As the calender turns to September, the weather turns as well (although this year seems cooler than normal). Along with the cool air comes a cooler and more poised Cole Hamels on the mound.
As I rewatch the Phillies game on my recently acquired MLBtv (which is frustrating at times, but when it does work, I love it), Cole seems very relaxed on the mound and had great control of his fastball last night. When he has good fastball control, then his changeup conpliments it. When he can control both pitches, he’s as good as anyone on the mound, as we saw last night and last October.
Hamels went the distance last night allowing only two hits, a double in the second inning to Ryan Garko and ninth inning single. He only walked one, and it was in the ninth inning, to a pinch-hitting Pablo Sandoval.
Nothing against Cliff Lee and the fantastic pitcher he is, but when Cole is on like he was last night, he is the true ace of this staff. The constant for when Cole pitches is that the Phils don’t score runs. It has been the case his whole career, especially when he pitches well.
But the way this offense can put up runs, I’m not too concerned for the stretch run.
Speaking of the stretch run, with it being September, here’s who I think will be playing past October 4th…
AL East: Yankees
At 6.5 games up with a little over a month to go, it’s really theirs to lose. They are on too much of a roll and have way too much offense for that to happen though. The Red Sox would have to go on an 2007 Rockies kind of roll in order to overtake this division. Yankees win the division by seven games.
AL Central: Twins
This team doesn’t give up and they play hard until the end. Even with a depleted pitching rotation, I’ll choose Minnesota at 3.5 games back of the Tigers. They get seven more games against Detroit. The final year at the HHH will be seeing playoff baseball as the Twins win the division by two games.
AL West: Angels
With a 4.5 game lead over Texas, the Angels play the game offensively too well to not win this division. However they do have a losing record against their own division (who they face a majority of September) and they play the Red Sox and Yankees this month leads me to think that this division is going to be a close race. Angels win the division by two games.
AL Wildcard: Red Sox
They seem to be hitting their stride at 8-2 in their last ten games and currently riding a four game win streak. Clay Buchholz is really coming through as the pitcher they hoped he would and I’m not concerned about Josh Beckett’s recent struggles. Sox grab the wildcard by three games.
NL East: Phillies
I’ve already mentioned Cole earlier and the Phils have a top-ranked ERA since the All-Star break. Mix in the offense and the Phillies take it by seven games.
NL Central: Cardinals
Too much pitching and this offense picks eachother up. They seem to be the most complete team in the NL, if not the entire league. Cards win the division by thirteen games.
NL West: Dodgers
At 5.5 games up on the Rockies, even if they keep playing bad baseball, they’ll just let the rest of the west beat up on eachother as they win the division by four games.
NL Wildcard: Rockies
They’re “sick” and when their offense returns, which it will, they’ll win the wildcard. For once the Rockies have great pitching. Ubaldo Jimenez has developed into an ace and Jason Marquis is a winner. With the Giants pitching, it will be close. I got the Rockies by a game over Giants.
I’m here on my family vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. And I had some downtime so I figured rather than sleep or look at the clouds that are eye level outside our mountain house, I would blog.
And okay, caught me, I said I wouldn’t be posting again until I got back to school, but.. I am. I figured I would post some of my predictions for the rest of the season. Note: These are my predictions as of August 5th, I reserve the right to change my mind as the season progresses, after all–it is my blog.
The NL West goes to the Dodgers, that was hard.
The Phillies are in quite a slump. They’re not hitting, not pitching all too well, and making an error here and there. The greeting card sitting at Cliff Lee‘s locker when he arrived at CBP Tuesday might have read: “Welcome to town, Mr. Lee! We’ll continue to win once every fifth day when you’re out on the mound and maybe not even win then, if our offense doesn’t get going!” Lets hope that Lee didn’t bring the funk that the whole Cleveland Indians team is going through to Philly. I’m just playing around, teams go through valleys and reach mountain peaks throughout the season and I’m hoping the Phils are just in a small valley. My guess is that the Phils don’t suffer from Tribe Syndrome, turn it around in the coming week, and win the NL East.
If the Rangers had more than Dustin Nippert and Kevin Millwood then I would seriously consider them in the West over the Angels. But since they don’t, I got the Halos.
One of the best races to watch may be that AL Central. It is going to come down to what pitching staff steps up and holds off each opponent because the Tigers, White Sox, and Twins all scrap until the end to win baseball games. I love the punches Buerhle, Danks, and Floyd but the combination of Mauer and Morneau is lethal as well. So lets knock off who leads the division right now, the Detroit Tigers. They’re near the back of the AL in a bunch of categories and in the long haul, that won’t get you to the playoffs. So if its White Sox vs. Twins, advantage: Twins. They are 7-5 against the ChiSox this year.
The case for the Colorado Rockies (in a few sentences):
They have the pitching finally as their rotation has really come together this season even when Jeff Francis went down before the season started. Seth Smith and Dexter Fowler are maturing in the majors. They’ve always had the middle-of-the-lineup bats to drive in the guys that get on base before them. Todd Helton is healthy. They have more home games left than any other NL contender. They’re my NL wild card pick.
Why not the Giants?
This makes me feel like a HUGE hypocrite. I usually am all about pitching. Pitching wins, pitching wins, pitching wins. That’s what I lay my baseball foundation on. The Giants have one of the best staffs in the National League. AND they just upgraded their awful offense AND they’re now scoring runs. They do have some great young players but I’m not sure that I can see this team playing in October. Maybe because I’ve never seen Freddy Sanchez there. Haha. Speaking of which…
Poor Pirates fans. But only the Pirates fans because Pittsburgh’s won two other championships this year. Jerry Crasnick, of ESPN.com, wrote a great article about the dismantling of this team here: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=crasnick_jerry&id=4373943.
Lets get to the touchy subject, the AL East. The Red Sox own the Yankees this year, but the Rays own the Red Sox, but the Yankees lead the division. Huh? Yea, this is a tough division to choose. The Yankees score 0.29 more runs per game than the Red Sox and 0.32 more than the Rays. The Sox ERA is 0.06 better than the Rays and 0.39 better than the Yanks. My guess is that the Yanks lose their game and a half lead to the Red Sox.
Then since the Yankees play in a park where an everyday flyout to right is homerun, I say they win the wild card. Followed closely by Tampa Bay who put themselves in too big of a hole to start to season. My same reasoning for why the Rangers don’t win the West is the same reasoning I’m using here for the wild card.
This may be preaching to the choir, but the Cardinals really bolstered their lineup at the deadline. It is a top tier NL lineup now. As long as the pitching keeps the Cards in games I see the additions of Mark DeRosa, Julio Lugo, and Matt Holliday paying off and getting the Cards into October. Sorry Cubbies.
So as of now, my playoff pairings guess goes:
Twins at Red Sox
Rockies at Phillies
Yankees at Angels
Cardinals at Dodgers
Season Preview: San Francisco Giants
Projected MLB Rank: 9th (t) — NL Rank: 6th (t) — NL West Rank: 3rd — Record: (88-74)
The Giants had a rough season last year with a 72-90 record with few highlights, with the exception of star righthander Tim Lincecum. This year I would expect a difference if the offense can find a way to produce some runs. They were second to last in the league last year in runs per game with 3.95 and were the only team in the major leagues to not top 100 homeruns as a team. This year I think that will change.
They have a bunch of good young players that should step up and improve their batting from last year. A big part of the improvement should come from thirdbaseman Pablo Sandoval. The 22 year old hit .345 with 3 homeruns and 24 RBIs in 41
games last season. Once he gains some patience at the plate, watch out for this kid. Quick leftfielder Fred Lewis should get on base and steal some bases for this lineup and give the middle of the order players a chance to drive in some runs.
Along with Sandoval, the middle of that lineup should consist of veterans Bengie Molina and Randy Winn. Molina nearly hit .300 last season while hitting 16 homeruns and driving in 95 runs. Winn hit over .300 and provides a little bit of production while stealing some bases at the same time. Aaron Rowand also has the potential to hit in the middle of the order. He doesn’t hit for too much power, but he’s as blue-collar as it gets concerning his work on the field.
The right side of the infield consists of guys who are competing for starting spots. The projected starters are Travis Ishikawa and Kevin Frandsen at first and second bases, respectively. Ishikawa doesn’t hit for much power but posts a good on base percentage. Also in the running for the firstbase job is John Bowker and even Sandoval, if he doesn’t start at third. Frandsen and Emmanuel Burriss seem to be the main candidates for the secondbase job. Shortstop is a position they upgraded this offseason by bringing in veteran Edgar Renteria. Last year with the Tigers, Renteria hit .270 with an OBP of .317 while driving in 55 runs.
As we know, in baseball, pitching wins ballgames. The Giants certainly have pitching. It all starts with reigning Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. With the struggling offense last season, Lincecum found a way to chalk up 18 wins while having the lowest ERA in the National League and leading the entire league in strikeouts. In three full seasons, righty Matt Cain has yet to breakout as he’s posted an ERA in the high threes and having similar strikeout totals. He’s still only 24, so all hope in not lost in the young Cain.
Another offseason acquisition, Randy Johnson, should help this team out a bunch. The future hall of fame lefthander is 45 years young and can still pitch well. Last season he posted a 3.91 ERA and won 11 games. Then fellow lefty Barry Zito, who seems to haven’t been the same since he got to San Fran in 2007, is now considered the fourth starter. One thing he has proved is that he’s reliable despite the high ERA, WHIP, and bad strikeout to walk ratios. The fifth starter looks like it will be Jonathan Sanchez who is a good power pitcher that needs to find his control if he wants to stay a major league pitcher.
The offseason acquisitions continue as we move to the bullpen. Southpaw Jeremy Affeldt, coming over from the Reds has great stuff and will be in the set up mix along with fellow winter add on Bob Howry. Howry had a rough year in 2008 statistically but I think he fits in with the Giants nicely. Rounding out the solid bullpen in righty Sergio Romo (2.12 ERA / 0.71 WHIP / 29 games), lefty Alex Hinshaw (3.40 ERA / 48 games), Merkin Valdez (1.69 ERA / 17 games), and many others. Brian Wilson will get many chances for saves once again as he posted 41 of them last season. He posts a nice strikeout rate but last season had a high ERA and WHIP.
I think that this pitching staff may be the most underrated in the league (thus why I have them ranked so highly). Look for a Blue Jays-esque season with the Giants as I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs but I have them tacking a win total in the high eighties. Awesome pitching staff with improving bats could lead to a productive year by the bay.