Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back From The Break, Five Things To Watch For

So the All-Star Break is coming to an end (after three long days) and i've finally mustered up the motivation to do some writing.

Thursday happens to be a light day (a soft launch if you will).....the only game being nationally televised is:

1-Dodgers vs. Cardinals MLB Network
Kershaw vs. Carpenter
Interest Level: 8

This is a pretty solid match-up to start off the second half and the beginning of things to come. First of all, there is the factor of this being a rematch of last years NLDS. Also, both teams come into this game with legitimate playoff hopes as the Dodgers are 2 games behind the Padres for the west and tied for the Rockies in the Wild Card race. The Cardinals are in decent contending position as well as they sit only 1 game back of the Reds in the Central.

Also, the pitching match-up is nothing to scoff at either. The Dodgers are starting Clayton Kershaw who in my opinion, is one of the under-rated young pitchers in the game. He barely turned 22 before the season started, he's capable of dominating at times, piling up high strikeout numbers (he leads the NL in SO/9) and has improved on his one weakness control (going from 4.8 BB/9 to 4 BB/9 from last year to this). In other words, once Kershaw gets his walk totals a little lower, he is bound to have his name in the discussion of young ace pitchers that has been dominated by Strasburg (despite the disadvantage of playing on the West Coast).

The Cardinals are countering with Chris Carpenter. While Carpenter obviously isn't as young as Kershaw, the last couple of years have proven he can still pitch. He nearly won the Cy Young last year and has followed it up with a strong 2010. This game also includes a conflict of interest element. Obviously, a Dodgers win over the Cardinals would help the Brewers increase their 1% chance of making the playoffs (albeit slightly) while a rough outing by Carpenter would hurt my fantasy team that is in the midst of a season high 3-game losing streak. Either way, expect this to be a close, low-scoring game

Other things that pique my interest:

2- How will the Brewers start the second half?

While the Brewers may have embarrassed themselves against the Giants, they still managed to sweep the Pirates last weekend giving them a 3 game winning streak and get themselves within single figures in the Games Back column. The Brewers have Dave Bush taking the hill. This may not guarantee victory (as indicated by a 4-6 record) but it at least means that more likely than not, the Brewers will at least have a chance to extend their winning streak to 4 as he held the opposing team to 3 ER or less in 14 of his 17 first-half starts.

3- How will the Gonzales/Escobar trade affect the Braves?

We will begin to find out starting with their game against the Brewers. Personally, i'm not sold on it being as positive of an impact as the Braves are hoping. Sure, Gonzales went on a tear in the first half and hit a bunch of homers. Personally, it's more he had an extended hot streak than Gonzales turning a corner (at 33 and with a .296 OBP). The Blue Jays were smart enough to sell high on Gonzales while the Blue Jays were able buy-low to pick up a younger, talented but struggling Yunel Escobar (who's younger (27) has a better OBP than Gonzales ( he's getting on base more often in his worst year than Gonzales has in his best year) and he also happened to be 10th the NL in Wins Above Replacement last year while Gonzales has never had an OPS+ over 100 in a full season.

My take, i'm not convinced the Braves upgraded themselves going from Gonzales to Escobar and there is a fair possibility that they may regret this trade a few years down the line.

4- How long can R.A. Dickey keep this up?

If you would have told me on opening day that R.A. Dickey would have been the Mets best pitcher in the first half and asked me how many games out of first they would be, I would have said 20. However, R.A. Dickey has been a major factor in the Mets having a legit shot at the playoffs. In terms of the NL East race, a major factor for the Mets being a player will hinge on whether Dickey reverts to the journeyman pitcher he was through his age-34 year or if he's made a permanent breakthrough with the knuckle ball that will keep him effective into his 40s.
We'll begin to find out tomorrow as he goes up against Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants.

5- Is this the 3rd straight year the AL Central gets decided in a one-game playoff?

The reason I ask this question is the Twins and White Sox get started in a crucial 4-game series coming up this weekend. In 08 it was White Sox over Twins, last year it was Twins over Tigers. Leads me to think about a couple of weird scenarios. Scenario #1 being that neither team wins it as it would be the Tigers turn to win the AL Central via a one-game playoff. Scenario #2 being an unprecedented 3-way tie that leads to a 3 team round-robin playoff. Considering that gives all 3 teams at least a 25% chance but none of them have a 50% chance to make the playoffs.

My prediction, with pitcher Jake Peavy out for the year, the White Sox eventually take the AL Central via the Ewing Theory.

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