Having careened through the NL (Rockies beating the Braves in the NLCS, after the Rockies had beaten the Reds, and the Braves the wild-card Giants), we begin three nights’ worth of AL divisional previews, in the East:
BALTIMORE not have pitching. Surely they could have pitching by 2011, but right now
there is nothing on which to rely beyond Kevin Millwood, and no team relying on
Kevin Millwood has made the post-season since 2002 (and what is the excitement over
a pitcher who has produced exactly three winning seasons since that long-ago
last playoff appearance?). There are also worries offensively. Adam Jones was a
superstar at the All-Star break, but flatlined soon after, and any team relying
on Garrett Atkins clearly has not seen a National League game since 2006.
the unasked question in BOSTON: would the Red Sox rather have David Ortiz at DH
this year… or Luke Scott? Where, production-wise, will Not-So-Big-Papi fall in
2010? I think he’s behind Guerrero, Kubel, Lind, Matsui, Scott, and maybe
others. If the demise of the beast continues, the Red Sox are suddenly
presenting a very pedestrian line-up, one that might be the second weakest in
the division. Of course, Theo Epstein might have made this determination
already, which would explain the willingness to fill the big openings with the
great gloves of Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro, rather than slightly bigger bats
that couldn’t have changed the overall new dynamic – the Red Sox are a pitching
and defense outfit. Mind you, as those outfits go, they’re among the best in
recent years. The rotation is deep enough to survive Matsuzaka on the DL, the
bullpen robust enough to survive if that soggy finish by Papelbon in the ALDS
was more than a one-game thing, and the cadre of young cameo pitchers has been
refreshed with the rapid maturation of Casey Kelly. But no matter how the Old
Towne Team fairs in 2010, keep the Ortiz thought in the back of your mind. What
if the second half of ’09 was the aberration, not the first half? Will the Sox
have to bench him? And if so, could the twists and turns of fate find them
suddenly grateful that they had been unable to trade Mike Lowell?
Oh is this
a conflict of interest. This will be the 39th season my family has
had season tickets in NEW YORK, and I’m not convinced the Yankees will be
hitting me up for playoff ducats this fall. Things I do not expect to see
repeated from 2009: 1) A.J. Burnett’s reliability and perhaps even his stamina;
2) Joe Girardi’s ability to survive without a reliable fifth starter (if Phil
Hughes really can pull it off in this, his fourth attempt, he might become the
fourth starter if my instincts on Burnett are correct); 3) Nick Swisher’s
offensive performance (his average and his RBI totals have never increased two years in a row); 4)
Derek Jeter’s renaissance (as the Baseball Prospectus folks note, 36-year old shortstops
deteriorate quickly); 5) Jorge Posada’s prospects of getting 433 plate
appearances (which begs the question: if you were hoping to DH Posada on
occasion, why did you sign as your primary DH, a guy who cannot play the
outfield, and can barely play first base?). As I have written here before, I am
not buying the premise that what in essence was a trade of Melky Cabrera,
Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, for a full-time Brett Gardner plus Curtis
Granderson and Nick Johnson was necessarily an upgrade – even if Javier Vazquez (9
career post-season innings; 11 career post-season earned runs) was thrown in,
in the bargain. Anybody wanna buy some of my tickets?
BAY, I’m betting 2009 was the fluke and not 2008. What does one not like about
this team? Is rightfield confused? Stick Ben Zobrist there and let Sean
Rodriguez have a shot at second. That doesn’t work? Wait for mid-season and the
promotion of Desmond Jennings. You don’t like Crawford and Upton? Bartlett and
Longoria? Pena? The law firm of Shoppach and Navarro? The Rays seem to summon a
fully-grown starter from the minors each year – Price in ’08, Niemann in ’09,
Wade Davis in ’10. I do not think Rafael Soriano is the world’s greatest
reliever, but his acquisition is an acknowledgment that championship teams do
not muddle through with closers who pitched in All-Star Games prior to 2001.
What is the most remarkable fact about this extremely talented and balanced
team can be summed up by the caveat I have to offer in praising them. Shortly
after they were ransomed from Vince Naimoli, I discovered to my shock that a
college pal of mine had, for all these years, been married to the man who had just
done the ransoming. A
few innings later, Stu and Lisa Sternberg and I sat in their seats at Yankee
Stadium and he was earnestly asking how I thought he could convince the players
to accept a salary cap so the Rays could contend. I told him I wasn’t sure, but
he wouldn’t have to worry about it any earlier than our next lifetimes. So what
you are seeing in Tampa is, in fact, Plan “B” – and it may be the greatest Plan
“B” in baseball history.
know TORONTO is a small market team? Here is something the writers apparently
promised not to tell: the Jays got almost nothing for Roy Halladay. Sorry. When
the reward was Travis D’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor, it was only a
pair of pants being pressed. When the Jays inexplicably swapped Taylor to
Oakland for the lump-like Brett Wallace, it became the full trip to the
cleaners. One of the oldest rules of talent evaluation is: if a prospect has
been traded twice in four months, he may not be quite the prospect you think he
is (one of the older rules is: if one of your starting middle infielders has a
weight clause in his contract, you only have one starting middle infielder). On top of
which, when you consider the Jays paid $6 million in salary offset for the
privilege of giving Doc away, this trade has to be called what it was: a salary
dump in which ownership was admitting it had no interest in competing. Jays
fans are left to cheer three very exciting hitters in Aaron Hill, Adam Lind,
and Travis Snider; to try to get the correct spellings and pronunciations of the
guys in their rotation (“excuse me, are you Brett Cecil, or Cecil Brett?”);
and, since there really won’t be much else to do under the roof this summer,
buy and read injured reliever Dirk Hayhurst’s marvelous book The Bull…
oh, sorry, did I already mention it?
Tampa Bay steps back into the forefront in an exciting race with the
well-managed but decreasingly potent Red Sox, and bests Boston by a game or
two. The Yankees contend – possibly even dominate – into June or July before the
rotation, and/or Posada, and/or Jeter, blow up, and they fade to a distant
third. The Jays and Orioles compete only to be less like The Washington
So you can now score the Joe Girardi/Dave Eiland experiment with pitching starters on three days’ rest at 1-for-3: a Sabathia victory in the ALCS, a Sabathia no decision in which he gave back a 2-0 lead and half of a subsequent 4-2 lead, and tonight’s Burnett implosion.
This does beg a question I had not considered before. Perhaps Girardi and Eiland were not shooting the works with Burnett on short rest rather than throwing Chad Gaudin as a sacrificial lamb. Maybe the Yankees knew they got an unrepeatable performance by the eminently reliable Burnett (you can always depend on him; he will always let you down) and he was the sacrificial lamb tonight.
Could’ve been worse from the Yankee perspective. When he went to the bullpen tonight, Girardi could have gone not to David Robertson but to Gaudin.
once again, how happy would they have been if you had told the Phillies before
the World Series started, that after four games, all this would have been true:
Sabathia would be winless against them in two starts?
Utley would have hit three homers against Sabathia?
Philly sluggers would have produced two-homer games and seven blasts total?
Blanton would have produced a five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance?
Lee would have pitched a complete game?
Phillies would have rallied off the Yankee bullpen in the eighth?
Howard would have stolen a base and then scored the tying run thanks to his
Teixeira would have held to 1-for-14, Melky Cabrera 2-for-13, Robinson Cano
2-for-14, and Alex Rodriguez, 2-for-15?
Girardi would have had to bench one outfielder and might have to replace
another one due to injury?
are the little things that usually put a team ahead three games to one, not
behind by that margin. While Johnny Damon has rightly been lionized (and would be the Series MVP to this point), there are two totally under-reported secrets to the
Yankees’ success. Consider the last outs Sabathia got last night: Jimmy Rollins
lined a one-bouncer directly to Alex Rodriguez, and Shane Victorino flied right
to Nick Swisher. Throughout the Series, particularly last night, the Yanks’
major league scouting – coordinated by Gene Michael – has positioned its
fielders nearly perfectly, exploiting pitch selection and a thorough knowledge
of where each Philadelphia hitter is likely to hit a given pitch. I’ve always
thought somebody could get a PHD calculating just how little Yankee fielders
had to travel to get balls hit by the Braves in the 1999 Series, when Michael’s
charts were at their maximum value.
other hidden headline: Damaso Marte, a pitcher who before the Series would have
been ranked somewhere behind the Phillie Phanatic in likely impact on the
outcome. All he has done thus far is strike out Utley and get Howard on a fly
while the first game was still close, punch out Howard and Werth and get Ibanez
on a liner in the third game, and retire Howard on another fly last night. He
has been flawless after a 9.45 ERA and just five holds during the regular
But by no
means are the Phillies dead. One of the realities of those “Advantage Phillies” stats listed above is that they either won’t last, or that if they do, they are likely to suddenly start producing dramatic results for Philadelphia, and possibly in sufficient supply to produce three straight wins. And Joe Girardi has opened the door for that slim hope with the decision to go with A.J. Burnett on short
Rather than risk Chad
Gaudin, with Burnett available on extra rest in Game Six, and Andy Pettitte on
the same (or Sabathia) for Game Seven, he will pitch Burnett with a line-up
behind him that could lack not just a DH, but also perhaps Cabrera and Jorge
Posada. As it lays out now, Burnett, Pettitte and Sabathia will all go on short
rest in pursuit of one win. Or it won’t be Pettitte in Game Six – it’ll be Gaudin anyway.
So, you’re the Phillies and three games into the World Series, you have already beaten CC Sabathia, and two of your stars have each produced a two-homer game. You’ve limited Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira to one hit apiece. You caused Joe Girardi to bench Nick Swisher, you’ve faced Phil Hughes for four batters and gotten three of them on base, and you’ve not only scored first in every game, the latest you’ve scored your first run is the third inning.
So the scenario has almost completely played out: Joe Girardi’s misuse of his bullpen, and the forces of nature, have combined to push Game Six of the ALCS to Sunday. It is a game that likely will determine whether or not Girardi is still Yankee manager on the 15th of next June.
Game One, Wednesday, New York: Burnett
Game Two, Thursday, New York: Gaudin? Chamberlain?
Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Sabathia*
Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Pettitte*
Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Burnett
Game Six, Wednesday, New York: Game Two Starter or Sabathia*
Game Seven, Thursday, New York: Sabathia* or Pettitte*
Game One, Wednesday, Anaheim: Lackey
Game Two, Thursday, Anaheim: Saunders*
Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Weaver
Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Kazmir* or Lackey
Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Lackey or Kazmir*
Game Six, Wednesday, Anaheim: Saunders*
Game Seven, Thursday, Anaheim: Weaver
Game One, Wednesday, Anaheim: Lackey
Game Two, Thursday, Anaheim: Kazmir*
Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Saunders*
Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Weaver
Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Lackey
Game Six, Wednesday, Anaheim: Kazmir*
Game Seven, Thursday, Anaheim: Saunders*
1 HR, 8 RBI, .178 BA, .290 OBP, .290 SLG. (107 At Bats)
5 HR, 25 RBI, .235 BA, .305 OBP, .417 SLG. (115 At Bats)
I know, I know – the Yankees have not even made the World Series yet. George Steinbrenner would file a protest if somebody told him I was already picking them to beat the Phillies.
* better LH than RH
Game One, Wednesday 10/28, @ New York: Sabathia*
Game Two, Thursday 10/29, @ New York: Burnett
Game Three, Saturday 10/31, @ Philadelphia: Pettitte*
Game Four, Sunday 11/1, @ Philadelphia: Sabathia* or ?
Game Five, Monday, 11/2, @ Philadelphia: Burnett, ? or Sabathia*
Game Six, Wednesday, 11/4 @ New York: Pettitte* or Burnett
Game Seven, Thursday, 11/5 @ New York: Sabathia* or Pettitte*
It’s a slightly more daunting task than beating the Rockies with no lefty starters, and then flummoxing a slumping Clayton Kershaw and beating, in a do-or-die game for the other team, a starter who was released by Texas two months ago and on whom you can always rely – he’ll always let you down. And they don’t have a power plug-in for the DH in The Stadium (unless Charlie Manuel were to pull a real rabbit out of his hat, like John Mayberry, Jr.).
When Terry Francona managed the Red Sox to the 2007 World Series, his greatest contribution came two years ago this Friday. Down two games to one to the Indians in the ALCS and facing a fifth game in Cleveland, Francona resisted the temptation to start Josh Beckett on three days’ rest and instead stuck to his plan, and Game Four starter Tim Wakefield. Wakefield got lit up like Christmas, and much of Boston was ready for a new manager for their Nine. And then the Sox, buoyed by Beckett’s five-hitter over eight (with eleven strikeouts), won Game Five, and ran the table right through the World Series sweep of Colorado.
Milwaukee Brewers IP H R ER BB SO HR BFP
Sabathia L(0-1) 3.2 6 5 5 4 5 1 21
Carlos Ruiz’s sinking liner meets Brad Hawpe’s ole’ play and the Phillies extend a 1-0 lead over the Rockies in the fifth. An inning later, Carlos Gonzalez plays pin ball with his own body, and Ryan Howard’s screamer to left – and then Utley sticks Dexter Fowler against the centerfield fence like a butterfly stuck in a collection. I know the wind was in the 40’s – my home in New York was creaking the Pequod going after Moby-Dick.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that annually, Terry Francona lets me sit with him, on the bench, during a spring training game. This is half out of friendship and half, I think, to remind me how little I actually understand about managing – or baseball itself – compared to the pros.