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Down To Their Last Strike: 20 Drama-Filled MLB Games From 2014

November 11, 2014


“Down to their last strike.” In terms of one individual game, is there any more dramatic phrase? Often times, when a team is a strike away from winning, needless to say, the result is positive. Consider than there were 2,430 games played this season (not even including the 32 postseason games). Though not every single game involved a team being down to its last strike — games that were tied after eight innings and won by the home team, or games that were called early due to weather — the fact is this: only 20 times did a team in that position rally to win the game.

Mathematically speaking, that means this heart-stopping instance occurred in 0.8% of all games played this season. That’s eight-tenths of one percent, not eight percent, meaning fans saw this less than once every one hundred games.

Ever since Game 6 of the 2011 World Series – perhaps the game that brought the term “down to their last strike” into focus considering the Cardinals were in that situation two different times – it’s been a phenomenon that’s left many hardcore baseball fans wondering if we’d ever see anything quite like David Freese’s and Lance Berkman’s heroics again.

For that reason, we've compiled a list of the 20 occasions in 2014 in which a team’s back was literally against the wall and yet it found a way to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat:

March 31 – Nationals 9, Mets 7 (10), Citi Field
The Mets lead 5-4 in the ninth with two outs and no one on base. Danny Esponisa falls behind 1-2 but works a walk before the next batter, Denard Span, doubles home the tying run on the first pitch. The Nationals go on to score four runs in the 10th and hang on to win, 9-7.

April 2 – Pirates 4, Cubs 3 (16), PNC Park
The Cubs tie the Pirates with two outs in the 9th, 2-2, and take the lead on an Anthony Rizzo homer in the top of the 12th. In the bottom half, Starling Marte gets to a 2-2 count, works the count full, then re-ties the game at 3-3 on a single, and the Bucs end up winning, 4-3, in 16.

April 3 – Twins 10, White Sox 9, US Cellular Field
The Twins trail on the road 9-8 and get a one-out walk from Josh Willingham, who moves to second on a Chris Colabello groundout. Trevor Plouffe falls behind 1-2, works the count full, then ties the game with a single to score pinch-runner Jason Bartlett. One batter later Oswaldo Arcia triples home Plouffe and the Twins win, 10-9.

April 16 – Rangers 3, Mariners 2, Ameriquest Field
The Rangers trail the M’s at home, 2-1, but Kevin Kouzmanoff keeps hope alive with a two-out single. Mitch Moreland gets ahead 3-0 before Fernando Rodney throws two called strikes, but Rodney would walk Moreland, and an error by Brad Miller loads the bases, a wild pitch ties it, and Leodys Martin caps the comeback with a single.

April 22 – Rangers 5, Athletics 4, O.Co Coliseum
It’s the Rangers again as they trail 4-3 in the 9th but get a leadoff double from Moreland, who is sacrificed to third by Robinson Chirinos but is thrown out at home on a fielder’s choice by Martin. However, Martin would steal second and Josh Wilson delivers him on a 2-2 double, then two pitches later ex-Athletic Michael Choice singles him home for a 5-4 road win.

April 23 – Diamondbacks 7, Cubs 5, Wrigley Field
The Diamondbacks trail the Cubs at Wrigley 5-2 going into ninth but score two on a Martin Prado single. After Paul Goldschmidt strikes out with runners at first and third, Miguel Montero works a full count and singles home A.J. Pollock to tie the game, then Aaron Hill hits a two-run triple one batter later to cap a five-run inning.

April 30 – Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 4, Chase Field
The D-backs strike on their last strike again, this time at home against Colorado. Trailing 4-2 against LaTroy Hawkins, Cody Ross leads off with a single, but after a popout and a forceout, Hawkins gets ahead of Chris Owings 0-2. Still, Owings wins the battle and doubles A.J. Pollock to third, then after Gerardo Parra is hit by a pitch to load the bases, Hawkins again falters on 0-2 as Prado singles home two runs to tie the game at 4-4. Montero hits a walk-off home run leading off the 10th.

Screenshot (11)

How the 30 teams fared in the 20 games. Four teams, all in the NL, were not involved in these games and are noted with asterisks.

 

May 10 – Orioles 5, Astros 4 (10), Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Twice the O’s are down to their final strike after blowing a lead in the top of the ninth with two outs on a Jose Altuve single. Jonathan Schoop falls behind 1-2 and singles off Anthony Bass on a 2-2 pitch to keep hope alive, then after a Nick Markakis single and Manny Machado walk, Delmon Young pinch-hits for David Lough and falls behind 0-2 before taking two balls in the dirt. He then bounces a ball over the mound and just beats the throw from shortstop Jonathan Villar to tie the game at 4-4, and Steve Clevenger doubles home J.J. Hardy in the bottom of the 10th for a walk-off, 5-4 win.

May 13 – Tigers 4, Orioles 1, Oriole Park at Camden Yards
The Orioles giveth, and they taketh away. Leading 1-0 over the Tigers in the ninth, Detroit gets a break when a caught stealing is overturned on Rajai Davis, who is pinch-running for Alex Avila. With two outs Torii Hunter falls behind 1-2 but works a walk to give Miguel Cabrera a chance, and he delivers on a 1-0 pitch with a three-run homer to dead center field. Victor Martinez goes back-to-back for insurance as Detroit wins, 4-1, and goes on to sweep the Orioles.

May 18 – Braves 6, Cardinals 5, Busch Stadium
The Braves appear on their way to being swept in St. Louis, but a ninth-inning rally salvages the finale. Freddie Freeman singles leading off against closer Trevor Rosenthal, but Rosenthal retires the next two batters to bring up Ryan Doumit, who doubles Freeman over to third. Rosenthal intentionally walks Evan Gattis to bring up Jordan Schafer, batting .115 with one RBI on the season. Schafer takes a called strike on 3-1 before fouling two full-count pitches off. On the 3-2 offering, Schafer takes a pitch just below the knees to force home Freeman and chase Rosenthal. Carlos Martinez enters and on his second pitch uncorks a wild one to bring home Doumit, and Craig Kimbrel nails down the save to give Atlanta the 6-5 win.

May 20 – Rockies 5, Giants 4, Coors Field
Sergio Romo had his chances to end this one, but as we’ve learned through the years, at Coors Field no lead is safe. Carlos Gonzalez swings through a 3-1 pitch but singles on the 3-2 pitch to move Justin Morneau, who led off the frame with a walk, to third. Romo gets ahead of Nolan Arenado 1-2 before a foul, a ball, and another foul. On the seventh pitch of the at bat, Arenado drills a shot off the very top of the left field wall, bringing home Morneau and Gonzalez as the Rockies rally for a 5-4 win.

May 22 – Rays 5, Athletics 2 (11), Tropicana Field
A 1-0 game after eight innings turned into an absolute thriller. Tampa Bay could not hold the lead at home as Yoenis Cespedes doubles home Craig Gentry, and the A’s take the lead in the 11th on a Cespedes sac fly. But Dan Otero gives it right back, as Evan Longoria singles leading off before two fly outs to left. A James Loney single pushes Longoria to second before Otero has a chance to put Desmond Jennings away at 0-2. But Jennings works the count full and singles home Longoria, and one batter later, Sean Rodriguez sends the fans at Tropicana Field home happy with a three-run homer.

May 24 – Yankees 4, White Sox 3 (10), US Cellular Field
A night after blowing a 5-4, ninth-inning lead at US Celluar Field, the Yankees turn the tables on the White Sox, scoring three in the ninth and one in the 10th for a 4-3 win. A one-out single by Jacoby Ellsbury leads to a two-out RBI double by Alfonso Soriano, but Ronald Belisario has a chance to finish off Yangervis Solarte and the Yankees as he gets ahead in the count 1-2. However, Solarte singles home Soriano, and after Ichiro Suzuki walks, Brian McCann bloops a single into center to score Solarte and tie the game. Ellsbury homers with two outs in the 10th to cap the comeback.

May 29 – Royals 8, Blue Jays 6 (10), Rogers Centre
The Blue Jays are a strike away from their 10th straight win when Casey Janssen jumps ahead of Alex Gordon 0-2 in a 6-5 game in the top of the ninth. But Gordon works the count full and keeps the game alive with a single, and Jarrod Dyson pinch-runs for him and steals second as Salvador Perez falls behind 1-2. Perez rolls a grounder to shortstop Jose Reyes, but Reyes’ throw short-hops first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, allowing Dyson to score. In the top of the 10th, Omar Infante drives home a pair with a single and the Royals steal an 8-6 victory in Canada.

June 19 – Indians 5, Angels 3 (10), Progressive Field
After the Angels piece together a two-out rally in the top of the 10th, capped by an Albert Pujols two-run single, to take a 3-1 lead, the Indians load the bases against Cam Bedrosian before Ernesto Frieri comes on to retire David Murphy on a fly out. Frieri has Nick Swisher 1-2, but Swisher launches a grand slam to right to give the Tribe a thrilling, 5-3 victory at Progressive Field.

June 20 – Yankees 5, Orioles 3, Yankee Stadium
The Orioles tack on an insurance run in the top of the ninth to go up 3-1 on the Yankees, but Zach Britton stumbles in the bottom half after appearing poised to lock down the save. Brett Gardner leads off with a single but Britton gets the next two hitters before going to 2-2 on Mark Teixeira. Britton ultimately walks Teixeira in front of Brian McCann, who brings home Gardner with a single to cut the deficit to 3-2. One batter later, Carlos Beltran gives the Bombers their first walk-off win of 2014 by launching a 3-1 pitch into the left field seats.

July 5 – Marlins 6, Cardinals 5, Busch Stadium
It’s deja vu for Rosenthal, again a strike away from a save when things go awry. Donovan Solano hits a one-out single but Rosenthal has a chance to end things against Casey McGehee. However, McGehee works the count full before fouling off five pitches, and on the 11th pitch of the at-bat he laces a hit into right. Jon Jay’s throw home handcuffs Yadier Molina, allowing Solano to get in just ahead of the tag as McGehee takes second on the single. Sam Freeman relieves Rosenthal and Jeff Baker greets him with an RBI single, sending the Cardinals to an eerily familiar 6-5 loss at Busch Stadium.

July 8 – Marlins 2, Diamondbacks 1, Chase Field
Addison Reed blows his fifth save of the first half of the season after a two-run homer by Marcell Ozuna. Ed Lucas walks leading off the top of the ninth, but Reed gets Giancarlo Stanton and McGehee. After falling behind Ozuna 2-0 he battles back to make it 2-2, but Ozuna drills a liner over the left-center field fence and the Marlins earn a 2-1 win.

August 22 – Mariners 5, Red Sox 3, Fenway Park
Mr. Automatic from 2013 has a massive implosion. Koji Uehara enters with the Red Sox leading the Mariners 3-0, but Seattle just won’t quit. In an inning in which Uehara throws 38 pitches and still can’t complete, 10 of those pitches could have ended the game with one more strike. But Endy Chavez works a 10-pitch walk after falling behind 1-2 with a runner at first and two outs, and Chris Denorfia falls behind 0-2 but singles two pitches later to load the bases. Uehara has a chance to put away Austin Jackson on 0-2, but Jackson laces a two-run double into the left-field corner to score two and cut Boston’s lead to 3-2. Dustin Ackley then bloops a single into left just past the outstretched glove of a flying, diving shortstop Brock Holt, and Seattle takes an improbable 4-3 lead, which becomes 5-3 when Robinson Cano rips a single into right and Ackley just keeps running and scores from first. Seattle holds on and wins its first game at Fenway Park since 2011.

September 5 – Phillies 9, Nationals 8, Nationals Park
This one cements why Rafael Soriano was pulled from the closer role. The Nats lead the Phillies at home 7-4, but Carlos Ruiz hits a two-run homer to make it 7-6 in the ninth with nobody out. Soriano gets the next two outs, however, and jumps ahead of Ben Revere 1-2. A foul and a ball later, Revere hits his second career – career – homer to tie the game at 7-7. Revere would come through again in the 11th after the Phillies had taken the lead on a fielder’s choice and an error, tacking on a key insurance run with a single that makes it 9-7. The Nats get one back in the bottom half, but Jonathan Papelbon strikes out Ian Desmond and gets Bryce Harper to line out to left with two men on to seal the 9-8 win for the Phillies.

 

2014 NFL Pre-Draft Fantasy Rankings

April 1, 2014

By ROBERT WAUGH
Special to DraftAmerica

QB

No. Player Comment
1 Peyton Manning The Greatest of All Time – among fantasy QBs
2 Aaron Rodgers Motivated to be the best QB in the game
3 Drew Brees A Top 3 staple
4 Matthew Stafford
Jim Caldwell can fix him and, frankly, I could be successful with all his weapons
5 Tony Romo
Real world: choke artist. Fantasy world: superstar
6 Nick Foles
Won't duplicate last year's stats, but he's armed with arguably the best weapons in football
7 Robert Griffin III No knee brace + new coach = more fantasy points
8 Tom Brady Who needs receivers to be a Top 8 fantasy QB? Not this guy
9 Cam Newton His legs keep him here, but Cam, who are you going to throw to? Seriously, who?
10 Andrew Luck Luck will probably move up this list by the summer. And by probably, I mean definitely
11 Colin Kaepernick “Dear Kap, please start running again. Love, your dynasty league owners”
12 Matt Ryan A better O-line and a healthy Julio Jones mean elite status
13 Russell Wilson He wins games in real life but in fantasy… not so much
14 Philip Rivers Last year was a rebirth, but can it continue?
15 Ben Roethlisberger With a potential Top 10 RB in the backfield, Big Ben could be destined for a big year
16 Michael Vick He'll be decent until he goes down with a hammy, an ankle, a hang nail, or something
17 Ryan Tannehill Much better than I thought he would be. Could be on the rise
18 Jay Cutler Do your best Josh McCown impression
19 Matt Cassel Should’ve been the starter all year last year
20 Alex Smith Chiefs will get some WRs in the draft to help his stock

RB


No. Player Comment

1 Adrian Peterson Norv Turner and Cordarrelle Patterson mean 2,000 yards is possible… again

2 Lesean McCoy Don’t worry about Sproles. Shady's as talented as they come and will get his touches

3 Jamaal Charles So explosive. If you’re, Andy Reid who else would you give the ball to?

4 Matt Forte WRs help to open up the field, and Forte is a PPR machine

5 Marshawn Lynch Seattle runs the ball. That’s just what they do

6 Eddie Lacy Three-down back with one of the best QBs in the league. Top 10 guy for sure

7 Leveon Bell Steelers get back to what they do best: Runnin’ dat thang

8 Doug Martin McCown's arm will help Martin amend a terrible, injury-riddled 2013

9 Ray Rice Will get the rock... if he’s not living on it

10 DeMarco Murray Dude. Runs. Hard. If he can stay healthy, he could be a beast

11 Montee Ball Pass blocking has improved and he has Peyton Manning at QB, that’s all he needs

12 Arian Foster Losing my faith in him fast. Back injuries are no bueno

13 Alfred Morris If RG3 doesn’t stink it up, Freddy Mo has a chance to be a Top 10 back

14 Giovanni Bernard This kid is so sick. Send B.G.E. to the B.E.N.C.H. and let Gio work his magic

15 Reggie Bush Health and Joique Bell (yes, Joique Bell) will keep him from being a No. 1 RB

16 Andre Ellington Watch this guy. He’s fast, explosive, and Bruce Arians wants to give him the ball

17 Frank Gore One day his legs are going to fall off

18 C.J. Spiller There's talent, there's potential, he has both but can’t put it all together

19 Zac Stacy Bell Cow Back. I like the sound of that

20 Toby Gerhart Once buried behind AP, gets his shot at 300 carries. Last year avgd. almost 8.0 yards

21 Steven Ridley Too many backs in the Patriots' backfield and he fumbles too much

22 Rashad Jennings Finally, Coughlin has a guy he likes. Not much wear and he can run, catch, and block

23 Ryan Mathews Should be higher, but he burned me two years in a row and I haven’t gotten over it

24 Ben Tate Talented and finally gets lead back duties, but there are durability issues

25 Darren McFadden Insert injury-prone joke here

26 Lamar Miller   Speedy but afraid to hit the hole and please tell me why Miami thinks Daniel Thomas is good?

27 Chris Ivory Vick and Eric Decker will hopefully open up some running lanes

28 Chris Johnson   CJnoK has a knack for hitting holes like he’s in the middle of a pillow fight

29 Steven Jackson Ran too hard for too long. Always has a chance to vulture TDs, but see Frank Gore

30 DeAngelo Williams   ...Or maybe Jonathan Stewart or maybe Mike Tolbert or maybe Cam Newton

31 Trent Richardson He could fall forward and average three yards per carry

32 Maurice Jones-Drew Find a team

33 Knowshon Moreno    Seriously, find a team fellas


TE


No. Player   Comment
1 Jimmy Graham    No comment needed…even though I just made one…
2 Julius Thomas Thank you Peyton Manning
3 Vernon Davis They gotta use his gifts, they just have to

Julius Thomas (Thank you Peyton Manning)

Vernon Davis (They gotta use his gifts, they just have to)

Dennis Pitta (Steve Smith may bite into some targets but he’s a great possession guy)

Jason Witten (Always solid)

Rob Gronkowski (Should be number 2 but who knows if he’ll ever be healthy again)

Jordan Cameron (Always afraid of Cleveland QBs but he’s got gifts)

Greg Olsen (Tried and True, never great but always good)

Zach Ertz (Improved as the season went on and Chip will get this guy the ball)

Jordan Reed (So talented, so many headaches)

Martellus Bennett (Got the raw ability, just needs to be more consistent)

Heath Miller (Oldie but a Goodie (kind of))

Antonio Gates (See Heath Miller) Side note: watch out for his back up this year

Delaney Walker (One year removed from Davis’ shadow, this is the year he steps up)

Coby Fleener (Luck will find him like Peyton finds any white receiver)

Zach Miller (Russell Wilson has no targets)

Charles Clay (I don’t know what to think about this guy. He’s really versatile but would be more dangerous in a different offense)

Brandon Myers (Goodbye Eli, hello mediocre production again)

Kyle Rudolph (Cassel could bump his value)

Joseph Fauria (Physical freak and Pettigrew is a bum)

Jared Cook (Has talent just needs Bradford to stay healthy)

Garrett Graham (Only TE left in Houston)

Tyler Eifert (Kid has the skills but Cincy doesn’t give it to the TE)

Scott Chandler (Woods should keep developing and take some heat off of Stevie J and this guy)

Brandon Pettigrew (Pretty much strictly a blocker but with all the weapons around he might stumble into some holes in a zone coverage)

Free Agent- Owen Daniels (He’ll be a mid-tier guy pretty much where ever he signs)

Free Agent- Jermichael Finley (So athletic, so talented, so….much disappointment)


 

Mid-Month Divisional Report

April 17, 2013

It's mid-April, so obviously, it's time to put the teams with baseball's best records in the World Series. (In case you were wondering, had we done the same thing last April 16, it would have projected to a Rangers-Dodgers Fall Classic, two teams that combined to win zero playoff games in 2012.) This year, it would be the Athletics and Braves. But even at this juncture, the eye test tells us that the winds of change are blowing; some of last year's also-rans are in the running, and some projected contenders have us scratching our collective heads. So let's take a look at how the six divisions have shaken out through the first of a dozen half-month segments of the 2013 campaign:


American League East


The beasts: Red Sox. Everybody but this guy had the Red Sox finishing fourth or worse. Everybody but this guy would have felt crazy picking Clay Buchholz to win Cy Young. So far, so good for this guy. The Red Sox have clearly put last season's 93-loss mess behind them, and I say look no further than what I call “The John Farrell Effect.” It's no secret the pitching staff suffered mightily when Farrell left after 2010, and they have rounded back into shape in 2013. Some nice additions on offense have added depth to a lineup that will soon have its big bopper back in David Ortiz.


Those in between: Yankees, Orioles. The two teams that duked it out for divisional supremacy last September will be in the hunt all year, but both have some weak spots that could be exposed. For the Yankees, it's an injury- and age-riddled offense missing a number of star players. The starting rotation has holes in the back end, but should hold up fine with CC, Hiroki, and Andy. For the upstart Orioles, continued production from the offense and starting pitching will determine whether last year's 93-69 record was a fluke or a sign of things to come.


The leasts: Blue Jays and Rays. It's hard to put either of these teams on a list called “the leasts.” Remember, this is based on two weeks of baseball. But the eye test has been a little disturbing with these two clubs. The Jays now have a big hole to fill with Jose Reyes out at least two months, and their rotation suddenly looks shaky with the early-season struggles of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. A mediocre bullpen doesn't help matters, either. For Tampa Bay, an American League-worst offensive output through half a month is alarming considering what it has on paper. The Rays have always been about pitching, but have won because their offense has always been able to manufacture runs. Not this year, as they have scored an AL-worst 35 runs. If the bats don't wake up, it could be a long year in the AL East.


American League Central


The beasts: Tigers. A no-brainer here. The Tigers may be baseball's most talented team on paper, and the likelihood is that will play out that way over the course of the season, at least enough so to win a soft division like the AL Central. One of the game's deepest rotations resides in Detroit, and the Tigers' lineup is as good as anyone's. Their bullpen is a major problem right now, especially not having a bona fide closer, but expect GM Dave Dombrowski to address the issue at some point in the near future.


Those in between: Royals. Kansas City looks like an improved bunch (stop me if you've heard that one before). The lineup has been a steady force, with Alex Gordon and Billy Butler leading the way. A rotation led by former Rays James Shields and Wade Davis gives them some credibility, especially with a strong bullpen, meaning the Royals could make a run at a wild card spot.


The leasts: Indians, Twins, White Sox. Cleveland's heavy purchases in the outfield can't help a porous pitching staff, so what figured to be a long year should play out as such. Justin Masterson has been nothing short of dominant, but even his brilliance can't offset the woes of the offense and the rest of the rotation (side bar: anyone remember when Ubaldo Jimenez was baseball's best pitcher for a time? He's now lucky to have a job in the big leagues). The Twins have shown some fight and some offensive punch, but there is no pitching depth whatsoever. The only team that may have a case against being on this list is the White Sox, who feature some lineup thunder and a few weapons in their pitching arsenal in Chris Sale and Jake Peavy. But with players like Adam Dunn and Gavin Floyd dragging the team down, it's hard to envision Chicago even finishing at .500.


American League West


The beasts: Athletics, Rangers. The A's are proving that 2012 was no accident. A lineup of no-names always seems to find a new hero and come up big in the clutch. The pitching staff is loaded with talented young arms, and the bullpen is deep and dependable. They are not the most talented team, but one of the most resilient, and should vie for another division crown. The Rangers are off to a good start in life after Josh Hamilton, thanks to grizzled veterans like Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski and Yu Darvish's dominance. Texas didn't make two straight World Series appearances because of one player alone.


Those in between: Angels. People might argue that it's crazy to not include the Angels as top dogs in the division, but my gut feeling is that their 4-9 start isn't quite the aberration everyone thinks it is. This is a team that has continued to fall short of expectations, yet was presumed to make the big leap with the addition of one player in Hamilton. Jered Weaver's injury is a huge blow to a rotation that already had viable concerns, and Hamilton's early-season struggles have highlighted the fact that the Angels' lineup may have star power, but it isn't all that great one through nine. Factor in an average bullpen, and 2013 could be another uphill battle for Mike Scoscia's bunch.


The leasts: Astros, Mariners. The Astros' rookie year in the AL isn't going so swimmingly despite their opening-night win over Texas. There are a few pieces in place for the future, but they are a long way off. When Bud Norris is your ace and Jose Veras is your closer, you aren't winning more than 60 games. The Mariners were throttled by the Astros two out of three in the teams' recent series, an embarrassing revelation for a team expected to improve in 2013. Seattle still has King Felix and an early-season power surge by Michael Morse is nice, but in a tough division, the Mariners' roster simply doesn't measure up.


National League East


The beasts: Braves, Nationals. We all know an 11-1 start is a stretch, especially given the Braves' recent penchant for late-season collapses. Credit Atlanta, however, for winning without several key players, as catcher Brian McCann, first baseman Freddie Freeman and setup man Johnny Venters are all on the shelf. Justin Upton has been quite a force, even if his brother has been dead weight. And it's impossible not to mention Paul Maholm, who is 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA (yes, you read that correctly). The Braves may not have a true ace, but it's worked so far. Craig Kimbrel's not too shabby as a closer, either. The Nationals learned all of this last weekend in being swept at home, but they will most certainly bounce back. They have the better rotation of the two, and at least an equal lineup. The bullpen has been a bit shaky, as it's clear no one fear's the late-inning 1-2 punch of Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano right now. But the division should come down to these two teams.


Those in between: Phillies, Mets. Philadelphia's window isn't closed, as some have suggested, but the opportunity doesn't seem as grand as it once was for the Phightins. As much as Cole Hamels (0-2, 7.56 ERA) and Roy Halladay (1-2, 7.63) may struggle, it's hard to argue they don't have one of, if not the best, rotations in the game. But that may be where it ends for the Phillies. The offense just doesn't score runs like it used to, even with Chase Utley, Dominic Brown and Michael Young swinging hot bats in the early goings. The bullpen is solid at the back end with Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon, but getting to them has been a problem when the starters haven't gone deep. Ultimately, that's the key for the Phillies, as they will go where their starting pitching takes them. For the Mets, say what you want about the rest of the rotation, but Matt Harvey is pitching lights out and could very well be your NL Rookie of the Year. The lineup has been on something of a tear (you'd figure it'd have to be when John Buck has 11 RBI through 10 games), meaning the onus is on the rest of the starters and a very questionable bullpen to perform if the Mets are to make any impact this year. Still, they will make life tough for the contenders of this division all year.


The leasts: Marlins. The Marlins really aren't even worth writing much. 23 runs scored in 13 games? There simply aren't enough adjectives to describe such futility. All one can say is, you just feel for the pitchers, who actually haven't been that bad, all things considered (4.21 ERA). Miami will be a punching bag for the rest of the league all year, and I for one am already thinking one thing – 2003 Tigers? Could Miami do what that team came oh-so-close to doing and lose 120 games? That's probably a stretch, but considering how good the rest of their division is, they will easily eclipse triple-digits in losses.


National League Central


The beasts: Cardinals, Reds. I always marvel at the Cardinals. I highly doubt many people thought they could make such a smooth transition from the Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa eras, the same way people thought they would be done in by a season-ending injury to Adam Wainwright prior to the 2011 season. Chris Carpenter and Jason Motte were lost before this season, and something tells me they will be just fine. The Cardinals are once again on track for a stellar season not just because of the usual suspects (Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Wainwright) but because players like Matt Adams (.611 avg, 3 HR, 8 RBI) and rookie Shelby Miller (2-0, 1.46 ERA) help form their “supporting cast.” There is plenty of depth and enough pitching, even if the bullpen is a concern. After replacing LaRussa, Mike Matheny left no doubt that this is his team and only his team, and the players have bought into that message. The Reds, meanwhile, hate the Cardinals. This much we know. What else do we know? That Cardinals fans hate Brandon Phillips? Well, yes. But all that rivalry nonsense aside, Cincinnati needs to ignore its 6-7 start and remember it has plenty of pop in its lineup and talented starting pitching to carry it to another division title. Johnny Cueto being on the disabled list is concerning, but Homer Bailey, Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo can shoulder the loud in the interim. And few people will be hitting Aroldis Chapman's 100-plus-mph fastball.


Those in between: Pirates. It's tempting to drop the Pirates to the “leasts.” They got off to a poor start, and the talent level just doesn't measure up with the Cardinals and Reds. But the scrappy Pirates have hung around for the first half of the last couple of seasons and figure to do the same this year. Their ultimate undoing will be their pitching staff, an untrustworthy rotation and equally shaky bullpen.


The leasts: Brewers, Cubs. Kyle Lohse was a nice pickup, but he will soon be longing for his Cardinals days. The Brewers are not much more than Ryan Braun, and it's hard to imagine that this team was in the NLCS just two years ago. The Cubs are making progress very slowly, but for a franchise that has gone over 100 years without a World Series title, that just won't fly with the Wrigley faithful.


National League West


The beasts: Giants, Dodgers. Before we start with the bitter rivals, let me put a disclaimer here that it was tempting to put the Diamondbacks on this list, but they're not quite there. The Giants are the champs for a reason. When a team can bring a two-time Cy Young award winner out of the bullpen and boast Ryan Vogelsong as its number three starter, you know it's in good shape. Offensively it will be more of the same for the Giants, something of a grind to score runs, but Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan and company should pick up the slack. The Dodgers, meanwhile, could give the Dodgers a run, but losing Zack Greinke for two months hurts. The offense looks good on paper but has yet to kick it into high gear. The bullpen has its moments, but needs the “other guys” (Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Ryu Hyun-jin) to step it up to keep things afloat.


Those in between: Diamondbacks. Arizona has plenty of talent, but their lineup is what has me hesitant to put them in the “beasts” category. The rotation is young and promising, with Patrick Corbin (2-0, 1.50 ERA) and Wade Miley (2-0, 2.13) off to great starts to complement veterans Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill. No Diamondback has more than two home runs through 13 games, with Paul Goldschmidt leading the team with 10 RBI. New addition Cody Ross is off to a slow start, and with Aaron Hill shelved for 4-6 weeks, others like Miguel Montero and Martin Prado need to pick up the slack.


The leasts: Rockies, Padres. One thing you can't say about the Rockies is that they aren't fun to watch. Coors Field always delivers entertaining, high-scoring games and Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are legitimate stars in the NL. Still, the pitching is so far off that winning 75 games seems like a stretch. I won't discount Jhoulys Chacin's 2-0 record and 1.96 ERA, but when he's your ace... Anyways, the Padres aren't in much better shape. Their ace is a tossup between Jason Marquis, Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez and Eric Stults. Take your pick – it's not pretty. Bud Black may want to recruit Tony Gwynn out of retirement, especially with Chase Headley sidelined and Carlos Quentin briefly suspended, essentially leaving Yonder Alonso as the team's thumper. Frightening – if you're playing a Triple-A team. The Padres are just a slight step better.

 

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