This is it, sports fans. The home stretch, the last gasp, the last month of the season. And you know what that means: it's war.
Of course, the preeminent authority on matters of war is Sun Tzu's Art of War:
Never will those who wage war tire of deception.
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The National League West just got a whole lot more interesting. Yesterday, the Dodgers announced the acquisition first of Jim Thome (from the White Sox) and then of John Garland (from the Diamondbacks). These buzzer-beating deals came just hours after the Giants announced they had acquired free agent Brad Penny. Around the same time, the Rockies announced they had acquired Jose Contreras from the White Sox.
While the Dodgers maintain a health 5.5 game lead in the NL West, the Giants and Rockies remain tied for the lead in the NL Wild Card race. Meanwhile, Atlanta (3 GB) and Florida (4 GB) nip at their heels. Atlanta gets a boost this evening in the form of a return to the mound by Tim Hudson, who had been recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Baseball Prospectus's Playoff Odds Report favors the Rockies to make the playoffs over the Giants by a heavy margin (58.4%-24.0%). Looking just at the chances of winning the wild card:
Rockies - 54.0%
Giants - 22.5%
Braves - 12.7%
Marlins - 2.2%
Of course, these odds don't include the impact of the new players. It remains to be seen how they might impact the race.
Personally, I think the Braves could pull pretty close in this race. Their pitching staff, led by Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens, is formidable (especially if Hudson proves effective). They have average position players or better in one of the corners (whichever one Matt Diaz plays), center field, third base, short stop, catcher, and arguably second base (depending on your view of Martin Prado). That's a very good team.
I'm a sucker for procedural rules and the productive use thereof. So my heart was warmed a little bit by this story about some waiver-wire warfare:
As part of the Billy Wagner deal, the Mets received a player to be named later, and the Red Sox FO had tried to move prospect Chris Carter through waivers to complete the deal. As noted above, every team in the AL gets to place a claim on him before the Mets get their shot, and the Yankees shrewdly did so.
Now, this isn't going to actually keep the trade from happening. Carter is a "player to be named later[,"] and he's a prospect. There's no reason the Mets would have brought him up this season anyhow, and so the trade will simply be consumated in the offseason. However, to keep from losing Carter for free, the Red Sox now have to pull him back, and he must remain on their 40-man roster for the remainder of the season.
As we saw yesterday, one less spot on the 40 man roster means a significant loss in playoff roster flexibility. It was a savvy move by the Yankees, who aren't usually known for their prowess on the waiver-wire. Boston currently enjoys a four game lead in the AL Wild Card, so this is one move that may end up hurting them in the end. Of course, there's always the possibility that Billy Wagner reinjures himself and the Red Sox could replace him with Chris Carter.
(The eagle-eyed among you may be wondering why I would suggest the Red Sox could replace a pitcher with a position player, contradicting what I wrote yesterday. A careful reader wrote to ask whether this was in fact the case, citing a 2007 article by Amalie Benjamin. Because the roster rules are not released to the public, I cannot be sure whether the rule was in fact changed in 2006, as it appears. However, I believe Benjamin may in fact be correct in stating that the position player/pitcher swap rule no longer applies.)
Sometimes, we know, warfare is worse than a zero-sum proposition. Even Matthew Broderick could convince a supercomputer that some types of war are guaranteed to be even worse than stalemates. But for baseball fans, what could be better than a massive tie, which would guarantee game upon game of free baseball?
Due, I'm sure, to popular demand, David Pinto has brought back his Massive Tie Scenario yet again this year:
The following results produce a three way tie for the NL East and NL West, with all six teams tied for the wild card.
The Marlins would have to go on an insane run, but there are other scenarios that would produce the same result, but would require the Dodgers to win many fewer games (because teams on this list play each other as well). Just know, a six way tie remains a possibility. Now that's a WOPR.
This is shaping up to be an exciting race in the National League Wild Card. Who are your favorites to win? Which team made the biggest addition in the last week?
Also, I would like to apologize to anyone for whom I may have ruined the ending to the feature film WarGames.