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October 1, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

The Last Week

by Joe Sheehan

This would have been the day after the end of the regular season, the dead day between the pennant races and the opening day of the Division Series. September 11 changed that schedule, leaving us with one more week of baseball before the playoffs begin.

Of course, the American League is done. With the Indians clinching the AL Central on Saturday, all four AL playoff spots were locked up with more than a week to go. I don't know if that has happened in the three-division era; in most years, the wild card has been in doubt in the last week, and when it wasn't--the 1997 NL comes to mind--there was a division title still to be determined. All the AL is playing the last week for is to see if the Yankees or Indians will garner home-field advantage in the first round.

With that in doubt, it's interesting to note that the Yankees will play two fewer games than the Indians. The Yanks had one game rained out September 10, and yesterday's game with the Orioles ended in a 1-1 tie. Should the teams finish, say, 95-67 and 94-66, it will be interesting to see how the AL arbitrates any dispute over who really has the second-best record in the league.

The NL has a much more interesting scenario. With a week to go, no one has clinched anything, and there are six teams battling for four spots.

The NL East has the Braves and Phillies, who play three games in Philadelphia this week. As they did two weeks ago, the Braves will have their aces lined up to pitch--Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Burkett. Of course, the Phillies beat all three of them at the Vet in that first matchup, and the Braves' offense doesn't look any better now than it did two weeks ago, ninth-inning and extra-inning heroics aside.

The Phillies have to have two of the three games, or they're done. That would leave them one game out with three to play over the weekend. Sweeping the series would put the Braves in the same box.

As well as Robert Person and Brandon Duckworth have pitched of late, I think the series comes down to Tuesday night's game, and Omar Daal. The Braves hit left-handers much better than they do right-handers (777 OPS vs. 723), and they'll have their ace, Maddux, pitching (by the way, Maddux has yet to walk a Phillie this year in four starts and 27 innings). If the Phils can steal this game, they keep the prospect of a sweep alive with their ace pitching Wednesday. Frankly, I don't see it happening, and expect the Braves to end the suspense by Thursday.

The other four teams can be looked at like this:


                    W-L    GB

Houston 91-65 -- St. Louis 90-66 1 Arizona 88-68 3 San Francisco 86-70 5

The top three will advance. All of these teams control their destiny, with the Diamondbacks in the driver's seat: they play six games against the Rockies and Brewers. The Astros have to play both the Giants and the Cardinals, closing with three games in St. Louis, but they can clinch a playoff spot with just one win over the Giants during the week.

The lousy scenario we face is the one that ruined the end of the 1996 season. The Giants could fall out of the race by Friday, leaving the NL West to the Diamondbacks, and the wild card to the NL Central runner-up. So the Astros and Cardinals could be playing a series for the division title next weekend, but doing it with September call-ups and bench players, because the division title would be meaningless.

Think it couldn't happen? Read this.

The other big story, of course, is Barry Bonds. We'll have more about him during the week, but there's something I want to point out: Bonds walked 12 times last week, twice intentionally, in six games. In all of September 1998, Mark McGwire walked 19 times, just once intentionally. That's the difference between being in a race and not being in a race. Anybody who thinks Bonds has had an easier path to his achievement is simply not paying attention.

Finally, I'd like to post a URL for a New York City firefighter who remains missing after the September 11 attacks. I didn't know Kenny Marino well, but we played in a few Strat-O-Matic tournaments together, and I knew him to be a good man, father, and husband. If you have a moment, please check out http://myinfoserver.com/findkenny/FindKenny.htm, to see if perhaps you have any information on him.

Thanks.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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