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Sizing Up The Pennant Races

   by ASA - 08/01/2007

The trade deadline has come and gone and numerous moves were made despite what was being forecasted as a slow trading period. It was your typical trade deadline with most moves involving non-contenders trading their assets to actual contenders.

While most of these trades won’t have a direct influence on the outcome of the pennant races, some will definitely change the landscape of the postseason picture. With most rosters now set for the stretch run, let’s take a look at each division and how the deadline deals will impact the postseason.

AL Central
The AL Central was predicted to be the deepest division in baseball at the outset of the season but it has now become a two-team race between Detroit and Cleveland. The Tigers currently lead the Indians by one game in the standings and also face a much more favorable schedule the rest of the way. Detroit plays 34 of its final 56 games at home while Cleveland plays just 23 of its final 56 games at Jacobs Field. The saving grace for the Indians is that five of the eight remaining meetings between these two squads will be played in Cleveland.

Deadline Deals: Not much was done by the AL Central to bolster the current rosters as Minnesota, Chicago and Kansas City were all sellers. Cleveland acquired the well-traveled Kenny Lofton, whose 2007 numbers prove he has still has some gas left in those 40-year-old legs. Lofton will provide solid outfield depth but won’t be a major difference maker.

AL East
Boston has owned a substantial lead in the AL East for a majority of the season and doesn’t appear to be giving it up any time soon. The Red Sox own an eight-game lead over the rival Yankees with neither team boasting a considerable advantage in remaining schedule. Boston plays 27 of its final 56 games at home while New York plays 28 of its final 56 at home, with the final six meetings split between locations. The Yankees need everything to fall their way if they are to make up this seemingly insurmountable gap. A seven-game road trip through Detroit and Los Angeles in late August could act as the nail through the Yankee coffin.

Deadline Deals: The Red Sox solidified their hold on the AL East lead with the acquisition of reliever Eric Gagne. Gagne, who is baseball’s all-time leader in saves percentage, will take over the set-up role in Boston. The combination of Gagne and closer Jonathan Papelbon gives Boston a dominating back end of the bullpen that could conceivably end the game after the seventh inning. New York’s addition of utility infielder Wilson Betemit will do nothing to put a dent in Boston’s lead.

AL West
The Mariners have been one of the bigger surprises in baseball this season but they may not have the experience to catch the savvy Angels down the stretch. Los Angeles and Seattle have been the two best home teams in the American League this season. Neither squad boasts a significant advantage on the schedule in terms of home/away splits, though, with the eight remaining contests between the teams split between cities. Los Angeles features a roster full of players with postseason experience, which could be the deciding factor over the final two months, something Seattle can’t match.

Deadline Deals: Texas was the big seller of the trade deadline with the swapping of Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton for prospects. The division-leading Angels made inquiries into Teixeira but didn’t have the parts to make it work.

NL Central
Not much was expected of the NL Central coming into the season but the late-season battle between the Brewers and Cubs shapes up to be one of the better storylines from here on out. The outcome of this Midwest slugfest could come down to which team plays better in certain locales. Milwaukee is a major league-best 36-17 at home but is just 21-32 on the road, where 29 of Milwaukee’s remaining 56 games will be. Chicago has been much better than the Brewers away from home at four games over .500 but hasn’t come close to matching Milwaukee’s results at home, where the Cubs are just 27-25.

Deadline Deals: The Brewers provided their overworked bullpen some aid with the acquisition of Scott Linebrink but he’s no better than a fourth reliever in the Milwaukee bullpen.

NL East
Many baseball experts anticipated the Mets would not only run away with the NL East but the National League as well. New York has failed to meet those expectations, which has made the race for the division crown closer than expected. Philadelphia’s current 9-1 run has brought it to within three games of the Mets while Atlanta has stayed afloat long enough to remain just 4.5 games back. Injuries – namely Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Freddy Garcia and Ryan Madson – could hinder Philly’s playoff push while a tough remaining schedule could be Atlanta’s undoing. The Braves play both New York and Philadelphia nine times down the stretch but only six of those combined 18 games will be played in Atlanta.

Deadline Deals: The Braves were the big winner at the trade deadline with the additions of Teixeira and reliever Octavio Dotel. Teixeira will immediately be slotted in the cleanup spot in what has become an extremely dangerous Atlanta lineup. He’ll provide a combination of offense and defense that is met by few other first basemen in baseball. Dotel looked solid in Kansas City and will join closer Bob Wickman and Rafael Soriano to form a solid bullpen trio. Philadelphia didn’t match Atlanta’s big name acquisitions but second baseman Tadahito Iguchi and starter Kyle Lohse should provide able replacements for the injured Utley and Garcia.

NL West
The top of the NL West standings is the most crowded of any division in baseball with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks tied at the top and the Padres just a half-game behind. Arizona is playing the best baseball of the three teams right now with wins in eight of its last 10 games while both Los Angeles and San Diego are just 3-7 in their last 10. The Diamondbacks are by far the least experienced of the three, though, and probably won’t be able to maintain their current pace. All three teams have more road than home games remaining, which doesn’t bode well for an Arizona team that has struggled away from home. The Dodger and Padre pitching staffs are too good not to keep both teams in the hunt for the division crown.

Deadline Deals: Aside from three minor deals by San Diego, the NL West stayed pretty quiet at the deadline. Utility man Rob Mackowiak will help all over the diamond for the Padres while former All-Star Morgan Ensberg could rebound from an awful last two seasons with a change of scenery.

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