As the calendar changed from July to August and the non-waiver trading deadline passed, an evaluation of the past few weeks is in order as teams tried to position themselves for the final third of the 2009 season.
Several big names changed uniforms over the past couple of weeks but the biggest name rumored to be on the move – Toronto ace Roy Halladay – stayed put north of the border.
But the team mentioned most often in trade rumors concerning Halladay, the Philadelphia Phillies, fared quite well at the trading deadline, thank you. Unwilling to part with their top prospects as insisted upon by Toronto, the Phillies were able to construct a deal with Cleveland involving some of their lesser rated prospects to acquire reigning AL Cy Young Award winner lefty Cliff Lee.
Also in the deal the Phillies added depth to their bench with Ben Francisco. The Phils are comfortably in front in the NL East with no apparent threat from Division rivals. If last season’s post season hero, lefty starter Cole Hamels, can regain his form the Phils will have a very good shot to repeat their World Series title.
The Boston Red Sox also fared well at the trade deadline, acquiring Victor Martinez, also from Cleveland. Martinez should see plenty of action with the Sox as his ability to both catch and play first base in addition to being a DH allows the Sox to rest some of their key regulars without conceding anything on offense as Martinez is a proven producer at the plate.
St. Louis made a pair of deals prior to the deadline that strengthened their lineup with Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday. Holliday has been on a tear since arriving from Oakland. The pitching has been solid and the Cardinals should make the Playoffs either as the NL Central winner or as the NL Wild Card.
The Chicago White Sox were finally able to acquire Jake Peavy from San Diego after a proposed deal for the elite righthander fell through a few months ago. Peavy is still injured and may not pitch until late August. But the move was made to strengthen the rotation for the post season and should the Sox win the AL Central and make the Playoffs, a healthy Peavy would make Chicago a real threat to go far. Peavy joins lefty Mark Buehrle – he of the perfect game a couple of weeks ago – to form as solid a one-two tandem as any potential Playoff team can claim.
Detroit also made a move to strengthen their rotation for the stretch run in the AL Central as they attempt to hold off Chicago and Minnesota. The Tigers traded promising lefty starter Luke French to Seattle for Jarrod Washburn who’s had a career renaissance this season. Washburn’s 2.64 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 130+ innings thus far bolster a Tigers rotation that has already enjoyed strong seasons from Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson.
Other contending teams made some minor deals such as the New York Yankees trading a low level minor leaguer for the versatile Jerry Hairston, Jr. But the need for a fifth starter is still a concern for the Yankees as they battle Boston for the AL East title. Yet barring a major turn of events that would include a late run by Tampa Bay, both the Yankees and Red Sox should make the Playoffs.
Now that the trade deadline has passed, attention can fully turn to the developing Divisional and Wild Card races in each league. Over the next few weeks more teams will fall out of realistic contention such that by the end of August we are likely to see six to eight teams in each league battling for the four Playoff spots available in each.
Here’s a look at four series of interest to be played this weekend.
Milwaukee at Houston: Both teams are trying to remain in contention in the NL Central where both teams start the week tied for third place with identical 52-53 records, four and a half games out of first place. The teams meet for the first time since mid May. Milwaukee has won 4 of 6 meetings this season and in an unusual scheduling quirk the teams have yet to meet in Milwaukee. The Brewers have been slumping, losing 15 of their last 25 games. The Astros have hung tough all season but their top two pitchers, Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, each left their last starts with injuries, the extent of which are still uncertain. The ‘Stros offense has also been weak, scoring 3 runs or less in 8 of their previous 10 games through Sunday.
PREFERRED PLAYS: Milwaukee as Underdogs of +125 or more against Oswalt or Rodriguez or as underdogs of any price against other Houston starters; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher if Oswalt or Rodriguez are matched against Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo.
Chicago Cubs at Colorado: Both teams are contending for the Playoffs and whereas the Cubs can win either the NL Central Division title or the Wild Card the Rockies realistically have their sites set on the Wild Card. The teams split their only two games this season, in Chicago in mid April. Both games went UNDER the Total. Both teams are playing solid baseball, winning 60 percent of their games over the past month. Both teams have gotten strong results from their starting rotations. Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Marquis have been Colorado’s most effective starters while Carlos Zambrano and rookie Randy Wells have been Chicago’s stalwarts. Ryan Dempster was sharp in his most recent start for the Cubs, just his second since coming off the DL.
PREFERRED PLAYS: Cubs as Underdogs in any matchup or as favorites of -125 or less in starts by Dempster, Wells or Zambrano; Colorado as up to -130 favorites against other Cubs starters; UNDER Totals of 9½ in any matchup or UNDER 9 or higher if Dempster, Wells or Zambrano opposes Cook, Jimenez or Marquis.
Boston at New York Yankees: The Yankees were the hottest team in baseball coming out of the All Star break before losing 3 of 4 to the White Sox in Chicago last weekend. They start the week with the slimmest of leads over their long time rivals, the Red Sox, leading Boston by just half a game. Boston has won all 8 meetings between the teams this season although they’ve not met since early June. Six of the games were played in Boston. Three of the games have landed right on the Total with the others resulting in a pair of OVERs and a trio of UNDERs. Offense is the strength of both teams although each has starters capable of dominating performances. For the Yankees CC Sabathia and A. J. Burnett have been more good than bad and, based on his last few starts, Joba Chamberlain may be on the verge of being a dominant starter. For Boston Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have been the most effective.
PREFERRED PLAYS: Either team as an Underdog in matchups of Beckett or Lester against Burnett, Chamberlain or Sabathia; otherwise any of these pitchers if favored by minus 140 or less against any other starter; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in a matchup of two of the listed pitchers; OVER Totals of 9 or lower if Boston starts John Smoltz or Clay Buchholz against any Yankees starter.
Texas at Los Angeles Angels: Texas has a chance to narrow the four game gap that separates these teams at week’s dawning. But that task won’t be easy as the Angels have been on fire of late, especially the offense. Even with stars Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter sidelined the Halos have been showing no mercy at the plate. Through this past Sunday the Angels had scored at least 6 runs in 12 of their previous 13 games and in 19 of their prior 25 games. Over those 25 games the Angels, in winning 20 of them, have averaged 7.7 runs per game, outscoring the opposition 193-131. Contrast that to the Rangers who have gone an impressive 16-9 in their last 25 games while outscoring their opponents by a much more modest 117-95. And therein lies the oddity of the 2009 season for both teams. The Angels, known for their solid pitching staff, are getting it done with offense while the pitching has really struggled. Texas, known for its potent offense, has been but average at the dish while the pitching has been an unexpected surprise.
PREFERRED PLAYS: OVER Totals of 9 or lower in any matchup; Texas as underdogs of +125 or more in starts by Kevin Millwood or Scott Feldman; Angels as Favorites of -140 or less against other than Feldman or Millwood.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe