Wednesday, July 30, 2008

August Rush: NO, not the terrible movie

As September lurks in the baseball shadows, far too often fans forget that the “real” playoff & pennant races often sees its initial, and often final, separation in the month of August.

Here’s what we know, we think, as of July 30th:

-The Halos, fresh off acquiring Mark Teixeira from Atlanta, are a mortal lock for the AL West crown.

-The AL East could be won by three teams: Boston, New York, and front-running (yes, still) Tampa Bay.

-The AL Central is still open; however, the smart money has Detroit on the outs and Minnesota/Chicago (ChiSox edition) in it to win it all the way.

Can YOU name this teen sensation-MVP candidate???
Credit: SBNation

As for the senior circuit…

-The NL East, much like its AL counterpart, has three teams in the mix: division-leading New York, Philadelphia, and Florida.

-The NL Central is top-loaded with Chicago and Milwaukee on top. St. Louis appears to be fading, but never count out a LaRussa-led team.

-The NL West is a debacle, yet appears a two-horse race between Arizona and Los Angeles.

It's about time the playoff race got a little "classed up".
Credit: BrewerNation

It’d be a MISTAKE to dismiss the 2nd-place “typically overachieving” team out of the AL Central (as of now, the Twins by only ½ game) and even the Rangers (yes, with THAT pitching staff in August even) from the wild race; however, it seems likely the AL East will yet again pluck the wild-card out of the AL.

The same can’t and most likely won’t be said of the NL East, as Milwaukee is the safest bet to secure the wild-card; especially considering the likely frantic final weeks in the race between the Mets, Phils, and Fish.

For today’s primary focus, we’re talking American League though.

So without too much further banter, let’s take a look at a player from each team – suspiciously under the radar – who will affect the pennant races more than you might’ve expected.

AL East

Tampa Bay Rays – Lose the “Devil” and suddenly you’re the feel-good story of the American League. They should’ve done it years before! The name to watch is one you might not even have heard of. While there may still be a move or two to be made from the front office, specifically in the pen, their top acquisition of August is likely to be the call-up of last year’s #1 overall pick, Vanderbilt’s David Price. With nearly unquestioned command and downright filthy stuff, Price might be the perfect addition to an already young nucleus of starting-talent.

Clearly getting the "Devil" out of their Rays was the best move possible for Tampa.
Credit: RottenToons

Boston Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury has struggled with the bat as of late. However, he is a rock solid fielder (whether in left, center, or right) and can tear up the base path. Nevertheless, the Sox are a much more lethal team when he leads off and Youklis can move behind the potent duo of Ortiz/Ramirez (for now Ellsbury is batting around the 9th-slot). Problem is, his average post-April has been steadily declining with a not-so-amazing OPS for an expected leadoff hitter. Francona may only be able to spot start-him down the stretch if his struggles continue.

New York YankeesJose Molina has some pretty big cleats to fill in that of Jorge Posada. His backup, Moeller, isn’t likely to have an important hit the rest of his life. Meanwhile, with Posada now shut down for the remainder of the season, Molina will have to anchor an overachieving set of starting pitchers (have you seriously looked at their top 5?) and yield enough of a bat down the stretch to keep him from being a daily offensive liability. Good luck, Jose.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox – Carlos Quentin just might be your AL MVP and Jermaine Dye is probably the least respected superstar of the past five seasons (okay, he did earn World Series MVP honors). Nevertheless, the ChiSox might be hitching their wagon to unknown starting entity: 10-game winner Gavin Floyd (a former 1st-round pick who until this season had never seen more than 70 innings of big league pitching).

Minnesota Twins – After a dismal series in the Bronx, the Twinkies have more than answered the bell against the potentially-slumping ChiSox. While stories like Livan Hernandez’s team-leading 10 wins and all the mystery surrounding Francisco Liriano are intriguing, I have my eyes on a once-considered “mini-bust” in left field, Delmon Young. Never near the throttles of a pennant-chase before, Young is hitting in a solid middle of the lineup with a solid .291 average and 18 doubles. What bugs me though is a real lack of athleticism in the field, only 4 home runs, and barely 40 RBIs. While Mauer is a hitting machine and Morneau an MVP-candidate again…unless Young starts to strike fear into opposing pitchers, I wonder if the Twins (and their modest payroll) may float out of relevance down the stretch.


I couldn't disagree more.
Credit: Need4Sheed

AL West

Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim, how lame) – Okay, so we know they are playoff bound. Lock it up! Either way, I’m keeping my eyes fixated on two things: the stability of K-Rod in close games come September AND last season’s top acquisition (sorry, Tori) John Garland. Owning the playoffs just three years ago, Garland (only 9-6 with a near 4.50 ERA) just might be the arm, if healthy, that allows me to even consider the Angels taking out the BoSox when it counts most…playoff time. Let me say this as well: without homefield advantage over Boston, Anaheim becomes a MAJOR underdog to the defending champs. Yep, I said it.

Nobody was happier than me when this guy got handed the pink slip.

Note to Tiger fans: I knew well before the 0-6 start that Detroit was going to be this year’s bust. Their pitching is suspect to say the least, they are injury prone, and just wait until the second or third week of August for Sheffield to go AWOL. I’m pulling their plug NOW.

The NL gets thetreatment” tomorrow (or so). I know you’re waiting on baited breath.

Credit: WordPress

Until next time…

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