Or the Braves, Whatever

lowebraves.jpgSo, in my last post when I was all “ooh, go Marlins, whooo!”? Yeah. Forget that, because they’re no longer target #1. Florida’s loss to the Reds combined with the Braves finishing off a sweep of the Mets puts Atlanta just a game behind the Giants and 4.5 behind the Rockies for the wild card.

4.5 games to make up with two weeks left in the season is a tall and unlikely order, to be sure. But the Braves are red-hot – their 7 game winning streak includes sweeps of the Mets and Cardinals – and still have 6 more games against the Mets and Nationals. Besides, the Rockies end the season playing the Dodgers. We figured those games would be meaningless for LA, but if the Wild Card isn’t settled yet… there might just be something to play for.

A man can dream, right? Go Braves.  

It’s Not Too Late to Start Cheering on the Marlins

It’s hard to argue that the wild card has been a massive success sine being introduced in 1996, concerns about “tradition” aside. But the one place where it’s a huge failure? The rule that states that two division rivals cannot play each other in the first round, AKA, “Since the Red Sox and Yankees take the AL East and Wild Card every year, we want to make sure we can push that matchup to the ALCS for epic money-making opportunities.” Lousy as that may be, MLB’s not necessarily wrong to do so, because don’t let anyone fool you – this is a business above all else.

So with the Dodgers sweep of the Pirates in combination with the slide of the Rockies (currently on a four-game losing streak) having all but wrapped up the division – as though it was ever really in question – it’s not an unfair question to look ahead at NLDS playoff opponents. If the season ended today, the Dodgers would have the best record in the NL, as they’re currently 3 games up on St. Louis and 5.5 on Philadelphia.

As the team with the best record in the league, the Dodgers should be entitled to leave the dangerous Cardinals and Phillies to beat up on one another and face the lesser wild card in the first round, right? After all, who would you rather face in October? Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright? Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels? Or a team who’s best hitter is 35-year-old Todd Helton and, with Aaron Cook out for the year, has a rotation fronted by the always overrated Jason Marquis? That’s not to say that the Rockies are a crappy team – especially not with the crazy run they’ve been on since Jim Tracy took over – but the simple fact is that they’re certainly not the Phillies or Cardinals, and the Dodgers have owned them in 2009, having taken 12 of 15.

Indeed, if the Cardinals take the best record in the NL, they get to face Colorado while the Dodgers and Phillies rematch last year’s NLCS. If the Phillies do, they get the Rockies while Bill Plaschke orgasms over how St. Louis has Carpenter and Wainright, and we don’t. But if the Dodgers get the best record? As things currently stand, they would get the Phillies (the division winner with the worst record) while St. Louis gets Colorado, simply because the Dodgers and Rockies are in the same division. Because that’s fair. Really does anyone give a crap that the Dodgers and Rockies are division rivals?

codyross.jpgFear not, friends, because there is a solution in hand, and that’s to cheer on our fine fish friends from Florida. Best known to Dodger fans this year for scheduling 6pm starts during national blackout windows to accomodate washed-up 80s pop stars (thus depriving LA fans of televised Dodger baseball), the Marlins currently sit 3rd in the Wild Card standings, 4 games behind the Rockies and 1.5 behind the Giants (who, of course, also wouldn’t help the Dodgers by winning). If the Marlins can sneak into the wild card, they’ll end up in Dodger Stadium while the Cards and Phils fight it out. Which matchup would you prefer?

So keep an eye on the Fish over the next two weeks, because the schedule is squarely in their favor. After 4 in Cincinnati against the woeful Reds, they have 3 at home against the Phillies (who have very little to play for) and then 3 against the Mets, whom they swept earlier this month, before ending with 3 in Atlanta, who will also have nothing to play for.

The Marlins wouldn’t be a pushover – Josh Johnson is a beast and Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla are two grade-A bats – but other than Johnson, their pitching is pretty brutal. No other starter has an ERA under 4.60 and their supposed closer, Matt Lindstrom, has a 5.83 ERA when he’s managed to stay off the DL. The point is, yes, you do want to see them rather than St. Louis or Philly.

This isn’t about sneakily avoiding a better team; it’s about being rewarded for having the best record in the league, regardless of division, and part of that reward is supposed to be an easier opponent in the first round.

Go fish!

The End Times Are Upon Us

MSTI on Friday:

What really worries me is this; ESPN’s Steve Phillips, a man well known for never being right about anything, thinks the Dodgers are going to take the series:

Expect three low-scoring close games in which the bullpens ultimately will be the deciding factor. The Dodgers’ bullpen is the best in baseball (3.12 ERA), and I expect it to be the difference in this series.

Look for the Dodgers to take two out of three games.

Crap. We’re doomed.

Steve Phillips was right. Sure, since there’s only four possible outcomes of a three-game series (LA sweep, SF sweep, LA takes two, SF takes two), he had a 25% chance on a multiple choice test. But still. Hold your loved ones tight.

As for the game, I could care less about Brad Penny, since that fat tub of goo will be watching in October like the rest of the Giants, and while I’m not entirely sold on the resurgences of James Loney & Russell Martin, if either or both have really turned it around, then this offense could be epic in the playoffs.

But am I worried about Chad Billingsley? You better believe it.

It Only Gets Easier From Here

Remember two weeks ago, when everyone was worried about having to go into San Francisco and predicted impending doom for the “struggling” Dodgers? Hey, how’d that turn out? Oh, right – the Dodgers marched into the Bay Area and took 2 of 3, effectively ending the Giants’ divisions hopes.

Then there was this week, when once again – people were needlessly panicking about having to go into Denver and face the red-hot Rockies. Once again, the Dodgers storm into hostile territory and take 2 of 3.

The point is, after months of coasting, the Dodgers have been tested. They’ve gone on the road to battle two of their closest rivals – who just happen to be the two NL Wild Card leaders – and in each case they’ve won the series. They’ve faced the competition and they’ve beat them down. And the reward for that (besides October, that is)? A remaining schedule that is the second-easiest in the National League, as the .467 winning percentage of remaining Dodger foes is second only to the .460 that the hopeless Cubs get to face.

Sure, that stat is slightly flawed because of course the Dodgers can’t play themselves, and therefore never have to see the team with the best record in the league inflating their opponents’ winning percentage. Still, the remaining schedule is littered with series against the Reds (the last time we saw them, they were getting swept and allowing the Bobbleslam), Diamondbacks (two), Pirates (two), Padres (two), and Nationals.

The Rockies are still only four behind, so you can’t completely cruise to the finish line, but teams like that offer fantastic opportunities to get Clayton Kershaw a breather and insert Eric Stults or Charlie Haeger in his place for a start or three.

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Also, rosters expand on Tuesday. As there’s few things I enjoy more than guessing about roster moves, here’s a rough crack at who’s coming up for September 1. This is who I’m guessing at, not neccessarily what I’d do:

87toppsajellis.jpgC A.J. Ellis
IF Blake DeWitt
IF Tony Abreu
IF Chin-Lung Hu
PH Doug Mientkiewicz (he can hit, but I don’t think he’s ready to field)
OF Jamie Hoffmann
OF Jason Repko
SP Hiroki Kuroda
SP Eric Stults
RP Cory Wade
RP Brent Leach
RP Scott Elbert
RP Will Ohman

Just missed: IF Hector Luna, IF/OF Mitch Jones, and RP Hyang-Nam Choi. They’re doing great in AAA, but they’re not on the 40-man and it’s going to be hard enough to get Ohman and Mientkiewicz spots back on the roster, which it sounds like they’re assured of.

Can We Play The Cubs All The Time?

You really have to hand it to Charlie Haeger.  He came in and made his MLB debut against a Haeger20092.jpgteam that generally kills us and, while he lost the game, he still put up a very solid performance, going 7 IP with 3 ER.  Today, against the Cubs, he one ups that and gives the team another 7 IP, but totally shutting down the Cubs, giving up 0 ER, 3 H, while walking 4 and striking out 7.  The control wasn’t quite as sharp today as it was on Monday for Haeger, though that isn’t necessarily the worst thing, either.  Given that he’s a knuckleballer, that also meant that the ball had more movement on it and he was completely baffling the hitters.  Haeger has given plenty of reason to keep him pitching until he shows otherwise.  His results have been beyond reasonable expectation and the Dodgers would be foolish to not continue to ride out what he’s been doing.  He looks totally legit and, while he’s not going to go 7 IP every start, he’s definitely earned more starts. 

On a side note, given how well he’s been pitching, doesn’t he deserve the opportunity to change his name to, say, I don’t know, Charlie Lee Roth?  It just seems so wrong for a talented pitcher to have to be called Haeger.  I’m even fine with Haegermeister or Haegerbomb.  But, come on, not Haeger. 

From the offensive side of things, the Dodgers weren’t particularly great, but they did do enough to leave us with two memorable moments, those being the solo HR’s by Matt Kemp and Casey Blake.  Kemp’s in particular was very memorable, as he hit a 449 FT. utter monster shot behind the bullpen.  In fact, after several replays, I’m not even sure exactly where it went, but it definitely cleared the bullpen and the walls there.  It was very similar to Matt Holliday’s shot in 2005.  I’d take a stab at saying that Kemp’s shot is probably the farthest one hit this year at Dodger Stadium and certainly one of the farthest traveling balls I’ve seen hit there in a while.  Although I’m sure Dick Stockton could have found some ball that Eric Karros hit 395 FT. sometime in 1995 and argue that Karros’ HR was better because somehow the pavilion was further back or the wind was blowing harder in that day or something. 

Oh yeah, there was one other memorable moment.  Mark Loretta stole third base, his first SB since 2007.  That was a shocker.  I mean, WTF? 

On a side note, let’s give some props to Joe Torre for the way he handled the bullpen at the end of the game.  Yes, that’s right, Joe Torre is actually getting praise for his bullpen usage.  For those who missed, he went to Broxton in the 8th inning to face the Cubs’ heart of the order and then used Sherrill in the 9th inning, who closed out the game.  Broxton pitched well and looked like the Broxton of old for the second consecutive night, while it was Sherrill who wasn’t in particularly dominating fashion, but the Bellhead behind the plate didn’t help matters much.  It was Sherrill’s first save as a Dodger and, according to Eric Karros, whose hair is increasingly looking like Marge Simpson, the first time he’s ever saved a meaningful game.  Hear that, George?!  Congratulations! 

Mommy, wow!  Sherrill’s a big kid now! 

By the way, do you need more evidence that Eric Karros is a dolt?  Last I checked, Sherrill also had 3 saves in addition to setting up J.J. Putz for the 2007 Mariners, who won 88 games. 

But hey, I guess that doesn’t qualify as “meaningful.” 

Nonetheless, that won’t spoil the sweetness of today’s victory.  The Dodgers win three in a row for the first time since the sweep of the Reds which occurred exactly a month ago today.  Billingsley on the mound, tomorrow.  A sweep would sound awfully nice heading into Colorado on Tuesday. 

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg