The trading deadline is one week away and Roy Halladay is still a Blue Jay.
Odds are that by this time next week he won’t be. Will he be wearing a uniform from one of the NL Central teams? Milwaukee says they are interested and can afford him but at what price prospects? Will Doc want to play in Milwaukee? He has a no-trade clause. If he witnessed what happened when CC Sabathia became an overnight sensation last year he will know that the fans will immediately embrace him.
Other than the Brewers, the only other team in the division that appears interested are the Cardinals who also have the resources. The Cubs can’t make any moves right now since they are in the final process of being sold. The Astros could make an offer, but they are weighed down by hefty contracts for players like Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada and Lance Berkman.
The Reds are cash strapped and probably don’t have the prospects Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi is looking for.
The Pirates abandoned ship long ago.
So who will take a division that as of this writing has four teams within 2 ½ games of each other.
Let’s go down the list from fourth to first.
Milwaukee Brewers 48-47 2 ½ out
The Brewers are in a quandary. Last year they rode CC Sabathia to the playoffs. GM Doug Melvin does not want to part with prospects Alcides Escobar or Mat Gamel. Both are in the club’s plans in the near future. But, reportedly, that’s where talks begin and end with the Blue Jays. The Brewers will not make the playoffs with the rotation they have now and with only two players hitting (Braun and Fielder). Halladay can certainly add a few wins if acquired and that may be all that is needed in this up-for-grabs division. But last year, Sabathia was paired with All-Star Game starter Ben Sheets. Although Yovani Gallardo is close, there is no one to form a similar duo this year.
Houston Astros 49-46 1 ½ out
The Astros are surging and just now playing up to their capabilities. Wandy Rodriguez is finally showing he belongs and pairs nicely with Oswalt.
But like the Brewers there are questions at the back of the rotation. The team has been going with re-treads Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz. Will their fragile arms and shoulders hold up?
The first half of the season featured Miguel Tejada and not much else. But since July 1st, Carlos Lee has been el fuego and Lance Berkman woke up his bat. Hunter Pence made the All-Star team and Michael Bourn has blossomed. Still, while they will make a respectable run, they will miss out because they, like the Brewers, do not have enough pitching.
Chicago Cubs 48-45 1 ½ out
OK, I’ll forego all of the shots it is so easy to take at this team, which has underachieved all year. At the plate, Alfonso Soriano looks lost and Milton Bradley was a colossal mistake. When Aramis Ramirez went down, nobody picked up the slack. Only Derrek Lee has been hitting.
The starting pitching has been inconsistent all year. Except for Ted Lilly no one else can be counted on. Carlos Zambrano has been hot and cold (ask the Gatorade machine). Rich Harden is struggling with his control and, not surprisingly his health, Ryan Dempster is on the DL but is due back any day. The biggest surprise has been rookie righthander Randy Wells.
Meanwhile the jettisoned Jason Marquis leads the majors with 12 wins. Go figure.
The club is shackled from making any big trades due to the sale of the team. So unless the hitting picks up and Lou Piniella can sort out a troubling bullpen, look for the Cubs to yet again disappoint their long suffering fans.
St Louis Cardinals 52-46
The Cardinals sent a message to their rivals this week that they are serious about taking the division. They needed to fill two glaring holes and went out and did so, first by getting shortstop Julio Lugo who wore out his welcome in Boston, for Chris Duncan and then the stunning trade for Matt Holliday and cash for a handful of prospects. So let’s see, the A’s actually paid the Cardinals to take Holliday?
Shortstop has been a revolving door since Kahlil Greene’s unfortunate breakdown. The duo of Brian Barden and Brendan Ryan was not doing the job. Lugo will bring a better bat, solid defense and a veteran presence.
The trade for Holliday was a no-brainer. All year Albert Pujols was carrying the team on his incredible shoulders. All year we have watched teams intentionally walk him or pitch around him to get to the next batter. Usually, that has been Ryan Ludwick who has only started to get going this week.
Now Manager Tony LaRussa has a legitimate cleanup hitter who will protect Pujols in the lineup. With the recent trade for Mark DeRosa, the Cardinals are solid at every position.
Their starting pitching boasts a trio that is incomparable to anyone else’s in the division in Carpenter, Wainwright and Piniero.
Ryan Franklin emerged so well as the closer that he made the All-Star team.
If they do get Halladay, it will almost certainly cinch the title.
My verdict: The Cardinals will win the division this year.
A BEAUTY FOR BUEHRLE
Mark Buehrle threw only the 18th perfect game in all of the glorious history of this great pastime. DeWayne Wise’s leaping catch over the wall in the 9th inning to protect it will go down as the seminal play.
An interesting stat was supplied by the Wall Street Journal. It appears that Buehrle’s perfecto was the second toughest to achieve among the eighteen. They used team OBP to rank them since this is a good indicator of how well a team gets on base by hit, walk or hit batter. The Rays ranked number two on the list with a .350 OBP.
Here is the top four of all time:
1. Charlie Robertson Chicago White Sox 1922 Detroit Tigers (.373)
2. Mark Buerhle Chicago White Sox 2009 Tampa Bay Rays (.350)
3. Randy Johnson Arizona D’Backs 2004 Atlanta Braves (.343)
4. Don Larsen New York Yankees 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers (.342)
Of course, Larsen remains, some 53 years later, the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series.
The recent steal of Bobby Abreu by the Angels for the measly sum of $5 million for one year raises two questions. One, why did it take so long for a team to sign a player who has averaged 22 HR/98 RBI and .300 over his 13 year career, seven in which he has driven in over 100 runs including last year? Two, why do the Cubs think Milton Bradley is worth more? Bradley, you may recall, signed a three year contract in which he will make over $5.2 million this year.
Entering his tenth year as a major leaguer, Bradley will be playing for his seventh team. His longest tenure with any team has been two years – with Cleveland and the Dodgers.
Bradley’s reputation for questionable behavior is well founded. In addition to his highly visible run-ins with umpires, Bradley appears to be the Randy Moss of baseball. His OPS (Only Plays Sometimes) is among the best. According to reports, last year Bradley would take days off with one questionable malady after another. While never on the disabled list, Bradley sat out with “light-headedness”, an injection, shoulder pain, and a hamstring tweak. And that was just in May!
In June his quad suddenly flared up, and in July he had another injection, a forearm bruise and a sore knee. When August rolled around with the scorching Texas heat, Bradley begged off with back stiffness, a sinus problem and more knee soreness. In early September he sat out with a sore wrist, pain from a cortisone shot, a sore back again and yet another injection. His creative ways to stay out of the lineup would make Cpl. Klinger of M*A*S*H fame proud. Then nearing the end of the season he realized that he was short PA of qualifying for the batting title. Suddenly he found a secret elixir that kept him going with nary a hangnail.
For this he gets more than Bobby Abreu? There were no other teams willing to pay more than $5 million dollars to a steady and consistent performer? Did anyone notice last year that the Yankees emerged from their lethargic play when he began to hit?
When Hal Steinbrenner opened the vault at YankOne a line formed and when it got to Abreu it suddenly sealed shut. Now the platoon of Xavier Nady (.305/.357/.510) and Nick Swisher (.219/.332/.410) will need to replicate his production (.296/.371/.471). That’s what Brian Cashman is banking on.
Meanwhile, the Rays, Indians, A’s, Braves, Marlins, Pirates and Giants passed on Abreau despite the fact that all are in need of an upgrade in rf and all, even the Pirates can afford to pay an “A” level free agent at least $5 million.
Will Cubs GM Jim Hendry have second thoughts come June when Bradley baits umps, calls out Alfonso Soriano, gets in a scrap with Carlos Zambrano and angers Lou Piniella (and Cubs fans) when he sits out with assorted walk-in clinic ailments?