Friday, July 25, 2008

Assessing the 60's

The end of July is approaching and just five teams in the majors have won sixty games. Surprisingly, the Yankees, Tigers, and Mets, the "Leagues" top three payrolls aren't part of those five. Apparently, $480 million doesn't buy you what it used to.

Obviously, the Tampa Bay Rays ($43 Million) would be the most surprising member of the 60's. The early favorites to win the vaunted American League East, the Rays boast a mind altering 40-16 record back home in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, the Rays 20-32 record away from "The Trop" leaves some doubt. These Rays don't have an easy road ahead of them playing 33 of their last 54 games on the road, where they struggle most. 24-year old pitcher, Matt Garza, has stumbled as of late. Most recently, Garza has won 1 of his last 4 starts with an ERA inching toward four. Even ace, Scott Kazmir has struggled against good lineups lately. With losses earlier in the month in both Cleveland and New York, Kazmir didn't get out of the sixth inning. The rotation of Tampa and early successes from their young and extremely talented lineup led them to the first place position they currently hold but they'll need to demonstrate success on the road if they plan to complete their surprising season.

The defending champs, the Boston Red Sox ($133 Million), have struggled against tough competition this month and off the field issues are distracting the front office from concentrating on making a move to improve before the trade deadline. Headed into the All-Star Break, the Sox held a one game lead over Tampa Bay and seemed to be pulling away. Opening with the Angels, the Sox failed to avoid a 3-game sweep in Disneyland and luckily were able to avoid the same fate against New York on Sunday night. Fortunately for Boston, they play at Fenway Park, where dominance is an understatement. The Sox are 37-13 at home and finish with seven straight home games at the end of September which will be more than important. The Red Sox have one of the stronger rotations in baseball. The 11-1 record of Daisuke Matsuzaka and recent dominance of Jon Lester is an added bonus to a rotation which also includes the postseasons most impressive pitcher of the past ten seasons, Josh Beckett. Hopefully the injection of David Ortiz back into the Sox lineup will both add power to a struggling offense and calm the emotions of fellow Dominican, Manny Ramirez. If the Sox can keep Manny quiet and find help for the anchor of the bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon, their recent post season success will surely continue.

The L.A. Anaheim Angels ($119 Million), are the only of the "60's" without a glaring deficiency away from their host city. A 33-19 road record and playing in the worst division of the American League has made the Angels one of baseballs most dominant teams. A major league high, 64 wins, the Angels have at times, looked untouchable. 8-2 in their last ten, including a sweep against the Red Sox, the Angels have built enough confidence heading into August to last them throughout the final months of the season. The most glaring reason for the Angels success is the remarkable performance of all-world closer, Francisco Rodriguez. The twenty-six year old Venezuelan has a major league leading, and almost record setting, 43 saves. Rodriguez has allowed just one run in his last nine outings, a streak of seven and a third innings. The Angels top two starters, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana, have a combined 24-10 record. With 26 games remaining against divisional foes, the Angels will undoubtedly head into the playoffs on a high note. Leave the Rally Monkeys at home folks, the Angels are just that good.

Well believe it, the Milwaukee Brewers ($81 Million) will be in the postseason. Just as hot as the Angels, the Brewers are also 8-2 in their last ten games. With the addition of C.C. Sabathia, 2007 American League Cy Young, we may just see the most important mid-season trade since the Red Sox sent Nomar to the Cubs in 2004. The 4-0 Sabathia has pitched two straight complete games, a span which he allowed just 1 run in 18 innings. Milwaukee traded for a pitcher who seems to have regained some of his 2007 mastery, and will pair with Brewer ace, Ben Sheets, to be the National Leagues second most dominant pitching duo. A team that could face Diamondback two-some, Brandon Webb and Danny Haren, the Brewers bolstered their rotation the best way you could, add an ace. Five-tool talent and reigning rookie of the year, Ryan Braun, is hitting above .300, slugging close to .600, and has already mashed 28 homers. Braun adds to a lineup that includes Prince Fielder (20 dingers), Corey Hart (16), Mike Cameron(15), J.J. Hardy and Bill Hall (14), a definite power offense. Currently the Brewers sit a game back of division leader, Chicago, but will surely provide fans of the National League Central with one of the most exciting division races in years.

Chicago's likable team, the Chicago Cubs ($118 Million) are attempting to destroy demons that have tormented this team longer than anyone alive can remember. Just when things are looking up and the Cubs have a stangle hold on the National League, the Brewers acquire Sabathia, and force the Cubs to add Oakland ace, Rich Harden. Harden has been as advertised, in three starts with the boys from the North Side, Harden hasn't made a dent in the win column but has been lights out otherwise. Three starts, seventeen innings, two runs, and thirty strikeouts is just what the doctor ordered. The Cubbies, like the Red Sox and Rays, enjoy a more than home field advantage (39-14) at the friendly confines. With road struggles (22-30) the Cubs will be forced to overcome, finishing with seven games on the road at the end of September, including a finale in Milwaukee that will ultimately determine the division champion. Between Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, and Puerto Rican slugger, Geovany Soto (17 homers and 58 RBI's ) the Cubs are batting .278, good for the third highest in the majors. While Cubs fans won't believe it till they see it, this Cubs team could be THAT team to bring them the excitement they haven't seen since, ever.

Just in case: Chicago White Sox ($121 Million), while Chicago's "other" team, the one that actually won a championship in the past 100 years (2005) , hasn't won 60 games they do sit on 59 and lead the American League Central. The White Sox play a three-game series with division rival and perennial runner-up, the Minnesota Twins, this week, which will undoubtedly end in at least reaching 60 wins. How have the White Sox gotten to this point? If your answer was smoke and mirrors, Ozzie Guillen might have issue with you. The White Sox don't boast the most powerful rotation, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and Mark Buehrle (26 wins) they do have an excellent pen. Between closer Bobby Jenks (21 saves), reliever Octavio Dotel (46 innings, 68 K's), and Scott Linebrink (39 innings, 10 earned runs) the White Sox don't need more than 5-6 innings from their starters. If you want offense, you don't have to look further than left fielder and All-Star Carlos Quentin. The second year player out of Stanford, is batting .278 all the while slugging .547 with twenty-seven homers and seventy-eight RBI's. This White Sox team could go as far if not further than their North Side counterparts, Chicago's second-team has something to prove and has the someones to prove it with. The White Sox will race to the finish line with the Twins and Tigers but as of August 1st, I'll guarantee they get there.

If the 2008 Major League Baseball playoffs kick-off with their top-three payrolls, (the Tigers, Mets, and Yanks) golfing back at home, it will be because on July 28th the best records in the majors didn't include them.

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