From the Stands
#1 – The Houston Astros are currently 18.5 games out of first place in the NL Central. This team of aging veterans was put together to win immediately and it just isn’t happening. The off-season additions of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were supposed to propel this team into the postseason. Now the Astros look to be in their worst shape all year.
While the Astros looked to improve mightily with the mid-season acquisition of Carlos Beltran, the team has continued to flounder in baseball’s toughest division. Incapable of catching up with the Cardinals and with the consistent Andy Pettitte on the bench most of the year due to injuries, the Astros haven’t been able to put together a string of wins. A managerial change after the All Star break that saw Phil Garner replace the ineffective Jimy Willliams has not changed anything either.
With Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent, Brad Ausmus, Jose Vizcaino all in their late thirties and Roger Clemens in his early forties, the Astros will occupy the NL Central’s basement for the next few years. Good luck resigning Carlos Beltran.
#2 – The Philadelphia Phillies are in turmoil. Expected to walk away with the NL East, they now stand six games behind the Braves and three and a half out of the wildcard. Led by the erratic (and sometimes irrational) Larry Bowa, this team should be comfortably ahead of everyone in their division. Upper management didn’t spend $93 million to finish in second place and out of the playoff picture.
Bowa’s pitching staff of Eric Milton, Kevin Millwood and Randy Wolf is keeping the games close but the team is choking in late innings. And while the lineup of Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu and Jimmy Rollins is strong, the team is simply not winning the close one-run ball games.
Losing ground to the Braves everyday, the Phillies have also lost the services of outfielder Pat Burrell and staff ace Millwood for the season. Star closer Billy Wagner has not been healthy or consistent all year either.
As most Philadelphia sports reporters and fans grow to dislike Bowa every day, the Phillies skipper is likely to be fired before October. As one of the most divisive people in baseball some have even accused him of running superstar Scott Rolen out of Philadelphia a few years ago. Losing a player of that caliber is unacceptable.
#3 – Things looked promising for the Arizona Diamondbacks in spring training this year. Richie Sexson and Luis Gonzalez were healthy, Brandon Webb looked to become a quality starter and there was no drama regarding Randy Johnson.
All of that changed as the season evolved: slugger Sexson was injured in early May and declared out for the season, Gonzalez was further implicated in the BALCO steroid scandal, and Webb and Johnson received no run support. Trade rumors about Randy Johnson then began to circulate around Bank One Ballpark. Ultimately nothing happened, but all the commotion plunged the team further into crisis.
In July, CEO and team founder Jerry Colangelo agreed to step down from his duties. Curiously enough, player agent Jeff Moorad, who represents dozens of baseball players, took his place. Finishing last season at 84-78, the 2004 Diamondbacks are more than 33 games out of first place and have a .305 winning percentage. Diamondbacks faithful can only hope that Moorad will right the ship.
#4 – With a $78 million payroll and a 93-69 record last season, the Seattle Mariners were expected to compete in the AL West. That didn’t happen.
Currently 27 games below .500, the team just lost closer “Steady” Eddie Guardado for the season. Mariners mainstay Edgar Martinez also just announced his retirement after 22 years of playing for the same team.
Indications show that team is focusing youth and are resigned to losing this season and the next. Expect the Mariners to compete in 2006.
#5 – The Chicago Cubs will probably make the postseason as the NL wildcard but they are really under performing. With one of the best pitching staffs assembled in recent memory and a $91 million payroll, the Cubs ought to be neck and neck with the Cardinals in the NL Central. They currently stand 12 ½ games out of their division and lead the NL wildcard by two games.
Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Matt Clement, Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano would gladly be accepted on any pitching staff in the league and with Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs have a potent lineup. Why they aren’t competing at the highest level is anyone’s guess. If the Cubs make the playoffs Dusty Baker will hope Steve Bartman isn’t in Wrigley Field for any of the games.
#6 – Did the Toronto Blue Jays overachieve last year with an 86-76 record? Probably. Did last year’s Cy Young winner Roy Halladay have a career year last season? Perhaps. Does that not give them an excuse to be eighteen games under .500 in the middle of August? No.
Toronto fired manager Carlos Tosca last week and is eagerly anticipating the offseason. Incapable of trading the slumping but potent Carlos Delgado, the team is in the process of rebuilding and is looking forward to when he is no longer on the payroll. Set to occupy the basement of the AL East for the next few seasons, the Blue Jays stand essentially no chance against the Yankees, Red Sox and the improving Devil Rays.
#7 – At the beginning of the season, the Baltimore Orioles looked to be one of the most improved teams in baseball. Signing RBI’s machines Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez, Camden Yards was expected to be buzzing this time of year.
Four games under .500, Lee Mazzilli knew it would be difficult against the Yankees and Red Sox, but did not expect to be so far out of contention. The former Yankees first base coach hopes to get to .500 this year and if the team catches a few breaks, they will.