A MLB season is a long, long road and it becomes very easy to get lost in today's trends. After all, the Tigers couldn't beat the Indians two weeks ago and now look like one of the best teams in the American League for the last week and a half. The White Sox looked pathetic for more than half the season and caught and passed the Twins. Even those two stories are easy to get conned by as the Tigers will still come up short in the division and the White Sox have had a real stinky week. After saying all of that, there are some things that are disturbing for just about every contender out there. There really isn't a juggernaut like Piniella's Mariners or the '98 Yankees. Risking the minefield that comes from making predictions based on the here and now, here are some thoughts about the contenders based on the last couple of weeks.
The Yankees suddenly seem very vulnerable. Vazquez has been banished. Hughes is inconsistent lately and is on a pitch count anyway. Pettitte is still not back. Swisher is banged up. A-Rod is out. Jeter still isn't hitting. Posada looks like a worse catcher every day and you can't count on Granderson for much of anything. They don't look confident and they don't look well.
The Bay Rays have their own problems in their rotation which was once their biggest savior. Niemann came back from the DL and got shellacked. Hellickson has (for some reason) been sent back to the minors. On the positive end, Wade Davis looks much better lately. The Bay Rays still don't have a DH and Pena is a huge hole in the line up.
The first two paragraphs make the Red Sox still viable with a month to go in the season. They have been remarkably resilient despite all the injuries and their lack of defense and starting pitching. If they can continue to hang in there, this could get very interesting.
The Twins still look like the Twins. They always seem to have enough to win the division, but they can't beat division rivals. Their series with the Rangers (despite salvaging the last game) showed up their deficiencies against good teams. Valencia is an upgrade over Punto. Well, that's an understatement! Thome has been great as has Delmon Young. But you have to wonder how long they can keep scoring without Morneau in the line up and how long Joe Mauer can keep pushing his painful body up to the task every night. They are still two pitchers short in their rotation and their bullpen is hardly (with the exception of Jesse Crain) scary.
The White Sox alternate between being dreadful and awesome. The Fan still doesn't think they have enough talent to overcome the Twins. They pitch better than the Twins, but they have recently lost two big stalwarts of their bullpen. Even thinking about Manny Ramirez in a waiver claim smacks of desperation. If it does happen, it's hard to see it helping very much. But Manny does have a history of doing spectacular things in a short period of time.
The Rangers will have no trouble winning the West. Mission Number 1 is all but accomplished. The recent struggles of Cliff Lee is a huge concern though. He was supposed to be the big stud for the playoffs and he's pitched so poorly in the last month that you have to wonder if something is wrong with him. The Rangers are vulnerable against strong left-handed pitching without Nelson Cruz and as often as Cruz has been hurt, you have to wonder if he will be any kind of factor the rest of the year.
The Fan chalks up the Braves struggles this past week by playing in Colorado. That place can defeat any pitching staff. And the Braves pitching staff was really defeated out there. But the big concern for the Braves is their road record. They are great at home and terrible on the road. The two cancel each other out and make them look not much better than a .500 team the rest of the way. Hanson is another concern as he hasn't pitched well.
The Phillies are reeling lately. Ryan Howard has been lost at the plate since his return and Utley hasn't been much better. Their continued reliance on Ibanez (who, in fairness, has been hot of late) is rather frightening. Rollins is still at .242 despite a decent month. Polanco is fading and Victorino is still very far off his game. Kendrick can't be relied on and their bullpen still requires Lipitor for Manuels.
Both the Braves and the Phillies look weak and neither team seems to be a lock for anything. It's going to be a very interesting month and the one team that gets hot will win it. The Phillies have a history of getting hot in September, so we'll see.
The Reds simply don't seem to have the starting pitching they need to get the job done. When Arroyo is your best pitcher, that's deeply scary. So far, they have so over performed last year's offense that you still have to wonder if that too will fall apart. Give them credit though, they could have crumbled after that Cardinal series and they didn't. The Fan still doesn't see them staying ahead of the Cardinals.
But those Cardinals are a complete mystery right now. They just had a tough series against the Pirates of all teams and they can't seem to score runs consistently. One of the glaring weaknesses is hitters in front of Pujols and Holliday. They've tried Lopez and they've tried Ryan. But it's not going well at all up there at the top. Jay is starting to fall to the law of averages and went hitless in six at bats against the Nationals. It's going to continue to be tough to score runs if Pujols and Holliday don't have guys to drive in. And it's been a little ragged for Wainwright and Carpenter the last two weeks. That's a bit of a concern too. Oh, and one more thing. Does anyone really think Franklin is a lock as a closer?
The long expected fall of the Padres isn't going to happen. It's over. They have the best record and the best run differential in the National League. That being said, they have to get Correia out of the rotation and LeBlanc is soft too. Anyone who plays them in the playoffs will be able to match their top starters and the Padres still don't hit very well. How many times can Adrian Gonzalez hit a grand slam?
This has been a fascinating season and the Fan really looks forward to seeing how it's all going to play out.