OK, it was a delayed a day, give me a break.
The Phillies tenuous lead on the division has already evaporated, but it's not like they had a huge advantage anyway. The Mets went into the break in fourth place, down by a whopping two games. This division is really, really tight. The overwhelming mediocrity of every team gives everyone a shot. The Phillies can mash, but can't pich. The Mets offense is challenged, but they do better than almost any team at preventing runs. Atlanta and Florida fall between the extreme polls, with Atlanta leaning towards offense and the Marlins relying a bit more on pitching. But nobody's a real solid team.
Oh, and the Expos suck.
The Phillies just need somebody, anybody, to start pitching well. By all rights, they shouldn't be this bad, so while the temptation is to make a radical move, what is there really to do? Atlanta keeps sinking innings into two dead arms, Thomson and Hampton, with no end in sight. The offense will get a sudden boost with Giles coming off the DL, so the Braves are in the odd position of needing to trade for pitching. Floirda, frankly, was lucky last year and the bill has come due. Nobody is playing poorly, but nobody is playing great (except Pavano). There's no huge holes to paper over, except maybe the bullpen, and trading for bullpen help is always risky.
Actually, the most interesting front office decisions are in Montreal. How does a team in limbo make deadline deals and trim payroll? Do they hang onto Hernandez and Wilkerson to make the team attractive to potential buyers, or do they sell off Armas and Cabrera for more prospects? Is it even ethical for this team to make trades?
I don't understand why the Cardinals are such a surprise story. I didn't pick them to win the division, but they did look like one of the three preseason contenders. Has anyone noticed just how good the Rolen-Pujols-Edmonds-Renteria core really is?They just need to put average hitters elsewhere and they'd be the most feared offense in the game. OK, the pitching's been a bit of a surprise, particularly the bullpen, but the roatation hasn't been great, merely solid. that's all this offense needs. Everyone else is playing for the wild card, and they know it.
The middle of the pack falls into two groups: the group that was supposed to contend and the group that wasn't. They now need to decide whether their performance is a fluke or indicative of the team's actual quality. The Cubs and the Astros expected to contend, and have to decide whether to pull up shop and call it a lost season or sink even more money into the cause. In Chicago, Wood and Prior have combined for less than 100 innings and obviously, that's not good. The offense has been as good or better than expected, so maybe it's time to just say "we have a real good, real young rotation, let's just shut them down and try again next year." Houston, on the other hand, is a team of old players signed to short-term deals. This is it, there really is no tommorrow. Either sell off everything or sink even more money into this. Standing pat is not an option.
Cincinnati's success is fluky, and they know it. They have allowed more runs than everybody but Colorado and Arizona, yet they are sitting high in the standings. This cannot last, as this foundation is built on the head of a pin. This sudden rush to contention could be a boon for the team, as they can foist off guys having career years onto contenders for some young talent. Meanwhile, the Brewers are simply ahead of schedule. This team is absolutely loaded with prospects, so the front office's mission is just to not screw up the long-term health of the team. They might trade a high-salary if they start to slide or add a vet if they stay in contention, but don't expect any huge deals.
The California teams are about to enter into what promises to be one hell of a pennant race. The Dodgers have found some offense after last year's debacle, though they still won't bludgeon you to death. The giants pretty much rely on a potent offense which revolves around the greatest player on earth. And the Padres scratch and claw for runs behind a solid, young rotation helped along by the anti-Coors.
As usual, the Rockies can't pitch. The bottom has fallen out in Arizona, the predictable consequence on the over-reliance on really old vets. Both of these teams have lots of old, expensive players they would love to unload. But even contenders care about the bottom line, so the only expensive players they'd want are the Big Unit or Helton. The only team that should be interested in the huge contracts of Preston Wilson, Larry Walker, or Roberto Alomar are teams with deep pockets and no farm systems (the Yankees and the Red Sox). Despite their chronic lack of pitching, the Rockies' hottest commodities are their pitchers.
The Dodgers have the deepest pockets, but rarely flex their financial muscles. Now is the time for them to act like a big market team, go out and take that budget for a spin and sign a big name. The division is there for the taking, however if the Dodgers sit on their hands, Brian Sabean will make a deal in San Francisco. He always does. The Padres are new to this whole contention thing, and they are still trying to balance the youth of the team with making a run right now. So they'll play in the margins, but not do anything to mess with the core they have.
posted by Poseur 7/16/2004 04:47:00 PM
Taking a break from the Tour for a second, let's review the Major Leagues at the break. Before we get into the divisions, much ink has been spilled about the health of the game and how good things look right now for the nation's past-time. Apparently, the powers-that-be in baseball have fially grown a brain and instead of running an anti-marketing campaign, they now actually say good things about the sport. The truth is, the game is in exactly the same shape it was in five years ago, which is quite healthy as the second most popular sport in the country. I'm glad people around basbeall have finally wised up to the fact the game is pretty good.
The Yankees are running away with this thing, and while a seven-game lead isn't insurmountable, it's pretty darn big. The funny thing is, the Red Sox and Yankees have scored the same amount of runs, but the Sox have allowed 5% less. This usually means that the team with the defensive advantage would be winning the division, but since this is Boston, they are well behind the team they are outperfoming. How do you like that? So the Yankees should drift a little bit closer to .500 while the sox should climb a little further away. Once again, since this is the Sox, they won't catch the Yankees.
Much has been made of the Devil Rays amazing run, but let's put this in perspective. They were the hottest team in baseball and they still sit three games below .500. The second half shouldn't be kind and they'll drift back to the cellar. I'm still confident the East can give us it's traditional Yankees-Sox-Jays-O's-Rays finish. The bottom three teams are dead in the water, so it's time to start making trades!
The Yankees' rotation is not that great, as they have exactly one starter with a sub-four ERA. They desperately need another arm, but really have nothing of value to trade except cash. The Red Sox need a right side of the infield, and rumors have them trading Garciapparra for Kotchmann. Since Nomar has probably worn out his welcome, the Sox need to pull the trigger. Now that the Randy Johnson sweepstakes have opened up, they'll be tempted to get involved when instead they should look for a #3 starter. As bad as the Orioles' rotation has been, the let's-throw-the-kids-to-the-wolves strategy has netted some positive results: Cabrera, Parrish, Lopez, and Bedard make a decent rotation. It's the big names and vets letting them down (Ponson, DuBose, and Riley).
I was completely wrong about the White Sox. I thought they'd suffer through another miserable year and finally gut their roster due to its continued disappointments, but instead, they are leading the division. Who would've though Konerko would remember how to hit? Or that Rowand would be so good so quickly? And that despite a cobbled together roatation, the bullpen would be lights out? OK, that's the good news, the bad news is the Twins don't have to make a deal to get better, as Stewart comes off the DL. Mauer's finally getting full-time work as well, and the pitching looks to have turned the corner. And since the Twins have approximately fifty billion corner outfielders, they should be able to make a late deal.
Cleveland and Detroit are hanging on the fringe of the race. Cleveland's got to be tempted to make a deal so they can make a run, and their defense has allowed a league-worst 482 runs. They can mash with the best of them, scoring 474 runs (13 behind league leading Texas), and the top three starters have all pitched well. The problem here is that the bullpen is terrible, and it's nearly impossible to trade for bullpen help. A fourth starter would help, but this is a young team that just shouldn't do anything stupid right now. Detroit's just thrilled to be near .500, and they should entertain offers for Pudge just for kicks, but unless they find a way to unload Pena or Higginson, they should just play out the string. The fire sale is a-coming to Kansas City.
It's still baseball's best division. Really, I'm not sure how these teams can improve a whole lot. Texas has the best offense and some pretty lousy pitching, but short of gutting the team to get the Big Unit, what are their options? Oakland's got a mediocre offense and the best pitching, but the offense will get a lot better once chavez gets healthy. Anaheim sort of splits the difference between the two, and they've managed to stay in this thing despite a cornucopia of injuries. They made their move in the offseason, and short of the rumored Nomar trade, there's not a lot they can do.
So short of a deadline miracle, these teams will probably go with the rosters they already have in place. And since not much seperates these teams, it should be one hell of a pennant race. The bottom has fallen out in Seattle, so maybe it's time to rebuild. Is Bret Boone on the block? He should be. As should Jamie Moyer, who the M's will stubbornly hold on to, but would be the most sought after pitcher next to the Big Unit.
Tommorrow... the National League.
posted by Poseur 7/14/2004 04:34:00 PM
One week into the Tour...
You can still get overzealous Tour de France news and analysis at our Tour de France page.
posted by uberschuck 7/11/2004 01:02:00 PM
Marion Jones fails to qualify
Marion Jones finished 5th in the 100m at the finals of the US Olympic Trials. She still has a chance to qualify for the Olympics in the 200m and the long jump. She could also be selected for a relay team.
Jones has recently been in the midst of controversey because she is accused of doping, though she has never tested positive for doping.
My views on doping are a bit different from Stephen's. I want a clear list of banned substances and heavy penalties for violations. The thing about Jones is that there is no evidence that she has taken any illegal dope. I've got sympathy for her in that there is a witchhunt against her.
But she lost the race, so she and her big mouth can take a back seat now. I'd rather be typing the names LaTasha Colander, Torri Edwards, and Lauryn Williams. These are the women who will be running for the USA in the Olympic 100m. Colander won the race in the second-fastest time this year. Edwards is a world champion. Williams is the NCAA champion.
posted by uberschuck 7/11/2004 12:47:00 PM
Rudy in, Shaq to Miami
Rudy Tomjanovich has been hired to take one of the worst jobs in sports for one's blood pressure. He's going to coach the Lakers and assume all the problems that entails. This is a good hire for the Lakers, as Rudy is a good coach who has won championships and has good relations with players (or at least he did in Houston--who knows what relationships he'll have with LA's primadonnas).
As for Shaquille O'Neal, the reports are that he has approved a trade to Miami. It's still not a done deal, but at least the Kobe--Shaq divorse appears to be progressing. Miami has done well in rebuilding the last two years. I'll avoid the "missing piece of the puzzle" cliche, but O'Neal will certainly make a big impact. Miami's already a competitive team in the East, and now every other team in the East has another reason to worry about them.
posted by uberschuck 7/11/2004 12:38:00 PM