This week in baseball

Andy Zides

The playoff picture is as follows: The Yankees will win the American League East and the Twins will win the American League Central.
The AL West and AL Wild Card will almost certainly be in favor of the A’s and the Angels. The Mariners are six games behind the A’s in the AL West and four behind the Angels for the Wild Card. The Red Sox , 8 1/2 games behind the Angels in the Wild Card, are done.
The Braves will win the National League East. The Cardinals just about have their playoff spot cemented, being 5 1/2 games ahead of the Astros in the NL Central. The NL West has the Diamondbacks 4 1/2 ahead of the Dodgers and 5 1/2 ahead of the Giants.
Barring an extreme Dodgers or Giants surge and a complete Diamondbacks slide, the D-Backs will win the West and the NL Wild Card will be either with the Dodgers or the Giants. The Astros, 6 1/2 behind the Dodgers and Giants in the Wild Card, which are just about finished.
Two interesting side notes.
The AL Central, with the Twins in first by 13 games over the White Sox, is such a weak division, that if the Twins played in the AL West, they would be eight games behind the A’s and in fourth place in the division.
Also, the Expos, baseball’s supposed “weakest link,” to be exterminated for the good of the whole this off season, is just 12 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Wild Card. They have a better record at 70-73 then eight other NL teams.
Who says Alex Rodriguez should not win the MVP because he plays on a last place team? The letters M-V-P mean most valuable player, and this is the first player in 2002 that one would pick on his or her all star baseball team.
He is the best all around hitter in the American League and arguably the best defensive shortstop, along with Omar Vizquel and Derek Jeter.
With 51 homeruns and 125 RBI, A-Rod has seven more homeruns and eight more RBI’s then anyone else in Major League Baseball. All of these great offensive numbers are being put up as a shortstop, which is the most challenging defensive position on the field besides catcher.
A-Rod has 15 more homeruns then Jason Giambi, whom some thought at the beginning of the year would easily hit 60 homers with the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium.
A-Rod also has 20 more homers then Miguel Tejada, who could be his closest rival for AL MVP. He is clearly the AL MVP and the best all around shortstop since Honus Wagner.
Two National League closers are approaching Bobby Thigpen’s 1990 all time Major League record of 57 saves in a single season.
John Smoltz (49) and Eric Gagne (48) are both in the hunt to seriously challenge Thigpen’s record. Just because Smoltz and Gagne are pitchers, and relief pitchers there is no reason why they should not be in contention for the NL MVP.
A great relief pitcher can boost a team’s confidence going into the crucial final innings of a game.
In 1996, when the Yankees had Mariano Rivera as a long relief pitcher used in the seventh and eighth innings and John Wetteland as the closer in the ninth, Yankee players knew if they took a lead into the last third of the game, they had won because of their great relief pitching.
Imagine the confidence on that Yankee team. All they had to do was win the first two thirds of the game, and the entire game was won. It took pressure off everyone, especially the starting pitchers who could come out of the game an inning or two early and save their arms for their next start.
After this year’s World Series when names like Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, Sammy Sosa, and Lance Berkman are being tossed around for who should win the NL MVP, do not shun Smoltz and Gagne because they are relief pitchers. These player’s overall value to the team is immense.