ever with the best 4 or 5 hitting seasons by any catcher ever. If you take his peak years, he rivals the best in the HOF at any position. Horrible defensively and faded horribly as he aged, but easily a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my book. If he were playing in a different era where offense weren’t as common, he’d be renowned for changing the position with his hitting. Piazza was just THAT good and his stats dwarfed Johnny Bench or Yogi or Gary Carter before him. He was the first catcher to regularly threaten 1.000 OPS (on-base plus slugging) every year and he did it all as a very low draft pick who was taken only as a courtesy to his relative Tommy Lasorda.

    Even in the steroid era, if you look at Piazza’s offensive production relative to his position, he’s as good as anyone ever offensively. Rarely, do you see one player stand so far above the rest of his peers at his position for almost a decade. Pudge Rodriguez, who has been implicated in the steroid rumors, was the better all-around player and the far better defensive catcher, but Piazza was a hitting God before he got old and injured.

    The rest of you should think of some overrated players too. This is fun 🙂

    Sussman: good catch on Ripken. Another overrated player, but he clearly deserved the Hall for the streak and the 2 MVP seasons and being one of the first true hitters at SS. He really DID change the position, even if players who came along later like ARod and Tejada blew his stats to bits. Jeter will be in the HOF (probably on the first ballot since he’ll likely get 3,000 hits) because he’s a shortstop and .848 OPS is very, very good for shortstops. But he was never the best at his position, defensively or offensively. He’s never been the best player on his team — Mariano Rivera would have a lot to say about that. He’s a champion on a champion’s team.

    The Tom Brady analogy is an excellent one and it hits home with me because I really like Tom Brady. To be fair to Tom Brady, though, his passer rating was generally pretty poor to average at the start of his career when he was trusted less. He’s been among the league leaders the last couple of years and keeps getting better and better. Trent Green is also a very good quarterback, believe it or not, and an 87.4 quarterback rating is higher than quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame. Does that make Trent Green a Hall of Famer? Probably not, unless he can stay good into old age and try and go for the consistent Rich Gannon-type of career. But it’s not shame to be statistically inferior to Trent Green, who’s vastly underrated by having been in Warner’s shadow in St. Louis and by playing in a small market like KC while putting up huge numbers.

    Good conversation, Sussman 🙂 You know your stuff.

    That is all.

  • I don’t know my stuff. I just know where to look it up.

    Re: Piazza — I love defensive catchers. I voted for Yadier Molina for All-Star. Piazza’s a great player, even a first balloter in my book, but I’ll always hold two things against him. (1) He never won a Gold Glove, and it’s not like he had a Pudge Rodriguez to compete with every year. (2) He did collect call commercials with Terry Bradshaw.

  • Sussman, do one of these on the NL race too. I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

    That is all.