What's left for us?
Yes, there's a wonderful battle for the wild card in the National League. But that's only a few hours per day; what are we supposed to do with the rest of our time?
Fortunately, there's still plenty to live for. Below, presented as a public service, is our Guide to Enjoying the Last Two Weeks of 2002.
Jason Jennings. My friends in the sabermetric community scoffed when I touted Jennings as a Rookie of the Year candidate, but I'm sticking to my guns. I still say that Jennings' 4.51 ERA and 16 wins are more impressive than Damian Moss's 3.30 ERA and 10 wins, because of where Jennings makes half his starts. But leaving aside that argument, here's something indisputable ... if Jennings wins two more games -- he should start three more times, or four if Clint Hurdle's feeling charitable -- he'll set a single-season record for a Rockies pitcher.
Mike Sweeney and Bernie Williams. OK, so it's not the Royals and the Yankees battling for a World Series berth. But for nostalgic Royals fans like me, a battle for the hitting crown between a Royal and a Yankee is as good as it gets. At this moment, Sweeney (.341) has a six-point lead over Williams (.335), who took the collar against the Orioles last night. And yes, 1) Ichiro's also lurking in the background with his .329 average, and 2) I'm neglecting Manny Ramirez, who's now got enough plate appearances to qualify for the crown and, at .339, is slotted between Sweeney and Williams.
I'd love to see Sweeney win, of course, but mostly I'd love to see a spirited battle. There's nothing more sickening than watching a player sit out games down the stretch to protect his lead in the batting race, as George Brett did in 1990 (though in fairness, it should be said that he was following the traditional practice). Fortunately, with three guys bunched so tightly, they'll probably all have to play most every day down the stretch.
The Oakland Athletics. Yes, they've virtually locked up another postseason berth. But here's what's really exciting ... The A's have a legitimate shot at posting the best record in one-run games ever. According to Baseball-Reference.com, these are the top four one-run records since 1901:
Team Year W-L Pct
Orioles 1981 21- 7 .750
Pirates 1908 33-12 .733
Orioles 1970 40-15 .727
Pirates 1909 33-13 .717
That's a strange list, by the way. Four teams, and only two managers: Fred Clarke and Earl Weaver. I've often written that success in one-run games is due to luck as much as quality, but that would be one pretty amazing coincidence, two managers accounting for the top four spots.
Anyway, the 2002 Athletics have all these guys beat. Or at least they did before last night. They were 28-9 in one-run games, which works out to a .757 winning percentage. But now they're 28-10, which drops them to No. 2 on the list with a .737 percentage.
Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Barry Zito. Pedro leads the American League in ERA (2.29), winning percentage (.818) and strikeouts (223), and he's got my vote for the Cy Young Award. But he does not lead in victories, as Lowe's got 19 and Zito's got 20 to Pedro's 18. And as it happens, those guys are two-three on the ERA list. So while Pedro still deserves to be the favorite, it's anybody's trophy.
Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. Speaking of trophies, it's still not certain that Schilling will be the National League's Cy Young winner. But the way I figure it, he's a lock if he can win just once more. Which, if past history is any guide, is pretty certain.
The Montreal Expos. OK, with each passing day it becomes more and more likely the Expos will spend at least one more season in Montreal. But it's possible that they won't. So do you want to take your chances, or do you want to see them while you definitely still can? Well, you can do what you want, but I know I'm going to sit down and watch at least one complete Expos home game before September ends.
Jose Hernandez. A year ago, Preston Wilson looked like a sure thing; he was going to break Bobby Bonds's single-season strikeout record of 189. But in the last week of the season, Wilson made better contact and his manager kept him out of the lineup twice, so he finished with 187 K's, two short of the record. Hernandez, though, isn't just going to break the record. He's going to shatter it ... assuming, of course, that Brewers manager Jerry Royster lets him. If Hernandez continues to play every day -- as he has all season -- and continues to swing the bat like he has, he'll strike out about 200 times. And considering that Hernandez is by far the best shortstop the Brewers can put on the field, there's no obvious reason why he shouldn't be allowed to strike out 200 times.
Barry Bonds. Need I say more? No, he's not going to hit 74 home runs. The opposing managers and pitchers have seen to that. However, he's almost certainly going to become the oldest man in major-league history to win a batting title, he's almost certainly going to break his own record for walks (177) in a season, and he's probably going to break Ted Williams' record (.551) for on-base percentage in a season.
John Smoltz. Can Smoltz, in his first season as a closer, erase Bobby Thigpen's name from the record book? Well, no, because even if Smoltz does save eight more games to break the major-league record, Thigpen will still own the American League record. But wouldn't it be something if Smoltz could finish with 58 saves? If he continues at his current pace, he'll wind up with 56. So if you want to see a new record, hope for close Braves games.
Your Anaheim Angels. Actually, they're our Anaheim Angels. My paychecks and Darin Erstad's are signed by the same people (his are a bit bigger). They might have looked like a basket case not so long ago, but now it's not a question of whether or not the Angels will break their franchise record (93) for victories, but by how much. The Angels are sitting on 90 wins right now, and they've got 17 games left on the schedule. So the only question is, will they win 100 games?
Your Tampa Bay Devil Rays and your Milwaukee Brewers. Seriously, they're yours if you want them. It's been 14 years since two major-league teams failed to win at least 35 percent of their games, but the Devil Rays (33 percent) and Brewers (34.9 percent) are making a strong bid to join the '88 Orioles (33.5) and Braves (33.8).