Baseball Home Stretch
As a Yankee fan in Red Sox country, I tend to be more quiet than usual in discussing baseball. But, this season is entering the home stretch, and it will be interesting.
In recent years, the Yankees and Red Sox seemed to be the strongest teams in the American League heading into the playoffs. This year, that isn't the case. These two teams aren't even leading their division. The Tampa Bay Rays are hanging in there. They lost something like seven in a row before the All-Star break, falling behind the Red Sox. But, they have been the best of the three since the break and have re-established a lead of a few games.
Both the Red Sox and Yankees were active before the trading deadline. The Yankees made a series of movies, trying to recover from their significant injury woes. Three of their five starting pitchers from the beginning of the season (Wang, Hughes, Kennedy) remain out, and two of their All-Star position players (Posada, Matsui) are out for the year. Other players have missed significant time. Every team has injuries, but the Yankees have been hit the hardest of the teams still contending. I think that Brian Cashman did a great job shoring up their roster without giving up anything significant in the near term and very little in terms of long-term prospects. He doesn't get enough credit as a GM because the Yankees spend so much. Look for that to change after this season when many overpriced contracts finally expire.
The Red Sox had to dump Manny Ramirez. This was sad, as I enjoyed watching him play. But, I don't think they had a choice. Manny is capable of causing a lot of distraction, and hopefully their clubhouse will be more stable without him. Even though Jason Bay has gotten off to a good start in Manny's place, no one thinks that he can replace Manny's presence in their lineup (if Manny is trying).
Consistency has been a problem for all three of the leading AL East teams. Surprisingly, both the Red Sox and Yankees go through dry spells on offense. With their lineups, scoring runs should rarely be a problem. The Yankees pitching has come through pretty well, considering their injuries. Their bullpen has been particularly strong.
I think that the Red Sox pitching hasn't been as strong as people thought at the start of the year. Obviously, Schilling is out for the year. Beckett hasn't been as good as last year. Matsuzaka has been great, but still walks too many people.. Lester has been impressive, but the bullpen, other than Papelbon, has been very inconsistent.
The Rays have played well, but everyone still expects them to cave under the pressure. We'll see. In any event, having a three-way race makes the AL East more exciting than it ihas been in years.
In the AL overall, the Angels are the class of the league. They are the most consistent team, and hare pretty well balanced. Maybe this is their year. On the NL side, I am rooting for the Cubs. It would be horrible for them to go more than 100 years without winning the World Series.
Baseball is a great sport to follow because you can do so casually. The game goes well on the radio, in the background of your summer. The games are every day, so you don't feel like you have to watch them all (unless you are my 15 year-old son).
My prediction: Rays win the AL East (Yankees are the Wild Card). But, the Angels win the AL. However, the Cubs win the World Series, which should tide their fans over until 2108.