Playoff Preview
October 3, 2005

The playoffs are finally set, so let the second guessing begin.

San Diego vs St. Louis
Bruce Bochy has set up his rotation to have Jake Peavy start in game 1 and Adam Eaton start game 2.  Peavy is unflappable so I don't think it's a big deal to start him against Carpenter.  But for me, the smart move is to start Woody Williams in game 2 and save Eaton for Game 3.  Why?  Williams has playoff experience and probably won't be as intimidated by the big stage as Eaton might be, especially in a hostile city.  Also, Williams was well liked in St. Louis and might be viewed as a guy who was run out of town by a team that didn't want him.  The Cardinal fans will be less sympathetic with Eaton.  Neither Williams or Eaton have been particularly good in recent weeks until their final start of the regular season so why not use the guy with playoff experience?

This isn't the first time Bochy has opted to use his youngsters instead of a veteran in the playoffs.  In 1996, Bochy chose Joey Hamilton and Scott Sanders as his Game 1 and 2 starts, both of whom showed their nerves to start the game as the Cards jumped out to early leads.  They put up a quick 3 in the first inning of Game 1 and racked up 4 by the 5th inning in Game 2.  Bochy could have started veteran Fernando Valenzuela, but instead chose to waste him in the bullpen.  There's no guarantee than Valenzuela would have fared any better but he would not have been affected by the playoff jitters nor would he have been intimidated by the hostile crowd, and he did finish second on the team in wins and ERA that season.  It looks like Bochy still hasn't learned.  On the bright side, Eaton pitched somewhat effectively in his only start against them this year, winning a 5-4 scrap at Busch while striking out 7, and was dominant in his final start allowing just a single hit while striking out 11 Dodgers.. 

The Cards, on the other hand come in on a winning streak, but Mulder, Morris Marquis and Carpenter have failed to pitch well enough to get a win over their final pass through the rotation.  It wasn't bad luck, either.  Only Mulder allowed fewer than 5 runs in his final start, and he walked 7 in lasting only 4 innings.  The primary reason the Cardinals won their final series is that they were facing a dreadful Cincinnati staff which they rightly pummeled.  The Padres will offer a considerably tougher test; the Padres won 4 of their 7 regular season meetings.  Maybe the Cardinals haven't felt any urgency to play well after they clinched the division, but they've only had 6 quality starts in their last 15 games.  Not coincidentally, they lost 8 of the 15.

It should be an interesting series because after Pujols and Edmonds, the Cardinals have plenty of questions in the line-up.  Is Larry Walker's back healthy?  Can Reggie Sanders step up in the playoffs?  His history isn't good because he has so many vulnerable spots in his strikezone.  If not them, who else is dangerous?  While no one on the Padres really stands out and scares the opposition, they have very good depth both in the line-up and off the bench.  On paper they don't look so great because all the injuries have limited their opportunities to accumulate counting stats but this team as a whole is probably the toughest to pitch to of any on the NL side of the postseason.  Just about every guy who comes to the plate is a decent threat to go deep and most can handle the bat pretty well otherwise.  Bochy will probably cost the Padres a win with poor decision-making, but this match-up will pose more problems for the Cardinals than either than Astros or the Braves.   Too close to call

(Editors note - 10/4/05 - Bochy has changed his rotation after Peavy and will now be starting Eaton in Game 3 at home, with possibly Pedro Astacio starting Game 2.  So maybe he has learned.)

Houston vs Atlanta

In the other NL series, the Astros will throw their two postseason studs, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens against the largely inexperienced line-up of the Braves.  That's almost like throwing lambs to the wolves.   If the Braves can't get to them before they get to Lidge, this series will be over in three games because it's a huge longshot that Jorge Sosa will be able to beat Roy Oswalt in Houston.  The Astros have 4 hitters who have hit at least 30 doubles and 20 homers this season - Berkman, Ensberg, Biggio and Lane - and they'll have Jeff Bagwell back from injury.

The Braves also have a problem in that Smoltz and Hudson aren't good bets to go much beyond six, possibly seven innings -  Smoltz hasn't thrown more than 7 innings in any start since August 10, Hudson has reached the 8th twice in September but has given up less than 4 runs only twice -  which means that the Astro hitters will get a shot at the Braves horrible middle relief well before Cox can bring in Kyle Farnsworth to close.  That doesn't bode well for Atlanta either.  Other than the fact that the Braves have Andruw and Chipper Jones, they really don't have much going for them in this series.  Houston 3-0

Boston vs Chicago

Now that Bobby Jenks has a few tough saves under his belt, the White Sox have a closer who can be scary come crunch time.  The flame thrower at the end is a nice weapon to have, although Jenks has very little experience with playoff type pressure and has before this season a long history of control problems.  If he remains as good as he's looked recently, the White Sox bullpen will be very tough to score against making them a dangerous team despite their offensive shortcomings.  The White Sox rotation has been especially impressive over the last week, completely shutting down a potent Cleveland offense in Cleveland in the season finale. 

This makes the Red Sox the perfect team to oppose them because their bullpen isn't very intimidating, nor is their rotation, but their offense seemingly can't be stopped.  It's a case of the irresistible force (Boston's offense) meeting the immovable object (Chicago's pitching) while the very resistible force (the White Sox hitters) faces the easily movable object (the Red Sox pitching).  The secret weapon the Sox have is Jon Papelbon pitching the set-up innings for Mike Timlin.  Papelbon has been impressive in displaying a very good feel for pitching while firing up some serious cheese.  If he can clean up the messes well enough to leave Timlin to start the ninth each time out, the Red Sox will be tough.  Timlin isn't that intimidating but he's good enough to hold a decent lead.

The advantage the Red Sox have is that they are not intimidated by any obstacle; after all, they overcame a 3-0 deficit last year against the Yankees to win the ALCS.  The advantage the White Sox have is that their manager Ozzie Guillen won't let his team crumble under any circumstances.  This should be an all-time great series.  Chicago 3-2

New York vs Anaheim

A not so great series will be the Yankees visiting Anaheim.  Other than Randy Johnson, the Yankees don't have any starter they can count on to give them more than 5 or 6 innings.  Shawn Chacon is their best hope to provide an able #2.  Mussina has been alternately brilliant and dreadful this year and there are no clues as to which one will show up.  The good news for Yankee fans is that Mussina (the Game 1 starter) has had good success against the Angels in Anaheim, going 8-2 with a 2.82 ERA.  This year he won his only start there, but was 1-2 against them overall.  Aaron Small has been out-performing his career numbers by such a substantial margin that when his bill finally comes due it will likely be as horrific a sight as Greg Norman's collapse at the Masters.  Here's betting that the Angels will collect. 

Mussina's Game 1 opponent, Bartolo Colon, has struggled against the Yankees, giving up 4 home runs in his last start at home against them while still netting a win.  Game 2 starter John Lackey has dominated the Yanks in 2 starts this year with 2 wins and holding them to a collective 3 earned runs over 10.2 innings.  Paul Byrd pitched 7 solid innings in his only start against the Pinstripes and for his career he has a 3.00 ERA and 1.28 WHIP against them.  Jarrod Washburn has likewise been tough on the Yanks, with a 2.35 ERA and 1.11 WHIP against them this year, 2.72 ERA and 1.12 WHIP for his career.  In short, Randy Johnson will probably have to win his start in Game 3 for the Yankees to extend the series beyond 3 games.  Anaheim 3-1