The Tenth Inning – Week 12 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
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This week’s column comes with my apologies for being a day late because of a vacation, but never fear, your weekly dose of baseball wisdom and insight is finally here. This week, as a prep for the upcoming power rankings the next two weeks, we’ll look at three teams in each league that have overachieved and exceeded expectations, as well as the one team on the reverse side that has greatly underachieved for a myriad of reasons. With interleague in the rearview mirror and just under half the season in the books, some of these teams are pleasantly surprised with their season thus far, while others have a huge uphill climb to reach their preseason goals by the end of September.
National League – Up
2. Milwaukee Brewers – No Sabathia, no Sheets… no problem. The addition of Trevor Hoffman to the back end of the bullpen has allowed the Brewers to maintain their playoff form from last season despite many expert’s predictions – including yours truly – that they would fall off. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are quickly becoming the best 1-2 punch in the NL, and the emergence of Yovani Gallardo as a legitimate front-line pitcher has more than compensated for the offseason losses, and veterans like Mike Cameron, Craig Counsell, and Jason Kendall are providing the leadership needed for this young team to continue their push for consecutive postseasons.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates – A number of good candidates here, including Florida, Cincinnati, and Colorado, but if anyone expected the Pirates to trade their starting centerfielder and best hitter and still be within 6 games of first place halfway through the season, then they need to get their own reality prediction show. Even with dealing Nate McLouth to Atlanta, the Bucs are still in striking distance of the playoffs, which is a testament to the players and coaches, who continue to scrap and claw for every win despite difficult odds. This organization is closing in on an all-time sports record for consecutive losing seasons, and at 35-41 they are certainly on pace to reach that mark, but as far as exceeding expectations, they have to be considered as one of the biggest surprises of 2009.
National League – Down
1b. New York Mets – And now for the New Yorkers. The disabled list for the Mets could probably beat the current team on the field in a best-of-7 series. The list: Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, J.J. Putz, Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, John Maine, Billy Wagner, and Ramon Martinez. To recap, that’s three of the four top offensive players, two-fifths of the starting rotation, and two-thirds of the back-end of the bullpen. The fact that this team was even at .500 heading into the Milwaukee series this week was borderline ridiculous. That said, the Mets acquired Putz and K-Rod to solidify the lone weak spot on last year’s team in order to win the NL. Third in the East wasn’t the expected position on the final day of June. It now becomes the responsibility of Omar Minaya to make some sort of deal and the training staff to figure out a way to get most of those guys back on the field in order to reverse course.
American League – Up
2. Texas Rangers – Even though they lost their lead in the AL West over the past week to the Angels, fans in the Dallas/Fort Worth area have to be pleased with the play of the Rangers. Always known as an offensive club, this year’s team has certainly lived up to the billing on that end, behind solid seasons from Ian Kinsler and Michael Young. The difference is that this year’s team can pitch, tied for fifth in the AL in runs allowed. Kevin Millwood currently posts a 2.64 ERA, and the trio in the back end of the bullpen of Frank Francisco, Darren O’Day, and C.J. Wilson has held the leads that the offense and starters have handed them. If Josh Hamilton can regain even half of his ’08 form, the additional punch could be enough to leapfrog Texas back over LA in the West.
3. Toronto Blue Jays – In what was expected to be a three-team race for the AL East, it was a fourth team – Toronto – that led the division for most of April and a good part of May. After dropping 2 of 3 to Philadelphia, the Jays now sit where many expected (fourth) but are having a much better season than many predicted. The AL records are all skewed a bit after they once again drubbed the NL in interleague, but Toronto is still four games over .500 at 41-37, even with Roy Halladay missing his most recent start. The team may lack the big name stars of their Eastern brethren, but Alex Rios and Vernon Wells lead what is still a very good offensive unit. Now if they could just figure out a way to get out of the AL East.
American League – Down
Last week’s answer: Along with the Kansas City Royals, the Toronto Blue Jays, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals are the only other teams that have failed to reach the postseason since the 1994 strike.
2009 Playoff “Dead List”
This week, watch for…
Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper
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