Thursday, October 27, 2005
Get Ready for Six Months of Hell
Sadly, the Sox celebration signals the end of the postseason and the end of the baseball season, and we all know what that means....
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
The End is Nigh: White Sox 3, Astros 0
Some quick notes on Game 3:
-What was Astacio doing in the game in the first place? I realize that by the 14th inning Phil Garner only had three pitchers available to him, and one was his Game 4 starter, but if given the choice between Wandy Rodriguez and Astacio, Wandy seems like the easier pill to swallow. Rodriguez is no prize, but he'd been pitching well this postseason. If I were Garner, I would have sent Rodriguez out and told him to pitch a shutout or bust. During the season, Astacio gave up 23 home runs in 81 innings this year. Now, I'm no John McGraw, but I don't think that's generally a guy you want to toss out there in a situation where one home run can mean the end of the season. Astacio's final line: 2/3 of an inning, 4 hits, 2 walks, one homer, and two runs, and he was lucky to even get the two outs. Hellooooooo, George Frasier-Land!
-I know he was excited, but did Geoff Blum celebrate his game-winning home run by sticking his finger in a light socket? What was with that hair? He must have been trying to outdo Boston's collection of atrocious hairstyles from last year, because he looked like an extra from Escape From New York.
-We all know the FOX's broadcasting team makes Bob Uecker from The Naked Gun look like Ernie Harwell, but here's a blog that's devoted entirely to ripping on the endlessly awful and lazy postseason coverage that you see going around in endless cycles. Called "Fire Joe Morgan", the blog doesn't just focus on the windbag ESPN commentator, but essentially tears into all sportswriters and announcers in general, kind of like a Spinsanity of the sports set. With guys like Tim McCarver and Lou Pinella spreading verbal diarrhea over the airwaves, there's plenty of stuff to write about. It's funny, insightful, and utterly addicting, my new favorite sports page on the Web.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
A Win For the Little Guy: White Sox 2, Astros 0
Any similarities here?
I'd say Podsednik's home run ranks right up there with Ozzie Smith's 1985 blast in terms of pure shock value. For those who are too young to remember (well, I guess I was three at the time), the Wizard of Oz put the Cards up 3 games to 2 over the Dodgers in that year's NLCS with a game-winning blast off of Tom Niedenfuer in Game 5. The homer was a shocker for two reasons. One, Ozzie had hit only 13 home runs in his eight-year career. Second, and most notably, it was the first time he had ever hit a home run left-handed. Jack Buck's startled home run call on the play is now one of the more memorable TV moments in baseball history, and the fact that it happened to the Dodgers is the sweetest plum. Podsednik's blast is in the same plane of utter unbelievability as the Wizard's clout.
Everybody now seems eager to write the Astros off, but let's not start digging a ditch just yet. The first two games were close, and Game 2 could have gone either way, with the Astros looking dominant before the bullpen came in and blew everything to hell. With Oswalt going tonight, Houston should pull off a win to put themselves back in the Series. Oswalt pitched the game of his life against St. Louis in Game 6 of the NLCS, and I don't see why he can't do the same now in front of his home crowd.
At least, I'd better hope Oswalt pitches his heart out, because my projection of the Astros winning in five is being blown out of the water. The 'Stros are certainly in a pickle, but a trip home for three games can certainly energize the team and turn this thing into a real World Series. If Clemens can go in Game 5, I expect the Astros to, at the very least, push it back to Chicago, a scenario that the White Sox really don't want to think about at this point. If Clemens can't go? Well, it'll be time to start weighing the pros and cons of Wandy Rodriguez, and brother, there are a shitload of cons.
Other random Game 2 notes:
-Now do you see why I hold such reservations about Bobby Jenks? The guy throws absolute petrol, but often times can't help but break out the Nuke Laloosh impersonations at the worst possible times. He nearly got through a tough ninth in Game 2 thanks to Houston's awful bottom of the order, but then Jose Vizcaino carried on the Brian Doyle/Bucky Dent legacy and tied the game.
-Speaking of Vizcaino, was that not the most inexplicably brilliant substitution by Phil Garner? I would have sent up Mike Lamb in that situation, but apparently Garner knew something that everybody else didn't. Vizcaino lined- well, lined isn't a good word...maybe dumped-a first pitch fastball into left field to tie the game and made Garner look like a genius and made all the armchair managers look like asses. I have no clue what possessed Garner to send up his weak-hitting infielder in that situation, but it certainly worked out.
-If I'm right, Konerko's grand slam in the 7th inning was the first Series salami since Tino Martinez ripped one off of Mark Langston in the 1998 Fall Classic. I didn't even have to look it up, are you proud?
-Some find Ozzie Guillen charming, some find him intolerable, but I find his bullpen signal to Bobby Jenks one of the most hilariously demeaning things in all of sports. "Uh, yeah, bring in the fat kid."
Whether or not you like Guillen's shenanigans, it's at least nice to see that he's for real, and not putting on a big act to get some publicity, like Ron Artest. He's a legitimate nut job.
Friday, October 21, 2005
World Series Preview
At first glance, this looks kind of like a matchup of two teams from the 1960’s. Both Chicago and Houston got here with pitching, pitching, and more pitching, with offense sort of along for the ride. The Sox resemble the ’68 Tigers in a way, with a great pitching staff and a whole lot of home runs. The Astros look more like the ’65 Dodgers, with three aces and a weak hitting attack. Runs won’t be easy to come by in this series, obviously, and we figure to get a lot of games decided by one or two pivotal plays in the late innings. Whichever team is able to score first will get the clear advantage, because neither team really has the kind of offense that can claw its way back from an early deficit, especially not against the type of pitching that will be featured in this series. Both Chicago and Houston showed in the LCS that if they get ahead early, they’re nearly impossible to catch. In Game 6 of the NLCS, after the Astros scored their third run off of Mark Mulder, the game was as good as done, and everybody in Busch Stadium pretty much knew it. Likewise in the ALCS, when Konerko gave the Sox three-run leads in the first inning of Games 3 and 4, the already emotionally sunk Angels found themselves looking up at an Everest-sized mountain.
Here’s a glance at how these teams stack up position to position. If you’re reading this and thinking cliché, well, what can I say? What should I do, compare the players on each team to a Star Wars character and determine who is going to win based on who would kick who’s ass in a fight? Let’s see, Konerko = Boba Fett, and Taveras = Wedge, so the White Sox are sure to win! Sounds fun, but I can’t do it because A) Lucasfilm would surely find this and sue my sorry ass for more money than I’ll see in five lifetimes, and B) I’ve gone almost a year in writing this blog without making a nerdy and completely gratuitous joint Star Wars- Baseball preview, and I’m not going to start now.
1B: Paul Konerko (.283/.375/.534) v. Lance Berkman (.293/.411/.524)
I figure Berkman might DH in the games in Chicago, but he’s been at first for much of the playoffs, so just humor me. So who’s better, Paulie or Lance? This is kind of like trying to figure out who's the hottest between Eva Longoria and Monica Belluci. Frankly, who cares? I'd love to have them both. Berkman gets on base more, but Konerko hits moon shots, and it’s not just a Comisky-fied illusion. Defensively, Konerko’s a little better, but that doesn’t matter; these guys are here to mash. This is basically a wash, but since Konerko hit 40 bombs and generally produced a little more than Berkman, we’ll give the Sox the advantage here. Advantage: Sox
2B: Tadahito Iguchi (.278/.342/.438) v. Craig Biggio (.264/.325/.468)
This matchup provides a good example of why you should actually look at numbers instead of going by what you think you’re seeing. Biggio is a Hall of Famer and seems to be in the middle of every rally, giving the impression that he’s still a star. Meanwhile, Iguchi’s basic purpose is seemingly to bunt Scott Podsednik from second to third and field his position with stylish aplomb. So the ‘Stros have the clear advantage here, right? Um, no. Biggio has forgotten how to draw walks and his fielding has turned into a Soriano-esque wreck at Second Base. His .468 slugging is largely a product of the pansy left-field line at Minute Maid Park (19 of his 26 homers came at home), and at this point he’s surviving largely on name value. Iguchi isn’t a great player, but his defense is very good and he at least showed some ability to take pitches, even if he didn’t hit for much power. Advantage: Sox
SS: Juan Uribe (.252/.301/.412) v. Adam Everett (.248/.290/.364)
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to tonight’s edition of “Who Is More Helpless With a Bat In His Hands?”! Today’s contestants: Juan Uribe and Adam Everett! Before we begin, let’s hear what our contestants have to say about themselves before they square off in this classic bout!
JU: I swing the bat hard and occasionally the ball goes over the fence.
AE: Uh, me and Ausmus really battled to be here, but I finally beat him out for the honor of Team’s Suckiest Hitter. Really, I’m honored. I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing when I’m up at the plate. Apparently you’re not supposed to swing at balls five inches off the corner. Now they tell me!
(crowd laughs and cheers)
ANN: Now, it’s time for you, our viewers at home to decide (studio audience yells along) “Who Is More Helpless With a Bat In His Hands?”!!
Advantage: Sox (Does that answer that question?)
3B: Joe Crede (.252/.303/.454) v. Morgan Ensberg (.283/.388/.557)
No contest. Crede had a good ALCS, but that doesn’t wipe away 432 mediocre regular season at-bats. Ensberg didn’t do a darn thing against the Cardinals, while Crede won Game 2 against the Angels with a double and tied Game 5 with a home run. Apparently this makes Crede clutch, and makes Ensberg a postseason dog. Whatever. I’ll take Ensberg’s 36 home runs any day of the week. Advantage: ‘Stros
LF: Scott Podsednik (.290/.351/.349) v. Chris Burke (.248/.309/.368)
Burke might not be the regular left fielder for the entirety of the series, but his hot hitting this postseason has earned him the benefit of the doubt. Both are fine fielders with lots of speed. Podsednik demonstrated a stellar batting eye in the Angels series, walking five times in the last two games and starting several key rallies. Burke had the game-winning homer against Atlanta and hit well against the Cards. Podsednik is a terror if he can get on base and can cause mayhem with his speed. Burke showed no ability to hit in the regular season, but right now he’s looking like the 2005 version of Mark Lemke. Advantage: Sox
CF: Aaron Rowand (.270/.329/.407) v. Willy Taveras (.291/.325/.341)
Rowand’s .736 OPS certainly looks ugly, but Taveras’s .666 mark is positively evil. The Sox have the dubious advantage here, but neither of these guys are any good, at least not at the plate. Taveras got a lot of praise as a rookie for his .291 average and 34 steals, but he was one of the weakest hitters at the top of a batting order. His specialty is speed, but 20 extra base hits in 592 at-bats is horrendous no matter what your game is. Taveras gets a lot of high marks from coaches for his wheels, but he’s a guy White Sox pitchers will be delighted to see at the plate in a pivotal spot in the Series. Advantage: Sox
RF: Jermaine Dye (.274/.333/.512) v. Jason Lane (.267/.316/.499)
These two guys are basically the same player. They both field adequately, don’t take walks, and are above average sluggers whose home run totals are boosted by a great hitting environment. With that said, they’re both pretty good hitters who provide needed punch in weak lineups. Dye is just a tad better, soooooo….Advantage: Sox
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski (.257/.308/.420) v. Brad Ausmus (.258/.351/.331)
Brad Ausmus is soooooooooo bad…
“How bad is he???” Well, you can see the numbers. Pierzynski is most likely to impact the series by doing something characteristically controversial, like snapping Craig Biggio’s jockstrap as he tries to beat out a ground ball. Frankly, the way this postseason is going, if Pierzynski just went ahead and took a whiz in Houston’s water cooler in between innings, I don’t think anybody’d bat an eyelash. Advantage: Sox
DH/Bench: This is one instance where the DH rule in the series won’t be an advantage for the NL team, because who the hell is going to be the DH for Houston? Mike Lamb? Eric Bruntlett? Can Jose Cruz still hit? All the other options are just as unappetizing. The Sox, meanwhile, can start resident crazy man Carl Everett in their home games, then bring him off the bench to pinch hit in Houston. The rest of the White Sox bench is so poor that in the ALCS, other than sending Pablo Ozuna to pinch run in Game 2, Ozzie Guillen didn’t even bother sending any subs in, as none of the other bench players saw the light of day. Unfortunately for the Astros, their bench stinks even worse. Advantage: Sox
Jose Contreras (15-7, 3.61) v. Roger Clemens (13-8, 1.87)
Mark Buehrle (16-8, 3.12) v. Andy Petitte (17-9, 2.39)
Jon Garland (18-10, 3.50) v. Roy Oswalt (20-12, 2.94)
Freddy Garcia (14-8, 3.87) v. Brandon Backe (10-8, 4.76)
The White Sox had the best pitching in the AL and their four starters are a formidable bunch, but the Houston starters are even better, and frankly I don’t think it’s even close. The Sox throw out four guys with ERAs under 4, something that just about every team in the majors would envy. Unfortunately, the Astros have two guys under 3 and one guy under 2. Are you kidding me? The difference between very good pitching and phenomenal pitching is greater than you might think. Houston’s only mismatch is in Game 4; otherwise, they’re throwing Cy-Young caliber pitchers in six of the seven games. That’s a hell of an advantage and it more than makes up for Chicago’s lop-sided win in the batting order matchups. Advantage: ‘Stros
Bullpen: Brad Lidge, Brad Lidge, Brad Lidge. ‘Nuff said. Despite his hiccup in Game 5 of the NLCS, Lidge anchors a solid bullpen. Facing Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, and then Lidge after going up against Houston's Cy Young trinity is a nightmare for any team. The ChiSox have a good bullpen, but newly appointed closer Bobby Jenks has never been the paragon of cranial stability. Imagine this situation: it’s Game Seven, Sox are up by a run, with the middle of the order coming up, and Jenks is on the mound. Do you feel confident with this lead? Ehhhhhh…. Advantage: ‘Stros
“OK, man, just shut up and tell us who you think is going to win.”
Fair enough. This series is going to be touted as a nail-biter, but I don’t see it. I just can’t imagine the White Sox hitting enough to beat the Astros’s starters. Their offense is built around hitting home runs, but none of the four Astro starters gave up more than 19 homers all year, despite playing in a ballpark that's very homer-friendly. The Astros have a pretty crummy lineup, but they have such an imposing pitching staff that they won’t need to score a whole lot of runs to make this a short series. I figure that in the first few games, if Houston can get out and score a few early runs, then it’s pretty much over. Their pitchers made mincemeat of a Cardinal lineup that was a hell of a lot better than Chicago’s, and their hitters did just enough to win. Of course, Chicago proved me way wrong before and they seem to have the mojo this year, but I’m thinking the magic carpet ride is about to end.
Astros in five.
Series MVP: Roger Clemens
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Nice Knowing Ya
The other guys I’m sure will stick around somewhere in the Giants’ system. Matt “I gave up #660” Kinney pitched great in Bonds’ comeback game but was awful in all of his other appearances. He has good stuff and in 2001 was one of the top prospects in the league, so he’s worth keeping around in case he puts two and two together at some point. Shabala showed enough in AAA to make me think he can be a decent backup, but the same was said for Todd Linden, and look where that got us. Clark is a typical all speed, no hit guy and probably has no future in the big leagues. Ramirez got a big hit in a game against the Rockies, but he didn't play enough to get any real read on his abilities. His .445 career OPS is less than stellar.
Then there’s Haad, who was one of the worst hitters I’ve ever seen swing the bat at the major league level (that’s right, even Pete Rose Jr.’s got nothing on this guy). I didn’t think anybody could make Mike Matheny look like Roy Campanella, but Haad certainly accomplished that feat, “hitting” .071 in 28 at-bats. A small sample size, for sure, but I’ve never seen a player look so overmatched against even the most mediocre pitchers. Seriously, I’ve seen high school hitters with better plate awareness than Haad showed this season. It begs the question: what did Justin Knoedler do to the members of the Giant front office to not get the backup catcher job after Vorvit Torrealba was traded? Did he run over Brian Sabean’s dog? Did he impregnate Larry Baer’s daughter? Someone tell me, because it makes no sense that he could be passed over so quickly while Yamid was carrying out his “G” Haad against respectable hitting. It’s “Haad” to believe that Knoedler won’t be backing up Matheny next year, but if Yamid comes back it’s “Haad” luck for everybody. *
*Then again, I’m thinking they should keep Haad around just so I can make bad puns with his name. It’s about the only thing he’s good for, really, and I don’t think Knoedler is nearly as fun. “He Knoedler’d that bunt!”…ugh, see what I mean?
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Stankeye's 10 Most Hated Active Players in Baseball Today.
10. Ramon Hernandez. I actually like Ramon quite a bit, but his one-man demolition job of the Giants this season more than merits his inclusion on this list. For some reason, the sight of a Giant uniform this year set off some sort of Pavlovian reaction in Hernandez’s brain, making him turn into Johnny Bench whenever he came into a game against the Men in Orange. Hernandez's line against the Giants in 2005: .390/.419/.644, with three homers and 14 RBIs. Hernandez missed almost all of August but came back just in time to screw the Giants in September, with the icing on the cake coming when he knocked in seven runs in the 9-6 victory that essentially finished the Giants’ season. Hernandez is easy to root for and isn’t a nearly as loathsome as some of the other characters on this list, but this whole Giants-bashing thing has got to stop.
9. Jeff Weaver. Tall, thin, with wild hair and looking like an ugly Mark Fydrich strung out on blow, not to mention he’s an all-around dick. His wild arm-pumping and shouting on the mound would be less irritating if he were actually some sort of good pitcher, but seeing as how he’s basically a mediocre inning-eater in a pitcher-friendly park, it gets old very fast. And as for his little tiff with Michael Tucker down the first base line last season, dude, if you get directly into a runner’s path as he’s gunning full speed to first base, of course he’s going to crash into you, you jackass! Apparently his brother Jared is just as much of a nincompoop, so at least we have that to look forward too. Yuck.
8. Salomon Torres. Yeah, no explanation needed here. Next…
7. Eric Gagne. If there’s any pitcher in the league who comes across as Satan incarnate while on the mound, it’s Gagne. Big and fat, with unkempt curly hair sticking out beneath his cap, and bizarre glasses hiding crazed red eyes. I’m also sure that hat covers a pretty wicked set of horns, too. If you look real fast, he kind of resembles a depraved clown, one you definitely don’t want to come across in a dark alley. Of course, none of it would draw my ire if he weren’t so awfully good, but mix his 100 mph heat with a nasty curveball and add in the fact that he’s wearing that damn Dodger blue, and you’ve got the work of Lucifer going on here. The Giants seem to fare better than most teams do against Gagne, but that just means that they might put two baserunners on or scratch out a run with a three-run deficit. I can’t recall Gagne ever blowing a save against the Giants, only him giving up a game-winning single to Benito Santiago and then flying into a berzerker rage in the dugout, a sight too hilarious for words.
6. Jason Christiansen. Any Joe Blow with a functional left arm could have done just as poorly as Christiansen did for the Giants from 2002 to 2004, so it seemed that he was as good as gone after his third straight year of impersonating a burning log. But nooooooo, Brian Sabean had to go and toss a million bucks his way, and we were stuck with his garbage for another year. Not only did he pitch just as horribly as expected, he also apparently got into a mid-season wrestling match with Barry Bonds that may or may not have re-aggravated Bonds’ aching knee. I’m just speechless at how inexcusable this is. Christiansen was mercifully traded to the Angels for a jar of antifreeze in August and, to my knowledge, hasn’t yet broken one of the Rally Monkey’s ribs in a whirling bout of fisticuffs.
5. Wayne Franklin. Shittius Pitcherus, in its natural habitat, the Yankee bullpen. Bronx fans got a chance to witness first-hand what Giants fans endured for a whole season from Franklin in 2004. Now, I’m not saying Franklin was bad, but William VanLandingham and Tim Scott were seen giving him pitching advice last season. Honestly, of all the louts in the ’04 Giants bullpen, Franklin was the worst, which is basically entering the Manos: Hands of Fate realm of gawd-awfulness. The guy threw batting practice all year, but still somehow found himself facing Steve Finley with the bases loaded and the season on the line. Yeah, that was destined to end well.
4. Steve Finley. What's this guy's problem? He's basically made a career out of killing the Giants, and when they finally get fed up and try to acquire him in the winter of 2005, he balks and joins the Angels. Finley's career line against the Giants is .311/.374/.477, with 26 home runs. The list of instances in which he's hurt the G-men is as long as the Great Wall of China, and it all culminated in his division-winning grand slam last season that eliminated the Giants from playoff contention. Appropriately, it might have been his last hurrah, as he completely fell off a cliff with LA this year. I've never in my life seen one guy own a team like Finley has, so when he retires Giants fans will be the first to see him out the door.
3. Ricky Ledee Good God, I hate this bastard. Acquired in a deadline deal in 2004 for Felix Rodriguez, Ledee proceeded to total up 6 measly hits in 53 at-bats with the Giants, putting up an unspeakably bad line of .113/.200/.151. Seeing as how the Giants bullpen single-handedly cost them the division last year, trading away Rodriguez for two months of Ledee's helpless flailing seems horrible in retrospect. Naturally, Ledee goes to the Dodgers this season and hits .278 as a fourth outfielder, with several key hits in games against the Giants. In fact, his eight hits in 26 at-bats against the Giants this year were two more than he had in those 53 with the team last season. Just kill me now.
2. Livan Hernandez. Livo's career has followed a strange path indeed, with most of it seemingly destined to screw the Giants over. He has a great half-season in 1997, plays a key role in beating the Giants in the Division Series that year, then is inexplicably labeled a big game pitcher based solely on the strength of Eric Gregg's amorphous strike zone. After winning a world title, he has a bad year and a half with Florida, is traded to the Giants, and has one good season, winning 17 games in 2000. Then comes the meltdown. Livan discovers the all-you-can-eat buffets in SF, grows fat as a toad, and goes 13-15 with a 5.24 ERA in 2001 and loses another 16 games in 2002. The Giants somehow made the World Series in 2002 despite him, and the greatest insult of all was when Livan incredibly found himself on the mound in Game 7, despite having been torn to shreds in Game 3 and having a crappy year all-around. To the surprise of no one, he gets slapped around and is gone by the third inning, as the Giants end up losing the game and the series. In the offseason, Livan decides to vent his frustration by taking a golf club to some poor old man's dome. Hey, maybe he was in the right. We don't know.
Brian Sabean decides enough is enough and unloads Hernandez for table scraps. The rest is pound-your-head-into-the-desk history. Livan's career with the Giants: 35-45, 4.44 ERA. With the Expos/Nationals: 41-35, 3.60 ERA. He's now one of the best starters in the league, and he no longer resembles Philip Seymour Hoffman's stunt double to boot. It just leaves a terrible, terrible taste in the mouth.
1. Neifi Perez. I know it's cliche now amongst the Giants blogosphere to put Neifi at the top of a most hated list, but His Evilness deserves it. Neifi is one of the most bloody awful hitters to ever put on a major league uniform. He polluted the Giant batting order for a year and a half and I'll never forgive him for it. For some reason, there are still those who actually defend Neifi, as if his .571 OPS with the Giants in 2004 wasn't enough evidence that he's hideous. Giant fans know better, and also realize that after having to endure Neifi for so long (at least it seemed like forever), it just can't get any worse. Of course, once he leaves he hits .390 with the Cubs and smacks the living crap out of the ball for the first month of 2005.
Oh, and let's not forget that home run he hit off of Robb Nen in 1998 to send the Giants into their ill-fated playoff game with the Cubs. Yes, he's a Giant-killer, inside and out.
Ahh!! Look Away! Look Away!!!!
Dave Henderson Redux?
What Pujols did last night was the kind of thing that turns men into baseball gods. When people speak of money players, this is what they’re talking about. With the season on the line and no margin for error, and facing the meanest, nastiest, fire-breathing S.O.B. to take the mound in years, Pujols deposits one somewhere between Pluto and Endor. What Pujols did to that ball, well, make the children and the men of the cloth leave the premises, and then I’ll start to describe it. The way Pujols strolled up the first base line, knowing the ball was headed safely toward the railroad tracks somewhere out there, with his chin held high and his chest pumped…the guy just looked like Zeus. There have been plenty of heroics this postseason, but nothing non-Bondsian in recent memory has even come close to embodying the traditional Ruthian-type portrait of the Baseball Hero that Pujols did last night.
What we saw in Game 5 was a thing of beauty, an electrifying see-saw battle between two proud teams, one on the brink of extinction, the other within an eyelash of its first World Series ever. Ace pitchers battled tirelessly, star players lived up to their billing, and the heart of an entire city was torn out with one mighty swing of the bat. The Astros seemed like a lock to win their first pennant in their 40-year existence, but then Albert Pujols had to go all Dave Henderson on Brad Lidge and spoil the party. In the blink of an eye, Minute Maid Park was transformed from a mosh pit into a morgue. The looks on the faces of the Astro players and personnel were priceless. Andy Petitte visibly yelled “Oh my God” in disbelief as if the card shark across the table had busted out pocket aces to beat his kings. Roger Clemens sat there with an expression of quiet disgust, like the highly conservative father sitting through his daughter’s lesbian wedding. In the VIP boxes, Nolan Ryan looked like he was suddenly in need of a good laxative. The fans in the ballpark had their hands on their heads in sickened incredulity.
But such is baseball. One minute it seems like nothing can go wrong, the next you’re on a plane to St. Louis, making last minute cancellations on those movie reservations you had for Wednesday. The Cards still have to get through two aces, but they’re in the best possible frame of mind in facing such a hurdle. They now go home to play in front of what will be a frenzied Busch Stadium crowd, coming off of their most emotional victory of the season. The Astros, meanwhile, have to pick themselves back up after being so close to the finish line and not play like a bunch of kids who just had their pants pulled down by the school bully in the middle of recess. When this same thing happened to the Angels in 1986, they too had to go back on the road to face a Red Sox team playing with a second wind, and they got stomped. The ‘Stros have their best guns ready to fire, but even the nastiest Clemens splitter might not be able to beat the Cardinals after this knockout of a game.
Monday, October 17, 2005
White Sux, No Longer
In the World Series, you would think the Sox are a sentimental favorite because of their sordid playoff history, but not so fast. I 'd be willing to bet that no matter who the Sox end up facing, a majority of viewers will be rooting for the other team based solely on the fact that A.J. Pierzynski is a jack-off.
here's some proof that I'm not the only one who can't stand Tim McCarver.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Pointless Fun With Pics
Move Over, Don Denkinger, There's a New Goat in Town
One moment the Halos are calmly walking back to the dugout, excited in the fact that Mark Buehrle is no longer in the game to further tantalize their bats. The next A.J. Pierzynski is busting down the first base line like a crazed wildebeest, and before the Angels can say Mickey Owen, the game is lost. In the span of one loony play, the game, the spark, and the momentum are all yanked rudely from the Angels’ grasp.
We can all get hung up on whether or not the ball was truly caught, but I don’t really think that’s the big dispute. In truth, the television replays don’t give us any definitive answer to whether Josh Paul actually caught the ball before it hit the ground, regardless of what the nitwits on FOX were saying. You can argue either way: in full speed it looks like Paul catches it, no problem. In slow-motion it looks like he might have trapped it against the dirt. The real problem was Doug Eddings’ bizarre out call, which no one can seem to figure out, least of all Eddings himself (after the game, Eddings claimed that signal meant “strike three”, not “out”, though this explanation reeks of blatant ass-covering to me).
But while the Angels may have gotten screwed by a bad call, it wasn’t Doug Eddings who decided to essentially ignore pinch runner Pablo Ozuna, and it wasn’t Eddings who decided to gas a fat fastball at the letters to Joe Crede. The final games of this series will be what separates the men from the boys. The Angels can’t fall into a trap where they feel they got jobbed out of a game so they just stop trying. This is Oakland Raider syndrome. Everybody remembers the Snow Game, I’m sure, and everybody remembers the way the Raiders bitched about the tuck play for the entire freaking offseason like they deserved to win or something. The same thing happened to the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series, when they were screwed by a bad call by Don Denkinger in Game 6, then spent the entire Game 7 simultaneously whining and self-destructing on their way to an 11-0 loss.
Unlike those two teams, who had relatively little time to recover, the Angels have five games to get their heads back in order and are advised to have a short memory. Sure, they’re going home for three, but the ChiSox have all the momentum now and the Halos go into Game 3 after the equivalent of being kicked in the crotch (hey, A.J. Pierzynski was the centerpiece to the whole fiasco). The Angels now are in danger of crumbling under the weight of this call, and Mike Scoscia, one of the better players’ managers in the league, faces what might be the toughest challenge of his career. Even if LA ends up going down in defeat, they’ll look noble if they can bounce back and make it competitive. If they win the series, they’ll look like champions of character and the paragon of resiliency. However, if they stop playing and blame this one call for their poor play, they’ll be the biggest losers of them all.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen, the New Face of Sunday Night!
It's bad enough that The Simpsons, which just a decade ago was only the most brilliant show in the history of American TV, has de-evolved into a labored, unwatchable mess. It's sad that Family Guy has ceased being utterly hilarious and instead seems way too focused on stretching the boundaries of good taste than, you know, being funny. It's also a downer that Seth McFarlane was allowed to make American Dad and put it out onto the airwaves. This show might have been amusing if it weren't essentially a bad version of Family Guy with a homosexual alien taking the place of an irreverant talking dog.
The most tragic element of the new lineup, though, is that Michael Rapaport was allowed to have his own show, and a comedy no less! This is a guy who hasn't had a good role since his T.J. Hooker-obsessed character made a wild dash from the middle of a wild gunfight in True Romance. If you haven't seen The War at Home, it just may be the worst thing on television, and yes, I am taking Live with Carson Daly into account. The show's premise involves a 30-something dad who is afraid of responsibility as his kids grow up and his wife constantly nags him. He'd rather just drink a beer than do some parenting, and hilarity is allegedly supposed to ensue. It doesn't.
Rapaport seemingly equates comedic acting with baffled facial expressions and manic arm gyrating. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to give this guy his own sitcom?!?!? Thankfully this trash won't be resurfacing until after the playoffs, but here's hoping for some Groundhog Day scenario where October keeps repeating itself just so Americans won't have to watch The War at Home ever again.
A rematch of last year’s NLCS, and this one should be just as nail-biting. The Astros are coming off a stunning Game 4 comeback victory and seemingly have all the momentum, but don’t underestimate the momentum a series sweep can give a team like the Cardinals. When you totally dominate an opponent as the Cardinals did, even one as weak as the Padres, it gives your team all kinds of confidence and a feeling of invincibility. When you scratch and claw to defeat an opponent it can bring a lot of wear and tear to your team. As such, the Cards enter this series with a lot of well-rested pitchers and veteran hitters.
These two teams are interesting because of their respective dearth of pitching. The Cardinals and Astros finished one-two in the NL in ERA, and both have starting pitching to die for. The Astros have three Cy Young-caliber starters and the Cardinals have five starters who would be no less than a number two on any other team in the majors. Both teams also have strong bullpens, although the ‘Stros have a distinct advantage because their unhittable closer Brad Lidge has proven himself more durable than Jason Isringhausen, his counterpart on the Cardinals, and thus is more capable of going for more than one inning in any given game. In a series that could be decided by a few runs, this could end up being crucial.
In a short series, though, the Astros have a substantial advantage in their starters because they can throw out an ace-type in six of the seven games, a luxury that few recent playoff teams have ever had. The Cardinals, while full of strong starters, have one guy who can dominate in Chris Carpenter, but the rest certainly aren’t Cy Young contenders. Meanwhile, the Astros’ unholy trinity of Clemens/Petitte/Oswalt is better than any combination of three of the five Cardinals starters, and while Brandon Backe makes for a weak fourth starter against a stronger Cardinal counterpart, the matchups in the other six games are more than enough to make up for this. You figure that Chris Carpenter, the Cards’ ace, is roughly equal to any of the three Astro aces. After him, Mark Mulder, Matt Morris, Jason Marquis, and Jeff Suppan are clearly inferior matchups. Games 1 and 5 will be toss ups from the starting pitching standpoint, but the Astros are in the driver’s seat in Games 2, 3, 6, and 7.
Of course, this might not matter much if Houston hits like it did in the regular season. With two of their best hitters (Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent) leaving in the offseason and the rest of the lineup populated with either aging and/or injured former stars (Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio) or just plain sucky hitters (Willy Taveras, Brad Ausmus) the Astros struggled to score runs, ranking 11th in the NL in scoring despite playing in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league. Their offensive ineptitude was visibly reflected in the record of Roger Clemens, who had one of the single greatest pitching seasons of all time, yet won only 13 games because the team couldn’t score any runs for him. Their offense showed some resiliency against Atlanta, especially in Game 4, but most of the mashing came against an awful Atlanta bullpen; St. Louis’ pen is one of the best in the league. Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg are legitimately great hitters, but when you realize the Astros’ season may have been saved by incredibly unlikely home runs by Ausmus and Chris Burke, you can start to see the extent of their weak batting order.
Contrast that to the Cardinals’ lineup which, though not the slaughterhouse it was in 2004, managed to finish 3rd in the NL in runs. They have power, patience, and big sticks in the middle of the order, none bigger than potential MVP Albert Pujols. They’re a team fully capable of putting a game away early with a big inning and then letting their pitching do the work, as they did with the Padres. If there’s any lineup up to the task of combating the Astros’ aces, it’s this one.
The Cards are the most balanced team in the major leagues, but sometimes balance isn’t as important in the regular season as it is in the playoffs. Their lineup may be great, but the ‘Stros’ aces would be a formidable challenge for the ’27 Yankees and great pitching like this tends to defeat even the best hitting in the playoffs (see 1963, 1965, 1969, 1988 World Series). Houston’s offense is pretty meek, but they should be able to score enough runs for their aces to make the difference, and they should squeak away in seven games, a nice little bit of revenge after being taken down by St. Louis in last year’s playoffs.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Letter to Tim McCarver
During Sunday's telecast, however, Tim McCarver went on a tangent so inane and blatantly ignorant that I just couldn't go without pasting some kind of angry retort on here. For those who weren't watching, the Angels had just gone up 2-0 in the game, prompting Thom Brennaman to start gushing about their offensive philosophy of being aggressive at the plate and hitting well with runners on base. I'm paraphrasing here, but Brennaman basically said that the Angels weren't worried about walks or any of that nonsense. He stated with this sort of pseudo-bravado that the Angels followed a philosophy that "when you put runners on base, you get 'em in!", apparently inferring that the concept of knocking in runners was eschewed by every other major league team in baseball. This then led McCarver to go on a mind-numbingly idiotic rant about the merits of "small-ball" and the problems with the "Moneyball" philosophy, as evidenced by the Angels' supposedly stellar hitting attack. He even went on to rip on the A's by name without any provocation whatsoever, and used faux-statistics to help "back up" his argument.
In response, here's a letter I devised to send to McCarver. I know I shouldn't get too worked up over this, but sometimes stupidity is so glaring that it can't go unanswered.
No offense, but you are a douchebag. Your brand of uninsightful, uninformative, and sickeningly biased commentating has been polluting the baseball airwaves since back when I was in short pants, and nowadays when you come on the air I usually just respond accordingly and turn the sound down. Unfortunately, Sunday's broadcast was one of those few times that I forgot to hit mute, and I was affected by it in ways I could never imagine. I know by simply writing this I'm basically validating your existence as an unfortunately respected broadcaster instead of just ignoring you like I usually do, but I just can't help myself this time.
Your anti-Moneyball rant on Sunday was one of the most pathetic and defensive things I've ever heard. No one brought up Moneyball, no one brought up the A's, no one was ripping on the potential benefits of small-ball, but you had to go on and throw your two cents into the whole stathead v. traditionalist debate anyway, didn't you?
Let's see, where do we start? First, you stated that the Angels didn't have to worry about walks because they were so good at getting runners over, stealing bases, hit-and-runs, hitting with runners on, etc. You know, all the "little things" that supposedly win you championships. Then, inexplicably, you started comparing them to the A's, a team not even in the playoffs but that you felt the need to compare to anyway because of their differing philosophy. "The Angels had a man go from first to third on singles 30 more times than the A's did," you said. "That makes a lot of difference."
Oh, really? Let's see, the Angels scored 761 runs this season, placing them 7th among the 14 AL teams, or exactly middle of the pack. They weren't a bad offense, for sure, but not exactly great. What was one of those teams who finished ahead of them in runs scored this season, Tim? Oh, that's right...the A's! Oakland scored 772 runs, 11 more than the Halos. So explain something to me, Tim, if getting a man from first to third on a single is so damned important, why the hell did the A's score more runs than the Angels?!?! You also sang the praises of LA's MLB-leading 161 stolen bases as an example of their offensive brilliance. Well, the A's finished dead-last in the majors in stolen bags yet, amazingly, scored more runs. Again, if stolen bases are so important, why did Oakland score more runs? Notice how I used evidence and numbers here, Tim? You might want to take notes.
Every night I look up at the stars and wish that 30 years from now stupid, narrow-minded announcers like you will be in the vast minority in the baseball world and objective, intelligent people will be calling games and making it fun for smart baseball people. Your tangent Sunday reeked of an increasingly senile old man desperately defending his old ideals as they become ever more irrelevant. It's OK for a traditionalist to argue his way, but the self-indulgent manner in which you went about attacking statistical analysis without even a shred of understanding of how the system works just goes to prove the stathead community right that you and your ilk are just a dying breed so desperate to keep your dumb opinions alive that you'll resort to baseless name-calling to defend yourself. Every time you come on the air, you disgust me and every other intelligent, open-minded baseball person in America (and before you start dropping names, Tim, no Joe Morgan does not count as an intelligent baseball person). For this, you get the longest, nastiest bit of stankeye ever bestowed upon an individual.
I know that this letter will be ignored by you, and my plea for you to caulk your mouth shut will go unheeded, but just know how many people loathe you and how many potentially prosperous baseball minds you're polluting every time you show your face on FOX, and maybe think about it for a while.
John Ryder, Give 'Em Some Stankeye
P.S. If you can go ahead and neuter Steve Lyons for me, all is forgiven.
The Angels can't celebrate too long after their victory over the hated Yankees, because they've got to hop on a plane and square off against the White Sox just 24 hours after game time last night.
These two teams are so evenly matched, it's scary. They both have tremendous pitching, with both of their staffs ranking in the top three in ERA this season. They both have very good bullpens, though LA has a distinct edge. And they both have lineups geared around an overrated "small-ball" philosophy. LA's batting order produced 761 runs, good for 7th in the AL, while Chicago's 741 runs scored ranked 9th.
The White Sox should win this series because their pitching is better and they have that home-field advantage. US Cellular Field is a great park to hit home runs in, and the Sox are perfectly suited to take advantage, having hit 200 dingers this season and featuring one 40-HR guy, one 30-HR guy, and two more 20-HR players. The Angels, meanwhile, are surprisingly bereft of power behind Vladimir Guerrero. After Vlad's 32 homers, Garret Anderson was the runner-up with 17.
At home this season, the Sox hit 115 homers, while the Halos hit 76. While the Angels like to tout their prowess with hitting with runners in scoring position (they hit .296 as a team) that statistic is highly combustible and has a great chance of crapping out in a seven-game series. Pure power tends to hold up better in the playoffs than a group of singles hitters, so given the Sox' ability to mash in their home park, I give them the advantage, although it must be said that the Angels plowed through the postseason in 2002 with largely the same offensive philosophy (albeit with better and younger hitters).
If Colon can't return and pitch effectively, it could spell big trouble for the Angels as well, because their only stable commodity now is Lackey. Washburn battled the flu and missed his LDS start, Byrd got bombed by the Yanks and gives up a lot of home runs, and Ervin Santana, despite pitching well against the Yanks, has thrown together brilliant starts and Scott Ruffcorn-from-Hell performances throughout the season. Facing a rested Contreras/Buehrle/Garland trio, the Angels might be in for a rough time of it if they can't get Colon back in 21-win form.
My expert (huah?!?) prediction: White Sox win the first two games, drop Games 3 and 4 in Anaheim, squeak out Game 5, and close it out again at home in Game 6, with Stankeye fave A.J. Pierzynski getting MVP honors. No, really.
3 Out Of 4 Ain't Bad
"The Red Soxs’ pitching has been crummy all year, but that’s going to be more of an issue against a team like the Angels or the Yanks, not one with an offense as piddling as the Chicago’s."
Silly me. I guess Boston's pitching was that bad, as they gave up seven Chicago home runs (including Scott Podsednik's first bomb all season!), and 21 runs in the three games.
"Sure, the White Sox got here with good pitching, and good pitching supposedly always beats good hitting in the postseason, but would you feel confident with Jon Garland going against Manny, Papi, Jesus Damon, et al.?"
Welp, that's more egg on my face. The Red Sox scored just nine runs in the three games and got on base at a .295 clip. Granted, the fact that Boston was outscored 21-9 is skewed a bit by the Game 1 trouncing, in which Boston was basically done after the first inning, but Chicago's pitching staff still played a huge role in neutering the Red Sock attack in the more closely contested Games 2 and 3.
All right, enough of what I did wrong. Didn't I predict something accurate? Here's what I said about Atlanta-Houston:
"The kind of matchup that usually features close and late nail-biters inexplicably being decided by guys like Pete Orr and Jose Vizcaino."
Orr and Vizcaino didn't do much, but Chris Burke, who launched the game-winning home run in Sunday's 18-inning marathon, certainly merits the obscure description. With one swing, Burke firmly ensconced his place in baseball lore, in the same category as Bucky Dent or Al Weis.
"The Braves and the first round of the playoffs go together about as well as Michael Rapaport and well-timed comedy."
It's got to be brutal to be a Braves fan these past few years, constantly winning division titles, confident that this will be The Year, like 1995, only to see your team knocked out of the playoffs in increasingly gruesome ways. Surrendering a series-ending blast to a weak-hitting utility player just has to be the icing on the Castor Oil-flavored cake.
Oh, and if you've haven't subjected yourself to The War at Home, consider yourself very, very lucky.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
AL MVP – Alex Rodriguez
Comments: He was quite simply the best hitter in the best lineup in the AL if not the MLB, and he will probably win the Gold Glove ™ to boot.
AL Cy Young – Johan Santana
Comments: He didn’t have the wins that a lot of voters like, but to make a case for anyone else here is just silly. He was the most dominant pitcher posting the leading number of strikeouts and he finished second in the ERA race.
AL ROY – Scott Kazmir
Comments: This pick will go a long way to backing up anyone’s feelings that Felix Hernandez and Matt Cain can be successful next year. Kazmir at age 21 put up the kind of season that no other 21 year old has since Rick Ankiel. Hopefully he won’t implode the way Ankiel did.
NL MVP – Derek Lee
Comments: It was an absolute toss up between him and Pujols for this one, and the final OPS numbers and the fact that Lee put up impressively similar numbers, compared to Pujols, despite the fact that he had no one in front of him in the lineup was very impressive.
NL Cy Young – Roger Clemens
Comments: Gotta concede it here although there are about 5 pitchers who could concievably win this award. He had one of the great seasons of all time playing half his games in a known hitters park. I really can’t say anything else about him that hasn’t already been said.
NL ROY – Ryan Howard
Comments: When your superstar 1B goes down and you can plug a guy in like this who can hit for an OPS of 900 that is quite a luxury. I also selected Howard because the NL crop of rookies was relatively thin.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Tomko, Fiend! How I Loathe Thee!
Tomko’s performance Sunday was such an insult that I can't even bring myself to look at his pitching line, even if it was a beautiful complete game victory. I’m sure Tomko was pitching with a ton of anger and frustration behind him, but he could have fallen off the mound and died in the second inning for all I cared. His hideous performance last Tuesday essentially cemented his departure this offseason; I mean, if Dustan Mohr gets axed for falling over a bullpen mound, what chance does Tomko stand after this disgrace?
With the season ending, the Giants need to take a close look at their team and do some evaluating. It’s easy to get duped into thinking that this is a good team if Bonds is in the lineup, since they played reasonably well after his return. Well, it’s not. The starting pitching needs an upgrade and so does the lineup. When we take into account that a couple guys (Matheny, Vizquel) were probably hitting over their heads, and ain’t getting any younger or better, an acquisition to improve the batting order looks essential.
Here are some of the pros I see from the Giants as the 2005 season closes:
-Randy Winn was a steal. Even if he maintains only 75% if the production he carried with him after the July trade (a safe bet, considering his .359 average grossly outweighs his career performance), he’ll be a catalyst at the top of the lineup. Winn’s presence solidified the center field defense and mercifully got Jason Ellison out of the lineup, and his bat almost single-handedly made Giants baseball watchable again in the second half. He was also a threat to hit for the cycle in just about every game. He was amazing, stupendous, brilliant…the superlative machine is about to overload, so we’ll just end by saying it was one hell of a ride.
-Noah Lowry, Matt Cain, and Brad Hennessey. Lowry was sensational in the second half, and the uptick in his strikeout numbers is a great omen. Cain just looks like the real deal, especially if he can get those control problems ironed out. The way he overmatched major league hitters, at the ripe age of 20 no less, was truly a wonder to behold. Hennessey is a little tougher to project, but you have to love the way he finished the season. His K/BB is mediocre and he’s eerily reminiscent of Kirk Rueter when he takes the hill, but as we all know, Rueter flummoxed hitters for nearly a decade.
-Omar’s defense. Vizquel certainly didn’t disappoint with his the glove, turning in one Tinker Bell-esque play after another and wowing the otherwise terminally bored SBC season-ticket holders.
-Bonds’ performance. Nobody knew what to expect from the King upon his return to the throne, but he brought little doubt to his grovelers that he had lost very little at the plate. His performance in the field is another issue, but I think we can all live with a few extra loopers falling in for hits if Barry can do his usual .1400 OPS thing next season.
-Moises Alou. His contract looked short-sighted when it was finalized this winter, but who can really complain about what Alou brought to the table? He spent two stints on the DL and did his usual lost lamb act on the basepaths, but at the plate he was just as productive as ever. It’s difficult to say if he can repeat next season, but his contract is looking like the only good one Sabean signed this winter.
The young bullpen arms, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Munter, and Jack Taschner. One good thing to take away from this season is that the Giants finally wised up and jettisoned the old, lifeless corpses of Jim Brower, Matt Herges, and Jason Christiansen and finally gave young, cheap guys like the aforementioned trio a chance. None of these guys cost a dime, they all have potential to be terrific, and at worst they couldn’t possibly pitch as horribly as Brower, et al. Accardo was flaky, but his stuff is electric. Munter’s K/BB ratio was ugly, but his ability to get groundball after groundball should be quite valuable. Think of a better version of Julian Tavarez. And Taschner was nasty, and frankly better than many name-brand LOOGYs being trotted to the mound in the majors. If Benitez starts living up to his contract, Hawkins regains his 2002-04 form, and Eyre comes back, the Giants could find themselves with a very good bullpen in 2006.
OK, now the cons, although there are so many, I’m just going to point out the major ones. Wait, there are a ton of those, too. D’oh!
-Pedro Feliz. As a part-time player who gets 300 at-bats and plays three different positions and hits lefties well, as he did in 2003, then Feliz is a worthwhile player to have on your team. If he’s getting more than 600 plate appearances and is being relied on repeatedly to come through with the game on the line, then this guy just sucks ass. Brian Sabean needs to milk Feliz’s 20 homers and 80 RBIs for all they’re worth and for God’s sake get something of value for him now, before other teams realize that he’s just a black hole. His habit of hacking away at anything within a stone’s throw of home plate has just gotten old, and when you toss up a .717 OPS and soak up as many outs as Feliz does, it’s hard to find the positives. At mid-season, I think Feliz was perilously close to finding himself on the receiving end of a long-term contract extension, but thankfully his unproductive second half shed light on his true colors.
-Omar’s offense. It’s not really fair to pick on Omar when the team as a whole really couldn’t hit worth beans, but his second-half collapse helped justify the nay-saying over his controversial signing in the offseason. Anybody wise baseball mind will tell you that building an offense is more essential than building defense, so paying up for a 38-year-old Vizquel seemed really silly after his bat went into the tank. Think about it: yeah, he played great defense, but what the hell did that defense really do in the standings? Are you going to tell me that the Giants weren’t better off saving the money they spent on Vizquel, Matheny, and Benitez and using it to get Nomar Garciaparra, a guy who could have provided tenfold offensive production at shortstop at the expense of some defense? I don’t think so. It’s kind of like settling for all the mediocre Housewives when you could have Eva. Regardless of whether Vizquel starts hitting again or not, he has no business at the top of the order anymore. This same rant can basically go for Mike Matheny, too.
-First Base. J.T. Snow walks, plays good defense, gets some big hits occasionally, and charms the ladies in the crowd. That would be all well and good if the Giants had the kind of power at other positions that could support his four home runs. But when Pedro Feliz is hitting weak grounders on every first-pitch breaking ball out of the zone and Edgardo Alfonso is taking a sabbatical from hitting home runs, you need some production from your first sacker. I’ve always loved J.T. for his hustle, plate discipline, and his winning personality, but at this point he really doesn’t need to be kept around, unless he comes back for cheap as a spot starter/late-inning defensive replacement type.
The in-house solution is a rather unappetizing one in Lance Neikro. I’d rather give him a shot to prove himself than sit through another season of Snow, but I’m really skeptical about Neikro’s potential for success as a regular. His .587 OPS against right-handed pitching screams Greg Colbrunn-esque platoon player, and his hacktastic ways at the plate aren’t exactly welcome in a lineup full of brain dead hackers (and not just the Caribbean kind). It’d be nice to see a Paul Konerko-type acquired, but given the Giants’ tight payroll, it won’t happen. I wouldn’t mind seeing a younger, better version of Snow (Doug Mientkiewicz, perhaps?) signed for cheap to stick in against tough righties, while Neikro gets most of the at-bats and does his usual filleting of lefties.
-Jason Schmidt. Whatever the reason, Schmidt looked a lot more like Pedro Gomez than Pedro Martinez this season. His control was screwy all year and his velocity was down, making his changeup less effective. If Schmidt has suddenly decided to revert back to his pre-2002 ways, then maybe picking up his $10 million option isn’t such a good idea. Of course, the pickle is, if the Giants pick it up, and Schmidt pitches the same or regresses even more, you’ve got $10 million of suck soaking up your payroll. If they decline it and he goes to the Dodgers and wins 20 games and the Dodgers, God forbid, win the World Series, well, the Giants would just look like a bunch of big, fat asses then, wouldn’t they? It’s hard to say if the 2002-04 Schmidt is ever coming back, but it should be said that if he returns, maybe Felipe should ease off the throttle and stop making Schmidt throw 140 pitches when he was gassed two innings ago. Which reminds me…
-Felipe Alou. Ol’ Cream of Wheat Brains may have been a hell of a manager back in the day, but he’s proven without a shadow of a doubt that he has no place at the helm of a major league baseball team in the 21st Century. His complete mismanagement of this team wasn’t the main reason the Giants lost 87 games, but it certainly didn’t help. Alou’s laundry list of idiotic decisions is too extensive and gory and will be the subject of a separate rant. But among Felipe’s biggest crimes include overworking his starting pitchers to a seriously dangerous point, mismanaging and/or overworking the bullpen, a mind-boggling insistence on batting Pedro Feliz third for long stretches, a hideous over-reliance on bunting, and a general inability to inspire his team, drawing criticism from his own son for the team’s non-existent chemistry. Apparently, Alou summons comparisons to the devil himself to anybody who dares question him, but I’ll risk the fire and brimstone and say that it’s time for Felipe to go. Hmm, and wouldn’t you know it, Jim Tracy was just let go…hint, hint.
And Now, Your Obligatory Playoff Predictions!
Boston 3, Chicago 1
This is perhaps the most deceptively lop-sided matchup of the playoffs. Sure, the White Sox got here with good pitching, and good pitching supposedly always beats good hitting in the postseason, but would you feel confident with Jon Garland going against Manny, Papi, Jesus Damon, et al.? Yeah, didn’t think so.
The White Sox are sort of a sympathetic pick because of their long history of playoff misery (their championship drought dates back even longer than Boston’s did before last season!), but they played like an also-ran in the second half of the season after devastating the AL in the first half. The Red Soxs’ pitching has been crummy all year, but that’s going to be more of an issue against a team like the Angels or the Yanks, not one with an offense as piddling as the Chicago’s. The Pale Hose may get good marks from the old-timer baseball types for their hustle and their ability to “manufacture runs”, or some such, but when they’re down 8-3 for the third time in the series it’s going to take more than Scott Podsednik’s magic legs and Ozzie Guillen’s maniacal frothing to save them. Prediction: Kenny Williams is really going to be missing Carlos Lee by the end of this series.
Just a curio: This is the first time ever that the two Sox teams have met in the playoffs, although I guess that really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since the Whites have made the postseason exactly four times since divisional play was introduced in 1969.
Angels 3, Yankees 2
This is going to be a helluva series, complete with star power on both sides and that extra-added ingredient known as anti-Yankeeism. Vlad vs. Arod? L.A. vs. N.Y.? I mean, isn’t this what playoff baseball is all about?
The Yankees have huge questions with their starting pitching, but they have the offense and the bullpen to make up for it. The Angels, on the other hand, have an equally frightening bullpen and solid starting pitching to make up for their fairly poor lineup. The Halos’ starters are a tad overrated, but what does overrated even mean when the other team is countering Bartolo Colon and John Lackey with Aaron Small and Jaret Wright? The Yanks should push it to five games regardless, but the only way I see them winning is if Randy Johnson can start two games. The Halos should squeak by based solely on the strength of their superior starting pitching and their home field advantage (courtesy of Buck Schowalter), but this should easily be the most exciting LDS.
Astros 3, Braves 2
This series looks like kind of a toss-up, until we realize it’s the Braves we’re talking about here. As is well-documented, the Braves and the first round of the playoffs go together about as well as Michael Rapaport and well-timed comedy. The last time the Bravos missed the playoffs, Arnold Scwarzenegger was kicking ass in T2 instead of looking like an ass in California politics, and George W. Bush was busy fucking up baseball organizations instead of world powers. However, in that time Ted’s boys have won just one championship, in 1995. The rest of the time, thanks to assorted Lonnie Smiths, Brad Clontzes, and Russ Ortizezes, they’ve dropped the ball more times than the 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Whatever the Braves’ recent postseason trauma, this should be a good series, featuring some great, great pitching. Facing the Astros’ Cy Young-caliber trinity of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, and Roy Oswalt has to be a terrifying proposition to any opposing team in a short series. The Braves counter with their own terrific trio: Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, and the latest Leo Mazzone pseudo-miracle, Jorge Sosa. There won’t be too much hitting going on, but there should still be some fun baseball in the kind of matchup that usually features close and late nail-biters inexplicably being decided by guys like Pete Orr and Jose Vizcaino.
Cardinals 3, Padres 0
In the next day or so, whether it be over the airwaves or on the written page, you may run into some overzealous commentators insisting that the Padres are a dangerous team fully capable of upsetting an overconfident Cardinal team. Don’t buy it. The Pads are a team that floated Gump-like into the playoffs, and their 82-80 record looks considerably worse when you consider that they’d be lucky to win 75 games if they played in any other division in the majors. They’re not a group of red-asses riding a hot streak like the 1973 Mets, and they’re not a team with a fluky home-field advantage like the 1987 Twins. They’re just a bad team playing in a horrid division.
Meanwhile, the Cards are the class of the National League. They have no glaring weaknesses, and are as well-rounded as any team in the playoffs. They have the same strong lineup, strong bullpen, and the absolute best five man rotation in baseball. When Mark Mulder is your least consistent starter, you know you’ve got it made.
The Pads aren’t going to get demolished, but I doubt they’ll make it particularly interesting. They could even steal a game that Jake Peavy starts, but the Cards look like a good bet to sleepwalk right through this series in preparation for the NLCS.