Here’s a quick overview of the National League Central’s postseason race as we’ve reached the final month of the regular season…
The Reds’ Magic Number is (18), the lowest of any division leader in baseball. They lead the Cardinals by 8.5 games and stand to win the division running away.
Cincy’s starting pitching has been incredibly durable this year, but it’s the lights-out bullpen that’s the difference-maker.
Marshall to Broxton to Chapman is as close as it gets to a sure victory with a late-inning lead, and the Cuban Missile has found his groove having converted his last 27 save chances–a franchise record.
There’s also plenty of offensive fire-power to go along with the pitching, as evidence by the club’s (32-16) record during the absence of Joey Votto, who was activated yesterday but did not play.
I’ve been on the record since spring training with Cincinnati as my favorite to win the division. Now I’m on the record as saying they’re my favorite to win it all in the National League this October.
Either way, there’s no ignoring the job Dusty Baker’s done in Cincinnati, which could earn him the NL Manager of the Year Award.
As much as I’d enjoy writing the Cardinals will miss the postseason, I still think they’ll earn a wild card.
While there’s little chance St. Louis catches the Reds, they do lead the NL in runs scored and the starting staff is plenty strong to hold off the wild card competition.
There’s also building speculation the seemingly indestructible Chris Carpenter will return to the rotation before season’s end.
Who knows how effective he’ll be after returning from a procedure to relieve his thoracic outlet syndrome (numbness), but it could be a key ingredient to securing a playoff spot if he’s indeed healthy down the stretch.
Per the usual, however, the Cardinals just win, always finding a way when there’s no clear path.
The Pirates’ listless second half continues. Although the Bucs are a mere 1.0 game out of the wild card, I’ve anticipated for weeks their season was about to get worse before it got better.
Those feeling have proven true with the Buccos relinquishing a 3.5 games lead in the wild card after posting a (7-17) record since August 9th.
The starting rotation is looking more tattered and thinned by the game. James McDonald has struggled with consistency after a brilliant first half. Wandy Rodriguez (3-4), acquired at the trade deadline, has basically been a bust. AJ Burnett (15-5) remains the lone bright spot on a starting staff that has allowed only seven fewer runs than the Cubs.
Only the Reds and Braves, however, have a stronger bullpen than Pittsburgh’s. But a faulty rotation has led to the pen’s overuse since the trade deadline, and it shows with the Pirates having allowed the most runs in August of any contender.
Pitching isn’t the only hole on this sinking ship; Pittsburgh is 11th in runs scored since the All Star break—not nearly good enough to keep up with the big boys in September.
That issue could have been resolved at the trading deadline, but Pittsburgh simply failed to add the offensive boost is so desperately needed to stay in contention.
The organization’s unwillingness to move prospects via trade is likely to pay off as early as next season, but it killed any momentum they had entering August.
With each passing week it becomes more clear how much the Pirates overachieved in the first half of the season when they led the division at the All Star break.
But this early feel-good story has become eerily similar to the club’s second half collapse last season when the Pirates led the division 100-games in only to finish with a 90-loss record.
A demise to such depths won’t happen this year (there’s only 37-games remaining), but I feel confident the Buccos (71-64) will eventually end up below the .500 mark for a saddening 20th consecutive year.
It seems the general consensus among baseball fans is the additional wild card in each league will greatly effect the postseason race this season.
I’m not so certain it will.
The baseball standings come July 4th has long remained a fairly good indicator of which teams will make the postseason come season’s end.
The postseason is suppose to be reserved for power-arms. But Randy Wolf, a soft-tossing lefty, dominated St. Louis in Game 4 to keep Milwaukee’s World Series hopes alive.
Honestly, I didn’t think Wolf had seven innings of two-run baseball in him. Not after surrendering seven earned runs to Arizona in the NLDS, which came on the heels of 10 runs allowed in 11.2 innings of his final two starts of the regular season.
But despite allowing two early solo home runs, Wolf settled down to retire 13 of his final 15 batters while keeping St. Louis hitless with RISP–The Cards finished the game 0-for-8 in that category and remain 0-for-15 after the first inning of Game 3.
For Milwaukee this October, it’s finally a starting performance that’s postseason worthy.
Game 5 starter, Zach Greinke, has allowed 16 hits and 10 runs for a 8.18 ERA over two starts. Shaun Marcum: 14 hits, 12 runs, and a 12.46 ERA in two outings.
Yovani Gallardo has been the most steady hand, but unimpressive for a staff ace: 18 hits in 19 IP, 8 walks, and 2 HR in three outings.
Even with the NLCS now a best-of-three series, the Brewers staff better find another Wolf-like performance in them. Otherwise, Randy’s gem could be the lasting highlight for a brilliant Brewers season.
Get ready for a St. Louis-Texas World Series.
I’m speaking ‘unofficially,’ of course, but that’s where the LCS’s are headed.
Texas has the all too commanding 3-1 lead over Detroit. And even with the Tigers throwing Justin Verlander in Game 5…at best they’ll need him to come back on three days rest for a potential Game 7 in Arlington.
The Rangers’ bullpen, more so than its potent lineup, has been the difference maker. The relief corps allowed just a single run through 15 innings of the first three games–and one run in Game 4. Simply, Lights. Out.
Meanwhile, back in St. Louis…the Cardinals and Chris Carpenter withstood Milwaukee’s best chance to gain the series winning Game 3, 4-3.
For all intents and purposes, Yovani Gallardo lost the game, and perhaps the series, in the first inning allowing the first five Cardinals to reach base. Four of those runners scored–and that was that.
Cards win game. Cards take 2-1 series lead.
In fact, the Cardinals bullpen retired the last 12 Milwaukee hitters in a row and allowed just a single base runner from the fifth inning on. Sound familiar, Detroit fans?
Now St. Louis feasts on Randy Wolf in Game 4, coming off a 7 ER performance in his NLDS start vs. Arizona. And for dessert, a tasty treat of Zach Greinke and his 9.00 postseason ERA in Game 5.
The Brewers have lost eight consecutive postseason games on the road. They don’t beat the Cardinals in Milwaukee, and now they have to take 3 of 4 to win the series.
Not impossible, but not likely either.
St. Louis vs. Texas. Who knew?
The Milwaukee Brewers are in big-time trouble.
Despite the major’s best home record during the regular season (57 wins), Milwaukee hasn’t figured out how to beat St. Louis at Miller Park, especially when it counts.
The Cards’ dominating 12-3 win in Game 2 is crucial not only because it ties the series 1-1, but because it swings the momentum heavily in St. Louis’ favor with the series shifting to Busch Stadium for the next three games.
Winning road games has been the Brewers’ Achilles heel all year (39-42), as was evident during its two losses at Arizona during the NLDS.
To make matters worse, Chris Carpenter, fresh off a complete game shutout against the Phils and publicly disrespected by Zach Greinke, goes in Game 3 against the Brewers top-gun Yovani Gallardo, who appears the Brewers last hope to send the series back to Milwaukee.
Although a single victory for the Brewers in St. Louis returns the series back to Miller Park, you can forget any notion of a home-field advantage for the Beer Makers.
The Cardinals have won 7 of its last 9 meetings against the Brewers in Milwaukee, including a tense 3-game sweep during the first week of September that propelled St. Louis to its historic 10.5 game comeback against the Braves to win the Wild Card.
So it seems unlikely Milwaukee would win consecutive games at home against St. Louis, especially under the pressure of a Game 6 & 7.
In all likelihood, advancing the to the World Series for Milwaukee means winning its upcoming road trip. How’s that for home-field advantage.
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
1.) Kirk Gibson, Arizona
No way Arizona wins the West without Gibson at the helm. Having inherited a 65-win team that used 48 different players in 2010, Gibby led a charge to unseat the defending world champs and advance to the postseason as a division winner. What more can be said?
Now the only question is how much longer Arizona will wait to extend his contract with one season remaining on it?
2.) Tony LaRussa, St. Louis
No Adam Wainright. No closer. Pujols missed considerable time. An epic late season comeback from 10-games back of the Wild Card leading Braves. Typical LaRussa–always finding a way, even when battling shingles.
3.) Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia
The Phillies, unquestionably, had the best rotation in baseball–on paper. But they still had to prove it on the field, and did so with little to no offense and World Series expectations to boot.
Manuel pulled all the right strings leading the Phils to the major’s best record (102-60).
NLDS loss aside, Manuel’s bunch couldn’t have been much better during the regular season.
*) Honorable Mentions: Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee–Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta–Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Here’s a quick thumbnail sketch of Friday’s decisive Game 5 between Arizona-Milwaukee. Fist pitch is scheduled for 4:07 CT on TBS.
Simply said, we’re looking at a rematch of Game 1, a 4-1 win for Milwaukee, between starters Yovani Gallardo & Ian Kennedy.
Gallardo is is 6-0 with a 1.18 ERA in six career starts against Arizona.
Kennedy, meanwhile, is a 21-game winner that was cruising through Game 1 until allowing a two-run homer in the seventh to Prince Fielder, who by the way, may be playing his last game in a Brewers uniform.
Ryan Braun, Fielder and Rickie Weeks are coming off a woeful 3-for-23 road trip in Arizona. The three, however, combined to go 10-for-22 in Games 1 & 2 at Miller Park.
The D-Backs are riding high offensively having plated 18 runs over the past two games, both victories in Arizona.
They also became just the second team ever to hit grand slams in consecutive postseason games, joining the 1977 Dodgers.
The Snakes are also looking to become just the eighth team to recover from an 0-2 series deficit in a best-of-five series, which isn’t out of the question considering they managed a major league best 48 come-from-behind wins during the regular season.
But Milwaukee isn’t likely to go down without a fight, where they too, set a major league mark in 2011 reaching 57 home victories.
We knew the MLB Postseason would have a hard time surpassing, let alone matching, the high drama of last Wednesday’s playoff push.
However, for just the second time since 1995 three of the four Division Series are headed to a decisive Game 5, the first of which begins tonight at Yankee Stadium.
The last time this happened was 2001. Aside from Atlanta sweeping Houston 3-0, Arizona defeated St. Louis in five games, Seattle bested Cleveland 3-2, and New York rallied from an 0-2 hole to take the series against Oakland.
But the excitement was short lived with both league championship series ending in five games: Arizona defeating Atlanta 4-1, and New York doing the same against Seattle.
Conversely, under the shadow of 9/11, the postseason closed with one of the more memorable World Series in recent memory: the Diamondbacks winning a seven-games series against the Yankees.
Obviously, there are no guarantees this Fall Classic will follow suite with 2001. But so far, baseball’s playoffs are living up to the hype!
Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Cliff Lee with an early 4-0 lead is suppose to be money in the bank. But those pesky Cardinals rallied for a 5-4 win to tie the series at 1-1. Dang it!
The Cards Game 2 win is arguably the biggest victory for any team this postseason, especially considering the series now shifts to Busch Stadium for Games 3 & 4.
At the very least, it’s yet another example of St. Louis’ ‘never say die’ attitude that carried them past Atlanta this September and perhaps to the NLCS and beyond.
What’s more, the Cardinals have a quite confidence knowing they took the season series 6-3 vs. Philly, including a crucial mid-September set in Philadelphia, in which they won 3 of 4 and defeated both Hamels and Halladay.
A split of the first two games squarely puts the pressure on Philadelphia, who carries not only the major’s best record (102-60), but also the lofty expectations of not just reaching, but winning, the Fall Classic.
As a Cubs fan, obviously, I can’t stand the thought of St. Louis advancing to play either Milwaukee or Arizona. But given the importance of its stunning victory Sunday night, I wouldn’t bet against LaRussa’s boys to do so.