Money Men Making Atlanta, Anaheim Pay
by Robert Ferringo - 07/19/2006
It's all about Money Players at this stage of the Major League Baseball season. It's about veterans. Proven commodities. Guys who have Been There. Steely-eyed assassins that attack with surgical precision and cold-blooded brutes that pummel with impunity. It's the realm of Men who have survived the horrors of success and failure.
Yeah, those guys bang prom queens and porn stars. Those guys get the promotion. Those guys win. And those guys are who I'm backing during baseball's stretch run.
Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero are Those Guys. These two are former MVP's and future Hall of Famers. They have a taste for blood and the postseason, and they have led their respective teams back from The Brink and into contention.
Exactly one month ago the Atlanta Braves and Anaheim Angels were both disgraced clubs wallowing in the desperate, beer-stained filth of last place. Now the Braves are riding the crest of seven consecutive wins while the Angels are immersed in an eight-game winning streak. Behind their superstars, both have clawed their way back into the postseason discussion and are playing paying baseball.
Here's a closer look at their recent runs, along with a short- and long-term prognosis:
The Atlanta Braves
On June 21, I wrote an article (//www.docsports.com/greates-sports-weekend.html) gleefully proclaiming the Death of the Braves. Atlanta was 30-41 on June 20, 14.5 games out of first place and eight games out of the Wild Card. The Streak, for all intents and purposes, was over.
Then Larry Jones took over. Atlanta's third sacker has batted .363 over his last 50 games and .402 in his last 30. He is coming off a record-tying run that saw him hit for extra bases in 14 straight games. Oh yeah, he was 34-for-57 (.544) over that stretch and Atlanta went 11-3.
The Braves still won't catch the Mets (they're 12 back) but I believe they will make the postseason. It's in their blood. It's a birth rite for home-grown starters like Brian McCann and Jeff Franceour. And once they get John Thomson and Kyle Davies off the DL their pitching staff will be even better.
Atlanta is on a 9-1 run, including six underdog wins. They have destroyed NL Central-leading St. Louis in their last two games, outscoring the Cards 28-9. That's been par for the course for Atlanta. They are 13-1 against the number recently and have been one of the best Over bets in the Majors (53-38-3).
Short-term: Atlanta leaves St. Louis for 10 games against interdivisional opponents. I think they'll slow down (maybe a 6-4 stretch) but expect more Overs (except against Florida). They need to get Tim Hudson back on track. He's 0-4 with a 7.71 ERA in his last six starts. Play against until he gets it together.
Long-term: The bullpen still blows, and with a payroll maxed out near $90 million, I don't expect any deadline deals. The good news is that only 13 of their remaining 69 games are against teams that currently have a winning record. Nine of those are against the Mets, so get ready to ride this train.
The Los Angeles California San Jose Beverly Hills San Juan Angels of Anaheim
Vlad the Impaler has been cannibalistic over the last month. He's hitting .466 in his last 15 games and drilled a moon shot in the All-Star Game. Last week alone he posted a .625 average with two homers and eight RBIs.
Not coincidentally, Anaheim is 13-1 in July, the team's best start to a month since September of 2002. They have moved from last place to second place, and are currently half a game behind Oakland for the top spot in the West.
Guerrero's superhuman efforts aside, the Angels are winning due to phenomenal pitching. They are No. 2 in MLB in ERA (4.02), No. 3 in WHIP (1.27) and tied for No. 1 in quality starts (56). Their starting rotation has even been bolstered by the performance of three minor league call-ups, led by Jared Weaver (6-0).
Rumors have the Angels interested in Alfonso Soriano. Then again, rumors have me interested in Soriano. Anaheim has always been hesitant to part with any of its prospects, and they could overtake the feeble-hitting A's with their current team. But if the Angels want a shot at the pennant they need to make the move.
Short-term: They show no signs of slowing, but Anaheim does have a 10-game road trip that begins on Thursday. The good news is that it begins in Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Ride the streak, and don't be afraid to go against Anaheim because they will be laying a lot of juice.
Long-term: Vlad is masking serious problems in their lineup. Garrett Anderson is fragile and No. 7 hitter Juan Rivera (.370 in June) will come back to earth. Anaheim needs to add a stick before the deadline, which will bolster the club as it enters a crucial stretch against Oakland, Texas, Cleveland and New York.
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