So this is it, the final weekend of the season, for some teams everything they’ve done for the past six months comes down to what they can do in the next three days. I’m writing this from the back seat of the Rantalot mobile command center and I don’t have access to my usual research tools, but as DMJ says, “never let the facts get in the way of a good Rant.”
First, the teams that are in. The Cards look like crap. Their rotation is shaky in way that reminds me of the Yankees. In fact the Cards are the NL answer to the Evil Empire, not in payroll or evil quotient, but in make up: big sticks, poor starting staff, great closer (Izzy has the worlds quietest 30+ saves). The Braves also have issues and I have to believe they’ve done it with smoke, mirrors, and the mistakes of the rest of the division as much as brilliant management. The Yanks, as mentioned have a ton of questions. Sure they can hit, but do they have enough pitching even with a resurgent Moose? K-Brown and Vazquez haven’t shown they can pitch under pressure in NY, El Dookie has a “tired shoulder,” the pen has thrown about a million innings, and Rivera’s thrown about 500,000 of them. That leaves us with the Sux. The Sux, sadly, look like the best team in baseball right now (you’re welcome Kevin). While they have their own issues, (Pete says the Yanks are his “daddy?”) they have the scariest combo of pitching and hitting of the teams that are in right now. The Sux need to worry about Pete’s head, Lowe’s arm, and Wakfield’s age. Aside from Schilling their best pitcher has been Bronson Arroyo, but will Francona go with him in game two? Or will he cave and set up a Pete, Schill, TBD rotation. I wouldn’t start Pete in game one, but if you don’t and he feels dissed will he go into the tank?
Now the fun stuff, and I’ll save the AL West for last. First, the NL wild card, I say blame the curse of the Bartman. After all, if he hadn’t touched that foul ball in game five or whatever the Cubs wouldn’t have tanked in the last week losing 2-3 to the Mets and then getting mashed on by the Reds. SF is still alive for the both the division and the wild card and I’m hoping they get the old WC leaving the division to the Dodgers. This means I’m hoping LA can clinch today, then lose the next two (sorry Daniel), while the Astros lose three and the Cubs play like the Cubs. This is in the hopes that we see a classic and long awaited LA-SF NLCS and I can finally prove my Dodger allegiance to DMJ. That brings us to the Astros. Where the hell did they come from? A month ago they were dead. They were double-digit games out of everything and Pettite went under the knife. All of a sudden they have a share of that wild card pie.
Which brings us to this question: Is anyone still upset about baseball adding the wild card? Back in ’95 purists denounced the wild card. “After all,” they said, “why should we reward second place?” Indeed. The wild card came under fire again when baseball went to the unbalanced schedule. This time the complaint was that the now the wild card would be easier to attain for teams like the Red Sox who played in a division with Tampa Bay and Baltimore, while teams in the AL West would have a tougher road. All of these doubts should be put to bed by now. The fact is that the wild card keeps baseball exciting into the final weekend. Without the wild card there would be little drama in the NL since the Cubs and Astros are a world behind the Cards and SF needs a sweep in order to forge a tie with LA. Sure the Sux got the AL wild card again, as they have seven out of the ten possible wild card years, but at least one of the best teams in baseball is playing meaningful games in September and October rather than suffering simply because they can’t out spend the Yankees. And make no mistake; the wild card is hardly ever a slouch team. In fact , wild card teams have averaged about 90 wins/ year. As for the unbalanced schedule, well, it hasn’t helped the Cubs who just blew their shot against a weak division foe. Right now playoff hopes are alive in five cities. Last week Texas, and San Diego and Florida were alive as well. The wild card is good for baseball. It keeps more people in more places interested for a longer period of time.
Which brings us too…
A very special one time event…
That’s right folks, the most exciting series of the weekend is the ALWS, or the American League West Series, a very special early addition to the regular baseball playoffs. Not since 1980 have two teams ended up going head-to-head in the final weekend in a flat footed tie for first. Among the many intriguing series this weekend only the tilt between the A’s and Angels will directly and independently determine who moves on, and who goes home. This is a three game series to see who gets to go the next five game series. Also, as if this match up needed any more subplots there is the fact that the Angels, A’s and Twins all have the same record, so a dominant performance by any of the three will determine who gets the Sux at home, and who has to travel to the Bronx.
So how’s it look for the home nine? That depends, can we get Hudson from 2000, Zito from ’02 and Mulder from before the all star break? Sure, the A’s have the Big Three going in the series, but the Big Three have been a big bust this month. Mulder pitches tonight against Bartolo the Colon. Colon has been going well recently while Mulder is 0 for September with an ERA over 8. Zito, pitching tomorrow, has been in a steady slide since the final day of the regular season back in ’02. In fact, the best A’s pitcher this month has been Rich Harden, who may be available out of the pen on short rest especially if the A’s lose tonight, or fall behind tomorrow. I’d say tonight is a must win for Oakland since, though they’ve been hitting well, don’t want to face one game winner takes all situation against a determined Angels club that has a good line up, and most importantly, a good pen.
And therein lies the crux of the situation. As bad as the rotation has been for Oakland this month, the bullpen has been abysmal all year. The A’s lead the majors in blown saves. If they had converted even a fourth of the saves they’ve blown they would have clinched the division yesterday at the latest. That said, the weakness of the pen puts even more pressure on the Big Three than in previous years because they know they have to go deep into games and leave with big leads if Oakland has a reasonable chance at winning. Gone are the days when Oakland could take in reclamation project relievers and turn them into highly coveted free agents for other teams. Gone are the days when the Big Three could win two out of any three games against any team any time. Gone is Rick Peterson. Check the archives Rant fans. I said the when RP left the A’s pitchers would start to decline. Coincidence? I think not.
So the final analysis? Either team can win this series, it’s almost a toss up, but I’d give a slight edge to the Angels based on momentum. They’ve been chasing Oakland for some time now and they feel like they have our boys in their sights. There’s always more pressure being on the side that’s trying not to crumble than on the side trying to build. Right now the A’s are trying to stave off a disastrous month and get into the playoffs once again. Check back Next week for a playoff preview, or a bitter post mortem.
6:05 pm edt