Major League Baseball
What happened to the playoff races?

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Geez, a couple of weeks ago it looked as if we were going to have a pretty exciting September with all the divisions, as well as the wild cards, up for grabs. Now it appears all the playoff teams in the American League are set, while in the NL there are just two divisions and maybe the wild card in play.

After sweeping the Mets in a four-game series last week at home, it appeared the Phillies were ready to make a serious September run. They are a weird team, though. Once they have any pressure on them, they falter. It has been going on for years and it looks like it has happened once again.

Since that thrilling ninth inning win over the Mets on August 30, which pulled Philadelphia within two games of the NL East lead, the Phils have dropped four of six and now find themselves five games back in the division after a crushing, 9-8, ninth inning loss to the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday.

For those of you that did not see it, the Phillies' bullpen, which has been an Achilles' heel all season, gave up seven runs over the final two innings to seal their fate. And it wasn't the Geoff Gearys and Clay Condreys doing the damage, it was Tom Gordon and Brett Myers.

I have said it before. With that pitching staff, it was a shock they hung around this long. Now, barring an unforeseen collapse, the Mets should be well on their way to a second straight division title.

The Phils still have a shot at the wild card, but that loss on Wednesday is the type that could derail a season. I don't see how they come back from that. Plus, they are still three games back of the San Diego Padres.

I am thinking the Phils are done. Fans in Philly, though, can take solace in the fact that I declared the Milwaukee Brewers dead last week and they are right back in the mix of the NL Central, tied with the Chicago Cubs atop the division.

It looks as if I may have been a bit premature in throwing the dirt on the grave of the Brewers. After losing two of three to the Cubs, Ned Yost's crew has responded with wins in five of their last six games.

I should have known better than to give the Cubs the division. They have been disappointing their fans for over 100 years. Why should this season be any different?

By the way, I still think the Cardinals have no shot, despite the fact they are only a game back of the leaders. And for all of you out there who thought Mark Mulder was going to be the answer to that pitiful rotation down the stretch, that's not happening. Mulder's line on Wednesday: 4 IP, 6 runs, 8 hits. Thanks for nothing.

While the NL Central is tight, the best playoff race down the stretch will be in the NL West. Not because it is going to be any closer than the Central, but because, unlike the Central, there will be some decent teams involved.

Arizona and San Diego have traded the top spot back-and-forth the last week, and as I write this the upstart Diamondbacks hold a game edge on the Padres, with the Los Angeles Dodgers lurking 3 1/2 games behind the leader.

Then only drawback to that race is that it may lose some juice because whatever team winds up finishing second out there will more than likely already be in the playoffs thanks to the wild card.

It is pointless to even elaborate on the AL playoff picture at this point. Boston, Cleveland and the Angels will be the division winners, with the Yankees winning the wild card. Game over. See you in October.


Someone asked me the other day which trio I would rather have on my team: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins or Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran?

It is tough. Utley is probably the best of the bunch, but when Beltran is on there are not many better players in the game. Problem with that, though, is that he is more often off than on. Nobody is going to hit home runs like Howard, who will get you 45+ a season by accident like he is doing this season. However, his game is nowhere near as well-rounded as Wright's. Reyes can do everything and is possibly the most exciting player in baseball, but Rollins is perhaps the most underrated player in the game.

To me it comes down to the two shortstops. Would I rather have Reyes or Rollins? If you asked me before the season I would have no doubt taken Reyes, but Rollins is quietly putting together one of the best offensive seasons ever by a National League shortstop this year. Plus he is just so consistent.

But if Phillies general manager Pat Gillick got a call from the Mets' Omar Minaya tomorrow and was offered Reyes for Rollins straight up, he would take the deal in a heartbeat. He'd be a fool not to.

So, since Reyes is 24 and Rollins will be 29 in November, I guess I would lean towards the Mets' trio.

It is real close, though.
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Chris Ruddick

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