Monday, September 13, 2010

Fearless Prediction

Wiping off the crystal ball, with a major caveat: there are no guarantees. Heck, in the middle of a pennant race, your leadoff hitter and star centerfielder can wake up with appendicitis.

But after carefully watching the National League for the last couple of weeks, I'm going to go out on a limb here: Giants fans, start making your postseason plans.

The Giants' just-completed 10-game road trip (they went 7-3) was the sort of test a team has to pass to prove itself playoff-worthy. Taking 3 of 4 in San Diego was, of course, huge. But the real smackdown was the Sunday win, in which the Giants dismantled major league ERA leader Mat Latos while Tim Lincecum had the Padres bitching about ball/strike calls. And don't forget: the Giants won this game just hours after learning that sparkplug Andres Torres may be done for the regular season after an appendectomy. That's character, people. You can have your Yorvit Torrealba chest-bumps.

The Padres' long run atop the West now looks like a mirage. This is simply not that good a team; both the Giants and the Rockies will pass San Diego before it's over. Among other things, it's clear that there really is very little gas left in Miguel Tejada's tank, and the Padres outfield is, well, average at best.

So if San Diego's out, who's in? The Giants play 12 of their last 18 at home. They'll either win the West or finish so close behind Colorado that they'll be the wild card team. "But wait," you're saying. "The Giants are a game behind the wild card standings right now, so if they don't win the West, they're screwed."

Yes, but. They trail Atlanta by a game for the wild card slot (and Atlanta trails the Phillies by a game in the NL East). So it's really a 5-team race for 3 slots: Padres, Giants, Rockies, Phillies, Braves. And since I've already dismissed San Diego (and anointed Colorado), let me deal with the Atlanta/Philly situation.

Each team has 18 games left; 9 home and 9 away. They play exactly the same teams: 6 games against Washington, 3 against the Mets, 3 against Florida...and 6 against each other. Much is being made of the fact that the Phils' last 6 are on the road and the Braves last 6 at home (including the potentially-epic season-ending series against the Phils). But right now, I think the schedule favors the Phils, who have a 9-game homestand coming up while the Braves face a 9-game roadtrip.

Plus, Atlanta's rotation has been struggling lately (Tim Hudson has lost his last 3 starts and Tommy Hanson has one win since the All-Star break), while the Phils have the Roys (Halladay and Oswalt).

I say the Phils win the East by 3 games, and the Braves send Bobby Cox into retirement without a playoff spot.

What I'm not ready to predict is whether the Giants or the Rockies will win the West. My crystal ball isn't that good.

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