What To Watch For Over The Final Month—American League

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First something that affects everyone

All the talk about the “extra” Wild Card has obscured the fact that it’s not exactly a playoff spot as much as it’s an invitation to play in a play-in game. Gone are the days when teams could coast toward the waning days even if they were close enough to the top of the division to make an all-out run for it. Teams that have won the Wild Card and went on to win the World Series have been numerous since the advent of the third tier of post-season series, but it’s no longer as easy as it once was and, like the team that loses the Super Bowl, few are going to remember the second Wild Card team once they’re bounced after 162+1.

The Yankees fade

The Yankees are staggering into September with their lead in the AL East down to 3 ½ games over the Orioles and 4 over the Rays. They’re playing both of those teams 10 straight times starting tomorrow night; they’re functioning a compromised starting rotation and a closer, Rafael Soriano, who is going to be needed heavily and has already been used extensively—he’s probably getting tired.

Mark Teixeira is out for an indefinite period with a calf strain and the imminent returns of Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte are suddenly being counted on to help right the ship. A-Rod is 37 and Pettitte 40. I don’t think the Yankees had it in mind that they’d be so reliant on these aging stars and Derek Jeter at this point in 2012, but they are.

Manager Joe Girardi is getting testy and GM Brian Cashman is scouring the bargain bins for the likes of Steve Pearce and Casey McGehee—4-A players from whom nothing is guaranteed.

The last, last, last, last thing the Yankees want is to have to push their veterans to make the playoffs late in September and possibly have to play a 1-game playoff after winning one of the Wild Card spots, but if they keep playing like this, that may be what they’re facing. Or they might get bounced entirely.

The Red Sox madhouse

They cleared out Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford in the massive trade to the Dodgers, but they’re going to lose close to 90 games. If the front office would like to keep Bobby Valentine, the way the club behaves—not plays, behaves—over the final month might be the determinative factor in that decision. Players with free agent options might choose to avoid the Red Sox because of the disarray.

One thing might save Valentine if it’s straddling the line between him keeping his job or being fired is how the club performs against the Yankees. They have six games remaining against one another including the last three games of the season in Yankee Stadium. If the Red Sox end the dismal 2012 campaign by severely harming or ending the Yankees post-season hopes, that would dull the pain of nearly everything that happened from September of 2011 onward.

The Blue Jays and John Farrell

I’m not understanding this love affair the Red Sox have with Farrell to the point that there’s talk that they might be willing to trade players to the Blue Jays to acquire their manager and install him in Boston. He hasn’t done a particularly good job in Toronto with injuries being presented as an excuse as to why the Blue Jays didn’t fulfill their expectations to be contenders.

It’s the same thing every year with the Blue Jays regardless of the manager, general manager, and players. Going back a decade, they’re “on the verge” of turning the corner and it’s one step forward, three steps back. Farrell is to blame for part of what’s gone wrong this season and the Blue Jays haven’t definitively stated that Farrell is off-limits to the Red Sox. They’re willing to consider letting their manager go to a team in their division? That tells me they might not be all that upset if he left. And the talk of the Red Sox trading Daniel Bard for him? Good grief!!!

The Tigers playoff run

Historically under Jim Leyland the Tigers haven’t done well when playing from ahead in the playoff race. In 2006, the came apart and blew the AL Central, but made the playoffs as the Wild Card and advanced all the way to the World Series. In 2009, they led their division by 7 games on September 6th, but were caught by the Twins and lost in a 1-game playoff. Maybe now that they’re chasing the White Sox in the division and the other Wild Card contenders, they’ll write a different story. Their schedule over the last month includes 20 games against the Indians, Royals, and Twins. If they don’t make the playoffs, it will be their own fault.

How far the Indians fall

The Indians have gone 5-25 since they were at .500 on July 27th. It’s not his fault, but manager Manny Acta could be in trouble. Sandy Alomar Jr. is on the coaching staff and will be in line for other managerial jobs after the season. Popular in Cleveland, the front office won’t want to let him leave and his hiring would gloss over the lack of money to do anything significant this winter to improve the roster for the short-term. If they’re seriously considering trading Shin-Soo Choo, it signals another rebuild; it doesn’t make sense to bring Acta back if that’s what they’re doing.

The Angels present and future

They’re 9 games behind the Rangers in the AL West, so they can pretty much forget about the division. They’re 3 games behind in the Wild Card race. With the chaos surrounding the Red Sox, it’s receded into the background how much of a disappointment the Angels have been. Manager Mike Scioscia is clearly not on the same page with GM Jerry Dipoto and owner Arte Moreno’s unwavering support and trust in his manager is dwindling. With 9 games against the Mariners and 3 against the Royals, plus head-to-head games with the Athletics, Tigers, and White Sox, there’s still time to get back into contention.

Barring a shocking run deep into the playoffs, I believe Scioscia and the Angels are going to part ways following the season, but they have the month of September to change that plot.

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Joel Sherman’s Hackdom Reaches New Lows Even For Him

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This is from the August 27th issue of The Weekly Standard and has to do with the plagiarism of Fareed Zakaria:

Plagiarism is not a crime in any legal code, but among people who make their living with words, there is no deeper offense. The plagiarist has not just stolen from the work of another writer; he has used it to disguise his own inadequacy. It is a symptom of laziness, to be sure; but above all, it’s a crime of arrogance.

If there are a series of words that appropriately describe New York Post baseball columnist Joel Sherman, “lazy,” “inadequate,” “arrogant,” and “plagiarist” come immediately to mind.

There’s no proving it beyond a shadow of a doubt, but the evidence is clear that in May of 2010, Sherman plagiarized me. You can decide for yourself by reading my posting from my old blogspot site here, dated May 22nd, 2010 and having to do with the Astros trying to trade Roy Oswalt; here’s Sherman’s posting on his NY Post Blog on May 25th.

What he wrote regarding then-Astros owner Drayton McLane, Scott Kazmir, Cliff Lee and the Phillies is nearly verbatim to what I wrote three days earlier. When I pointed it out in a subsequent posting here (scroll down to the section beginning with “Hmmmm,”) and challenged Sherman directly on Twitter, he responded by blocking me.

It’s typical.

The same Joel Sherman who writes with the tone of the tough Brooklyn street kid he portrays himself to be ran away when directly called on his transgressions. Sherman, who often writes of the “professionalism” exhibited by the New York Yankees—professionalism that he implied so “engaged” David Wright to the degree that Sherman suggested in this column from March of 2011 that Wright would do well to have a two-week “furlough” to see first-hand the professionalism of—are you ready?—the Yankees and Red Sox clubhouses. Yes. The Red Sox turned out to be so professional that they’ve come completely undone a year-and-a-half later amid infighting, blame, and entitlement. The Yankees’ myth of dignity and professionalism is part of the sale of the franchise as better than everyone else, bolstered by the constant harping on history and inherent self-importance from the YES Network, Michael Kay, Suzyn Waldman, Mike Francesa and anyone else who thinks they played an integral part in the Yankees’ success over the past two decades. George Steinbrenner is no longer the meddlesome buffoon he was in the 1980s, but a beloved patriarch whose attention to detail and conservative values laid the foundation for the juggernaut the Yankees have become.

Of course it’s nonsense.

I doubt Wright was “engaged” by anything. It’s more likely that he was just staring off into space and waiting for Sherman to slink off in another direction and leave him alone. The Yankees are the favored team of him and his newspaper, but in spite of all that professionalism oozing from the Yankees organization, it has yet to embed itself into Sherman. Either that or he doesn’t understand the concept well enough to indulge in it himself.

Or maybe he does and has accepted the fact that he hasn’t the capability to behave as a professional, so he chooses to adhere to the mandates of his editors and his own anti-Mets bias and write the sort of drivel that inevitably ends with anything and everything culminating in a clumsy indictment against the Mets regardless of what they do or don’t do. The latest was on Sunday when, as Craig Calcaterra summed it up here on Hardball Talk, the true losers in the massive blockbuster trade from last weekend between the Red Sox and Dodgers were…the Mets!!!

Obviously!!!!!

This is on the heels of Francesa’s deranged and scattershot ranting and raving session against the Mets days earlier.

The suggestion that the Mets would’ve been able to package Johan Santana and Jason Bay with Wright is so out-of-context and indicative of the media’s desire to torment the Mets that it’s not even worth discussing in a baseball sense. Josh Beckett, right now, is able to get on the mound and pitch and is making the same amount of money in 2013-2014 that Santana is due next year alone; Bay is a lost cause while Carl Crawford’s downfall hasn’t been a clear loss of skills as is the case with Bay, but because of injuries; I suppose Wright and Adrian Gonzalez are comparable, but the Mets are not going to trade Wright and alienate the remaining fans they have willing to come to games, buy merchandise and support the club for a collection of minor league prospects that may or may not make it. Aside from Sherman’s warped world, there’s no correlation between the trade the Red Sox and Dodgers made and the Mets.

This is not about the Mets in a direct criticism and blueprint for turning the ship around, but the Post’s gleeful use of the Mets as a perpetual target to accumulate webhits, spur discussion, and aggravate Mets’ fans. Sherman’s evangelical fervor and condescending hypocrisy is highlighted by his pure lack of ability to smoothly put into words an attack on the Mets that isn’t this transparent. Following the edicts of his editors in a “kill them all and let God sort them out” way, he’s unable to face the consequences and hides when called on his trash. Much like his conceited attempts to be the first to break the story of Cliff Lee’s trade to the Yankees (a trade that wasn’t completed and never came to pass) and his subsequent explanations of why he was wrong, he wasn’t really wrong because Mariners’ GM, Sherman’s “Truly Amazin’ Exec” Jack Zduriencik (dubbed as such in another attack on the Mets) had used shady practices to extract what he perceived to be a better deal for the Rangers and left the Yankees and their apologists angry and slighted.

Sherman knows shady techniques well because he partakes in them on an everyday basis. He’s an annoying pest—Howie Spira without the nerve.

Those poor Yankees were done wrong. And those hideous Mets are “losers” because they failed to make a blockbuster trade that wasn’t available to them and wasn’t going to happen because they’re not trading Wright. Strangely, there was less of this vitriol when the Mets were playing well; when they had young players contributing significantly to their surprising first half of the season; when the Bernie Madoff lawsuit that was going to bankrupt the Wilpons was settled out of court.

Does it matter that GM Sandy Alderson—who Sherman continually pushed the Mets to hire—isn’t going to acquiesce to the media pressure as his predecessor Omar Minaya did? That it’s quite likely that Alderson has told the Wilpons that they’re going to have to take these public floggings for the club to be financially stable and a contender in 2014?

The team is rebuilding. This is what a rebuild looks like. They have financial problems, but spending available money to sign players who won’t help much to get the press off their backs, or making stupid trades to get down to the bare bones with unrecognizable players who will “someday” be part of the renaissance, aren’t going to fix the team, nor will it be salable for 2013 when Wright and R.A. Dickey are at least reasons for fans to come to the park.

Sherman exemplifies clumsy opportunism from a low-level sleaze who followed orders from management well enough to garner himself a column while using “sources” that may or may not exist, bad writing, and self-aggrandizement to put forth his agenda. That agenda is to hammer the Mets and whether the hammer is held from the wrong end and swung awkwardly and ineptly doesn’t matter, nor does the fact that all he succeeded in doing was whack himself in his own nether regions that are, judging by his behavior, quite small or even nonexistent.

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