Who says money buys you championships!?! Oh yeah, the Yankees, well, there’s two teams that I never would’ve thought would be in first at any point this season let alone in there at the end of June. The Padres and Reds are both in the bottom third of payrolls, and have been pleasant surprises. I doubt anyone outside of their own fan bases would’ve thought either team would be in the hunt when the season started. Okay, maybe a couple people picked the Reds, but were they really confident about those picks? I actually didn’t even expect either of them to be above .500 outside of April, which is why I’ve been so intrigued with their rises out of seemingly nowhere. Every year we have at least one team making the playoffs that didn’t make it the previous year. The way we are heading right now we could see five or six teams make it in that weren’t in the playoffs last year. I feel like we are all waiting for them to fade, and just like Tampa Bay in 2008 we will wait and assume that collapse is coming. Can they prove us all wrong? Maybe. Although I’m not an NL guy, I’ve come to appreciate these two teams for showing me that there are multiple ways to get it done without spending like a billionaire. They both have executed their respective game plans to perfection playing within their means, and sticking to what they are good at to get to the top of their divisions. Sadly only one of these teams will be able to improve at the trade deadline, and I’m preying that the other one doesn’t sell off their stock just to lower the amount going to the ex-wife.
The Padres are the epitome of an NL team. They have great pitching (3.07 team ERA leads the MLB, throw in 10 shutouts 2nd in the MLB), and play great defense in a big ballpark (3rd fewest errors in the MLB), and you have a recipe for staying close every night. Their pitching starts with their semi-rookie phenom, Mat Latos (who I believe should get as much hype as Strasburg’s rookie campaign). Their rotation doesn’t have many holes for other teams to pick out with Clayton Richard, Wade Leblanc, Kevin Correia, and even a resurgent Jon Garland have putting in good work so far this year. If you think it’s only because of their ballpack their road ERA is 3.26, and they are 22-14 on the road. Aside from Adrian Gonzalez they don’t hit the cover off the ball, but since they have such great pitching they can scrape together wins by putting pressure on other teams to not make mistakes. If you know you’re the opposing team and know that you probably aren’t going to push across more than a few runs against their great pitching staff, it forces their pitcher to feel like they have to be perfect, so small ball and stealing bases (5th in the league) is their game. They remind me of the Angels when they were battling the A’s year in and year out for much of the beginning of the decade. They’d get all the right breaks on bloops and dribblers, but looking back they weren’t just getting lucky as I felt they were, they were earning those runs by getting guys out of position through their speed, and putting that added pressure on the pitchers and the opposing defense. I have a hard time believing they can keep it up, especially when some of their young pitchers start hitting the 200 IP mark. Also a .245 team BA (26th in the MLB) isn’t going to keep them afloat forever. We all know they have the lowest payroll in the league, and could they actually be buyers at the trade deadline? If they are, the Dodgers, Giants, and Rockies better look out if they add a bat. I highly doubt it though, especially with the sale of the team, and a sizeable debt standing in the way. If they sell off Heath Bell or Adrian Gonzalez at the trade deadline, it would as big a travesty as the Expos during the boycott year that saw the World Series cancelled. I feel for Padres fans, they are helpless in watching their semi-owner throw away a great start to the season.
The Reds have also been a very intriguing team to me this year. They are the polar opposite of the Padres as they get it done with offense, and have just enough pitching to get by. I really don’t know what to make of their pitching rotation, but Cueto should be an All-Star hands down. You pretty much know what you’re getting from Arroyo and Harang, and it’s less than exciting, but they will usually keep you in games more often than not. Their offense is clicking though. They lead the NL in runs scored (376), BA (.275), and are 3rd in the NL in HR’s (90). I’m sure plenty of Cardinals fans are wishing they’d held onto Scott Rolen as they continue to battle Cincinnati in the standings. Joey Votto finally has his head right, and is putting up career numbers, and the same goes for Johnny Gomes. Their franchise player, Brandon Phillips is having a nice year, but honestly by his standards it’s just been average. One thing I think that will hold this team together is the two vets they have to keep the team focused, Orlando Cabrera and Scott Rolen. These two are very competitive guys that seem to make everyone around them a little better. They are hard workers, and don’t mind letting the other guys know what they think of them. You also have to love a team with Dusty Baker on the bench. I’m sure he’ s lent a helping hand in the never say die attitude of this team. They’ve already had 24 comeback wins this year! Eventhough Cincy isn’t a team that is known for making big moves to take on money, I could see them trying to add a pitcher or two, to keep them from having to come back all the time. Maybe they should try to swap some hitting for pitching with the Padres!
June 30, 2010