Monthly archives: October 2005
The dice are feelin' the pitchers so far, I tell you what. Today I rolled Ramon Ramirez, one of the two relief prospects Colorado received from the Yankees in the Shawn Chacon trade. I didn't expect very much from either Ramirez or his cohort Eduardo Sierra, so frankly I haven't looked at their stats all year. Was I right to be so dismissive?
Well, according to the early returns on Ramirez...yes. The righthander started the season as a starter with AAA Columbus, where he gave up 32 hits and nine walks in 27 innings. That "earned" him a demotion to AA Trenton, where he continued to start and was 6-5 with a 3.84 ERA and an improved 1.28 WHIP. He reported to Colorado's Tulsa affiliate 7/28 and worked as a swingman. His ERA jumped back up to 5.33 (coincidentally the same number it had been in Columbus) and his WHIP trended back upwards. He's in the Arizona Fall League playing for Peoria, again as a swingman, and he's been no better, posting a 7.53 ERA in seven games (one start). The AFL is a notorious hitters' league but his WHIP is back near 2.00 and that's not good anywhere.
The good news about Ramirez is he's not super old (24) and wherever he goes, he strikes guys out when he's not getting pounded by them (a composite 8.27 K/9 on the year). Sporadically effective righthanded middle relievers, however, are just about the least valuable commodity in baseball. I haven't looked at Sierra's numbers yet (the dice haven't told me to), but unless he's pitching like Felix Hernandez the Rockies got out and out rooked by NYY.
Update: Tracy Ringolsby says that Colorado could be a possible landing place for ousted Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta. One word: yes. Do this! I promise, adding DePodesta's player evaluation acumen to O'Dowd's respected old-school scouting skills would do more to make the Rockies better than any possible free agent player signing you might care to name. Pull the trigger on this one, Dan! We Rockies fans accept that we don't sign superstar players any more, so give us a superstar front office guy.
Here Comes the Sun
Today the dice say we're going to look at Sun-Woo Kim, but first, a few words on the Dodgers' firing of general manager Paul DePodesta. According to owner Frank McCourt this move is an attempt to restore order to a franchise that's been largely in disarray the past few seasons, but it's likely that it will only set off another volley of power struggles. The timing is peculiar, too. McCourt let DePodesta fire Jim Tracy, a good manager, because the two had ideological differences. If you're going to fire DePo anyway, why not try to keep Tracy? The other alarming thing is that venerated Dodger relic Tommy Lasorda has apparently recaptured the owner's ear. Lasorda doesn't want to come out of retirement to serve as manager or GM, but he does apparently want to choose who will fill those positions, from which no good can come. If Tommy gets the next Los Angeles management team their jobs, it only stands to reason that he will expect them to always take his advice as well. McCourt and only McCourt should make the decision -- as he seemingly did with DePodesta, only to dramatically flip-flop.
Paul DePodesta only ran the Dodgers for two years. One of those years, they won a division title. This year, they managed to stay in contention (sort of) with an injury-ridden team that had only Jeff Kent, Oscar Robles, and eighteen guys named "Jason." OK, it shouldn't come as any surprise that J.D. Drew, DePodesta's big offseason signing, got hurt. But can you really criticize the man for declining to pay Adrian Beltre $64 million to be less valuable than So Taguchi? Or for trading notorious first-half player Paul Lo Duca for much-needed starting pitching? Whatever you want to make of DePodesta's big league moves, you can't judge a GM's overall impact in just two years. You can't make a judgement on any of the guys DePo drafted in that short a time. For what it's worth, the farm system's overall ranking from Baseball America went up from 14th in Dan Evans' last year (2003) to 2nd last preseason.
But if the Dodgers want to fire their young, dynamic guys and bring in retreads (Lasorda wants Pat Gillick and Bobby Valentine), that's their business. The Angels, who have been better run for a while and now also spend more money, will continue eroding their fanbase. Hey, it took Kenny Williams a few years to figure out what he wanted to do and get the guys he needed to do it. How long will the Dodgers get before Gillick "retires" again, then tries to run the franchise from the shadows as he attempted in Seattle? This all comes as great news for the Rockies, as a divisional rival with a glorious history, superior resources, and better-looking uniforms has basically defused itself for the rest of the decade. Right on.
Okay then. Sun-Woo "Sunny" Kim was picked up off waivers from Washington in August and was pressed into starting duty immediately for the makeup doubleheader against Florida August 8th. Kim had been pretty bad for the Nationals predominantly in a middle relief role but as soon as he got to Colorado his ERA began to trend downwards. How about that? Pretty much all of his stats improved upon joining the Rockies, including K/9 (6.41 from 5.22) and opponents' OPS (.728 from .853). I don't think this indicates that Kim possesses Reverse Coors ability so much as he just prefers starting to relieving. Thanks to injuries and Jamey Wright's sublime Jamey Wright-ness, Kim got to start for most of the balance of the season. He stayed good, peaking with a complete-game shutout win over the Giants at Coors on 9/24.
Kim, now 28, was signed out of South Korea by Boston in 1997. The Red Sox traded him to Montreal for Cliff Floyd in 2002, and he moved with the Expos when they became the Nationals. There's no accounting for why Sunny found pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium not to his liking (although public questionings from the cantankerous Frank Robinson likely did not help matters along) and acclimated so well to Coors, but now that he's here let's enjoy it. He's still in his arbitration period and should be a cheap, and therefore very appealing, rotation option for the Rockies. He's better than Mike Esposito, in any case.
The prospect guides aren't real excited about Kim' raw stuff, although he does mix a bunch of pitches (fastball, curve, slider, change) and must be doing something right as his strikeout rate is consistently decent. If there's one red flag in Kim's career, it's the inconsistent usage pattern, which could be either the problem or a symptom. He's likely to get a crack at a fourth starter spot with the 2006 Rockies, assuming he doesn't utterly crater in spring training. There are worse options, and for a team working on a budget such as Colorado's you have to be both creative and lucky to win. It didn't cost them anything to pick up Kim beyond the price of a waiver claim, and he'll make so little that they won't hesitate to let him go as easily as they brought him on. Kim isn't going to work super-deep into games regularly, but he's not afraid of Coors and he has a clean injury history. His dicey record as a middle reliever decreases his flexbility, but let's hope that's a bridge we won't have to cross.
Welcome to the TGTBATB's 2005 offseason coverage! We've got plenty of time between now and Spring Training, so I figured we'd just go down the 40-man roster. I didn't have any particular feeling as for where to start, so I just rolled some percentile dice (if you know what percentile dice are, pat yourself on the back and give yourself one nerd point). I got a 4, which corresponds to Aaron Cook. That's lucky, because it means we'll start our look at the 2006 Rockies with a guy who ought to be the MVP of the pitching staff next year.
Before we crunch the numbers on this very good pitcher, though, a news item about a very bad one: the Rockies confirm interest in signing Shawn Estes, most recently of Arizona. There's not much point in spending a lot of time on this. Shawn Estes is lousy. He's not worth the veterans' minimum, let alone whatever seven-figure salary some stupid team will lavish upon him. Let's not be that team, OK? Here's a rule of thumb for Colorado with regard to free agent starters. Is he better than Mike Esposito? Esposito will work for cheap and is not terrible. Shawn Estes is not better than Mike Esposito.
Hopefully, that unpleasantness is now behind us for good. On to Aaron Cook. Cook's line from last year: 7-2, 101 hits, 16 walks, 34 earned runs, 8 home runs, and 24 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings pitched. Other than his first major league start of the year 7/30 against the Phillies, Cook was consistently the ace of the Colorado staff. The Rockies were 9-4 in his starts. Cook was never a big strikeout pitcher, but the key to his success in 2005 was control amazing for a player who missed nearly a full season.
Many experts say the secret to pitching at Coors Field is having stuff that sinks, and Cook has a sinker that's good at any altitude. When everything is working, his groundball to flyball ratio is more than 3 to 1. Aaron allows more than his fair share of hits (.301 opponents' BA in '05) but the combination of not giving up free passes, keeping the ball in the park, and coaxing double plays out of hitters led to a very respectable 3.67 ERA. Cook was actually slightly better at home (.750 OPS allowed) than on the road (.801). He must feel more confident at Coors, as he walked more than twice as many batters on the road as he did at home.
Never before in the history of the Colorado Rockies has there been a starting pitcher you could in good confidence recommend to a fantasy baseball owner. Well, next year, that all changes. Aaron Cook isn't going to win a strikeout crown, but his ERA will be strong and he could easily win 16 games. His injury was both freak and not arm-related (Cook had a rib removed to improve his circulation). The only thing to worry about is for a guy who gets so many ground balls, the Colorado infield defense could stand to be a whole lot better.
Well, that was a fun month seeing how the other half lives (or to be more accurate, the other four-fifteenths). Now that the World Series is completed and a new champion has been crowned, it's time to get back to the business of contemplating Colorado Rockies baseball. Will we be better in 2006? Well, regression to the mean suggests that it's so. The simple fact that Colorado has a ton of young players helps too, as in general players tend to improve somewhat each of their first several years in the league. There's always the health issue -- the Rockies weren't just untalented in '05, they were also rather unlucky on the injury front. Name a good player that Colorado had the rights to at some point during last season, and there's a good chance he spent considerable time on the disabled list. Here I am talking about Todd Helton, Shawn Chacon, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Jason Jennings, Preston Wilson, and of course, Clint Barmes.
Here's a link you should all bookmark: the complete list of potential 2006 free agents. There are 206 of them, although at least a few (Roger Clemens, for example) are "free agents" in name only. This list includes Mike DeJean, who has already resigned with Colorado. There are very few exciting names here, and we've talked already about how paying millions for players with skill sets easily matched by minor league free agents is a poor use of resources indeed. There are a ton of ex-Rockies on the list if you examine it closely, which just goes to show how many lousy journeymen have briefly moved through Denver in their careers.
So how about our rookies? A FOXSports.com piece written from a fantasy baseball perspective is universally negative on the sophomore years of Garrett Atkins, Barmes, J.D. Closser, Jeff Francis, Hawpe, and Cory Sullivan. Probably fair. Barmes didn't get to prove whether he could sustain worthy starting shortstop stats all season because he got hurt, and he was pretty bad after his return. Francis really lost steam in the last third of the season, although as a Rockies pitcher he's pretty much automatically disqualified from fantasy consideration anyway. The rest of these guys, nationally at least, are perceived as placeholders or platoon players. I think Brad Hawpe if healthy has a good chance to be at least a league average starter, and you know I believe in Barmes, but Atkins and Sullivan are going to have to make big leaps. Closser's Rockies career is pretty much over, which is too bad -- I still think he could have learned to play a little defense if they'd just let him play.
Since we have plenty of offseason to work with, we're going to start going down the whole Rockies 40-man roster as it stands right now and look at each guy's contract status, future prospects, and ultimate role. I haven't decided where to start yet so if you have a favorite Gen-R baller, speak up for him. Many of the other Rockies blogs are doing similar work right about now, so I encourage you to peruse the "regular hits" roll over there to the left. Apparently Danny Ardoin has his supporters. Who knew? Personally if I had my pick of the World Series catchers I would take bad-fielding, good-hitting lefty A.J. Pierzynski over great-fielding, non-hitting Brad Ausmus any day of the week. But if there is anything this postseason has proved it's that there is no one formula to success. (Also, the Chicago defense at short, center, left, and third was fantastic. Perhaps the Rockies should play three OBP/speed centerfielders and try to get home runs from their infielders?)
Update: With the playoffs over, the Denver papers are writing about the Rockies for the first time in weeks. The Post breaks down Colorado's plans on the free agent market. Apparently the budget for signings in $9 million, which is considerably less than the money the team is saving not paying Shawn Chacon, Joe Kennedy, Preston Wilson, Denny Neagle, and Charles Johnson. Colorado will concentrate on signing relief pitchers, which seems somewhat reasonable considering how tight the markets for position players and starters are going to be. Oh, but here's some names to get excited about: Elmer Dessens, Jay Witasick (again), Scott Eyre, and Nate Field.
O'Dowd also would like to trade for a lefty specialist -- J.C. Romero and Damaso Marte are mentioned. Marte is intriguing, a talent who's fallen out of favor with Ozzie Guillen in Chicago. Marte was the last man out of the pen in Game 3 of the World Series, and Guillen had so little faith in him that he had starter Mark Buehrle warm up even with a two-run lead. (As it turned out, Guillen was right not to trust Marte, who put the tying run aboard, but Ozzie just had one of those postseasons where everything goes right.) How about a fifth starter? Shawn Estes, Brian Anderson, and Terry Mulholland (how is he not yet retired?) are the names there. Ewww. No mention of bringing back Byung-Hyun Kim, which would be the smart move. Shawn Estes? What, was Jamey Wright just too good?
Finally, Red Sox assistant GM Josh Byrnes, who antagonized O'Dowd with his mishandling of the Kelly Shoppach/Larry Bigbie trade, is to be named general manager of the Rockies' divisional rivals in Phoenix. Traditionally GMs don't deal with teams in their own division unless they absolutely have to, so this move hopefully makes it possible for Colorado to deal with Boston again while not really eliminating another possible trade partner. Could Theo Epstein sign an extension then as his first move under his new contract resurrect the Shoppach swap? The Rockies could sure use a two-way catcher.
Game Four: Champs
I still don't believe it's really true. Truth is, I'm still adjusting to the Red Sox having won a championship. If the Cubs win next year, my fragile brain will not be able to handle it. I'm going to have to relocate to rural England and blog Liverpool football.
Congratulations to Kenny Williams, to Scott Reifert, to Jerry Reinsdorf. Forget everything bad I ever said about you, Jerry. Congratulations to Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye and Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi. Congrats to Carl Everett, reluctantly. Congratulations to the real playoff MVPs, the unflappable Sox rotation of Contreras, Buehrle, Garland, and Garcia. Congratulations to remarkable glove men Joe Crede, Aaron Rowand, and Juan Uribe. Congrats to role players Willie Harris, Geoff Blum, Timo Perez, and Chris Widger. Congrats to the bullpen: Bobby Jenks, Damaso Marte, Dustin Hermanson, Cliff Politte, Luis Vizcaino, and Neal Cotts (who my friends in Chicago Andra and Hannah think is very cute). Let's not forget the ageless Orlando Hernandez, now. Or the guys who contributed during the regular season but couldn't be fit on the playoff roster: Ross Gload, Brandon McCarthy, Joe Borchard, Jon Adkins. Special mention to Frank Thomas, who takes the Drew Bledsoe role of the superstar who watches from the bench as his team finally breaks through. (And I'd like to send a special shoutout to Shingo Takatsu, released at midseason but whom I've always really just liked.)
Congratulations to Ozzie Guillen. Rob Neyer might not like all the bunting, but how did the run that won the World Series score? Willie Harris got a pinch hit. Podsednik bunted him to second (on a tough pitch to bunt). Carl Everett hit behind the runner, moving Harris to third. Everett got him over, and Jermaine Dye got him in. Let's not get carried away crediting Chicago's "smart ball" prowess -- the White Sox hit 18 home runs in the postseason to their opponents' 9. But the fact is that the team found ways to win every kind of game there was (as they did in their interleague series against Colorado this year). Since Wednesday, September 28th Chicago is 16-1, including 11-1 in the playoffs. They might much resemble them, but the only other team to finish that strong is the 1999 Yankees.
Hey, here's some trivia for you. Boston (1918) and Chicago AL (1917) are off the schneid as far as championships are concerned. Everybody and their mother (hi, Mom) knows the Cubs lead the world as far as World Series droughts go. Among teams who have won at least once before, who's now second, third, and fourth? The answer to the last one is kind of surprising, I think. I'll get to it in a bit.
So what about the Astros? Obviously, they were the inferior team in this year's Series. Their "offense" during the last two games was so ugly that it kind of ruined the drama involved in four pretty close games. If not for injuries to the snakebitten Cardinals, this could have been a much more interesting Fall Classic. Of course, St. Louis got the last laugh. Albert Pujols' home run, in a losing cause the most exciting moment of the 2005 postseason, extracted the last great start Roy Oswalt had in him and insured that Houston would have nothing left for the World Series. Will Houston be back in the mix next year? I don't see where their offense is going to come from, and besides Oswalt there's not much chance of their starting pitching being again as dominant. Chicago too will face stiff competition from Cleveland and the always competitive Twins. Anybody want to lay odds the Red Sox and Yankees won't be back? Anaheim has talent aplenty and money to burn. Oakland's rotation will be scalding next year. And there will be teams in both leagues -- Milwaukee? Toronto? the Mets? Texas? Washington? -- that will come out of nowhere.
What do the Rockies have to learn from Chicago? Well, you can build around a star first baseman (check), solid but not ludicrously expensive starters (in progress), a versatile bullpen (ditto), and stout defense (um...we'll get back to you). Having a manager who emphasizes grinding skills is good, but hitting a ton of home runs is better. An offense-friendly home park is not a death sentence any more than a severe pitchers' park guarantees success (hello, San Diego). Nothing but good things can come of trading your second-best RBI guy for a spray-hitting speedster and a middle reliever. Well, that last one might be more of an isolated coincidence than a recipe for success. Et tu, Carlos Lee?
So begins the offseason. I'm still coasting on the wave of playoff excitement now, but in a few days it's going to hit like a bad hangover: no baseball that counts until April. Oh, man. On the other hand, the Rockies' record as of now is 0-0. They're on the same footing as everybody else. As of right now, anything is possible, and this should continue for at least six months and (say) three weeks. As much as I love October baseball, I might love March games even more. October is about how 29 teams aren't quite good enough. Spring training is about 30 teams looking for reasons to believe. I'll see you in Tucson. (Jeromy Burnitz, you need to sign with a Cactus League franchise, because I want to get your John Hancock on my home run ball.)
Hey, and your trivia answer: Cleveland (1948), San Francisco/New York (1954), Pittsburgh (1979). The rest: Philadelphia (80), St. Louis (82), Baltimore (83), Detroit (84), Kansas City (85), New York Mets (86), Los Angeles (88), Oakland (89), Cincinnati (90), Minnesota (91), Toronto (93), Bud Selig (94), Atlanta (95), New York Yankees (00), Arizona (01), Anaheim (02), Florida (03), Boston (04). And your 2005 World Champions are the Chicago White Sox. Yeah, saw that coming.
Game Three: Pretty Pathetic
OK, I realize this is hardly the biggest story from last night, but is anyone going to tell the Fox broadcasters that the first "D" in "Podsednik" is silent? No? I guess it's not the worst thing about this series ending in a sweep (and doesn't everyone think it will, now, with Freddy Garcia facing Brandon Backe in Game 4?) that McCarver and Buck won't get a chance to correct their mistake. Also, Buck has Paul Konerko's name wrong as well. It's called a media guide, Joe. Embrace it.
The Astros' offensive totals, from the ninth inning through the fourteenth: eight walks, one hit batsman, one reached on error, zero hits. That's just really, really bad. Orlando Hernandez, Damaso Marte, Bobby Jenks, and Luis Vizcaino were hardly dominant for the White Sox. The Houston batters were just wildly flailing, clearly feeling the pressure. By all means the story should have been Jason Lane bailing out Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge earning redemption, and Chad Qualls being simply dominant. But instead, Geoff Blum -- a former Astro, natch -- is the hero and Ezequiel Astacio, who probably shouldn't have even been on the roster, the goat. Not that the vast majority of Americans were still watching or for that matter had even tuned in in the first place.
Not that it will be of much consolation to Fox (who frankly, deserve worse, not only for Buck and McCarver but also for moving "Arrested Development" to Mondays and inexplicably continuing to air "American Dad"), but this will probably go down as the most dramatic four-game World Series of all time. I understand that's kind of like being the world's tallest midget, but for those few of you who have been hanging on every pitch, are you not entertained? The two team's rather poor offenses and two differently entertaining managers have provided for close games with lots of twists and turns and weird decisions. How about Ozzie bringing in Mark Buehrle, ace closer? How about Garner's vigorous chair toss? Geoff Blum, with all of one at-bat under his belt in the postseason until last night, was articulate and funny in his postgame press conference, admitting he was trying to be glib because he couldn't think of a way to honestly express the things he was feeling after hitting a home run in extra innings in a World Series. Even the least-watched World Series of all time.
In Houston's newspaper, Richard Justice and John Lopez concede defeat. 'Round Chicago way, Jay Mariotti delicately congratulates Blum, noting how sharply Chicago GM Ken Williams was criticized for making him the team's only trade deadline addition while avoiding mentioning the fact that it was he, Mariotti, who was the loudest critic. The Tribune is already concerned with returning the lineup for a title defense. And ESPN's Chicago-based columnist Gene Wojciehowksi rips America a new one for tuning out the excellent drama of the series so far. I agree, Gene, but did you have to rip "Gilmore Girls?" I for one am very concerned about Rory and Lorelai's estrangement.
At the Turn
No, I'm not flip-flopping. I just wanted to make two points: first, the World Series is moving to Houston, which could mean either the Astros' salvation or Chicago's final triumph; and second, I have a lot of cool Astros hats. As Paul Lukas writes, both of these teams have an illustrious history of uniform designs. Houston had the second-best home record in the majors. But guess who had the best overall road record? That's right, the White Sox. An amusing controversy has broken out over whether Minute Maid Park's roof will be open or closed for the Astros' home games. It's better than constant complaining about the umpires. Apparently some paramecium at Game 2 slapped Craig Biggio's wife. Gee, I wonder why the White Sox have such a miserable national reputation?
Apparently the TV ratings from this series are on track to be the lowest ever; why exactly this is stumps me. If the White Sox sweep, it could be catastrophic indeed for Fox, not that they are much helping matters with their animated talking baseballs and brain-dead announcers. (I can't believe I'm actually longing for the return of Lou Piniella, who's at least entertainingly bad.) How come the whole country was excited for Boston's first title since 1918 but no one seems to care about the possibility of Chicago's first since 1917? All I can do is repeat the complaints that many smarter, more media-savvy observers have already made. Baseball is doing a crummy job marketing the best game in the universe. Their emphasis on hyping stars has really hurt the appeal of two balanced, hustling, team-oriented franchises in the World Series. And for the millionth time, baseball is meant to be played during the day. Why did the skies open in anger when the Cubs tried to play their first night game at Wrigley Field? Nature abhors night games. What's more, how are parents around the U.S. supposed to introduce their kids to baseball if the games start half an hour before bedtime? By letting television dictate their scheduling, MLB is severely compromising the long-term growth of their sport. It's the first thing that the real commissioner will address if we ever get one.
Roger Clemens will be available to start Game 5...unless he isn't. There's been some talk about how National League rules will favor Houston. But some disagree. Our favorite simulation at Baseball Prospectus lists Chicago's chances of winning the Series at 81.5826%. Of course, they still have to play the games.
Game Two: Controversy Reigns
Plenty of intrigue and plot twists in the World Series so far. Scott Podsednik? Only in America! Boy, did Konerko crush that grand slam. First pitch swinging, it was out before I even had a chance to pick something clever to scream at it. Unfortunately, I think to qualify as truly great a World Series has to go six or seven games. With Roger Clemens in all likelihood being done for the season, this one may not make it so far.
Ultimately the difference in the series hasn't been starting pitching (Houston's has been slightly better, assuming you count Clemens' Game One replacement Wandy Rodriguez as a starter), It's been the bullpens. While Bobby Jenks blew a save opportunity in Game Two, the unheralded Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts retired every guy they faced. For the Astros, Dan Wheeler's control has been off, and Chad Qualls and Brad Lidge are trying to blow away guys and giving up colossal home runs. Although the scores have been slightly higher than expected, the series has thus far been the Strat-O-Matic fan's paradise many of us expected. Phil Garner scored a coup with his decision to pinch-hit Jose Vizcaino in the top of the ninth. Ozzie Guillen had guys moving all game. His gambits didn't always work. Carl Everett got caught stealing after he singled immediately following Konerko's four-run home run. Tadahito Iguchi was picked off first once, and Jermaine Dye would have been if not for a bad throw. Sometimes the White Sox's bunting and running and scrambling seems a little bit like sound and fury signifying nothing -- I mean, this is a team that lives and dies by the home run. But it does rattle a pitcher a little. Was Lidge so worried about what might happen if Podsednik singled that he let Scotty homer?
Before Paul Konerko hit the grand slam, Jermaine Dye was awarded first base on a pitch that clearly hit his bat and not his hand or wrist. Some commentators are making a much bigger deal of this than I think is warranted. It was a three-ball count anyway, and it was a terrible pitch. Wheeler could just as well have walked him on the next pitch. Or maybe Dye might have grounded out to short, you never know. But can you imagine stopping the action dead in the middle of an at-bat for the umpires to go check the instant replay? That wouldn't be fair to the pitcher or the batter. I do think that umpires need to be encouraged to consult with their colleagues more often, and that MLB should be forthright about when a mistake has clearly been made. But instant replay? Not in my baseball.
Who Wants These Guys?
Dave Krieger has kind of a bizarre column up on the Rocky Mountain News site. I think he's trying to ridicule the Colorado organization for not spending money hand over fist (since that's worked so well for them in the past), but by going through the list of available free agents and dismissing them all as too expensive, he proves a point opposite to the one he's trying to make. There's really nobody on the free agent scene this year worth the dough they're going to get. And since the big money teams are all going to be fighting over what second-rate talent is available, the cost for guys like A.J. Burnett or Johnny Damon is going to be outrageous.
Krieger's claim that Hunter would "hit 30 points higher in front of Todd Helton" is totally unsubstantiated. Hunter would hit for a higher average with the Rockies...because of Coors. But he's injury prone and was never that great offensively. The Yankees are going to trade for him and give him an outlandish extension, making the same mistake they made with Bernie Williams. Oh, those wacky Yankees.
And listen to some of these other names! Neifi Perez? Brad Ausmus? Eric Young? Jeff Cirillo? These are the exact kind of guys budget-conscious teams like the Rockies have no business getting involved with. Why pay two or three million dollars for Neifi Perez when Omar Quintanilla will do the same thing for the minimum? How is Jeff Cirillo better than Garrett Atkins? Does Brad Ausmus have magical powers of hypnotism that have convinced the entire world he's not a mediocre player who owes his career longevity basically to inertia? The Rockies wasted money on Dustan Mohr and Desi Relaford last year, guys who took playing time away from the young players we need to evaluate and played so badly in the first half we couldn't even flip them for interesting prospects at the deadline.
Oddly, Krieger fails to mention the one guy who does make a certain amount of sense for Colorado -- erstwhile Padres backstop Ramon Hernandez. Hernandez won't come cheap, but we're not talking Ivan Rodriguez money here, despite the fact that Hernandez is now better both offensively and defensively than Pudge. A Danny Ardoin/Hernandez platoon would not be bad at all, assuming Dan O'Dowd can't pry white whale Kelly Shoppach away from Boston. Ardoin could catch the younger pitchers and flaunt his vaunted game-calling and defensive skills. Hernandez could bring his bat into the games started by the vets. And J.D. Closser? Well, the dude never really got a chance. It's a cold world.
If the Rockies could somehow get a superstar -- a Vlad Guerrero or a Manny Ramirez or a Miguel Cabrera -- and demurred because the cost was too great, now that would be cheap. Paying $3 or $4 million for a .250-hiting infielder when there's half a dozen guys in the farm system who can do the same thing for essentially free is a good way to run an organization into the ground. Neifi Perez! That'll be the day.
Game One: Houston is Hamstrung
In the end, I decided to root for the White Sox. (I didnât decide after they won the first game. I was wearing my old school black hat with âSOXâ written in red-outlined letters for the pregame, I assure you.) I like the National League better, and I love Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt, and I have nothing but respect for Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, but I just didnât grow up going to Astros games the way I did White Sox games. Granted, more often than not I was rooting for the visiting team at all of those Sox games, but I guess I grew at least a small affection for the franchise. And my favorite player on the current team, Joe Crede, should have won the ALCS MVP and very well could be the World Series MVP if he keep playing like he did tonight.
The story going in was whether the Chicago bullpen would be functional having basically been given the Championship Series off; going out, the big question is Roger Clemensâ health. Andy Pettitte hasnât looked invincible in the postseason so far like he used to be for the Yankees. Oswalt has been lights-out, but thanks to Albert Pujols he can only pitch twice in the World Series. Generally itâs better to have three dominant guys like Houston than four solid guys like Chicago has, but it doesnât work if one or more of them isnât healthy. Even though Iâm pulling for the White Sox to win (which I think they will), I want to see Clemens pitch well in at least one more game â" this could be his last World Series, and you always want your team to win against their opponentsâ best guys.
As for the bullpen thing: well, I thought that was a bit overblown. Itâs the nature of relief pitching that sometimes youâre going in every night and sometimes the phone just doesnât ring. Ozzie and Don Cooper werenât going to let their guysâ arms go dead. It doesnât make any difference to your muscles whether youâre throwing in the bullpen or on the mound in a game. The best thing about Chicago not trying to go for four straight complete games in the World Series is Ozzieâs âsend in the big guyâ Bobby Jenks signal being showcased on the national stage. (Is it just me, or does Bobby Jenks look a great deal like a grown-up Bobby Hill?)
When I was little, I used to watch the World Series every year and dream about what it would be like for the Cubs to play in one. During college, I as much as assumed it inevitable that the Aâs would be there sooner or later. This year, I am daydreaming about a World Series at Coors Field. Itâs very beautiful in Colorado this time of year (as best I can tell, itâs more or less always beautiful in Colorado) and seeing the nearly always half-empty Comiskey Park full of Sox fans makes me wistful about what postseason Coors would be like. How many people there will remember the Aaron Miles/Danny Ardoin/Jamey Wright/Dustan Mohr era?
What Do I Think I Think?
I'm not ready to make a World Series prediction quite yet. Actually, I'm not even sure who I'm rooting for yet. I wore my Brad Lidge jersey yesterday more out of sympathy for a guy who got rocked for a 900-footer than any particular interest in seeing the Astros win rather than the Cardinals. (I also have a Cardinals jersey, in fact -- #21, Curt Flood. And a White Sox #10, Shingo Takatsu. That might have been a bad investment.)
Since I don't have a prediction for you, let's look around and see what the "experts" are saying. That's always fun. SI.com's Tom Verducci has the Sox in seven, and offers an interesting stat: Konerko/Dye/Podsednik/Crede/Uribe are a combined .404 lifetime against Roger Clemens. I never would have guessed. The Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers likes the White Sox in six. No surprise there. He gives the White Sox the edge in starting pitching, too. I'm going to have to take a closer look there. Also, Rogers likes Ozzie Guillen better than Phil Garner. I don't know about that, either. Guillen strikes me as something of a double-edged sword. He can work his players into a frenzy, but he can also be a distraction. And, c'mon, was leaving Jose Contreras in for the length of the NLCS's Game 5 really necessary? Was Ozzie doing the best thing for his team or trying to make a macho point?
ESPN's Jerry Crasnick: Houston in seven. CBS SportsLine picks Chicago put doesn't give a number of games. Baseball Prospectus's Monte Carlo simulation gives the White Sox a 52.4236% chance of winning. Finally, an ESPN poll is as of this writing showing a narrow edge for the Astros -- 54% to 46%. Of course, this is baseball, so no one really knows anything. Who thought the Red Sox would obliterate the Cardinals last year? Who thought this pair of teams would even be here? I didn't pick either team to make the playoffs at the beginning of the year. Then I had both of them losing in the first round. I did a little better for the championship series, picking both winners and correctly guessing 6 games for the length of the Astros-Cardinals series, but I'm smart enough to know when I've been lucky and not smart.
It will come down to pitching. Will the Astros starters be unhittable, or merely very good? The White Sox all season have shown an almost uncanny (and somewhat obnoxious) ability to get runs in close, low-scoring games. The Chicago pitchers will not need to be great to keep Houston's popgun offense from scoring in bunches. We're going to see a bunch of 3-2, 2-0 games and that's just fine by me. I just don't know who's going to win four of them first.
A few Rockies tidbits: as Tracy Ringolsby writes, Colorado does not plan on many changes either in roster composition or management during this offseason. More of the same, folks! More of the same! However one guy from the front office, senior director of baseball operations Thad Levine, is leaving to become the Rangers' assistant GM. Also, Jorge Piedra's infant daughter is having health problems. Look for Colorado to address the catcher situation immediately after the World Series.
Finally, Joe Girardi will manage the Marlins. I could never stand Girardi when he played for the Cubs, as he was one of those Secret Society of Backup Catcher guys who couldn't hit a lick and ran the bases like a pitcher. Now he's yet another ex-Joe Torre crony getting a managerial position despite having never managed before at any level. I've said it before: Managing is not that easy. And watching someone else who is good at it do it does not make you yourself good at it. Girardi as a former catcher probably has a better understanding of the complete game than Lee Mazilli did, but I still wish all of these young guys would go manage in the minors for a year or two. It improves their staying power and the quality of the game.
Momentum is Only as Good as the Next Game's Starting Pitcher
It's funny how many smart baseball people were as good as convinced that the Astros were done for after Albert Pujols' big homer in Game 5. Even with St. Louis having the final two games in their place, the Astros still only had to win one game while the Cards had to win two. Those are not good odds. Well, enter Roy Oswalt. He made Game 6 as anticlimactic as could be. Hardly any balls even made it out of the infield as the Astros manufactured all the runs they needed and the St. Louis offense again disappeared on the big stage. What's with La Russa and the postseason, anyway?
No matter who wins the World Series between Houston and Chicago, history of some kind will be made. That's a good situation. It's also a meeting of the third and fourth largest cities in the United States. While these teams may not have the national appeal of the Yankees and Red Sox, Fox should have nothing complain about. Roger Clemens will face Jose Contreras in Game One on Saturday. How about that matchup? Will Ozzie Guillen attempt to play two series in a row almost entirely without using his bullpen? Will Jeff Bagwell be healthy enough to DH? Will either team be able to score any runs? Here it comes, folks. This is what they play the whole season for.
The Loss of a King
It won't get as much attention as the passing of, say, Jon Miller or Vin Scully will, but when I heard today that A's radio man Bill King passed away at the age of 78, I cried. When I was in college Bill King was the voice of excitement. I started at UC Berkeley in August of 1998 and the young A's were just getting into the groove. I didn't have a TV in college until I was a junior so it was King every day in the spring, summer, and autumn. The stations changed but the voice was always the same. During the 2002 20-game winning streak King never lost his cool. You believed as long as he was there doing his thing the A's could win forever. It saddens me greatly to know that King will not live to see this generation of Athletics win a World Series.
Of course, the A's gig was only the last in an amazing career of Bay Area broadcasting. At one point Bill King was calling A's, Warriors, and Raiders games all at once. Such adaptability is incredibly rare in the industry since the three sports have such different rhythms. King wasn't doing basketball or football games by the time I got to Berkeley -- maybe if he had been, I would be a Raiders or Warriors fan!
See, now I'm tearing up again. Oh man, what am I going to do when Ron Santo goes? I'll be a wreck! Wow, I wish the Rockies had guys who engendered this kind of emotion. To put it simply: they don't.
On the Subject of Prematurely Numbered Chickens
I had already posted my first musings on the possibility of a Houston-Chicago World Series when Albert Pujols simply obliterated a poor Brad Lidge slider to ruin the half-finished stories of baseball writers around the country. For all the drama, my friend Ali points out, we're now in exactly the same place as we were at this time last year. Houston leads 3-2 with the series returning to Busch Stadium. What next? I felt certain the White Sox were going to win their series in five after going up 3-1. I was less sure in this case but I felt Andy Pettitte would get it done.Well, you know what happened? Pujols. Dude wasn't about to let the postseason end without putting his stamp on things. And now, if you'll pardon the expression, we have a whole new ballgame.
All Chicago Wonders: Where is Steve Bartman?
Back-to-back-to-back complete games for the White Sox in Games 2, 3, and 4 of the ALCS? Sure, why not? Never mind that this hasn't happened for 32 years. In the modern era of pitching specialization, several things have to go right for such a feat to be pulled off. What makes Chicago uniquely friendly to complete games in the postseason is a four-man starting rotation for which manager Ozzie Gullen has equal confidence in each arm, and a bullpen which hardly inspires the same feeling. Bobby Jenks is certainly no Brad Lidge; at least, not yet, anyway. If the White Sox score as easily in the game today as they did yesterday (perhaps Paul Konerko will hit his third consecutive first-inning homer), there's no reason to imagine why Jose Contreras couldn't complete the feat and go nine himself. Wouldn't that be something else?
As the Angels stand on the brink of extinction, there's many things for their fans to lament. The Padres may have gotten crunched in the first round, but it's hard to construct an argument for how they could have done any better. Anaheim on the other hand is missing both Bartolo Colon and the real Vladimir Guerrero. Vlad won't likely suffer as much abuse as Alex Rodriguez has taken because of his easygoing image and the fact he's not a Yankee, but Guerrero's numbers for the postseason so far are .233/.303/.233 with one RBI and no extra-base hits.
In fact the Angels as a team are at .239/.264/.402. They weren't a great-hitting club during the regular season (.270/.325/.409), but they weren't that bad. Chicago by contrast is hitting pretty much the same as they did during the year -- .269/.324/.462 during the playoffs, .263/.323/.425 on the season. Chone Figgins isn't hitting and nor are Garret Anderson or Adam Kennedy. The offensive stars such as they are have been unlikely -- Orlando Cabrera, Robb Quinlan, the Molina brothers.
So how do you make the Angels better for next year considering they must continue to contend with a rapidly maturing A's team and a Rangers squad that will also have some money to spend? Anderson, Darin Erstad, and Steve Finley are all still under contract, so the obvious solution of finding a first baseman or corner outfielder who can bang is probably out for the time being. Dallas McPherson's injury this season kept the team from really knowing what they have at third. Kennedy, Cabrera, and at least one Molina will return. In the rotation John Lackey (first-year arbitration) and Erwin Santana are pleasantly inexpensive options for their production (plus Francisco Rodriguez in the pen has yet to enter arbitration). Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar are under contract. Jarrod Washburn will be a free agent; with the pitching market as thin as it is he may go for more than the Angels are willing to spend on a fourth starter.
Will the Angels be back in the postseason next year? They'll still have Guerrero, and they'll still have a pretty good pitching staff top to bottom. Here's a question for you: regardless of how the playoffs resolve themselves, between Chicago and Anaheim whom do you think is more likely to return to the postseason in 2006? The Angels have the A's to deal with, but Chicago shares a division with the Indians, who many people considered to be the best team in baseball in the second half. After several seasons with very little change, it seems to me as if the playoff picture could look very different as soon as next year.
I didn't see any of the Astros' win yesterday (band practice), but what more is there to say about Roger Clemens anyhow? I hope he plays long enough to pitch to his son in a major league game. He's certainly not going to have to retire on account of diminished skills, that's for sure.
Finally, a Rockies rumor: Peter Gammons writes (ESPN Insider) that the botched Shoppach/Bigbie deal from the trade deadline could be revisited and expanded. The Rockies would give up Larry Bigbie and Ryan Shealy and get Kelly Shoppach, Adam Stern, and pitcher Abe Alvarez. Alvarez is the pitcher, legally blind in one eye, who wears his hat at a crooked angle to correct light balance. He's not a sinkerballer or a swing-and-miss guy, and Colorado already has its skinny finesse lefty starter in Jeff Francis. I'd like to see Dan O'Dowd shop Shealy around a little more. Having him try to move to the outfield is a noble experiment, but the guy is a first baseman, no ifs ands or buts. If we can get him so he can play just enough left so that teams get the impression we don't have to trade him, he should have more value than a C/C- starting prospect. Shealy has proven he can hit in the majors. He'd be a great fit for Boston, in fact, who desperately need a first basemen but aren't averse to playing young guys. They just need to give up a little more than Alvarez. Kelly Shoppach remains a better option at catcher than anyone Colorado currently has on the roster; O'Dowd has made it clear that he still wants him. Shealy for Shoppach straight up might not be a bad deal. Certainly makes sense as Shealy plays Todd Helton's position and Shoppach plays Jason Varitek's.
Well, the Sleater-Kinney show was great. Here's a blurry photo of Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss I took to prove I was there. I'm a big fan of Carrie's windmill moves and guitar thrusts, but despite taking like twenty snapshots of her none have her looking towards the camera. It's a good thing I don't take photographs for a living. In any case a good time was had by all and most of the songs from their "challenging" new record The Woods were run through. I felt they didn't give the fans enough of their beloved old stuff, but isn't that always the case?
OK, sorry, baseball. During the concert I received regular text message updates on the White Sox-Angels game from my best friend Ali, who was driving from San Diego to Las Vegas at the time. We had a litle crisis when his car got out of range of the Angels' home radio network, but sometime between the opening band and the headliners, I got the final score. Frankly, I saw everything I needed to when I watched the first inning before leaving Boulder. Jon Garland was just dealing and Paul Konerko, who the White Sox need to have hits, had a big hit. SI's Tom Verducci has a good piece up about how Garland and the other Chicago starters are going after Anaheim's free-swinging linenup.
Jay Mariotti says this win ought to quiet the chaos regarding Game 2's bizarre ending. Good luck with that, Jay. It is true that this was a textbook White Sox win. They got a big homer and their starter was lights-out. That's how they've won all year and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Rob Neyer was on ESPN Radio last night and said the White Sox were 4th in the league in percentage of runs scored on home runs. The bunting and stealing is a smokescreen. However, that doesn't mean they should stop playing small ball altogether. A guy who can run getting to first can spook a pitcher. A defense preparing for a bunt can be exploited. Proceed with caution, Ozzie Guillen.
Meanwhile on the Rockies beat: Dustan Mohr is a Colorado outfielder no more. Well, he had a decent second half, but the Rockies have so many cheaper and better options for backup outfielders that this move is a no-brainer. Mike DeJean will sign an extension. That's good news. Trying to win games with a bullpen with no veterans is not advisable. After the Mets junked DeJean he was nifty for the Rockies -- 3.19 ERA, 0 homers allowed, a 1.04 WHIP. At 35 he's not particularly young but, hey, John Franco was just getting started at 35. He should continue working in a setup man capacity for Brian Fuentes.
Jaime Cerda and Miguel Ojeda have come in via the waiver wire. One is a pitcher and one a catcher. Cerda, lately of Kansas City, is a lefty who mostly gets out lefthanded hitters, a useful trait if handled properly. Besides Brian Fuentes, whose territory became the ninth inning, Colorado's main lefty "threat" out of the pen last year was Randy Williams, who was not very good. Cerda actually has a lot in common with Fuentes (he hides the ball very well), but he doesn't throw as hard. Ojeda is a useful backup catcher who had a good 2004 for San Diego; in his 2005 with the Padres and Mariners, it's safe to say he struggled a bit. .147/.256/.225. He's not threatening Danny Ardoin's job, but the fact that they've picked him up may mean they're giving up on J.D. Closser.
Much-respected AAA pitching coach Bob McClure has accepted a job as Kansas City's pitching coach. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Rockies Bench coach Jamie Quirk (who incidentally, was once traded for McClure) was to be interviewed for the Oakland managerial vacancy but in a story you may have heard by now, the A's turned around and rehired Ken Macha, who they said "goodbye" to a week ago. It appears as if Colorado will have the same coaching team (on the major league level) as last year. On one hand, continuity is good for a team that has so many young players. On the other, Clint Hurdle and Bob Apodaca have their flaws. There's nothing wrong with using one manager to get a team back to respectability then bringing in a closer to get into the playoffs. NBA teams do it all the time. Assuming Hurdle continues to play the young guys, the numerous strategic mistakes are a secondary concern.
What a day of sports we have ahead of us, huh? As a Cal alum and Notre Dame hater, I'm torn as to whom to root for in the huge Irish-USC game. I guess I'm pulling for the upset since I doubt the Bears will be able to beat the Trojans this year and I certainly don't want USC to win it all again. Charlie Weis is really doing an incredible job in South Bend. It's almost enough to make you not hate Notre Dame, the Yankees of college football. Not enough though.
Upon Further Review
The ball probably never hit the dirt. But did you foresee this great of an uproar? The sports talk radio stations were still on the subject this morning, entirely ignoring the NLCS, playing the Jon Miller, A.J. Pierzynski, and Geoff Blum soundbites over...and over...and over again. Some national writers are practically foaming at the mouth. Was it a bad call? Yeah, it was a bad call. Was it the umpire's responsibility to indicate more clearly to Josh Paul that he considered the ball still in play? Yes. But let's not get carried away here.
Specifically, I mean instant replay, which Mike Greenberg went as far to suggest was inevitable for baseball after this play on his show this morning. Can I just say one thing? No. Football has instant replay and yet seemingly every three weeks there is a blatantly bad call everyone gets all up in arms about. It would rock the very heart of baseball's fragile, timeless soul were the umpires to call timeouts to go peer into one of those silly-looking peepshow machines. QuesTec was one thing -- that was an effort on the part of baseball to get the traditional rules called as written, not to throw out tradition altogether. No one was waving their arms from the pressbox to indicate calls overruled.
Instant replay undermines authority. Football referees become lazy and rely on their machines, which due to the inefficiency of their system (and the incompetence of many head coaches) leads to two or three wrong calls standing per game. One thing that has been made clear in the Eddings uproar is that baseball has surprisingly few famous officiating gaffes compared to the NFL or NBA. I can remember entire NBA playoff series where the big story was the quality or lack thereof of the referees (notably Sacramento-L.A. in the Western Conference Finals a few years back). Rob Neyer wrote a good column on this history but you'll need ESPN Insider to read it.
One thing I think people are losing sight of is that these things balance out. Before the ninth inning of the game the other night, the Fox broadcasters themselves were commenting on how the Angels had been seemingly on the winning side of all the close calls so far in the series. I've talked to a few people, fans of both teams and impartial observers, who say it was much the same in the Yankees series. Well, it boomeranged. Perhaps unfairly so, but let's allow the rest of the series to play out before we write the history books, okay now?
A quick note on our favorite team, whom -- don't worry -- we haven't forgotten: Clint Barmes and Garrett Atkins appear on Yahoo! Sports 2005 Fantasy All-Rookie Team. After the World Series, Rockies fans, we're going to go down the entire 40-man roster and see whether Colorado is going to get to .500 next year. Hey, if the Brewers can do it, why not us?
NLCS Game 2
It's officially time for the Cardinals to start worrying about their bullpen. When they had big leads in the NLDS and in Game One, they could afford a few breaks in concentration, but the game tonight was tense until Julian Tavarez got in there. Perhaps it doesn't really matter because Brad Lidge was set to come out for the ninth anyway, but St. Louis can't claim any longer that the reason its pen has been suspect so far in the postseason is that they haven't had much cause to concentrate.
Nevertheless, pretty taut game. Roy Oswalt was great. Mark Mulder was almost as good. Chris Burke picked an excellent time of year to deliver on his potential. Cardinals fans have to be hoping that Reggie Sanders is all right after plowing into the outfield wall, because Larry Walker doesn't look like he's going to start being Larry Walker any time soon. Albert Pujols? He's still himself. His blast has to be the good thing St. Louis takes out of this one, besides Mulder's pitching and Yadier Molina's excellent defense.
What's a baseball fan who's also a music fan to do sometimes? In tomorrow night's case, it will be a combination of TiVo and text message updates from a sympathetic friend. Sleater-Kinney are playing in Englewood and seeing as no one's getting eliminated tomorrow, I figure I can stand to dedicate an evening to rocking. Maybe I'll find a clever way to incorporate the concert into my next post. Or, maybe I'll just take the day off.
The White Sox beat the Angels, 2-1 tonight on one of the weirdest calls you'll ever see in a postseason game. I was just talking to a friend today about how there are some people who only pay attention to baseball when they go to games and during the playoffs. How many of these people do you suppose knew that in order for a strikeout to "count" the catcher has to catch the pitch on the fly? I understand the rule, but even after watching the replay multiple times I have no opinion as to whether Josh Paul really picked the Kelvim Escobar splitter off the ground or not. If it bounced, it must have been right into his glove, or else he trapped it perfectly.
It appears as if the home plate umpire signaled twice -- once to call the pitch a strike, and once to indicate that the ball was still live and A.J. Pierzynski wasn't out until tagged or forced at first. Paul sure seemed certain that the inning was over, as he rolled the ball back up to the mound! Heads-up play by the White Sox catcher to run down to first when the ump signaled for him to do so. I hope in all the debate over this play no one forgets how beautifully starters Mark Buehrle and Jarrod Washburn pitched. Buehrle went nine and had the game gone into extra innings, I think Ozzie Guillen would have had trouble getting him off the mound for the tenth. Washburn only threw 4 2/3 but he was recovering from strep throat and to only allow four hits and one run is pretty good, I think. Escobar, until allowing the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, was great. He struck out five. But the last one will haunt him, Paul, Mike Scioscia, and the Angels all offseason if they don't win the series.
I didn't see any of the NLCS game, but it looks like reports of Chris Carpenter's demise were greatly exaggerated. Likewise all the stories about Andy Pettitte's playoff invulnerability. Tomorrow is a good night for the AL travel day because Mark Mulder and Roy Oswalt are facing off. What will happen next?
Astros and Cardinals
The Houston Astros/Colt 45's have never played in a World Series, let alone won one. They've had their fair share of close calls. Obviously, they went to seven games with these Cardinals last year. They won 4 of 5 NL Central titles from 1997-2001 but won two games in four division series. In 1986 they lost in six games to the eventual champion Mets, falling in a well-remembered 16-inning Game 6 with their controversial ace Mike Scott set to go in Game 7. In the strike-shortened year of 1981, they made the first "Division Series" and lost in five to the Dodgers. In 1980 they made the more traditional playoffs and lost in five to the Phillies.
Besides the novelty, the best reasons to root for a Houston championship this year are Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. These two old-schoolers have each played their whole career for Houston, and if there's any justice in the world they'll be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a set. They both have some bad postseason history to shake off (.198/.267/.292 lifetime for Biggio, .232/.371/.337 for Bagwell). But these are great players. Bill James in the New Historical Baseball Abstract (2001) ranked Biggio the 35th greatest player of all time and Bagwell the 45th. James had Biggio 5th all-time among second basemen and Bagwell 4th among first basemen. I might have some trouble convincing most people they're that good, but I don't expect many would deny them Hall of Fame status. In any case, they're greats, and they deserve to win a World Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals have won nine world championships, the most recent in 1982. They've lost their last three, though, and in all three cases it had to come as a bit of a surprise. Last year the Cards went 105-57 and were swept by Boston (98-64). In 1987 St. Louis was 95-67 and lost in seven to Minnesota (85-77). And in '85 a 101-61 Cardinals team lost in seven to a 91-71 Royals squad. If St. Louis does make it the Fall Classic this year, they won't have to worry about meeting a team that won 10 games fewer than they did -- the White Sox won 1 less (99) and the Angels only 5 (95). Maybe Cardinals fans should be rooting for Chicago just in case.
Larry Walker might be retiring, and he's never won a World Series. His all-timer credentials pale in comparison to the Killer B's, though. Reggie Sanders is getting up there, and although no Hall of Famer he's one of baseball's good guys. He won in '01 with the Diamondbacks though. Jim Edmonds at 35 ought to have a few more good years yet. I won't be terribly disappointed if Mark Grudzielanek's career comes to an end without a ring -- but he's 35 too. The guy who most "deserves" a championship on the Cardinals to my mind is Tony LaRussa. It's true he has won one before (1989, with Oakland). But all of the four World Series LaRussa has managed in have been lacking in tension. In '88 his A's lost in five, in '89 they won in four, '90 they lost in four, and last year's Cards were swept as well. The leader in active managing wins deserves a nice six- or seven-game series to demonstrate his smarts.
I think the Astros will win in 6, but I have no idea why. That's just the gut speaking. I'm a lot more emotionally involved in the ALCS, but I think this could end up being the more entertaining of the two series. There are certainly plenty of candidates for amazing pitching performances, superstar hitting feats, and unlikely heroes. Fasten your seat belts.
Angels and White Sox
I'm not going to write a breakdown for this one because I already discussed both these teams' strengths and weaknesses in my Division Series previews, and besides, what do I know? Three of my four picks were wrong. (Nailed the Cardinals in 3, but that was as sure a thing as you'll see in the MLB postseason.)
Instead, let's pull back a bit. What would a world championship mean to each of these teams? Chicago, as most people know, hasn't appeared in a World Series since 1959 and hasn't won one since 1917. More recently they've made playoff appearances in 1983, 1993, and 2000, winning a total of three games and never advancing to the second round. It would be a huge deal for the White Sox to even get into the World Series. Their national bandwagon kind of collapsed with the dramatic surge the Indians had, but it's building back up with the three-game sweep of Boston. For me a White Sox championship would be worth it just to see what Ozzie Guillen would do and say afterwards.
The Angels won a championship in 2002, their first. They were all the rage at the time but their quiet '03 (missed playoffs) and '04 (swept by Boston in the first round) has somewhat added weight to the contention that the 2002 Angels got a little lucky. Certainly the three home runs in Game 5 of the ALCS against Minnesota from Adam Kennedy, who had hit seven all year, was a little fluky. Their pitching staff lacked a true #1 guy. Their bullpen was very good but no one besides Troy Percival was a "name" and he's now gone. Francisco Rodriguez, probably their playoff MVP in 2002, hasn't completely proven himself to be as dependable a reliever during the regular season. Likewise John Lackey and Jarrod Washburn haven't elevated their play to the level expected after a World Series win. Another championship for the Angels would be a huge legitimizing factor. Unlike the 2002 team, this group was expected to contend from the beginning. They've done so rather quietly, but here they are in the Championship Series.
Who do I like? Wow, I have no idea. After the Red Sox series is tempting to start saying "this is the year for the White Sox," but all series start 0-0. The Angels are tired but confident. Chicago has Jose Contreras. What a story this guy is! Discarded by the Yankees, resuscitated by Ozzie and El Duque, ace of the postseason rotation. I'll tell you, I saw him pitch in person against the Rockies earlier this season and he was lights out. Paul Konerko had a fine division series. Vladimir Guerrero didn't; you have to figure he'll be due. I'm really looking forward to this series no matter how it turns out. It's great to see new blood (well, the Angels don't really count, but they're better than the Red Sox or Yankees again) on the big stage and both these managers like to run, pitch out, bunt, change pitchers like crazy, and generally make nuisances of themselves. Lots of things can happen in a series like this.
OK, fine, you got it out of me: White Sox in seven. No particular rationale, it just seems about that time.
Hey, we won something! I feel like Chris Burke, Joe Carter, Aaron Boone, and Bill Mazeroski all rolled into one -- Joe-Chris Booneroski. But moving past the giddy stage, what does TGTBATB's dark horse victory for "Best MLBlog" say about baseball in general, and how has our championship season reflected the larger game that we love, obsess over, and make early-morning long distance phone calls about Mark Kotsay's contract status for? Why is it that (near) daily meanderings on mostly the topic of the National League's worst team can win "Best Of" anything?
Well, let's reflect. I watched the Bears-Browns game this afternoon with my father, as I have watched many Chicago football games over the years. My father likes to surround himself with briefs and depositions while he endures the Bears, but this is largely for appearance's sake as he spends somewhere near a quarter and a half of every game asleep, snoring conspicuously. If you wake him, he wil gruffly insist he was merely "resting his eyes" and pretend to scan documents for a few minutes before he begins to doze again. Somehow he manages to take in the entire football game while engaged in this process. There's a lot of dead space in the average NFL game (yet still another reason why I favor Major League Baseball) and my dad has more or less perfected the art of between-play snoozing.
Dad knows about as much about football as any other male, midwestern attorney, which is to say a fair amount. There are three things about the Bears that have been driving my father nuts since at least 1975, when he first settled in this part of the country: stupid holding penalties, passing plays on third down that have all the receivers running short of the markers, and calling the same up-the-gut running play twice in a row to unsuccessful ends each time. Every game it seems (except of course in 1985) they do this stuff, and every game my father registers his disgust. Kyle Orton is not going to become Joe Montana, just like Rex Grossman, Jonathan Quinn, Henry Burris, Jim Miller, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, and Rick Mirer (and so on) before him. Bad football teams are all pretty much bad in the same way. I pity the guys on the Houston Texan and Arizona Cardinal beats. How many ways are there to say we're less talented and more poorly coached then the other guys, and there's not much of a way to overcome that?
But baseball is different. 162 games is an amazingly long season, long enough that if you pick small enough samples, every team in the league gets a chance to look like the best there is for a week or at least for three games. The Rockies finished with the worst record in the National League (tied with Pittsburgh), and so a lot of good things happened this season that only real diehards (and the audiences for this blogs and its sisters) noticed. Aaron Cook made an extraordinary comeback from a life-threatening blood clot condition to become the first ace in Rockies history. Rookies like Garrett Atkins, Cory Sullivan, Brad Hawpe, Jeff Francis and (oh yeah) Clint Barmes proved that maybe there was something to the much-ballyhooed "Gen-R" advertising campaign beyond ownership trying to save money on veterans' salaries. An ad hoc group of minor league free agents, waiver claims, and Rule Fivers weathered constant personnel changes to constitute perhaps the second-best Rockies bullpen ever, giving hope to those true believers like myself who think "winning with pitching" and "Coors Field" are not necessarily anathema. Perhaps most impressively, Todd Helton, one of the least-noticed great players of this era, shook off nagging injuries and his franchise's ever-increasing obsolescence to finish with his usual dazzling numbers.
When I started working on this page on May 1st, 2005, I was caught up in the excitement over the early numbers posted by young shortstop Barmes. I thought it would be cool to follow a Rookie of the Year-in-waiting on a day-by-day basis. Plus, somewhere in the back of my head, I imagined that Colorado had a decent chance of challenging the 1962 Mets' modern futility record of 120 losses. There'd be a book in that somewhere for sure. Of course, the Rockies weren't dramatically bad this year -- they were this close to being mediocre, especially in the second half. And Barmes took a tumble down some stairs while hauling wrapped venison, a gift from Helton, up to his apartment, breaking his collarbone and pretty much scuttling my original mission statement.
But the Rockies still played baseball, because the games were on the schedule, and that's what baseball teams do. And bad baseball teams are very different than bad football teams. Since the Rockies had a manager who was (at least for the moment) secure in his position and a team of young players who were all just pleased to be getting the opportunity to play, they had one of the most upbeat 95-loss seasons imaginable. And fascinating stuff happened. On the first day of the season, Dustan Mohr injured himself celebrating a walk-off homer by Barmes. That was just the beginning. The 2005 Rockies, to anyone watching closely enough and in the right frame of mind, had a remarkable season. Hawpe caused the hearts of millions of Cubs fans to skip a beat when he pegged Mark Prior in the elbow with a screaming liner in May. (I was in the bleachers at Wrigley and you could hear the plonk! from there.) In July Jason Jennings accomplished the unthinkable and won a 1-0 game at Coors Field, a first in the history of the ballpark. Byung-Hyun Kim, acquired by the Rockies mostly so they could rid themselves of Charles Johnson, ended up the team's most reliable starter, at least until Cook burst onto the scene. (And although due to sour grapes we've been trying to downplay it, Shawn Chacon was traded to the Yankees for two middle-relief prospects and ended up propelling New York to a division title, pitching beautifully in his first playoff start to boot). In August, again against the Cubs, I caught a home run ball! OK, maybe that was only fascinating to me.
No matter where you looked, storylines abounded. An interleague sweep at the hands of the Indians sent that team off to the races. A sweep that went in the Rockies' favor against Cincinnati may have cost manager Dave Miley his job. The Rockies affected the Wild Card chase by winning only 1 of 6 against Houston but taking 2 from Philadelphia and Washington (and 3 from Florida). Well, maybe I'm reaching a bit there. I will say that if the Chicago White Sox win the World Series, it won't come as a shock to any gung-ho Rockies fans. There was no series all year where Colorado was more dominated in every facet of the game than Chicago's three-game sweep at Coors in early June. If the Cardinals win, however, we were a respectable 4-4 against them.
That's what I'm getting at, I suppose, about the differences between bad football teams and bad baseball teams and how all of this ties in with why (hopefully) this humble site was a worthwhile destination for baseball fans of all affiliations this season. Since the season is so long and the games turn on such tiny decisions -- a stolen base here, a missed cut-off man there, an ugly error by a usually reliable defensive replacement -- every now and then a bunch of nobodies like the 2005 Rockies can look like world champs. They beat a playoff team 20-1, for pete's sake. Well, yes, it was the Padres. But still.
Thanks, MLB.com, for the opportunity to do my thing and for the recognition. One little thing: it's spelled Donohue, D-O-N-O-H-U-E, with two "o's" and no "a's." Thank you.
Two games for the price of one this afternoon. The Astros won because my buddy Kyle Farnsworth still doesn't have his head screwed on straight and despite Phil Garner's being roundly outmanaged by Bobby Cox. The Astros were completely out of both bullpen arms and position players, plus they had two weak-hitting catchers in the lineup, one playing out of position at first. But thanks to the heroics of Chris Burke and Roger Clemens, the Braves go home after the first round. Again. All around Atlanta, Tuesday morning's water cooler conversations will be...whether the Falcons can somehow put Matt Schaub and Mike Vick in the same backfield, and how high the Bulldogs can climb. It's not a baseball town, folks.
Although he sure looked slick in the first few innings, it appears as if Shawn Chacon will not be a postseason hero for the Yankees, at least tonight. Thank goodness for small favors. Dan O'Dowd's master plan to sabotage his career having failed, Chacon is ready to settle down and pitch several productive years as the #3 guy on playoff teams. There's no good reason why he couldn't have fulfilled this function for the Rockies except the Colorado franchise's ongoing mismanagement and exaggerated poverty. But, we're going to try to take a few weeks off from ragging on the Rockies' management for the playoffs. There will be a whole offseason for that in due time.
It's the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium, and the Angels and their good bullpen hold a one-run lead over New York and their poor bullpen. Will both championship series start as scheduled on Tuesday? We shall see.
Last Night's Games
Like most years, it took a few games for that playoffs feeling to set in. In the sixth inning of the Boston-Chicago game last night, there it was. The White Sox were up 2-0, but it felt like the series could turn right there. Home plate umpire Mark Wegner was squeezing Orlando Hernandez after Man-Ram knocked Freddy Garcia out. Ozzie Guillen was one Johnny Damon not-quite-checked swing away from getting ejected from the game. But, what do you know, El Duque came through.
And Randy Johnson didn't. I kind of feel for the Unit, even though I remain unshaken in my belief that the Yankees in general are a scourge that must be wiped from the face of the postseason. Vlad Guerrero singles on a ball well outside. Ben Molina singles on a ball a foot high. Garret Anderson homers on a ball in the dirt. You can hardly say Johnson was giving them too much of the plate. New York pitching allowed an Anaheim record 19 hits last night and now is counting on Shawn Chacon to save their season. Shawn Chacon! Ever thus to tyrants, George Steinbrenner.
The Cardinals will probably put the Padres out of their misery today while Jorge Sosa, undefeated this season on the road, will face off against Roy Oswalt in a big Game 3 in Houston. Elimination of the Red Sox and Yankees could be very good news for the Astros, who had a very good postseason last year which very few people outside of the Gulf Coast even noticed. It's difficult to get behind the Braves, however, who can't sell out playoff games. Atlantans don't deserve that team.
My preseason World Series pick of Giants vs. Yankees is this close to being completely scuttled. I'm OK with that if in means some fresh blood making it down to the final pairing. Chicago hasn't won the World Series for a while; Houston has never won it. The Braves have won one in their current run of division titles but there would be a lot of pressure on this team were they to make it to the Series; the franchise carries the burden of 14 division titles and only one championship while many of the current players haven't seen postseason action at all. The Cardinals might be the best team left but whether they face Houston or the Braves, it won't be easy.
There won't be a repeat champion in 2005, we know that much. And we're this close from the specter of another tiresome Yankee win being removed. I was kind of rooting for the Red Sox, because, well, I like their team, but now it's more about who I don't want to win: the Yankees, the Angels (they won already, and we really could stand to see less of their hack-friendly batting approach), and the Astros (because free-agent starting pitcher salaries are already quite high enough as it is). Onward, postseason!
The Postseason: Eight Games In
Chicago and Boston. The Red Sox starters have been so bad that they haven't had to use Mike Timlin at all, and both Chad Bradford and Jonathan Papelbon went unscored-upon in their brief appearances in Chicago. Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield still need to be good, but assuming Boston can score more runs (which at Fenway, they usually do) I think their chances of evening the series at home are pretty good. However, after the first two games, I'm not at all sure they can come back and win a Game Five in Chicago. Ozzie Guillen said Tadahito Iguchi was the best player on his team, and who am I to argue? In the Irish-Catholic suburban enclave my parents live in, the success of the White Sox is the distant third biggest story in baseball. The second biggest story is the collapse of the Red Sox. The biggest news is the Cubs resigning Ryan Dempster, and possibly moving Nomar Garciaparra to left.
Anaheim and New York. I had my father read all my series previews, and like a lot of midwesterners it was the first time he'd thought about the Angels at all. "This Ben Molina had a good year," he said. "He's one of the better clutch hitters in the league, if you believe in that sort of thing," said I. Mr. Molina, thank you for making me look smart in the eyes of my dad. Now if you could just explain to him why it took me five years to finish college when I entered with two years' worth of AP credit. I don't think A-Rod's ugly error in the game Wednesday night "proves" he's not an MVP candidate any more than Tony Graffanino's miscue means the Red Sox never should have let go of Mark Bellhorn (or heck, Pokey Reese). The playoffs are obviously of a different level of importance, but a guy can only play in 19 playoff games a year (tops), and making wild generalizations based on so small a sample size is asinine. Bill Buckner won a batting title, you know. And twice led the league in doubles.
Atlanta and Houston. Do you know how many times Roger Clemens gave up five earned runs in a start during the regular season? Twice. Both times to Milwaukee. Go figure. There were in fact two months when the Rocket gave up five runs or less total -- April (4) and July (5). There was only one month when he gave up double-digit earned runs (September, 12). Don't just give this man another Cy Young. Rename the award after him. Do you think Bobby Cox is regretting his decision to use Tim Hudson in Game 1 after John Smoltz's performance last night? Game 5 would be on Monday, which would mean three days' rest for Smoltz. But if they'd run him out for the first game, they could have seized the momentum from the start and had their best guy go on his regular day in the fifth day. Of course the Braves dealt for Hudson so they wouldn't have to deal with these kinds of questions. Sure, they didn't make the playoffs this year, but I still think the A's kept the right guy from the Big Three.
St. Louis and San Diego. I'm so ready for this series to be over. The Padres' offense is just awful. They're starting Woody Williams and not Adam Eaton on Saturday so the sweep is nearly a foregone conclusion. Luis Gonzalez (the elder) is in the booth for this series on ESPN Radio and if he ever decides he wants to, he could be a great broadcaster. He's direct and he reacts to the action rather than making up his mind about things before they happen. Mark Mulder said he wasn't surprised that Joe Randa nailed him with a screamer because Randa's hit him well all year. He wasn't kidding: Randa, who started the season with St. Louis's division rivals in Cincinnati, had 40 at-bats against Mulder this year. He hit .375/.409/.625 with two homers, four doubles, and eight RBIs. That's good for an OPS of 1.034. All of this is of little consolation to the Padres, who won't last long enough in the series to see Mulder again.
Meanwhile, the teams who didn't make it to the dance have not been standing still. Oakland is letting manager Ken Macha go, which doesn't come as much of a shock. Billy Beane took the same tack as he did a few years ago with Art Howe, which is if someone else wants to pay you more, then go ahead and get paid. There's plenty of managers out there who will follow my instructions more closely. Frankly, were I Macha I'd be willing to sacrifice a few bucks for the security the A's offer. How difficult can it be to manage a team that doesn't bunt, doesn't run, and has five potentially dominant starters and an airtight bullpen?
On the other end of the competitive spectrum, we have the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who fired pretty much their entire senior management team this week. I'm kind of sad about this. Whenever I get into conversations with people who follow baseball casually or not at all, I like to bring up how the histories, movements, and tendencies of off-field personnel are just as fascinating (if not more so) than the batting averages and on-base percentages of the players. Folks invariably ask who the worst general manager in the game is, and for nearly ten years, Chuck LaMar has been the slam-dunk answer to this question. Not only was he obviously the worst to those of us in the know, but it was easy to explain why he was the worst to neophytes. His team never got any better, first and foremost, but it went beyond that. Like having nine guys who could play, all of whom were leftfielders. Pretty much anybody born in the Western Hemisphere understands that only one person can play left field at any given time. Except LaMar. Then there was his whole thing about setting outrageously high trade demands and refusing to negotiate downwards. It doesn't take a business degree to determine that if you set a price for something that no one can pay, it's not worth that price to anyone but you. But wait! Players eventually gain free agency, leave, and you get nothing for them! Hope you and your principles enjoy retirement, Chuck!
OK, but now who's the worst GM in baseball? Jim Bowden? Well, he's living on borrowed time in D.C. anyway. Dan O'Brien? Well, he has the same problem with leftfielders, and he did sign Eric Milton, but it's not his fault that Ken Griffey breaks every year. Baltimore has that whole two-headed monster thing going on. I'm not really clear on who's in charge in Phoenix these days. You know, we have a whole offseason ahead for someone to rise up to the challenge. This new kid in Arlington could be a comer. All that Chan Ho and A-Rod money off the books and a lean free-agent pitching market? Could be tasty.
It's an all-AL Friday in the playoffs with Freddy Garcia facing off against Tim Wakefield at Fenway and Paul Byrd meeting Randy Johnson in New York. Did you know that Wakefield (16) had more wins than Garcia (14)? Or that Byrd had a lower ERA (3.74) than Johnson (3.79)? Well, you do now. That first stat doesn't really mean much of anything -- I think we all know by now that wins are not exactly the best indicator of a starting pitcher's ability, thank you, Mr. Clemens -- but Angel Stadium is a mild hitters' park and Yankee Stadium is kinder to pitchers, particularly lefthanders. And Johnson was the big hit among the Yankees' various offseason veteran pitching acquisitions.
NLDS: Houston vs. Atlanta
Worth the wait, I hope. To tell you the truth I don't have a lot of insight into this series. I don't follow either of these teams closely, although I am a fan of Brad Lidge's slider and Kyle Farnsworth's right cross. I guess after the Astros' 10-5 explosion last night it would be easy to jump on their already swelling bandwagon (9 of 10 ESPN experts pick Houston to win this series) but I'm just going to pretend I didn't see that game. Which I didn't, actually, I was on a plane. But you know what I mean.
Starting pitching. A lot of the writeups for this series begin and end here. The Astros have Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt. These guys are pretty good. The Braves in theory would be able to match up to the first two with Tim Hudson and John Smoltz, but Smoltz isn't healthy. Jorge Sosa (13-3, 2.55 ERA, 1.39 WHIP) has been Atlanta's best pitcher but his record and ERA are frankly a little lucky given his peripherals. The Astros can use a three-man rotation without fear while Smoltz's fragility leaves the Braves with the unsavory necessity of having to start John Thomson (4-6, 4.47, 1.41) or Horacio Ramirez (11-9, 4.63, 1.39) in an elimination game. The Astros have the edge here but it's not anywhere near as sure a thing as some would have you believe. The loss of Mike Hampton, by the way, is really no big deal for Atlanta because Mike Hampton's reputation as an A-list starter is a bizarre myth. Advantage: Astros.
Bullpen. On the other hand, Houston's group of Lidge, Mike Gallo, Dan Wheeler, and Chad Qualls simply dominates compared to Atlanta's lackluster relievers (Jim Brower, Chris Reitsma, John Foster, et cetera). Farnsworth has stuff that's silly good but he's completely unreliable. Lidge on the other hand was sick this season (13.12 K/9) and starred in the posteason last year. Advantage: Astros.
Catcher. Brad Ausmus is one of the most overrated players in baseball. He has no power and doesn't hit for average, but he has been playing long enough that he at least understands the difference between a ball and a strike. Raul Chavez, his backup, also has a terrible bat and he hasn't yet made that distinction. Johnny Estrada had a disappointing year for the Braves but simply put he and Brian McCann can hit, Ausmus and Chavez can't. Advantage: Braves.
First base. Adam LaRoche (.775 OPS) had a slightly better statistical year than Jeff Bagwell (.738) and of course he was much healthier. But you'd have to be pretty coldly unsentimental to give LaRoche the edge. There are two schools of thought on Bagwell and his teammate Craig Biggio's well-documented playoff struggles: either they ain't got it, or they're really, really due. Personally, I tend to favor the latter option. Advantage: Astros.
Second base. Craig Biggio, after some strange misadventures in Minute Maid Park's surreal center field, is back where he belongs for Houston and his offense has benefited from it (.264/.325/.468). Biggio broke Don Baylor's modern hit-by-pitch record this year, for what it's worth. I don't think there's another major league player around who generates a greater percentage of his value from sheer plunkability. There are some young candidates out there to be heir to Biggio's throne, though: Chicago's Aaron Rowand got hit 21 times in 2005, and the Jays' Shea Hillenbrand 22. Marcus Giles was only hit 5 times this year but he did go .291/.365/.461 with 15 homers. Biggio hit 26 long flies, but you and I both know that homers to right at Minute Maid Park should only count as ground-rule doubles. 19 of Biggio's shots came at home. Giles is the better fielder and baserunner. Advantage: Braves.
Shortstop. Adam Everett had a good year (for him) last year while Morgan Ensberg struggled; this season it was the other way around. If the Astros ever get both guys going at once, they'll really have something. Rafael Furcal will be the biggest free agent shortstop on the market this season. After the money Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera got last year, Furcal's agent is probably a pretty happy man right about now. Rafael is younger and better than either of those guys. Advantage: Braves.
Third base. Chipper Jones is one of those guys like J.D. Drew who gets hurt every year but it never seems to affect him when he does play. Chipper was the best hitter on the Braves when he was out there (way better than Andruw Jones, which is yet another reason that A. Jones's MVP candidacy is a joke) and he's healthy now as far as I know. Morgan Ensberg was the Astros' offense at times this season but he's not in Chipper's class quite yet. He hit 16 of his 36 homers on the road, though, so you know his power's legit. Advantage: Braves.
Left field. Ryan Langerhans is one of the many young Braves who played over his head this year. He doesn't hit a lot of homers for a corner outfielder but he's a nice player. Lance Berkman's return from injury helped kickstart the Astros' surge from 15 below .500 to the playoffs. If he'd played all year, he'd have borderline MVP credentials: .293/.411/.524, 24 homers. He used to be kind of a joke as a switch-hitter but he slugged .429 hitting right-handed this year. Advantage: Astros.
Center field. Willy Taveras is a guy writers and managers love, but we know better. A guy who eats up 592 at-bats with a .666 OPS is not helping your team win. He was also caught stealing about a quarter of the time which for a guy with his pure speed is embarrassing. Andruw Jones should not under any circumstances be considered for the National League MVP award, but that doesn't mean he isn't a great player. He did win the home run title, and if he really has lost a step on defense he's still miles better than everybody else this side of Torii Hunter and Jim Edmonds. Advantage: Braves.
Right field. A matchup of two real good young players: Jason Lane and ROY candidate Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur has a gaudy OPS and doesn't walk at all. Lane has a lower batting average but comparable overall numbers. When it's this close you give the edge to the guy who's done it for longer. Advantage: Astros.
Bench. The Braves have a strange mix: greybeards Brian Jordan and Julio Franco and young'ns Wilson Betemit, Pete Orr, and Kelly Johnson. All of these guys save Johnson can hit. The Astros' outlook is far grimmer: Orlando Palmeiro is the best of a bad lot that also features Eric Bruntlett, Jose Vizcaino, Chris Burke, Mike Lamb, and Luke Scott. Advantage: Braves.
Manager. Bobby Cox is a marvel. Veterans and rookies alike love him. He also has the nonpareil Leo Mazzone hanging around to perform his voodoo on the pitchers. Phil Garner is a salt-of-the-earth type I thought would have worn out his welcome in Houston by now, but after recovering from awful starts to make the playoffs two seasons in a row, you have to give him his propers. Advantage: Braves.
OK, final count: Houston five, Atlanta seven. Well, I guess I can't pick the Astros now. Braves in five?
Series in Progress
I flew from Denver to Chicago to visit my folks yesterday and between cleaning my apartment, taking five cases of empty Diet Coke cans out to the recycling, and choosing which video game system to bring home (I went for the PS2 because the XBox is, well, heavy) I didn't have time to complete my Houston-Atlanta preview. I have the notes for it around here somewhere and I'm going to try and write it up before Game Two starts. I promise I won't let the Astros' blowout win in the first game effect the results.
Didn't see much of that game as I was on a plane, but I saw the other two. Didn't I tell you Ben Molina was the man? Seems like something I would say. I feel bad for Tony Graffanino but like SI's Tom Verducci says, David Wells threw the pitch Tadahito Iguchi clubbed. I'm pulling pretty hard for the Red Sox to win two in Boston not because I particularly have a rooting interest either way, but because my mom bought my dad and I tickets to Game 5 on eBay. Go, Schill! Go, Wake!
Well, like every time I visit my parents, everything with a cord in the house needs fixing. I'm going to get on top of that now and I will check back in later with your belated Braves-Astros breakdown. Hey, if you are reading these, will you drop me a line to say so? They take kind of a lot of work and I won't do the Championship Series if it turns out the audience for my Rockies blog died with the Rockies season.
ALDS: New York vs. Anaheim
The Angels were the easy favorites in an AL West with the poverty-stricken A's, pitching-less Rangers, and untalented Mariners. They never opened up a huge lead but weren't spooked by a midseason surge from Oakland, winning 14 of their last 16 games to become the first American League team to clinch. The offense was expected to be improved with contributions from free agent veterans Orlando Cabrera and Steve Finley and young guns Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson, led as always by the transcendent Vladimir Guerrero. It didn't work out, as Garret Anderson was never healthy, Cabrera underachieved, Finley was simply terrible, and they got nothing from McPherson before he got hurt. When Guerrero slumped, which he did a few times, the Angels really struggled to score runs. They finished 21st in OPS but 11th in runs scored thanks to a teamwide knack for situational hitting (a 8th-in-the-majors .795 OPS with runners in scoring position). They're not one of the best offenses in the playoffs but they are miles better than Houston or San Diego and arguably better than the White Sox.
They also have much better pitching than the slugging Red Sox and Yankees, one reason they were such a chic pick among ESPN's panel of experts. Bartolo Colon might take the AL Cy Young with his 20 wins, but Jarrod Washburn and John Lackey had lower ERAs and Paul Byrd was not far behind. Besides Colon these guys don't get much attention but Anaheim, not Chicago or Minnesota, had the best overall starters' ERA in the American League. Their bullpen isn't as deep as Chicago's but that matters less in the postseason and Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez, Scot Shields, and Brendan Donnelly make for a vicious big three.
The Yankees, beautifully managed again by the saintly Joe Torre, overcame a slow start, an avalanche of predictable pitching injuries, and a season of otherworldly awfulness from Tony Womack to win the AL East by a tiebreaker over Boston. They're the same as they ever were: big names, big dollars, big numbers. It's wild that they're depending on a rookie and a Rockie to make up half of their postseason rotation, but A-Rod, Jeter, Sheff, Posada, and Giambi are much as you remember them. They're not going to win if they don't score -- not even Randy Johnson is a sure thing any more -- but they're probably going to score.
Starting pitching. Since the White Sox torched Johnson (17-8, 3.79 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) for back-to-back-to-back home runs on August 21st, he's been back to his old self, averaging less than two earned runs a start and never allowing more than three. That is huge news for the Yankees, because the rest of their rotation is an utter shambles. Mike Mussina (13-8, 4.41, 1.37) hasn't been himself, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, and (shockingly) Kevin Brown all flamed out, and Al Leiter after a magical first few starts in New York turned back into a 39-year-old pumpkin. So Torre, George Steinbrenner, and Brian Cashman performed a black mass, sacrificed a few virgins, and turned Shawn Chacon (7-3, 2.76, 1.19 with New York) and minor league veteran Aaron Small (10-0, 3.20, 1.25) into aces.The success of Taiwanese rookie Chien-Ming Wang (8-5, 4.02, 1.25) was a little less out of the blue but still pretty fortunate for the Bombers. Mussina, Wang, Johnson, and Chacon will draw the starts in the series against Anaheim, in that order. Not what anyone expected in April, but it could be much worse.
The Angels' season couldn't have gone any differently. Only 13 games all year were started by pitchers besides their five-man rotation of Byrd, Colon, Washburn, Lackey, and Erwin Santana. The Yankees, on the other hand, had 14 different guys start at least one game. Like their 2002 World Championship team, none of Anaheim's starters are great but they're all pretty good. Colon (21-8, 3.48, 1.16) doesn't have much of a rep as a big-game pitcher, but here's his chance to build one. Lackey (14-5, 3.44, 1.33) started Game 7 of the World Series in his rookie year and acquitted himself extremely well. Paul Byrd (12-11, 3.74, 1.19) outperformed any number of flashier free agent starting pitching signings from last offseason. Jarrod Washburn (8-8, 3.20, 1.33) got some karmic payback this year after years of great luck with run support; although he pitched better than ever, look at his mediocre won-loss record. Colon and Washburn will match up against Mussina and Johnson in Games 1 and 3, and if you look at the numbers, they have the advantage. Lackey draws Wang for Game Two; Byrd should see Chacon in the second game in New York. Advantage: Angels.
Bullpen. The Angels have the numbers and...well, the numbers, but the Yankees have Mo. Mariano Rivera is the best relief pitcher to ever play the game, and he only gets better in the postseason. Flash Gordon was overworked in the regular season by Torre (again), and after that it gets pretty dicey for the Bombers -- not Boston dicey, but we're talking Tanyon Sturtze, Scott Proctor, and Felix Rodriguez here. Aaron Small will move down, but come on, he's so due for a pounding. All you East Coast-biased folks have no idea how good the Angels' relievers are. They're all right-handed, but they'll strike out anybody. Donnelly (7.13 K/9), Shields (9.53), and Rodriguez (12.08) are the real deal, although the callow K-Rod did commit the bonehead mental error of the year when he allowed Jason Kendall to score from third after bumbling the exchange from the catcher. That probably won't happen again. Erstwhile starters Kelvim Escobar and Santana should help in relief, and Esteban Yan and Kevin Gregg are OK middlemen. Advantage: Angels.
Catcher. Jorge Posada, although he didn't have a great regular season, is one of the core players of the fading Yankee dynasty. He's a better defensive backstop than a lot of people give him credit for, too. His backup John Flaherty is a total replacement player. The all-in-the-family Anaheim duo of Ben Molina and Jose Molina used to be all about defense, but Bengie at least has improved his work with the bat this year, hitting 15 homers and posting a respectable .295/.336/.446 line. Molina will have to do it for a little longer to be considered superior to Posada, however. Advantage: Yankees.
First base. Darin Erstad is one of the least productive first base regulars in the majors. Mike Sciosia loves his defense, but you know what, Todd Helton is a pretty good fielder too, and he manages to slug a little better than .367 every year. The second Tino Martinez farewell tour has gone better than expected for New York, as Martinez has smacked 17 homers and was for one surreal week in May an honest-to-goodness superhero. Advantage: Yankees.
Second base. Robinson Cano came up in May during a panicked Steinbrenner-mandated roster reshuffle and surprisingly, he nailed down the starting job almost immediately. At .295/.318/.457 he's not quite a Rookie of the Year candidate but he is approximately a million billion times better than Tony Womack. Mike Scioscia is a good manager who does incredibly weird things sometimes. One of them is his insistence on batting Adam Kennedy, one of the better on-base percentage hitters the Angels have, ninth every single day. I don't know what the difference between hitting Orlando Cabrera (.311 OBP) and Kennedy (.354) second would be in runs over a full season, but on a team that needs scoring as badly as the Angels, it makes you wonder. Both of these guys are average defenders. Advantage: Angels.
Shortstop. You know, for a guy I hate the ever-lovin' guts of, I sure do see a lot of Derek Jeter every day. His face adorns every bag of my favorite brand of sunflower seeds. His signature is on my baseball glove (which is weird because it's left-handed). You know the story with Jeter. Statheads hate him, but he makes big plays in big games like clockwork. He gets less attention than he used to thanks to A-Rod, but he's had an awesome year (.308/.389/.449, 19 homers). Through loads of hard work and superior baseball smarts, he's improved his defense greatly in the last two years -- from awful to average (for which he was promptly rewarded with a Gold Glove in '04). Orlando Cabrera is a much slicker fielder, but he's a crummy offensive player and lacks even a thimbleful of Jeter's intangibles. Advantage: Yankees.
Third base. Chone Figgins is a groovy catalyst for the Angels and a good fielder for a guy who's not a natural third baseman. He also tied for the major league lead in steals if you like that sort of thing. But, c'mon, Alex Rodriguez is the best player in baseball. Advantage: Yankees.
Left field. Hideki Matsui is licking his chops about his pending free agency after a .304/.366/.494 year. Why is it when the Yankees sign a Japanese star they get Godzilla while the Mets end up with Kaz Matsui? Oh, yeah, they're the Yankees. Ask and the Angels will be happy to tell you that it was Garret Anderson's absences that jammed up the gears of their offense, but Anderson and his bad back were pretty lousy when they did play. He's a doubles hitter who doesn't walk. Left is the least important defensive position on the field, but Anderson when healthy is the better glove for what it's worth. Advantage: Yankees.
Center field. New York tried a little bit of everything in center and ended up right back where they started: Bernie Williams. He's a warrior, he's an O.G. Yankee, but he's a shell of his former self. Steve Finley has cratered even more dramatically, although his defense hasn't degraded as much as the gimpy Williams'. Finley hit slightly better in the second half but still finished with an OPS of .645 to Bernie's .692. This is not a position of strength for either team. Advantage: Push.
Right field. Now, this matchup is more like it. Gary Sheffield's swing is a sublime mix of beauty and power. Just don't heckle him unless you're a safe distance away. New York is really a perfect situation for Sheff since the pretty-boy infielders take the attention away and leave him to do his thing, which is crank it. The brilliant Vladimir Guerrero, having received his enormous long-term contract, is just settling in for a happy decade of padding his stats against Texas Ranger pitching. These guys are both All-Stars, but Vlad is the Hall of Famer. Guerrero has an arm that should require a five-day waiting period; Sheff is an average gloveman. Advantage: Angels.
Designated hitter. Look at Jason Giambi's final line (.271/.440/.535, 32 jacks) and it's hard to believe that at one point this season he was so lost at the plate that the Yankees seriously considered demoting him to AAA. Jeff DaVanon is the most appealing of Anaheim's limited options here; he hits a lot like April's Giambi: tons of walks and nothing else. Advantage: Yankees.
Bench. Joe Torre has Ruben Sierra, who is pushing 40 but can still get around on a fastball, the serviceable Matt Lawton, and the remarkable Womack. Scioscia has Kotchman, Robb Quinlan, and Juan Rivera. Advantage: Yankees.
Manager. Mike Scioscia is one of those guys everybody said would make a great manager. He is a great manager. The Angels use their good bullpen to perfection and their situational hitting is as good as it gets. Joe Torre makes weird decisions on the field sometimes, and he's never been much for saving his pitchers' arms, but as the eye of the storm in the unique world of the Yankees, he does the most difficult coaching job in pro sports better than you might think possible. If they ever really fire him, they will live to regret it. Advantage: Yankees.
That's four for Anaheim, eight for the Pinstripers, and one tie. Well, I think I just changed my own mind. Yankees in five.
ALDS: Boston vs. Chicago
Terry Francona, I'm going to tell you how to win this series right now. It's a little unconventional, but hear me out: throw Game 2. Just let them win it. Send Tim Wakefield out to toss batting practice for nine innings. He's a knuckleballer, it's not like he's going to get tired. Then you can use Mike Timlin and Bronson Arroyo for a combined three innings in each of Games 1, 3, and 4. Let's face it -- if Lenny DiNardo or Chad Harville or Jeremi Gonzalez gets in there, you're basically conceding. Get it all out of your system in one night, go back to Fenway all tied up with your two decent relief arms fully rested, and let the good times roll. Easy!
As for the White Sox, well, muzzle Ozzie Guillen, don't teach Scott Podsednik the steal sign, have Frank Thomas mindmeld with Aaron Rowand, and hypnotize Joe Crede to think his every at-bat is occurring in the ninth inning with the game on the line. And maybe get a cardboard cutout of Jay Mariotti set up in the locker room like in Major League, except in reverse -- each win puts another piece of clothing back on. For starters.
Starting pitching. On either side, these guys have seen better days. For Chicago's Mark Buehrle (16-8, 3.12 ERA, 1.18 WHIP), Jon Garland (18-10, 3.50, 1.17), and Freddy Garcia (14-8, 3.87, 1.25), those days were as recent as the first half of this season. For Curt Schilling (8-8, 5.69, 1.53) and David Wells (15-7, 4.45, 1.31), you have to reach a little farther back. Matt Clement (13-6, 4.57, 1.36) was Boston's most reliable guy for most of the regular season but has the shortest playoff portfolio. Jose Contreras (15-7, 3.61, 1.23), rather shockingly, carried the ChiSox down the stretch and will draw the Game One assignment. Wakefield (16-12, 4.15, 1.23) is a great guy and a true Red Sox diehard but knucklers tend to flatten out in cold weather and it gets chilly in Chicago and Boston in October. Advantage: White Sox.
Bullpen. The White Sox, again, were much better in the first half than in the second. Nagging injuries dragged closer Dustin Hermanson down, fatigue set in slightly for Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts, and Ozzie got to Damaso Marte. Bobby Jenks has the closer's mantle for the time being but the results might not be pretty when he tries to throw straight fastballs past hitters the pedigree of Man-Ram and Big Papi. Still, Chicago ranked 4th in the majors in bullpen ERA thanks not least to a hardy, efficient starting staff (29th in the bigs in relief IP). They have a few minor concerns while the Red Sox have a full-blown disaster. My suggestion at the top of the page is hardly in jest as closer Timlin and converted starter Arroyo are basically the only two semi-reliable guys they have on board. Chad Bradford can under no circumstances be allowed to face lefthanded bats; Mike Myers is the other way around. Just a glance down a roster that includes such luminaries as DiNardo, Harville, and Gonzalez and you know why Boston finished second-to-last in the majors in bullpen ERA. The unknown quantity is rookie Jonathan Papelbon, who pitched well both in starting and relieving roles for the Red Sox down the stretch. If he can handle eighth-inning playoff pressure, maybe Francona doesn't have to throw Wakefield out to the dogs. Advantage: White Sox.
Catcher. Jason Varitek is Boston's emotional leader and a two-way All-Star receiver. A.J. Pierzynski has thrived in U.S. Cellular's homer-friendly environment (12 of 18 home runs hit at home) but is slightly inferior defensively and vastly deficient when it comes to on-base skills. If reports out of San Francisco are correct, he's Varitek's polar opposite in the clubhouse as well. Tek is supported by Doug Mirabelli, who is great at the two things Boston asks him to do: keep Varitek extremely far away from Wakefield's knuckler and hit occasional home runs with an impeccable sense of timing. White Sox backup Chris Widger is just another guy. Advantage: Red Sox.
First base. Kevin Millar's power utterly abandoned him this year, with his playing time increasingly going to John Olerud, who hit nearly as many home runs as Millar (7 vs. 9) in fewer than half as many at-bats. They'll probably be in a mixed platoon with Olerud being utilized for his still-solid defense in addition to his lefthanded bat. Longtime Chicago first sacker Paul Konerko should work his way on to a few MVP ballots this season with his .283/.375/.534 line and 40 homers. He's not a super glove guy, but he's not awful for a man his size. Advantage: White Sox.
Second base. Boston's management finally tired of the truest of Mark Bellhorn's three outcomes and brought on inoffensive vet Tony Graffanino from Kansas City. Surprise! Graffanino's been super (.319/.355/.457). Tadahito Iguchi meanwhile has done it all year for the White Sox. He's a good defender and Ozzie Guillen's dream #2 hitter: he hits behind runners, bunts like a dream, and is a chore to double up. After an August slump he came up with a few huge hits as the White Sox fought off the Indians down the stretch. A Rookie of the Year candidate, if you don't mind the fact that he's 30. Advantage: White Sox.
Shortstop. Big free-agent signing Edgar Renteria hasn't done all that was expected of him for the Red Sox. He had a good May and a torrid August but his June and September were awful. Perhaps most alarming have been his 30 errors at short compared with 11 in a comparable number of innings with St. Louis last year. Still, his overall line of .276/.327/.401 is not unspeakable for a middle infielder and he's useful for a double here and a stolen base there. Juan Uribe is one of the "Kids Can Play" White Sox from a few seasons ago who has actually stuck with the club, and like a lot of his teammates he has a surprising number of homers (16) but a rather ugly OBP (.301). He's a solid defensive shortstop but not a Gold Glover. Advantage: Red Sox.
Third base. Joe Crede is one of those players I like completely out of proportion with his actual ability since seemingly every time I attend a White Sox game in person, he hits a game-winning home run. It's happened like four times. It's getting freaky. Crede has reportedly been on the hot seat in Chicago ever since Ozzie Guillen arrived as manager but he's never been seriously challenged for the starting job, thanks to a lack of decent competition more than anything else. 22 homers, .252/.303/.454, it is what it is. Boston's loyalty to Bill Mueller is odd given the obvious major-league readiness of Moneyball's infamous Kevin Youkilis, but you have to hand it to Mueller for making his job hard to give away -- he had another solid campaign, posting a .295/.369/.430 line. Mueller is a good third baseman who has lost a couple of steps while Crede is a bit of a head case afield. Advantage: Red Sox.
Left field. Thanks to a simply amazing blarney campaign on the part of his manager, Scott Podsednik was somehow labeled the poster boy for the Pale Hose's early-season success and was elected over Derek Jeter as the "Final Vote" All-Star representative. A groin injury in mid-August scuttled both his chances for the AL stolen base crown and his usefulness to the White Sox. He's a fan favorite and a real dirtball, but if I hear Hawk Harrelson's speech about how his presence at first base so distracts a pitcher one more time, the result will be a hostage situation. He's a fair leadoff hitter but his bat is so unsuited for left field it's kind of funny. Then there's Manny Ramirez. He's one of the all-time great flakes, but he's also one of the most intimidating right-handed sluggers who ever lived. His OPS was under 1.000 for the first time since 1998 this year, but he did hit 45 home runs and knock in 144 baserunners so I don't think we can describe him as being in his decline phase quite yet. Podsednik was a good leftfielder before he got hurt while Manny is (absent his habit of occasionally taking bathroom breaks or calling his relatives on Neptune in the middle of innings) somewhat underrated. Advantage: Red Sox.
Center field. Johnny Damon may have the most famous facial hair in baseball, but Aaron Rowand is a good candidate for the ugliest. It looks like it was drawn on a Woolly Willy. Rowand had a sick 2004 but has regressed this season; his glove it seems is fantastic except in must-win games on national TV. A .329 OBP and 13 homers were not what Guillen was hoping for from the 28-year-old. Damon meanwhile is on the verge of a truly silly long-term deal somewhere after this season. He's one of the best if not the best power/speed leadoff guy in baseball, and according to a line of dialogue in last week's "Veronica Mars" episode "he's so pretty." Damon's girly throwing arm is his most promoted Achilles' heel; Rowand's is better but it hardly makes up for the difference in offensive output. Advantage: Red Sox.
Right field. Jermaine Dye, with 31 homers, has been one of the biggest bats on the South Side. But stop me if you've heard this one before: his .333 OBP leaves something to be desired. Trot Nixon would be one of the best hitters on the White Sox if he played for them; instead his .275/.357/.446 numbers cushion the back end of the Boston lineup. Neither of these guys is making money for their defense. Advantage: White Sox.
Designated hitter. It was all downhill for the White Sox, I've suggested, when they failed to move Carl Everett only so they could reacquire him for the third straight year. I kid, but Everett has been a positive contributor for Chicago this season (23 homers) and he's one of the few guys on the roster who's "postseason-tested." David Ortiz on the other hand is the Cookie Monster. There is no single player in the game with a better reputation for delivering in the clutch. At some point in this series Ortiz's bat is going to make solid contact with one of Bobby Jenks' triple-digit fastballs and Fox will have an image that will run in their promos for a decade. Advantage: Red Sox.
Bench. Olerud, Youkilis, and Adam Hyzdu for Boston; Timo Perez, Willie Harris, and Geoff Blum for Chicago. Not only are the Red Sox's guys much better, but you know for certain at some point Guillen is going to take Konerko or Everett out in the seventh inning of a tie game to pinch-run Willie Harris, leading to a situation where Harris comes up with the winning run in scoring position in the ninth and dribbles out to the pitcher. Advantage: Red Sox.
Manager. The Mouth Almighty vs. Mr. Right Place, Right Time. Neither Francona nor Guillen has shown much of a knack for effectively managing their bullpens or their substitutions, but Francona is infinitely less likely to run out onto the field in a hailstorm of bilingual obscenities, wielding a bat at one of his own players. The best hope for the White Sox as I see it is for Ozzie to miss a few games or perhaps the entire series when one of his already-legendary pregame press conferences runs a week or so long. Advantage: Red Sox.
Let's see, that's five for Chicago and eight for Boston. However it ends up, I think that the team that wins this series will win it at home. I like Boston in four, but if I got a second choice it would be the White Sox in five.
Trammelled Under Foot
This just in: the Tigers fired manager Alan Trammell after three seasons and a 184-302 overall record. Rockies fans, look at Detroit and smile. There are teams that have it worse than we do. The Tigers' organization is a blight on the face of baseball. With Chuck LaMar on his way out in St. Petersburg, Dave Dombrowski might be the worst GM in the game. The Tigers hired Trammell for the wrong reason: they knew they were going to be horrible in 2003, and they wanted one of the franchise's brightest past stars to draw attention away from their incompetence. Rather than accepting that their crumbling infrastructure was going to take years to repair, Dombrowski shelled out large amounts of money for some players obviously entering their decline phase -- Ivan Rodriguez in '04, Magglio OrdoÃ±ez and Troy Percival in '05. Then he had the gall to act surprised when these guys were all bad, hurt, or bad and hurt and the Tigers' homegrown cast of no-hopers (with apologies to Chris Shelton) continued to not be any good.
I'm not saying Trammell was any good as a manager, because he clearly wasn't. Rodriguez was openly maligning him for much of the season, and the abuse he heaped upon the Tigers' many formerly promising young starters was both harmful and fruitless. The point is he was hired for the wrong reason, and fired for the wrong reason. The Tigers still have no farm system to speak of, and they play in a division with three teams that spend less money than they do every year and are better than they are every year. As long as we're kicking them while they're down, it's also worth mentioning that the conventional wisdom has it that Comerica Park is the one dud from the current golden age of ballpark construction. I'm no Clint Hurdle apologist, but I'll take Coors Field and Gen-R over the mess in Motown any day.
Equally unsurprising is the news that neither of Florida's teams' managers, Lou Piniella and Jack McKeon, will return for 2006. The stories are not exactly the same -- McKeon's Marlins, expected to be contenders, turned into a squabbling mess down the stretch, and the ultracompetitive Piniella simply tired of skippering a team with a lower payroll than the Yankees' Columbus affiliate -- but in both cases, a general baseball rule of thumb applies. Grinders, be they salt-of-the-earth types like Larry Bowa or more patriarchal stickler guys a la Buck Showalter, tend to wear out their welcome fairly quickly. They might spur an underachieving team to a focused half-season or so, but ultimately the players of today really don't like being treated like high schoolers. It only makes you admire all the more guys like Mike Scioscia, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre who are clearly in charge without showily brandishing the whip all the time.
Finally, from ESPN's Page 2: every team's season in a single page. For the Rockies the headlines are the venison incident and (perceptively) the team's continuing difficulty producing offense away from Coors. I particularly like the pages for the Dodgers (blame DePodesta), Pirates (hockey theme), and Cubs ("Cubs disappoint; in other news, earth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours, sun rises in east").
NLDS: San Diego vs. St. Louis
The Cardinals were again wire-to-wire winners in the NL Central, led by a Cy Young-level campaign from Chris Carpenter and another all-world year from the ethereal Albert Pujols. The Padres had one excellent month (22-6 in May) and never really needed to find that level again as none of the competition in the NL West could break .500. San Diego making the playoffs with the most losses ever for a postseason team isn't the end of the world, as the team does boast a genuine ace in Jake Peavy and a star bat in Brian Giles. Add that to closer Trevor Hoffman, who recorded his 400th save earlier in the season (against St. Louis), and the Padres have enough to at least win a game in this series, which begins Tuesday afternoon at Busch Stadium. Or do they?
Starting pitching. The case against the Cardinals last year was that having a deep rotation with no standout ace is all well and good for the regular season, but of little use in the playoffs. Problem addressed. Walt Jocketty traded for Mark Mulder (16-8, 3.64 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) in part to get that guy for the Cardinals, but as it turned out they had him in the organization all along: Chris Carpenter (21-5, 2.83, 1.06) will probably win the NL Cy Young this year. But two guys alone will not get you a major-league best 3.49 staff ERA. That takes good work from the likes of Jeff Suppan (16-10, 3.57, 1.38) and Matt Morris (14-10, 3.94, 1.25), a strong bullpen, and a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. Fifth starter Jason Marquis (13-14, 4.13, 1.33) outpitched Morris in September but Tony LaRussa will want him on the bench for the strategic implications of his bat -- Marquis has a .786 OPS on the season and he swings lefty.
There's nothing wrong with the Padres' #1. If Peavy (13-7, 2.88, 1.04) played for a team with a more prolific offense (and Roger Clemens still played for the Astros), he'd be in the thick of the Cy Young discussion himself. It gets somewhat dicier for San Diego after that. Adam Eaton (10-5, 4.51, 1.50) is a talented guy but for whatever reason he's never really "put it together." Brian Lawrence (7-15, 4.83, 1.37) and Woody Williams (9-12, 4.85, 1.41) are as vanilla as it gets. In fact, since the Padres seized him off of the scrap heap in July, former Rockies hurler Pedro Astacio (4-2, 3.17, 1.34) has been San Diego's second-best starter. Bruce Bochy will start Astacio in Game Two and turn to Eaton for Game Three. Should there be a Game Four, take your pick between Williams and Lawrence. Lawrence has pitched better against the Cardinals (a 4.05 ERA in 6 2/3 IP, compared to Williams' 6.00 in 6), so I guess he's your guy. But this isn't a choice that a playoff team should have to make. Advantage: Cardinals.
Bullpen. Well, if this was all there was to it, this series would be quite a barnburner. St. Louis has the third-ranked bullpen in the majors and San Diego has the 6th. The Padres' late-inning group of Scott Linebrink, Akinori Otsuka, Rudy Seanez, and Hoffman is the strength of the team. They also have well-traveled lefty specialist Chris Hammond and rookie Clay Hensley contributing. Williams, whose "value" is mostly as an innings sponge, won't add much if he moves down from the rotation. If he even makes the postseason roster, Chan Ho Park, whose only known talent is convincing Scott Hicks to give him enormous amounts of money, is also now a Padre. It's hard to see how this not entirely unique ability could help San Diego advance to the NLCS. I doubt Albert Pujols can be bought.
The Cardinals counter with their usual balance of star power and depth. Jason Isringhausen is the closer and he's legit. Ray King and Julian Tavarez aren't going to win any beauty contests, but they get the job done. Randy Flores is the resident lefthander. Al Reyes, who has been terrific this year (2.15 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 62 2/3 innings) hurt his elbow in the last regular season game. Marquis and young Brad Thompson will try to compensate but that loss costs the Cardinals one of their edges. Advantage: Push.
Catcher. The Cardinals let longtime backstop Mike Matheny leave for the Giants after the World Series last year, and with good reason. Yadier Molina is basically the same player for much cheaper. St. Louis has an organizational distaste for offense from the catcher position, and to this end they couldn't have picked a better backup than Einar Diaz. The Padres have the far more threatening Ramon Hernandez and as his backup the intriguing talent of Miguel Olivo. Advantage: Padres.
First base. Nothing against Mark Sweeney, who has been San Diego's second-best rate hitter this year (.295/.396/.468) as a part-timer, but he's simply not on the same planet as Albert Pujols. I'm not going to waste any more time telling you things you already know. Advantage: Cardinals.
Second base. Perhaps if Mark Loretta had been healthy all year, San Diego wouldn't be saddled with all this Worst. Playoff. Team. EVER stuff. Loretta is a team leader, a plus fielder, and a trustworthy on-base guy. Both the Dodgers and the Cubs gave up on Mark Grudzielanek, and at age 35 he's had something of a career renaissance as a regular in St. Louis. Grud has slightly more pop than Loretta, but he gives up thirty points of OBP and Loretta is the superior defender. Advantage: Padres.
Shortstop. The Red Sox paid the Cardinals' old shortstop, Edgar Renteria, more than St. Louis was willing to part with. The Angels in turn gave Boston's old shortstop, Orlando Cabrera, a pretty nice chunk of change himself. That left St. Louis without a shortstop and David Eckstein without a job. How fortunate for them both. Eckstein doesn't look like a shortstop, but his decent offensive numbers (.294/.364/.397) came at a huge discount compared to those other two guys. Khalil Greene is billed as one of the Padres' young stars but his OBP in his second full season (.297) leaves a lot to be desired. Greene is massively better with the glove than Eckstein, but he still tends to make rookie mistakes and he's quite fragile. Advantage: Cardinals.
Third base. Scott who? Well, not really. The great Rolen's lost season was one of the few stormclouds hanging over the Cards' 100-win NL Central campaign. However Abraham NuÃ±ez has played well over replacement level (.285/.343/.361) in preventing the hot corner from becoming a complete black hole for the Redbirds. NuÃ±ez has established career highs in every imaginable category this season after an undistinguished eight years with the Pirates. Sean Burroughs by contrast has been so bad in 2005 that he spent part of the year trying to rediscover his swing in AAA Portland. Like a lot of San Diego's roster, Burroughs has a chronic lack of power for a guy who plays at a power position. Of course, NuÃ±ez doesn't have any pop either. Scott Seabol would probably get a start in the series if the Padres had any lefty starters, but they don't. Likewise Joe Randa is around to spell the lefty-swinging Burroughs (and the Cardinals do have a lefthanded starter in Mark Mulder). Randa hasn't exactly set the world on fire since coming over from Cincinnati, but the Padres' duo has the edge when it comes to experience. Advantage: Padres.
Left field. Ryan Klesko is the Padres' biggest power threat (he leads the team with 18 homers). Reggie Sanders is the "weak link" in the Cardinals' outfield, and he has 20 jacks. Neither is a great defender but Sanders looks infinitely less like a tank with a glove. Advantage: Cardinals.
Center field. Dave Roberts created maybe the single biggest play in 2004's postseason with his steal off of Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of the ALCS. However for San Diego he's not in the role of late-inning speed replacement, he's a starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter. He's had one of his best years (.275/.356/.428) but he should have quit while he was ahead with the basestealing (23 steals against 12 caught-stealings). In any case he's nowhere near a match for Jim Edmonds even in one of Edmonds' lesser years (.263/.385/.533). Edmonds has 29 homers and is the premier highlight-reel centerfielder in the National League. Advantage: Cardinals.
Right field. Larry Walker has been playing hurt all year and has talked often about retirement. Still, .289/.384/.502 with 15 home runs is not bad. Brian Giles is the Padres' offensive MVP with a .301/.423/.483 line and 15 homers of his own. Walker is a plus defender when healthy; he's not. Advantage: Padres.
Bench. I couldn't find the postseason rosters anywhere (they may not have been finalized yet) but my best guesses are Seabol, John Mabry, Hector Luna, and So Taguchi for the Cardinals and Randa, Eric Young, Damian Jackson, and Xavier Nady for the Padres. San Diego's group has a lot more speed, pop, and versatility. The Cardinals are not sweating their bench and they probably don't need to. Advantage: Padres.
Manager. Tony La Russa and Bruce Bochy are two of the longest-tenured guys in the game, but La Russa is the Hall of Famer. He sees the game from more angles than anybody, but he's not going to do anything stupid like call for Pujols to bunt. Bochy has been driven by his team's lack of offense to overmanage at times this season. The Padres are 18th in stolen base percentage and 8th in sacrifices. They don't want to be giving outs away left and right against the mighty Cardinal pitching staff. Advantage: Cardinals.
That's six nods to the Cardinals, five to the Padres, and one push. As close as that may seem, I don't think it's going to be that tight of a series. Some elements (starting pitching) are far more important than others (catcher, bench). Plus the Cardinals' huge advantages at first base and center field rather trump tiny San Diego edges at third and in right. And looking at the series another way, which is the game that the Padres are going to win? Peavy is their money starter, but he will be facing off against Carpenter. Can Astacio beat Mulder at Busch? What about Eaton vs. Suppan with St. Louis up 2-0? I don't see it. Cardinals in three is the pick, but don't be astonished if it goes four or even five -- these short series can be wild.
Rockies 11, Mets 3
Well, the season began and ended on a positive note. Losing three of four to the Mets puts the Rockies right back to square one -- 67-95, their same record as in the expansion season of 1993. Aaron Cook finishes his truncated season 7-2. That's a good sign. Holliday, Barmes, and Helton were the hitting stars. What happens if we have all those guys healthy next season? Danny Ardoin was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. What happens if we have something approximating a real major league catcher next year?
Meanwhile, the Indians completed their unlikely slide to allow Boston to back into the playoffs. Houston held off Philadelphia to win the NL wild card. And the Brewers finished at exactly 81-81. Tomorrow I will sit down and really dig into the postseason matchups (Boston at Chicago, New York at Anaheim, San Diego at St. Louis, and Houston at Atlanta). That should be fun seeing as I more or less gave up the heavy analytical stuff over the last month of the season here when the Rockies played an endless string of games against boring NL West teams about which there wasn't much interesting left to say. Right now? I like the Cardinals. But 5- and even 7-game series are inherently unpredictable. Stay tuned.
Not trying to win, but at least ticket prices won't rise (again)
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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