In this most backward of seasons, during which a rookie is the best player in the game, a playoff team shuts down its ace in September when he's healthy, a team sells for more than $2 billion and only an epic collapse stands between the Baltimore Orioles and the playoffs, of course the picture of impermeability is a 35-year-old relief pitcher who last year walked more hitters than he struck out.
Fernando Rodney? Of all the historically insane seasons, Fernando Rodney? Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman and – Fernando Rodney? By now it's time to kill the question marks, because it's true: Fernando Rodney has a 0.64 ERA, and if there's any lock in baseball at this juncture, it's – gulp – him.Oh, those wacky Mayans and their jokes. Seriously,
We swallow hard because we still can't quite believe it, but then it's Sept. 24 and the Boston Red Sox have yet to win 70 games, so believability remains a bit askew in 2012. A few teams have gone full Rodney already. The Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds have clinched playoff spots. All they're playing for is 100 victories and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Atlanta Braves are almost in, too, their magic number two and their place in the wild-card play-in game assured absent a full-on Nationals collapse.
And beyond that … it's not chaos, per se, but no team among the dozen "contenders" – which includes those in a playoff spot or within 4½ games, an arbitrary cutoff, yes, that excludes a Philadelphia team all of one game over .500 – calm exists on a sliding scale.
At 10 Degrees, we do our best to provide cutting-edge insight, and we figured there no better way to quantify that scale than with the latest in face-melting sabermetric technology. Behold: The Fernando Rodney Floating Head scale. Every team gets zero to five Rodneys, depending on just how strong their lock is on a postseason berth going into the last full week of the regular season.
In honor of the Orioles, we are going extras this week – one degree for each of the dozen teams left in the hunt, with an extra for the …
1. Detroit Tigers, who could've been in first place today and then got swept in a doubleheader by a Minnesota team that entered the day with the worst record in the American League.
Schedule: 4 vs. Kansas City, 3 vs. Minnesota, 3 at Kansas City
The Good: Miguel Cabrera is a madman (.346/.418/.769 in September and, yeah, leading in each of the traditional Triple Crown categories for the whole season). Justin Verlander may well win his second consecutive Cy Young. Al Alburquerque's return has been a huge boon to a bullpen that needs a fresh arm with Octavio Dotel's blowups of late.
The Ugly: Getting swept Sunday by the Twins certainly qualifies. So does a 10-11 record in September despite outscoring their opponents by 13 runs. Oh, and beyond Cabrera, the Tigers' power has disappeared. Without him, they've got 14 home runs in 21 games this month and are slugging .367.
The Scoop: The Tigers remain confident enough in themselves that manager Jim Leyland is slotting Verlander not for the 162nd game of the season but Game 1 of the division series. And there is the KC/Minnesota/KC schedule, which is like a pair of kings with an ace kicker. Plus the vulnerability of the …
2. Chicago White Sox never has been more evident than following a three-game sweep by the Los Angeles Angels extended the White Sox's losing streak to five and shrunk their division lead to one game.
Schedule: 3 vs. Cleveland, 4 vs. Tampa Bay, 3 at Cleveland
The Good: Well, the cookie part of their schedule is nice. Cleveland is 16-46 since July 19. And as for the cream-filled portion, the White Sox did sweep the Rays earlier this season. Plus their bullpen has been aces this month, from super rookie Nate Jones to Donnie Veal, the long-lost prospect who has reinvented himself as a good-looking lefty specialist.
The Ugly: Where to begin? How about with the eight runs scored during the five-game losing streak? Or the 55-game drought since the last time they plated 10 runs? (That would be July 24 against Minnesota.) Perhaps the dreadful Septembers of Kevin Youkilis, Alexei Ramirez and A.J. Pierzynski suffice? This White Sox team is dying by its offense. The group always has run hot and cold. It's high time to fire up the furnace.
The Scoop: The White Sox are taking the same tack as the Tigers, saving Chris Sale for Game 1 – or a tiebreaker. The good news for the White Sox is as much as they have looked like the crosstown team the last five days, they're still somehow in first place. The collapse is unlikely to continue against Cleveland. It's up to Tampa Bay to play spoiler and keep the White Sox as the worst of the contenders in September, just ahead of the …
3. Los Angeles Dodgers and their quickly diminishing playoff hopes.
Schedule: 3 at San Diego, 3 vs. Colorado, 3 vs. San Francisco
The Good: Hey, Clayton Kershaw came back! And Adrian Gonzalez hit a pair of homers Sunday after more than a 100-at-bat drought. And they're off to San Diego, where they're 4-2 this season. And Colorado has been almost as bad as the Cubs in the second half. And maybe San Francisco will rest its regulars. And … uh … check, please.
The Ugly: Luis Cruz is arguably the Dodgers' best hitter in September. Before this season, Luis Cruz had 4,891 plate appearances in the minor leagues and 169 in the major leagues.
The Scoop: The Cruz point is more illustrative than anything. The Dodgers' ballyhooed trades that made the top of their lineup seemingly indestructible have failed. This team has failed. Sunday's 5-3 win against Cincinnati marked the fourth time all month the Dodgers have scored five or more runs. They lost Kershaw for a bit, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly for the season, and still, their offense is the reasons they're only 1½ games ahead of the …
4. Arizona Diamondbacks, who, mind you, were under .500 before Colorado came to town over the weekend.