This will not be as exhaustive a preview as was the one for Yankees-Rangers because I see this one more in terms of momentum, and expectations not met and others exceeded.
Whether or not his team actually beats the New York Yankees, I have to start this by standing up and applauding Ron Washington’s primary gamble.
Versus All Minnesota LHP 11-39 .282 two 2B, two 3BVersus Fuentes & Mijares 1-7 .143Versus Duensing & Liriano 10-32 .313
Admittedly it’s a small sample (two starts and five relief appearances) but there are some indicators. Though Marcus Thames tattooed Brian Duensing for a home run, none of the Yankee Seven hit a long ball off any of the lefties, even though Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, and Teixeira all batted righty against them.
It is 6-1 Yankees, one out in the top of the eighth, the bases are loaded and Kerry Wood has just left the mound to deafening silence.
While all eight teams are still there (for the moment) I thought this was a suitable time to salute the managers, and show them in the blossom of youth, on minor league (or in two cases, even more exotic) baseball cards from decades back.
A Tidewater set that depicted Bochy). The other one is a rookie and he’s bounced around among three teams this year: TBS, MLB Network, and PeachTree, but he might make it. I mean, if he can survive the experience of being on the Pro Cards’ 1987 Glens Falls Tigers card set, I suppose he can survive anything.
It’s the kind of story line that can overshadow the reality of a playoff series in any sport: A superstar with an amazing season and an amazing story of overcoming the nightmare of drug addiction, facing the team that originally drafted him, with the prospect of eventually getting to a World Series against the team that gave him a second chance (and then traded him away anyway).
Nothing would please me more than to see Bobby Cox walk off a field for the last time, on his way to a World’s Championship Trophy presentation (well, except maybe watching him get ejected on his way to the presentation, but now I’m just being silly).
I don’t think it’s going to happen. As much as Cox patched together just enough breathing players to manage to hang on to the Wild Card, the tank is pretty empty now. The Braves were barely surviving the loss of Chipper Jones by turning super-sub Omar Infante into a regular, when Martin Prado followed Jones on to the out-for-the-year-list. This reduces the Atlanta infield to Infante, Alex Gonzalez, a Derrek Lee who has been pretty lethargic since coming over from the Cubs, and Brooks Conrad, who has shown a strong bat at the plate, but some evidence that he brings the same bat with him onto the field.
Similarly the Bravos’ rotation is a mess. Jair Jurrjens turned his season around after his first injury, then came back from his second one overweight and ineffective, and then injured himself for a third time. Tim Hudson has been effective all year, but Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson have been up and down, and heaven help Coxy and Roger McDowell if they have to rely on either Mike Minor or Brandon Beachy.
The one wild card for the wild card team is production from the outfield. When you have Jason Heyward plus a combination of any two of Ankiel, Cabrera, Diaz, Hinske, and McLouth, the possibilities that Cox could catch lightning in a bottle for a short series in CF and LF, should not be discounted.
But we haven’t even started trotting out names like Buster Posey or Brian Wilson or Tim Lincecum yet. The Giants, barring a dry-up of biblical proportions, should handle the Braves easily, possibly by sweep. If they don’t, they have some serious explaining to do.
Similarly, as fond as I have been of the Reds’ chances since last March, I cannot see them getting past Philadelphia. The depth of Cincinnati’s rotation – such an advantage during the regular season in the fluid N.L. Central – means that they could get everything or nothing from Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto.
More over – understandably under the radar in a year of chaos, injury, and perseverance in Philadelphia – were remarkable improvements Ryan Howard and Chase Utley made against lefthand pitching. This, you’ll recall, was Philly’s undoing in the World Series last fall (particularly in the case of Howard).
But look at Howard’s splits this year:
VS LHP 12 HR 39 RBI .264 BA .492 SLG
VS LHP at home 6 HR 16 RBI .260 BA .470 SLG
The cohort is not exactly small, either. Howard had 193 at bats versus lefties, 100 of them in Philadelphia. He obviously learned something. And while he went just 2-for-12 against Reds lefties during the season, one of the two was a game-winning two-run blast off Arthur Rhodes to win a game in Philly on July 9th. Howard has not seen Aroldis Chapman, but unless Dusty Baker plans to use Chapman as his specialist against lefty bats and switch Rhodes or some righthander to 8th inning duties, the onus will fall on Rhodes, not Chapman.
Utley actually did better against southpaws this year than righties:
VS LHP 10 HR 27 RBI .294 BA .581 SLG
VS RHP 6 HR 38 RBI .266 BA .381 SLG
Those numbers are even a little more extraordinary than they seem. Utley had 289 ups against righties and only 136 against lefties yet his power came against the southpaws. He has no track record against the Reds this year – 1-for-3 off Cueto in the June 28th game in which he hurt his thumb.
So if the Chapman versus the Phils’ power bats thing may not really be an issue, we’re back to the idea of which trio of starters is more likely to get punished: Volquez, Arroyo, and Cueto, or Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt? It would be a bigger upset than the Braves over the Giants if the answer turns out to be the latter.
Before we look ahead, it’s necessary to look back. The divisional forecasts from this blog, from the end of March and beginning of April, beginning with the American League East:
Manager Ron Gardenhire of MINNESOTA knows 447 times more about baseball than I do…
PREDICTIONS: I like Detroit to get more lemons out of the slot machine of chance that is this division, than I do Chicago. Thus, the Tigers, close, over the White Sox. Minnesota and Cleveland will spar for third place…Well, I got the part right about Gardenhire knowing 447 times more about baseball than I do. I do wonder about this team’s long-term prospects given the Garza and Santana trades, and its short-term’s prospects given its stumble to the title.My forecast for the AL West was, if I must say so, pretty darn sharp:Texas, as you know, won not by five or six or by nine, with the Angels ten back and the Mariners having screwed themselves into the ground thanks to the continuing curse of Milton Bradley.Over in the National League:It is amazing that the prediction about the Braves wasn’t a bad one, and the forecast on the number of injuries in Philly rolled out pretty much as expected – and Philadelphia still won the Division. It is why the Phils must be considered the early line post-season favorites, and why the fact that the NL Manager Of The Year Award discussion is farcical if Charlie Manuel isn’t the odds-on winner.Here’s another prediction I am proud to recount, from the NL Central:Pretty much got that division correct, right down to the ascension of Jaime Garcia and the injury to Yadier Molina, to say nothing of being one of only two forecasters I’m aware of to pick the Reds, who won by five over the only other team to finish above .500 in baseball’s biggest division.I will not claim I did as well in the West, but this does wind up describing what actually happened:So all in all, the only division I got wildly wrong was the AL Central. Tampa, Texas, and Cincinnati were picked outright. I had the Braves winning the NL East and they go in as the Wild Card, and the Giants winning the Card and they instead go in as West Champions. Swing and a miss on Minnesota and Philadelphia, and all I can say is to repeat: when do we stop thinking of Charlie Manuel as an affable guide of talent-heavy teams, and start thinking of him as one of the top managers of the early 21st Century?
Virtually with each home run he hit this year, Jose Bautista surprised somebody.