Monthly archives: October 2008
I waited a day to write anything because I felt I might be overreacting, but if Peter Gammons himself has come out to call this the worst World Series ever -- before it's officially over, even -- then I don't know what else to wait for. Boy, is baseball going out on a brutal note this season. Spooked by terrible TV ratings and aghast at the prospect of rain delay "Simpsons" reruns beating out a potential elimination game, Bud Selig and Bob DuPuy and company ramrodded about four innings of completely unwatchable mudball down our throats the other night before the Rays mercifully managed a game-tying run.
The utter lack of common sense displayed by the baseball bigwigs was stunning. You could see from the umpires' body language that they knew the teams had no business playing, and these are the same guys who can't keep the strike zone consistent from one half of an inning to the other. The players, fans, announcers -- everyone was disgusted, and there wasn't any reason for it at all. Selig made headlines by announcing afterwards that he would have made an exception to the normal rule in effect regarding rain-shortened games. If the game had been called with the Phillies in the lead, he would have caused for the rest of the innings to be played even though the rules on the books contradict that.
The thing is, there never would have been any need for the commissioner to consider such an heroic intervention if he'd followed the rules in the first place. There was absolutely no way that Game 5 should have even started. If the league was feeling lucky, they still should have called it in about the third. That way, they'd still be in the same situation they are now -- a better one, even, with a whole game to make up to rather than a bizarre one-third of a game. If they'd had the guts to postpone the contest in the first place, Philadelphia wouldn't have had to waste its best starter.
The further baseball bends over to please TV -- and it's just about licking its own rear at this point -- the lower the ratings get. The powers that be overruled common sense and standard operating procedure to deliver a product that was pretty close to unwatchable, with baserunners grinding in mud and pitchers giving up on their pitches and just trying to throw over the plate. Not only that, but they stuck the usual 35-minute pregame on top of it, so as to maximize the amount of coverage labeled "World Series" in prime time on both coasts. Maybe if they'd had the brains to move the start time forward they wouldn't be in the mess they are now.
The most depressing thing about this whole situation, besides the fact that it means the baseball year is going to end on a deathly depressing note and it'll be months before the breaking balls fly in good cheer again, is that there was just absolutely no point to all of it. All they had to do is call the stupid game and they would now be in the precise same situation they are now, with another couple of telecasts no one's going to watch, except without looking like complete morons in front of the whole sports media world and insulting the intelligence of what rump of fans still remains that genuinely cares. As a baseball lover and NFL hater, it bugs me that my one argument in favor of my league is completely toasted. Neither league has any integrity whatsoever. But when football sold its soul, it got paid for it. I don't know what the heck baseball's getting.
Another Bummer World Series
Things could still turn around in the game tonight, but a World Series I was really looking forward to watching has kind of turned around us. Everywhere you look, it's bad news. The television ratings are beyond abysmal, aided by bad weather and dumbly scheduled start times. The umpiring has been hideously bad, from the random Greg Maddux strike zone granted Jamie Moyer (what, for every year past your fortieth birthday you get half an inch off the plate?) to the missed tag calls on the bases seemingly every other inning. Add in the young Rays tightening up in exactly the same manner the young Rockies did last Series, and you've got a Fall Classic that I'd be happy to see end today.
At least Game 3 was pretty compelling, with the Rays overcoming their complete lack of middle-of-the-order hitting to grind out runs with bunts and steals. Then they got done in by their own alleged strength, with the defense letting them down both in the ninth inning of that game and all throughout Game 4. Their young starters looked as bad as they have all postseason and Philadelphia's Rollins and Howard finally made it to the party.
The ratings are the worst news. Joe Buck spent gigantic chunks of Game 3 talking about the next day's football matchups, as if that was the only way to get viewers to tune in. How is that the headlines for baseball wallow around in this negative news like a pig rolling in slop while football writers and commentators have more or less taken a pass on addressing the fact that dozens of players have just tested positive for steroids and weight-loss medications? Baseball has a steroid epidemic, football has a few footnotes. Even when an NFL guy does mention a drug suspension, it's always just to explain how the returning offender will improve his team's play -- or worse, your fantasy team's play. I'm never going to stop being annoyed by this.
As I write this, I see the Rockies in the ESPN news crawl for the first time in months. Two items! What are they? First, they're willing to trade Matt Holliday now. That would make the team worse and save the owners a lot of money, so everything is going according to plan. Second, Luis Vizcaino, last year's "big-ticket" free-agent acquisition, was just arrested in Florida on suspicion of a DUI. This is baseball and not football, so we have to find that alarming rather than amusing.
The problem with dealing Holliday is that his agent will scare away most of the bidders for his services who could give Colorado even close to the near-MVP's value. Holliday doesn't have no-trade rights but he does have one of the best agents in the biz at getting his way, Scott Boras, and Boras will surely promise that whichever team deals for Matt must either immediately present a $100 million contract extension or else suffer the consequences. The teams in that financial position don't have the prospects, and the teams that do likely won't give them up for a clear one-year rental. I think the Rockies might be best-off hanging on to Holliday until midseason, where they can exact more punishment in a panic trade. Or I suppose it's remotely likely that they could be having a good season, though I'm not holding my breath.
At the Turn
I didn't watch as much of the preview coverage for the World Series as I could have because the five minutes an hour they spend talking about baseball on ESPN is inevitably sandwiched between twenty minutes of commercials and forty minutes of football talk. I don't know which is more tedious. Of what I saw, picks tended to divide into groups -- people who hadn't actually been watching any of the playoffs, who liked the Phillies, and genuine baseball fans, who favored the Rays. "Because they have Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard" is a bad reason to pick Philadelphia, since neither star has hit a lick in the whole postseason. "Because Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, and Brett Myers are better than James Shields, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine" is just asinine. As for the Phillies' wizened bullpen being better than the Rays' group of retreads and no-names... well, that remains to be seen. It will probably be what decides the series.
The two games in St. Pete went exactly as the chalk said they would. Cole Hamels, the best pitcher in the series, won Game 1 for Philadelphia. Then the Rays came back in Game 2 with a solid performance by Shields and a well-handled sequence of bullpen choices by Joe Maddon. Rollins, Howard, and Chase Utley all had multiple chances to flip the script on the home team, but they could not. Howard's struggles have been more publicized but he did hit the ball solidly a few times. Rollins, on the other hand, looks completely lost. Maybe he should make a guarantee before the series shifts to Philly.
The Phillies do have more name stars, such as it is, but they also have a way more frontloaded lineup. Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz, and Pedro Feliz are all not very good. They have, in short, the kind of lineup that's perfectly good for the National League. In addition to a heart of the lineup (Upton, Longoria, Peña) that's as good as what Philadelphia is sending out there the Rays have guys who would all be above-average NL offensive players from front to back.
Hamels is going to win his other start and the Rays are going to win the rest. That gives them the series in six games, as predicted. It's been cool to see such quick, crisp baseball being played in the Fall Classic, isn't? A lot of credit goes to both managers for not going into matchup paralysis mode and employing four arms an inning in the seventh and eighth.
What Side You On?
I have a long-held bias against Philadelphia sports and the Phillies in particular. Philly fans have a reputation that precedes them everywhere, and in general the town has been light on stars with national appeal. I'm not a big Donovan McNabb guy, I can't stand Iverson (or what he's doing to basketball in Denver now), and John Kruk and Mike Schmidt just don't do it for me. Not to mention Pete Rose and Larry Bowa.
But on the other hand, the Rockies are in a very precarious position if the more recently invented Rays win a title. Florida and Arizona, the other two nineties expansion teams, have their World Series banners. Florida has two! If you'd asked any sports business expert in 1993 which of those four markets, Denver, Miami, Tampa/St. Pete, and Phoenix, had the best chance for sustained MLB success, they'd have said Denver. Phoenix still hasn't fully embraced the Cardinals, and when the Rockies played the D-Backs in the NLCS last season, Denver fans could drive up to Bank One Ballpark (or whatever) and buy tickets day-and-date for games one and two. The Florida franchises have been trying to move or facing the threat of contraction basically since the days they began existing.
If the fanbase, the nice park, and the lack of of local allegiances to older teams have all been in place in Colorado since day one, what's keeping them from being good? I don't want to hear excuses about the altitude. The Rockies have been held down by terrible management, as the Rays were until quite recently. If Tampa Bay can go worst-to-first in a single season, there isn't any excuse any longer for the incremental progress we're seeing here. I'd kind of like to see the powers that be with the Colorado organization shaken out of their complacency a bit. The model Tampa Bay has made, with its aggressive drafting and trades, is one the Rockies need to examine more closely. Like the deal the Rays made to bring Matt Garza. They got rid of a guy, Delmon Young, while his trade value was still very high. They dealt from a position of strength to shore up one where they needed more help. The Rockies, meanwhile, are piling up corner infielders like they're going to switch to 10-man softball rules next season. The mistakes of overvaluing their own talent and assuming the market on a guy is never going to go down or away plagued Tampa management for ages until they finally got rid of Chuck LaMar (who, weirdly, is now a Phillies scout). I've been on Dan O'Dowd's side more often than not over the past few seasons, but... come on. The Rockies' window is not wide. The Dodgers are (obviously) beginning to figure stuff out. Arizona has a lot of youth on its side and a decision-making team that in contrast to Colorado's is willing to roll the dice and play to win now. The Dan Haren deal makes that obvious.
So, besides the fact that it's a good story and the Phillies' rotation features a guy whose baseball card I had when I was seven, I like the Rays. In six.
I feel really bad, but I was between a rock and a hard place. On one hand you had the chance to watch the Tampa Bay Rays clinch passage to their franchise-first World Series. On the other, my pub quiz team needed their all-star history/pop music/"Simpsons" quotes anchor at nine sharp. What's a right-thinking fellow to do? I elected to make it to the bar on time, and I ended up missing the season's second-most epic comeback (after that Phillies-Mets brainmelter) and the quiz team ended up going down in flames in the rock-paper-scissors tiebreaker round.
So what do we make of Boston's late surge? I think it would mean a lot more had it been James Shields and not Scott Kazmir who'd started the game. St. Pete can't feel completely shaken knowing they have their postseason ace back on the mound, at home, in the next game. They have to feel good also knowing they've tagged every starter the Red Sox have to offer at least once in this season. On the other hand, David Ortiz finally showed up for October last night, and that's got to be at least a little scary for the Manta birostris fans.
As for the waiting Phillies, I'm a little late to the party with this point, but I feel it needs to be made. Headline writers: knock it off with the "ph" puns. Just stop.
On the offseason front, the Padres have made it known that they're dangling Jake Peavy, and I know it's futile to even speculate, but if the Rockies don't at least inquire, they're not trying. San Diego may be reluctant to move their ace within the division (although I don't see why, since they're not going to contend in it for four or five years at least), but if they're ever going to be taken seriously by the baseball community at large, Colorado has to import a living, breathing pitcher (as opposed to the mummified likes of Livan Hernandez) and they're going to have to do it in trade. It's silly that free agent pitchers who aren't completely desperate bottom-feeding sucker fish won't even negotiate with the Rockies, but the fact remains that a somewhat unfair impression of Coors Field has formed in the minds of hurlers around the circuit. I don't think pitching for the Rockies nowadays, particularly with the humidor and (even more so) their beefed-up defense, is any more ruinous to a starter's baseline stats then pitching in places like Philly or Houston where the left-field foul pole is 250 feet from home like a little league park.
But until a pitcher who's perceived to be a big deal arrives at Coors and succeeds, the bias will persist that Denver is where careers go to die. It's a pretty small sample size that current free agents are drawing their impressions from, but the fact remains that a pitcher who operated on a star level elsewhere has never come to the Rockies and thrived. The sample size, of course, is essentially Mike Hampton; and he wasn't really that big of a star to begin with. He piled up stats at the Astrodome and Shea Stadium, two (former) pitchers' parks.
(The only two former Rockies players whose baseball-reference.com pages I have bookmarked are Hampton's and Vinny Castilla's. Both I keep going back to to make basically the same point about how misunderstanding of park effects kept this team from competing for a decade.)
Long story short, the only way the Rockies are going to bring in the frontline starter that they need to complete their rotation alongside Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, and Ubaldo Jimenez and keep tomato cans like Jorge de la Rosa out is by trading for him. With Garrett Atkins, an established star-level slugger, and Joe Koshansky, a lefty masher who could easily develop into an everyday first baseman, and any number of AA-level prospect arms, the Rockies have the hard currency to get a deal for a #1-A starter done. Will they? Of course they won't. They're waaay too cheap, and they think they can pass off the likes of Kip Wells and Mark Redman as real rotation-fillers all while Matt Holliday and Scott Boras tick off the days until free agency. Lame.
You know what else is lame? The accusation of collusion as to keeping Barry Bonds on the field in 2008. You know what it seems the MLBPA hasn't considered? That Bonds is a walking soap opera, a guy who has to take two out of every five games off to even play well, a massive festering metastasizing clubhouse cancer, and someone who's 80% likely to be in federal prison by the end of next year. Who wouldn't want to pay the dude $20 million to bring all of that baggage, and his leather recliner, to their city? Obviously the MLBPA is just trying, like most of our society, to get some free money while the getting's good. I'll settle for a winning my team a free round by sweeping the 80's music category.
How 'Bout Those Rays?
I was watching a documentary about the James Bond movies last night, and they had a bit on the making of the tank chase through St. Petersburg, Russia in GoldenEye. Remember that? The tank smashing through all those walls, crushing police cars, upsetting applecarts, generally wreaking PG-13 havoc? That was Evan Longoria and the St. Petersburg, Florida offense last night in Boston, only if you were lip-reading the guys in the Red Sox dugout closely it would have merited an R rating.
You knew that maybe these weren't the championship Red Sox of 2004 and 2007 because Tim Wakefield was starting. Wakefield was the unsung MVP of the comeback in the ALCS in '04 simply because he saved the rest of the staff by taking a protracted beating out of the bullpen in Game 3; his value to the team once October starts has always been his ability to pitch unlimited innings in lost causes. He's the guy you hand the ball to when things get out of hand. If he's the one coming out of the game and giving way to the mop-up guys, then Boston's playoff rotation isn't at the high level we've seen before.
I still figure Boston will renew Wakefield's unique indefinite contract after this year. He's still better than everybody the Rockies had this year save Aaron Cook, and unlike Colorado, his front office will spend money to make sure he's back in his accustomed fifth starter/playoff innings sponge role next season.
So it might be a little early to crown the Rays, seeing as Boston was able to topple Cleveland after going down 3-1 last year. Josh Beckett's damaged status weighs the scales heavily in St. Pete's favor, though. As for the Dodgers, I expected their pitching to be better than it has been so far in their series against Philadelphia. They face the same challenge as Boston, having to win one game at home to stay alive and then taking two on the road. The Dodgers' young hitters haven't played loose the way the Rays' have, and Philadelphia has another Cole Hamels start up their sleeves to put the hammer down.
You can't turn on a sports radio channel or TV station without hearing some blather about Adam "Pacman" Jones these past two days. I ask you -- do you remember anything "Pacman" has done on the field, ever? Is there a single amazing "Pacman" highlight that stands out to you, making you think, "Okay, well I can see why it's worth having that maniac on your team," as you would for Terrell Owens or Ron Artest or Brett Myers? The only time I can remember thinking about Adam Jones without a connection to some act of off-field malfeasance is tweaking the Titans' depth chart in Madden a couple seasons ago so that he wasn't the default kick returner. Because he wasn't very good at that, either.
Basketball season is nearly here again. I'm looking forward mostly to getting to listen to Charles Barkley talk every Thursday, since it's going to be a brutal year for both the Bulls and the Nuggets. The Bulls have a new coach with no experience, a rookie point guard, and Larry Hughes, whose shot selection makes Antoine Walker look discriminating. Their offense is going to be hideous. Denver has the opposite problem, having traded the only starter they had with the least interest in playing defense. The most distressing thing about the Nuggets is that adding Allen Iverson has almost ruined Carmelo Anthony -- Iverson doesn't pass, rebound, or guard people after one reckless dive for a steal, and now Anthony has figured that it's OK for him to play the same way. At least he's not front-rimming jumpers from the right elbow so much any more but watching the Nuggets alternately run an isolation for AI, an isolation for Melo, another isolation for AI, and so on is stultifying. One of the reasons I pay more than I can afford for the League Pass package every year is because watching nothing but the Nuggets' offense every night would be enough to make me turn away from basketball entirely.
Would a St. Petersburg-Philadelphia World Series be a complete disaster for TV ratings? Probably not all-time low, but it's not going to be pretty. The Phillies have one medium-sized star in Ryan Howard; the Rays have no stars. Neither team has much of a national following in the way the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers do. Baseball has been systematically eroding its own popularity by comically over-emphasizing coverage of the glamour teams for 20 years. ESPN's frothing dedication to broadcasting at least two out of three games of every Red Sox-Yankees series all year has effectively convinced the average sports fan that as soon as both of those teams plus the cursed Cubs are out, the postseason isn't interesting anymore. Maybe the new all-baseball channel that's supposed to launch next year will start to spread interest in the flyover teams. If you're a developing NBA fan, most of the TNT games are going to be Lakers, Celtics, Cavs, Suns but NBA TV (assuming you have it on your cable system) is really good about giving you up-and-coming teams like the Blazers and Raptors. Same goes for MLB's various Internet ventures. The goal is to breed fans of the league rather than fans of teams. Most Cardinals fans, I'm sure, don't give a toss about a midseason Rockies-Padres game. But we all watch whatever NFL they put in front of us.
Speaking of the NFL, I saw that Lovie Smith admitted calling for the squib kick with seconds left in the Bears-Falcons game Sunday was stupid. I could have told you that, Lovie. Tell you what, for a tenth of one percent of your salary I'll give you my cell phone number and any time you have a concern about elementary strategy you can call me and I'll put down what I'm doing and break it down for you.
The Two Series After Four Games
After the Rays pulled Scott Kazmir early and the Red Sox were able to stagger through another inning and change with the plainly ineffective Josh Beckett, I thought that Boston ought to have the advantage going into extra innings last night. But Terry Francona seemed to overdo it with matchups, and you knew as soon as 25th man Mike Timlin came in that it was all over for Boston.
Last night's game was obviously bigger for St. Petersburg than for Boston, and it's not hard to argue that it was the biggest of the postseason for any team thus far. None of the four Championship Series teams was really much challenged in their first-round series, and with the Rays leaving home for three games in Boston after last night, there was no way they could feel comfortable about having to win two on the road. The Dodgers, on the other hand, didn't seem to play with much urgency at all in their two games in Philadelphia. You'd think at least they would have pitched Brett Myers a little more carefully. I think L.A. feels, and perhaps justifiably so, that they can win three out of three at home. Certainly the trend in recent years has been towards the NLCS going the distance.
I think I underestimated Philadelphia going into the playoffs for a couple of reasons. First, the Rockies completely flattened them last season, and they had pretty much the same team then. Second, I didn't watch them this year hardly at all, so I was only vaguely aware of how dominant Cole Hamels has gotten and how much difference Brad Lidge has made in their bullpen. For this series in particular, there's something that helped the Dodgers against the Cubs that's hurting them now -- their preponderance of power righty pitchers. You don't need lefty pitching to beat Chicago, but against the Phillies you almost have to have it. Most of my healthy contempt for Chase Utley I picked up during last year's NLDS, when he swung at many of Brian Fuentes' pitches before they actually had left his hand. It's not like you can suddenly ask guys to start throwing with their other hands at this point, so we'll see what L.A. can do with Joe Beimel, Clayton Kershaw, and Hong-Chih Kuo.
Did you know that the Dodgers' backup catcher is Danny Ardoin? Yes, that Danny Ardoin. I don't know how Ardoin, Juan Pierre, and Angel Berroa all showed up on the same playoff roster together, but Joe Torre has to be hoping that nobody gets hurt. Anywhere. That is one crappy bench.
Tough loss for the Chicago Bears today, in a game they had won before an ill-advised call for a pop-up kickoff gave Atlanta enough time to run one more play and get into field position for a game-winning field goal. I've been a Bears fan too long to be surprised by chicken-hearted conservative play-calling leading to a loss; that stuff has been the rule ever since Ditka was ousted. But what really made me mad, watching that game, was how incredibly awful the Fox announcing team was. There was one replay challenge in the second quarter where Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick talked for five minutes, repeating the same basic explanation of the challenge over and over and over again. The booth review completed, the Falcons took the ball at the 12. Trouble is, the fumble that caused the review happened at the 24. The announcers never explained why the spot had mysteriously moved forward 10 yards. I had to go online to find out that there was a dead-ball penalty on Brian Urlacher. Billick and Brennaman went the entire rest of the game without even acknowledging the oversight. Don't they have a producer in the truck hollering in their headsets so that they don't miss this stuff? Also, Billick called Kyle Orton "Kyle Boller" at least five times. I realize that Boller must torture Billick day and night, having cost him his old job as coach of the Ravens and everything, but -- is he going to prevent him from doing his new job competently as well?
This makes me feel better about baseball on TV. Sure, the analysts are mostly deadball-worshiping clods (TBS's studio crew with Eckersley, the rehabilitated Harold Reynolds, and my buddy Cal Ripken is a welcome exception), but at least the play-by-play guys are pretty competent. I'm starting to get why Dr. Z's annual football announcers review usually tops out with C- grades.
We're reminded all the time, by events on the field and the sharper professional analysts out there, that short-series playoff baseball bears little resemblance to the way it's played during the regular 162. Stuff like endlessly juggling lefty-righty matchups from among your 13 pitchers and carrying three catchers can work... sometimes. Within the confines of seven games and especially five games water doesn't always have the chance to find its level, and minor events can turn around team momentum and morale.
In the Cubs-Dodgers series, the Chicago crowd was behind their team for less than half of one game. After the Loney grand slam, they starting booing in earnest. The mood in the press and in the city at large was that the Cubbies were blowing it again, and indeed they did. Maybe you can blame the Dodgers' parade of power righthanders and maybe you can blame Lou Piniella for never using Ted Lilly and insisting on starting the punchless Kosuke Fukodome, but I'll continue to believe that the new wave of Cubs fans -- they've gotten mean, like Philly fans -- and their heckling punched the fragile ego balloons of the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee. They need someone whose brain is on another wavelength entirely from the rest of the world, like Fry in the "Futurama" episode with the floating brains. They should get in on the Manny bidding big-time, if somehow he slips through the fingers of Los Angeles.
By contrast, the Angels-Red Sox series was supposed to turn on another big play, only it didn't. The extra-inning win Anaheim managed to pull out in Game 3 didn't prevent their hasty elimination in Game 4 at all, and I don't think it will do much to break the postseason mojo Boston seems to have over the Rally Monkey. The Angels have become a team that gets picked to go deep in the playoffs every year, and yet since their World Series win of 2002 they've been disappointments, either bowing out quickly or not making it into the field at all. Yet baseball writers continue to be optimistic about them. Are all the name changes confusing? Or is it that that 2002 World Series run was so magical (and it was a really memorable one even for non-Angels fans) that they still have a bit of mystique hanging on them? Seems odd that that mystique would trump that of the Red Sox, who have only won two championships themselves since Dusty Baker gave the '02 title to Anaheim. Everybody's just throwing darts when it comes to predicting these things.
Anybody else notice that Manny Ramirez took special care to include Scott Boras in his postgame comments after the Dodgers wrapped it up against the Cubs? He's a lot smarter than we give him credit for, Man-Ram. He's got to be tweaking all the Boston columnists and sportsradio guys squawking about Bill Simmons' recent speculatory column on ESPN.com. As for Boras, you can question his methods, but his client is going to get what he wants -- a four-year deal somewhere for obscene bucks. Maybe with the Mets? That would fit their recent pattern of overpaying downslope guys, from Carlos Delgado to Pedro Martinez to Tom Glavine.
As for the other two series, Tampa vs. Chicago was pretty predictable -- the better team won, and the White Sox were so happy just to be there that they managed to win one game at home. Philadelphia and the Brewers went down similarly, except for C.C. Sabathia's curious collapse in the second game. Milwaukee was favorites on the road in that game due to their starter alone but after he had a rough outing the wind seemed to go out of their sales. They did get the requisite win at home, as you'd expect for a team returning to the playoffs for the first time in a jillion years. With Ben Sheets and Sabathia both eligible for free agency, could this be the Brewers' peak, right here? One playoff win per decade? Sounds like being a Rockies fan before last year. And possibly in the years to come.
I like the Dodgers and the Rays, for what it's worth. I'm not going to attempt to analyze those picks because like I just said, it's all just throwing darts.
NLDS Open Thread: Brewers-Phillies, Game 2
Milwaukee will hope that rented ace C.C. Sabathia can paper over the big problems with defense and clutch hitting they displayed in the first game. Philadelphia will counter with Brett Myers, who's had a tough season -- but did pitch a complete game in his one start against the Brewers this year. Milwaukee will have to take the field in this one knowing that Ben Sheets, their other frontline starter, will not be available to help them in this series or in any other this year. The frequently sidelined Sheets has an torn muscle in his pitching elbow.
Counting the loss yesterday, Milwaukee is now 1-6 against the Phillies for the year. That one win came on April 23rd, before C.C. was even in a Brewers uniform. Better patience on the part of Brewers hitters, especially against offspeed pitches, will be required to reverse the trend. Sabathia alone makes Milwaukee the favorite in this game, according to the oddsmakers. This will be a very different series going back to Miller Park 1-1 as opposed to 0-2. Given his team's pitching disorganization, Sabathia may need to deliver no less a performance than did Cole Hamels for his opponents in Game 1.
First Day of the Playoffs
Last year it seemed like it took a few games, maybe even a whole round, before the postseason got really engaging. This year's first game had me on my feet, with Brad Lidge facing down the heart of the Brewers lineup with the game on the bases. Not to mention Cole Hamels approaching perfection and the sweet sound of Dale Sveum's name. Man, I wish my name was Mark T.R. Sveum.
No previews this year, as history proves again and again that short-series playoff baseball is 94% crapshoot and 6% TV scheduling. Instead: rooting interests.
Cubs-Dodgers I used to be a Cubs fan, and they beat and abused me until I just couldn't take it anymore and fled to the apathetic safety of Rockies fandom. So I'm rooting against them hard, particularly because they have all the pieces this year. That hasn't been the case since '84 or maybe even '69, and you know it'll be a while until they put it together correctly again -- new ownership pending, recall -- so man I hope they blow it. It's like your ex-girlfriend getting happily married. Also, the post-championship smugness of the Research Department might force me to dismiss him from that post. Another factor: If Manny Ramirez manages to single-handedly drag the Dodgers to the series the Yankees could pay him, like, (cue Dr. Evil voice) one billion dollars this winter. And that would be hysterical.
Rays-White Sox This is a toughie, since the White Sox are my other hometown team. Does anybody remember that period in the late eighties, early nineties when the White Sox kept threatening to move to St. Petersburg? They could have played in the same gray-turfed black dome of despair. The White Sox could have been the Devil Rays. I don't know if that would have meant Wade Boggs' 3,000th hit, the steroid-injecting last-chancers' row of bloated power hitters, and a succession of revolting neon-themed uniforms all would have befallen the Chicago AL franchise but it certainly is a nicely bizarre subplot to this series. You guys know I love Ozzie Guillen, who serves the same role as the president of the galaxy in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books -- he's a lightning rod to draw criticism and media coverage away from the players who do the actual work, and he does it brilliantly. But Ozzie and his Sox got theirs in '05; now is the time for the Rays. Imagine the formerly bedeviled (ahem) expansion team finishing off the World Series -- on Halloween! Wouldn't that be awesome? Alanis Morrisette would have to write a new verse to "Ironic."
Brewers-Phillies This one is easy. Philadelphia means nasty racist battery-chucking fans, another one of those annoying new stadiums with pinball-close outfield fences, and a long history of stat-padding empty uniforms who are useless when it matters, from Bobby Abreu to Chase Utley. Milwaukee means Bob Uecker, delicious ballpark food, the best tailgating in the league, and "Roll Out the Barrel." Let's go Crüe!
Angels-Red Sox Kind of indifferent here, as both of these teams are big-market goliaths with buckets of money to spend (and waste) and a tendency to view small-market competitors as mere talent mills. The Red Sox did just humiliate the Rockies in last year's World Series, which is a strong incentive to root against them. However, most of my extended family lives in Boston and they are passionate Sox fans to the last. I don't know any Angels fans. Reggie Jackson was with the Angels when he was brainwashed to kill the queen of England, right? Nah, I'm still pulling for Boston. But I hope the Rays meet them and beat them in the second round.
C'mon, Milwaukee-St. Petersburg World Series. Realize the dream!
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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