Home stretch has room for surprises
Anything can happen in baseball, some more likely than others
One of baseball's basic truths is you can't waste your time thinking about what might have been. Couldas and shouldas are banned, right along with crying, spitballs -- unless you can get away with it -- and beer after the end of the seventh inning.They really don't work in baseball. Acquiring Erik Bedard coulda sent the Mariners into contending waters again and made GM Bill Bavasi look like a genius, but that didn't quite float, did it? And perhaps the Twins shoulda been curling into the fetal position after losing their Cy Young ace and Gold Glove center fielder, but they're wearing big-boy pants in the American League Central.
On the other side of the fence is what could be -- now, that's as baseball as red seams and the Commissioner's signature.Every player, fan, coach and executive goes into the season thinking about what could be, and now they're all thinking about what could be leading up to and into October. As we head into the relative unknown that is the second half of the season, let's address some of the coulds of baseball's 2008 home stretch, and just for good measure handicap those a little bit -- since, as we all know, anything could happen in baseball. The Cubs could win the World Series. Yeah, yeah, seems like we've heard that one about, oh, 100 times before and it didn't come true. But this centennial, this team ... you know, it really could happen. They're not Lou's Lovable Losers, that's for sure. They're deep, they're talented and they've got a real shot.
Chances: Better than getting a ticket at Wrigley in September, that's for sure. The Cubs and Red Sox could meet in the World Series. Now, that would be something, and it's more likely than it was in 2003, the last time they really came close. Only one of them is "cursed" now.
Chances: 50-50. It's not a long shot like, say, Manny Ramirez earning a Gold Glove, but it's not a lock like, say, Ernie Banks having an October-wide smile if the Cubs do get there. Two teams, twice as many variables. The Red Sox could win back-to-back titles. Not like that would take anybody by surprise. That's been the prediction of many since the last out of the 2007 World Series -- including 17 of the 30 teams represented when MLB.com polled GMs and managers in February.
Chances: Somewhere between wicked good and not too shabby.
The last game at Yankee Stadium could be played in ... September? Love the pinstripes or not, there's something strange about that thought. By all rights, this team rich in talent and other ways should be hosting a playoff game or seven to give the House That Ruth Built a good send-off. But breaking out the old "if the season ended today" line, they'd be out, Babe.
Chances: At least there's a better chance of October ball in the Bronx than there is of Alex Rodriguez taking a quiet, solitary stroll in Manhattan to collect his thoughts.
The Rays could be this year's Rockies. Actually, they're in a whole lot better shape right now than the Rockies were at this point last year. But, sure, the Rays could break out and reach the World Series after never winning more than 70 games in a season. Then again, they could follow a lot of very good teams by falling short and making it a springboard season to better things.
Chances: They'll be printing playoff tickets in Tampa this year, and a used one is a real possibility.
Chances: The way it looks right now? About the same as a Rocky Mountain snowball's chance in Arizona heat.
The Tigers could go from worst to first in one year. It's not just the horrific start. It's what it exposed and what has happened since. It might be a great offense, but the pitching and defense are not playoff-caliber, much less World Series-caliber.
Chances: About as good as Fords running on water, which at this rate means maybe next year, hopefully.
Francisco Rodriguez could set the single-season saves mark. Ever since he burst on the scene in 2002, it was clear this guy was special. This is a special season in the making. He's already got 40, so Bobby Thigpen's 57 is in serious jeopardy with K-Rod on what, despite the above cooing about the Red Sox and Rays, really could be the AL's best team.
Chances: If all goes halfway decent, this is as much a lock as rush-hour gridlock on the 55 Freeway beyond the outfield fence at the Big A.
The Phillies could have three straight MVPs -- with three different guys. Indeed, Chase Utley has an opportunity to succeed Ryan Howard ('06) and Jimmy Rollins ('07) for that rare but not unprecedented trifecta. But it wouldn't mean much to any of them or their red-topped faithful if they didn't get into the playoffs and advance.
Chances: Utley's MVP hopes bear a strong resemblance to the Phillies' pretty darn good hopes of making the NLCS this time -- and they're intertwined.
Josh Hamilton could win an MVP award five years after he blew up his life. It's an amazing story of self-destruction, humility and redemption, and the bottom line is it's just a beautiful sight -- and sound -- when he swings the bat. And that's not even counting the monster numbers he's putting up.
Chances: Barring any setbacks, a whole lot better than ol' Clay Counsil had of keeping young Josh in the park that first round the other night.
So there are at least some of the coulds for the second half. Oh, you wanted what IS going to happen?Hmmm. Really coulda, shoulda thought of that.
John Schlegel is executive editor for the West Divisions for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.