Friday, August 19, 2005

Wild Wild Wild Card

Let’s take this off day to talk about something else. Anything else, actually. Just not the Yankees.

One quick note: Randy Moss admits to smoking marijuana “once in a blue moon.” 1) NFL players only get tested once a year, pre-training camp, for marijuana and other recreational drugs. They have the rest of the year to indulge in the sticky icky, so I think it’s safe to say that the moon is perpetually blue over the Moss estate. Oh yeah, and 2) who gives a shit??

We’re closing in on September, the second season. Forget the previous five months; seasons are made and shattered during the final four and a half weeks of the season. Contenders are debunked, sleepers awake from their hibernation. A slump can ruin a star’s bid for an MVP and his team’s chances of competing for the one award that matters.

So let’s take a look at the top five/six contenders from each league.

Ladies and Gentlemen: your American League Contenders!
Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels
Boston Red Sox
Oakland Athletics
New York Yankees/Cleveland Indians

And your National League Contenders!
St. Louis Cardinals
Atlanta Braves
San Diego Padres
Philadelphia Phillies
Houston Astros/Washington Nationals

The NL race is the more intriguing one here. Besides the fact that a sixth contender was required due to a tie in record, the Marlins are just a half game back of the ‘Stros/Nats, with the Mets an additional two back, and even the Brew Crew are only five games off the National League Wild Card leading Phillies. Over in the AL, the Twins are only three and a half off the pace, with the sleeper Blue Jays just a half game back of that.

The ‘Jays are the most interesting story in the AL right now. They’ve been hovering around contention all year, but have been overshadowed by their AL East foes, the Yankees and the Orioles. But now that the Orioles have melted down, fired their manager, and have realized that postseason play is a mere wet dream, the Jays have moved into prime contention.

The Jays remaining schedule isn’t terrible. They face Tampa Bay six time, the Royals thrice, and have a four game set with the Mariners. On the flip side, they have ten against your New York Yankees, ten games in which they could bolster themselves into serious contention like a trebuchet, or make plans to spend October with their families. Boston rolls into Rogers Centre for three, and the Jays have four at Fenway, which doesn’t bode well for them.

Next weekend, the last weekend before the new season begins, will be telling for not only the Blue Jays, but the Injuns, as they hook up in Canaduh for a three game set. A sweep could ruin one season and be the lifeblood of another. On a cynical note, this is also a series that could ruin the Yanks season, as it could lend one team the momentum and motivation that the Yanks so noticeably lack.

If we’re going to talk about the Blue Jays being right in it, I guess it’s only appropriate to mention their NL counterparts, the New York Mutts. Yeah, the Mets have been an up and down ride this year, and losing Mike Cameron for the season isn’t helping things. Victor Diaz will get his share of playing time, however, and if he starts grooving like he was in April it could be just the spark the Metropolitans need. Of course, they could use Carlos Beltran circa exactly one year ago, but they can’t be counting on that. They can just pray Jay Seo continues being their Aaron Small, that Pedro hurls more games like his weekend performance in LA, and they get some productive innings out of Benson, Zambrano, and Glavine. Other than that, let Wright and Reyes do their thing.

Problem with the Mets is that they’re in dead last place in the NL East right now. And while that may mean little, since they’re sitting on a 61-59 record, it does mean that they have to overtake three teams to be sitting on that Wild Card Throne. Luckily for them, they have nine chances to overtake the Nats, and six each against the Marlins and Phillies.

On the flip side of the Mets schedule, they have the Cardinals in a four game set out at Busch, and three guaranteed losses down at Turner Field. As a betting man, I just can’t justify putting any green on the Mutts, considering the up and down season they’re having.

I would, however, put some dough on the Phils to hold that Wild Card lead. Not that I’m counting out the Astros; we’ve all seen how hot they can get down the stretch. But sans Beltran’s immortal September/October bat, and the ‘Stros just aren’t the same team they were last year. Then again, with subtraction comes addition. And by that I’m referring to Andy Pettite, who is having an “eff you, George” season. But unless they can get some additional runs out of those bats, the ‘Stros might find themselves outmatched by the run-producing Phils.

Not that the Phils don’t have problems of their own. Of the serious NL Wild Card contenders, they have by far the most runs allowed (552). And as we’ve learned from our beloved Yankees, you just can’t count on your bats every night to carry the team. But the Phils are hot now, and if they can keep this up for a few more weeks, they might just have hit their way into the playoffs.

Back in the AL, the Athletics are in prime position to make the postseason after being 15 under .500 in May. Their young stars have stepped up and rocketed this team atop the AL Wild Card standings, and for a bit were leading the AL West. But it’s inexperience that may preclude them from returning to the playoffs. How are they going to react to the pressure of the second season? Can Huston Street continue to finish off games down the stretch? Can Eric Chavez play his role as team leader? Can Harden and Zito take the reigns of the staff?

I’d comment on the Twinkies outside chance, but I’d rather leave that to the experts, since not even the most apt of baseball analysts will have a dickens of a time with the team from Minneapolis. Instead, I’ll leave that job to the folk over at Aaron Gleeman’s Baseball Blog.

And then there’s the Yankees. But I’m not going to talk about them. No, there will be plenty of time to lament about the season that should have been in the coming weeks.

And it might not be pretty.