The First Round and Beyond
On the surface, I didn't come out too badly with my picks for the first
round - Marlins, Cubs, Red Sox and Twins. The Twins were the only
team to utterly fail.
I was surprised the Yanks did as well as they did against
Santana. It did appear to me that they got a little lucky;
Matsui's run scoring double was millimeters inside the third baseline
and Nick Johnson's double came on a face-high fastball outside that he
was basically flailing at. Still, it was obvious early in the
game that the Twins were going to lose. None of their hitters
seemed comfortable at the plate. It's unlikely that they were
intimidated by the situation since they played in two rounds of the
playoffs last year and faced elimination in a Game 5 in Oakland, only
to come through in the clutch.
What is more likely is that the panic that Rod Gardenhire began showing
in Game 3 rubbed off on the team and they played as though they were
afraid they were going to lose, rather than playing relaxed and ready
to win. And unfortunately for a solid team, this might be the
last time they will be in the postseason for a while as they will
probably be losing several key players to free agency this offseason
because of penurious ownership.
Going into the postseason, the Red Sox looked like they had finally
settled their bullpen situation. Five games later, they are in
greater disarray than they have been at any point this season.
Byung-Hyun Kim has been left off the series roster and presumably will
not pitch again this season, although that could change if the Red Sox
make the World Series. He has no such history of catastrophic
failure against NL teams so they might consider bringing him
back. But for the time being, he will be left off the roster for
"purely physical reasons". It remains to be seen if by "physical"
they mean "mental", or "psychological", especially after Kim's
finger-pointing incident with Boston fans.
So can the Red Sox win with a bullpen in disarray? I think they
can. I don't believe the Red Sox hitters will suffer the same
anxiety that the Twins did and should therefore be able to wear out the
Yankees starters by the 5th or 6th inning in each game, except perhaps
for the Mussina starts. He's just too efficient so if the Red Sox
hope to beat him, it will be because they smack him around early, not
because he gets tired. Even if the Yanks get the early lead,
there's no way that Mariano Rivera can pitch two innings every night,
so the Sox will get their chances. Conversely, Scott Williamson,
Mike Timlin and Alan Embree have all been pretty good lately, and
Ramiro Mendoza was solid in September.
The Sox will have a question mark replacing Johnny Damon at the top of
the line-up, but his on base was pretty mediocre, so the speed will be
the only real asset missing. Bill Mueller or Damian Jackson
should be able to fill in capably until he returns for Game 3.
The Series will turn on the Sox starting pitching. They have to
get at least 5 innings a game out of these guys; otherwise, the bullpen
will be worn out by the time it gets to the later games in the
series. I do think this will be a long series and I don't believe
there is any home field advantage, one way or the other as both teams
have had good success smacking the other around in their home
ballpark. I picked the Sox for the Series at the beginning of the
season, so I might as well stay with my pick. Of course, there's
still a decent chance that Grady Little may force me to change my mind.
The Marlins were simply a better team than the Giants. There
really wasn't any luck involved at all. If you remove Barry Bonds
from the equation, the Marlins had more power, more speed, better
defense, deeper starting pitching and a more reliable bullpen.
Jack McKeon did the math and arrived at the same conclusion. That
said, it's less clear who the better team is in the NLCS.
The Cubs are scheduled to get two starts each from Mark Prior and Kerry
Wood. I have doubts that the Marlins' predominately right-handed
line-up can beat either. They might be able to steal one from the
bullpen, but they simply don't match up well against either of the
Cubs' two primary aces. And if the Cubs get a solid start out of
Matt Clement or Carlos Zambrano, the hill gets even steeper.
Still, the Marlins are a solid team in every aspect of the game so they
can't be counted out. On offense they scored more runs this
season, but the Cubs, who underwent a dramatic overhaul in mid-season
with the acquisitions of Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez and Randall
Simon, actually scored more after the break. The two teams a
relatively even in overall runs scored and bullpen ERA, with the Cubs
enjoying an edge in starting pitching and the Marlins an edge in
defense. It's about as close a match up as one could hope
for. I'm still going with my preseason pick of the Cubs, but no
result would surprise me.
What does surprise me is how incompetent major league baseball is when
it comes to marketing it's sport. Even by baseball's standards,
playing both Championship Series games at the same time on the same
network is a new level of stupidity. Sell the broadcast rights of
one of the games to ESPN or split the games into an afternoon affair
and one in prime time. Yes, playing both at the same time on the
same network assures that you win the time slot, but it also assures
that you alienate half your nationwide audience. True, baseball
is used to alienating their entire
nationwide audience with incessant bouts of lunacy when it comes to the
labor negotiations, so I guess I should be somewhat appreciative that
they decided to broadcast the games at all, and at least will be doing
so in English.