The October stage is set. Will this be the year Sweet Lou exorcises the demons from Chicago after a 100-year possession? Or will it be the year we talk about how the Brewers replaced their manager with less than two weeks to go and rode the big shoulders of C.C. Sabathia to the World Series?
Could it be the year that
Jamie Moyer shows the youth in baseball what a career is all about by
pitching on the grandest stage of them all? Or is this the year that Manny Ramirez storms the NL and partners with Joe Torre to torment the
American League? Whatever your expectations, be guaranteed nothing will happen
as you expect it.
In this final go-round
for 2008, here's the latest and greatest from the clubhouses of the National
Philadelphia Phillies (92-70) – The Phillies won their second
consecutive NL East title. Ryan Howard finished the season with 48 home
runs and 146 RBI. He's no doubt an MVP candidate, despite 199 strikeouts.
Brad Lidge, who recently was named the NL Comeback Player of the Year,
finished the season a perfect 41-for-41 in save
York Mets (89-73) – Another year, another collapse
in September. Despite their playoff chances falling short on the last day of the
season, Johan Santana might very well be the favorite to win the Cy Young
Award. He finished the season on a 9-0 streak, and the Mets were 12-3 in his
last 15 starts. Add in a 2.53 ERA, 206 strikeouts, and a complete game shutout
in his final start to keep his team alive in the playoff hunt, and you have one
Florida Marlins (84-77) – Loaded with young, unproven
talent and a miniscule budget for salary, the Marlins were competitive all
season long, even without Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.
Fredi Gonzalez could be a dark horse for Manager of the Year honors. Too
bad the club is likely to trade away some of those young stars this off-season
while their stock prices are high.
Atlanta Braves (72-90) – One of the uglier years in
recent Braves history, they were out of contention early this season. Plagued by
injuries to John Smotlz and a host of other veterans, Atlanta couldn't find
their mojo this year. That is except for Chipper Jones, of course, who won the NL
batting title with a .364 average.
(59-102) – That
record speaks volumes. Not a great inaugural season in the new ballpark.
Lastings Milledge led the team in home runs (14) and RBI (61). Those top
marks speak volumes, as well.
Chicago Cubs (97-64) – In uncharted waters, Lou
Piniella and the Cubs had to figure out how to manage clinching home field
advantage with almost a week to play in the season. Some veterans got some much
needed rest, while some newbies got to showcase their talents and make a bid for
the playoff roster. Mark DeRosa, who led the Cubs with 103 runs scored,
strained his calf muscle and hopes to be ready for Wednesday's playoff opener.
Meanwhile Cubs catcher Geovany Soto is a virtual lock for Rookie of the
Year honors having batted .285, slugged 23 home runs, and driven in 86 runs.
Individual honors aside, the Cubs have some work to do
Milwaukee Brewers (90-72) – A
26-year postseason draught is over. The Brewers clinched the Wild Card with a
two-run bomb from Ryan Braun and a Mets loss. C.C. Sabathia earned his
paychecks this year. He started 17 games for Milwaukee and went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA. Don't
forget he also had seven complete games. What's absolutely crazy about it all,
he pitched his final three games, all on three days rest. And on the last day,
when they needed him most, he threw a complete game against the Cubs.
Unfortunately, though, Ben Sheets has been shut down and won't be
available for the playoffs.
Houston Astros (86-75) – An injury to Carlos Lee
and Hurricane Ike may have kept this club from making it to the postseason.
Jose Valverde finished the season with an impressive 44 saves, and in the
end Roy Oswalt earned 17 wins for the first time since
St. Louis Cardinals (86-76) – The Cardinals finished the
season on a good note winning their final five games and signing Kyle Lohse to a four-year, $41 million deal. Albert Pujols finished second
in the batting title with a .357 average. He ended up winning the team triple
crown cranking 37 home runs and driving in 116 runs. He may very well be the NL
MVP favorite despite his team finishing fourth in the division.
Cincinnati Reds (74-88) – For the fourth straight season,
Bronson Arroyo pitched 200 innings. His 15-11 mark was a nice improvement
from the dismal 9-15 record of 2007. First baseman Joey Votto, in his
first full season, led the team with a .297 batting average and 84 RBI. He could
be a candidate to have a really big 2009.
Pittsburgh Pirates (67-95) – For a team that was hovering
around .500 for most of the first half of the season, this was a dismal finish.
Nate McLouth led the club in the five major offensive categories: batting
average (.276), home runs (26), RBI (94), runs (113), and stolen bases (23). And
in reference to previous editions of this column, no, Paul Maholm
finished the season with nine wins. As such, not a single Pirate pitcher hit
double digits in wins.
Angeles Dodgers (84-78) – In his last nine starts,
Derek Lowe has given up just six earned runs. He finished the season
14-11 with a 3.24 ERA and will anchor the pitching staff in the playoffs. The NL
West Division Champs got a spark with the arrivals of Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake
and will look to carry it into the cool month of October.
Brandon Webb finished the season with a 22-7 record and 3.30 ERA. He'll
definitely receive consideration to repeat as NL Cy Young Award winner, but he's
got some tough competition. The D'Backs season was a bit disappointing. They
started the season hot and faded to mediocrity quickly. Of note, Mark Reynolds, who led the team in home runs (28) and RBI (97), became the first
player in baseball history to strike out 200 times in a season. And for good
measure, he did it four more times for a total of 204.
Colorado Rockies (74-88) – No magical end to this season.
The high-powered offense of the Rockies failed
to produce a single 100-RBI man. Garrett Atkins took top honors in that
offensive category with 99.
Francisco Giants (72-90) – No Barry Bonds. No
traveling circus act. And though at one point droves of people may have come to
the ballpark to see Bonds bat each day, now they are coming every fifth day to
see Tim Lincecum take the mound. The youngster dazzled us all this season
posting an impressive 18-5 record, 2.62 ERA, and 265 strikeouts. It's a shame we
don't get to see him, Santana, or Webb this postseason.
Diego Padres (63-99) – The 100-loss season was
averted. This team somehow took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and nose-dived to the bottom of the
NL West. Adrian Gonzalez hit 36 home runs and drove in 119 for this
beleaguered offense. You put him in a playoff race next year and you might get
40 homers and 130 RBI.
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