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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A Knife Fight In A Darkened Room

It's hard not to look at the three races left in baseball and not get caught up in their dramatics. Clay Davenport's Baseball Prospectus gives the Dodgers a 95.5% chance of clinching the NL West, with less than a five percent chance for the Giants to win the division. Imagine you were a Giants fan counseling his team to concentrate on winning the division. The Dodgers need just one loss by the Giants against the Padres -- and two more wins against the Rockies -- to clinch the division.

Naturally, I would love to see them sweep the Rocks. The Rockies have played us pretty tough so far this year, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if we achieved a series split this time. It came close last night, and as Dodger Blues observed, the magic number might have remained at four up til the weekend. Likewise, I'm steeling myself for a magic number stuck at three until we meet the Giants at home.

The Angels, meantime, have managed to back into a possible division win. Sure, we're in first place now, but Clay still doesn't give us any love, nor should he: by his reckoning, the Angels have only a 35.5% chance of winning the division, while the A's are still clear favorites at 64%. The Angels and the A's are now in a knife fight in a darkened room, especially if the Angels should win tonight or tomorrow against the Rangers. Texas will start Kameron Roe, a soft-tosser -- exactly the kind of pitcher the Angels seem to have trouble hitting (see also, Jamie Moyer). The Mariners, to their credit, are playing like a team that wants to make it known they won't be this bad next year, and are going to make their mark on the 2004 postseason, one way or another. Surprisingly, none of U.S.S. Mariner, Mariners Wheelhouse, or Mariner Musings, the three sites I get most of my M's blogging from, have mentioned that the M's are 10-9 against contenders in September:
  Team   Record
  BOS      2-2
  ANA      2-2
  OAK      1-2
 @ANA      2-1
 @TEX      2-1
 @OAK      1-1
That's a decent record, and something to build on for next year. I won't be surprised -- either way -- if the M's lose or win tonight (though of course at 6-4-2 World Headquarters, we would prefer a win), but one thing's certain: the division will be decided in Oakland, starting Friday. Blez worries about the A's rotation turning "from gods to Joes", and he's right. Every single one of their starters has turned into a pumpkin, while the A's offense has stalled. That shouldn't make the Angels complacent; as Scioscia himself put it,
You know when it's going to matter? It's going to matter after Sunday's ballgame," Scioscia said. "This thing can change momentum in a heartbeat. There's no reason to put too much stock in where we are. If we were five out with five to go, it'd be different.
The Dodgers offense stalled and their rotation is as reliable as a used Yugo. But like the Giants, we can't count on the A's to collapse for us. If, as Richard suggested, a late surge by Vlad propels the club over the top to a division win, the halo of an MVP award might once more glow over his head.

But first, the knife fight.

So it is the National League Wild Card gets very, very wild. The Cubs, unable to muster the strength to beat the weakened Reds last night, fell to that club 8-3. As of this writing, the Northsiders are in a 1-1 tie again at Wrigley. Chicago and San Francisco once again are tied for the Wild Card, with Houston only a half game behind both. That, too, will be a brutal battle, and the surprise entrant might just be the Astros: playing a St. Louis team that's decided to coast into the playoffs, Houston just won two from the Cards and will finish their season with three against the Rockies.

Here's Clay's projections for the Wild Card among those teams really in it:

Team    Odds
Cubs   53.7%
Giants 19.8%
Astros 23.2%
What I wonder is, does his projection take into account the fact that the Cards are resting some of their most important players? Given the Cubs finish with three against Atlanta, it could mean the Astros are really the odds-on favorites to win the Wild Card, given how badly the Cubs are playing and the Giants' schedule.

I'm so spoiled: since 2002, pretty much every playoff position being fought for down the stretch and playoff series of significance has gone to the team I wanted there. this year is no different...

so NL at this moment
LA @ STL (the way I see it, STL's late slump shouldn't fool anyone. they are still the team to beat, and therefore we might as well play them in a 5 game series and try and get lucky)
HOU @ ATL (houston deserves this spot more than any of the other contenders, rallying back from 10+ gb, I hope they make it)

I think NYY is the "dark horse" here. everybody's on the red sox bandwagon right now, but what people forget is that the new york lineup is still deadly and they are pitching at the exact same level they have all season, numbers-wise.

no predictions yet, just some thoughts..

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