Teams best positioned for October run
October, 3, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN Insider
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIREBryce Harper couldn't have picked a better time to get hot for the Nationals.When Major League Baseball put its new set of playoff rules in place, nobody knew exactly how the changes would shape the decisions of managers and general managers and players. Nobody knew for sure if some unforeseen circumstance might emerge, altering the way games are played in a manner that nobody anticipated.
In the end, however, the new system has played out exactly the way commissioner Bud Selig and the players' association had hoped: Teams have placed a high value on winning their divisions, on driving through to the end of the schedule -- to get into the playoffs, and to avoid the one-game wild-card pitfall.
This is why you saw Yankees manager Joe Girardi ask closer Rafael Soriano for two innings Tuesday night, at a time when his team is already assured of a playoff berth, and why the Yankees reacted so joyously after Raul Ibanez won the game for them.
This is why the Athletics will have all hands on deck today, as they try to complete one of the greatest charges to a division title in recent memory; the Athletics and Rangers are tied after Travis Blackley's extraordinary effort on Tuesday. These homer-happy Athletics have been a free-swinging lot down the stretch, writes John Shea.
A lot of the teams involved will have to make plans on the fly, particularly in the AL, where the only seed that's locked in is Detroit at No. 3.
Let's look at how all 10 playoff teams are currently set up:
Gio Gonzalez is set up to pitch Game 1 of the postseason, fully rested, followed by Jordan Zimmermann. Davey Johnson won't lay out his Game 3 and 4 starters until he knows who the Nationals are facing.
Injury issues: After dealing with major injuries almost all season, Washington is about as healthy as it has been all year, with Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond back in the lineup.
Hot/cold: Bryce Harper has been a wrecking ball at the plate of late, hitting .462 with three homers in the last week. Desmond (4-for-23) and Danny Espinosa (2-for-22) haven't had as much success lately.
Achilles' heel: The bullpen. Tyler Clippard has struggled in the second half, and rival evaluators wonder if Washington has enough consistent power arms to win in the postseason.
Washington closed in on the top NL seed with the victory against the Phillies on Tuesday night.
Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos -- and Homer Bailey will be dropped off the first-round roster.
Injury issues: Ryan Ludwick is coming back from a strained groin and has started the last two games, going 1-for-7. He's had nine at-bats since Sept. 19.
Hot/cold: Joey Votto has said he doesn't think he'll be completely healthy by the end of the season, and he hasn't been driving the ball since coming off the disabled list. But he is getting his share of hits and walks: He's reached base in 16 of his last 28 plate appearances.
Achilles' heel: The biggest question about the Reds is the production at the top of their lineup, which has been a problem all year. Will Brandon Phillips fix that? Will Zack Cozart, who is 8-for-25 in the last week?