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August 29, 2003

Prospectus Today

Bullet Point Friday

by Joe Sheehan

I'm a baseball guy; some people even call me The Baseball Guy. But this chaotic week culminated in my fantasy football auction last night, and I'm pretty excited about a three-day weekend that includes the USC opener on Saturday, so I'm having trouble focusing on my first love.

Here's a brain dump for you to take to the beach, the mountains, the ballpark, or wherever you'll be waving goodbye to the summer over the next few days.

  • I have to say thanks to all the people who helped me out when I was preparing for my first fantasy baseball auction in 11 seasons. My team is in second place in the RotoWire Staff League, ahead of people like Jeff Erickson, Peter Schoenke and Chris Liss, who all have thousands of people reading their fantasy wisdom on a daily basis.

    The team probably can't finish first--we're 23 points behind--and will have to take some hits in ERA and ratio to get to the 900-inning minimum, but I'll be happy to finish in the money given my complete lack of roto experience and the caliber of the competition. To those of you who offered advice, thanks. Now be ready to help me figure out my keeper list in six months!

  • Many of the same people from the baseball league are in the football league, which had its draft last week. I'd never 1) drafted; 2) used individual defensive players; or 3) played in a 14-team league, so I wasn't optimistic going in. RotoWire subscribers can read all about the draft here.

    If you play any fantasy sports, you should really check out the RotoWire site and magazines. I rely on them almost exclusively for my football teams, and they have great information for all the major sports. Their information helped me build a great team in my auction league last night, but I'll spare you all the details on that. (E-mail me if you really want to know.)

  • This e-mail arrived in my box Wednesday:

    Looking back on a recent column, you wrote about how much you enjoy the last-minute playoff scramble. It got me to thinking about what might happen in MLB's worst-case playoff scenario nightmare. Let's say the Red Sox take five of six from the Yankees this next week, and at season's end, the records of the four main contenders look like this:
    
    BOS: 96-66
    NYY: 96-66
    OAK: 96-66
    SEA: 96-66
    
    
    Now what happens? Although this is clearly unlikely, it would seem to be a fan's delight since there's at least one, and perhaps several, elimination games involved in this scenario. Given the time restraints involved with the date the playoffs actually start, do you know how MLB would resolve the matter? Or better yet, how they should?

    --E.C.

    As of Friday morning, I hadn't been able to dig up an answer for how MLB would handle this. The logical thing to do would be to have two playoff games for divisional titles, and then have the two losers play for the wild-card slot. This would be consistent with MLB procedures in the past, while creating some havoc in terms of setting the playoff schedule and possibly pushing the AL Division Series back by a day or so.

    Whether scheduling concerns--and you can read that as "Fox"--would dictate another course of action, I don't know. If Fox had its druthers, the Yankees and Red Sox would be given byes into the playoffs with home-field advantage in the Division Series, and the two AL West teams would be forced to play a one-game playoff in some place mutually inconvenient, like Cleveland, or the Yukon.

    I'm only half kidding.

  • I haven't had many chances to praise Allard Baird, so let me take this one. Rondell White was a great pickup for the Royals, who gave up virtually nothing and for about a million bucks, got the #6 hitter they've needed all season long. Over one month, White could hit just about anything, but having him should make the Royals a little better, and that's all a GM can do at this point.

    I think we could see some other deals before Monday's deadline for submitting playoff rosters. Peter Gammons' list of waiver clearances included a number of relievers and power bats who can probably be had for the willingness to assume the contract obligations and any warm body, and just about every contender--and by the way, we have 17 teams in the hunt on August 29--needs something. I like the Red Sox to grab an infielder, the Mariners to get a bat, the Braves to add at least one reliever, and the Cubs to do the same.

  • I don't think Larry Bowa did a good job last season when the Phillies lost their hold on first place in midsummer. He fought with one of his best players and forced him out of town, hampering the team down the stretch. This year, he's once again at the helm of a sinking ship, and doing precious little to improve matters.

    While much of the focus is on communication issues with the pitchers and Bowa's ejection Wednesday night, it's worth noting that he's gone back to creating problems for himself in the late innings. By batting Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu back-to-back--two hitters who become replacement-level players against left-handers--Bowa hamstrings the Phillies in close games against any team with an ambulatory southpaw, turning a hundred million bucks worth of hitters into fodder. Joey Eischen in Montreal, Steve Kline in St. Louis and Valerio de Los Santos in Milwaukee all faced Thome and Abreu late in games on this road trip and shut them down in Phillies losses.

    Bowa needs to go back to separating the two with either Pat Burrell or Mike Lieberthal, both of whom have track records of crushing lefties. By doing so, Bowa can assure himself of one good matchup through the middle of the lineup in the seventh and eighth innings. It's a small thing, but don't you want all the small edges in a five-way tie?

  • The Yankees/Red Sox series at Fenway Park will get all the hype, but Expos/Marlins in Miami is the biggest series in baseball this weekend. The two teams are part of that five-way tie for two playoff spots, with the Phillies, Astros and Cardinals all holding a share.

    I mentioned it the other day, but I'll say it again because it's important: no one has any idea who the NL Central winner and the Wild Card team will be. Any team in baseball can play .600 ball over a 30-game stretch, which is all it will take to make it to October. The real differences among the teams will have an impact on what happens, but it's going to come down to which players get hot, or fall into a slump, for one month.

    Rey Ordonez hit .326/.333/.533 in April; Jason Giambi was at .204/.357/.376 that month, as well. Jose Lima was 5-0 with a 1.44 ERA in June. We might be shaking our heads in wonderment at Chase Utley or Kerry Robinson a month from now, or wondering how Mark Prior's season could fall apart.

    With a gun at my head, I'd pick the Cubs in the Central and the Phillies for the Wild Card, but there's no combination of teams that would really surprise me. I'd tier them as the Phillies, Cubs and Astros up top; the Marlins and Diamondbacks in the middle; and the Expos, Dodgers and Cardinals in the rear. Any of them can win, and that makes for an exciting month of baseball.

  • Then again, maybe I'm shorting the Expos. This is from reader Bob Bailey:

    Terrible omission in not mentioning Vladimir Guerrero missed 50 games for the Expos while at the same time quoting season team stats to analyse future chances. He's hitting at full strength right now, if you didn't notice. No NL contender has come close to missing that much offense and then getting it back for the stretch. Put a little more effort in. A glaring mistake.

    He's right. This Expos team is completely different with Guerrero (.324/.419/.585) in right field instead of Ron Calloway (.233/.281/.380). The Expos are 19-26 when Guerrero doesn't start, but 52-38 when he does, and that's the team that plays down the stretch, the one that's the best story in baseball right now.

    I blamed the Expos' midsummer swoon on their wretched schedule, but they played most of that run without Guerrero. The truth probably lies in both explanations: they were worn down, and lacking their superstar right fielder, were less able to fight off the effects of all the travel.

  • You know, for a team that's been sloughing off talent right and left, the Pittsburgh Pirates are awfully close to the division leaders. Granted that it's the NL Central, and the Pirates are just 61-70, but a team eight games out with 28 to play deserves at least to be noticed, even in passing. I wonder, if you walked around PNC Park and asked people, how many would realize how close the team is to first place.

    It makes the timing of the Brian Giles trade look all the more strange.

  • Speaking of the NL Central, the longest winning streak in baseball belongs to the Brewers, who have won 10 in a row to move out of last place. They've been doing it with their bats, scoring 68 runs during the streak and pulling out a number of squeakers, including yesterday's 10-inning triumph over the now-last-place Reds. It's just another data point in the argument that over a short enough span of time, any major-league team can win a whole bunch of games.

    Few teams will have as much opportunity to play spoiler in September as the Brewers will. They have six games left with the Cubs, six with the Cardinals, eight with the Astros, and three against the Diamondbacks. That's a lot of opportunities to be annoying. With so many games involving the Brew Crew, it's fair to say that how the three leaders play against the Brewers could be the deciding factor in the Central race.

Don't forget the sunscreen.

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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