With August winding down, the baseball season is getting awesome, as always. I can honestly say that this is the most relaxed I have ever been with a Phillies team in contention–at least when it comes to making the playoffs. Even the ’93 team had a real bump in the road in August, as the Expos closed to like 2 or 3 games, I think. But, I really don’t see any chance that they don’t win this division. [Did I just say that out loud? If they blow it ’64-style, you can blame me.] Anyway, there are plenty of contenders to take down the defending champs, but who are the favorites? So, I’ve decided to list the Top Twelve 2009 World Series Contenders.
31). New York Mets. Now, with Santana out for the year with bone chips, their Queens AAA affiliate is complete. Is that mean? I’m sorry…sort of.
30). Washington Nationals. They are getting hot, so I think they have a better shot than the Mets.
29). Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. If they hadn’t lost three key players in the Cliff Lee deal, they might have a better shot, but they still have some talent, so let’s put them at #29.
13). San Francisco Giants. They would have been higher (and actually in the Top 12) before this weekend, but losing three of four to the Rockies has put them 4 games behind the Rox in the Wild Card race and 6 games behind the Dodgers for the West. But, if they do, somehow get in, they may be tough because of their bally-hooed top 2 pitchers and then Randy Johnson’s experience. Though (and this may be a topic for a future post), I think regular-season pitching is a completely different animal than postseason pitching, whereas the hitting is at least a little more similar, and this team doesn’t hit. But, still, Lincecum and Cain are masterful, so I guess you have to watch out for the Giants, but I don’t really see it because the offense is just not good.
12). Florida Marlins. Okay, the official Top 12 starts with the Marlins. I don’t really think they are going to make the playoffs (they are tied the Braves, whom I put somewhere in between the Marlins and Iron Pigs), the Marlins have shown their magic in the past, with very similar teams than the 2009 version (at least the ’03 team is similar–the ’97 team had a bunch of aging vets like Darren Daulton and Bobby Bonilla). They have pitching (including Cy Young candidate Josh Johnson and other studs) and one of the five best all-around players in the game in Hanley Ramirez. Plus though they have never won the division…ever…they have as many World Series titles as the Phillies, who have been around for 125+ years, so I guess they have a shot, right?
11). Colorado Rockies. Okay, I know I am crazy here, but isn’t this team doing it totally with smoke and mirrors? I’m probably wrong because they have been the best team in baseball for like TWO MONTHS now, but come on. Let’s take a look at their lineup for a minute, shall we? They usually lead off Dexter Fowler, who is hitting an unremarkable .270 (and spent much of the year under .250). Hitting second is Clint Barmes, whose on-base percentage is exactly .300…THREE-HUNDRED. Then comes the professional hitter Todd Helton, who is just a solid player and always will be. But, he’s their #3 hitter and he has 12 home runs. TWELVE. His power numbers used to be higher…I’m not saying, I’m just saying. Anyway, then you have Troy Tulowitzki, Brad Hawpe, and Seth Smith, who are all having nice years, but these are the 4-5-6 hitters, folks? Really? Then you have Garret Atkins and his gaudy .228 average hitting 7th and Chris Iannetta and his robust .221 average hitting 8th. Oh, and may I remind you that this team plays in COORS FIELD!!! Yes, they use the humidor to cut down on home runs, but does it make the outfield any smaller? And please don’t get me started on how overrated the middle and end of their rotation are. I actually like Ubaldo Jimenez at the top (though, he’s still probably the worst “ace” of any playoff team this year, unless Texas makes it) and Jason Marquis is a veteran pitcher who is having a nice year. But, please don’t tell me that Rockies fans feel comfortable with Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa pitching games 3 and 4 of a playoff series…PLEASE. Sorry for the rant on Colorado, but how the hell is this team winning? PLEASE, let the Phillies finish with a better record than St. Louis, so we can pound these Rockie pitchers and shut down this terrible offense. And, if the Phils don’t get the joy of it, the Cardinals surely will.
10). Texas Rangers. I know, it’s ridiculous, but I really think that the Rangers have a better shot to win the whole thing than Colorado. This team is scrappy and their starters lead the AL in ERA. Let me say that again–the Texas Rangers starting pitchers lead the AL in ERA. Josh Hamilton is just getting going and Michael Young and Ian Kinsler may be the two most underrated teammates in my lifetime. I don’t really think the Rangers can navigate a sure-to-be brutal AL playoff bracket, but they at least have a shot, right?
9). Chicago White Sox. I actually believe that the ChiSox are going to catch the Tigers and win the AL Central. (Full Disclosure: I bet on them to win the division at the beginning of the year.) But…I think that, though the Sox have a better shot at making the playoffs than the Tigers, I think the Tigers are better equipped to deal with postseason series than Chicago, and therefore have a better chance to win the whole thing. Remember, though, the White Sox may be adding a former Cy Young winner to their rotation any day now in Jake Peavy.
8). Detroit Tigers. Like I said, I think the Tigers are going to choke away a Central division that they should have already put away, so I don’t even think they will make the playoffs, despite their current 4.5 game lead. However, I do think that if they can, somehow, hold on and win this division, they have a better shot at making some noise in the playoffs than anyone else from this division. They have one dominant starter in Verlander, two guys that can be dominant on any given day in Jackson and Porcello, and one guy who is a steady veteran in Washburn. They also have Miguel Cabrera, who somehow made a quick journey from overappreciated to underappreciated because he signed a monster contract. And, they have the best infield defense in the American League.
7). Los Angeles Dodgers. This team is falling apart at the seams, and it is not surprising at all. Their once insurmountable lead in the NL West has shrunk to 2 games. It is not guaranteed any more that they will even be IN the playoffs this year. And, once they get there, their glaring weakness–starting pitching–will have to deal with either Utley and Howard or Pujols and Holliday. It does not look good for the Dodgers to even reach the LCS, let alone win the World Series.
6). Tampa Bay Rays. At this point, it looks as if they may not make the playoffs at all, but I still think that they are one of the seven most likely teams to win the World Series this year. They proved how talented they are in last year’s run and they also proved that they will not be intimidated by the Sox or the Yanks or whomever they would have to face. It will be a tough, tough road, though, as they have to first catch the Red Sox and Rangers for the Wild Card, then, presumably, they would have to beat Anaheim in a best-of-five and then probably the Yankees in a best-of-seven. Wow, good luck, guys.
5). Boston Red Sox. The Sox are most likely going to win the Wild Card, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they won the whole thing. In fact, I think that they may be the 2nd or 3rd best team in all of baseball right now, but they are staring at Anaheim and then the Yankees before they even get to the World Series. Throw in the fact that no deciding game will be at home if they are the Wild Card and October starts to look daunting to them. But, you can’t count them out…ever.
4). Los Angeles Angels. The best manager in baseball, bar none. A team that always does the little things. And, oh by the way, for the first time in this decade of excellence, they are actually led by their offense (if you haven’t heard of Kendry Morales or Juan Rivera, just wait, you will). I actually think this might be the best team in baseball, and the only reason that they are not #1 on this list is because they will probably have to beat both Boston and the Yankees just to get there, whereas the three teams listed above them will have MUCH easier Division Series opponents. Oh, and you can put up dollars to donuts that I will be rooting for them in the postseason because of a certain guy that goes by Bobby. Yes, the most underrated player of our generation, Bobby Abreu, has a .401 on-base percentage, 84 RBIs, 77 runs scored, and 26 SBs. And, any team in baseball could have signed him for the peanuts that the Angels are paying him. GMs are dumb.
3). St. Louis Cardinals. I am officially scared of the Cardinals and, though it’s very close, I think I’m being objective here when I say that they are #3 and not #2. The additions of Holliday and DeRosa have made this offense special, and Carpenter and Wainwright are as good a 1-2 as you’ll find. Plus, ‘roid-head Ryan Franklin is one of the most dependable closers in baseball this year. This team is officially terrifying.
2). Philadelphia Phillies. Here are my arguments as to why they are higher than the Cardinals. (1) They have a 1/2 game lead for the better record between the two teams, which matters a lot because the better record will get the Wild Card, which is probably going to be Colorado, and you all know my feelings on Colorado. (2) The Phillies have the starting pitcher advantage at 2 of the 4 spots in a postseason rotation, while the Cardinals only have it at one. I believe Lee and Carpenter is probably a wash. Wainwright is better than Hamels right now, and they both have a solid postseason pedigree on which they can lean. But, I would definitely take Blanton and Happ over Piniero and Wellemeyer any day of the week, and ESPECIALLY in the playoffs. (3) I know, I know, I’m scared of all of the Phillies left-handed starters against such a strong right-handed lineup, but at least they have Blanton, who is right-handed. But, what people may not realize is that the Cardinals are going to have the same problem with the Phillies. The Phils have, as everyone knows, a dominant left-handed hitting team, and ALL FOUR of the Cards probable postseason starters (and the closer) are right-handed. In fact, the only two left-handers that have even thrown double-digit innings for the Cards this year are journeymen Danys Reyes and Trever Miller, the latter of whom was ROUGHED UP to the tune of an 18.00 ERA in the World Series last year by the Phils when he pitched for Tampa Bay. Advantage: Phillies in both head-to-head and likelihood to win the World Series.
1). New York Yankees. I wanted to put the Phils as likely to repeat, but I couldn’t because it would be going against everything I have said for years about playoff baseball. The most important player on a postseason baseball team is the closer. And, the Yankees have the best the game has ever seen, and the Phillies have a shell of that perfect guy they had last year. Plus, the Yanks will probably get to open the playoffs with either Detroit or the White Sox, while the Phils may end up with the Dodgers. The Yankees have dominant starting pitching and a great offense. This is the team to beat.