August 06, 2006


Wild, indeed

Not much in the news today, so instead of doing another segment of my NFL preview, I'll look at baseball instead and handicap the NL wild card race. I'm working on an analysis of young pitchers that I'll post either tomorrow or Tuesday, and I'll have more NFL stuff coming up. And I will probably write something on the Floyd Landis situation, though I need to decide what angle I want to write from.

Anyways, the trade deadline has passed and the dog days of August are upon us. That means that the pennant races are becoming more clear, and I am your visionary to help determine how the races will play out. The AL playoff picture is fairly simple - the Tigers are going to win the Central. The Yankees and Red Sox are in almost a dead heat to win the East, though the Yankees seem to have the edge as of today. That leaves three teams for the wild card - Chicago, Minnesota, and the Red Sox (or the Yankees). The three teams are separated by only 1.5 games, with the White Sox currently leading. The run differential stats seem to pick the White Sox as the favorite, but that may not happen. The Red Sox seem to have the hardest schedule remaining of the three, though the Twins and White Sox have nine games left (including a three-game series to end the season) that will determine which one is the frontrunner. Oakland seems to be in control of the West, but none of those teams are wild-card contenders.

But things in the National League are much more complicated. There are ten teams within 6.5 games of the wild card right now. The Reds are two games clear of the field, but they've been struggling lately. I'm going to assume right now that the Mets win the East and the Cardinals win the Central, but the West is wide open. The Padres are leading the division right now, but the Dodgers have won their last nine games and look like the best team (to me) on paper. The best stat right now for the Dodgers - they are the only team in the NL (aside from the Mets) that has a run differential better than +20. For those of you who wonder why I keep bringing this up, run differential is a critical stat because it is often a more accurate measure of how well a team has been playing than wins and losses. A team with a low run differential and a high winning percentage has often been lucky and their record will usually drop eventually. I could go into more detail, but that's the main point.

The Dodgers seem like the third-best team in the NL right now, but what happens if they win the division? It becomes a dogfight between Cincy, San Diego, Arizona, Colorado, Philly, and Houston. According to my new favorite site, the Reds are currently the WC favorite, but not by much. The Rockies have the best run differential. The Padres have the best pitching. The D-Backs have the youth that we've seen win so many times before. The Astros have the recent history of making a late-season charge. And the Philles still have hope, despite virtually giving up on this season and trading away Lidle and Abreu. Ultimately, it will come down to which team goes on a run in August or September. If you make me pick one, well...

Let's start by eliminating teams. Arizona is the first to go - they are too young and their pitching doesn't seem very strong to me. I'm throwing out Philly because they traded away two of their best players - no team can recover from that. And I know the Rockies have the best run differential, but too many players have been having career years (i.e. the entire pitching staff). You'd think they were playing a mile below sea level instead of a mile above, given the level of scoring there this year. So that leaves Cincy, San Diego, and Houston. Houston right now is four games behind the other two, but they didn't have Roger Clemens for the first three months of the season. Cincy has the best offense and the best bullpen of those four, but would you bet on a team that currently has Eric Milton as their #3 starter? Me neither. Much has been made of the Astros' offensive woes, but they've actually scored more runs than the Padres. And they still have Oswalt, Clemens, and Pettitte in their starting roation. So I'm going to stick with my midseason pick and take the Astros. With absolutely no confidence at all.

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