Baseball Expert Tony DeMarco has been covering the big leagues since 1987, and been casting Hall of Fame ballots for the last 15 years. He answers questions weekly here:
Q. Aided by the fact that Chipper Jones is playing his final season, do you think the Braves will go all the way this year and win the World Series?
— Iain Banks, Sydney, Australia
A. That would make for a great story, of course, as every team wants to send out its star player or manager with a championship. But the ultimate Chipper send-off in itself isn't enough of an edge when it comes to postseason baseball.
Just look back two seasons ago in Atlanta — Bobby Cox's last in a 21-year run that will land him in Cooperstown someday soon. The Braves got to the playoffs as the wildcard with a 91-71 record, but were eliminated in four NLDS game by the Giants, who went on to win the World Series.
But that's not to say the Braves can't win this World Series — and in fact, you have to consider them a serious NL pennant contender. They are making a late run at the Washington Nationals, and even if they don't win make up a five and a half-game deficit entering Wednesday's games and win the NL East, they will enter the postseason with a victory total in the low-90s.
The one-game wildcard will be a coin-flip game, presenting a unique strategy/decision-making challenge to Fredi Gonzalez, as well as the other three managers in that situation. There really is no way of predicting what will occur in those two games — which as of today, would be Braves-Cardinals and A's-Orioles.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
More from the positive side: The Braves are hot of late, going 11-6 in September. They have a red-hot starting pitcher in Kris Medlen, a lock-down late-inning bullpen crew led by closer Craig Kimbrel, who will get some Cy Young Award consideration, and a handful of dangerous bats.
The Braves have scored the second-most runs among the five current NL playoff teams (trailing only the Cardinals), and have four players with at least 19 homers, plus the always-dangerous Jones with 14. They also have a star player who could earn a ton of money with a huge post-season in free-agent-to-be Michael Bourn.
And they're getting a late contribution from Dan Uggla, who had struggled most of the season — hitting just .151 over a 250-at-bat stretch to lose playing time entering this month. In his last 13 games through Tuesday, Uggla was 13-for-38 with two homers and eight RBI.
The Reds will enter the NL playoffs as a slight favorite, but this is a balanced NL playoff field in which the team that is playing the best in October will win. And that certainly could be the Braves — although their rotation could limit their chances.
Q. When car makers have new technology, they introduce it in their luxury cars, and it trickles down to the less-expensive models later. Wouldn't the postseason be a good time to introduce new forms of instant replay, since missed calls are magnified?
— Lawrence Anthony, Ocean Beach, Calif.
A. If you've read this space for any length of time, you know I'm a proponent of increased use of instant replay, so you're preaching to the choir, Lawrence.
I'd like to see fair-foul, trap-catch and calls on the bases open for review or challenge — and just as importantly, a fifth umpire or MLB official in the replay booth for quick decisions that are obvious to the television camera. The object is to get it right, and we already have the technology.
But there are limitations — time/game delays leading the list. Cost is another. And it's never going to get to the point where balls and strikes are challengeable. But there definitely is a place for more instant replay. You'll just have to accept that fact that change will come in trickles as long as Bud Selig is in charge.
As for timing, it's tough to institute something new for such an important time as the post-season. More likely, you'll see it tested in-season, as currently is the case with fair/foul camera-based technology similar to tennis that is being tested at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium. That very well could be instituted in time for the 2013 season.
Q. How dangerous would the Phillies be if they made the National League playoffs with a late run?
— Stephen Shoemaker, Tulsa
A. Passing four teams and making up a 4-game deficit with only 12 games remaining is a monumental challenge I don't think the Phillies are up to in this end-of-an-era season for them.
Truth is, the Phillies have been trending downward since their 2008 World Series title: 2009 — lost in the World Series; 2010 — Lost in the NLCS; 2011 — Lost in the first round. The final step down is missing the playoffs entirely, which is by far the likeliest scenario at this point.
In reality, the Phillies, a) are a .500 team with a slightly negative run differential; b) are stuck with a couple of very-pricey contracts with aging stars who aren't performing well; c) Have a very shaky bullpen in front of closer Jonathan Papelbon, and d) possess a drastically changing roster that will change more this off-season. They're Domonic Brown, Kevin Frandsen, Eric Krutz and John Mayberry now — not Raul Ibanez, Placido Polanco, Chooch Ruiz and Shane Victorino.
Hunter Pence is still second on the club in homers, and he was traded seven weeks ago. Jimmy Rollins leads the team with only 62 RBI, and is the only regular with enough at-bats to qualify for a batting title. As great as Cliff Lee has pitched this half, he still has only six wins. And Ryan Howard is struggling so much lately that the Astros walked Chase Utley twice intentionally on Sunday to get to him.
It's time for a roster re-tooling for the Phillies, and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. never has faced a bigger challenge.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.