The Rays hold steady, the Padres keep the faith, and the Cubs are refusing to hibernate.
There was no bigger story in baseball last year than the Rays, as the Tampa Bay franchise, which had known nothing but futility since its inception in 1998, dropped the Devil from its nickname, changed its color scheme and its uniform, and then dramatically changed their losing ways. In one of the more stunning turnarounds in the history of the game, the Rays went from having the worst record in the major leagues in 2007 with a 66-96 mark, to going 97-65 and winning the American League pennant by beating the White Sox in the Division Series and the Red Sox in the Championship Series. Though the Rays fell to the Phillies in the World Series in five games, their transformation from laughingstock to champion was astonishing.
The Cubs signed two second basemen last week. Marc looks at the one who will end up manning the keystone in 2007.
DeRosa was all-state in both football and baseball at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, NJ, and was the starting quarterback for the University of Pennsylvania from 1993 to 1995. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 1996 amateur entry draft by the Atlanta Braves, selection #212 overall, and was sent to Low-A Eugene for his professional debut. His first three years in the minors were fairly mundane:
The AL West is a far cry from where it was a few months ago. The Rangers take on the Athletics in your Game of the Week.
The A's and the Rangers have spent the last month going in different directions in the standings. On July 22nd, the Rangers trailed the A's by a mere half-game in the AL West, with the Angels only two games behind the leader, and the Mariners five back in last place. On that date, the Rangers had better than even odds of making the postseason, 53.4%, according to the Playoff Odds Report. By the time they acquired left fielder Carlos Lee from the Brewers a week later, the Rangers were a game under .500, two and a half behind the A's in second place, and their chances had fallen to 29.9%. Coming into Saturday's matchup, the Rangers are in third place, and their playoff chances have dropped to negligible--right around 5%. Since a picture's worth a thousand words, here's how it all broke down:
The Transaction Analysis you have been waiting for. Saunders. Izturis. Guzman. Cormier. Hernandez. Reyes. The names are all here, and only Christina can sort out the right from wrong, and the stupid from the just obtuse.
When the season begins each spring, the ivy on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field is not a lush green, but a vine-bare patch of brick and brown. Botany is not among my hobbies, and I do not know whether this condition results from some half-intentional negligence, or the natural distaste of Parthenocissus tricuspidata for the cool Midwestern spring. But in either event, the effect is unsettling: that feeling you get in a dream when you see a place familiar but vaguely and profoundly incomplete. That was the feeling I had on Friday night when I walked through Gate F at Clark and Addison Streets and into the nation's most beloved ballpark. Though the architecture of Wrigley Field is the same as always--an array of ascending ramps, chain-linked fences, city vistas, and dank inner concourses pierced by streaks of evening sunlight--the atmosphere is palpably different. Gone are the rowdies, the drunks, the tourists; present instead is the eerie timbre of quiet before battle. It is the playoffs, the third game of the first series against the Atlanta Braves, and whether owning to the somber, rainy weather, the melancholy brought on by raised expectations, or, more likely, the Trans-Atlantic airline fares that have passed as market rates for scalped tickets, these fans were here to win.
That was the feeling I had on Friday night when I walked through Gate F at Clark and Addison Streets and into the nation's most beloved ballpark. Though the architecture of Wrigley Field is the same as always--an array of ascending ramps, chain-linked fences, city vistas, and dank inner concourses pierced by streaks of evening sunlight--the atmosphere is palpably different. Gone are the rowdies, the drunks, the tourists; present instead is the eerie timbre of quiet before battle.
Even as we enter October, it's strange to think of the Braves as a club that's led by their offense. Then again, I'm one of those people that was still writing "2002" on his checks until just a couple of weeks ago.
But there's little doubt that Atlanta is a deep, superior offensive club. All eight Braves regulars have EqAs better than the league average (Fick and Castilla making it just under the wire). Nitpick away if you like: Lopez, as horribly as PECOTA mangled his projection, was almost certainly playing over his head a little bit. Fick had a an awful second half and has been flipped with Lopez in the batting order. Vinny Castilla is still Vinny Castilla. It doesn't matter: the Braves simply mash the ball (235 home runs), a skill that holds up perfectly well in high- and low-scoring games, against soft-tossers and power arms. Hell, even their pitchers can hit a little bit.
What could matter more is that the Braves are overwhelmingly right-handed, and will be facing an overwhelmingly right-handed pitching staff. Too much can be made of the platoon advantage; Sheffield, for example, has never had a huge split; and Giles actually hit righties better this year. But as a team, the Braves were about 25 points worth of OPS better against lefties this year, and we're at the stage where those little things can make a difference.
The Cubs' offense, to borrow the old line, runs a lot like CTA buses: nothing at all for a long time, and then a bunch all at once. Well, that's not quite right; the Cubs didn't exhibit any particularly unusual patterns in their run scoring. But theirs is an offense that has its holes, especially in the bottom four slots in the order.