Hardcore Diamond Talk: Managerial madness and analyzing the division races

By Andy Roth
Contributing Editor

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    New York, NY (Sports Network) - I thought it was time to mention one of my favorite and most frequently used baseball terms. It's called the "managerial muff". This applies to situations where major league managers make mind- boggling and extremely stupid decisions that make you shake your head in disbelief.

    Such is the case with the recent lineups of Angels manager Mike Scioscia. I always thought that your power guys were supposed to bat in the middle of the lineup, but Scioscia doesn't seem to subscribe to that theory,

    Unless he's picking his lineups out of a hat, how do you have Maicer Izturis (,249 BA, .312 OBP, .368 SLG) batting as high as third in the order and as many as four spots ahead of Mike Napoli (19 HR, .481 SLG), the Angels' leading home run hitter who's also second on the team in slugging percentage.

    The biggest bonehead move came on Sunday against Toronto's talented lefty Ricky Romero. Scioscia batted the switch-hitting Izturis ahead of Napoli despite some statistics that suggest the move exhibits a blatant lack of judgment.

    Here are the pertinent numbers for both players versus lefty pitchers this season, ones that the Angels manager may have wanted to take into consideration in constructing his lineup for the game.

    Izturis .250 BA/.333 SLG, Napoli .343 BA/.636 SLG

    Sure enough, Napoli homered off Romero for the Angels' lone run while Izturis went 0-3. At least Scioscia doesn't have to worry about these blunders affecting the division race, with the Angels 8 1/2 games back (10 in the loss column) of the first-place Rangers.

    The AL West is the only division that's not up for grabs. Let's break down how the rest of the races are shaping up.

    AL East: I thought after the All Star break the Yankees would have a more comfortable lead over the Rays at this point, but Tampa refuses to go away, sitting just one game back of the first-place Bronx Bombers.

    The Yanks took a big hit when they lost their second-best starter, Andy Pettitte, to a groin injury on July 18, and are still unsure when he'll return. They also haven't been helped by the up-and-down performances of last year's number two starter AJ Burnett (9-10, 4.66 ERA), and Javier Vazquez is starting to trot out his disappearing act again (6.43 ERA over his last five starts).

    The Rays, meanwhile, have had to deal with even more injuries, with two of their starting pitchers currently on the DL (Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis) along with their top home run hitter, Carlos Pena. One of the holes in the rotation has been filled extremely well by rookie Jeremy Hellickson. The 23-year old righty has been tremendous in all three of his starts, putting up a 3-0 mark with a 1.35 ERA, 0.60 WHIP and an amazing .135 batting-average-against.

    I think this race will go down to the wire with the Yankees having a slight edge because of the better lineup. However, one caveat is that if Pettitte comes back and doesn't return to form, I like the Rays to come out on top.

    By the way, for the Fenway Faithful, your team hasn't been mentioned here because you have only two reliable starting pitchers and a very unreliable closer.

    AL Central: The White Sox were able to make the long climb back into the race on the strength of their starting rotation. They'll have to continue to pitch at a high level to win the division because their offense is not in the Twins' league.

    I didn't think Minnesota's rotation was good enough to keep them in contention despite having the far superior lineup, but that's changed with the emergence of Brian Duensing. Since becoming a starter on July 28, he's gone 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Overall, he's 6-1 with a 2.00 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP.

    The other area that will play a key role in the race is the bullpen. Closer Bobby Jenks, who is suffering from back spasms, has made manager Ozzie Guillen suffer way too much this season with his 4.97 ERA. Set-up man JJ Putz was moved into the injured Jenks' role and proceeded to lose consecutive games to the Tigers on Saturday and Sunday. The Twins, meanwhile, strengthened their pen by acquiring All-Star closer Matt Capps from the Nationals before the trade deadline. He's allowed just one earned run in nine games since the deal.

    Minnesota currently holds a three-game lead over the Sox. I think they have enough starting pitching to go along with their edge both offensively and in the bullpen to be able to repeat as Central Division champs.

    NL East: The Phillies have stayed within striking distance of the first-place Braves despite the absence of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. They hope to have Utley back in the lineup on Tuesday and Howard later in the week.

    During their absence the Phils made a huge addition to their rotation with the acquisition of Roy Oswalt. The former Houston ace now gives Philadelphia a strong trio joining Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.

    While the Phillies bolstered their staff with the Oswalt trade, the Braves suffered a big loss when Kris Medlen (6-2, 3.98 ERA) went down with a season- ending elbow injury that will require Tommy John surgery. Six days later, Chipper Jones was lost for the rest of the year with a torn ACL.

    With Philadelphia getting healthy and Atlanta losing two key players, you have to like the Phillies' chances to win a fourth straight division title.

    NL Central: The Reds have the better lineup and the Cardinals the superior pitching. St. Louis has three pitchers in the top ten in ERA with Adam Wainwright ranking first, Jamie Garcia seventh and Chris Carpenter ninth. The Reds have two question marks in their rotation with rookie Mike Leake struggling and fifth starter Aaron Harang on the DL, but the latter will eventually return to the mound with his 5.02 ERA.

    The Cardinals lineup got weaker with the trade of Ryan Ludwick, but I have to go with the team that possesses those two horses at the top of the rotation (Carpenter and Wainwright) to come out on top.

    NL West: The Giants have the household names on their staff, but the Padres lead the National League in ERA. San Francisco also has the two-time Cy Young winner in Tim Lincecum, but it's the Padres' 22-year old Mat Latos (12-5, 2.32 ERA) who has been the best starter among these two division contenders. Lincecum is actually looking mortal this season and is really struggling lately, going 3-5 with a 4.88 ERA over his last ten starts.

    I thought if the Padres could add some pop to their lineup at the trade deadline, they would be the team to beat in the West, and they did just that by acquiring the aforementioned Ludwick. He's paid immediate dividends, with three home runs and seven RBI in his first 13 games with San Diego.

    With enough offense to support a solid rotation and one of the game's best bullpens, the Padres should be able to stay on top the rest of the way.

    Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.

    Copyright 2010

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