At last, August. The month where teams surge into September with hopes of making the playoffs, or see their hopes wither away in the heat. Not much has changed in the ten days since the trade deadline – 17 teams remain in playoff contention, that is to say are leading their division, have a wild card spot, or are within seven games.
A Moment of Silence
We can write off a couple of teams from the playoff race that were alive a couple of weeks ago. This includes the New York Mets, who have been unable to keep the momentum going from their incredible first half. At the All-Star Break, the Mets were 46-40, four games behind the Nationals in the East, and just a half of a game out of being a Wild Card team. In the 26 games since, they have gone 8-18, and are currently 9.5 games out of the playoffs, and a remarkable 15 games behind in the East. Bullpen troubles, which was the source of their July slide, went unanswered by the front office during the trade deadline. Rumors swirled of the Mets trading for Heath Bell, but it never came to fruition. The Mets were seven games over .500 at Citi Field going into the final game before the All-Star Break. Since then, however, the Mets failed to win a home game until just yesterday, a stretch of losing nine straight at home.
The Indians also find themselves with their backs up against the wall, and considering their division, league, and schedule, I am writing off. There are many very good teams in the American League, and Detroit has played incredibly well over the past month and a half, and the Indians will play many playoff-contending teams the remainder of the season. 31 of their final 52 games will be against the A’s, Angels, Rangers, Tigers, White Sox and Yankees. If the Indians can survive that schedule and make up an 8 game Wild Card deficit, then they deserve to win the World Series based on that alone. After they do that, I’ll flap my wings and fly to Mars. The Indians have had a very fine season and have come along way from the mess of a team that they had three years ago, but they still lack an ace and a truly deadly bat in the line-up. The Indians never were in a really solid position to make a great move at the deadline, and so now they must wait until the winter to upgrade.
The Detroit Tigers are a team that perplexed many in the first half of the season. They had the talent of a championship caliber team, but not the production. On June 29th, they were three games under .500, at 37-40. Since then, they have gone 23-12, and sit just a game back of the White Sox in the A.L. Central. The Tigers have made upgrades. They brought in Omar Infante to play second base to help improve a team that has the league’s worst batting average for 2nd basemen, and its worked. Infante has hit .315 since he was traded to the Tigers. They picked up Anibel Sanchez to eat up innings and solidify the back end of the rotation, and Doug Fister continues to try and find the form from the second half of last year. But the Tigers will live and die by their two biggest stars, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera has been red hot in the second half and has thrown his hat into the fight for the AL MVP award. At .322/.388/.526, 29 HR, and 95 RBI, it would be hard for anyone except Mike Trout to deny him of the award. Cabrera and Verlander killed the Yankees in the first two games of their four game set this past week, before the back end of Detroit’s shaky rotation and bullpen betrayed them in the final two games. Getting to the playoffs might be hard for Detroit to do, especially if the White Sox put up a strong fight, but if they do make it, the team is built for success in a short series as long as Verlander is there.
Of Pirates and the Reds October
Cincinnati could not have responded to the loss of Joey Votto in a better way – they rattled off a ten game winning streak in his absence. However, they are currently on a five game losing streak and find themselves still in the thick of a pennant race in the NL Central. But fortunately, Joey Votto is very close to re-joining the team, and may do so as early as August 14th. The fact that Votto, who is sporting an OBP of .465, is just a few days away from returning should give Cincinnati the upper-hand down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Pirates continue to find ways to stay alive, as Andrew McCutcheon continues putting up MVP numbers and A.J. Burnett revives his career. The schedule lies slightly in Cinci’s favor, although both teams will have the benefit of playing an NL Central heavy schedule in September. Unless the Cubs or Astros feel like playing spoiler, and at this point I think even the players are starting to think about next season, then neither team will have much trouble. But the Pirates still have to go to Los Angeles and New York, and end their season at home against Atlanta. Those teams are the two current Wild Card teams. If the course holds, they might be playing more than three games against each other in that final week.
Moneyball: The Sequel
Billy Beane’s brilliance has been on display in 2012. Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Jonny Gomes, and Seth Smith have starred in this version of Moneyball. A year ago, Cespedes had just defected from Cuba; Reddick was a back up outfielder on the Red Sox; Gomes’ OBP, .325, was the lowest it had been since 2008; Smith playing in the obscurity of the Colorado Rockies, a ballpark which many would think was artificially enhanced his solid numbers. This year, all of them have contributed to their roller coaster, cardiac-troubling season. The A’s have had 10 walk off victories in 2012 and have been red hot since July. The four players mentioned all have an OBP of .333 or higher.
There’s a sense of purpose in this team. Nothing jumps out at you if you gloss over the statistics. They are 23rd in runs scored, last in batting average, and near-to-last in on base percentage. And then they game gets late, and the score remains tight, thanks to their incredible pitching staff. And the team that can’t score runs suddenly jumps up to 4th in the league for runs scored in late + close situations. They are opportunistic – their team batting average jumps nearly 20 points with runners in scoring position, and their OBP jumps up from .305 to .356. I think Oakland will be one of the wild card teams when all is said and done, but to rely on their offense to score enough runs to win one game is a shaky ground to rely on. They might not be one of the final four teams in the American League, but they are gritty, tough, have great pitching, and if they make it to the Division Series, will be a tough opponent.
See you all in two weeks.