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Of the 15 scheduled series this weekend, only four feature head-to-head meetings between teams that have a realistic chance to be in the postseason this year. They are:

Atlanta @ Los Angeles

    What is it about human nature that makes us think one thing and then do another? Why do we establish hard and fast rules for ourselves only to break them? Last season, while writing for another Web site (it starts with an ‘E’), I firmly stated that it was folly to predict the Braves to finish anywhere but first until such time as they actually do finish anywhere but first. I then turned around this spring and joined the crowd picking the Phillies to win the division. Then, in the winter, I wrote that the Dodgers had a good shot to take their division, provided a few things went their way, like Adrian Beltre showing up for his patented “long-awaited big season.” I caught holy hell from disgruntled Dodgers fans for that sentiment, believe me. I then, of course, turned around and picked them for third. Had I just followed my gut for both teams, I’d be feeling much smarter these days.

Cleveland @ Minnesota

    Again the Indians dodge the Santana bullet. Well, it’s not really as dramatic as all that. Including this series, the Indians and Twins will have met in four series this year and Cleveland has only had to face Johann Santana once. He threw 63 pitches in four innings on the second day of the season and got a no-decision in a 4-2 Twins victory.

    This could be a season breaker for the upstart Tribesmen. A sweep at the hands of the Twins would pretty much bury them. Losing two of three wouldn’t be a happy happenstance, either. If the Indians can’t deliver this weekend, we’ll be down to one close divisional race in an awful hurry.

    I like that Ron Gardenhire quote about why he’s not playing Luis Rivas more. It seems that Rivas is not working hard enough before the games, opting to spend his time playing cards in the clubhouse rather than take extra batting practice and this has Gardenhire steamed. He suggests in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that Rivas is “not swinging well.” A couple of things about this situation:

    • True, Rivas is having the worst year of his career so far, but not by any significant amount. The first three full seasons saw him post with EqAs of .237/.238/.237. This year he’s down to .222, so it’s more of the same, really. The thing of it is, Rivas got a fairly early jump on his big league career, becoming a regular before the age of 22. It would be natural to assume that as he moves toward his prime, there would be some improvement. The big step backwards for Rivas is that he is walking less. Far less. In his first three seasons, he would take a stroll about once every 16.7 plate appearances, an already sub-par rate. This year it’s an atrocious once every 29.

    • If one likes playing cards, one might consider the off-season or, perhaps, retirement as a time upon which to focus on that pursuit. Perception still counts for a great deal in baseball, numbers or not. If Rivas were posting the exact same numbers but showing his employers more signs of a strong work ethic, he wouldn’t be losing playing time to Mike Cuddyer and Nick Punto. One can make a long career with borderline skills and a great attitude but borderline skills and a reputation as a slacker are a sure bet that card-playing retirement will come sooner rather than later. The one thing about playing cards in retirement that Rivas might want to keep in mind, though, is this: You don’t get to do it with big league ballplayers.

Boston @ Chicago White Sox

    This just barely qualifies for inclusion as the White Sox are hanging on by a thread and could be absent from even semi-serious playoff talk by the end of play on Saturday. That’s surprising, given the Sox have gotten the sort of turnarounds and upstarts that would usually indicate a team on the rise:

    • Carlos Lee maintaining his halfway decent groove. In terms of EqA, this could be his best year ever, although not by a large margin. Still, for a player who appeared to throw plate discipline to the wind last year, this is good news.

    • Aaron Rowand going from hole in the lineup to pole in the lineup. He has an auspicious Isolated Power number of .256.

    • Juan Uribe‘s early surprise turn. It’s all gone south now, but it helped for a while.

    • Paul Konerko re-establishing his place among the smart set.

    • Mark Buehrle getting his groove on again.

    • The arrival of the mind-boggling Shingo Takatsu

    • Jose Valentin heading for a career-high in home runs. He’s actually not playing any better than he has in the past (he’s a middle-of-the-pack eighth in the league in VORP at his position). But when your shortstop hits 30 homers, you have to figure that a lot of other things are going to take care of themselves.

    Unfortunately, these nice little turns of fate have been counterbalanced by injuries to Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez. If they were both healthy and playing at last year’s level of achievement, it is safe to say the team would be a fair bit closer than it is now. This is why it stinks to be a fan of this team. It just never quite gets there, does it? What can I say that will make it better? How about this:

    In a parallel universe, Chick Gandil was called the “Baseballin’ Preacher Man” and was known to quote scripture to opponents who stopped at first base after a safe hit or walk. Under his influence, the churlish lout named Swede Risberg became a model citizen of the diamond. Together, they led to the Sox to consecutive World Championships in 1919 and 1920, the third and fourth such flags of many more to come now hanging over Comiskey Park.

    Sorry, it’s the best I can do.

Anaheim @ New York Yankees

    Based on Runs Scored and Runs Against, this is by no means the worst Yankee team of recent vintage (“recent vintage” being defined as starting in 1996). That distinction would fall to the 2000 bunch who projected to win only 85 games but wound up with 87 and a World Championship. This group is projecting to score and allow at a rate of about 90 wins (using the very basic First Order Wins. And while all Yankee teams of recent memory save for the ’97 squad outperformed their run situation, this version is on pace to outlast them all. The previous high was six by the 2001 and 1998 teams. This club, if all things remain equal, is looking at 12 wins above projection.

    Add this to the list of factors against the Yankees, despite their winning ways: Alex Rodriguez is having one of the worst years of his career. This is full season number nine and only 1997’s EqA of .284 is worse than this year’s .298. He could blow past 1998 and 1999 (.300 and .302 respectively) with a late surge, but this is still a good 20 points below his previous four-year average. Speaking of depressed EqAs, Gary Sheffield is experiencing his lowest since 1993 (when adjusted for season). Derek Jeter, at .263, is flat out having his worst year ever by any measure. Three other Yankees who have had a lot of playing time this year are also meeting with substandard EqA results:

    Jason Giambi: worst ever
    Bernie Williams: worst since 1993
    Kenny Lofton: second-worst of his career

    Granted, this group’s worst and near-worst is better than the best that many folks have to offer, but I’d told you that the Yankees would be suffering this kind of degradation, you’d assume they’d be a lot worse off than they are.

* * * *

I’ve never mentioned this before, but I am working on a musical called BUD! Upon hearing the news this afternoon that he is to be our commissioner for at least three more years, I wrote a new scene. I thought I’d run by you folks:

Scene: Stooped man hunched over manuscript in Dickensian style, scribbling away. A phone rings, he answers it on speaker.

BUD: Make it snappy!

CALLER: Hey Buddy, whatchya up to?

BUD: Oh, it’s you. Planning my next masterstroke to undermine the national pastime, of course–what else would I be doing?

CALLER: That’s my boy! Hey, quick question: Do you have any plans between, oh, 2007 and 2009?

BUD: Hmmm…doubtful. Why, what’s on your mind?

CALLER: We were all, ah…well, that is…me and the fellows… Oh, heck, I’ll just come right out and say it: Do you wanna stick around? It’s not every day you find a commissioner who oversees a league that owns one of the teams, you know.

BUD: I feel so wanted! So needed. I am spinning about the room like a schoolgirl after being asked to her first dance!

CALLER: So I can tell the boys it’s a go, then?

BUD: I don’t need a floor because I’m dancing on air! Of course it’s a yes! Of course! Of course!

Music starts, he sings quietly:

From the humblest origins I arose
From barely nothing my legend grows
A tiny lot with a couple of rows
Of hoopties and lemons and junkers you know…

Music swells, he bursts out:

I once sold Studebakers
Now I’m the undertaker
The mover and the shaker
Of the greatest game the world has known

So to hell with you fan petitioner
Eat your bitter pill
Kneel down to your Commissioner
And taste my iron will

I once hawked worn-out Caddies
Now I’m the big mack daddy
The heavy and the prime-time baddy
Of the greatest game the world has known

So to hell with you team parishioner
Drink your bitter swill
Kneel down to your Commissioner
And taste my iron will

Repeat and pianissimo…

From the simplest of trades I began
From barely nothing to a much-feared man
It’s really not so much different than
Selling jalopies and lemons and junkers you know…

Thank you for reading

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