The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the NL West Division crown with a 5-0 over the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers were actually in a position to clinch the division last Sunday against the nearly pathetic Pittsburgh Pirates but the Bucs pulled off a 9th inning comeback. The Pirates blew out the Dodgers on Monday and then the Dodgers dropped two in a row to the San Diego Padres before losing last night to the Rockies. If the Rockies had swept this series they would become the NL West champs.
But the Dodgers have led the NL West from start to finish. The Dodgers proved their legitimacy when they played nearly .600 ball during Manny Ramirez's suspension. During Ramirez's absence, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp emerged as the club's offensive leaders. Ethier and Kemp continued to perform after Manny's return prior to the All-Star break. Casey Blake, James Loney, Rafael Furcal and Juan Pierre were also beacons of dependability.
Catcher Russell Martin struggled offensively but was solid behind the plate. The Dodgers starting pitching is a mixed bag. Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Randy Wolf, Hiroki Kuroda and Jon Garland make for an adequate starting rotation. Kershaw was spectacular tonight. I've seen him pitch on a number of occasions but he never really impressed me. He began the game by striking out the first five Rockies he faced. Tonight, Kershaw pitched six shutout innings striking out ten batters.
However, the Dodgers bullpen is amazing. Jonathan Broxton throws country hard ball as the Dodgers closer. NL hitters were frustrated by the likes of Ronald Belisario, Ramon Tronscoso and Hong-Chih Kuo in the late innings.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention manager Joe Torre. He's going to the post-season for the 14th consecutive year which is an MLB record. He can now add two consecutive NL West titles with the Dodgers along with his 12 post-season appearances with the Yankees. Actually, it's his 15th post-season appearance as a manager and his 3rd NL West title. Torre guided the Atlanta Braves to the NL West title in 1982. Yes, the Atlanta Braves were in the NL West despite adhering to Eastern Standard Time until 1994.
The Dodgers will host the St. Louis Cardinals for Game 1 of the NLDS on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.
But don't feel too sorry for the Colorado Rockies. Despite the loss, the Rockies have earned their second NL Wild Card spot in three seasons. Four months ago, it didn't look like the Rockies were going anywhere but home in October. The Rockies were 18-28 when they dismissed manager Clint Hurdle and replaced him with former Dodgers manager Jim Tracy. This is part of what I wrote on this blog back on May 29th:
Tracy did guide the Dodgers to the NL West Division Championship in 2004 but would be ousted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. It is worth noting that each of the last three seasons he managed his teams have lost at least 90 games. So I'm not sure if he is the answer. Then again the Rockies might already be looking to 2010.
The Rockies sensational finish in 2007 must seem like ancient history to baseball fans in Colorado and most of all to Clint Hurdle.
Well, all Jim Tracy did was guide the Rockies to a 75-41 record. The Rockies are very much looking in the present. Ditto for their fans. So what do I know?
Bear in mind also that two of the three years that Tracy's team lost more than 90 games was when he was the helm of the Pittsburgh Pirates. What manager isn't going to lose at least 90 games with the Pirates?
As for Clint Hurdle, he harbors no bitterness. Hurdle is an occasional panelist on the MLB Network. The Rockies are a frequent topic of discussion and he couldn't be happier for their renewed success. A lot of other managers might not have tolerated being in such a position. But Hurdle had managed the team for more than seven seasons. You don't just suddenly lose affection for your players. And the Rockies haven't lost affection for Hurdle. At the time of his firing, General Manager Dan O'Dowd noted, "Clint has been offered a significant role within our organization, and it is our hope that he accepts it."
Well, it appears that Jim Tracy will have to jump another hurdle en route to Philadelphia where Game 1 of the NLDS will commence against the Phillies on Wednesday. During tonight's game, Rockies ace Jorge de la Rosa pulled a groin muscle after throwing a couple of pitches to Rafael Furcal in the bottom of the 4th inning. Prior to coming out of the game, de la Rosa had pitched three perfect innings.
If the Rockies lose their best pitcher in the post-season it could spell trouble. Tracy still has Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Marquis, Jason Hammels and Aaron Cook as potential starters in the NLDS. Assuming de la Rosa is unavailable, I think Tracy will go with Cook in Game 1, Jimenez in Game 2 and Marquis in Game 3. In any case, Rockies fans would rather have that worry than not having any Roxtober at all.
So the only post-season left to be determined is the AL Central. The Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins are tied for the division's lead going into the last day of the regular season. If the Tigers and Twins both win or lose their games (against the the White Sox and Royals, respectively) then there will be a one game playoff at the Metrodome on Tuesday. The winner gets to travel to New York to play the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS either Wednesday or Thursday.