It all now comes down to this ?
In what has amounted to be one of the more scandalous seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) , the year`s schedule is now entering the home stretch , with a number of divisional races still up for grabs. Eagerly fought with a great deal of competitiveness throughout much of the season , it must be said that over the next three weeks the managerial acumen of the managers and their staffs will be severely tested . And a number of them are likely to come up short in failing to accomplish their desired goals.
Of the races said to offer the most intrigue and suspense, perhaps the NL Central`s long-standing battle between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St Louis Cardinals offers the biggest surprise and the best drama overall. Who would have guessed that this off all seasons, would be the one were Clint Hurdle`s players would be the ones to offer the best story-lines to be found all season long ? Granted the exploits of the Los Angeles Dodgers` rookie sensation Yasiel Puig are still being discussed as a water cooler topic, as fans and analysts alike , are trying to make a case that Puig is now the best young talent in the game. That might well be a valuable debate and discussion that could be dealt with at a later date. As of now, while the Cardinals and Pirates match wits against each other, as both teams seek to walk away with their reputations wits intact, while seeking raise to raise the news-worthiness of the division and the teams therein.
If Yasiel Puig is said to be the catalyst behind the Dodgers` successful season so far in 2013, then Andrew McCutchen has proven to be as equally adept in grabbing all of the major headlined success attained by the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. Should the Pirates slugger and infielder lead the team to divisional honors, it could quite possibly lead to McCutchen being named the NL MVP for this season. Most certainly, his seasonal statistics are good enough to bear this out, as he ranks in the top-ten in a number of offensive categories within the National League for 2013. What could prove to be pivotal within the NL Central for these two teams will be their finals series` meeting of the season, which will be a three-game series at Busch Stadium , in St Louis Missouri , beginning on the Friday 6th September . With less than a half-game separating the clubs at the top of the division (NL Central), neither side would want to be the odd man left out, having to then to play in a one game elimination decider, as part of the wildcard round of e playoffs . So tight, is the race amongst the top NL wildcard aspirants , that things are now far too close to call.
St Louis Cardinals` manager Mike Matheny would like nothing better than to seal this series with an outright victory in all three games, but that would be predicated upon his team overcoming their recent inconsistencies, with some unwanted losses .
In NL West , where the Los Angeles Dodgers are now running away with the division under a full head of steam , the question now surrounding manager Don Mattingly is how best to reincorporate the now healthy players coming off the team`s disabled list. It is a great situation for a manager to have and whose team is said to have one of the deepest rosters in all of baseball . The pitching rotation, led by Clayton Kershaw , who is having an astonishing season , leading the Majors with a league-low ERA of 1.89 , and the question now becomes, can the pitcher lower that statistic any further ? Certainly, if Kershaw continues to pitch with the consistency that he has shown, then there is no reason to believe why he could not make that a reality. As the Dodgers forge ahead looking to increase their twelve-game lead within the division and looking to make it insurmountable. It remains to be seen how good this team can be over the remainder of their schedule . In losing the first contest of a three-game series against Cincinnati Reds , the Dodgers will now look to close out that contest by taking the remaining two games of the series, before starting a six-game home stretch of games against the Arizona Diamondbacks and reigning World Series champions the San Francisco Giants .
For much of the year, the NL East has remained a one-horse race, with the Atlanta Braves seeing little challenge if any, from their divisional rivals. So dominant have been the Braves, that team manager Fredi Gonzalez has started to assess his roster , as he seeks not only the best possible starting lineup , but also to see if any of the younger prospects looking for a late season call-up will be able to contribute to what has already been a highly successful season for the organization. Team President, John Scheurholz and GM Frank Wren have simply made available to the managerial staff the best possible players needed to make the season an outright success. Shrewd player personnel moves by way of free agent acquisitions and a policy of drafting technically sound players and then overseeing their gradual progress through their farm system has borne fruit for the organization.
What has stood out for the Atlanta Braves has been the consistency of the offense and the pitching , as well as the defensive capabilities of the team as a whole . Coming off a minor slip-up in a 2-1 road loss to the lowly Philadelphia Phillies , this past Friday , the team will resume that series , looking to avenge the defeat on Saturday and then seeking to take the series with a victory on Sunday afternoon . Standout players for the Braves this season, have been Chris Johnson , Freddie Freeman , Justin Upton , Brian McCann , B J Upton , Dan Uggla , Evan Gattis , Luis Avilan , Mike Minor , Kris Medlen , Paul Maholm and Craig Kimbrel . I would certainly like to think that the aforementioned players, are likely to be a part of the Braves` postseason roster and contributing to the ongoing success of the organization . For the moment however, it is the immediacy of controlling the obstacles in front of the team , overcoming them and moving on from there , that will clearly define what is likely to be achieved by these players.
It has been a considerably long time since the Atlanta Braves tasted the success of having won a World Series title. The year was 1995 to be exact, when the Braves and their World Series MVP, pitcher , Tom Glavine, got by the Cleveland Indians , taking the series 4-2 for the franchise’s only title in their current guise as the Atlanta Braves. While there was perpetual success under former team manager Bobby Cox , winning an unprecedented fourteen straight divisional titles , 5 NL Pennants and a World Series during a two-decade managerial tenure with the ball-club. Cox will be eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame in 2014, undoubtedly joining a list of noted Braves` luminaries under the Atlanta Braves` banner within that hallowed edifice.
Now for the remainder of the Braves` season , I am looking to seeing how this team acquits itself, as they seek another divisional title . Monday gives us a final opportunity to see the team in action , in the final game of their season long series against the Miami Marlins , in a contest to be played at Marlins Ballpark in Miami , Florida On the mound for Atlanta will be Kris Medlin (12-12) facing off against Miami`s Henderson Alvarez (3-3, 3.95 ERA). Composure , accountability, camaraderie and teamwork will be assessed by Fredi Gonzalez and his staff in these final contests , as that will give him some type mindset as to the frame of mind of his players , before they embark on postseason play.
In the AL East , we know this to be a division where you either play hard or you will simply just fade and die. In the past few weeks the Tampa Bay Rays have gone from being atop of the division to now fighting for their very survival and a playoff berth. Joe Maddon and his staff are seemingly at odds with the fans` perception of what is actually going on and the manager`s nonchalant attitude as to the team`s continued failings and inconsistency. Not so long ago, a patron of this site and I had a brief discussion as to whether or not , the then fourth placed New York Yankees were still capable of making the postseason in spite of their off field issues and the continued disdain of Alex Rodriguez . He stated no , merely because of clubhouse issues, lack of productivity coming from the Yankees` offense and the inconsistency of their pitching . Well, three weeks later , here we are and it is the Bronx Bombers now bringing the pain and a great deal of pressure to bear upon both the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles , as to who is likely to finish second within the division and claim one of the two coveted AL wildcard berths guaranteeing a trip into the postseason .
What was once a six-game lead that the Rays had over the Yankees has now been whittled down to a mere 2 ½ games, with neither Maddon , his players or even the most vociferous of Rays` fans being able to explain the reasons why, for the team`s failings and just pointing to the fact that they are still in playoff contention . Personally, I feel that the concentration of this Rays` team should be placed on winning the division, because in a one-game playoff eliminater , the Tampa Bay Rays are likely to come up exceedingly short and on the wrong side of a heartbreaking defeat ! Coming off their still ongoing issues with another loss (6-2) , this time to the lowly Seattle Mariners , whose season has been exceptionally morbid , there is not a great deal that can be said about the team , where Felix Fernandez’s talents continue to be wasted , because the front office and board of directors are too damn cheap to spend money to put a winning product on the field and where the coaching staff have not developed any meaningful talent within the organization over the past two seasons .
The Rays will once again face the Mariners on Sunday at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington , where Matt Moore will take on Erasmo Ramirez of Seattle . Tampa can ill-afford to have too many game losses , let alone series` losses , as it comes down the final stretch of the season. The team also has four very important series coming up against the Boston Red Sox , Texas Rangers , Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees during the final month of their schedule. Those series could very well determine whether or not the Rays are part of the postseason fare . Rays` GM Andrew Friedman as been able to work miracles this season in terms the personnel moves made , but repeatedly having to do that has become tedious and all too boring . With little incoming resources by way of any major corporate endorsers, this organization becomes all the more reliant on the good graces of baseball`s hierarchy to lend it a helping hand to assist in their payroll obligations . Andrew Friedman will have to weigh up the feasibility in bringing back players such as James Loney and David Price , two experienced veterans who have contributed to the team’s success in 2013. Both are free agents in 2014 and are likely to be highly sought after by teams in need of a former Cy Young winner and a productive first baseman . Can they afford to pay either the going rate for players at those positions or will it be more of the penny-pinching that this organization has become known for in recent seasons ?
Over the next ten days we should get to know a great deal about the mindset of this Rays’ organization as they embark on the final three weeks of the regular season . Chances are that, they will either sink or swim , based upon their play over that time-span. Should the team miss the postseason , then there will be a number of questions being asked not only of the coaching staff , but of the players themselves and most certainly of the front office , led by owner Stuart Sternberg . Beyond the ongoing saga of the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium issue the fans still have to deal with the very fact that this team has been poorly supported over its entire existence with a hardcore fan-base averaging no more than 15,000 people , but yet, baseball`s hierarchy would have us believe that with average home gate attendance of just over 18,000 , all is well within this organization. From the outside looking in, that may well be the case , but if you were to dig deeper, then you would begin to see, that is most definitely not the case.
Picture gallery .
What if anything , are you hoping to see as the regular season begins to wind down within baseball ? Which teams do you believe to be the most capable of representing the AL and NL in the World Series ? By all means, do leave a comment on this and anything else you believe to be pertinent to the subject matter and thanks as always for the continued support of this site, as it greatly appreciated !
Picture and slideshow details below .
(1) Los Angeles Angels’ Grant Green , right, scores as the throw to Texas Rangers catcher Geovany Soto goes wide right on a two-run double by Angels’ Andrew Romine in the fourth inning during a baseball game , Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in Anaheim, Calif. AP Photo/Alex Gallardo …
(3) St Louis Cardinals` Matt Carpenter (13) is safe at second with an RBI double on the call by umpire Brian Gorman , as the Pittsburgh Pirates` Neil Walker can`t make the tag in time during the second inning of a baseball game between played on Sunday at Busch Stadium , St Louis, Missouri , on the 8th September , 2013. AP Photo / Phil Boyce …..
(4) Yasiel Puig (66) 99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers strikes out in the fourth inning giving starting pitcher Homer Bailey (34) of the Cincinnati Reds the seventh of his nine strike outs at Great American Ball Park on September 8, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Los Angeles 3-2 to sweep the series . Getty Images North America / Jamie Squire ….
(5) Evan Gattis (24) of the Atlanta Braves congratulates Alex Wood (58) after Wood scored a run in the third inning of the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on September 7, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Getty Images / Brian Garfinkel ….
(6) Seattle Mariners catcher Henry Blanco tags out Tampa Bay Rays` Chris Giminez ,right, at the plate during the ninth inning of a baseball game on Sunday , 8th September , 2013 played at Safeco Field in Seattle , Washington . AP Photo / Ted S Warren ….
(7) Atlanta Braves GM Frank Wren , left , is seen here with outfielder B J Upton and team manager Fredi Gonzalez . Upton was signed as a free agent in the off-season and has provided some leadership on the Braves’ roster that also includes younger sibling Justin Upton . B J Upton hopes to provide the team with added productivity during what is hopefully a deep run during the playoffs . Courtesy of USA Today / AP Photos / Greg Jarrett ….