Wild about Philly's postseason chances
Bud Selig and Major League Baseball got it right when they added the wild card in 1994. Just take a look at the current National League wild-card race: Three teams are within a game.
NL WILD-CARD STANDINGS
Last month I said the NL wild card was going to come out of the West, but that has changed dramatically because the Giants haven't pitched well -- and now they've fallen so far behind that it's either going to be the Phillies or the Braves. I thought the injuries to the Phillies were going to decimate them but, lo and behold, Carlos Ruiz and Raul Ibanez got hot and they won a bunch of games without Ryan Howard in the lineup.
If the playoffs started today and it was the Phillies, Braves, Padres and Reds, the Phillies would have an edge as a favorite for the World Series because of their starting pitching. Their bullpen is inconsistent but they play good defense, they run well, they steal bases and they can beat you in a lot of different ways offensively. Plus, they have one thing the rest of the aforementioned teams don't: a roster chock full of experience.
There's a big misconception about what goes on in the clubhouse during a pennant race. People think that the players don't speak to each other and everyone is on edge, but it's actually the opposite.
I remember when I played back in 1993, we studied what Montreal and St. Louis were doing but we didn't go into every series saying, "Oh my gosh, we're playing the Expos, we have to win two out of three and if we don't, our season is over." Athletes have the best short-term memory. We have an innate ability to take it one day at a time -- especially baseball players.
I've heard analysts who never played baseball criticize players for smiling or joking around after a loss. What they don't know is that players go out and perform for 162 games, so they can't get discouraged after every loss. Just ask anyone on the Pittsburgh Pirates' roster. Players understand that there's no reason to get on edge for a three-game series. The key to making it into the postseason is to maintain an even keel.
At this point, you know you're good if you're in a pennant or wild-card race. To say one game is more important than another is silly because the Reds could lose three games to the Giants and then they could sweep the Cardinals in the next series and get those three games right back.
What is said in the clubhouse now is no different from what is said in the clubhouse during the first week of the season. You'll never hear someone say, "Oh, in September we really have to turn it up!" In football, there's a different mentality: They have pep talks to get guys fired up because they play only once a week. You can't do that in baseball. You'll burn out in less than a month. Next thing you know, you look at the calendar and you're saying to yourself, "Geez, it's only May? We still have four more months left."
There are no great speeches that motivate you through the month of September. You just keep going because so far what you're doing has worked.
John Kruk is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight."
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Tuesday's Best Matchups
Cardinals at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. ET
For the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright -- who ranks first in the NL in ERA (2.06), shares the league lead in wins (17) and ranks fourth in strikeouts (165) -- it's an opportunity to bolster his already-impressive Cy Young credentials. For the Pirates, it's 84 losses and counting.
Twins at Rangers, 8:05 p.m. ET
If Carl Pavano doesn't fix what's ailing him, it could get ugly in Arlington. The Twins' 15-game winner has allowed a total of 25 hits in his two last starts -- a span of 12.1 innings. Opponents batted .417 and had a 1.026 OPS during that stretch. The Rangers' Colby Lewis looks to crack double digits in wins.
Reds at Giants, 10:15 p.m. ET
BASEBALL TONIGHT ON THE AIR
|10 p.m. ET on ESPN|
Host: Steve Levy|
Analysts: J.P. Ricciardi, John Kruk
|12 a.m. ET on ESPN|
Host: Steve Levy|
Analyst: John Kruk
Tulo, don't you know
WEB GEMS LEADERBOARD
MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST
The Rangers almost pulled off the first combined no-hitter since 2003. Rich Harden, fresh off the DL, tossed 6⅔ no-hit innings, Matt Harrison got one out in the seventh and Darren O'Day took care of the eighth. Neftali Feliz recorded one out in the ninth before Joe Mauer delivered a single up the middle. Texas beat Minnesota 4-0.
WORSTEdinson Volquez, RHP, Reds
The 27-year-old Cincinnati starter had the kind of outing that often ends up in a Jayson Stark blog or tweet. Volquez didn't make it out of the first inning of the Reds' 11-2 loss at San Francisco, allowing five runs on five hits and three walks. He needed 39 pitches to record just two outs.