The longest of seasons is coming to a close and none to quickly for the hometown Pirates. But for those of you who are staying until closing time, you are being treated to a very interesting playoff race.
All of the divisions are up for grabs especially the wildcard spot. Breaking down the division and wildcard races, you will see that there are many storylines going into the last, on average, seventeen games.
NL East
The New York Mets are riding the hot bat of Carlos Delgado who has thrust himself into the NL MVP race. Delgado, going into last night’s game,¬†is batting .423 with5 HR and 10 RBI in¬†the month of September. He¬†hit¬†four home runs in seven at-bats in¬†his last two games. The problem with the Mets is that they lost Billy Wagner for the rest of this year and possibly all of next year.¬†Losing your closer¬†leaves a big hole on the back-end for any team but the problem is magnified when you are¬†fighting to win a division.¬†Can¬†the young and old starters of the Mets hold up?¬†Who will close games as the pressure mounts?
The Philadelphia Phillies are an odd team. They have three players with 30+ HRs but only one with 100+ RBIs. None of their starters are averaging above .300 but they are third in the NL in runs scored. The inconsistent numbers lead to an up-and-down year. The Phillies have been unable to string wins together without following it up with a losing streak. Can a team averaging around .250 count on home runs to lead the way? After four huge games with Milwaukee, can the Phillies take advantage of six games against Atlanta, three against Florida and the final three, at home, against Washington?
NL Central
The Chicago Cubs raced out to a big lead in the division but have seen that lead dwindle in the past few weeks. Injuries have slowed down the Cubs starting pitching with Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden missing time recently. When healthy, the Cubs pitching staff is the best in the NL. But the primary reason that the Cubs have let the Brewers back into the race is the difference in 1-run games: Cubs 19-21 Brewers 28-14. That is a difference of eight games in a race that separates the two teams by four games. Will Zambrano and Harden return to their dominating selves? Is the curse for real?
In Milwaukee, the Brewers have made a furious run at the top of the division but have stumbled in September. After posting a 20-7 record in August, the Brewers were swept in three games by the Mets, split a four game series with the Padres and lost two of three to the Reds. The two losses against the Reds might come back to haunt them as they gave up one in the eighth and three in the ninth and then lost a night later in the 11th inning. Will the addition of Todd Coffey bolster a suddenly maligned bullpen? Can they keep pace while on the road for the next ten games before finishing up at home against the Pirates and Cubs?
NL West
The Los Angeles Dodgers better be thankful that their final road games are against Colorado, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The Dodgers are 29-41 on the road, heading into last night’s game, and an eight game losing streak at the end of August has a lot to do with that poor showing. But something clicked for the Dodgers because they have gone 9-1 in their last ten games to take control of the division. The addition of Manny Ramirez has finally added a marquee hitter to a lineup full of aging veterans and promising young stars. Will Manny be Manny and carry this team to the playoffs? Can Brad Penny rebound from a down year after returning from injury?
The Arizona Diamondbacks are fading and fading fast. The D’Backs have lost six in a row and fourteen of their last eighteen. The loss of Eric Byrnes and Orlando Hudson has seemingly taken the heart out of this team. Now, Randy Johnson missed his last start due to shoulder inflammation. Can the young D’Backs find a way to win without their veteran leaders? Can Brandon Webb be the catalyst after¬†being rocked in¬†his last two starts?
NL Wildcard
As it stands right now, Milwaukee has a four game lead over Philadelphia and Houston and a four-and-a-half game lead over St. Louis. We have looked at Milwaukee and Philadelphia so we will turn our attention to St. Louis and Houston.
The St. Louis Cardinals have been flying under the radar for much of the year but when you have Albert Pujols how can you not take notice. Pujols is having another MVP-caliber year by batting .361 with¬†33 HR and 98 RBI; all¬†that with¬†shredded ligaments in his elbow. He has been helped by a pleasant surprise for the Cardinals, Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick is batting .296 with 32 HR and 99 RBI and those 32 HR are two more than he hit his entire career. Those two along with Rick Ankiel and Troy¬†Glaus have kept the Cardinals hanging around while their pitching staff falls to pieces. Jason Isringhausen, Mark Mulder¬†and Chris Carpenter have all missed extensive amounts of time this year due to arm problems. It is tough to overcome losing two-fifths of your rotation¬†and your closer but the Cardinals are in the thick of the race late in September. Is Troy Glaus’ shoulder worse than previously thought? Will the number of innings Todd Wellemeyer has pitched tire him out down the stretch?
The Houston Astros were written off for dead at the trade deadline but they felt differently. The Astros were right. The Astros had won 12 of 13 games heading into their third of four games against the Pirates and are 28-10 since the trade deadline. All of this without one of their main sluggers, Carlos Lee, who has been out since August 10 with a fractured finger. Lance Berkman has been consistent all year while batting .331 with 28 HR, 100 RBI and 109 runs scored. Their pitching staff has been pieced together while staff ace, Roy Oswalt, struggled early but has gone 7-1 since coming off the DL in July. The Astros have only two starters with 10 or more wins while 10 different pitchers have started games this year. They will face two teams in their final five series with winning records. Can they be the Rockies of 2008? Will Carlos Lee be back in time to add more offense?
NL East – The Mets will not fall apart two years in a row especially with Jerry Manuel in charge
NL Central – The Cubs have to much pitching to let it slip away
NL West – The Dodgers might win the division with a .500 record
Wildcard –The Astros will continue to win and edge out Philadelphia for the last spot
Tomorrow: AL Playoff race