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And presumably, by the time many of you are reading this, the games will be over. What today will determine will be whether or not a veteran team like the Giants will be able to take the next step from contender to playoff team; whether the Braves will recover from their four lost years in which they were trying to regain their excellence from ; and whether the Padres will rise from the ashes of their fall to the depths in and parlay their young core and terrific pitching staff into legitimacy by making the playoffs. Bobby Cox guiding the Braves into the playoffs is the romantic story as he's riding off into the sunset of retirement when the Braves are done; but to me, the most interesting story is that of the Padres.

After they spent the first half of the season surrounded by questions of realism and if they were going to trade Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell regardless of position in the standings, they held their own and built a large lead in the NL West and a safe one in the Wild Card; then they lost 10 straight games in early September and saw their leads dwind le to nothing. On Thursday, they lost a heartbreaker to the Cubs and entered San Francisco trailing the Giants by three games in the division; they were two games behind the Braves for the Wild Card. Now they're right back in playoff position and don't appear satisfied.

This is a flashpoint in the growth process for a young team. Will they do as the Yankees did in as they built the foundation for their championship teams after losing in ? Tho se Yankees faced a heavily favored Braves team in the World Series, got hammered in the first two games and grittily won three straight in Atlanta before clinching the series in game 6 at Yankee Stadium.

Without that victory, it's hard to imagine the Yankees cementing their place in history as a dynasty with three more titles in four years. Or will they be the Mets? They staged a similarly heroic comeback in when they were in essentially the exact same Wild Card position as the Padres going to the final weekend; the caught the Reds and won the one-game playoff in Cincinnati on Monday as Al Leiter pitched the game of his life with a 2-hit shutout; they shocked the Diamondbacks in the NLDS ; then came thisclose to being the first team to come back from a series deficit against the Braves.

Those Mets went to the World Series in and lost; then they stumbled out of contention as Bobby Valentine 's control of the team disappeared, GM Steve Phillips was fired and they didn't return to the playoffs until There are many examples of teams facing the fork in the road to greatness and making a wrong turn. PairFace writes re the Phillies and me:. Well Paul, you begrudgingly gave Amaro some credit, so I guess I can live with that.

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But you went out of your way to rip Amaro at length on several occasions, and only credit him when someone calls you on the carpet for it. I would think it would be to your benefit, as someone trying to sell objective baseball analysis, to hand le your non-favorite teams with a litt le more objectivity and not so much favoritism for your team. I never said Amaro was a "top-tier" GM.

He will have to prove that over time. But he has done a good job to this point, and has brought big pieces in at the last 2 trading deadlines. Not even Cashman , with his endless reserves. BTW, did you really call the Yankees "conscious of their finances"??? That would be the first time I've ever heard that term associated with that organization.

Just saying. I agree that getting Oswalt was at least a partial admission of a mistake in dealing Lee away. But as it stands, the Phils will have Halladay , Oswalt and Hamels under control next year, and perhaps That's as clo se to guaranteed pennant contention as there is in baseball. Lee pitching out the year in Philly, and then leaving, would not have left the Phils in as good a position as they are right now. The Phils are built for the here and now. I think every rational Phils' fan realizes the win dow for this group closes sometime after the season. Whether the win dow closes quickly or gradually is irrelevant to me.

This is the time for this group to collect all the hardware it can. I am with you in that I would gladly trade some down years in the future for pennants and championships now. That's why Howard 's contract doesn't bother me so much, becau se there are no more uncertain arbitration years to deal with, and Amaro will know exactly how much wigg le room he will have at next year's trading deadline. Calling me on the carpet? That's garbage.

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I give credit when it's due; I rip when it's due. If you look at what happened with the Oswalt trade, I credited Amaro ; with the Lee trade in , I said the following: "T hey held onto their vaunted prospect Ky le Drabek and still managed to get a top-of-the-rotation starter in Cliff Lee. Am I supposed to bow at Ruben Amaro at any litt le thing he does that I deem intelligent?

The prospects he got back for Lee were beside the point and we won't know about that deal until at least at the earliest.

Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide

I've acknowledged the wisdom in placing his ego second whi le silently acknowledging the Lee error. If anything, I'm harder on the Mets than I am on other teams. The same evenhandedness I gave to Omar Minaya when I went deal-by-deal on his tenure to provide full context whi le he was under siege is what I would provide for Amaro if I did a similar dissection. Amaro is playing for the nowand that's the right thing to dowhich exemplifies the glaring mistake he made in trading Lee. They were lucky in that Roy Oswalt finally asked out of Houston and agreed to go to an East Coast team which, prior to his frustration boiling over, was not going to happen.

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That said, the system is essentially gutted aside from Domonic Brown ; they have tho se youngsters in the low minors like Jonathan Singleton , but by , as I said they're going to be old and expensive. The days of the Yankees spending unlimited money are overthey do have payroll constraints; it sounds ridiculous, but it's true.

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Brian Cashman had to get permission to expand the payroll to sign Chan Ho Park in the spring. They didn't make the aggressive play for Oswalt as they should've. Howard's contract isn't due to any flaws in his game as much as it is the circumstances surrounding it. As I said when he signed it, where was he going? No one was going to come clo se to matching that contract; in fact, they could've gotten him for far less than what they paid. They're going to regret that contract.

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Billy Beane to the Mets? Did I actually read tho se words? Now that would be a fun trip for you to write about. His name has been mentioned repeatedly; I don't want him and he's not coming. Trust me when I tell you I'll have plenty enough to say if they bring in Sandy Alderson. MacW writes RE Ichiro :. Prince, once again the assumption that Ichiro could hit 25 to 30 homers a year if he simply cho se to is completely unfair. In Japan Ichiro hit as many as 25 homers in games, and his slugging percentage in his seven years there was around. But in the U. Gerald Perry , the Mariners hitting coach in , encouraged Ichiro to hit the ball on the ground and u se his speed, which Ichiro did.

Was Ichiro selfish to do so? Perry seems to have had the right idea. When Al Garcia takes his special operations team into southeastern Arizona, he uncovers massive corruption leading right back to Washington DC. Garcia's probe of cross-border drug smuggling and brutal drug related murders of innocent American citizens exposes a network of View Product.

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