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.
I’m sure that’s what Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge are thinking despite the fact they play for a worse team.
What in the name of Forbes Field is going on in Pittsburgh?
Now on its way to a record setting 17th straight losing season, the Pirates are like a shelter for wandering vagrants. It seems that every season near July 1st they begin their annual drive to expel players for what it seems like whatever they will get for them.
What’s so surprising this year is that the team is actually competitive in a tight NL Central race. Going into tonight’s game against the Cubs, the Pirates are in last place but with a respectable 35-41 record.
Let’s take a look at who’s been in and out through the revolving door since last July and what they’ve gotten in return.
Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss for Jason Bay
Andy LaRoche part of 3 team deal in order for the Dodgers to get Manny Ramirez
Steven Jackson for waiver price.
Evan Meek Rule 5 draftee
Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady for Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and 2 minor leaguers
Nate McLouth for Charlie Morton and 3 minor leaguers
Ramon Vasquez Free agent
Two minor leaguers for Eric Hinske
Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge for Nyger Morgan and Sean Burnett
As their current record indicates, these moves have been moderately successful. But if you have been on this team for awhile like Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm or John Grabow, you can’t help but wonder if you’ll be next when the Grim Reaper comes calling. All indications are that Wilson will be gone before the trading deadline.
If you’ve been shown the door, you can’t help but be gleeful (Bay, Nady, McLouth, Hinske) with perhaps the exception of Morgan and Burnett who go from bad to worse.
But while trying to purge salary and “improve the team” these moves have sent dissension through the clubhouse and whatever die-hard Pirates fans are left have to be perplexed. The others have abandoned ship without much hope of ever returning despite the ambience of one of the best new stadiums. After all, who can they hope to see and follow for more than a few years without their loyalty being crushed.
It’s not easy to be either a player or a fan in the slough that is Pittsburgh.