Tuesday, July 11, 2006

ALL-STAR BREAK THOUGHTS

After taking three out of four from the Astros over the weekend, it now seems likely that the Cardinals will win the NL Central this year, or more accurately, no other team is going to seize the opportunity to win it that has been presented to them.

This matches what most commenters were saying during the Cardinals' recent tailspin, that it had exposed some flaws that would manifest themselves in the postseason if not addressed before then, but they were in no real danger of missing the playoffs.

I has inititally disagreed with this assessment, first because the Cardinals' starting pitching was falling apart, and the last two seasons' success was built on solid starting pitching. Bad starting pitching has a ripple effect on the rest of the team -- relievers have to throw more innings, get tired and more innings get pitched by the ninth, tenth and eleventh pitchers on the staff. In fact, without performing all the neccesary math, I would hypothesize that there is a very high correlation between innings pitched by a team's top three or four pitchers and winning.

I also thought that the management of teams like the Reds and the Brewers would recognize this as the one opportunity they have to win a pennant. It won't be every year that the Cardinals will not improve themselves in the off-season and their starting rotation will turn into a pumpkin. I thought their management would seize the opportunity to improve their teams and make a run at the title they haven't.

And it's curious to me why they haven't. There's been a lot of digital and wet ink spilled about the superiority of the American League this year. Several American Leagues teams (the Twins, Yankees, Blue Jays) are well behind other teams for a playoff berth, but would be leading two of the National League divisions. American League teams, particularly the Yankees and Red Sox, joined sometimes by the Orioles and last off-season by the Blue Jays, have been engaged in an arms race, while it seems like teams in the NL Central has collectively decided to give peace a chance.

It seems like this is a situtation ripe for some trades. Why should the Blue Jays spend $80 million to finish in third place without a realistic hope for first, while the Reds spend $40 million for second place when they're probably a player or two away from first? Seems to me like an inefficient value of resources -- incremental wins right now are more valuable to the Reds or Brewers than they are to the Blue Jays or Twins. So why shouldn't the AL teams trade some of their veteran talent to the NL teams on the cusp of contending for some prospects and salary space?
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