So the Rockies, with their dreadful pitching, aren't going to make the sort of run they made last year. What do we have to look forward to instead in the last few days of the season? I and many others have been pinning my hopes on the Rays and Brewers, two teams in similar if not direr financial circumstances than the Rockies who both look to contend the old-fashioned way, building through the farm system. Arizona, Colorado's nearest rival, has already collapsed and Milwaukee is on the brink of following them.
It would be great for Fox, but not for baseball, if the National League playoff teams ended up being Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. If I'm not mistaken, those are the four biggest markets in the league -- maybe Houston is bigger than Philly, I dunno. The AL meanwhile could be Chicago, Boston, Anaheim... and Tampa Bay. If the Rays are the only team with a sub-$100 million payroll to make it, it doesn't bode well for the Rockies' near future.
St. Petersburg isn't in any immediate danger of missing the playoffs, as the Brewers are, but it would be psychologically damaging if they fell from leading the AL East all year to the wild card. I know the Rockies are still a bit neurotic about never having won the NL West. In addition, if the Rays got edged out for the division by Boston, it would mean that they would play a tough Angels team in the first round rather than a weaker Chicago or Minnesota club. For Boston's part, I'm surprised that they're even putting this much effort into chasing down the Rays -- they match up with the Angels perfectly and have a lot of recent beatdown history on their side. But there has to be some sense there of keeping the upstarts down. The Rays' young pitchers are theirs for a while (and they have more coming), and it couldn't hurt Boston's efforts to keep the established order in place going forward if they dismiss the challengers right here and right now. You get the feeling MLB wants the Rays to make the playoffs, so they have a good story to point to -- and then get the heck out of the way and let the money teams play for the title.
As for Milwaukee, it's sad to see what they've been through before happening again. They got out to a fast, headline-producing start in 2005 and just managed to hang on to clinch a .500 record. I think since then that management there has had the impression that their core is locked in, and all that's needed is complementary players to get them to the playoffs and a championship. I suspect the Rockies are now pursuing the same folly. As Tampa Bay has proved, you have to keep bringing in potential stars to avoid smacking into the glass ceiling. At the end of the season as attrition wears away at the everyday guys, it helps to have talented guys from the minors and other teams' systems nipping at their heels to get playing time and help the club win. I don't like Milwaukee's bench so much, and I wonder if they've taken the throttle back in terms of aggressively pursuing minor leaguers who are future big-league stars.
Whom do I like at this point? Hard to say. The Angels seem a trendy pick but they've been disappointments in the postseason the last few years. They also have to overcome the obstacle of the Red Sox, who really seem to have their number. No one's much discussed the effect that shortening Tampa's rotation will have on that team -- they're really stacked there and their lower-rung starters are young and flexible enough to contribute as long relievers. Boston is a safe choice. They seem to win World Series championships all the time there now, weirdly. I can't even fathom the idea of picking the Cubs, even to win the National League, given the burden of all that history, but then again it's hard to see what makes them different from Boston. If all it took for the Red Sox was committed ownership and competent management, why not the Cubs?
Because there's always something else with the Cubs, that's why. They'll blow it somehow.