Questions abound as postseason draws near
Are Orioles for real? Will Rangers win it all? Can Pirates keep it up?
A'musings on a steamy afternoon as the dog days of August pose a myriad of unanswered questions to a baseball season that's winding down much too soon.
And as the song goes, next month the days will dwindle down to a precious few -- and then there's the postseason, with its new format of two Wild Cards from each league.
This season has been filled with more surprises than any in the past decade, but with seven weeks to go, there remains a ton of unanswered questions.
My Top 10:
10. Are the Orioles postseason bound?
When you look at the stats, it's obvious the Orioles are winning with mirrors. The managerial expertise of Buck Showalter has a lot to do with it. Baltimore hasn't had a winning season or been to the postseason since 1997. Although Showalter disagrees, it's unlikely the Orioles can catch the Yankees in the American League East, but a Wild Card is reachable. Rookie infielder Manny Machado, one of the team's top prospects, was recently called up and has added some excitement to the offense.
9. Is this the Rangers' year?
No offense to the Nationals, Yankees or Reds, but this just might be the best team in the Major Leagues. Manager Ron Washington has done a marvelous job keeping his players focused. Losing the last two World Series gives them enormous experience for 2012. Of course, they have to get there first, but that shouldn't be a problem. On second thought, this has been a season of surprises, so take nothing for granted.
8. What happened in Philly?
As surprises go, nothing equals the fall of the Phillies. After winning five consecutive National League East titles, they're fighting to stay out of the basement. Manager Charlie Manuel cautioned before the season that he had to keep reminding his players what it took to win those division titles and go to the World Series twice. Apparently, they weren't listening. Pitchers Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have had terrible seasons and even though injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley greatly weakened the offense, the demise was in reality a "team effort."
7. Will the umpires approve additional replay?
Commissioner Bud Selig says added video replay for balls fair or foul down the lines and whether balls are trapped by fielders is coming. But will it be for 2012? The World Umpires Association must approve the changes and so far has not. Many of the details, including installing the same number of cameras in each ballpark, and who will view the video and make decisions, must be worked out.
6. Will the Yankees win No. 28?
Anything short of the World Series is always a disaster for the Yankees. They've been on cruise control most of the season, but when Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez return from injuries, they should be positioned for a strong postseason. A 28th World Series certainly seems within reach.
5. Will Ozzie Guillen be the first to go?
As the season winds down not one manager has been dismissed. There is so much disappointment in Miami, what with the new ballpark and the offseason spending for free agents, there's no guarantee everyone in the front office or on the coaching staff will return. On April 10, 2012, Guillen was suspended for five games by the Marlins because comments made about former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Ozzie's had his moments this year, but a last-place finish in the NL East will not benefit him. The Marlins must send some type of message to their disappointed fans..
4. Can the Pirates keep it up?
The last time they were in the postseason was 1992, their last finish above .500. That's almost two decades without a winner, but the famine appears to be over. During Spring Training, manager Clint Hurdle talked about his young players and how they had to learn to withstand the pressure of an entire season -- all 162 games. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is having a career year. If the postseason were to begin today, the Pirates would be one of the two NL Wild Cards. No matter, they've been one of 2012's biggest surprise teams.
3. Can Bobby Valentine survive in Boston?
He said the other day the Red Sox are capable of doing something special and making the postseason. That "something special" hasn't been evident most of this season. At last glance, the Red Sox were three games under .500 and struggling to stay out of last place in the AL East. Many fingers have pointed at Bobby V. for this dismal season, but in fairness, he's not to blame. Injuries and a suspect pitching staff shoulder the responsibility. But if the players are divided about their manager, he's facing an almost impossible situation.
2. Is Evan Longoria the Rays' savior?
The Rays have the best pitching staff in the Major Leagues. Since the All-Star break, their staff ERA is an uncanny 2.22. Yet they've been inconsistent mostly because of their lack of offense and defenses lapses. Their best player returned Tuesday night after missing 85 games because of a partially torn left hamstring. His impact was obvious, and on Thursday night as the Rays swept the Blue Jays, Longo had three hits and just missed a home run. If the offense can support the pitching staff, the Rays should make the postseason as a Wild Card. Or, as Longoria goes, so go the Rays.
1. Should Strasburg be shut down?
Barring a total collapse, the Washington Nationals -- maybe 2012's No. 1 surprise -- should win the NL East and go to the postseason. And that brings us to the toughest question to answer. Should the Nationals, as planned, shut down ace Stephen Strasburg when he reaches 160 innings? He's 12-5 with a 2.97 ERA. Before Friday night's start, he'd pitched 127 1/3 innings. Because he had Tommy John surgery in 2010, the Nationals are determined not to overwork their ace. It seems unthinkable they'd shut him down after 160 innings and not let him pitch in the postseason. Without him during the late days of the season, they might not even reach that goal. Today, there's no easy answer. Regardless, the Nationals must use his remaining innings wisely.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.