ESPN’s Morgan and Phillips Discuss Top MLB Storylines
ESPN Sunday Night Baseball analysts Joe Morgan and Steve Phillips offer their analysts on some of the top Major League Baseball storylines in the final month of the regular season, including their postseason outlook and MVP and Cy Young predictions.
Top storylines of the season, heading down the stretch:
Matt Holliday’s impact on the Cardinals
Phillips – “When you look at all the deals the Cardinals made at the trade deadline, Matt Holliday transformed the team. Mark DeRosa is a good player and Julio Lugo gave them some depth, but Holliday has given them something they haven’t had – protection for Albert Pujols. Holliday’s production in one-run games has been fantastic – hitting .400 with four home runs, 11 RBIs and 22 hits – and the Cardinals are 11-4 in those games; 31-11 since the trade.
“Holliday has also helped the team take pressure off of its starting pitching. They are scoring more runs and providing a larger margin for error, which has made a huge difference.
“Their front office gave Tony LaRussa what he has been asking for – veterans to help plug holes and make an impact – to immediately separate them from everyone else in their division.”
Cardinals team to beat in N.L.
Morgan – “At the beginning of the season, everyone thought the Chicago Cubs would win the Central Division as they did last year, but they haven’t played up to their potential. The St. Louis Cardinals, with a healthy Chris Carpenter, experienced Adam Wainwright and the rest of their pitching staff stayed close because of the greatness of Albert Pujols. Then, when they added Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday, they became the best team in the National League.”
Consistency of the Rangers
Phillips – “The Texas Rangers have been an unbelievable story, sitting two games behind the Boston Red Sox in the wild card race. Ron Washington deserves so much credit for keeping the team together and maintaining their confidence. He is one of the most upbeat, positive people. When everyone else says no, he says yes. He once said that everyone else thought they were sinking, but they didn’t know his team was a submarine. I don’t think they have the pitching to beat the Red Sox, but they don’t believe that because of their manager.
“Pitching coach Mike Maddux is one of the most underrated acquisitions of the offseason. Dave Duncan is the best in baseball, but Maddux may become the next version of him. Pitching has become more of a priority under Nolan Ryan and one of the most significant factors to their success is Maddux. They’ve always been an offensive team and pitchers lost confidence in that ballpark, but they have been consistently good this season. They have overcome a lot of adversity. Scott Feldman, who used to be a submarine-style pitcher, is now throwing over the top and is having a career year leading their rotation.”
Yankees’ ballpark perfect for their team
Morgan – “The Yankees have become almost unbeatable at the new Yankee Stadium because it fits the strengths of their team. They have a lot of guys that hit fly balls, especially left-handed hitters. Derek Jeter has taken advantage of the short right field wall. They also have good strikeout pitchers who keep the opposition from duplicating their approach.”
Yankees’ World Series quest
Phillips – “The regular season for the New York Yankees has been great, as they will likely head into the playoffs as the best team in baseball, but postseason success is what matters most. Very rarely do free agent signings pay dividends like they have for the Yankees this season. CC Sabathia has been phenomenal and Mark Teixeira is a strong A.L. MVP candidate. They’re also getting bounce-back years from Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano, and Mariano Rivera keeps on going strong.
“The Yankees have a strong starting rotation, balance and depth in the bullpen and a circular lineup – no beginning and end; each guy can drive the ball out of the ballpark — with seven players with 20 home runs and 70 RBIs. They start every inning with someone who can get on base, followed by someone who can drive balls out of the park. Their defense is also improved.
“The big question is whether Alex Rodriguez can gain some momentum heading into October, in what has been a roller coaster year due to his health, and be a major part in getting a championship in New York.”
Giants most feared postseason team?
Phillips – “The Colorado Rockies have made a great turnaround this season, but the San Francisco Giants – on any given night, with their starting pitching – have a chance to shut you out behind Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. As a team, they have 18 shutouts, with the Arizona Diamondbacks a distant second with 12. Teams have to be scared of the Giants making the postseason because facing Lincecum and Cain in a five-game series is daunting.
“They may be one of the toughest to beat in the playoffs, but may not make the postseason because their offense is one of the least productive in the game.”
Cardinals over Phillies due to consistency; Don’t rule out L.A.
Morgan – “The St. Louis Cardinals are the best team in the N.L. because of their consistency. Philadelphia won a lot of games leading up to the All-Star break, then lost a couple in a row recently and have not been as consistent. The Phillies got on a roll last year at the right time and had a perfect Brad Lidge. He hasn’t been perfect this year, and they’re not sure what he’ll give them in the postseason.
“We can’t forget about the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have proven they can get hot for long periods of time.”
Red Sox and Tigers could cause postseason matchup problems
Phillips – “It’s interesting the teams with the two best records in the A.L. — the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels — may get the toughest draws. Detroit’s Justin Verlander is 1-1 with a 1.29 earned run average against the New York Yankees and Edwin Jackson is 0-1 with a 1.38 ERA. Power arms tend to prevail in the postseason and the Tigers can take advantage in a five-game series. The Angels would be matched against the Boston Red Sox, who have defeated them the last two times they’ve met in the playoffs. The experience and depth of the Red Sox and power arms of the Tigers could be considerable obstacles for the Yankees and Angels.”
Yankees still the favorites
Morgan – “The New York Yankees are the favorites because they can win low or high scoring games and they have good enough pitching and defense to win any game on any day. They are the only team like that in baseball. CC Sabathia, at the top of the rotation, is a special pitcher. Their defense has been much better. They know how to manufacture runs, with enough speed sprinkled throughout the lineup to put pressure on the defense.”
Morgan – “Four guys are in the running, depending on what they do the rest of the way – Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in New York, Kendry Morales has gone under the radar with the Angels, and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer.”
Phillips – Joe Mauer: “Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are having great years, but Mauer is hitting .367 with 26 home runs despite missing a month of the season. He’s having the best year.”
Morgan and Phillips – Albert Pujols.
Cy Young favorites:
Morgan – “CC Sabathia, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez are all in contention. It will hinge on how well they continue to perform down the stretch.”
Phillips – Zack Greinke: “Zack Greinke is probably the leader with a 2.22 ERA and 13-8 record, but there has never been a Cy Young winner with less than 16 wins, so he has some ground to make up. Keep an eye on Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander as well.”
Morgan – “Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in St. Louis, along with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in San Francisco are the leaders. Lincecum and Cain have pitched very well, but haven’t gotten a lot of the decisions because of their limited run support.”
Phillips – Chris Carpenter: “Tim Lincecum is certainly a very strong candidate, but what Chris Carpenter has done in four fewer starts is phenomenal. He’s been the most dominate pitcher down the stretch…with Lincecum and Adam Wainwright still in the mix if something dramatic happens.”