Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pennant Watch: Baseball Heads For Home

There are 9 days left in the baseball season, and while many of the races seem to be settled, there is still plenty of intrigue to go around.

Here’s where we stand on the pennant races:

American League
New York has clinched the East, while Oakland has all but wrapped up the West. In the Central, Detroit has a slim lead over Minnesota, who in turn has an increasingly comfortable lead in the wild card race over the defending champion Chicago White Sox. Suffice to say, while the divisional round matchups have yet to be determined, the field of four is pretty much set.

National League
The New York Mets have clinched the East, and home field advantage through the first two rounds, while St. Louis is close to clinching the Central. Out West, San Diego and Los Angeles are engaged in a seesaw battle for the division lead, with the runner-up having occupied the wild card spot in recent days. However, they’re challenged by the resurgent Philadelphia Phillies, who sit a mere half game out of the wild card spot – currently held by the Dodgers. In turn, the Dodgers are a mere half game back of the Padres for the division lead. Whoever wins the West will also have to jockey with St. Louis to finish second overall in the league, thus earning home field advantage for the NLDS.

Here’s what to watch in the final week:

Who Finished Where in the American League?
The first round matchups are almost certain to see New York hosting the wild card winner, and the AL Central winner hosting Oakland to open up. This will occur because of the rule that doesn’t allow the wild card team to face the winner of its division. Even if the Yankees, who are ahead of the Central-leading Tigers by a game and a half overall, cough up the overall league lead, they’ll still get the wild card winner in round one.

Detroit, with 5 games left against Kansas City and 3 against Toronto, should hold on in the Central and have a good shot at lapping the Yankees. New York gets Tampa Bay this weekend before closing against Baltimore and Toronto. This battle will only come into play if both New York and Detroit advance in round one, but is worth watching nonetheless.

Smart money is on New York hosting Minnesota, and Detroit hosting Oakland.

Who Finishes Where in the National League?
We know that the Mets are finishing first. The Cardinals are racing to lock up their division, and to finish second in the league. They currently trail San Diego by a game, but get to host the Padres next week. That series is sandwiched by matchups against potential spoilers Houston and Milwaukee. The Cards will have to earn home field the hard way.

As for the aforementioned Padres, they’re hosting Pittsburgh this weekend, then following their set in St. Louis, they finish up at Arizona. Not the easiest road, but the playoff chances are looking good for the Whale’s Vagina.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are currently squaring off against Arizona. They then go on the road to Colorado, before ending with a rivalry set in San Francisco. Why Dodgers fans should worry: the road record for the boys in blue is 33-42 this year; the sub-.500 Rockies and Giants both sport winning records at home (42-34 and 42-33 respectively). The Dodgers might need a sweep of Arizona this weekend to be in a good position to hold on to the wild card.

In contrast to the Dodgers, the wild card-chasing Phillies are an even .500 at home, but 7 games above .500 on the road. They’re hosting the Florida Marlins, 5 games out of the wild card and clinging to life, this weekend, then face Roger Clemens and the Astros on Monday in a make-up game. They then go on the road to face Washington, and close at Florida next weekend. That’s one series they should win, and one that could be a real spoiler.

I’m not ready to call the wild card race, but I’m pretty certain that San Diego will take the west, and finish in second place overall. In fact, with a rotation led by Jake Peavy and Chris Young, and supported by veterans David Wells and Woody Williams, it’s going to be very, very hard for me to pick against them in the NL.

As for the wild card, flip a coin. Though I refuse to cheer for them until they move back to Brooklyn, I’d kind of like to see the Dodgers make it in, in the hopes that we’ll see a Glavine vs. Maddux pitching matchup.

Before we go, three intriguing storylines to watch:

Death Watch: Joe Girardi
Because coaxing a .500 record out of a bunch of rookies and a $15 million payroll isn't enough to keep your job these days.

Death Watch: Game of Shadows
The whistle-blowing authors are heading to jail lest they change their minds and reveal their source on the grand jury leak.

Death Watch: Barry Bonds
His career, that is to say. Is he beginning the final week of his playing career, or will he come back for a swan song in 2007 with San Francisco or another club?

And finally, three individual accomplishments:

Noting to actually watch here, but Alfonso Soriano is baseball’s first 40-40-40 man.

20-70 Watch
I’m sure Avi will keep us updated on Mr. Reyes’ chances.

Ryan Howard Home Run Watch
He’s at 58, with 9 games to go. 4 more dingers will earn him the unofficial single season record, which doesn’t mean anything, but should cement the MVP crown for him.


At 6:19 AM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Philles are solidifying the Ewing theory, and Hanley Ramirez is twice as good as Jose Reyes. There, I said it. Eat it, Avi.


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