Office of the Commissioner, Exton, PA, August 6th, 2001. With a quiet deadline, GMs are sticking with their guns and marching into the playoff push with what they started with. Should some teams have been more active? Only time will tell, but here’s an outlook for the rest of the season by division.
East DivisionThe Hawks are proving last year’s playoff appearance wasn’t a fluke, and have fully stepped into the role of favorite in the East. A potent offense led by Carlos Lee supplemented by an unspectacularly solid rotation gives Holbrook the most wins in the AC after 110 games. Florida has also started to put the pieces together, and may have found their mojo at the right time. The Flamingos sit 3 1/2 games out of the Wild Card spot and 5 1/2 games out of the Division. Local beat writers chalk up recent success to a revamped coaching staff. Elsewhere in the East, the Brotherhood are teetering but with a -68 run differential and sitting +5 games above their Pythagorean record, they will most likely tail off. Pittsburgh is hoping to remain healthy and will work to build around ARod, a piece many teams inquired about before last week’s deadline.
Central DivisionHouston and New Orleans are in a tight battle for this division spot, as has been the case the last few seasons. There is one key difference in 2001, however, and that is the second place team owns the Wild Card spot at this point and is still the favorite to take it down. A once frightening Voodoo lineup is showing signs of age and wear and tear (see: Frank Thomas and Cliff Floyd), but still have the top to bottom pitching to compete every game. There are rumblings that manager Joe Torre may not be getting the most out of his squad, and could be on the hot seat if the Voodoo miss the playoffs. The 36ers have a scary rotation (which gets even more dangerous being led by Pudge behind the dish), leading the AC in many pitching categories. With San Antonio and Gobbler’s Knob out of contention looking towards 2002, we will probably see 2 teams in the playoffs representing the AC Central.
West DivisionYellowknife got off to a very hot start, but has since cooled down. A young rotation led by a bonafide ace in Halladay is feverishly trying to keep pace, and could be in the race until the very end. The Barrage and their league leading 104 home runs don’t seem to quite have a balanced attack to make a serious push down the stretch. Quite possibly the biggest surprise of the 2001 season is the fall of the Beavers, a team who is 5 for 6 in playoff appearances and is coming off of back to back 110+ win seasons. They currently sit at 55-56, and have some key injuries that could keep them from building any momentum down the stretch. Insiders will tell you they have waived the white flag on this season, but were put in a unique situation when Pedro Martinez used his no-trade clause to reject a move east to Philadelphia. Lastly, the Pranksters remain on top and are bearing down on how to bring home a third consecutive WCS Trophy. At this point, it doesn’t look like anyone in the West will be challenging them for their spot.
East DivisionThe East sports the two most complete rosters and two best records to this point in the 2001 season. Currently (and for most of the season) the Whitefish have been atop the division, while the Baseball Club is in white hot pursuit. NYC has the slight edge on pitching performance, while the Whitefish have been batting a stronger top to bottom lineup, but that’s really splitting hairs. The cross-town rivals will face off 10 more times in the final 50 games, and the entire country will be watching on the edge of their seats wondering who will come out on top (and who will win the Wild Card spot). Old Bridge and Charleston are still playing, too.
Central DivisionThe Otto Vons have taken control and finally ousted the Landsharks of their reign atop this division. They are built around speed, defense, and strong pitching and will be fun to watch down the stretch and into the playoffs. The Daredevils looked strong out of the gate, but a showing of 9-16 July has almost closed the door on contention in 2001. Having Bagwell on the DL until September won’t help their odds, either. Toledo always seems to be one or two pieces away from contention, and this year is playing out similarly. 39 year old Mitchell is still under contract for 2 more years – it will be interesting to see how the Troutheads manage him and their payroll until then. The Landsharks, while representing the basement in the Central, are not as bad as their record indicates. They are the team who has been hit worst with the dreaded injury bug, to the point where reserves are tapped out, and a less than stellar product has been taking the field. 2002 could easily be a bounce-back year for them.
West Division22 year old phenom Adrian Beltre already has 181 hits, and is on pace for 267. He is also on pace for 29 home runs, 31 stolen bases, 121 RBI’s and a WAR of 11.2. In a relatively weak division overall, his play alone has given the Stars separation from the pack. Supporting cast includes a great season from Bernard Gilkey. They will look to make some noise come playoff time, but might not be deep enough if one or two players go down. The rest of the division sits below .500, including an aging Phoenix, who will more than likely finally allow someone else to represent the West in the playoffs. The Ducks have a tough lineup, but don’t have the pitching staff in place to keep themselves in games. The Steelheads are pulling up the rear, and although they were not pegged for great things in 2001, their underwhelming performance is leading to a lot of discussion about the future of current manager Jose Lopez.
Post Season PredictionsElite Eight: Palo Alto over Houston 3-1
Elite Eight: New Orleans over Holbrook 3-0
Elite Eight: Coney Island over Hollywood 3-0
Elite Eight: New York City over Bismarck 3-2
Final Four: Palo Alto over New Orleans 4-1
Final Four: Coney Island over NYC 4-3
World Championship Series: Coney Island over Palo Alto 4-3