LDS Review/LCS Preview
October 13, 2005

Padres and Cardinals too close to call, eh?  Red Sox versus White Sox - an epic match-up?  Yankees likely to be swept by the Angels?  Well, it's pretty clear that I didn't do so well on my first round predictions, but I did at least get the eventual winner right in each of the series that I offered a prediction.  So what happened?

In the Padres case, there were several factors that contributed to their shameful undoing and only one of them had to do with their regular season won-loss record.  The first and most obvious, of course, is that Jake Peavy pitched Game 1 with a broken rib that he had injured during their clinching celebration but neglected to tell anyone about or have checked out.  Pitching in the playoffs is tough enough without trying to locate pitches when it hurts to breathe.  The second factor in their undoing is Bruce Bochy's inability to recognize the difference between a playoff game and a regular season game.  For example, in Game 3 the Padres were down 5-0 by the middle innings and the Cardinals had put men on 2nd and 3rd with one out in the 5th.  Yadier Molina was at bat with pitcher Matt Morris on deck.  Normally, I am loathe to intentionally walk anyone because it only adds to the run scoring potential of the opponent.  But if the Cardinals score any more runs in that situation, the Padres season is for all intents and purposes over.  With a professional hitter at the plate, the correct move is to put him on first to load the bases and take one's chance against a guy who only gets 50-60 at bats per season, is a .155 career hitter and only hit .088 this year.  The odds are very high that he will either strike out or put a ball softly in play that will either result in a double play or a force out at home.  Either way, the Padres have an excellent chance to get out of the inning unscathed.  More importantly, they simply didn't have the luxury of testing Molina.  During the regular season, taking a chance against him isn't a big deal because there are still more games to play; if you blow one, there are still another 161.  When your season is down to win today or go play golf tomorrow, that's just not an acceptable risk.   But that's what Bochy chose - to pitch to Molina - and  he lost because Molina singled, driving in two more runs.  Game, Series and Season over.  The third aspect that undid the Pads was their eagerness to swing early in critical counts.  Maybe it was nervousness due to their inexperience or their youth but their pitch recognition was uncharacteristically poor.  And the fourth aspect of their demise and a significant one that played a role in their mediocre regular season record is the defensive gaps that need to be addressed this offseason in the outfield and first base.  Perhaps Xavier Nady will work hard enough to become a good first baseman.  Mark Sweeney is too old and too far away skillwise.  And they desperately need guys who can cover much more ground than Klesko, Nady and Giles in the outfield corners.  If the Padres hope to be competitive next year they need to improve their defense to better fit their home park. 

As for the the Red Sox?  Well, their problems aren't as serious.  With a healthy Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke they would have been much more competitive.  What the White Sox exposed was their lack of versatility on offense.  The whole draw-walks-and-bang-doubles-and-home runs thing works most of the time, but in the playoffs teams simply can't afford to ignore other methods of scoring.  Outfield defensive upgrades might help as well but I don't believe that's why the BoSox got swept.  The White Sox were simply healthier and a slightly better team overall.  But back to the Boston outfield, the rumor I keep hearing is that Boston will deal Manny Ramirez to Toronto for Vernon Wells while picking up a chunk of Ramirez' contract.  I have my doubts because teams rarely trade within their division.  But it does make sense for both teams as the Blue Jays could move Rios to center and Ramirez is the kind of impact bat they need for their line-up, and with Damon likely demanding too many years to stay in Boston, the Red Sox could be looking for a defensive upgrade in center. 

I was surprised that the Braves were able to take a game from the Astros and even extend Game 4 to 18 innings.  Even more of a surprise was that it was Kyle Farnsworth who was guilty of surrendering the lead to the 'Stros in that game, as he had been pretty much lights out all year and the only reliable reliever they had over the final two months of the season.  It's also interesting that coming into the 2005 season there had been frequent questions about whether he had the make-up to be a closer, but he had largely silenced his critics with his performance up until the post-season.  But with that 8th and 9th inning failure, teams looking for a closer might not look at Farnsworth as favorably as they might have just a week before.  Playoff performance is often so overmagnified that players are fairly (and unfairly) judged for a career on just a small sample.  It will be interesting to see if Farnsworth gets the contract he's seeking and if he opens 2006 with a closer's job.

Lastly, the Yankees did a remarkable job of extending the series against the Angels.  Much has been made of their failure to advance despite their $200 million payroll but the reality is that much of that payroll was inert.  Yes, they should be favored to win the World Series at the beginning of the season with that kind of cash outlay, but the team they went to the postseason with wasn't $200 million worth of talent.  On the plus side for the Yanks, Shawn Chacon should only get better now that he's out of Colorado, and if the Yanks can find someone who can move Giambi to full-time DH and someone who can chase balls down in center, Chien Wang might be pretty solid as well.  The rest of their rotation?  Well, that's a bit more of a crapshoot because every single one of their marquis starters has health questions.  Also plaguing the Yankees this offseason is the probable losses of uber-setup man Tom Gordon and the departure of GM Brian Cashman.  So the Yanks will have to find some other super smart guy who can figure out how to fix the defense and the bullpen with what's available on the free agent market and little to offer in the way of trades.  Next year could mark the end of the Yanks reign in the East.

So what happens from here?

I'm not going to make any predictions because a) I've proven that I'm not that good at it when it comes to this year's playoff series, and b) both series look to be very even match-ups.  For example, the Astros' offense has trouble with right-handed pitchers yet the Astros throw arguably the three toughest starters in the NL over the second half of the season against a banged-up Cardinal offense.  Who wins that match-up?  I don't know but I seriously doubt that any game will see more than 10 runs total scored. 

And the Angels and White Sox?  Without Colon for the Angels, these two staffs match-up pretty well and their offenses aren't dissimilar other than the fact that the Angels don't strike out much while the White Sox do.  The White Sox were lucky to come away with a split at home, but they were also the best road team in baseball so it's not like they are behind the 8-ball. 

Speaking of the split, every single one of those umpires in Game 2 should be removed from the ALCS and replaced.   In the 9th inning of a tie game with two outs, home plate umpire Doug Eddings rung up Pierzinski with his hand ending the play.  Without that hand signal, none of the Angel players in front of the play would have begun walking off the field.  It doesn't matter if Josh Paul caught it or the ball bounced in the dirt.  Just as in the NFL, if the referee calls a play dead, it is dead and over and not reviewable.  In essence, that is what Eddings did with his hand signal.  He then inexplicably changed his call after Pierzinski ran to first.  The other umps are just as culpable because they didn't hold Eddings to his original ruling.  Pierzinski's story about thinking that the ball had bounced is absolutely ridiculous.  If he thought it bounced, why was he headed back to his dugout?  He didn't start running to first until after Josh Paul was tossing the ball back to the mound while heading back to his own dugout.  It's abundantly clear that he knows he got away with a now legendary deceit and is simply trying to cover his tracks, reaching for anything that is remotely plausible.  It's like Rafael Palmeiro suggesting the steroids in his system might have come in an over-the-counter supplement.  It only works until one looks at the actual facts.  As for Eddings claim that he always makes the call that way, his actions earlier in this very game on a similar call point to the fact that he's also trying to cover his tracks.  On a similar pitch near the dirt he was very emphatic that there was no catch.  Yet in the 9th inning with the score tied and the eventual winning run at the plate he decides to mail it in?  Puh-lease.   Remove them, fire them, I don't care.  But Eddings and the rest of that umpiring crew have no place in baseball's premier showcase.  They simply aren't qualified if they have no more integrity than that.

Fortunately, it was only Game 2 and the Angels have a day to put the whole episode behind them.  Led by Mike Scioscia, the Angels have already at least put on the right front, saying they didn't play well enough to overcome adversity to win that game and are looking forward to making amends.  Hopefully, this will end up as a minor footnote to the Series instead of a Don Denkinger-esque shadow.