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Baseball's Second Half Flops
by Al McMordie - 07/03/2005
Youâ€™ll notice that in baseball the Wild Card entry has won the last three World Series. Thatâ€™s the Angels, Marlins and Red Sox. None were the favorite to win, of course, but all three had to play like gangbusters down the stretch to squeeze into the playoffs. All those teams had players that said something similar: â€œItâ€™s good to be pressed to make the playoffs, because it helps in October.â€쳌 They felt it was better to have to win late in the season, rather than have a big lead in September and coast into the postseason.
The point is that just because a manager can rest players in September doesnâ€™t mean that his team will have an edge in the postseason. And, conversely, just because a team has to go down to the wire to clinch doesnâ€™t mean that they might be burned out in October. We are starting the second half of the baseball season. A year ago at this juncture the Oakland Aâ€™s were 46-34 and primed to either win the division or secure a Wild Card spot, just like the previous season. They went 45-37 after that, which isnâ€™t bad, but 91 wins didnâ€™t cut it, either, and the A's lost out to the Angels and Red Sox.
As bad a season as theyâ€™re having now, it might surprise you to know that a year ago the Cincinnati Reds had a strong first half of the season with a 44-37 record. But they fell apart in the second half, due to poor pitching. Thatâ€™s the key, really, regarding consistent play in the second half of the season: Pitching. The Aâ€™s won 91 games because they had terrific starting pitching, while the Reds flopped miserably with little in the way of quality arms in 2004. If you examine the teams that are in contention now, take a look at their pitching depth, both starting and relieving. Do they have more than one consistent starter? Or, at the very least, a deep, versatile bullpen? That was the key to the Angelsâ€™ success in 2002. As for having more than one strong starter, the Twins certainly do, as do the White Sox and Red Sox. And in the National League, the Marlins certainly do.
Thatâ€™s also a huge plus with the Cardinals this season. In 2004, the eventual NL Champs had brilliant defense, a monster offensive lineup and a deep pen. The one thing they lacked was strong starting pitching. Tony LaRussa was able to mask that deficiency because of a deep pen and the teamâ€™s terrific defensive play in the field. But this offseason the Cards went out and got ace lefty Mark Mulder, which hugely upgrades this already strong team. The loss of Chris Carpenter in last yearâ€™s postseason was a big blow, too, as he really was their ace. Barring injury, the Cards have two aces this season, which will be huge in the second half â€“ and beyond. There have been several surprise teams in baseball this season, and itâ€™s going to be interesting to see if they have strong second half finishes, or if they fold. So get a jump on predicting which teams might rise and which might fall after the All-Star Break, and check out the starting pitching staffs. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.