Baseball Playoffs: Take One
Ahh, October. The days are getting shorter. The leaves are about ready to turn colors. And baseball begins its second season. Yes, the National Pastime takes center stage in the sporting world. Octoberfest, here we come.
From the Baseball Analysts dictionary:
Oc·to·ber·fest n. - An autumn festival that usually emphasizes merrymaking for one baseball team and the consumption of beer for the other seven.
With the baseball playoffs upon us, we give you our takes and outtakes on each of the divisional series. Which team will be merry and which seven will be left drinking when it is all said and done? To find out, read on . . .
American League Divisional Series
**Who is going to knock your Sox off?**
In a nutshell - Chicago's pitching vs. Boston's hitting.
Rich's Take: Both teams outscored the opposition by about 100 runs. They just happened to get there in a completely different fashion. Chicago won the most games in the AL, swept the hottest team in baseball during the last weekend of the season, and enters the postseason with the longest winning streak of 'em all. Back in March, I would have bet Schillings to doughnuts that the Red Sox would beat the White Sox if they faced each other in the playoffs. In October, I'm Guillen with the Pale Hose. Chicago in five.
Bryan's Take: They started well, they finished well. Really, the only scary part of Chicago's season was the month of August. What was so different in that month? No, not the pitching that has garnered all the press, but the offense that was remarkably consistent in the months of June, July and September. In each, the club had an OPS in the .780s. In August? One hundred points lower. The pitching is always there with this team, with a great bullpen and a rotation fresh off a great month. If they hit, they will win. Lucky for them, the Red Sox don't have great pitching. Tim Wakefield enters October as the de facto ace. Never a good sign. White Sox in four.
Rich's Outtake: Boston's been there before, Chicago's not been there. I mean, the South Siders haven't won a postseason series since 1917. Call it the Curse of the B
Bryan's Outtake: Chicago may just be losing it for themselves. Left off the first round roster will be Brandon McCarthy, the club's second-best starter in the month of September. After gaining trust in his change-up in Charlotte, McCarthy skyrocketed, even shutting out these Red Sox for seven innings. However, the postseason experience of Orlando Hernandez and an odd love affair with Luis Vizcaino keep McCarthy watching from home. The club also has an awful bench and is susceptible to good right-handed pitching (.736 OPS vs. RHP; .782 vs. LHP). These factors will help struggling Red Sox starters Matt Clement and Bronson Arroyo considerably.
**The Battle of the Hot Rods**
In a nutshell - L.A.'s pitching vs. New York's hitting.
Rich's Take: The Yankees could have won home field advantage by winning one more game but preferred belly-aching about Buck Showalter laying down for the Angels in Texas on Sunday. If the Yanks come to Anaheim feeling sorry for themselves, they will go home feeling even sorrier. New York is hot but the O.C. is even hotter. They are about to meet their match in the Angels. LAA in four.
Bryan's Take: Essentially, the Yankees and Angels will have a series with only seven inning games. Yes, the combinations of Gordon-Rivera and Shields-Rodriguez are that good. Then, understanding the Yankees will give up a few runs, the question becomes whether the Angel starters can stop these Yankees. Look for the answer to be no. The Yankees have a nice combination of being good, being hot, and being experienced. The Angels offense is, at best, one of those three. Despite Chone Figgins best efforts at becoming a media icon, the Yanks win in five.
Rich's Outtake: The Yankees are a professional team, and I don't mean to diss them or dismiss them. The Bronx Bombers can flat out hit. But I'm skeptical of the team's starting pitchers beyond the Big Unit. Is Aaron Small really 10-0? Conversely, can anyone on the Angels other than Vladimir Guerrero hit? For the Yankees to beat the Angels, Johnson has to win. For the Angels to beat the Yankees, Vladi has to hit.
Bryan's Outtake: Rich is skeptical of the post-Unit starters. This is a common theme among analysts this October, and a concern we should all be wary of. Both Jaret Wright and Mike Mussina are entering the playoffs pitching horribly. You also have to wonder when Shawn Chacon's deal with the devil will run out. His FIP with the Yankees is 1.72 points higher than his 2.85 ERA. Sooner or later, his awful K/BB rate will catch up with him. Whether it's the former or the latter will prove vital.
National League Divisional Series
**Is That You Again?**
In a nutshell - Pitching vs. Pitching.
Rich's Take: Everybody seems to be jumping on the Houston bandwagon, myself included. I guess we've all noticed that a Wild Card team has won the World Series in each of the last three years. When it comes to the postseason, it's not about which team is best but which is the hottest and which is set up to win a short series. The Astros are built for October. Houston in four.
Bryan's Take: You have to love Houston in a short series, for all the reasons that Rich mentioned yesterday. Clemens, Pettite, Oswalt, Lidge. Need anybody say more? The Braves are a pretty deep team, but hardly a dependable one. Could you honestly say that you would stake your prediction in Jorge Sosa's right arm or Jeff Francoeur's cooling bat? Didn't think so. Houston in three.
Rich's Outtake: Have those of us who picked Houston overlooked the fact that the Braves beat the Astros five out of six times this year? Can Berkman and Ensberg keep up with the Joneses? We'll see.
Bryan's Outtake: Clemens, Pettite, Oswalt, Lidge. Is there anything more? And no, Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls don't count. Both Berkman and Ensberg do, but it's hard to think that they will be pitched to. The rest of the lineup, including an especially cold middle-three, will face plenty of responsibility. Atlanta's ability to exploit this may make my sweep prediction look stupid.
**The Host With the Most in a Coast**
In a nutshell - Cardinals vs. themselves.
Rich's Take: The Cardinals had the most wins in baseball this year. The Padres, on the other hand, enter the postseason with the worst record of any team ever. Winning the NL West gets you a playoff spot, but it won't do much more than that. The Cardinals in three or four, depending on whether Peavy wins game one.
Bryan's Take: It's hard to bet against disparity here. Best team in the Majors against one of the worst playoff teams in 35 years? Pujols, Edmonds and a suddenly-hot Walker? Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, and the hot duo of Suppan and Marquis? Not to mention one of the best bullpens in the playoffs. It seems like fish in a barrel. It will be. Cardinals in four.
Rich's Outtake: The Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday basketball schedule helps the underdog Padres. The Cardinals are stronger and have more depth, especially in their pitching corps. But the days off in between games one and two, and games two and three will minimize this advantage. Heck, San Diego could start Jake Peavy on Tuesday and let him come back on three days rest -- Sandy Koufax was known to pitch on two days rest in crunch time -- to try and sweep the Cards, if successful, or keep St. Louis from sweeping San Diego. I'm not saying they should but they truly could.
Bryan's Outtake: However good Carpenter has become, you have to worry about his endurance. A 5.73 ERA in September did little to calm those concerns. San Diego is also built for a short series with Peavy paired with hot pitchers Pedro Astacio and Adam Eaton. The Padres ability to shorten games could also help keep an early lead. Let's put it this way: you wouldn't be a fool to put money on the playoff's largest (and I mean +325 LARGEST) underdogs. Just don't tell 'em we sent ya.