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We saw lots of wheeling and dealing last week in baseball as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, but unlike past years, there didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency from general managers as some of them grumbled about what’s really at stake in the grand scheme of things.

The main reason for the grumbling is this year's new playoff format where four teams have the possibility of being one-and-out of the playoffs.

It’s a tough task to measure -- weighing out playoff possibilities that might happen against mortgaging your future away by dealing top prospects. While two more playoff positions were added for this season, the reward doesn’t seem as attractive for Wild Card teams as in the past where they’ll get only one game to ultimately decide the results of their long 162-game regular season schedule.

Teams that win the division this year will be guaranteed at least five games to show off their roster in the divisional series, but surprisingly, as of Monday morning, we didn’t see teams like the Yankees, Reds, Rangers, or Giants make any major transactions. The teams that tried to make their winning moves are those battling for Wild Card positions like the Pirates, Dodgers, White Sox, and Angels.

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For this season only, to accommodate the late addition of the Wild Card game, the lower-seeded team will get the first two games at home in a best-of-five series, with the higher seeded team getting the final three games at home. Next season, it will be a 2-2-1 format.

It may seem like an edge getting the first two games at home because of early momentum possibly given to the lower-seeded team, but it really isn’t when considering the Wild Card team only gets to use their ace once in the five possible games.

Say the Angels win a Wild Card spot. Naturally, you’d expect Jered Weaver to start in what would be their most important game of their season at that time, but he won’t be seen again if winning by their ALDS opponent until Game 3 on the road, negating any edge they might have had in pitching. As good as Zack Grienke should be at home in one of the first two home games, he’s dreadfully average -- to say the least -- on the road.

I think some of the GM’s are feeling that they might be able to do more with less because of 10 playoff positions now. And if they lose the one-game playoff, at least they still have their hand-picked talent ready to blossom next spring.

Teams that gave up the most, like the Dodgers and Angels, have a tremendous amount of pressure to win right now. Teams like the Pirates, who haven’t had a winning season or playoff appearance in 19 years, feel they have enough in the tank to make a run for one of the playoff positions without letting go of their prized farm possessions.

Trade Deadline Winner
Even if the Dodgers don’t get Ryan Dempster or Shane Victorino as expected, they still had the most impactful transaction of the trade season by acquiring Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins. The sometimes aloof and disinterested Ramirez gets to start a new baseball life in a baseball city that is very forgiving and could make him a real star.

It was only a month ago when the Dodgers were mired in a seven-game losing streak, three of which came at rival San Francisco and allowed the Giants to take control of the NL West. Fast-forward to last weekend, with the new revived Dodgers featuring Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Ramirez hitting 2-3-4 in the lineup, and the Dodgers returned the favor by sweeping the Giants.

In his first five games with the Dodgers, Ramirez has got at least one hit and scored in all five, including seven RBI’s and a game winning extra-innings home run Friday night in San Francisco. Ramirez is the perfect addition to the Dodgers lineup and has them looking like a tough lineup again, like we saw in April and May when the entire West Coast was making trips to Las Vegas and betting the Dodgers to win the World Series.

Most sports books will tell you the Dodgers winning it all is their worst-case scenario with 12-to-1 being the current price offered. If you think this Ramirez-LA marriage can continue to be a beautiful honeymoon for two more months and don’t have a Dodgers ticket yet, you better get in line because 12-to-1 will be gone very soon.

One last cherry on top for the Dodgers; Clayton Kershaw’s foot problems looked to be a thing of the past on Sunday as the reigning Cy Young winner pitched his first game without allowing a run since May 19. Before Sunday’s game, Kershaw had seen his ERA balloon from 1.90 to 3.14 over that stretch.

Pirate Saturdays
Pittsburgh continued their hot run on Saturdays with a hard-fought 4-3 win at Houston, taking their record to 15-2 on Saturdays this season. No Saturday game will be as big as the one they play this week as they travel to Cincinnati, a team they have gamely been hanging with, but a 10-game win streak is hard to match. We’ll find out a lot about what the Bucs are made of in the series, and on Saturday, it doesn’t look promising with James McDonald on the mound.

In McDonald's first 17 starts of the season, he have up only four runs once, and kept the Pirates alive in low-scoring games. In his last four starts, he’s given up four runs or more in all four games, combining for a total of 20 runs allowed with Pittsburgh losing three of the games. On Sunday, he was very generous with an Astros squad that lost 12 straight games and helped them end their dubious streak.

McDonald did beat the Reds in his two starts against them earlier this season, allowing only one run in 14 innings, but the form of that pitcher is long gone. Look for the Reds to take two-of-three from the Bucs, including Saturday, despite their impressive run on that day of the week.

  
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