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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.

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