Concerns for contenders as regular season winds down
No team is perfect, not even the ones that are headed for October or still have a very real chance to get there. Here are the concerns, questions and issues surrounding baseball's postseason contenders:
The Yankees remain the World Series favorite but after
The "bridge to Mariano'' is another issue for the Yankees, according to one AL scout, referring to the relievers who come before closer extraordinaire
Amazingly, the Rays have had one or no hits in five games this season, the most such games by any team since 1920. It's hard to believe they've had so many low-hit teams with a lineup that looks nothing but solid.
Offensively, they have had off years from several players, including
Despite that, the Rays have managed to hang with the Yankees all year and are now just one-half game behind New York in the David-and-Goliath race, an indication of how good the other facets of their game are. Their pitching is generally excellent, but if there's a concern, according to one AL scout, it should be over talented right-handed starter
The Twins, which are the only team to have already clinched a postseason berth, have done an incredible job this year considering all their injuries. And they are still dealing with sub-par health for their two biggest stars.
"It just comes down to how healthy they are," one AL scout said. "You can't count on Morneau. And [outfielder
The Twins have a poor playoff history against the Yankees -- they've lost all three postseason series they've played against New York, including last year's sweep in the ALDS -- and will need to have at least Mauer to have a realistic hope at winning their first World Series since 1991. That's what you'd think, anyway. But the Twins have surprised folks all year.
The Rangers are another team with a weak postseason series history vs. the Yankees, having lost their last nine October dates against New York. However, a three-game sweep over the Yankees in Texas two weeks ago aided their confidence.
Riding a 10-game winning streak and cruising toward their fourth straight NL East title, it almost seems like the Phillies have no issues lately. But they do have a couple of concerns. One is
Another concern is their bullpen, which isn't as bad as folks think but ranks eighth in the NL with a 3.97 ERA. Although as one NL scout said, "They don't need much bullpen depth when they get seven innings from their starters.''
Their starting rotation "doesn't stack up to the Phillies,'' one NL scout said. Well, that's really not such an insult. And if the Braves make the playoffs, they won't have to face the Phillies in the first round, anyway. The loss of
The biggest question about the Reds may be their experience, as only seven players have ever been in the postseason (the one with the most experience,
Their starting rotation has the vaunted one-two punch of
Their offense has been bolstered with several second-half additions but still isn't great. Their 649 runs rank them 18th in baseball. Among all their many relative newcomers,
They are a young team on a deep slide, having lost 18 of their past 27 games, and that has to take a psychological toll. Their starting rotation, while solid, is "soft,'' according to one NL scout.
And their offense, long an issue, took a hit with the loss of
The biggest issue at this point is that they are running short on time. They carry a four-game losing streak into a crucial weekend series against the Giants in Denver, and they need to turn things around immediately. With a 3 1/2 game deficit and two teams to chase in the NL West, they need to get as hot as they were in early September, when they won 10-in a row at one point, to have a chance at their first division title.
And while they've played very well overall this month, there are still a couple pitching issues.
• The Yankees will likely be most focused on
• It was curious to see Nationals president