MLB 2011 after 100-games
A National League review


As an amazing sign of my promise to get you more material and finally get this web site back on a regular schedule, I offer you a surprise… the first time in several years that I’ve managed to complete reviews for both the 40-game and mid-season marks in baseball.

I know.

I know.

I’m pretty excited about it too.

Sort of a quick explanation to get started… three things…

First – I’ve divided it up into two columns, with one for each league. I know 100-games isn’t truly mid-season, but between the trade deadline and a few other little items, it certainly works and it’s a point of the season I like checking in with more than at around 80 or so.

Second – I’ve been meaning to discuss a few things… the inconsistent Boston Red Sox and their interesting habit of dropping multiple games… the designated hitter… interleague play and expansion and contraction and restructuring… the trade deadline… and so on. I’m sure I’ll end up getting to almost all of this and likely more as we go through the divisions, though almost definitely not in the depth I had hoped. To make sure I hit on two things though, I’ll open this National League effort with some thoughts on trade possibilities in general, and I’ll use the beginning of the American League column to hit restructuring of the leagues. Please keep in mind… July was a crazy month in a line of crazy months, and I may not be as tuned into some names as I could be. So trade options could be wild suggestions… or really general observations.

And third – If you’re not at an even record or better now, you’re out. We’ll get into that in a minute, but with very few exceptions you simply have to be at .500 right now to consider yourself a postseason candidate.

I’ve set up this review to try and cover all the important points in each division, from playoffs to trades and on to surprises. Hopefully it gives you some new stuff to consider.

Here we go…

An overview of trades in 2011 (or, I told you so)

There is no one available.

What did you expect? Someone to suddenly appear? If so… what are you smoking or drinking? (And why aren’t you sharing?)

The reality for 2011 has always been… and this was the case before a single regular season pitch was thrown… that Sabathia was the best free-agent-to-be.

Think that over for a few seconds. I know he’s under contract. But with the opt-out potential, there is no way changes aren’t being made to his deal. Even if they just toss in some dollars so he doesn’t opt out, that’s still a change… still a negotiation. And since almost everything is up to him, including hitting the market if he wishes… presto… it’s free agent in a contract year.

Regardless of that though… I know we agree that he’s not getting traded.

So, no pitching on the market… and then let’s also remember that players like Adrian Gonzalez already were traded. (And heck, he even signed and avoided free agent conversations.)

So yeah… looking over the pitching and getting something for those departing free agents… except in some very unusual circumstances, there really aren’t any teams looking to move what they have. At least not to move anything that really would make your heart pound and spirits rise.

Or… at this point… does Vladimir Guerrero impress you? He’s a great guy. Exciting… yes? Of course not. And that’s what I mean.

Eventually we reach a point where any player that could be traded is on the roster of the New York Mets, and they’re too scared to move most of them because tickets sales in August and September are really, really important to the organization. (Read – Jose Reyes)

That warning in place… get ready for some fun.

Because there are some very interesting developments happening behind the scenes. And they could lead to some great surprises. For example…

I don’t know how the 40-man roster works when it comes to how players in the minor leagues not on that list get treated. And I mean that while I get how something like the Rule 5 draft becomes involved, what I don’t get is the particulars at the deepest most detailed level of Rule 5… or something that isn’t called Rule 5 but might involve retention rights and stuff like it.

Enter the Boston Red Sox.

Word on the street is that at the end of the season, the Red Sox have some significant players in the minors… and not enough room opening up on the 40-man roster to keep or protect them. (Even if David Ortiz and J.D. Drew go bye-bye.)

When you look at the team, Boston doesn’t need to get into a battle for Carlos Beltran. They don’t need to overpay for a solid starting pitcher. Both would be nice… but they don’t need to do it. As a comparison, the New York Yankees need starting pitching.

That said… it might actually benefit Boston to consider getting rid of a couple of those players they might not be able to protect. And while they almost certainly aren’t looking for a blockbuster in general, if they think there’s a chance where it’s trade these three players or lose them to a Rule 5 situation next year, suddenly talking to Houston and giving up a bit extra for Hunter Pence isn’t the worst thing to consider.

In the end… I expect a quiet trading period, but not because of any reason other than there is no one really to trade. It’s not because so many teams are in it (realistically, as we’ll see in a minute, there aren’t all that many). It’s because the contracts in place are set up so that no one needs to move anyone. (Seriously… do the Rockies need to trade Ubaldo Jimenez? …do the Astros need to trade Pence? So why would they? I actually think both will move, because trade deadlines have a way of stirring emotions and getting teams to overbid a bit. But wow… I would be very cautious of Jimenez. Clubs don’t give up on pitching, especially clubs that expected to compete.)

I mentioned the playoffs. Let’s keep in mind…

Dad and I have an agreement of sorts in place. It isn’t perfect… we still disagree all the time… but for our sake, in general, it works. It’s a theory based on the number of weeks remaining in the season.

Basically, it works like this… if the total number of games you trail a playoff spot by exceeds the number of weeks remaining in the season, you’re done. There isn’t enough time to make it up. Make up one game per week… yes, it means playing well, but that feels sensible. Making up two or three in a quick chunk… sure it happens, but usually burns up the team doing it so that they end up dropping back just as quickly the next week.

As I type this, there are roughly ten weeks remaining. So by the theory, if you trail a playoff spot by more than ten games… then I don’t care about math and probabilities or anything else. You need an unreal run… and a run the likes of which your losing record suggests you are not even close to being capable of delivering. (Florida… Chicago… Houston… Los Angeles… San Diego… buh-bye in the NL. Apply the same logic to the AL.)

There are two corollaries to this theory.

Item one – Head-to-head contests remaining – Just to give the race names, and since this is a National League column, let’s say Philadelphia and Atlanta. As divisional rivals… and I did not check the schedule… they are likely to be playing each other in September, and probably have six to nine games against each other remaining from this point on. So there is a chance that during the last seven to ten days of the season… the last one or two weeks… they might match up twice for something like a total of six games. It would be tough to do, but that’s a direct, game for game, one winner and one loser, way of moving fast in the standings. Since it’s likely to finish on divisional notes, in the last nine to ten days, a two-games-behind Atlanta could catch and pass Philadelphia just by their own actions. On the other hand, they likely would need a lot of help in the final days to make up two games on Milwaukee, St. Louis or Arizona for a wild card slot.

So… corollary number one… if the lead is more than the number of weeks remaining, consider an adjustment to elimination prediction based on whether or not head-to-head contests remaining are less than the lead.

Item two - .500 by 100, or consider the competition – Which is what I said earlier… if you have a losing record now, I don’t care how many games are left to play. You have not shown that you are likely to play at any level that could catch a playoff team. Ahh… but there is an interesting idea here. Look at Cincinnati. They were 50-51 as I was proofreading this… and only 3 games behind Pittsburgh. Yeah… sure… Milwaukee and St. Louis are ahead of them too… they have teams to jump. But it’s not like they are seven games back. Even with a losing record to date, I could see them going about 16-12 in both August and September… winning a couple to finish July… and landing around 86 wins. That pace won’t take the wild card… but it darn well could keep them in the fight in the NL Central.

So… corollary number two… if the team has a losing record now you shouldn’t expect them to turn things around and play well in the final 60-games, but at least look at the competition to see if those teams are playing that much better.

I’ll get back to these with better examples as we go through the divisions.

National League East

Standings and observations:

Team Currently On pace for I predicted
Philadelphia 64-36 104-58 94-68
Atlanta 59-43 94-68 89-73
New York 50-51 80-82 71-91
Washington 49-52 79-83 76-86
Florida 49-53 78-84 84-78

Philly, Atlanta and San Francisco are the three top teams in the NL. Even if Arizona can keep up the challenge they are presenting, I see them as a more likely threat for the division title than a wild card slot.

New York needs ticket sales… so even with a couple of trades, we’re going to be told that they were cosmetic. For example… the Carlos Beltran story we’ll be told… Mets get nothing for Beltran if he leaves after the season, so it made sense to trade him. Which… yeah… it does. And… yeah… they should. But answer me this… if Boston, Texas, Philadelphia, San Francisco and so on all feel that Carlos Beltran could help their playoff chances, then how does trading him away help the playoff chances this season for the Mets?

On top of that, if we consider the Mets still in it… then don’t we really need to say the Nationals and the Marlins are in it as well? Do any of you believe that? (I certainly don’t.)

Phillies and Braves are both headed for the playoffs folks… all that matters here is the tinkering they do to try and be stronger for the playoffs… and for both of them that means hitting, with eyes also cast on bench depth and relief pitching. (And get ready… because that is a constant theme. Everyone is looking for hitting… bench… relief.)

Trade possibilities for the needy: Ok… we’ve heard about Beltran, and I think the Mets would send him away in the division without charging any sort of extra for it. They figure he will be a free agent… so it really doesn’t matter if they send him in the NL East. He won’t come back and haunt them year after year because of the trade. Philly is a more likely landing spot for Beltran out of these two clubs… just so close to New York when it comes to uprooting what is right now home.

But… I think Beltran is leaving the NL East. Why? Philly is a good club that isn’t likely to trade players away for someone that they lose after the season. If they try to make a splash, look at Pence or a lost costly option. And I don’t think Atlanta will put in the best offer for Beltran.

I don’t see any of these teams doing anything you haven’t already heard. For example, neither of these clubs is going to set the tone by adding starting pitching. And neither will fight Boston… Texas… San Francisco… in the battle for a bat if a bidding war breaks out.

Keep an eye on the Nationals for those surprise trades. If there is a dark horse at all to be created, the best teams to think about are Washington, Cleveland and Pittsburgh… because all three clubs could benefit from simply finishing the year with a winning record. (Which they all have a shot of accomplishing.) Of the three, the Nationals have shown the most willingness to spend some money and make some moves. And if they think that next year is the one where they will begin looking like a playoff contender (or at least a winning record), they might be willing to explore a difference-making trade with ramifications in future years. In part for 2011… more for 2012 and beyond. So we are talking about a young, under contract or team control player for this scenario. I’ve seen people saying Upton from Tampa as a possibility. Could be. But I think if Jimenez really is available… or Pence… you could see Washington bidding with the big boys.

Don’t believe the hype: Easy. The Mets.

They will get two draft picks for losing Jose Reyes. So while I think they’d be better off trading him if they aren’t going to keep him, they don’t lose him without something in return. (They are never offering arbitration to Beltran… even if they could… so absolutely he needs to get traded.)

That said… what the organization really needs is money. Think you can hear echoes at Citi Field now? Trade Reyes and tell me how many walk up sales they make in August and September.

But still in the playoff hunt? Absolutely not. They have a losing record with the two best teams in the league ahead of them.

What I expect: Philly to win the division and Atlanta preparing to face San Francisco as the wild card.

National League Central

Standings and observations:

Team Currently On pace for I predicted
Pittsburgh 52-47 85-77 63-99
St. Louis 53-48 85-77 88-74
Milwaukee 54-49 85-77 86-76
Cincinnati 50-51 80-82 82-80
Chicago 42-60 67-95 78-84
Houston 33-68 53-109 69-93

Here are two things to consider…

First, the longer you allow an underdog to hang around, the more dangerous the underdog becomes. The Pirates no longer have to stick with the Cardinals or Brewers or Reds for a full season. Now they only have to do it for two months. Could they get tired and falter? Sure. And I expect one of the three teams behind them will catch them. But people are feeling good about the Pirates right now… and that helps.

Second, if I told you to pick between Milwaukee, Cincinnati and St. Louis to win the division, who would you pick? Ok… now put them in second, third and fourth place, separated by a whopping three games with sixty to play.

Sixty games ago… when I did the 40-game review, which look at that equals a sixty game span of time… Pittsburgh was 5-games below even and Cincinnati was ahead by a game and a half.

This race truly is up for grabs.

Trade possibilities for the needy: Here is a division where the lack of available players can doom some clubs. Because one player could make a big difference.

In fact… the Brewers already made their trade for a reliever, bringing in Rodriguez from the Mets. (Effectively striking early before the Mets got into too many deadline conversations and had five or more additional games on Rodriguez’s option count.)

None of these clubs are in a position to outbid the names we all know if those teams really want a player. So don’t expect Beltran or Heath Bell to land in the NL Central.

That said… Houston and Chicago could be very active getting rid of players… and both will likely make more trades than anyone else in the division.

Don’t believe the hype: Not sure there’s a club here to pin that on. The Pirates have gone 34-24 since mid-May and our last check. 35 more wins just might be enough to hold on.

Let me toss this one in… would you believe the Brewers are the scariest of the four teams in the front of this division? They are 33-14 at home and 21-35 on the road. Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati are all sniffing around even for home and road records. The Brewers have played significantly more games on the road so far and have been fantastic at home. That’s either going to even out or be the huge advantage that separates the clubs at the end of the year.

What I expect: I expect Milwaukee to win this division. The combination of pitching (Grienke and Marcum) along with hitting/fielding (Fielder and Weeks and so on) just seems to give them the most balance right now. And… as just mentioned… they have a more home games from this point on.

Sure… I think St. Louis is ok. And you can’t discount their ability to bring solid hitters to the plate as well.

Could Pittsburgh win it? Umm… ok… they have been playing well in this middle chunk of the season. Thing is…

At the 40-game mark, I thought Florida was an interesting team to watch. They were playing well at home and on the road, and were winning lots of close games. It seemed a solid representation of how they were playing. Then they collapsed.

About a month later… heck, into July… Seattle was hovering in consideration territory. Then they tanked for over two weeks.

The point is… whether you expect it (Florida to play well) or not (Seattle to play well), the long season has a way of weeding out pretenders. And I don’t know if the Pirates are conditioned for the marathon.

National League West

Standings and observations:

Team Currently On pace for I predicted
San Francisco 59-43 94-68 90-72
Arizona 55-47 87-75 75-87
Colorado 48-54 76-86 87-75
Los Angeles 45-56 72-90 78-84
San Diego 44-58 70-92 72-90

Well… the Giants are doing it again.

Pitching and prayer.

And… home dominance (32-18 by the Bay) with road balance (27-25).

I don’t see much to question out here. The Giants are going to the playoffs… everyone except Arizona has bad marks in all three danger spots – (1) More games behind than weeks to go. (2) Under .500. (3) Even the corollaries don’t allow for consideration.

Trade possibilities for the needy: Expect the Giants to do something. They need a hitter… badly. Trouble is… many other teams are looking for hitting, and I don’t know if San Francisco will pay any premium prices. Beltran seems like a perfect fit.

San Diego is going to spend lots of time on the phone discussing pitchers they might be willing to trade, specifically relievers Bell and Adams.

With the exception of those two items… the Giants bringing in a player for the bench or to hit, and the Padres to trade at least one bullpen arm… I think most of these clubs will end up making very minor moves if they make any at all.

Don’t believe the hype: Arizona.

Ok… yes, they are playing decent baseball. And the 55-wins to date places them in the top four in the league so far. Plus… huge surge since the 40-game mark, where their record was worse than Pittsburgh’s. That said… gut instincts checked… keep in mind that the last time a team with numbers suggesting a losing record ended up making the playoffs, it was the Diamondbacks.

Here’s something funny… I was going to talk about San Francisco winning last year as a reason they might not go overboard to bring in a good player. Hey… they won it all. No need to get fleeced in a trade to bring in a big bat or such when you have a title. Obviously you make your moves when you can… and a championship is nothing to pass up. But getting ripped off or desperate is something else entirely. A team with a recent title doesn’t need to go crazy. Well… that may not be accurate. Because the playoffs this year appear to be loaded with recent champions.

Boston… Chicago (White Sox)… St. Louis… Boston… Philadelphia… New York (Spankees)… take a look at the roster of other champions since 2004. Now look at the division leaders… wild card teams… clubs with a shot… and rattle off the names of the annual big spenders. Suddenly all of them in some way fit the same description as San Francisco. Don’t count on them to act out of desperation… but any of them might step in and be willing to spend.

What I expect: San Francisco to win it… three teams with losing records.

And… I cannot tell you why… but this is actually where I expect Carlos Beltran to wind up. There is no particular reason for it. Philly or Boston or a couple of other clubs makes more sense. But I see the Giants pulling this off. Now… hold on, new paragraph…

San Francisco may end up being the most active National League team when it comes to trades. There are three reasons for this. (1) Great city, won it last year, and it means players will waive no trade clauses to head out to play for them. For example, based on names and no trade clauses rather than specific needs, as great as the story is, Carlos Beltran is not going to Pittsburgh. (2) They do have some prospects other teams like. One, Wheeler, is a pitcher they treasure… don’t want to give up… but might if the deal looks promising. (3) While I’m not saying it’s a huge amount, their current payroll combined with income from last year’s title does put them in a place where they could add dollars. Nice place to play… a team others are intrigued enough to deal with… dollars available… that’s nice math for a team that is going to win its division and is already focused on how to defeat the Phillies, Red Sox, Rangers and Yankees in the playoffs.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at