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spring training in september

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the dodgers gained a split in the nl west showdown last night in incredible fashion. trailing 9-5 in the 9th, they rallied for 4 off the difficult san diego bullpen, plating the last two runs off trevor hoffman, who blew his 5th save of the year (and 4th since the all-star break --- not counting the all-star game itself). the padres went ahead in the 10th with a run off aaron sele, but lofton singled leading off the bottom half and then nomah whacked one over the wall. los angeles 11, san diego 10. so things now stand right where they did last friday morning: the teams are tied in the loss column, with la having banked one additional win to give them a half-game lead.

in the wild-card race, the padres still hold a 2-game lead in the loss column over the phillies, who lost yesterday 11-6. if the phillies should happen to come back and win the wild card, the cardinals very well might play them in the 1st round, with the mets playing the nl west winner. that might be an unfortunate draw for st louis, insofar as philadelphia has 3 left-handed pitchers in its rotation (wolf moyers and hamels) and three potent left-handed power hitters (howard delluci and utley). st louis hosts the padres in the final week of the season, by which time the cardinals probably will have clinched the division -- and they'll have the ability to influence which of the three contendahs (la / sd / pha) they end up playing in the nlds. if st louis beats up the padres next week it will promote la's division-title chances, which is good -- the dodgers pose the fewest matchup problems for the cards and would be the most desirable opponent among these three teams. but at the very same time, beating the padres would help the phillies catch up in the wild-card race -- and thus might precipitate a st louis - philadelphia nlds.

maybe the cards should just concentrate on controlling what they can --- ie, finish with the league's 2d-best record (they have a 2-game edge over la/sd in the loss column), which would ensure home-field advantage in round 1. . . . . but wait; that won't necessarily help against philadelphia or san diego, both of whom play better on the road than at home.

maybe it would be best if all three games vs san diego just get rained out.

i'd give anthony reyes a solid B for his effort last night. he met both of my pregame criteria for success, viz:

  1. his fastball regained its life, hitting 91-92 all evening according to the milwaukee broadcast's gun.
  2. he located that pitch well for the most part --- quality strikes in all four sectors of the strike zone. kept it out of the middle of the plate, only got hurt on the pitch twice -- graffanino's double in the 1st, and gwynn's triple in the 5th.
i thought reyes gathered himself extremely well in that 1st inning, rallying to get prince fielder after falling behind 3-0 in the wake of graffo's double. he pitched to his strengths, ie away from contact, and got the intended results -- barely half the batters he faced (12 of 22) managed to put a batted ball into fair territory against him. the brewers required 44 swings to muster those 12 balls in play; the other 32 hacks results in misses (14) or foul balls (18). a short outing, as per usual with this pitcher; but also as per usual, he gave the team a reasonable chance to win the game (his game score was a very solid 58) and they would have done just that if not for some woeful missed opportunities early on.

trying to guess where he now stands in terms of the playoff rotation is nearly as uncertain as trying to guess who the cardinals will be playing in the 1st round of the playoffs. the brass are noncommittal; believe it or not, i think that's a fair and justifiable position. so let's just leave it at this: reyes has two more starts -- saturday at houston, and a week from thursday at home vs these same brewers -- to prove that he merits an october assignment.

go get em, kid.

here's a bullpen-usage quibble: why burn flores for one batter in the 6th inning with the cards already trailing 2-0? hancock, who is nearly as good vs left-handers as the LOOGies, was warm and ready, and indeed came in after flores' one-batter appearance -- so why not just bring him in in the first place and hold a pitcher in reserve? flores provided no marginal value over hancock in that situation, particularly in such a low-leverage situation. given the expanded september rosters maybe it doesn't matter; they still had narveson available for a left-left matchup if necessary. maybe jenkins was the specific hitter tony wanted to test flores against, so he brought him in -- almost as if it were a spring training tuneup appearance. which, in a sense, it was. yes the games still have to be won and the division secured, but if tony hand-picks matchups for his relievers with an eye more toward playoff preparation than toward the game situation, i have no complaint.

i'm not saying that's what tony did last night, by the way; just postulating one possible explanation for why he chose that pitcher in that situation.

welcome to the post-izzy era.

other items of note in that regard: seems like sosa may have pitched himself off the playoff roster. since his two-homer meltdown vs the dbacks 8 days ago, he has appeared just once -- a 9th-inning mopup stint with the cards losing 5-0 vs the astros. i think it's significant that tony chose brad thompson, not sosa, last night to preserve the tie in the bottom of the 7th, after st louis rallied -- and i think it was a rational call. in the 1st two weeks of september, sosa yielded 5 homers and 11 runs in a 5.1-inning span . . . . . as for thompson, last night was his first appearance in a non-mopup situation since his demotion in july; he held the tie and gained some credit. he's part of a three-man (at least) scramble for the back end of the playoff bullpen. five of the seven relief jobs are already filled: wainwright, looper, hancock, flores, and ty johnson. a 6th slot will be taken by marquis if he does not make the playoff rotation, which would leave thompson, sosa, and kinney to fight for the 7th position. if marquis does start, the same three relievers will fight for the last 2 jobs; reyes is not a candidate to relieve.

it really is like spring training -- just a big tryout camp, buncha guys fighting to make the rotation and the bullpen.

too bad looper couldn't muster a win last night; would've made him the cards' first 10-win reliever in 15 years. last night's run was the 1st he has yielded all month (8.2 innings); since the all-star break he's sporting a 2.90 era. . . . . . wainwright evidently was being held back in classic "closer" fashion, to be used only for the last 3 outs after the cards took the lead.