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Tim Brown / SUNDAY REPORT

They're Armed and Dangerous

July 30, 2006|Tim Brown

Anyone who has watched much baseball this season knows that what contenders and faux contenders need most by Monday afternoon is not Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee, but Barry Zito or Dontrelle Willis, the possible exceptions being in Minnesota and Anaheim.

Even the Dodgers, who scored all of 29 runs in the first two weeks after the All-Star break and lost 13 of 14 games, have longer-term issues on the pitching staff. They scored 12 runs in a three-game sweep by the bats of the Padres, and nowhere is it written that a team can't win a 3-2 game once in a while, especially one that fancies itself a player in the NL West.

Soriano in the outfield would be nice. Willis on the mound would be much better, particularly in October.

As it stands, the Twins, because of Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano at the top of their rotation, would have a marked advantage come the playoffs, according to baseball scouts and personnel men.

"I would have to go with the Minnesota Twins -- assuming they are in the postseason," one assistant general manager said in an e-mail. "Facing Liriano and Santana can quickly put you behind the 8-ball in a short series and the back end of their bullpen (Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan) is throwing the ball extremely well. As we sit today, they certainly have the hot hand(s)."

A veteran personnel man listed in order the Twins, Red Sox, A's (if healthy) and Angels as best stocked for October.

"I still like [John] Lackey at the front with Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez in the back," he said. "Basically, if you can be very strong in the front two spots [Santana and Liriano, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett] and in the back [Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon], you're usually in pretty good shape."

Here are the rankings, culled after conversations with multiple baseball people, along with the usual indifferent perusal of stats:

1. Twins: Postseason rotation: Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Francisco Liriano, Carlos Silva.

Closer: Joe Nathan.

Just in case: Scott Baker, Boof Bonser.

The lowdown: Manager Ron Gardenhire could go back-to-back with Santana and Liriano, looking for the early surrender, or split them up, keeping like styles apart. Probably, it won't matter.

2. Red Sox: Postseason rotation: Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, David Wells.

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon.

Just in case/someday maybe: Tim Wakefield, Matt Clement.

The lowdown: The Schilling-Beckett combination is heavy on postseason experience and success. Wells is heavy too.

3. Angels: Postseason rotation: John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver.

Closer: Francisco Rodriguez.

Someday maybe: Bartolo Colon.

The lowdown: The loss of Colon, a power arm at a power time of year, is a killer, particularly as his postseason replacement -- Weaver -- is short on experience and getting long on innings.

4. Tigers: Postseason rotation: Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson.

Closer: Todd Jones.

Someday maybe: Mike Maroth.

The lowdown: Rogers' postseason ERA: 8.85. The others starters' postseason appearances combined: 0.

5. A's: Postseason rotation: Barry Zito, Danny Haren, Joe Blanton, Esteban Loaiza.

Closer: Huston Street.

Someday maybe: Rich Harden.

The lowdown: The critical guy here is Harden, first because he's arguably their best pitcher, second because he knocks Loaiza out of a possible start.

6. White Sox: Postseason rotation: Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland.

Closer: Bobby Jenks.

Just in case: Javier Vazquez, Brandon McCarthy.

The lowdown: Remember these guys? Last year, four complete games in the ALCS alone? They've got two this season.

7. Astros: Postseason rotation: Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Brandon Backe.

Closer: Brad Lidge.

Just in case: Taylor Buchholz

The lowdown: Clemens will have plenty of legs left, unlike last October, but Oswalt has been unsettlingly inconsistent and Pettitte has been appallingly so.

8. Blue Jays: Postseason rotation: Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Ted Lilly, Shaun Marcum.

Closer: B.J. Ryan.

Someday maybe: Gustavo Chacin.

The lowdown: Pitching twice in a short series, Halladay would get the Blue Jays two-thirds of the way there. Burnett is another postseason neophyte. Lilly is better than his reputation.

9. Yankees: Postseason rotation: Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, Chien-Ming Wang, Jaret Wright.

Closer: Mariano Rivera.

Someday maybe: Carl Pavano.

The lowdown: Johnson avoids the cross hairs as long as Alex Rodriguez is around, but it can be lonely on the Yankee Stadium mound in October.

10. Mets: Postseason rotation: Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel, John Maine.

Closer: Billy Wagner.

Just in case/someday maybe: Orlando Hernandez, Brian Bannister.

The lowdown: Pedro's toe, Pedro's hip, Pedro's psyche. Big-time gamer, though.

11. Cardinals: Postseason rotation: Chris Carpenter, Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis, Anthony Reyes.

Closer: Jason Isringhausen.

Someday maybe: Mark Mulder.

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