Here are the forecaster’s problems.
The Detroit Tigers’ pitching dominance over the New York Yankees – the .144 OBA over four gruesome games – is not the indicator that you might think. The Yankees have been aging rapidly for three seasons, and they had just barely scratched out a victory over a Baltimore team without line-up depth or a dominant starting pitcher. Joe Girardi made a fateful remark in mid-series, about how his hitters had to “adjust” – manager-speak for telling them they had to stop going up there expecting the room service fastballs they would get from 60% of the pitchers they faced during the regular season. Yes, the Tiger pitching was superb. Yes, we all spent too much time talking about the Yanks’ demise. But between the two extremes it is almost impossible to get a good gauge on just how good the survivors are.
The Giants’ comebacks against the Reds and Cardinals were historic and epic. And they are also not the indicators you might think. Both losing teams have a lot of talent but neither was a juggernaut and the fact is that San Francisco’s valiant efforts have deranged their own rotation. It is stand-up-and-cheer heart-warming to see Marco Scutaro and Barry Zito finally make a World Series but it is imperative to remember that they are not going to win the World Series by themselves. 2012 was the second time in his career that the 36-year old Scutaro has batted better than .282 in a major league season and the third time he has hit more than one homer in a major league season.
As to Zito, the Giants could not have done it without him but his 15 wins divided up as follows:
Zito Vs. Playoff Teams (4-2)
Vs. Atlanta Braves 2-0
Vs. Oakland A’s 1-0
Vs. St. Lou. Cards 1-0
Vs. Tex. Rangers 0-1
Vs. Cin. Reds 0-1
Zito Vs. Non-Playoff Teams (11-6)
Vs. Az D-Backs 4-0
Vs. LA Dodgers 3-2
Vs. Col. Rockies 2-0
Vs. Chi. Cubs 1-0
Vs. Pitt. Pirates 1-0
Vs. Mil. Brewers 0-1
Vs. L.A. Angels 0-1
Vs. Hou. Astros 0-1
Vs. N.Y. Mets 0-1
These are the simplest of analytics here but they are offered simply to imply one fact about the World Series: drop the story lines of the first two rounds of the playoffs, and judge the Classic on who has the better, sounder team.
The Tigers have a confused bullpen, which reduces it to the level of the Giants when Santiago Casilla failed – and the Giants fixed that situation within hours with Sergio Romo. The Giants have a confused rotation, and you can’t straighten that out in anything less than a week. The Tigers have the kind of offense that is not seen by National League pitchers and its most potent bats (Cabrera and Fielder) live to butcher off-speed left-hand pitching like Zito.
There is also Justin Verlander in this equation and if the Giants can’t stop him at least once, the Fister/Sanchez/Scherzer trio have only to produce two solid starts.
I’m thinking the Tigers could do this in five. If the Giants stage an upset – especially if they come from behind to do it – they will earn (and I will happily crown them) the single-season comeback kings of the game’s modern history. Unless one of the troubled starters (Lincecum? Bumgarner? turns in an MVP-level performance, I just don’t think they have a path to do it this time.
Let’s put aside for a second the premise that Derek Jeter believes he should be baseball’s second-highest paid player after a season in which he batted .241 against right handed pitchers. Let’s not address what it must look like in that higher plane of consciousness in which a team should pay a man $25 million a year through his 42nd birthday not because he is performing at that a supreme level of production, but out of loyalty and recognition of past greatness, and because he deserves to make nearly as much as Alex Rodriguez does.
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