Any baseball fan knows that when you get to October, you throw everything out the window because you know crazy things are bound to happen.
And this year? Turns out crazy stuff is happening all over the place ALREADY.
Who would have thought that it would be late August and the Tampa Bay Rays would still be in first place in the American League East … over the Red Sox AND Yankees? Not me, but here they are.
If you told me in April that CC Sabathia would be leading Milwaukee’s rotation on a serious Postseason run, I would have flat-out spilled coffee all over my keyboard in a fit of laughter. But, again, here’s CC, dealing for the Brew Crew when it counts the most.
I think I could have believed that the Angels would be in first place, but I NEVER could have predicted them trading for Mark Teixeira in the heat of a pennant race. That’s what I call serious October commitment.
And Manny Being Manny, Hollywood style? Now that’s just too much.
And that’s the point. As the calendar inches ever closer to October, you gotta get ready for crazy, because once the Postseason starts, it just gets crazier.
There’s five days left in August, which means there’s five days to September, a.k.a. official crunch time in the big leagues — and the time when my fingers start sweating just a little bit more as I type away at this blog. The heat hasn’t just been turned up on my desk. It’s all around the Majors, and I can’t decide which is the craziest pennant race.
You can’t tell me you’re not checking out in the National League East every night. The Mets and Phillies are duking it out for the second straight year, and the boys from Queens are looking to reverse the September slide that knocked them out last year. Guys like Mike Pelfrey are stepping up big-time at the right time, which means Shea might stay open for an extra month — October.
Out West, the Diamondbacks and Dodgers are in a serious scuffle, and I’m telling you, this one ain’t over by a longshot, but the D-backs have pulled ahead a little bit in the last week, and it doesn’t hurt when guys like my man Chris Young are getting their groove on at the right time.
Flip a coin in the AL Central. For real. This one is off the hook. The White Sox have been there most of the year because of guys like Carlos Quentin going off, but man, those Twins are tough to shake! You’ve got to give it to an organization that keeps the talent flowing in from the farm system year in and year out. Check out their new guy Denard Span – beating the Angels last week – how do they keep finding these guys?!
Who’s going to win these races? I have no clue. No idea. But that’s the great thing.
I’ve got all of September to figure it out, and it starts in five days.
When I’m watching a game and step away from my computer just for a minute, something always brings me right back. And it’s not just the crack of the bat. It’s that special sound of wood against horsehide where you know the guy got all of it. You know he went yard.
In other words, chicks aren’t the only people who dig the long ball — bloggers named October Gonzo love it, too. And right now I’m especially fired up because so many exciting young players are coming of age and putting up monster homer numbers. You know that summer slugging will turn into October drama.
My man David Wright in New York has hit some seriously dramatic homers for the Mets, who have had their issues but are back on top.
Who doesn’t like watching Hanley Ramirez rake in South Florida?
Who could have predicted that Ryan Ludwick would be front and center in the hunt for the Major League homer lead?
And there are a lot more.
Milwaukee teammates Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, Braves catcher Brian McCann, Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, D-backs outfielder Adam Dunn, White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin … seems like someone new pops up every day.
That’s what October is all about.
Check your watch or your BlackBerry or your computer or just rip down the old-school calendar from the fridge. We’re officially in late August, and you know what that means: Less than 40 games until the postseason. Now check the standings. Do a few things surprise you as much as they surprise me?
Tampa Bay is not only still there in the American League East, but they’re still there over the Red Sox AND the Yankees. They’re banged up but a good team’s a good team. Still plenty of September games in the division that will give them the ultimate test, but who would have thought they’d be this good this late in the season? It’s the story of 2008 in my book, and with sluggers like Carlos Pena starting to heat up, who knows how far they could go?
There are serious pennant power plays brewing in the National League West and American League Central. Toss a coin to separate the Diamondbacks and Dodgers in the NL and the Twins and White Sox in the AL.
There are lots of things to like about all four teams and lots of reasons to watch all of their games down the stretch, but since we’re talking surprises, man, how about those Twins? They trade Johan to the Mets, Silva leaves for the Mariners, Torii goes to the Angels, and there they are, still contending. And now they have Francisco Liriano back? That’s just filthy.
Yup, everywhere I look, there are surprises, like in L.A., for example. Joe Torre’s Dodgers were looking like a solid team for most of the year, but all of a sudden Manny Magic starts spreading like wildfire throughout the Ravine and everyone’s thinking World Series. Just ask Andre Ethier if he can feel it like I do.
Big moments and bigger plays, and it only gets more intense by the day. Get comfy on that sofa. We’ve still got a quarter of the season to go …
Everyone knows that pitching gets the job done in the postseason, and I’m here to tell you that you can bank on it playing out that way again this season.
Just check out all the pennant races cooking right now in the middle of August. Everywhere you look, the teams on top have the arms to get the job done. And once you’re in a best-of-five or a best-of-seven series? Forget it. Pitching is EVERYTHING.
So who’s going to be this year’s Bob Gibson or Jack Morris or Dave Stewart?
Who’s this year’s El Duque, John Smoltz, Fernando Valenzuela or Curt Schilling?
Maybe it’ll be Big Z in Chicago.
Maybe it’ll be K-Rod in Anaheim, just like in 2002.
Maybe it’ll be CC Sabathia, the new ace of the Brew Crew.
Or maybe it’ll be Josh Beckett, just like last year.
The bottom line is this: Someone is going to step up on the mound in a key situation, take that ball in his right or left hand, and use every single one of its 216 stitches to do something in October that nobody will ever forget.
And I can’t wait to see who that someone is.
I’m loving how the trades keep heating things up. Take the National League West, for example. The Dodgers get Manny, so the D-backs turn around and snag Adam Dunn from Cincinnati. Take that, L.A.!
It’s all in the spirit of October, people. Seriously, if you want to rock on to the World Series, you have to make things happen on the field AND with the cell phones.
So what does Arizona get in this Dunn deal? The power, on-base percentage and ability to change a game in a hurry, like Dunn did here.
Here are some other pieces of my blogging brain, spinning dizzy with the postseason possibilities:
*Tough break — literally — for super-stud Evan Longoria and his Tampa Bay Rays. Dude’s a Rookie of the Year shoo-in and now he’s got a fractured wrist? And now he’s got to join Carl Crawford on the DL? It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the big leagues. Here’s what happened:
*I’ve been trying to figure out how the whole National League East picture is going to shake out, but the only thing shaking is my head. If the Mets’ bullpen doesn’t get better in a hurry, the Fighting Fish from South Florida can swim right by them. But if that’s going to go down, my boy Hanley Ramirez needs to break out of his slump and start hitting like this again:
*Did anyone see the Twins coming? Not me, but take a look at the AL Central. There they are, right at the top! Pretty cool the way this organization keeps bringing it, and now that they’ve got Francisco Liriano back, healthy and dealing, who’s to say Minnesota won’t be a major factor in October?
Too many things to think about right now, and we’re not even in late August yet.
Time to relax… and watch more baseball!
Here’s a trio of random O.G. blog-servations from the heat of early August… only seven weeks from October, but who’s counting?
*Have you been watching the Cubs? Signs throughout Wrigley say “It Will Happen,” and I can’t really argue when I watch these guys play. Sweet Lou has them feeling it, Ryan Dempster’s out of his mind, and Kerry Wood’s coming back, too. They’ve pulled away from the Brewers a little bit and might be ready to finally give the North Side some World Series championship love for the first time in exactly 100 years.
*No matter how you feel about the Yankees (and I think I know how a lot of you outside New York feel), it’s a bummer that Joba’s hurt. The Yanks already don’t have Chien-Ming Wang and Phil Hughes right now, so now we’ll see what this kid Ian Kennedy is made of. We might also get a Carl Pavano sighting soon. Who knows? Maybe the fresh arms will get the Bombers back on top. Stranger things have happened in October.
*I’ve got one more for you and it’s got three words: Tampa Bay Rays. OK, two more words: Still there. These guys keep winning games in crazy fashion, they’re absolutely ridiculous at home, and their manager, Joe Maddon, has them believing there’s nothing they can’t do. I’m here to tell you that when you have a little confidence, you can rule the postseason — even if you’ve never been there before. Joe saw it close up when he was the bench coach of the ’02 Angels. And now he’s got Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. That doesn’t hurt, either.
More coming soon as we march toward October memories… are you getting fired up?
There were almost too many big-time Trade Deadline deals to blog about, but the fact that every single one of these guys has breathed new life into his new team has made it a lot easier to keep track of.
Seriously, did anyone really expect such immediate returns on their investments?
Check out the new guy in the No. 99 uniform at Dodger Stadium. I’m telling you … Manny isn’t just being Manny … he’s being the Man.
The Angels have got to be kidding me. The best record in the game and now a trade for at least a few months of Mark Teixeira? Sick.
And I should have known the Yankees would load up again. This time they got a nice haul, including a Hall of Fame catcher in Pudge Rodriguez. What does that mean? It means watch out, Red Sox and Rays.
Then again, Boston isn’t exactly hurting from the Manny deal, not when they brought in a great fit like slugger Jason Bay.
Every one of these teams is in the hunt for October and every one of these teams might have gotten just a little bit better, which means baseball got A LOT better … and A LOT more confusing. I think maybe I have to take a few more hours at the computer to figure this all out again, but it’s tough when you’ve got the Postseason on your mind.
A little bit of bad luck can go a long way toward knocking teams right out of October — if they let it. And while it shouldn’t happen, history has the ability to make sure it does from time to time.
Just ask the Dodgers, who haven’t brought a title back to Chavez Ravine since 1988 but hope new outfielder Manny Ramirez can reverse results like this:
Just ask the Brewers, who couldn’t quite make it all the way when they won the pennant in 1982.
Just ask the Mets, who haven’t won a World Series since 1986, in part because of bad-luck moments like this:
Ask the Phillies, who haven’t won it all since the Tug McGraw days:
And don’t forget to ask the Cubs, still talking about billy goats 100 years later.
Bottom line is this: October is all about putting aside the excuses, ignoring the black cats and superstitions, and coming together at the right time. One of these teams might have the magic to finally pull it off this year.
And the beauty of it is that we’ll all be watching.