Monthly archives: October 2006
So the World Series is over, and that means that another baseball won't be pitched in anger for five entire months. I am miserable at the prospect. For all of the complaining about how poor the play was in the postseason, I would much rather have a couple more Detroit-St. Louis games than no baseball at all. Even bad playoff baseball is still baseball. I don't know what it is about the sports fan psyche that requires all recent events to be immediately categorized as either the Best Ever or the Worst Ever, but there you have it. I avoided writing anything about the end of the season for several days, because I knew as soon as I did there would be no more baseball to write about for ages. That's the only thing I have to complain about as far as this World Series is concerned.
I don't have any high-minded opinions about "deserving champions" this or "watered-down" that. For my part, having a clear-cut villain to root against all October made these playoffs a lot of fun. I haven't wanted a guy in uniform to fail this badly since Paul O'Neill retired. In my world, things couldn't have worked out much better than Jim Leyland getting all the way to the final round only to fail rather miserably and visibly. There sure were a lot of legitimate things to second-guess Leyland on during the World Series. Not starting Kenny Rogers in Game 5, a little weird. His substitution patterns, consistently weird. Taking the whole postseason to realize Carlos Guillen is a better hitter than Placido Polanco, really weird. On the other hand, what about Sean Casey? I don't think I was able to write Casey's all name all season long without including a cheap shot. He was the Tigers' MVP in the World Series, for what it's worth. Didn't see that coming. In any event, Leyland lost and the Yankees didn't win. That's about the most realistic thing you can hope for at season's end, as a Rockies fan.
So it looks like it's time to return our attentions to Colorado baseball (he sighed), meaning that our welcome postseason audience will go right back to ignoring us. Well, that's okay, at least they know where we are if the Rockies decide to get interesting next season. It's not impossible. I'll start taking some more time to figure out what 2007 will bring after my postseries depression wears off. By way of a transition, I will give you this right now. As most Rockies fans know, after several years of gradual rebuilding, expectations should be justifiably much higher for next year. Brian Fuentes, Matt Holliday, and Jason Jennings all can walk after the 2007 season. With the exceptions of Jamey Carroll at second and the gaping chasm in center field, the major league team will have high-ceiling homegrown players at every position next year. If the Rockies don't accomplish at least a winning record in '07, Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd should be fired. Last year, 75 wins was all we asked the team to come up with, and they made it. Next year, a ten-win improvement is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. 85 wins would be more than the World Series winner managed in the 2006 regular season. Dare to hope, Rockies fans.
This Next One Will Burn
Whoa! Finally, a World Series game that felt like a World Series game. Unfortunately, it may be this season's one and only example of the form. The Tigers look for all the world like a team fate just seriously doesn't want winning a championship, and who could forgive them for packing it in after this one? Outfielder wipeouts! Yet still further pitcher defensive miscues! Dropped third strikes! Curtis Granderson trying to hit the curveball! (Was I right about Detroit awaiting a colossal karma boomerang from those absurdly overblown celebrations upon winning the ALDS and ALCS, or was I right?) Call it the Leyland follies, and also call it the game of the postseason so far, with apologies to Endy C. In keeping with my affection for lost causes, I try to support Denver's local music scene as well as the Rockies, and I went out to see some bands at a bar tonight assuming that this game would operate on the same level as the three previous half-asleepers and thus command no more than one-third of my full attention. Not so much. My apologies to the timid folksinger I mostly ignored and occasionally upstaged with my uncontrollable Granderson-provoked laughter.
I don't want to incur the wrath of thousands of Cardinals fans for jinxing this thing, but hey, this is the age of instant analysis, and if you don't start wrapping things up before they're actually over, everyone else on the interweb will beat you to your own ideas. So I'm going to go ahead and weigh in on the whole debate that is sure to rage, or indeed rages already, about whether a team with only 83 regular season wins claiming a championship banner is bad for baseball. Here's my nuanced take: no. It could well be a generational thing. If you grew up watching the Reds, A's, and Yankees of the 70's, well, yeah, the Marlins, Angels, and (presumptively the) Cardinals of the 00's are not as good. Baseball was first introduced to me in the golden era of collusion, where underwhelming teams like the '85 Royals, '87 Twins, and '90 Reds won championships all the time. What was great about the 80's is that a different team won every year. Granted, the mechanism through which baseball delivered this desirable parity was the systematic chiseling of a generation's worth of players out of the rewards they deserved and a breach in labor-ownership trust that is only beginning to get repaired now some twenty years on.
So, what accomplishes the same thing as collusion only without the unpleasant, illegal, and borderline Communist elements? The wild card does. You want to hate the wild card, fine. When you double the number of teams that make the playoffs, you greatly increase the chances that some dicey teams are going to get invited to the dance. Hey, I'll be the first to admit it. The 1995 Rockies? Not a playoff team. This is not the space nor am I the sort of analyst to get all stat-funky about it, but if you play enough seasons with a shaky team or two getting into the final eight every year, eventually one of them is going to win it. I'm no mathemagician, but I'm miles smarter than the average "Deal or No Deal" contestant, and I believe this to be true.
Baseball is different than than football, which gives huge postseason advantages to the teams with the best regular-season records to offset the inherent randomness in having one game decide each round. (That said, when the sixth-seed Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC and then the Super Bowl last year, nobody complained. Except Seahawks fans.) The NBA invites twice as many teams to the playoffs as baseball does but it's a different game; over the course of a seven-game series in basketball the better team will win far more regularly than under the same conditions in baseball. Six-, seven-, and eight-seed hockey teams make deep Stanley Cup runs all the time, but this doesn't bother anyone. For one thing, nearly everybody except the completely hopeless teams made the playoffs for ages in the NHL. For another, the idea that the postseason is a completely separate entity is more prevalent in hockey than in other North American pro sports. There's different rules, different intensity, and beards. There's a trophy for accumulating the most regular-season points that they don't take away if you wipe out in the first round. And finally, Canadians are just a mellow people in general. I think it's because many of them are part moose.
Baseball culture is different, for certain, but it's not forever unchanging. The game grows and develops. We're not likely to see complete teams on the model of the 1929 A's ever again. There were 16 teams then, something like half of which were fiscally insolvent, there are 30 now, and only the Pirates and Royals are completely hopeless. They also don't travel by train so much anymore. And they let black people play. Onward and upward!
You know what, I'm a fan of a team that's not so good and not so rich. But I have hope. I'm crazy with hope right now, because while they aren't a perfect comparison for a potential Colorado world champion, these Cardinals do illustrate one vital fact that a lot of struggling franchises are going to take to heart this offseason. All you have to do is get in. If you get in, you could win. Maybe there's no way to build a 105-game winner for fifty million bucks these days, but get a break or two, draft smart, keep everybody healthy (one area where the young, poor teams actually have an advantage), and you can win 85 games, back into the postseason and win the World Series. The real one! The MLB one! How cool is that?
I suppose if you're a Yankees fan this argument doesn't make you feel at all better, but you know what, to hell with you. Also, I don't see any way of directly blaming Jim Leyland for the inexplicable collapse of what was baseball's best defense all year, but maybe I will think of something tomorrow morning. Could he make it rain? Wait, I've got something. Obviously, the net effect of the millions of cubic feet of cigarette smoke that Leyland has exhaled over the years was the cold pressure front leading to the rain in St. Louis which proved so deleterious to Craig Monroe, Fernando Rodney, Ivan Rodriguez, and Curtis Granderson's efforts to field their positions. Oh, Jim, I'm going to miss you when this series is over. You suck, though.
Bag Full of Thoughts
I'm glad they're getting this one in. In the back of my head I have this terrible feeling that if the World Series was delayed for long enough, Fox would decide that they could do better in the ratings showing "Prison Break" reruns or something and baseball would be relegated to OLN for the rest of the year. Hey, it happened to the NHL.
It's hardly the most objectionable thing about the Holiday Inn "Look Again Player of the Year" award, but the Rockies' representative among the nominees shows the usual disdain MLB pays its seat-filler teams. Garrett Atkins? What about Garrett Atkins makes you think he is one of the "role players who sacrifice for their team in often unrecognized effort?" Garrett Atkins was the best offensive player on the team last year. How is he "lurking in the shadows" hitting .329 with 29 homers? What's especially weird about the choice of Atkins to be in line to get what's basically the David Eckstein award is that the Rockies have a guy who's uncannily Ecksteinlike and had a career year in Jamey Carroll. He's pint-sized, powerless, and everything. It's peculiar. Oh well, the award is stupid anyway, neither Colorado player would have any chance whatsoever at winning the fan voting, and at least they didn't nominate Vinny Castilla.
All this talk about rain delays has to make you wonder. What if the Rockies did ever make a World Series? It snows here this time of year. A lot. However, Denver weather has a noticeable pattern. A day or two after it snows two feet, it's usually mid-sixties and beautiful. It's pretty uncommon to see days and days of precipitation one after another the way the midwest sees with rain this time of year. Still, it might raise some travel issues. I wonder if it's worth looking into finding a way of getting the playoffs over more quickly. Shortening the regular-season schedule is completely out of the question as I understand it, but there are other ways of approaching the problem. More doubleheaders is not one of them. The players' union hates doubleheaders. Michael Wilbon was talking on "PTI" about starting the season a week or so earlier, in late March instead of early April, and just having all the cold-weather teams start their seasons on long road trips. Having attended some hideously cold early-April games in Denver and Chicago, I would not be against this. The Rockies, given their historic tendency to play on the road like the 1962 Mets, might disagree.
My mean thing to say about Jim Leyland for today was sadly rained out. But you guys know the score by now.
Let's All Wildly Overreact to What Happened in the Game We Just Saw
Cardinals win Game 1 in Detroit: series over. Detroit wins Game 2: series back on! Cardinals win Game 3: series over, again. I do so enjoy this time of year. There are two ways to go with regards to St. Louis's 5-0 victory lst night. First of all, you can freak out. The worst team in the history of the playoffs ever is going to win! Frogs will hail! Or then again it could mean nothing. Detroit couldn't beat the Cardinals' best pitcher at home, just like St. Louis couldn't beat the Tigers' best guy at Comerica. Carpenter and Rogers will each go once more (barring a whole mess of rain delays). That means the series is still up to the Bondermans, the Weavers, the Verlanders, and the Reyes-es just like it always was. If I wasn't so violently anti-Leyland I might even be rooting to see the Tigers roll off two wins here so we might get to see Rogers and Carpenter go head to head in Game 6. I don't think the chances of that are very good, however.
It wouldn't be a good idea to read too much into Game 3 in isolation. Carpenter didn't need to be dominating; he backpedaled into a more strategic efficient mode and the result was one of the least interesting games of the postseason thus far. It remains to be seen whether any of the other St. Louis starters have the command and the smarts to repeat last night's approach. What was impressive and indeed, bland about Carpenter's work last evening is that assisted by one of those whimsical strike zones that umpire unification was supposed to have done away with the righthander threw a wide variety of first-pitch strikes that the Tiger batters could neither take nor hit safely. This Detroit team is built to attack. They're not good playing from behind (at least after their charmed first half of the regular season), and they're not good down in the count.
When you combine the results of Game 3 along with the Tigers' offensive output in the first two games, that's when it starts to look dicey for Detroit. Lost in the dirt cloud of Game 2 was the fact that Detroit hasn't really done much in the way of scoring runs so far in this series, and that was supposed to be where their biggest advantage over St. Louis loomed. Oh, and also their bullpen, which hasn't been flawless itself. Their brilliant manager has had a rather poor series, too, whether it's continuously fielding a lineup with at least one guaranteed rally-killer batting per inning, moving Carlos Guillen to first so that the powerless Sean Casey could DH in Detroit, or using the bullpen in a random and failure-encouraging fashion. Where is Chris Shelton? Honestly, between Neifi Perez and a guy who hit 16 homers (granted, 10 of them in April), who is going to make the difference in a series? Between Neifi Perez and a pitching machine? Between Neifi Perez and an infield rake?
Let's take a moment away from gleefully celebrating the Tigers' imminent demise to tie a bow around the Kenny Rogers thing. You know what this is? It's the MLB version of the Terrell Owens suicide hotline megacrisis. Because it's baseball and not the NFL, it's a little less ridiculously overblown, it has a kind of old-timey spin to it, and the coverup is far less graceful. Bud Selig and Donald Fehr had everything but the canes and the bowler hats while they were on the field in Fox's pregame last night explaining everything away. You'll notice in Selig-Fehr's effusive praise of everyone from the umpires to Tony La R to, I think, Kenny Rogers himself, what a rascal, they danced around the main point -- the only point -- delicately. Did Rogers break the rules? It seems like he did. It also seems that nothing more will come of it than has already. It's part of the lore now. The rules of baseball lore dictate that caught-cheating incidents are charming and part of the game's rich tapestry so long as 1) gamblers are not involved and 2) the cheating team ultimately gets its just desserts or at least doesn't win solely as a direct result of said cheating. Mike Scott OK, Chick Gandil bad.
I realize it doesn't really jibe with sabermetric orthodoxy, but I am sticking with my whole theory about Detroit offending the baseball gods by bringing out everything but the Rose Parade in their celebrations after winning their first two postseason series. Maybe it's facing better pitching, maybe it's the big layoff after the ALCS sweep, but the Tigers haven't looked at all composed or prepared in the three games so far. We haven't touched the Joel Zumaya brain lock. What were the Tigers doing all week before the World Series began? Were they looking at film, stacking up extra cuts in the cages, and taking infield practice? Or were they all getting mani-pedis in advance of their postchampionship talk show gigs? Every time you read something about the team with the better scouting reports and the prepared stance in this series, it's the Cardinals, who were supposed to be exhausted, spent, and also to begin with not even very good. For turning your team from world-beaters to worm-feeders in a scant seven days...YOU SUCK, JIM LEYLAND!
Those B-----s Tried to Cheat Me
Does anybody really, for certain, know what happened last night with the stuff on Kenny Rogers' hand? It wasn't dirt. I know what dirt looks like intimately from my years being the brainy kid at a tiny Catholic school. Dirt doesn't like, cluster, or whatever. And it's not usually shiny. Plus, did anybody else think they saw a oval-shaped section on the back of Rogers' cap that wasn't the exact same color as the rest of it? I mean, how does that happen by accident? Do precision dirt artisans go to work on the Gambler's hats before every game for like, luck? What ingredients are they using to make the "dirt" behave in an opposite fashion from all other dirt ever?
And even if it was dirt, or more appropriately, mud, isn't that still pretty much against the rules? Do I have a copy of the official rules of baseball handy? Yes, you bet I do. (Christmas 2002. A stocking stuffer. Thanks, Mom.) But anyway, 8.02(a)(2): "[The pitcher may not] apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball." Which includes mud, as mentioned specifically and rather charmingly in 8.02(a)(6): "[The pitcher may not] deliver what is called the 'shine' ball, 'spit' ball, 'mud' ball, or 'emery' ball." Italics mine!
The rules are a little fuzzier on what the appropriate punishment is if the pitcher is found to have been applying "shine," "mud," or "spit" to his balls. (I just cracked myself up.) The first pitch is supposed to be called a ball and then a warning is given; ejection comes if the pitcher does it again after the warning. This is one of the many rules in the major league set that is elsewhere contradicted by at least two other rules. In any event, it was a pretty bizarre little sequence and like the rest of you, I'm sure, I still don't exactly know what to think. Here's what I know for sure. The argument being advanced by the Fox broadcast guys last night doesn't fly. Rogers' transgression is so obvious that it...shouldn't be punished? What? Does that mean if I rob you in broad daylight in front of a whole stadium full of people and numerous HD cameras I should be found innocent, because obviously I'm either insane or mentally inferior? This is weird. Even if he was cheating by accident (and that argument to me assumes that we the viewers are ourselves mentally inferior), he was still cheating. Whatever happened to the rule of law, people?
Dan Patrick was on the radio when I went out for lunch a moment ago theorizing that Tony La Russa elected not to make a big stink about the illegal substance thing because Jim Leyland used to work for the Cardinals and therefore he knows how all the Cardinals' pitchers cheat themselves. First of all: Wow, has everybody been cheating? I had no idea. It's like steroids all over again. Second: It's the World Series. I know you and Mr. Jimmy are friends and everything, but you gots to play to win. You can send him a fruit basket and a carton of Kools in November. Third of all: Where does it say that the opposing manager has to complain before rubbing "dirt" on the ball becomes officially illegal? Where are the umpires? What on earth is going on here? I think I need to go have a nice little lie-down in a dark, quiet room.
I'm too confused to really properly direct my hatred this afternoon, but once again, the man has kind of done our work for us. For giving Todd Jones way, way too many chances to blow the entire World Series for you last night...YOU SUCK, JIM LEYLAND. Free Zumaya!
The Face-Punching Theory
Since I was raised in Chicago, I still have a susceptibility to lapse into Storyline Sportswriting every now and then. You know what I mean. Where you make your analysis based on what would make the best screenplay and not how the actual play on the field is likely to go. You would think that 1984, 1989, and 2003 would have cured me of this, but the tendency still lingers. Since I take my responsibilities as blogwriter very seriously, I try and work out all of my inclinations to work postseason straw into Storyline Gold through another outlet. I talk to my father.
My dad is a great baseball fan, but the statistical revolution has completely passed him by. His impressions of players are formed entirely based on what they have done in the recent past against the Cubs, which is why he thinks that Brad Ausmus is a Hall of Famer. He believes in Tony La Russa, perhaps because he used to manage the White Sox, and perhaps because they are both lawyers. "Never underestimate La Russa in the World Series," he says. "Dad, if you leave out 1989, La Russa is 1-12 in World Series games." "Yes, but don't underestimate him."
So, anyway, in our pregame discussion yesterday, I let loose with the Storyline stuff. I couldn't help it. It's not like my dad is going to remember if everything I say turns out to be wrong. (So Taguchi for MVP, baby.) There are two storylines I like very much with regards to the Cardinals' chances of pulling off the upset. Neither makes much logical sense, but I think I have adequately constructed my disclaimer by this point so let's push ahead. First: the Tigers celebrated winning the ALCS and even the division series as if they had just won the war in Europe. I read way too many columns about those special moments, celebrating with the city of Detroit, bringing joy back to the depressed city. To which I respond, gee, what about the Red Wings and Pistons? And also, whatever happened to that beautiful old axiom, "Act like you've been there before?" I love that axiom. I think the Tigers have angered the baseball gods by excessively celebrating the mostly unremarkable accomplishments of winning a division series and trampling over the crippled A's. Who remembers World Series losers, let alone who won a given division series? That has to bring on some kind of bad karma.
Here's the other one. Until last night, nobody had punched the Tigers in the face yet in this postseason. We don't know yet how they will react to a good, solid, square-shouldered face punch. The Yankees punched themselves in the stomach after Game 1, and the A's came to a boxing match with fuzzy mittens in the ALCS. I had my doubts that the Cardinals would leave the ring without delivering at least one solid blow to the face. Honestly, I didn't think it would be the first game, I figured it would be Chris Carpenter's start, but here you have it. The Tigers' free-swinging approach works beautifully when they jump out to an early lead. Their great bullpen gives them a huge advantage when it's close and late. But what happens when they get behind early? As you saw last night, they press something awful, swinging at first and second pitches and not only giving the Cardinals Game 1 but also allowing their biggest disadvantage for Game 2 (tired relief arms) to mostly fade away. So forget being a team of destiny, now we get to see what the Tigers are really made of. You know what? I'd like to see them storm right back and win Game 2. It's been too long since we've seen as real classic punch-counterpunch World Series. I realize with these teams Fox would just as soon see the series end in a sweep so they can go back to airing World's Funniest Pornography Bloopers, but for us remaining baseball fans, it'd be nice to see a real barnburner. The NLCS had its moments but didn't really count.
Well, easy one today. For pitching to Albert Pujols with a man on, first base open, and two outs...YOU SUCK, JIM LEYLAND!
Oh yeah: You can hear me make fun of Jim Leyland with my speaking voice tonight around 9 (Mountain time) on the Artificial Turf show on KNUS radio, 710 AM in Denver. There is a hi-tech internet feed here.
Does it seem as if with regards to predicting the result of the World Series, our sportswriters are demonstrating even less common sense than usual? Here is what I mean. This has been one of the most upset-ridden postseasons in memory. Nobody had the Tigers beating the Yankees in the first round. The Cardinals' and Athletics' division series wins were at least somewhat surprising. St. Louis beating the Mets in the NLCS was a bit of a shocker as well. Obviously, the fact that some weird things have happened in October to this point is no guarantee that weird things will continue to happen in the World Series, but the assured tone that a lot of writers have taken in flatly guaranteeing that Detroit will dismiss St. Louis in short order seems a little imprudent. If anyone ever held any of these guys accountable for anything they wrote, it might be different, but no one does (save the slavering minions of political correctness) and people can continue to blithely assert that the Tigers are the lockiest bunch of locks who ever locked in the World Series mere days after the Yankees were 100%, no-doubt, bet the farm guaranteed to sweep Detroit out of the first round. I'm just saying.
That said, it's hard to contruct an argument for the Cardinals to win this one. They aren't as good. However, while Detroit's obvious superiority as a team is a perfectly good reason to name them the favorites -- also home-field advantage, a rested bullpen, the chance to order their rotation however they choose and so on -- it doesn't guarantee they will win. Seven-game series are extremely random. The Cardinals aren't a great team, but they're hardly pushovers. I haven't really gone around reading too much of the coverage leading into the Series, because the mismatch here has really taxed sportswriters' limited ability to do anything besides restate the obvious or ignore the obvious for no reason other than attention-getting contrarianism. Honestly, the only people I have seen pick St. Louis are Mike Golic from the ESPN morning show, because he is a retired football player and doesn't remember anything that happened longer than four days ago, and Will Leitch of Deadspin, because he loves him some Cardinals. I'm not making a pick, because I wouldn't have gotten a single series in the playoffs right so far, except for Oakland over Minnesota. All I am saying is that the best team doesn't always win. The Tigers are not infallible, and they do have the rather large handicap of a manager who is pure suckitude from his spikes to his evil, evil moustache. (Which my sources say is actually Alex Trebek's. Yeah, that's where it went.)
Today's reason why Jim Leyland sucks comes from Jeff Pearlman's book Love Me, Hate Me, the tale of an idealistic, delicate young ballplayer who was ground down by the system and all but forced into becoming a steroid-injecting, reporter-dodging leftfield Vader. Pearlman's book makes it evident that the instrument of Barry Bonds' corruption was none other than Jim Leyland, his manager with the Pirates and clearly a more pernicious mentor than Senator Palpatine and Ike Turner combined. (I would watch that movie.) "Shut the f--- up, you spoiled Hollywood brat," Leyland would tell Young Barry. In spring training, 1991, the manager didn't back his young star up when he threw one of his random endearing temper tantrums at a group of cameramen filming him playing long toss. Leyland: "I said don't f--- with me! I've been kissing your a-- for three years and I'm not going to do it again! I'm the manager of this team and I'm gonna tell you what to do and if you g--d--- don't like it you can go play someplace else. I'm the manager of this f-----' team!"
Leyland was part of the brain trust that decided Pittsburgh was better off giving Andy Van Slyke a contract extension than Bonds and also failed three times to get one of the most talented Pirates teams ever past the NLCS, losing to the Reds once and the Braves twice. (Not only did Leyland ruin Barry Bonds, he's probably responsible for sabotaging the entire Pittsburgh franchise.) Clearly, Leyland's harsh treatment was directly responsible for crushing Barry's delicate artist's soul and all but injecting him directly with the steroids that have made his entire career an ugly mistake most baseball fans would sooner forget. You turned Barry Bonds to the dark side, and that's why...YOU SUCK, JIM LEYLAND!
Update: Fox Sports' Kevin Hench offers a very coherent argument indeed in favor of the Cardinals.
Wishing They Were Fogg...and Jim Leyland Sucks
Rockies fans, take heart. Both of the teams in the National League Championship Series would kill for our starting pitching. If either New York or St. Louis had a front three of Aaron Cook, Jason Jennings, and Jeff Francis, they would have won this series already. For Game Seven, the Mets would be deliriously happy to have Josh Fogg instead of Oliver Perez, and the Cardinals would probably be better off with this year's Fogg than this year's Jeff Suppan. And if Byung-Hyun Kim was somehow pitching in these playoffs, you'd have to have a good gut feeling about his chances. After all, there's no way Kim could be any worse in the playoffs than he was in 2001, right? Fate owes him one.
For the moment, our focus is on the National League, perhaps for the last time this year. However, we haven't forgotten about Tigers manager Jim Leyland, for whom the national media have already filed their hagiographic little profiles in advance of the World Series. From now until the end of the Series, regardless of outcome, in a futile effort to somehow counterbalance the mindless wave of incoherent praise for Saint Smokey, we will say at least one mean, very possibly uncalled-for thing about Leyland per day. This is a man who did once after all treat the Colorado franchise in much the same way Denny Neagle treats the ladies of the evening. A man whose unbroken streak of sage, almost precognitive button-pushing for Detroit has not for some reason included the "season-long sulk" technique he pioneered in Denver. A man whose reserves of creativity were such that when the robotic pattern of bunting and hit-and-runs he had blindly followed for his entire career did not somehow breed success with the Rockies he completely gave up on the team and his players, rather than have to suffer the indignity of actually absorbing some new ideas.
Today's item: When Leyland took the job as Rockies manager in 1999, his wife refused to move to Denver with him because of the Columbine tragedy. Leyland was apparently so broken up about her absence that he decided to not do his job and instead steal millions of dollars from his employers and then lie his way out of town after one year of a contracted three. Of course, it makes perfect sense for a woman in her late fifties to be terrified about her potential safety in Colorado (the murder capital of the world) after an isolated incident involving disturbed teenagers. You should also never visit Ireland because the terrorists will get you, not drink Pepsi because you'll get poked by a syringe, never take aspirin because some of them are poison, and take the air bags out of your car because this one time this one dude totally got killed by one.
Your wife is a paranoid loon, and that's why (everybody)...YOU SUCK, JIM LEYLAND!
When It Rains It Pours
It was pretty weird when the first rain delay in New York rearranged the postseason schedule such that the ALCS was basically decided before any of the NLCS games had even been played, but this is getting ridiculous. Since the Tigers don't have anybody who's hurt, except for Sean Casey, who arguably makes them better by not playing, and they don't have a weak spot in their four-man rotation to avoid with sneaky juggle combos, is this layoff hurting them? Boy, do I hope so. I'm past rooting against the Tigers at this point. It sure hasn't done any good thus far. I just want the World Series to be somewhat interesting and to go more than five games, and I don't think that's too much to ask. I don't have strong feelings either way about whether the Cardinals or the Mets are the team better prepared now to give Detroit a series. Going into the playoffs my NL favorite was New York because I picked them for the pennant in the preseason. On the rare occasion one of my preseason picks comes true it's cause for special celebration. Like everybody else, I kind of overlooked the Cardinals all season, until it appeared they were going to complete an artful choke job more suited to their namesakes in Glendale, AZ. They didn't finish the job and they kind of rolled over into the playoffs bearing the enmity of all those of us who weren't St. Louis fans particularly but just wanted to see the spectacle of a team blowing a ten-game lead with eleven games to go, or whatever it was. But I don't know. This team has demonstrated new charm. Like I was telling a Cardinal fan friend of mine this morning, St. Louis has a unique weapon who can change the face of a series with a single swing: Scott Spiezio. I mean, he's no Alexis Gomez. But dude, Scott Spiezio. Spiezio and Yadier Molina have nine combined RBI in this series and Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen have zero. That is fruity frackin' pebbles, dude.
The tone of inevitably regarding the Tigers' forthcoming victory in the 2006 World Series (weather permitting) is beginning to sound chillingly universal. Let's put it like this: there is absolutely no way anyone in a Detroit uniform can play the "no one gave us a chance" card win or lose in this next best-of-seven. It's foolish to guarantee a victory by anybody over anybody in any sport at any time, unless you are Joe Namath or Rasheed Wallace before last year. You'd think of all these instant historians might have been chastised by the way these very Tigers buried the Yankees against all published prognostications to the contrary. Does the fact that they were a lock to lose two weeks ago and didn't make them a lock to win now? That's stupid. It's not two wrongs making a right, exactly, but it's some other fallacy the Latin name of which I can't precisely recall at this early hour. I did however look up the name of the one under which all of these Jim-Leyland-for-sainthood campaigns labor. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
I know I have been over this before, perhaps many times, so today I am going to bring in an outside source. As far as I know Total Ballclubs doesn't have any particular axe to grind with Jim Leyland. At least they have nice things to say about him under the Pirates and Marlins headings. But as for Colorado, I refer you to page 245, regarding the 1999 season: "The situation was only aggravated by Leyland's passionless piloting. Only weeks into the season, he was confiding to intimates he had made a mistake in not simply retiring after his previous post as Marlins manager, and his lassitude infected the entire clubhouse. He finally announced his retirement on September 1, by which time the club had a firm grip on its first basement finish." Waltzing out of a job that didn't immediately go the way he wanted, Leyland quit after one year of a three-year, $6 million deal that at the time was the largest ever given a manager. He also vowed never to manage professionally again. You want this liar as a role model for your kids? I hear he smokes, too!
If Leyland had been hired by the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox (well, maybe not the Red Sox, you have to be practically fall down drunk on the field, and repeatedly, to stand out as a notably incompetent Boston manager), or in any event one of the glamour teams, all of the stories (and there have been stories) about his messianic reign in Motown would have at least a footnote about That Year He Lost His Passion. But no. It's okay to punk out on Colorado. Nobody cares about them. Well, we haven't forgotten. You suck, Jim Leyland.
A few drive-by comments on the comings and goings in the whirlabout world of MLB managerial jobs. The Cubs' hire of Lou Piniella is unwise. Lou Piniella is old and impatient and has not worked in a city with a real firestarting media in a long time. If they don't get him his players and they lose, he will cause trouble. If they do get him his players and they lose, he will cause trouble. I suppose it could work out if they get him his players and they win, but how is that going to happen? Chicago doesn't have enough pitching nor enough hitting, and they can't improve one without sacrificing what little they have left of the other. Even if they do scuffle to a somewhat respectable finish in 2007, what if the Yankees job becomes available? Joe Torre's contract will be up. Who doesn't see this becoming a problem even from a year away? I guess Jim Hendry. I'm a little surprised about Ken Macha's firing after the rather unusual little musical chairs game the A's front office played with him last year. Hearing what the Oakland players had to say about him after the axe fell, I am less surprised. You know what sticks out to me most about this story? The unsuspected class of the wild 'n' crazy Oakland clubhouse. The players apparently had issues with Macha all year long, but they kept it to themselves. They took it upon themselves to motivate each other, and they got farther than Oakland had since my middle school days. With some health luck here and a Daric Barton there, this A's team is not going away next year.
I can't believe I am writing about football two days in a row, but I cannot let the morning after that surreal Cardinals-Bears contest to pass without comment. For some time after Devin Hester's punt return touchdown, I was literally hysterical. The game had taken what little reserves of rationality I had left to me. I sat there giggling incoherently and at an inappropriate volume through to the last play. By the time Neil Rackers missed his potential game-winning field goal, I had no energy left to be surprised. After the game I watched Denny Green's spectacular postgame meltdown over and over again on ESPNews. It kept getting funnier and funnier. I believe it peaked around the sixth viewing, although in my altered mental state my ability to maintain a precise count may have been compromised. It is fortunate that Chicago has a bye week coming up, because it will take some time for the team spaceships to return from the distant reaches of outer space (normal laws of physics and logic do not apply) where this game obviously took place.
Thrilling Sports Weekend
Do we think that the reason the New York-St. Louis series has been very competitive and entertaining is because the Cardinals are a lot better than we thought, or the Mets are a lot worse?
I try to avoid writing about football for the most part because football is kind of the last sport where I am just a fan. In my mind I have promoted myself to analyst status for baseball, basketball, and soccer. I accept that there are a ton of things I simply don't understand about pro football, and that allows me to enjoy the games for such moments as Roy Williams' utterly gratuitous shot on an undefended Texans receiver after a pass was tipped in the Houston-Dallas game yesterday for what they are. Also, I don't tend to fall asleep during baseball games. Football games, which are like 8% confusing graphics, 10% screaming updates and halftime programming from the studio, 67% commercials, 11% replay challenges, and 4% actual action, are built for afternoon naps. For fun and personal illumination, the research department and I picked four games apiece against the spread yesterday. I went 1-3, and the one game I had right was by the skin of my teeth. Thanks, J-E-T-S.
But anyway, since I was more awake than usual for the games yesterday, perhaps because they were more interesting than most weekends, perhaps because I went to Safeway early Sunday and bought three cases of Diet Coke, here are some random NFL thoughts.
This thing with the Saints and their magical hurricane power needs to stop. Yes, New Orleans had a horrible record last year, 3-13. But that was with them playing the entire season as a road team. The last few years before that they were 8-8, and that was with Aaron Brooks and a bad coach. You don't think taking an 8-8 team and replacing Aaron Brooks with Drew Brees and a bad coach with a good coach will be worth two or three additional wins? Of course not, it's magical hurricane power. If Peter King says it, it must be true.
The Titans and the Lions are both horrible, even though they both finally won games yesterday. In any other year, these two teams would be in a race to the finish for the #1 draft pick, with the Texans (who at least have a decent quarterback) in the picture as a dark horse. However, this is not like any other year. The Raiders are unbelievably bad. Their coaching staff looks utterly unprepared for modern football tactics, such as the forward pass. Their veterans are so frustrated they're teetering on the brink, as evidenced in a string of stupid roughness penalties in the second half of the game against Denver last night. I think a lot of people are doubtful that any team in the modern NFL can go 0-16 with the parity and whatnot, but they clearly haven't watched this Raiders team in action. Normally bad teams are no fun to watch in football, but the Raiders are like must-see TV at this point. How low can they go?
As for the Broncos, if they can only beat the Raiders by 10, they are not very good. They look a lot like last year's Bears team, in fact, with a dominant defense led by super linebackers and an offense that just tries to hang on to the ball long enough so they can safely punt. In the playoffs, teams like this do not usually last. However, as a Bears fan living in the Denver area, I am rooting for them to improbably make the Super Bowl so they can get drilled by the Bears' new shufflin' machine.
If the Red Sox, White Sox, Angels and Braves had all made the playoffs, I'm sure I would be complaining about how the same teams make the playoffs every year. Instead we get the Mets, A's, and Tigers, and let me tell you -- not a single team remaining in the postseason seems like a legit championship team to me. The Tigers' lineup is garbage. Placido Polanco? Please. Obviously, the A's lineup was even worse. The Mets were counting on Steve Trachsel; the Cardinals are starting Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver. These are some bad teams. How is it that in baseball, where there is no salary cap, we can't get a single decent team, while in the NFL and NBA there are two or three excellent teams every year? If this whole paragraph seems like an excuse for me to once again mention how awesome the Bears are, well, you caught me. Go Bears.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, a brief era closes: J.D. Closser was claimed on waivers by Milwaukee. Given the immense amount of production the Rockies' franchise has gotten from first- and second-year players in the last two seasons, and the increasing roles we will see played by rookies like Iannetta, Baker, and Tulowitzki in 2007, it rings false to say Closser never really got a chance. However...Clint Hurdle's obsession with defense at the catcher position led to nearly a full season of Danny Ardoin as first-string catcher, while Closser either lingered on the bench or in Colorado Springs. I know I've said it many times before, but this will be my last chance: so what if he couldn't throw baserunners out? Switch-hitting catchers with a bit of pop are not common. If the Rockies could have found a way to give Closser some PT the last two years, they could have traded him for something useful instead of letting him go for nothing. It's not like Ardoin's admittedly superior defense made any difference as the Rockies steamed to two more last-place finishes. In any event, an Iannetta/Yorvit Torrealba pairing ought to massively improve the offense from the catcher position, a huge organizational sore spot since the halcyon days of Kirt Manwaring. (That, ladies and germs, is a joke. In fact, Colorado has never had a #1 catcher finish a season above a 100 OPS+. In 2003 Charles Johnson managed a 90. It just gets worse from there.)
Sitting One Out
I feel like it's the postseason, the time when all the nation's eyes turn to baseball (except for the tens of millions of eyes continuing to ignore it and watching dancing D-list celebrities instead), and therefore I should be compelled to post every day on my baseball blog. However...what constructive things can I say at this point? As far as the Cory Lidle situation is concerned, I am at a loss. I guess I could say that after hearing all of the radio reports and reading all of the various memorials I am surprised that the guy was able to play for so many organizations and yet leave so few memories. Would that be an awful thing to say? It would definitely be awful to say he was a mediocre pitcher. But then again, seven teams in nine seasons, kind of speaks for itself. One of the things you have to accept about America is in the name of freedom we let people do a lot of stupid, self-endangering things, including fly tiny little planes that have no practical applications other than smuggling narcotics and amusing rich people with too much money and spare time. But now I'm just sounding like a jerk. The guy had a family.
OK, I do have something constructive to say: ESPN needs to cut it the hell out with its ever-increasing tendency to impose itself into every story imaginable. From the people who brought you "I totally talked to Maurice Clarett right before he went out and got arrested," it's "I totally talked to Cory Lidle right before he crashed his plane." Yeah, you're a reporter, you talked to a guy. It's your job. Enough with the ex-post-morbid had-I-but-known stuff. What is, sports journalism or Final Destination 5?
So, anyway, the Tigers. Have I ever been this wrong about a team? Yeah, probably, but I don't particularly feel like reaching into the recesses of my brain and baseball-reference.com right now to figure out which particular mid-90's Cubs team crushed my adolescent spirit the most. In their inimitable way, sportswriters all over the country are rushing to record how this Detroit team has "the look of destiny" and somesuch, even as they cover their tracks in the same breath by allowing that there are still games to be played in the 2006 ALCS. Will the Tigers win it all? They might. Clearly my opinion on the matter has absolutely no bearing on the playoffs' outcome. I will say this, however, and I firmly believe it to be true. If the current Tigers roster returns 100% intact for the 2007 season, they will finish in fourth place in the AL Central.
What with the rain delay, the NLCS begins tonight with the ALCS, presumptively, already having been decided. Does the fact that some guy no one has ever heard of had a huge game for Detroit in Game 2 automatically mean that whomever wins the National League pennant has no chance in the World Series? Of course not. Don't be stupid, sportswriters. (The ship may have already sailed on that one.) This is a good Mets team and in the wild and crazy world of seven-game series, you'd be foolish to count out the Cardinals. Or the A's, for that matter. There's a lot of baseball left to be played. A lot of chickens left to be hatched. A lot of...I don't know, you think of some. Between Lidle and the Tigers, I've kind of burned out on dreary sportswriting over the last few days.
The Least Surprising Thing Ever
The Rockies will raise ticket prices for next year. According to team president Keli McGregor, 35 days spent in first place during (the first half of) 2006 justifies a 10% jump. The Rockies' strategy, as it has been for the last several seasons, is to make as much as possible from wealthy season ticket buyers (whose seats will remain pristinely empty down the stretch) while offering as little incentive as possible for po' folks like you and me to buy walkup seats. Will you be able to get Rockies-Yankees tickets? No, you will not, as the Rockies have launched a scheme to let the same people who show up for Opening Day, the Cubs, the 4th of July fireworks, and no other games buy those tickets before you can. I went to three or four A's games a week when I was in college because the folks at the Coliseum, understanding the concept of sunk costs, would sell anybody with a student ID perfectly good upper deck seats right behind home plate for three bucks. Coors Field offers the Rockpile, certainly, but why should I sit in a centerfield upper deck with benches while there are tens of thousands of empty seats in the mezzanine and main upper deck? Heck, thanks to scalpers overestimating demand, you could get fantastic seats at Wrigley Field this summer for less than the cheapest Coors tickets that actually provide a full view of the action on the field. It's really time for the Rockies to reconsider their ticket strategy.
I have zero confidence in my gut feelings for either of the championship series, but I like the Mets and the A's. I think Detroit's pitching is slightly better than Oakland's but I think that the A's lineup is better constructed to eke out runs against good pitching than the Tigers' is. The Mets have a clearer edge over St. Louis. If the games are all relatively high-scoring for playoff contests like the games in the New York-Los Angeles series were, the Mets have the obvious advantage. If the Cardinals can keep the games low-scoring, the Pujols effect comes into play. You may have noticed this, but Albert Pujols is good. He can do stuff. If St. Louis is to complete a shocking World Series run, Albert will have to do some sick stuff in the NLCS. I wouldn't put it past him.
I got a voicemail from my mother in Chicago last night. Apparently after the Bears' cakewalk victory over Buffalo on Sunday she went online to see if she could get my father and I Super Bowl tickets. Then she found out they were $5000, so she got us t-shirts instead. Thanks, Mom.
Stupid Yankee Fans
Since I've started writing for the Toaster I've gained a newfound respect for a certain subset of Yankee fans. There are some smart baseball fans who happen to root for the Yankees. So long as they are from New York or its general vicinity, I have absolutely no problem with these guys. I hope they are able to make it through these lean times. Six whole years of only making the playoffs and not winning the World Series! And you thought Cubs fans had it bad!
However, while I was listening to the radio this morning, the side of Yankee fandom that really taxes my gag reflex was turning out in force. You know these people. "Hi, Colin, I think the Yankees should trade A-Rod to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis." "Hi, love your show, I think the Yankees should trade A-Rod for Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano." "Yeah, I think the Yanks should trade A-Rod to the Devil Rays for Scott Kazmir, Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, and the entire Durham AAA affiliate."
Where is the connection to reality for these people?
This Does Not Bode Well
OK, the Yankees and the Dodgers are out of the playoffs. Yankee and Dodger fans make up, what, about 97% of our readership here at Baseball Toaster? Why am I even bothering to post this morning?
I was thinking last night about what I was going to write about the Yankees and Dodgers. What can you say? I think piling on the Yankees would be unfair. I do think it's curious that the same thing that felled the Yankees (old and ineffective starting pitching) was the reason a lot of people thought the Dodgers had a good chance to beat the Mets. In the Mets' case, the hitting attack came through and the pitching was good enough. In the Yankees' case, the combination of career-best performances from several Tigers starters and the ridiculous pressure that started out on Alex Rodriguez but spread to the rest of the team proved too much to overcome. In a way, it took going down in defeat in such a spectacular manner for me to be able to feel any sort of sensitivity for the Yankees and their fans. There's no such thing as an invincible lineup. As unfair an advantage as it may seem to a fan of a team with a $40 million payroll, a $200 million roster presents its own special set of problems. I would rather the Rockies had the Yankees' problems and vice versa, but I do understand that there are no shortcuts for anybody no matter the size of their local TV market.
I suppose to the audience to whom I'm addressing this it won't come as any kind of original sentiment, but can we please make Thom Brennaman and Tim McCarver go away? During the Dodgers-Mets game last night they spent two full innings harping on how the Paul Lo Duca trade had ruined Los Angeles, possibly forever. Other than a few random uninformed mentions of the Dodgers' crazy-good farm system, the only good things they had to say about the Dodgers involved 38-year-old Jeff Kent and 40-year-old Greg Maddux, who didn't even pitch well. And they spent more time talking about the Lo Duca trade than both of those dudes combined! There were graphics! I thought for a while I had accidentally tuned into an ESPN Classic special co-presented by Bill Plaschke and Tommy Lasorda: "Why Paul DePodesta Is the Devil." They called Guillermo Mota a quality reliever, Brennaman and McCarver did. This trade happened two years ago. Brad Penny had a good year for the Dodgers in 2006, and so did Russell Martin, who plays Lo Duca's position. This was completely absurd. There was nothing else to talk about in the Dodgers' and Mets' third game of the postseason? They even failed to mention, going into the bottom of the ninth, that the score was 9-5, a recently significant tally for Los Angeles. I cannot believe we are stuck with these two clowns (and Joe Buck, no better) for most of the rest of the balance of the postseason schedule. I can't wait to hear them explain how the secret to the A's success is not actually having any good hitters, or how Jim Leyland's secondhand smoke gives the young Tigers superpowers. Nothing they could say from here on out would surprise me.
There's another bit of random in-game research from yesterday I thought you might like if I shared. You know that commercial with Lasorda and the Indians fans? Didn't it strike you as weird that one of them was wearing what appeared to be a Reds hat? It did the research department and I. We looked it up; Cleveland did indeed have hats like that at one point. As a matter of fact they wore them the last time they won the World Series. Good to know. I don't know why the Reds elected to steal that look. Not that it surprises me. I've come to expect that sort of thing over the years from the franchise of Marge Schott, Rob Dibble, and Paul O'Neill.
I can't explain why the Dodgers, who were my pick to win the NL West from the preseason onward, made such a meek exit from the playoffs this year. I can say that unlike the Fox TV guys, I am aware of what talent they have in the system and the expanded roles we can expect many of their part-time contributors from this year to play in the near future. It's a good thing that Kenny Lofton and J.D. Drew had such poor series. It's time to let the young guys take over. The Dodgers are lucky that they have enough money to spring for temporary solutions and make the playoffs in years that would be for flat-out rebuilding for clubs with less cash and in better divisions. I don't think there's much doubt after the first clutch of playoff games that teams like Toronto, Boston, and the White Sox that finished out of the money in the American League would easily be favorites to make the World Series were they only in the NL.
"Favorites" doesn't mean that much, though, does it? It's like our man Eric Chavez said, the playoffs are a crapshoot. Look, 19 out of 19 ESPN "experts" had the Yankees beating the Tigers in their ALDS matchup.
Couple links you should look at. First of all, ESPN is reporting this morning that Joe Torre is going to lose his job as New York's manager. Well, you can't say that he didn't know what his job was, and you also can't say that since 2000 he's gotten it done. I think that Torre's skills as a game manager are overrated. How hard is it, really, to manage that roster? Also, the past few seasons Joe has done a less than satisfactory job of parceling out the workload in his bullpen so that his top relievers weren't totally fried come October. There was absolutely nothing he could have done differently to win this series with Detroit. New York just got smoked in all phases of the game there. The whole shuffling of A-Rod around the lineup I guess was supposed to be some sort of motivational technique that completely backfired. Torre ended up only making the rest of the team besides Jeter and Posada as tense as Rodriguez was. The fact of the matter is teams get tired of managers. It can happen sooner or it can happen later, but it happens, and Torre's failure to reach Alex Rodriguez is probably what ultimately cost him his job. The whole convoluted scheme involving the Sports Illustrated article sure didn't do the trick. Regardless of his failings, I'd have to think that the Cubs would be foolish not to try and hire Joe Torre. Lou Piniella apparently is going to take the Yankees job (which he's wanted for years). I suppose the Cubs could still go after Joe Girardi, but Girardi learned everything he knows from Torre anyway. Torre also has demonstrated an ability to deal with meddling and frequently self-contradictory bosses with grace. It's his top skill, even. In the interests of making themselves look slightly less like incompetent jokers, the Cubs would do well to bring him on board. He'd be the classiest manager they'd had in decades. In fact, have the Cubs ever had a classy manager? Dusty, Don Baylor, Jim Riggleman, Lee Elia, Don Zimmer, Leo Durocher, the College of Coaches...this bears further research.
And, just to remind you that we're still a Rockies page (or, as I like to say in the vain hopes of attracting more readership than the Rockies' 12 devoted fans, a baseball page written by a Colorado fan), here's the obligatory Todd Helton end-of-season article where he admits he's been playing hurt all year and promises next year will be better. Fool me once, Todd...well, you know how it goes. Dave Krieger implies that no one would want to trade for Helton without the Rockies paying so much of his remaining salary that it would be pointless, but I am not sure if that is true. In any event, last year Helton had enough of a specific complaint that you wanted to believe him when he said the next year would be better. This time around he has more trouble pinpointing what the problem was and convincing us that it won't bother him again. Besides, last year Helton was awesome down the stretch; this year he was merely good (and still without any power). There's a huge difference between good and awesome.
I have been deliberately avoiding linking to Troy E. Renck stories for the last couple of weeks ever since he mentioned Purple Row instead of me in a column where he wanted to make a point about obsessive Internet Rockies fans. To hell with you, Troy E.! Anyway, he writes in advance of the Rockies' organizational meetings that Coco Crisp will indeed be a trade target this offseason. I'm down with that.
On My Way Out
All hail the A's, the first team to advance to the second round. They finally got the job done in a clinching game, and good for them. Even though hardly any of the players from any of the previous choke-job teams were still with the club, it still had to be on guys' minds. It's all that's been in the papers and on the ESPN shows the past two days.
They interviewed Eric Chavez on the field right after the game, and he actually said that the playoffs were quote "a crapshoot." Good for you, Eric Chavez! Obviously he's been drinking Billy Beane's Kool-Aid, but what's true is true. Who expected three of the division series to be sweeps and the Yankees' matchup to be the one that went extra games? OK, I am getting ahead of myself. The Dodgers and the Padres still technically have life left. But do you expect either to manage even one win? I don't, and that will be a sorry thing for the Rockies' division. Two years, three playoff teams, zero playoff wins. Yikes. Well, next year, perhaps Colorado will be in a position to change that...or, far more likely, a much-improved Dodger team.
A tip of the cap to Brad Radke, who is apparently retiring after the Twins' loss to Oakland. He pitched with his arm hanging on by a thread down the stretch. That's pretty manly. You're a man's man, Mr. Radke.
I'm on my way out for the evening, but Game 3 of the New York-Detroit series has been at once surprising and predictable so far. I didn't expect the Tigers to jump out to a substantial lead early, that's for sure. I thought if they were going to win any more games in this series they were going to do it by the narrowest of margins, and in the late innings. A-Rod grounding out weakly with a man on and two out in the first? Yeah, saw that coming. In the next half-inning, Jeter making one of his textbook amazingly flashy skin-of-his-teeth plays that a real shortstop would have made look routine? Check and double check. One of the ESPN chats today, I don't have time to check which one, said that part of the reason that Jeter's defensive metrics have improved in the last few seasons is that Alex Rodriguez is so good at going to his left from third that Jeter can cheat over toward to the hole even more than he already used to do. OK, I swear, win or lose, that is the last cheap shot I am going to take at Derek Jeter this postseason. The dude wins championships, I get it.
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The Mostly Neutral Fan's Opinion
These playoffs have been a little weird for me so far. I usually have at least one team to root for, even though being a Cubs fan and then a Rockies fan for most of my life has nearly always prevented me from ever feeling the real highs and lows of postseason baseball. The last few years I've usually rooted for the Red Sox, since my mom's three brothers all live in Boston. Last year though completely indifferent towards the White Sox I was excited to see my hometown finally host a World Series. Likewise, in 2002 when I was living in Berkeley it was neat to have the Giants in the Series, even though my deep abiding hatred for Jeff Kent prevented me from ever fully embracing that team.
So was I happy to see Kent involved in one of the dopiest plays in Division Series history yesterday? Well, so far as such things go. As you have no doubt heard deconstructed a thousand times by now, the play yesterday where Kent and another Dodger baserunner were both tagged out at home was not Kent's fault. Nor was it third base coach Rich Donnelly, although the normally loquacious Donnelly was shaken enough to not produce any of his usual postgame quotables. It was the other runner, J.D. Drew, who didn't watch the play in front of him, advanced while Kent was holding up so that Donnelly had no choice but to send Kent home, and then continued on past third even after Kent was thrown out by ten feet. It was just one of those things.
I was just reflecting yesterday, as the morning talk shows were breaking down Jim Leyland's decision to double steal early in the first game of the Detroit-New York series, on how the playoffs are the only time of year when the routine everday strategies of baseball games are ever this closely scrutinized. And then the games of that day went and provided not one but two plays that were so unusual that they would have been singled out and discussed widely had they happened in regular-season games. (Presuming they involved the Yankees and/or Red Sox.) There was the J.D. Drew baserunning circus, and there was Torii Hunter's misplayed fly ball in Game 2 of the A's-Twins series. Explain something to me. How is that a home run? Kotsay hit a single, and Hunter misplayed it into a home run. Shouldn't it be a single and a three-base error? The same thing goes for balls that bounce off of fielders into the stands. I don't get why the home run element trumps the usual scoring rules.
Alex Rodriguez just struck out with the bases loaded in the top of the first. I cannot believe I actually feel sorry for a guy making $25 million a year. But...I kind of do. He's going to hit 800 home runs, and thousands of baseball fans are convinced he's a bum. I feel like I've made this argument a million times, but maybe not here before. If Derek Jeter is so great and such a great team guy and a winner through and through, why is he still playing shortstop? Alex Rodriguez is a better shortstop than Jeter. He would probably be more relaxed if he could play the position he grew up playing. If Jeter played third or in the outfield he could make even more completely unnecessary dives into the stands than he does now. If people thought his defense at short was ever worth a Gold Glove, playing in left field he would win two or three per year.
I kid about Jeter, but his defense at short has gotten demonstrably better over the years -- he's now almost average -- and he deserves to be the MVP this year. No doubt about it. If Justin Morneau wins, it'll be a joke. You can't argue with Jeter's record, but at the same time, the aura he has around him seems to make a lot of baseball fans give him free passes on stuff like the defense and the A-Rod thing. If he's the captain, how come he gets to give A-Rod the cold shoulder? Is he only the captain for the other 23 guys on the team? The Yankees are probably going to win the World Series, and if they do, Derek Jeter will deserve a ton of the credit. He elevated his play this regular season when his team was deluged by injuries. That's a skill that Alex Rodriguez has yet to demonstrate with any of his organizations. Jeter is as regularly dazzling a performer in postseason and nationally televised games (against Boston) as baseball has ever known. But he isn't perfect, and it is annoying that A-Rod, who is no more or less flawed, gets all of this abuse while Jeter is humored. Not to mention the way Jason Giambi, cheater, liar, opportunist, traitor, has become a folk hero himself.
It's in the Cups
I was just pouring myself a Diet Coke and I realized that there's a dimension to this postseason I hadn't considered yet. See, I collect plastic cups from baseball stadiums. I have built a substantial though by no means complete little collection over the past few years. Most of them I've gotten myself but a few have been brought back to me by friends who are aware of my interest in cheap logo beverage containers. My hope is to be able to collect them all before the dishwasher has completely worn off the printing on the oldest few.
I have a Cardinals cup and a Padres cup. However, the Padres cup is only from spring training and the St. Louis cup is from Old Busch, and regular season beats spring training. Advantage Cardinals.
I have regular season and spring training A's cups and no Twins cups whatsoever. Advantage A's.
I have a Tigers cup from Comerica but no Yankees cup. Advantage Tigers.
I have a really neat 3D-animated Dodgers cup but nothing for the Mets. By the way, Southern California is the capital of cool giveaway soda cups. The Angels one I have turns color when you put ice cubes in it. That is so cool. Big advantage Dodgers.
I began but did not complete some involved previews of the playoff series this morning. Ultimately I think I realized that as much as you grind the numbers there's just no accounting for the unpredictable nature of short playoff series, and it's better to be seen as lazy than seen as stupid. Of course, I guess some people could still see me as both stupid and lazy, which is no good. I suppose I am in no position at this point to defend myself on either count, wearing as I am pajama bottoms with little penguins on them.
If I had tried to call either of the series beginning this afternoon, I would have been wrong on both counts. Johan Santana's start at home against the A's should have been the lockiest of locks, but then it wasn't. Frank Thomas is taking us back to 1993, when a little show called "The X-Files" made its debut and all America was getting down to the funky, funky beats of Naughty by Nature. The Twins offense was trying an abstract strategy to soften the turf between home and the mound at the Metrodome by flailing weakly at first and second pitches out of the strike zone all day. I don't know what to think about this game. Usually when Barry Zito is going to suck you can tell right away, but this game he kind of seemed like he did suck, only without allowing all the runs part. Of course given Oakland's recent history the larger their lead in the series, the more the pressure mounts.
The Cardinals-Padres game also had a surprising result, although unlike the entertaining matinee it was a real snoozer. The Mets having arrived in the postseason without a pitching rotation, can we just call the National League already? Just send everyone home with firm instructions to think long and hard about what they've done and try very hard to not be so terrible again next year. Having earlier implied that Chris Carpenter's ace status was thrown into question by his inability to keep St. Louis out of multiple extended tailspins this regular season, Carpenter went out and pitched effectively against a Padres team that suddenly looked a lot like the one that had no business being in the playoffs in 2005. Did it seem to anyone else that this game just didn't have a playoff feel to it? The Twins-A's game was loud; even a non-baseball fan who stopped by here during the broadcast commented on this. The new San Diego stadium sure looks pretty but those Southern California Padres fans may want to go back to the drawing board as far as their frenzy-building is concerned.
Free advice for the Twins: Don't pitch to Thomas. Free advice for San Diego: Don't pitch to Albert Pujols.
Alex Rodriguez has been dropped to sixth in the New York batting order for their game against the Tigers tonight. I don't know what to think of this. If he doesn't produce this postseason, and produce at like 2004 Carlos Beltran levels, is he as good as gone? I kind of would like to see him traded to the Cubs. It would be somehow karmically appropriate. The North Side of Chicago would be enveloped by an ever-growing cloud of emo that would extend as far north as Mackinac Island. A-Rod and A-Ram (Aramis Ramirez) would combine to form an axis of anti-clutchness from which light could not escape. I don't see how anybody who isn't a Cubs fan could be against this.
And Here in Denver We Get It for Free
Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas is going out of his way to create high altitude conditions in his home, in perhaps the most elaborate wacky training measure of which I've ever heard. The Associated Press quotes Arenas, who does wear the number zero so this ought not to come as a complete surprise, as saying that he hopes living in thin air whenever possible will give him an advantage late in games over his normal air-breathing opponents. "I had to put a tent in one room, and then they are going to come during training camp and fix the whole house," says Gilbert. "Then I have a portable tent I'm taking on the road."
Later on in the same story Wizards coach Eddie Jordan is said to have avoided speaking to Arenas much this offseason because "he could only stand so much Gilbertology." One can only imagine what Jordan might have meant. There is no word as to whether Arenas believes that sleeping in a pressurized tent gives him any sort of sexual powers. I think however that it is safe to assume that he does.
On the subject of the NBA, I recently wrote a series of offseason review pieces for the new site writeonsports.com. I've never really written much about basketball but I figured if someone was going to be foolish enough to give me the opening I might as well take it. So here they are, by division: Atlantic, Central and Southeast, Northwest and Pacific, Southwest. If you read just one, make it the Pacific one, that has some good Kobe jokes in it.
The Playoffs: Let's Look at It This Way
Doing position-by-position breakdowns is so...last year. Or at least it's what I did last year. And maybe I still will after "How I Met Your Mother" and "Heroes." But for the time being, let's avoid the obvious and hackneyed technique of comparing the teams in the playoffs to the teams they will actually play in the first round. Does it really matter whether Ronnie Belliard is better than Josh Barfield or vice versa? No, of course it doesn't. The MLB playoffs are not settled by positional matchups. Everyone knows what really makes the difference: intangibles. Every baseball writer worth their salt knows who will win the World Series right now. In articles they will write after the formalities of the actual games are played out, it will be made clear how one team and only one team possessed the correct mixture of team chemistry, hustle, clutch hitting, moving the runners over, playing them one game at a time, making it about the name on the front of the uniform and not the name on the back, hitting the cutoff man, and doing the little things that don't show up in the boxscore and they (the writers) knew it all along. They can't tell us now, though. It has something to do with union rules, I think.
Who are we kidding? In five- and seven-game series between teams that are all very near in each other in overall quality, every result is the product of blind random luck more than anything else. Picking a winner in these playoff series is about as scientific as alchemy or that thing with the sheep entrails. You know, where they would like, read them? Why don't we have a national column where someone uses sheep entrails to pick NFL games against the spread? I would be super into that.
There are eight teams in the playoffs this year. Their goal all season has been win enough games so that they could play a handful more. Isn't that weird? Play 162 games, finish as one of the four best teams in your league (or thereabouts), and you get to play maybe as few as three more. This in comparison to the NBA postseason, which lasts for three months, or the NHL postseason, which is longer than the NHL regular season and features about the same number of teams. Would it make me deeply happy if the Dodgers and Padres got swept, meaning they won exactly the same number of postseason games as their divisional little siblings in Colorado did in 2006? Maybe a little. It would make me happier still if the Tigers got beaten into oblivion by the Yankees. I just really dislike this Tigers team. I can't even articulate why.
The way I see it, each of the four teams in each league fits into one of four categories. The similarities are eerie, once you stop to really think about it. Does this mean that the fate that will meet a particular AL team will befall its NL twin as well? No. It doesn't mean anything. It's just a device around which a blog post can be constructed. Try and keep up.
The Mets and the Yankees have a lot of things in common. They play pretty near each other, if my understanding of east coast geography holds up. They each spent the most money in their respective leagues. They have free agent centerfielders who were great postseason heroes for other franchises. Each recently received bad news about a pitching ace that gave us momentary pause about their status as favorites. For the Yankees, it wasn't such a big deal. Randy Johnson will still pitch, but even so, he hasn't been the ace of the staff this season anyway. Besides that, the Yankees' strength isn't their starting pitching, it's their powerful lineup and the back end of their bullpen. Now as for the Mets, they won't have Pedro Martinez for the rest of this year or for much of the next one. However, check it out. Martinez wasn't the ace of the staff this year. The Mets' strength is still a powerful lineup and the back end of their bullpen. Do you see how this can be a useful exercise?
The Favorites for People Who Don't Like Picking the Favorites
The six teams in the playoffs that aren't the favorites all have weaknesses. Otherwise, they wouldn't be not the favorites. If you view things rationally it's hard to see what separates the Dodgers from the Padres and Cardinals and the Twins from the A's and Tigers. But see, these teams have a Thing. It's hard to argue with the screaming intangibles of a capital-letter-T Thing. Minnesota has Johan Santana. The penalty for any ESPN baseball personality going on TV or the radio to break down the division series and not spouting the line about "Johan Santana in a five-game series" is, I infer, painful electrocution. They never go on to explain what Santana's powers might be in a seven-game series, which the ALCS still is, but if you're going to pick against the Yankees, your options are limited. If the A's and Tigers are so great, then where are their Things? Yeah, that's what I thought. The Dodgers' Thing isn't a person, it's an event. That game with all the home runs. For about a day and a half afterwards, all of baseball nation was caught up in an NL West race with which all those of us who are actually fans of teams in the NL West had been bored to tears since the All-Star Break. Does it matter that in the grand scheme of things, the game with all the home runs didn't make any difference? The Dodgers won the wild card by more than one game, and the Padres ended up winning the division (on a tiebreaker) anyway. Even though the Padres won the season series, excluding games that won't be rerun on ESPN Classic for long after we are all dead, 13-4, the Dodgers are considered the favorite among the non-favorites in the NL. Why? They have a Thing.
Every year there's at least one team that arrives in the playoffs having played indifferently or worse down the stretch. But this year is different. There's two dramatic examples, and in both cases, neither had their postseason place secured when their swoon began. The Tigers managed to blow a colossal division lead and only a comparable cold streak by the White Sox allowed them to make the playoffs at all. The Cardinals were this close to completing a final-week choke job that would have been impossible to top. In either case, does this mean that these teams have no chance of advancing? I think it's safe to say that in the case of the Tigers, a team that was playing above its heads for most of the summer finally found its level at the end of the year. The Cardinals on the other hand were slightly overrated due to their success in the past several seasons. No one paid much attention to the fact that St. Louis never pulled away in an NL Central that might have been worse than last year's NL West, at least until a Houston winning streak nearly capitalized on that lack of separation. As things have shaken out, both are now matched up against teams that are playing their best baseball right now. Detroit plays the Yankees, who are finally rounding into the form we expected from them all year, and the Cardinals face the Padres, who despite their loss in the Thing game went 20-9 in September and October. Another thing that these teams have in common that won't help them in the playoffs is rotations that are built more for depth. Detroit and St. Louis both lack aces, and that tends to be something you look for in October.
The Teams Where People Are Talking About How No One's Talking About Them
Every year the good sleeper picks in the playoffs are likely to be champions of the western divisions. People just don't watch as many west coast games, including baseball writers. Even though they've now won back-to-back division titles, this Padres team is a complete mystery to the majority of baseball fans. The story with the A's is a weird one. People are familiar with the team's past from Moneyball and their numerous cameo appearances in other AL teams' dramatic postseason runs. Those early-decade A's teams were built around on-base percentage and three star starting pitchers. They didn't win, however. This current team has a terrible OBP and only one of those star pitchers remains. Paradoxically, a lot people seem to be picking the A's for this reason. They didn't win with that old strategy, but now they're different, since they managed to win a whole bunch of games without any obviously dominant performers besides Frank Thomas, who a lot of people in Boston and New York may think retired three years ago. Talking about what the A's don't have isn't talking about what the A's do have, though, so they qualify for this category.
Before We Watch the Playoffs, Let's Talk Rockies Some More
Was "not finishing alone in last place" a goal this season? The Rockies wrapped up the string winning two of three against the pathetic Cubs, finishing 76-86. That's better than last year, one more than our targeted goal, and even with the Diamondbacks' record. The Giants wound up half a game ahead of Colorado and Arizona, and that's only because Houston's loss on Sunday rescued them from having to fly to St. Louis for a makeup game. Can you imagine that? Thinking another disappointing, dreary season is finally over then having to hot-foot across half the country to face a team that has a tremendous incentive to win? In my reality, San Francisco played and lost that game, and the Rockies finished the season tied for third. And last, but let's accentuate the positive today.
Is it better to be really bad and interesting, or merely below average and dull? From a writer's standpoint, last year was a much more exciting season. There was the Barmes thing. There was the ongoing Denny Neagle story. The Rockies' roster had a lot more players who were easy targets and richly deserving of our contempt, like Desi Relaford and Dustan Mohr. Shawn Chacon pitched well and couldn't win while Joe Kennedy and Jamey Wright just didn't win. A constant stream of hysterically bad relief pitchers arrived at regular intervals. Jose Acevedo, Randy Williams, Dan Miceli, Bobby Seay, Matt Anderson...those were the days. Those blog posts wrote themselves, I tell you. Jayson Stark's huge recap of this season only mentions the Rockies once.
Here's the catch. Going from a 65-win club to a 75-win team is easy, as far as those things go. It's not difficult to recognize when a player like Wright or Danny Ardoin is as bad as they were in 2005. And it's not the most difficult thing in the world replacing a player who is actively making your team worse with one who only fails to make it very much better. The biggest change the Rockies made between last year and this year is ridding themselves of Chacon, Wright, and Kennedy and replacing them with Josh Fogg and full seasons from Jason Jennings and Aaron Cook. The offense could have barely improved at all, which it didn't, and the team would have made a minor leap from pushovers to a team that can beat you if you're not careful, especially if you are Washington, which it did. Now comes the really hard part. Replacing obviously terrible players with average ones is easy; finding the above-average players to supplant those average dudes is really, really hard.
So, just spitballing for a second before I commit myself to dedicating to my full attention to the MLB postseason, here's two things the Rockies should think about doing that would be bold and might make the process go faster. First of all, they should contact the Boston Red Sox as soon as possible about Coco Crisp. Crisp was a disappointment in Boston this year, and will likely be ushered out as one of several scapegoats for a trying Red Sox season. Crisp's only sin was not being Johnny Damon and he's likely to have a bounceback year once released from the pressure-filled Boston environment, much as Edgar Renteria did this season for the Braves. Crisp is signed for an eminently reasonable $5 million a year through 2009. Those will be his age 27, 28, and 29 seasons; to put it another way, his peak. He plays center field, the Rockies' most gaping position of need. Crisp isn't an OBP guy but he is a high percentage base stealer who puts the ball in play. Clint Hurdle would love him. He's a lot like Juan Pierre, except his prime is ahead of him. Even though Boston will be desperate to deal, Crisp's highly desirable contract status will keep his price substantial. If I were the Rockies, I would offer Brian Fuentes. I love Brian Fuentes, I really do, but his contract is up after next season, his ability to retire righthanders seems to be recessing, and his value is as high right now as it's ever going to be. Boston is moving Jonathan Papelbon into the rotation and the pressure will be on for Theo Epstein to acquire a Proven Closer. Fuentes has that mantle, and that makes his value for a team that faces the constant public scrutiny that the Red Sox do higher than his value here in Colorado. The Rockies need an everyday centerfielder more than they need a relief pitcher who is only going to throw 65 innings a year, no matter how well he throws in those 65 innings.
The other thing Dan O'Dowd should do is call the Anaheim Angels and start selling hard on Todd Helton. It may be too late, but the Angels fit the mold of a team who might reach on Helton perfectly. They have a high payroll, they expect to contend every year, and their offense let them down time and time again last season. The Angels are used to having an underproducing, hugely overpaid first baseman, having sent Darin Erstad out to that position for years. They also very enthusiastically pursued Paul Konerko last offseason. Helton is a better hitter than Erstad and a better defender than Konerko, and if you squint hard enough he might look like sufficient lineup protection for Vladimir Guerrero. Certainly the difference in batting approaches between the two would give the Angels' broadcast guys a go-to subject for years to come. Helton is as good a team guy as they make and has been the face of the Rockies franchise during many lean years, but it isn't his fault that Colorado first offered him a contract he would have been insane to pass up and then immediately following decided that that was all the money they would be spending for the rest of this decade. Helton makes about $18 million a year and the Rockies payroll looks to be between $45 and $50 million per year over the length of that contract. It doesn't take an economist to tell you that that isn't a lot of wiggle room. If a trade patterned after the Jim Thome deal from Philadelphia to the White Sox last year can be worked out, that could give Colorado eight to ten extra million dollars to work with next season and beyond. However O'Dowd wants to spend that money -- extending Matt Holliday or Jason Jennings, upgrading the back of the rotation, building humidors for the other 15 National League teams -- it'd be better for the team than how it's planned to be spent now.
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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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