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Tom Verducci's View

Sept. 01, 2003
Sept. 01, 2003

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Sept. 1, 2003

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Tom Verducci's View

NOT THAT WILD

This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2003 issue

The wild card was designed to keep more teams involved in playoff
races, but the reality is that late-September rallies are rare.
Since the format began in 1995, none of the 64 playoff teams
started September more than 2 1/2 games out of a postseason
berth, including the wild card. Of those 64 postseason teams, 56
began September as a division or wild-card leader, an 87.5%
conversion rate.

Only eight teams in eight years reached the postseason after
starting September out of playoff position with a deficit. Here
are those teams, including the 1995 Mariners, who trailed the
wild-card-leading Royals by percentage points but made up 7 1/2
games on the Angels to win the American League West.

Year Team Deficit Leader

1995 Mariners - Royals*
1995 Yankees -2 Royals*
1996 Cardinals -2 1/2 Astros
1997 Giants -2 1/2 Dodgers
1998 Rangers -2 1/2 Angels
2000 Athletics -2 Indians*
2001 Cardinals -2 Cubs*
2002 Giants -1 Dodgers*

*wild card

CASHING IN

The Blue Jays called up Kevin Cash, 25, to handle the bulk of the
catching for the rest of the season and prepare him to be their
regular backstop in 2004. General manager J.P. Ricciardi sees
Cash as a solid defensive player who can hit 15 homers a year.
How unusual is that kind of production from a young catcher? At
week's end only two catchers who are younger than 29 had hit 10
or more homers this year: the Athletics' Ramon Hernandez and the
Devils Rays' Toby Hall. Cash and the Indians' Victor Martinez,
24, may be the next best hopes at the position until Twins
prospect Joe Mauer arrives.

BACK TO EARTH

The Angels jumped from 75 victories in 2001 to 99 wins and the
world championship last year mostly by raising their team batting
average from .261 (11th in the AL) to .282 (first in the league).
"Everything seemed to fall in for them last year," one AL scout
said in spring training this year. "No way it happens again."

With essentially the same cast--though DH-first baseman Brad
Fullmer, centerfielder Darin Erstad and third baseman Troy Glaus
have been injured--Anaheim was hitting .271 (seventh) through
Sunday. Of the 11 returning Angels who had played the most in
2003, all had hit worse this year except Fullmer, catcher Bengie
Molina and leftfielder Garret Anderson. In particular, infielder
Scott Spiezio (.258, down 27 points), Erstad (.252, down 31),
shortstop David Eckstein (.254, down 39) and second baseman Adam
Kennedy (.273, down 39) have been much worse. Anaheim is in
danger of joining the 1998 Marlins to become only the second team
to finish last the year after winning the World Series.

SHORT HOPS

One American League executive gives Seattle the edge over the
Yankees as the best team in the league. "New York has a slight
edge in starting pitching, but Seattle's bullpen is better--hands
down," the executive says. "[Derek] Jeter is not the same at
shortstop because of the [shoulder] injury. He can't reach balls
to his left that he should get." ... More evidence that managers
don't get optimum use out of their best pitcher: Braves skipper
Bobby Cox lost three straight games to the Giants last week in
the last at bat without ever using his closer, John Smoltz. He
lost with Ray King, Kevin Gryboski and Trey Hodges on the mound.
In fact, Smoltz went eight days between appearances.... Nice to
see the A's plan to retire Reggie Jackson's number 9, but the
franchise has been delinquent in honoring Hall of Famers from its
Philadelphia roots, especially Lefty Grove (10), Al Simmons (7)
and Jimmie Foxx (3).... Randy Johnson (3-6) and Barry Zito
(10-11) could become the third set of starting pitchers to post
losing records the year after winning the Cy Young Award in their
respective leagues, joining Steve Carlton and Pete Vuckovich in
1982 and '83 and Mike McCormick and Jim Lonborg in 1967 and '68.
Vuckovich, who was 0-2 in 1983, is the only pitcher to go from Cy
Young winner to winless.

Read Tom Verducci's Inside Baseball column every week at
si.com/baseball.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (SANTIAGO) Benito SantiagoCOLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES (CASH) CashCOLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO (KENNEDY) Kennedy