NL Wild Card Race (Ryan Howard is Awesome)
by Sam Sowl
At this point, I don't care about the AL Wild Card race. If the White Sox deserve it, they'll win it. If they don't, the Twins sure as hell deserve it. Of course, there's a good chance both teams will make the playoffs and it will be the Tigers that fall off (which is my prediction). There's really not much else to say about it; three of the top teams in baseball, two spots (one being the AL central crown) = a pretty awesome team is going home. Which leads me to the juxtaposition that has been the American and the National Leagues this year. In the NL, it's six mediocre teams, one spot = somebody's gotta win it, right? So I guess the only question we have left is who...
Houston Astros (4.5 Games back):
Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: In 15 starts this season, Roger Clemens has a 2.27 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP, and opponents are hitting .228 against him. And he has six wins. Six wins! With those stats he should have twice that many. It appears the Astros' hitters are allergic to giving him run support. And they might have those small seasonal allergies for the rest of their pitching staff. Thus, it's no surprise they are last in the NL in batting average, and have barely scored more runs than the Brewers.
Why they might still make it in the NL: They came out of nowhere last year and ended up in the World Series. They have basically the same team, and they're pitching is only getting better. Oh, and they have this guy on their team named Lance Berkman, too.
Cincinnati Reds (2.5 Games back):
Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: So far this year, 28 different pitchers have pitched for the Reds. I think I heard that they've dismantled their Triple-A club, put that team's entire pitching staff in their bullpen, and somehow convinced Bud Selig that it was OK because they were called "Reds 2.0". A week ago, Sun Woo-Kim made his first start for them since being cut by the Expos (that's right, I still call them that) back in June, lowering his ERA to 12.75 after a five inning performance. At least they haven't signed Sidney Ponson 2.0 yet.
Why they might still make it in the NL: It seems like every other day, one of their seven backup catchers hits a walk-off home run. These guys can rake. Every guy in their lineup is a good hitter with power, except definitely Royce Clayton, who makes up for his lack of power with bad haircuts.
San Francisco Giants (1.5 Games back):
Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: Barry Bonds. He makes 70 million dollars a year to have a Matt Stairs like season. Ever wonder why their next biggest superstar is Omar Vizquel?
Why they might still make it in the NL: Barry Bonds. I remember when this guy came back at the end of last year, when his team had nothing to play for. He still hit the ball, and far. This year, it's crunch time, and somehow his team is still there. The greatest players of all time show up in times like these. Wouldn't pushing the Giants into the playoffs and possibly beyond be a great way for Barry to put all his critics to rest?
Philadelphia Phillies (2 Games back):
Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: Didn't these guys trade one of their best players a month ago? Somebody in charge there must have thought they were out of it. I doubt it's easy for players to have a winning attitude on a team that's already given up on them.
Why they might still make it in the NL: And yet they're still here, right in the thick of it. There is also three big reasons why the Phillies could win this thing. 1. Ryan Howard. 2. Ryan Howard. 3. Ryan Howard. This guy is the real deal. NL MVP in my book even if he doesn't play another game all season. I read something the other day that the Maris family will acknowledge Ryan Howard as the true record-breaker of Roger's home run record, since McGwire and Bonds use supplements to make them stronger. Which is illegal... Anyways, I think the Maris family just likes getting free tickets to games so they can give these home run hitters a bunch of hugs. I know I would.
Florida Marlins (2 Games back):
Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: How long have you been watching baseball? There are no feel good stories in the AL. The Yankees win every year. Teams that attempt to spend as much as the Yankees have chances of winning every year. And teams that have Billy Beane as their GM have chances of winning every year. Not one of those teams? Sorry, try joining the NL (hey, it's starting to work for the Brewers). Have a feel good story? Try moving to Florida.
Why they might still make it in the NL: Because they're my new favorite team, and I hope they win it. Need any more reasons? How about because just about everybody else feels the same way as I do! I would have to say if there were a prayer/luck department, the Marlins would be on top. They seem to have everything going for them. They have 20 year old rookies tossing no-hitters, rule-5 draft picks hitting 25 homers, and Joe Girardi is their manager (still, for all you Cubs fans with your tongues out),
San Diego Padres (Current leader):
Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: Yes they have good pitching, but quick - name the 3,4,5 hitters on the Padres. Yup, thought you couldn't. I think Ryan Klesko might lead their team in home runs, with 22. Whoops, it's actually Adrian Gonzalez with 21. Just to put that in perspective, Ryan Howard has 56. Sorry, I just can't get over how awesome he is. This is only his second year!
Why they might still make it in the NL: They won't, actually. Sorry Padres fans, this team isn't going anywhere. They wasted everyone's time being in the playoffs last year (yeah, that's the team you always forget about when you try to recall what happened last year), and I don't think the baseball Gods will allow that to happen again. Well that's what they told me...or at least that's what I've surmised.
Sam Sowl's column, "Sowl's Surmisings", appears alternate Wednesdays