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The Tampa Bay Rays have already surpassed last season’s win total back on August 5th, and are currently three wins away from their first official winning season as they sit on top of the mighty AL East. The Red Sox are struggling to keep up with the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Yankees are already out of the division race. The Rays’ hitting has been solid in 2008, their defense has vastly improved, and their pitching has been fantastic. They also arguably have the best top-to-bottom starting rotation in all of baseball.

The most impressive aspect of this franchise, however, is that it is built to succeed for years to come.

Doug Eddings once again makes a key ruling in A.J. Pierzynski's favor. This time it's pretty obvious that Mr. Eddings got the call wrong. Gregory discusses this scenario, as well as the AL MVP race, both Cy Young races, Ryan Braun's ability to handle quality pitching, and some of the players acquired by the Yankees in this week's Pepper.

A year-and-a-half ago, Keith decried the Mark DeRosa signing as a DeBacle.  After exceeding all expectations on both sides of the ball, this can be described as nothing other than a Glabbe Gaffe. Mark DeRosa has been a valuable cog in this 2008 Cubs machine, and his success might change the way we think about role-players-turned-starters who are coming off career years.

Respect comes in two forms this week with the Texas Rangers.  Josh Hamilton becomes the first player to draw a bases-loaded intentional walk since Barry Bonds did in 1998 (even though Game of Shadows leads us to believe that Bonds felt he wasn't respected as a slugger that year).  Ron Washington then lays down the law for struggling closer C.J. Wilson, who (perhaps inadvertently) had shown up Washington while being removed from the game.  Gregory has the details and much, much more in this week's Pepper.

Tyrus Raymond Cobb - Reckless base runner or aggressive sparkplug? Callous racist or brilliant tactician? Contact hitter or greatest slugger of his era? Al Stump's Cobb helps elucidate one of the most important players in the history of the game.

In addition to this history lesson, Gregory analyzes the affects of injuries on the two youngest franchises in baseball, the AL Central race, the two worst players in baseball, and the decline of Ken "The Hawk" Harrelson in this week's Pepper.

Last week, a historic event took place at Wrigley Field. The first ever minor league game was played there, with Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg taking part in the Wrigley game action for the first time since 1997. Unfortunately, at the same event, Gregory unearthed a Cubs fan who gives all of Cub Nation a bad reputation and helps justify Marty Brennaman's comments villifying all Cubs fans.

Anytime you have a Philadelphia Phillies hitter from somewhere between 1890 and 1938 in front of you and you want to consider whether he belongs among the all-time greats, you have to consider one thing first. Did he hit left handed? If the batter in front of you hit left handed, you can pretty much assume that his numbers are significantly inflated as a result of having played in the Baker Bowl.

This means you, Lefty O’Doul, Chuck Klein, Cy Williams, Sam Thompson, and Billy Hamilton. This means you too, Gavvy Cravath, with your crafty opposite-field right-handed hitting.

Before the season started, I laid it on the line for the Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers. I was convinced that both teams were destined for success, and thus far 2008 has rewarded my faith. Why? Well, for one thing, I was convinced that both teams were loaded with good, young, developing talent. But more importantly, I noted an important step taken by both teams: both the Brewers and the Rays made important strides in improving their defenses this past off-season, and it has made all the difference.

It is, in a sense, as simple as that – teams with lots of talent on the mound and at the plate but with bad defenses address their defense and turn their franchise around. So, based on this simple formula, are there any teams to watch for next season? Well, it is too early to tell which teams are going to address their defensive woes this off-season, but it is not too soon to tell which teams need to do so.

This week's Pepper not only analyzes the trade deadline acquisitions of Ken Griffey Jr, Ivan Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and everyone involved in the Manny Ramirez trade, but it also examines the return to health of Chris Carpenter, Francisco Liriano, Roy Oswalt, and Mike Hampton, with an obligatory shout out to Greg Maddux as well.

With the non-waiver deadline past, it has become much easier to separate the contenders from the pretenders.  Teams like Texas and Toronto might have convinced us that they were still in it had they acquired a pitcher and a hitter, respectively.  The Tigers might have floated above the Line of Death had they not traded one of their most valuable players for a middle reliever.  As it is, more than half of the teams in baseball now find themselves with no hope for playoff contention.

So behold the 14 teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot and the 16 teams who might still deal a free-agent-to-be in the coming weeks.  As always, feel free to comment.

The deal that everyone said wouldn't happen happened. After years of bickering and Manny being, well, Manny, the 36-year old Boston outfielder has finally been traded. Yesterday, it was announced that Manny would be headed across the country to play for the Dodgers after he was dealt in a three-team trade that also involved the Pirates. This was one of the biggest in-season trades of all time, and Tony likes the deal from each team's perspective.

Gregory does his best to represent the message boards in a rainy softball match. Join him as the internet arrives at Armor Park.

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