Friday, October 30, 2009

Game 2

- Game 2 was basically the same as Game 1. Pedro Martinez was really good, but A.J. Burnett was just a smidge better. Burnett's fastball had good movement, his curveball was working well, he stayed ahead of hitters and didn't get hurt inside. Burnett stayed away from the Phils hitters, taking full advantage of a generous strike zone away. To Burnett's credit, he recognized Jeff Nelson's zone and kept throwing to it, while the Phils hitters never adjusted and probably weren't aggressive enough to give themselves a chance to get to Burnett.

- Charlie Manuel drew some first-guess criticism for starting Martinez in game two in New York, but it would be hard to argue with Manuel's call now. Martinez was brilliant, making only two mistakes, which both left the yard. He had the Yankees off-balance and guessing for his whole outing, expertly mixing his fastball with the 'Buggs Bunny" change up. Martinez doesn't throw as hard or have quite the stuff that he used to, but he still certainly knows how to pitch effectively. Martinez has allowed three earned runs in 13 innings this postseason, an ERA of 2.08. Even if he doesn't pitch again this year, signing Martinez was a great move by Phils GM Ruben Amaro.

- After a good game one, the umpiring became too much of an issue in game two. Two obviously bad calls and a brutally tilted strikezone did not reflect well upon the men in blue. The first, a line drive down the first base line by Johnny Damon in the seventh was ruled to have been caught cleanly by Ryan Howard, who then threw to second where Jimmy Rollins tagged Jorge Posada to finish a double play. However, replays clearly showed that the ball shorthopped on its way into Howard's glove. Oops. The Yankees would have had the bases loaded and only one out, and instead the inning ended. Not to be outdone, in the top of the eighth inning, maybe 15 minutes after the first blown call, first base umpire Brian Gorman botched another, as he called Chase Utley out at first on the back end of a double play grounder to finish the top of the eighth, even though Utley's foot was on the base before Mark Teixeira had possession of the ball. If called correctly, the Phils would have had runners on the corners and two out with Howard due up in a game they trailed 3-1. Instead, Howard led off the ninth.

- The strike zone leaned too far outside with lefthanded hitters at the plate, as several strikes were called on balls that at best looped around the outter edge of the plate, but at no time crossed it. Give Burnett and Jose Molina credit, though, as they kept throwing out there and the Phillies hitters never adjusted, not even trying emergency hacks to spoil good pitches.

- As good as Burnett was, he didn't come in to a lefthanded hitter more than once or twice. At some point, to be that successful against a powerful lineup, you have to throw in, or the hitters will dive out over the plate and push balls to the opposite field with relative ease.

- Alex Rodriguez became only the second player in World Series history to strike out three times in consecutive games. The other? Jim Lonborg. Lonborg played from 1965 to 1979. And he was a pitcher. Not the kind of historical company A-Rod hoped to be keeping in this series.

- Like so many other New York entities, the Yankee pitching staff has received a generous bailout thus far in the Series. Am I referring to millions in government money? Nope, I'm referring to Pedro Feliz, who has recorded eight outs in his seven plate appearances, and has made Yankee pitchers throw only 19 pitches. More outs than plate appearances? 2.7 pitches per at-bat? Feliz would literally have made Yankee pitching work harder and hurt the Phillies offense less if he had not swung at any pitches in the first two games. If he handn't, he would have recorded at most seven outs (one less than he has), and would have seen at least 21 pitches (two more than he has). Feliz is providing the Yankees an easy out they desperately need in a potent lineup.

- Much has been made of each Phillie getting an at-bat against Mariano Rivera, and making him throw 39 pitches, and this somehow helps the Phillies going forward. Are you serious? To me, this is akin to saying you made Peyton Manning take 14 plays to score a touchdown. So what? He still got the job done. And he's still at such an elite level that you have to anticipate he will get the job done far, far more often than not. This is the World Series, there are no moral victories.

- Charlie Manuel has gotten a lot of grief for not starting the runners with two on and one out and Chase Utley at the plate in the eighth. I agree with Manuel. Utley grounded into a double play to end the inning, leaving Ryan Howard on deck. First, Utley doesn't ground into many DPs (five all year). Secondly, with as many times as Rivera jams hitters, especially lefthanders, a line drive or easy pop-up double play is possible. Third, Utley strikes out some. Not as much as Howard, but he will strike out. Third, as good a runner as Rollins and Victorino (the runners on base at the time are), and as poor as Jorge Posada throws, Posada would still have an easy shot at Rollins at third with the lefty hitting Utley at the plate. Then what? Manuel would get killed for having Rollins make the last out at third base (a cardinal sin in baseball) and leaving Howard on deck without the chance to hit.

- Game three features two guys with a playoff history. Cole Hamels was the NLCS and World Series MVP in 2008, but he's been terrible in 2009, which has carried over into the playoffs. He hasn't pitched in 10 days, so the Phils certainly hope the time off has rejuvenated him. Pettitte is still playoff clutch, but he's not a lefty that is especially tough on lefthanded hitters. Pettitte has thrown well, but doesn't go as deep into games as he used to, which brings the ever shaky Yankee middle relief into the picture. However, Pettitte is as good as anyone in baseball at holding runners on, as his balk-ish move to first is rarely, if ever called. More than the first two, this game is likely to come down to the bullpens.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Game 1

- Cliff Lee was outrageous. Complete game, zero earned runs, 10 strikeouts, no walks, didn't allow a runner to third base until the ninth inning with a 6-0 lead. An all-time all-time performance from the Phils new lefty ace. Lee looked almost bored, like he was toying with the Yankees, and was as loose as anyone could possibly be, non-chalantly catching a pop-up and then tagging Jorge Posada on the butt for an out in the middle innings. Lee had excellent command of all of his pitches, moved the ball around, changes speeds, disrupted timing, and was just dominant. He has allowed two earned runs in 31.1 innings in the 2009 playoffs. What a game from Lee.

- Chase Utley appeared to benefit from the extended time off. Two bombs off C.C. Sabathia, only the second lefthanded hitter to hit two home runs in a World Series game against a lefthanded pitcher, joining some guy named Babe Ruth. The other great thing about Utley, after both of his home runs, he touched home plate and walked back to the dugout like he was the baddest mother out there. In the words of the late, great Harry Kalas "Chase Utley, you are the man!"

- Utley's game was the 19th multi-homer performance in World Series history. Three of these now belong to Phillies, following Ryan Howard's two in game four of the 2008 series against Tampa Bay and Lenny Dykstra in game four in 1993 against Toronto.

- Sabathia pitched well, just not well enough, proving the old playoff adage that you don't have to pitch well, you have to win. While he didn't get roughed up like he did against the Phillies in the playoffs last season, the Phils did make him work very hard and ran up his pitch count, forcing him out of the game after seven innings. The game broadcast seemed to indicate that C.C.'s ability to come back on short rest for game four would be dependent upon how game one went... so, now we'll wait and see.

- Joe Girardi can't like what he saw from his non-Rivera relievers. Five pitchers combined to throw two innings, giving up five hits, three walks and four runs. Only Damaso Marte even looked servicable out of the group.

- Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino were on base four times between them and scored three runs. When those two, especially Rollins, get on base and score, the Phillies are virtually unbeatable.

- Raul Ibanez looked bad against C.C. Sabathia, striking out twice and grounding out to second on a ball out of the strike zone on a 3-1 count with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning. Ibanez made up for it in the eighth, however, when his two-out, two-strike, bases loaded single through the right side off David Robertson scored two and gave the Phils two crucial tack-on runs, pushing the score to 4-0.

- Umpiring, which has been terrible all postseason, got a potentially controversial call right in game one, properly determining that Rollins had caught a flare by Robinson Cano on the fly and then doubled Hideki Matsui off of first. The men in blue needed a lengthy meeting to get it right, but ultimately they did, which is all you can ask for.

- In game one, the Yankees 3-4-5 hitters went 0-12 with seven strikeouts. The Phillies 3-4-5 went 5-11 with two homers, three RBI, three walks and two runs scored.

- Derek Jeter was the only Yankee who had a good night, tallying three of the six Yankee hits and scoring the only run.

- Carlos Ruiz (Senor Octubre) continued his hot hitting, ripping another double into the gap off of Brian Bruney in the ninth, and eventually came around to score the Phils fifth run.

- The Phils had one real opportunity to run on Posada in game one, with Rollins easily taking second with Victorino at the plate.

- Pedro Feliz is lost at the plate. He has no idea what he's doing up there, and pitchers don't even have to work very hard to get him out right now. In the words of Earl Weaver, "If you think you're going to hit into a double play, do the right thing and strike out."

- He's still making some nice plays defensively, however.

- For game two, Pedro Martinez could pitch great, like he did against the Dodgers in game two in Los Angeles, or he could get lit up and not make it to the third inning. I have no earthly idea. The ball hasn't carried as well in New York as it did throughout the regular season, but Pedro did give up alot of fly balls to the Dodgers. However, they were lazy fly balls that wouldn't go out of any park. But, the Yankees lineup is much better than the Dodgers. I could argue with myself about this all day. All of which to say again, I have no idea what to expect out of Pedro.

- A.J. Burnett takes the ball in game two for the Yankees. Like Pedro, I doubt anyone feels any confidence regarding what Burnett will do in game two. Burnett has the tendency to get erratic, and if he's wild in the strike zone, he could give up a lot of hard hit balls early. However, if he locates his pitches, Burnett could have an outstanding game.

- So, I won't be surprised if game two is 2-1 or if it's 10-8.

- Game two is Burnett's first ever World Series appearance, and a lot (read: A LOT) of pressure is on his shoulders. If the Yankees lose game two, they will head to Philadelphia for three games trailing 0-2 and knowing they will have to start Chad Gaudin on the mound at some point. Gaudin can likely only give the Yankees five innings max, as he is not stretched out, and he has a tendency to get rocked by lefthanders, which the Phillies (Rollins and Victorino switch, Utley, Howard, Ibanez) have no shortage of. That would be dicey for the Yankees.

- Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the Phils closing out the Rays in the continuation of game five of the World Series. A win in Thursday's game two would go a long way towards winning their second title in a row.

The 2009 Fall Classic

With absolutely no apologies to William Rhoden of the New York Times, who wrote that America deserved a Yankee-Dodger World Series, THIS is the matchup we all deserve. The best team in the American League against the best team in the National League, which happens to be the defending World Series champs. New York vs Philadelphia. Free agent acquisitions vs a home grown core. Slugging offense vs... slugging offense. Former Cleveland ace vs... former Cleveland ace. Broadway vs Broad Street.

So how do these two titans matchup? Let's take a look. I would be willing to wager that you will not find a more comprehensive and informative preview anywhere. Not ESPN, not Sports Illustrated, not in a New York or Philadelphia media outlet. And not just because I wrote it...

Catcher- NYY- Jorge Posada vs. PHI- Carlos Ruiz
Posada had a very good offensive year for a 38-year old catcher, hitting .285 with 22 home runs, while Ruiz hit .255 with nine home runs in the eight hole for the Phils. Both backstops hit far higher at home than on the road (80 points for Posada, 110 for Ruiz), which doesn't figure to be important since both parks are good places to hit. However, in the playoffs, Posada is hitting only .258 with two HR and three RBI, while Ruiz is hitting .346 with a home run and seven RBI, including several big knocks. While both call a good game and block balls in the dirt well, Ruiz is outstanding at controlling the running game, while Posada, it could charitably be said, isn't. This is a bigger issue with Posada behind the plate than Ruiz, as the Phils have plenty of guys (SS, CF, RF, 2B, even 1B and C) who will swipe a bag, especially on a poor thrower. Four of the eight Phillie regulars stole 20 or more bags this year, while the Yankees had only one regular take more than 14. Jose Molina will likely continue to catch A.J. Burnett, which improves the defense, but is a severe dropoff at bat. Phillies backup Paul Bako has not appeared in the playoffs, and probably won't.
Advantage: None. This wouldn't be a tie except for Ruiz' offensive output in the playoffs and the Phillies' propensity to run.

First Base- NYY- Mark Teixiera vs PHI- Ryan Howard
Both Teixiera and Howard are outstanding players, but Howard is on another level right now. This playoff run he has tied records held by guys named Ruth and Gehrig, on his way to taking home NLCS MVP honors. Teixiera has it all over Howard with the glove (like maybe 10-2), but the glove isn't nearly as important at first base as it is at shortstop or catcher. Besides that, Tex has been awful at the plate so far in the playoffs.
Advantage: PHI. Defense is nice, but you can't pitch to Howard right now.

Second Base- NYY- Robinson Cano vs PHI- Chase Utley
Cano hit .320 this season and added 25 bombs, which makes him a nice second baseman. However, he never walks and hit 35 points higher at home headed towards the friendly right field stands of new Yankee Stadium. Utley, at this point, is the best second baseman in baseball. His defense still has room for improvement, but he gets on base almost 40 percent of his plate appearances and sets the hard-nosed attitude for the rest of the Phillies. He could probably use a few more off days throughout the season, because his slight frame and grit leave him worn down come September. Cano's defense isn't as good as it should be, and he was caught stealing more times (seven) than he was successful (five), traits that reflect poor baseball instinct and acumen. Utley was 23-23 in stolen base attempts.
Advantage: PHI. Cano is a good player, but he's not a winner on his own right at this stage. He's a complimentary player, while Utley is an engine that powers a great team.

Shortstop- NYY- Derek Jeter vs PHI- Jimmy Rollins
Easily the most evenly matched aspect of these two teams, each serves as his teams leadoff hitter and inspirational leader. They're both very cool, good leaders and consummate professionals. Jeter hit .334 this season, the highest batting average for a shortstop as old as he since Honus Wagner. Yes, the million dollar baseball card guy Honus Wagner. Rollins struggled offensively for much of the year and into the playoffs, but he's a red light guy, the type that hits much better when it's 2-1 in the ninth than when it's 10-1 in the fifth. Rollins' arm and range are far superior to Jeter's (much more important at SS), as is his speed, evidenced by stealing one more base than Jeter in 75 fewer opportunites on base. Rollins got the majority of the time at SS for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, but you can't go wrong in either direction here.
Advantage: None. Say whatever you want, but would you complain if you missed out on one guy but got to have the other on your squad? Didn't think so.

Third Base- NYY- Alex Rodriguez vs PHI- Pedro Feliz
What? Seriously? A-Rod is in the same category as Ryan Howard right now, which is to say that you can't get him out. He's also very good defensively, so there are no holes in his game as of today. Feliz consistently shows no plan and no patience at the plate, often gets himself out, but can run into a ball once in awhile and pop one. Feliz is about as good as it gets defensively, but his bat is just average for a premium offensive position.
Advantage: NYY. Nothing else to say here.

Left Field- NYY- Johnny Damon vs PHI- Raul Ibanez
The leftfield position for both teams features pros who have been at it quite a long time. Damon was one of the 'idiots' with the 2004 Red Sox, while this year marks the first trip to the Series for the 37 year old Ibanez. The two had similar numbers for the year, with Damon holding an edge in batting average and on-base percentage, while Ibanez had more home runs and and RBI. Ibanez was actually better against lefthanded pitching than righties, but Damon held his own against lefties. The biggest difference in the two is that Damon hit 70% of his home runs and 68% of his RBI at home, while Ibanez actually produced more power wise away from home. Neither is an especially good fielder at this stage, and Ibanez is likely to DH in the games in New York.
Advantage: None. Ibanez hits good pitches better than Damon does at this stage; Damon runs better, but also throws very poorly. They're close enough to call it a draw.

Center Field- NYY- Melky Cabrera vs PHI- Shane Victorino
Playing centerfield for any team carries a certain amount of cache with it, especially for historically significant franchises like the Yankees and Phillies. Cabrera is fine as a nine hole hitter for a powerful lineup, but, like Cano, he's not a player that should be a difference maker in a series like this. Victorino is the yappiest and spunkiest of the Phillies, a player who loves the stage when everyone's looking at him, and when everyone's yelling at him. Victorino has a higher average, higher on base percentage, and stole more bases. Cabrera had more home runs and RBI, but hits ninth in an order where everyone is on base, while Victorino is one of the guys always on base in a similar lineup. Cabrera's home/road power number splits also skew homeward. Defensively, Cabrera is a guy, while Victorino's range and arm are as good as any centerfielder in baseball.
Advantage: PHI. Cabrera is still only 25 and may develop into an All-Star, but Victorino is one right now.

Right Field- NYY- Nick Swisher vs PHI- Jayson Werth
For the last of the everyday positions, I'm going to be blunt. Nick Swisher stinks and Jayson Werth is an emerging premier player. Swisher hit only .200 this season against 2009 playoff teams, and while his numbers look ok, they're inflated against bad pitching. Werth, like Utley, is a hard nosed attitude player that doesn't talk about it, he just is about it. 36 home runs, 99 RBI, and 20 steals tell the story. He's also got great range and a good arm.
Advantage: PHI. Not even close. Swisher brings some levity and fun to otherwise uptight and corporate team, but those are his biggest contributions. Werth can do it all, and is currently doing just that.
Designated Hitter- NYY- Hideki Matsui vs PHI- Ben Francisco
Matsui has been the Yankees DH all year, and in fact hasn't played in the field at all in 2009. He remained productive in the DH role, hitting .274 with 28 home runs and 90 RBI in numbers that were relatively constant across home/road and left/right splits. Francisco has DH'd some in the AL, but will likely play LF in NY as a better fielder, thus moving Ibanez to the DH slot. He has some pop, but his average hasn't been great since arriving in Philadelphia as part of the Cliff Lee deal. He is, however, the best the Phils bench has to offer.
Advantage: NYY. Matsui is a legit DH, while the Phillies always seem to struggle in the DH slot, be it in interleague or in the World Series last year. However, Matsui's bat is out of the lineup in Philadelphia, which is a much bigger loss than the Phillies losing Francisco.
Bench- NYY- Brett Gardner, Jose Molina, Jerry Hairston Jr, Eric Hinske vs PHI- Ben Francisco, Matt Stairs, Paul Bako, Greg Dobbs, Eric Bruntlett
The Yankees have a servicable sub in Jerry Hairston, good backup catcher in Jose Molina and speed in Brett Gardner. The Phillies bench hasn't given them much of anything this year, as Dobbs has been hurt, Staris has looked old, Bruntlett's modest ability has been tempered even further by not playing consistently, and Bako is a zero offensively.
Advantage: NYY. The only real impact is likely to be Gardner's speed vs nothing of substance coming from the Phils bench.
Overall Baserunning
Advantage: PHI. The Phils run alot, and with alarming success, due in large part to the help of first base coach Davey Lopes. Again, the Yankees had only one regular (Jeter) take more than 14 bases, while the Phillies had four of eight (Rollins, Victorino, Utley and Werth) take 20 or more. Ruiz throws better and and controls a running game better than Posada, and he shouldn't have as much to worry about as Posada does.
Overall Defense
Advantage: PHI. The Phillies are better defensively at all the premier defensive positions (catcher, shortstop, centerfield), which by itself wins it for the Phils. Neither second baseman or leftfielder is great (althought Francisco is pretty good if he plays LF in New York), both third baseman are really good. The Yankees are much better at first, the Phils are much better in rightfield. Teixiera is the only Yankee clearly better than his Phillies counterpart.
Ace- NYY- C.C. Sabathia vs PHI- Cliff Lee
Who hates this series more, Met fans or Indian fans? (My money is on Met fans). Both have been horses for their new team, especially in the postseason. Both are lefthanders, which figures to be important against lefty-laden lineups that both teams possess. Neither has started a World Series game before, but don't appear likely to be spooked by the stage. Lee has a bit more history with the Yankees than Sabathia does with the Phils, however, the Phils roughed up Sabathia in the playoffs last season when he was with Milwaukee.
Advantage: NYY. Almost like shortstop, you can't go wrong either way. I give Sabathia the edge, because in order for him to go three times in the Series he'd be on short rest twice, which he's used to, while Lee has never pitched on short rest.
Starting Pitching Depth
The Yankees have only three starters, as evidenced by the fact that they've only thrown three guys so far. They're scared to use Joba Chamberlain or Chad Gaudin in a starting role in the playoffs, and they should be. In order to get through the Series without using one of them, Andy Pettitte would have to go on short rest, which he's not equipped to do. A.J. Burnett could be great, or he could get rocked. He owns a career ERA over 5.00 against Philadelphia. The Phillies have two guys in Cole Hamels and Pedro Martinez who have been great in the playoffs over the years. Hamels looked shot against the Dodgers, but by the time he starts game three, he will have had nine days off, which could be just enough to give him a boost. Or could just make him look bad again. Martinez was untouchable against the Dodgers, and his start in New York is must see TV, given his history with the Yankees and the fans there. Joe Blanton may be the key for the Phillies, as he will likely start game four. Blanton has been the Phils most consistent pitcher all season, has been good in a relief role early in the playoffs while the cavalry (Park, Myers) got healthy, and could shut it down. J.A. Happ has looked scared throughout the playoffs, but he is another option Charlie Manuel can turn to.
Advantage: PHI. Basically, the Yankees have two good starting pitchers they can use after their ace (Burnett and Pettitte), while the Phillies have four (Martinez, Hamels, Happ, Blanton).
Middle and Short Relief
This area is a study in contrasts between the regular and postseason. During the regular season, the Yankees relief corps was pretty sturdy, and did a good job getting the ball to Mariano Rivera at the end. However, during the playoffs, the main setup guys Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have been really shaky, and have thrown the type of stuff that would get hammered by the Phillies lineup. Hughes and Chamberlain have 'stuff', which makes them the only potentially reliable pieces. Damaso Marte, David Robertson and Alfredo Aceves stink. Sorry. They stink. The Phils whole bullpen was bad during the regular season with the exception of Ryan Madson, and in the playoffs they've been lockdown, with the exception of Ryan Madson. Chad Durbin and Chan Ho Park have been outstanding since returning from injury, and Scott Eyre has made the absence of J.C. Romero much easier to handle. J.A. Happ has looked scared from the outset, and Antonio Bastardo is too young and has one pitch to be a reliable lefty. Brett Myers could be an X factor in the Phils pen.
Advantage: PHI. Like the rotation, the Phillies have more usable pieces than the Yankees.
Closer- NYY- Mariano Rivera vs PHI- Brad Lidge
Rivera and Lidge are 1-2 in career postseason saves and series' closed out, so it's not a surprise their teams meet on the game's greatest stage. Statistically the two greatest closers in postseason history, Rivera and Lidge have taken different paths to this point this year. Rivera, even at age 39, has been his normal great self, posting a 1.76 ERA and 44 saves. Ho-hum. Lidge, after his perfect 2008 season, was abysmal during the regular season, blowing 11 saves, including two at Yankee Stadium. However, in the playoffs, Lidge has looked closer to regaining his dominant form, closing out all three of his chances, not allowing a run and striking out a batter an inning.
Advantage: NYY. Rivera may be the greatest pitcher ever, not just closer. However, if Lidge continues his resurgence, this is pretty close to a draw. Rivera is great, but he isn't unbeaten in World Series. Just ask the Diamondbacks.
Manager- NYY- Joe Girardi vs PHI- Charlie Manuel
Girardi is in his second year managing the Yankees, his second managerial stint after his last season in Florida saw him win NL Manager of the Year honors and then get fired. Manuel is in his fifth season in Philadelphia, and has morphed from country bumpkin to good ole boy genius in the mold of Casey Stengal. Amazing what a title will do for you. Girardi has a tendency to overmanage, as seen in the ALCS where he twice replaced pitchers with like handed pitchers, usually not to great results. He was roundly criticized for consulting a book in the dugout and then immediately making a pitching change against the Angels. From his time in Florida, Girardi showed no interest in pitching to Ryan Howard, and it will be interesting to see if that continues, especially with an improved cast including Werth and Ibanez right behind him. Manuel, on the other hand, has managed the pants off of Joe Torre two years in a row in the playoffs, and what he lacks in rhetorical flourish, he more than makes up for in his handling of his players and feel for what button to push at what time.
Advantage: PHI. Name one instance when Joe Girardi shrewdly outmanuevered anyone. Besides himself. And it worked out well for his team.
Home Field- NYY- Yankee Stadium vs PHI- Citizens Bank Park 
Both parks are newer, gorgeous settings to take in a ball game, and tend to favor hitters over pitchers. Right field in Yankee Stadium is an absolute disgrace, and the Yankees have taken full advantage through most of the season. However, the main advantage the Yankees have in their stadium is their home run prowess, which is completely offset by a team capable of out homering them like the Phillies. Citizens Bank Park plays small in the alleys and to left, but fewer broken bats and pop ups actually leave the yard there. Fan wise, I'll probably get some crap for this, but it's not even close between the Yankee and Phillie crowds. I don't want to hear about how much the fans impact the game in New York, not when seats right around home plate are empty through the first half of a League Championship Series game. This ain't Atlanta folks, come on, you're better than that.
Advantage: None. The Phillies won't be intimidated by Yankee Stadium, or by Mystique and Aura, who Curt Schilling once famously quipped about. But if they Yankees think the stadium helps them play better, then it does. Philadelphia isn't a place likely to give a warm reception to any visitors, from New York or otherwise.
This Phils team is not one that is going to be intimidated by New York or the storied franchise that is the Yankees. The Phils are a team with steely resolve, a million pounds of heart, and fear of no one. The Yankees have been a lot looser this year, thanks in large part to Nick Swisher, but remain a bit corporate and stuffy. The Phillies have been off for a week, which could work wonders for their guys that are clearly tired (Utley, Madson, Feliz, Hamels), but could also leave them a bit rusty at the outset. The actual effect remains to be seen. 17 Yankees will be in the World Series for the first time, while only six Phillies (Ibanez, Lee, Francisco, Bako, Park and Antonio Bastardo) have not been to the Series prior to this year.
Advantage: It's intangible. If we could tell with any certainty, it'd be tangible. 
Yankees Win If - They effectively eliminate middle relief and get the ball to Rivera... A-Rod continues his hot streak and either Teixeira or Posada join in on the hot streak... Sabathia goes 3-0... They improve dramatically at hitting with runners in scoring position... They're not spooked by the Philadelphia crowd, or their 17 World Series newcomers aren't overwhelmed by the moment... Jeter is always on base... They can win twice at Citizens Bank Park, even with homefield advantage... Chad Gaudin doesn't get blitzed as a game four starter in Philadelphia... The Phillies let A-Rod beat them... If all these things go right, the Yankees win in a short series.
Phillies Win If- Rollins and Victorino get on base and cause trouble... Lidge continues to be playoff Brad Lidge, and not regular season Brad Lidge... Cole Hamels or Pedro Martinez pitch like they're capable... Cliff Lee goes 2-0... They get anything substantive from the bench/DH... Ryan Madson looks right... Utley, Werth or Ibanez has a monster series... The bottom of the order (Ruiz, Francisco, Feliz) get on base... The Yankees let Ryan Howard beat them... If all these things go right, the Phillies win in a short series.

Etc, Etc, Etc- This year's matchup is a rematch of the 1950 Series, which the Yankees won, 4-0... The Phillies are 16-4 in their last 20 postseason games, which has never been done by a National League team... The Phils would have swept the Yankees in New York earlier this season in interleague play, except for two blown saves by Brad Lidge... Jimmy Rollins predicted this World Series matchup in Playboy before the season started... The Yankees had the best home record in baseball, while the Phillies had the best road record... Neither team has a player on its active roster that has played for the other team... Phillies reliever Chad Durbin is on a World Series team for the third time in four years, having reached the Series with Detroit in 2006 and Philadelphia last year... He did not appear in a playoff game for Detroit... Only five Yankees have been to the World Series with the Yankees, and only four (Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, Rivera) have won a World Series with the Yanks... 18 of the Phillies 25 active roster players for the '09 Series were on the roster in '08... Three more Phillies on the '08 roster (J.C. Romero, Jamie Moyer, Clay Condrey) are inactive... Yankee reserve Eric Hinske struck out against Brad Lidge to end the 2008 World Series... The Phillies have never won a playoff series in which they have lost game one... Of course, prior to 2008, they had only ever won four playoff series... They've won five playoff series since since start of 2008, and look to make it one more before the start of 2010... 20 of 23 baseballl analysts picked the Yankees to win the Series, while 11 of 12 baseball analysts at picked likewise.

NYY World Series Roster- 2 Derek Jeter, 11 Brett Gardner, 13 Alex Rodriguez, 14 Eric Hinske, 17 Jerry Hairston Jr., 18 Johnny Damon, 20 Jorge Posada, 24 Robinson Cano, 25 Mark Teixeira, 26 Jose Molina, 30 David Robertson, 33 Nick Swisher, 34 A.J. Burnett, 41 Chad Gaudin, 42 Mariano Rivera, 43 Damaso Marte, 46 Andy Pettitte, 48 Phil Coke, 52 C.C. Sabathia, 53 Melky Cabrera, 55 Hideki Matsui, 62 Joba Chamberlain, 65 Phil Hughes, 91 Alfredo Aceves, 99 Brian Bruney

PHI World Series Roster- 4 Eric Bruntlett, 6 Ryan Howard, 7 Pedro Feliz, 8 Shane Victorino, 10 Ben Francisco, 11 Jimmy Rollins, 12 Matt Stairs, 19 Greg Dobbs, 23 Paul Bako, 26 Chase Utley, 28 Jayson Werth, 29 Raul Ibanez, 34 Cliff Lee, 35 Cole Hamels, 37 Chad Durbin, 39 Brett Myers, 43 J.A. Happ, 45 Pedro Martinez, 46 Ryan Madson, 47 Scott Eyre, 51 Carlos Ruiz, 54 Brad Lidge, 56 Joe Blanton, 58 Antonio Bastardo, 61 Chan Ho Park

Monday, October 26, 2009

LCS In Review

- Closers are scared. Scared. Closers are supposed to be the guys who come in with electric stuff and no fear, who say 'here it is, hit it' and let the chips fall where they may. However, too many closers in the playoffs have pitched scared. They keep going away, away, away. They're nibbling. Blah blah blah. You're the closer. YOU have the lead. YOU have shut down stuff. Use it. What is Jonathan Broxton doing staying away, away, away with Matt Stairs? I know Stairs took him about 9000 feet deep last year, but Stairs is hitting under .200 this year and looks done. And Broxton is throwing 100 mph. Go after the hitters.

- There are only two closers in the playoffs this year who haven't looked scared- Mariano Rivera and Brad Lidge. Their teams are in the World Series. Rivera and Lidge are also number one and two all-time in playoff saves and playoff series' closed out. Think those numbers and the corresponding World Series matchup of their respective teams is a coincidence? I don't either.

- Catchers visting the mound between pitches in the playoffs has got to be curtailed. I understand there are some big spots and some big pitches, but if a catcher needs to run out to talk to his pitcher one more time on a 1-1 count with no on and no out, I'm going to scream.

- Umpires, among other issues, need to keep the game going. Randy Wolf isn't ready to pinch run? Mariano Rivera isn't quite ready to come in, so Joba Chamberlain throws to first 72 times and never has the intent of throwing home? No. The men in blue need to keep the game going. If you're not ready, too bad.

- TBS is brutal at broadcasting baseball games. Brutal. Who's warming up in the bullpen? Who's likely to be used off the bench in a given spot? You would never know watching TBS. The camera work was baseball poor, and the thing that really drives me nuts is how they would remain on a long view shot as a pitch was about to be delivered. Show the game, not how many goofy camera angles you have.

- Chip Caray was alright at best behind the play-by-play mic.

- I like Ron Darling, however.

- Buck Martinez. Yawn. I can take or leave him.

- Great observation by my friend Chip (clearly not Caray), who pointed out that for whatever reason, catchers seem to rise up offensively come playoff time. You've seen it this year and last with Carlos Ruiz, and you've seen it in recent years from Yorvit Torrealba, Jason Varitek and any of the catching Molinas (I don't include Pudge Roriguez in that group, because he's always been a great offensive player). But why are catchers seemingly 'playoff clutch' more than second basemen or right fielders? I've seen this in college too, where the team I worked with had a catcher play better in a conference tournament than I had ever seen him play, and during this run he caught five games in four days. Maybe it's being more in tune with the game because you're a part of every play. Maybe it's the same inner qualities that makes catchers good managers (three of the final four managers were catchers in the bigs). Who knows? I don't. But it is a trend I'd expect to continue.

- Bottom line on the NLCS-  the Phillies are just better than the Dodgers. You can analyze it six ways to Sunday, but that's it. The Phillies lineup is better, the Phillies pitch better, run better, manage better, execute better. Period.

- The Dodgers do have bright days ahead of them, however.

- Cole Hamels stinks. He was as responsible as anyone for the Phils winning in '08, but he's killing them now. Who wouldn't pick the Phils to beat the Yankees if they had 08 Hamels and Cliff Lee at the top of the rotation?

- The umpiring has been terrible across all playoff series. Much worse in the ALCS than the NLCS though.

- The Angels played like a last-place team intimidated by the big, bad Yankees. One thing that drives me nuts is stupid, sloppy baseball. One reason I generally like watching the Angels is that they play clean an execute well. But in the ALCS... not so much. Nine walks in an elimination game? Vlad Guerrero getting picked off first on a shallow pop up to right? Everyone throwing the ball all over the place? Ugly.

- The Yankees were once again the beneficiaries of some horrendous mistakes in the ALCS. I'm not saying they didn't deserve to win either series, because they clearly did. But I am saying they were beatable, and it's unlikely that a team like the Phillies will let them off the hook when they mess up. The Phillies may not win, but they will make you beat them, as opposed to giving away games.

- Not counting NLCS game two, that is.

- Andy Pettitte was money in another elimination game. However, getting pushed to six games means Pettitte realistically only gets one start in the World Series.

- If the ALCS went seven, C.C. Sabathia would only have been able to pitch twice in the Series. Another good reason to close it out in six.

- A-Rod and Ryan Howard. I wouldn't pitch to either of them right now.

- Epic World Series on tap. Enjoy. Preview soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Around the League Championship Series

- If I learned anything hanging around University of Delaware baseball coach Jim Sherman for several years, it's this... value outs. Don't give them away offensively. Always take them when the offense gives you a chance for one. The reason I bring this up is not to pontificate about an earlier stage in my life, but rather because the teams in this year's playoffs are not treating outs with that respect, and they are often paying dearly for it. How many baserunners have you seen thrown out this playoff season for being just a little too careless on the bases (Bobby Abreu?) How many plays in the field have happened where a defender tried to be a hero instead of just getting an out (Maicer Izturis?). Don't give away outs on offense. Don't give extra outs on defense. If you do this, you have a good chance to win.

- Outs are the only thing that can stop a rally. There's no clock. Get outs. This drives me nuts when it's not executed by paid professionals, if you can't tell.

- The adage that in the playoffs more games are lost than are won is certainly coming true. The NLCS could be over by now, taking that view. The Phillies basically gave the Dodgers five outs in the deciding bottom of the eighth inning.

- People always want to complain about umpiring when there's a bad call, but this year's playoff umpiring has been ridiculous. Game four between the Yankees and Angels had so many clear calls that were missed it was unreal. What's going on here? What's the problem? I don't know what those answers are, but it has to stop.

- There is no accountability for umpires. None. Tom White, a longtime NFL referee, made an egregious error a couple years back, and got docked a game check. That doesn't happen to umpires. But it needs to.

- If there were accountability, about 15 umpires would have some serious cash flow limitations right now.

- Fascinating point made by Tom Verducci in the Wednesday edition of his Five Cuts column... it's so good, I haven't linked to it, I've copy/pasted it...
"Red Sox president Larry Lucchino has a term for playing in the intense conditions of the Northeast: East Coast Baseball. He is on to something. In Philadelphia, Boston and New York, almost every home game carries an intensity (from fans and media) that is a close facsimile to playoff baseball. And when you do get to October, the frequently cold, wet, blustery weather provides something else to battle, too.

I started thinking about East Coast Baseball as I watched the Dodgers and Angels go 0-4 in Philadelphia and New York in the LCS, all the while looking like they were not up to the challenges of the crowd and the weather. And then I thought, is there something to West Coast teams not measuring up to East Coast Baseball in October?

So I looked at all the West Coast teams -- the Dodgers, Angels, Athletics, Padres, Giants, Mariners and, because they fit the criteria except for a nearby beach, the Diamondbacks -- who have played East Coast Baseball in the postseason in the wild-card era, since 1995. In addition to New York and Philadelphia, other cities that fit the definition of East Coast Baseball at the time they hosted West Coast teams in the playoffs were Boston, Detroit and Baltimore.

It turns out there have been 22 playoff matchups when a West Coast team ventured into East Coast Baseball. The result: the West Coast teams are 10-36 in East Coast Baseball venues, a .217 winning percentage. In other words, get them out of their laid-back, warm environment and into the nasty conditions in the East, and they're not even the 1962 Mets.

And it is not getting any easier. Since 2003 the West Coast teams are 3-17 in East Coast Baseball playoff environments. That's the kind of history the Dodgers are up against tonight when they play NLCS Game 5 in Philadelphia. Bundle up, Dodgers."
Wow. What a great observation, but no surprise from Verducci.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NLCS Games 2-4

- Pedro Martinez and Vicente Padilla were both great in their respective starts. I wasn't real sure what to expect out of either.

- Chase Utley's defense cost the Phillies runs in three straight games, but is ultimately nothing to worry about. He's too good a player and too hard a worker to expect that to continue. The shame of losing game two was that the Phils could have returned home up 2-0 and would have had brooms on the mind.

- Just as damaging to the Phils cause was Ronnie Belliard's bunt that wasn't fielded. The Dodgers effectively got five outs from the Phillies, and scored just enough to win.

- Aside from all that, you can't expect to win when you score one run

- J.A. Happ continued to look scared in game two

- Game three was a classic 'somebody got to pay' game, with the Phils not amused by having their former teammate Padilla shove it to them. Hiroki Kuroda, nothing personal, it was just your turn.

- Find me a trade deadline deal in recent years with as much playoff impact as the Cliff Lee deal. Lee has been untouchable for the Phillies, while the Dodgers thought they had a deal done for him, and didn't end up with him. Think about how this series, the whole second half even, would be different if the Dodgers got Lee instead of the Phillies.

- And humor me a bit and assume that in the scenario above, the Phillies still didn't get Roy Halladay

- I wonder what Roy Halladay thinks when he watches the Phillies in the playoffs these days

- Manny Ramirez made a nice running grab in the eighth inning of game four, temporarily keeping the Dodgers in the lead. I guess that made up for the play in the sixth when Shane Victorino hit a ball into the leftfield corner and Manny loafed after it, then missed the cut off man, allowing Victorino to easily stride into third with a leftfield triple. I don't care how fast the runner is, THAT should never happen, save a ridiculous outfield overshift.

- Jonathan Broxton = Dennis Eckersley. Prior to game four, there had only been two walkoff extra base hits to win a playoff game when the hitting team had two outs and was trailing. One was Cookie Lavagetto in the 1947 World Series (ruining Bill Bevens no-hitter), and the other was Kirk Gibson's pinch-hit home run off of Eckersley in game one of the 1988 World Series. I think I've seen that play once or twice. In post game interviews, Broxton had that same stunned, vacant stare that Eck had after giving up the homer to Gibson.

- If you're Broxton and you throw 100 mph consistently, what are you doing nibbling around with Matt Stairs? I know he took you out 800 feet last year, but Stairs is done, and even the best pitchers get taken really deep every once in awhile. That's not showing the ability to quickly forget about bad pitches that a dominant closer needs, especially this time of year.

- Lost in all the hysteria over the way the Phillies won the game was the fact that Brad Lidge looked really, really good in his appearance. He blew away Matt Kemp and then froze Andre Ethier with a good tight slider to end the top of the ninth. The game was Lidge's first win of the year, regular season or playoffs.

- Once again, Eric Bruntlett finds himself right in the middle of Phillies history. Two game-winning runs in last year's World Series, an unassisted triple play, now he scores as the front half of the dramatic ending to 2009 NLCS Game Four. It's either a knack for being at the right place at the right time or dumb luck, but either way, big ups to Bruntlett.

- THAT boys and girls, is what I'm talking about when I illustrate the differences between the Phillies and the Mets. Or, as Mitch Williams said on the pre-pre-game show on the radio before game four, the Mets are the kid in high school that talks about beating people up, the Phillies are the team that actually beats people up.

Monday, October 19, 2009

ALCS Games 1-3

- In the first two games in New York, the Angels wanted no part of playing in the cold. I have a theory about cold weather baseball games. The team with the most guys wearing ski masks, ear flaps, etc. loses. The reason is that the team wearing all the extra stuff is thinking about staying warm, while the other team is thinking about baseball.

- Is that Angels team in games one and two the same Angel team that played all season long? The Angels under Mike Scioscia are known by playing clean and being fundamentally sound, traits which have abandoned them thus far in the Yankees series.

- My first two point were exemplified best by the ball hit by Hidecki Matsui in the first inning of game one. You may remember this play by Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar looking at each other as a lazy pop up fell in between them, scoring the second Yankee runs.

- I'm tired of teams giving the Yankees games on a silver platter. Good grief. The Yankees have won five games in the playoffs so far, and you could argue that three of those games (ALDS Game 2, ALCS Games 1 and 2) were "lost" by the opponent, and only one was really "won" by the Yankees. I thought for sure the Yankees would have to play better than they did against Minnesota to beat the Angels, but apparently that's not the case.

- Vladimir Guerrero's bat is slow. He hit the home run off Andy Pettitte, but Pettitte doesn't throw nearly as hard as C.C. Sabathia or A.J. Burnett, guys that overwhelmed Vlad in the first two games.

- Did anyone want to win game three? Both teams gave the other plenty of opportunites to take the win, only to have their opponent return the favor.

- Jeff Mathis, for a guy that apparently doesn't hit much, has had some big knocks against the Yankees, knocking three doubles in six at-bats.

- Anaheim's bullpen has to stop giving up the long ball. The Yankees have alot of guys that can hit the ball out of the park, but late in games, home runs are killers.

- By the way, Alex Rodriguez is still only hitting .250 this series. Two of his three hits happened to leave the yard.

- Scioscia is a bit shaken in his confidence in Brian Fuentes as his closer. And he should be. A-Rod took him out on an 0-2 pitch, but he didn't swing at strike one or two, which left Fuentes thinking he could power an 88 mph fastball up and away past A-Rod. Poor choice.

- Joe Girardi overmanaged game three just a little bit. Five Yankee pitchers threw less than an inning each in game three. His last move was especially curious, removing a righthanded pitcher (David Robertson) throwing well with two outs and no one on in the 11th inning for another righthanded pitcher (Alfredo Aceves) against a righthanded hitter. The righthanded hitter, Howi Kendrick, reached base and scored on a hit by Jeff Mathis. Strange.

- I'm going to first guess Joe Girardi using C.C. Sabathia on short rest in game four. It might work out, but if the series goes seven, Sabathia will pitch on short rest again, and then go short again in the World Series. Girardi trying to run through the ALCS and World Series with only three starting pitchers tells me that he thinks his other options aren't that great. In addition, Sabathia pitched Milwaukee to the playoffs last year, but started to show signs of wear with the mounting short-rest starts, ultimately culminating in a poor outing against the Phillies in the NLDS. Girardi doesn't need to throw Sabathia while still in control of the series unless he really doesn't trust any other option, and if that's true, the Yankees may have a bigger problem than is immediately visible.

Friday, October 16, 2009

NLCS Game 1

What a kickoff to the rematch of the 2008 NLCS between the Phillies and the Dodgers. Some thoughts post-game, if I'm relaxed enough after another four hours of white-knuckle baseball...

- For all the pre-game and pre-series talk about the Dodgers having such a shutdown bullpen and the Phillies having bullpen issues, it was the Dodger pen that gave it up, and the Phillies pen that got all the big outs it needed

- Shane Victorino still clearly has some animosity towards the Dodgers coarsing through his veins. I'm not sure why, but I don't care, he seems to play better when he's all charged up.

- Chan Ho Park was electric. The velocity and movement on his pitches was staggering. For a guy that hasn't pitched in a Major League game in a month, he was thrown right into the fire. Game 1 of the NLCS, tying run on second, no outs in the seventh inning. No big thing. Park got in Manny Ramirez' kitchen and got a weak ground out to third, blew away Matt Kemp with high cheese and then induced a weak ground ball to second from Casey Blake. What a job by Park. His injury was a hamstring issue, and maybe having a fresh arm is helping him at this point of the year.

- Cole Hamels is soft. He's just a big whiner and complainer. I'll even leave alone the fact that he showed up Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins after a botched double play grounder in the fifth. You could visibly see that he was in the tank after this, and he responded by throwing a gopher ball to Ramirez. Look, pal, you stunk all year, and then you stunk again against Colorado, and you stunk in game one. The offense (your fielders) just got you five runs. So stone up, go out and get some outs. Period. That's it. Darren Daulton was angry about Hamels on the postgame show. If Daulton played with Cole, he would've borderline fought the big soft lefty. I'm disgusted with Cole Hamels right now. Shut up, pitch, get outs, stop whining and making excuses.

- Manny Ramirez' bat looked awfully slow last night. He couldn't catch up to decent fastballs fired up there by Park or Madson, and his home run came on a change up. Visibly, he looks substantially smaller than he did last year also. Maybe all of this is coincidental, but taking those observable items into consideration along with his post-suspension statistics (bad compared to pre-suspension), you can't help but think alot of ManRam's dominence in recent years has been chemically derived.

-Randy Marsh was terrible behind the plate. No strike zone, no consistency to it, nothing. He also allowed Joe Torre to stall far too long to get Randy Wolf ready to pinch run in the sixth. Sorry, if you're not ready to go, tough luck.

- More than any other Dodger, Rafael Furcal scares me. He's a good player, and has been back to his days in Atlanta, and he always seems like he's getting big hits. There are probably others that should scare me more, but Furcal is it in that lineup.

- Andre Ethier is swinging a really hot stick these days, however

- Clayton Kershaw showed his youth on the mound in game one. Torre believed he could be what Hamels was last year. He was not.

- Torre again got outmanaged by Charlie Manuel. He stuck with Kershaw too long, costing his team two runs on a double by Ryan Howard. I think he also hooked Hon Chi Kuo a little too early, as Kuo is tough on the Phillies.

- George Sherrill had the look of a guy a little overwhelmed by the big stage

- As did J.A. Happ

- Ryan Madson concerns me. I think he's just about out of gas. He's still throwing hard, but not as hard as a month ago, and the ball isn't moving as much on him. That's two straight rough outings for him, even with three days rest in between.

- I don't know if Brad Lidge is all the way back. But watching him, he certainly believes he is, and that might be all that matters.

- Carlos Ruiz is some kind of playoff performer. He's hitting .375 with six RBI in five playoff games so far in 2009, and in his career has hit over .300 in four of his five playoff series. He had a huge deflating three-run bomb off of Kershaw in game one to compliment a walkoff 28 foot roller to win game three of last year's World Series. 'Chooch' as he is known to the Phils and their fans, has been dubbed 'Senor Octobre' on local sports talk radio.

- Interesting thought on Pedro Martinez starting in game two in LA as opposed to back in Philadelphia. I don't remember where I heard it in order to give credit, but it's a good idea. The thought goes that you start Pedro in LA because the park is much bigger and more forgiving, which are all obviously good things. But, beyond that, those factors allow Pedro to nibble a bit more and not have to be so aggressive in the zone.

- The Dodgers now have to rely on Vicente Padilla in a must-win game two in Los Angeles. Padilla could shut it down, or blow sky high, with no way to predict either outcome.

- Torre clearly had no interest in having Padilla start a game at Citizens Bank Park. That would greatly increase the chances of a meltdown.

Jayson Stark's column makes several good points regarding game one. My two favorites...
- The Dodgers brought the tying run or go-ahead run to the plate 17 times in the game, and never pulled even
- George Sherrill had given up one home run to a lefthanded hitter in the last two seasons before giving up an eighth inning bomb to Raul Ibanez

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Phillies- Rockies Game Four


Just wow. There have been a handful of baseball games that I've watched in my life that have left me exhausted and breathless at their conclusion. Game Seven of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Diamondbacks, when Luis Gonzalez' blooper beat the unbeatable Mariano Rivera, was one such game. Game seven of the 2003 ALCS, when Aaron Boone beat the Red Sox and sent the Yankees to the World Series, also comes to mind.

Game four between the Phillies and the Rockies is the latest entry to this list.

The game took on an even deeper level of anxiety and exhaustion for me, given that I had a rooting interest in the outcome, one that would legitimately sour my mood for several hours if the end result was not what I had wanted.

If you missed it, the Phillies defeated the Rockies, 5-4, on Monday night to advance to the National League Championship Series for the second consecutive season.

The game started out with a bang as the second batter of the game, Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino, turned around an Ubaldo Jimenez fastball and launched it into the Rockies bullpen for a 1-0 Phils lead.

And 1-0 looked like it would hold up for awhile, especially given the dominance exhibited by Cliff Lee. Lee started game one against the Rocks, and threw a complete game that missed becoming a shutout by only one out, as the Rockies scored their lone run in the 5-1 defeat with two outs in the ninth.

Lee was not as sharp as he had been in game one, where he dominated by using a well located fastball and sharp cutter to get ahead of and put away Colorado hitters. Like game one, Lee got into trouble in the first inning, but was able to escape without any runs scoreing. He would go on to strike out five in the first five innings, while the Phillies added a run on a solo shot from Jayson Werth in the sixth.

Up 2-0 entering the bottom of the sixth, the Phils had missed a few opportunities to really put the Rockies away, particularly when they did not score after loading the bases with only one out in the third. The Rockies took advantage, with Todd Helton scoring ahead of a Troy Tulowitzki double to cut the lead in half, 2-1. With 'Tulo' on second and only one out, Colorado looked poised to tie a game they shouldn't have even been in, when Garrett Atkins rocket was snared by Pedro Feliz and Tulowitzki was doubled off second to end the threat.

Heading to the eighth with the score still tied at one, one got the feeling that this game was far from over. The Phillies then loaded the bases with one out for the second time in the game, chasing Franklin Morales from the game, and bringing on Rafael Betancourt. Phillie third baseman Pedro Feliz swung at and popped up the first pitch from Betancourt, setting off uncountable unsavory exclamations in the Delaware Valley. Carlos Ruiz followed with a good at bat, but ultimately grounded out to shortstop. For the second time in the game, the Phils came up empty after loading the bases with one out. Generally, pulling a stunt like that will come back to haunt you.

And it did. With one out, Dexter Fowler walked and Todd Helton hit a roller to Chase Utley at second. With the ball and Fowler arriving at Utley at the same time, Fowler leapt CLEAR OVER Utley to avoid a collision. Perhaps flustered by the leap, Utley tossed the ball to Jimmy Rollins, who dropped it. Two on, one out, Tulowitzki up, Cliff Lee and Raul Ibanez out, Ryan Madson and Ben Francisco in. Tulowitzki hits a sinking liner to left that is snared on a great diving catch by Francisco, a play that almost certainly would not have been made by the much slower Ibanez. Two outs, runners on first and second, Phils still leading 2-1. Jason Giambi pinch hits and flares a first-pitch bleeder inside the line in left to tie the game. Yorvit Torrealba follows with a double in the right-centerfield gap, scoring the slow Helton and Giambi. Rockies lead 4-2. Coors Field is going nuts. Huston Street is coming in. A winner-take-all game five in Philadelphia looks imminent.

Street came into the game to protect the Rockie lead, a goal he was successful in achieving all but two times in 2009. He struck out Greg Dobbs for one out, allowed a single to Rollins, and got an out when Victorino grounded into a fielder's choice. With two outs and a runner on first, Huston Street threw up all over himself. There is no nicer way to say it. He got scared and fell apart like a little girl.

Facing Utley in a big situation can be intimidating to any closer, particularly when he represents the tying run. But man up. Street threw six pitches to Utley, none of them closer than the outter black, clearly terrified to threw anything that Utley could hit. If you're a closer and you're scared, you're in a world of trouble.

Having not challenged Utley, Street now had to deal with Ryan Howard with the tying run on base, and continued to look scared, throwing away, away, away to Howard. Down 2-1 in the count, Street had no choice but the throw a strike, and Howard banged it off the wall in right, bringing in Victorino and Utley to tie the game. Werth followed with a great piece of bad ball hitting, putting a good swing on a pitch down and away and looping a single to short center that gave the Phils a 5-4 lead.

But with the Phillies bullpen this year, you can't count on anything until 27 outs are recorded. With the pitcher's spot due up followed by the top of the order Charlie Manuel called upon lefty Scott Eyre to start the ninth. Eyre retired two hitters, but allowed two to reach base, brining up Tulowitzki, Colorado's most dangerous hitter. At this point, Manuel went to the mound to bring in his beleagured closer, Brad Lidge. Lidge made no pretense about hit intent, throwing a slider for a called strike one. He then stayed with the slider exclusively, moving the count to 2-2. At 2-2, Lidge went with one more slider, which Tulowitzki realized a bit too late and could not hold up his swing, striking out to end the series.

Jubilation in Philadelphia. Deflation in Denver. This game four showed the resolve of a champion, but also the mettle of a worthy opponent.
Lidge has a long way to go to prove that he's completely back to his old self, but he looks better and saved two of the Phils three wins against the Rockies.

And now the Phillies head to the NLCS to take on the Dodgers for the second straight season. Get ready for another round of intense National League playoff games.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Division Series Wrap-Up

Quick hitters, by series...

Dodgers- Cardinals

- This one was over the second that Matt Holiday took one off the, um, cajones.
- Cards looked content to just pack it in down 0-2, even though they were at home
- Matt Holliday and Brendan Ryan combined to go 3-24 in the series, with the only home run, RBI and run scored on a homer by Holliday in game two
- Conversely, Rafael Furcal and Andre Ethier both hit .500 for the Dodgers
- Ethier also hit two home runs and scored five times, which is one run fewer than the Cardinals team
- Albert Pujols didn't score a run and had one RBI... Holliday and Carpenter struggled, the Cards lost. It's just that simple
- The real drama begins now with the Cards, as Holliday is a free agent, as is manager Tony LaRussa, who has been rumored to have drawn interest in Cincinatti and Houston
- Whereever LaRussa goes, magic man pitching coach Dave Duncan is sure to follow
- The Dodgers won in large part thanks to their superior bullpen depth. Power arms live in the Dodger pen. Lots of 'em.

- The Twins had so many chances to win Friday's game two, they'll probably think about it all off-season. I don't even have the time or the energy to recount them, particularly because of how angry they made me
- Joe Mauer's flare on the line in left in the 11th inning of game two was a double, yes. But when the bases are loaded with no one out, you have to score. Just that simple.
- Joe Nathan is too good a pitcher to groove a fastball that could tie a game to a hitter like A-Rod. That pitch, and alot of the series, looked like the Twins were affected by the big stage.
- The Yankees swept, but they'll have to play much better to win a series to beat a good team. Minnesota was the best in the AL Central, but clearly not on par with the Yankees, Angels and Red Sox.
- The Yankees hit only .225 against Minnesota, led by A-Rod going .445/2/6
- Yes, THAT A-Rod
- I heard Ken Rosenthal explain that this performance doesn't mean A-Rod is clutch, it's just that, like Barry Bonds several years ago, a player this good can't choke in the playoffs EVERY time
- The Yankees feasted on Twins mistakes- fielding, pitching, baserunning.
- The Angels don't make mistakes like that, nor do they beat themselves
- Nothing really to see here, the Yankees won three games against a team they should beat

Angels- Red Sox
-Wow. The Angels beat Boston in every way you can. They roughed up starters, squelched the lineup, roughed up middle relief, roughed up the closer.
- The Halos clearly are not intimidated by the Sox any longer
- Turns out the weakness Boston had, which I neglected to see, was the lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury lead the Sawx with a .250 batting average in the series. Pedroia, Bay, Youkillis were all terrible.
- It's not hard to see why the Sox think they have a closer for the future in Daniel Bard
- Jonathan Papelbon picked a bad time to give up his first playoff runs ever
- The Angels look like the most focused, inspired team thus far. Maybe that's just a product of dominating the series, but they did so in impressive fashion

- The only non-sweep of the first round, these two played in two great playoff games in Denver
- Game four deserves it's own entry, which I'll start after I finish this
- Six of the Phils eight regulars hit over .300 in the series against the Rockies
- Carlos Gonzalez is going to be some kind of player. It seemed like he was on base every time he came to the plate. He can run, he's got a little pop, good arm, but he's got to get a bit better tracking balls in the outfield.
- Cliff Lee was a man in his first two playoff appearances. Two earned runs and 11 hits in 16.1 innings, with a 10/3 strikeout to walk ratio.
- Ubaldo Jimenez could be a complete dominator if he can refine a secondary pitch. He's got to be able to put hitters away better and keep his pitch counts down. Only 25, he throws an awful lot of pitches and innings, which worries me in terms of injury potential in the following season.
-Scott Eyre came up HUGE for the Phillies as a lefty specialist in the absence of J.C. Romero
-Yorvit Torrealba apparently is one of those players who is pretty ordinary during the season, but turns it on in the playoffs
- Colorado didn't play Ian Stewart or Brad Hawpe much in the series, opting instead for Garrett Atkins and Ryan Spillborghs/Seth Smith. That worked out for the Phillies, as lesser righthanded hitters were in the lineup against the Phils lefthanded starters.
- Clint Barmes pulled the ohfer. As in zero for the series.

Overarching Themes Across Multiple Series
- The umpiring in the Division Series' was terrible. Just awful. Big calls, bad strike zones, everything. However, since everyone was mad at the umpires, that probably means no one got screwed more than anyone else. I saw way, way too many managers jogging out to argue numerous calls.
- Very good 2009 regular season closers Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Franklin, Huston Street and Joe Nathan impode. Terrible 2009 regular season closer Brad Lidge goes perfect
- It seems like everyone made out trading or trading for Matt Holliday except for the A's. Holliday helped vault the Cardinals into the playoffs, while Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street helped Colorado win the NL wild card
- The Cardinals and Rockies combined to win only one playoff game, however
- MLB should be embarrassed to have some of these start times. If the Phillies had swept the Rockies, then some good fans with good 9-5 jobs (as in, those who buy tickets and merchandise) would not have been able to see even one game of the series, with games one and two during the afternoon in the work week, and game three starting at 10:05 on Sunday night, and not ending until 2:14 am. That's shameful to do to any team, never mind the defending World Series champions. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a Phillies fan, it's not fair for any team's fans to get the shaft like that. I'd venture to say that if you put on Phillies-Rockies at 7 pm and Yankees-Twins at 7 pm, the ratings would be comparable to the teams not playing in the same time slot. After all, why did baseball move to nights in the first place? More people can watch.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Playoff Day Two Wrap-Up

Thoughts from the second of many late, late nights of baseball in the 2009 playoffs... Red Sox-Angels ends right before 1 am.... I'm a night owl, but playoff games are exhausting... Anyway, DAY TWO...

- Cole Hamels looked mighty average against the Rockies on Thursday. Surely, his wife going into labor weighed on his mind, but still. He stinks in day games, and doesn't look any better having whined about the start times.

- Can the Phillies ever actually nail a runner that Cole Hamels picks off? That's at least four times this year that Hamels has had a runner picked off but didn't record the out. And when I say that, I'm saying, Ryan Howard can't throw. Or at least, it's not Hamels' fault.

- Charlie Manuel didn't have the greatest day of his managerial career, but it wasn't nearly as bad as some people would have you believe. What's wrong with going to Pedro Martinez in game three, then coming back with Blanton or Happ in game four? The original plan would have had Blanton or Happ in game three and Pedro in game four. The big deal here is.... what exactly?

- The biggest problem Manuel has is that he doesn't have anyone to go to. Last year, he had J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre, even Clay Condrey, with Brad Lidge anchoring the back end. Right now, Manuel can reliably go to Madson and Eyre in the pen. That's it. Desperation is the mother of invention, even when it comes to using starting pitchers in a relief role in the playoffs.

- Aaron Cook should not look that good in the playoffs. Ever. Ever. Ever.

- Antonio Bastardo looked like a legitimate lefthander out of the bullpen. He blew two fastballs by Jason Giambi, sandwiched around a hard slider to get out of a bases loaded jam. Impressive for a guy that threw one inning since mid-June.

- Sign number one it's the playoffs- Cliff Lee was used as a pinch runner in the ninth inning of game two.

- Adam Wainwright came as advertised.

- So did Clayton Kershaw.

- Matt Holliday has got to be sick about the ninth inning of game two. He ran a long way to get to the ball hit by James Loney, but he's got to catch that. Losing that game could become the Cardinals version of the Bill Buckner incident.

- Even after the error, Ryan Franklin needs to get out someone out of Casey Blake, Ronnie Belliard, Russell Martin and Mark Loretta.

- I don't care what his regular season numbers were, Ryan Franklin stinks.

- Worst facial hair of the playoffs? Right now, the contenders are Brendan Ryan, Jason Giambi and Ryan Franklin. Giambi is the early leader in the clubhouse.

- BIG BIG BIG win for the Angels. After going 1-9 against the BoSox in their playoff matchups of 2004, 07 and 08, the Angels needed to get off to a good start, and did just that. John Lackey dominated the Sawx lineup and Torii Hunter's blast gave the Halos all the offense they needed.

- Hunter getting fired up in the dugout was more like a linebacker getting fired up after a big stick on special teams.

- Be careful bouncing the helmet like that in a confined space, Torii. I had visions of that thing bouncing up and clocking someone right under the eye.

- Jon Lester didn't have great command, as evidenced by his four walks. His defense made him work harder than he should have had to, however.

- Ramon Ramirez had a bit of a meltdown for the Sox when the game was still within reach. One inning, two runs, three hits, a walk, a hit batter and the last out of the inning coming on a runner cut down at the plate. Not exactly the way to keep it close.

- Daniel Bard. Wow. I sense man-crushville in his future.

- Rough night for the umpiring crew in Anaheim, especially home plate umpire Joe West (overrated) and first base umpire C.B. Bucknor (just not that good). Both drew plenty of ire from both managers, and West especially drew the ire of Lester.

- Boston issued five walks and committed three errors. Anaheim issued one walk and committed no errors. If you don't play clean in October, you don't win.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Playoff Day One Wrap-Up

It's late and I'm tired, so please excuse any incorrect spelling or syntax. But here are my immediate thoughts after Wednesday's (and into Thursday morning) action...

- Cliff Lee was dominating against Colorado, giving up only a garbage-time run to the Rockies. He worked quick, he was aggressive, he stayed ahead of hitters and worked both sides of the plate. Masterful performance by Lee.

- Yorvit Torrealba is terrible trying to nail base stealers. Cliff Lee stole second for crying out loud. The Phillies clearly made it a point to run on Torrealba, and he did nothing to slow them down. Gunning Ryan Howard isn't exactly a prized kill, and Howard beat the throw but short legged the slide. Chris Iannetta is better defensively, but isn't nearly the hitter. We'll see how Jim Tracy plays that.

- Judging by ninth inning bullpen activity (Ryan Madson and J.A. Happ), Charlie Manuel looks ready to use whoever is the best matchup to close games out this postseason.

- Games three and four for the Phillies will be started by two of the three that aren't used out of the pen between Joe Blanton, Happ, and Pedro Martinez. Because of Colorado's struggle with lefthanders, I'd be shocked if he didn't get a start.

- The wind affected a few plays in the game, most notably on Jayson Werth's blast to left that would have been gone by 20 rows on most days. Upon reaching third with a triple, Werth visibly expressed his disbelief that the ball hadn't left the yard and appeared to mouth an incredulous "I hit the (bleeping bleep) out of that ball." Indeed, each fly ball was an adventure in the Phils-Rocks matchup, particularly those hit to the left side.

- The biggest at-bat in the Phils-Rocks game was turned in by Carlos Ruiz, who turned in a great at-bat against Ubaldo Jimenez that culminated in an RBI hit that put the Phils up 2-0. Ruiz fouled off a 1-2 pitch, took a ball, then spit on a tough breaking ball that was just inside to make the count 3-2. He then fouled off another pitch before driving a ball to right to give the Phillies a multi-run lead, and they would never look back.

- The Twins looked like a team that played a 12-inning elimination game 1500 miles away 20 hours prior.

- Phil Hughes is better as a setup man than I thought

- Francisco Liriano is nowhere close to his pre-Tommy John surgery self.

- Hong-Chih Kuo can bring it. He blew away Troy Glaus with straight gas.

- The Dodger bullpen is deep with power arms, anchored by Jonathan Broxton and his 100 mph last pitch of the game.

- It appears easy enough to not let Albert Pujols beat you. Walk him.

- Good day: Cliff Lee, Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz, Derek Jeter, Phil Hughes, Alex Rodriguez, Matt Kemp

- Bad day: Yorvit Torrealba, Ubaldo Jimenez, Phillies-Rockies umpiring crew, Brian Duensing, Chris Carpenter

- Finally, the fourth Division Series matchup kicks off Thursday in Anaheim, with the Red Sox taking on the Angels for the fourth time in six seasons. On his blog, Curt Schilling offers his analysis of the series. Schilling may be seen as a blowhard by some, but he is undeniably one of the more thoughtful and articulate players to pass through MLB in the last generation. And if anyone is qualified to analyze this series, it would be Schilling, who pitched for the Red Sox against Anaheim in '04 and '07, and was on the DL in '08.

- Finally, you've got to be kidding me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Playoff Preview From My iPod

Let me introduce you to
The characters
In the show
"I Dare You" by Shinedown

The biggest show in baseball is nearly here. And the characters should be familiar. Of the eight teams in the playoff field, all eight have been in its League Championship Series since 2002, six have been to the World Series since 2002 (the Dodgers and Twins are the only teams that haven't), and five have won the whole thing this decade.

For many years now, ESPN's John Buccigross has used song lyrics in his NHL season preview columns, using a couple of lines that he found to be especially apropos for that team in that particular season. I've decided to adapt this concet in my preview of the 2009 MLB Playoffs, and to give 'Bucci' dap for it, since it's not my idea. As you can see, my iPod has a hard rock edge to it. Without further ado...

American League

1) New York Yankees---

And all you seek
And all you gain
And all you step on with no shame
There are no rules
No one to blame
The price to play the game
"Price to Play" by Staind

Overview: The Yankees enter the 2009 post-season as the de facto favorite in the mind of many. Their 103-59 record in the regular season was six games better than the second best record in baseball. Offensively, the Yankees set the pace for everyone, leading MLB in runs, home runs, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The numbers are likely skewed by their new hitter-friendly ballpark, but regardless, the lineup is legit from 1-9. The offseason additions of C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett have also stabilized the front of the rotation, which sorely lacked horses at the lead the last few seasons. However, in New York, making the playoffs is the very, very least that is expected, and now the real season- and the real expectations- begin anew for the Bronx Bombers.

What Could Go Right: The lineup of mashers overwhelms their opponents. The starting staff does a good job front-runner, taking advantage of strong run support from the offense. C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte all pitch well enough to get the game right to Mariano Rivera.

What Could Go Wrong: Sabathia lives up to his 7.92 career playoff ERA, Burnett continues his meltdown, and Pettitte shows his age. Joba Chamberlain, who stinks, is needed. Middle relief falters again and can't get the ball to The Sandman. A-Rod continues to struggle in the playoffs and he pulls the lineup down around him.

Bottom Line: The lineup will almost certainly score runs, so the Yankees ultimate fate in 2009 rests with how well the starting pitchers perform.

2) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim---

Our scars remind us
That the past is real
"Scars" by Papa Roach

Overview: No team is dealing with as much heading into the opening round of the playoffs as the Angels. LA's other team will play the Red Sox in the ALDS, a team that has eliminated the Halos three times in the past five seasons. The 2009 season started off in trying fashion with the tragic death of 22-year old pitcher Nick Adenhardt hours after his season debut. Ace reliever Scot Shields was lost for the season after 20 games. And in a late-season series in Boston, manager Mike Scioscia and closer Brian Fuentes insinuated that the Fenway crowds get into the heads of umpires, which means that either the Fenway crowds, or the umpires, or both, have gotten into their own heads. But this team doesn't win 95 games a year on accident, and they are a formidible, tough, scrappy bunch heading into the post-season.

What Could Go Right: When you can roll out John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir in a short series, you've got a chance. The Angels don't hit for power, but their speed game never slumps, they don't make mistakes, and they make you pay for yours. Pitching, speed, defense and execution is a good combination come playoff time.

What Could Go Wrong: Bobby Abreu is their best hitter, and he's never been one to shy away from trying to stand there get a big walk. Fuentes has been shaky at times this year, and the playoffs would be a bad time for that to re-appear. The Angels lack of power is completely overwhelmed by the power arms Boston rolls out. The Red Sox and/or Fenway Park and its crowd remain in the Angels collective heads.

Bottom Line: Maybe it's just the matchups, but the Angels can't seem to shake Boston. But if they can, they've fared pretty well against the Yankees in recent years, particularly in the playoffs.

3) Minnesota Twins---

Do you bury me when I'm gone?
Do you teach me while I'm here?
Just as soon as I belong
Then it's time I disappear
"I Disappear" by Metallica

Overview: The Twins trailed the Tigers by seven games on September 6th, and trailed by three games with only four left to play. It took until the 12th inning of the thrilling 163rd game, but the Twins finally came all the way back and took the AL Central title from Detroit, all the while playing without Justin Morneau since September 12th. However, the combination of chasing down the Tigers, and then the one-game playoff, then playing in New York the next day is probably too much to come back from in a short series.

What Could Go Right: The Twins are a 'whole is greater than the sum of their parts' kind of team. They're scrappy, run well, move runners, pitch well enough and have a great go-to guy in MVP level catcher Joe Mauer. If they can get an early lead in a game or the series, the Yankees could start to feel the pressure they're under, similar to the Cubs in 2008. The Twins are just young enough to not recognize how tired they are and that they're not supposed to even compete with the Yankees. Joe Nathan shuts it down and serves as a late-inning neutralizer to the Yankee lineup.

What Could Go Wrong: The Yankee lineup completely overwhelms the ace-less Twins staff. The Twins fall too far behind in games one and two to even get their feet under them after the play-in win over Detroit. The Yankees are just a better team, and beat the Twins in all seven regular season matchups in 2009.

Bottom Line: The Twins have done an amazing job making the playoffs five times since 2002 with a bad stadium, small market, and losing players such as David Ortiz and Torii Hunter in that time frame. However, they haven't had the elements to win in the playoffs, and I don't think that will change this season.

4) Boston Red Sox---

When no one understands at this point
That a handful of redemption's all we need
"Handful of Redemption" by Boy Sets Fire

Overview: The trip to the playoffs is a familiar one for the Red Sox, who have been a part of the post-season derby every year but one since 2003. However, they're still left with the sting of losing in seven games to a Tampa Bay team they were probably better than in last year's ALCS, and enter this year's playoffs looking to make amends. As September shifts to October, the Sawx may be the team best set up to make a run in October. They have starting pitching, bullpen depth, a lockdown closer, and a lineup that remains formidable despite have a few spots that have shown age. The Sox also have playoff experience, grit, and several old war horses that are sure to crank it up with everything on the line.

What Could Go Right: Power arms win in the playoffs, especially out of the bullpen, and you would be hard pressed to find more power than Billy Wagner, Daniel Bard, Ramon Ramirez and Jonathan Papelbon coming out of any pen. Add in lefty specialist Hideki Okajima, and the Sox have the ability to shut a game down after five or six innings. Veterans like Jason Varitek and David Ortiz play with an awful lot of pride on the line, and have always come through when the games matter the most. Leading in with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and a revitalized Dice-K don't hurt the cause. Neither does having MVP caliber players like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

What Could Go Wrong: Ortiz and Varitek look old, creating two big holes in the lineup. Dice-K looks more like the first half of the year, Buchholz gets overwhelmed by the big stage, Beckett's struggles continue. The Angels get over their Sawx-related issues.

Bottom Line: On the eve of the playoffs, the Red Sox are the team with the fewest questions. All of the areas for concern are pretty well addressed. Surprises and upsets do happen, but this team will not go down easily, because they don't have a discernable weakness that could drag them down and cost them games repeatedly. But that's certainly not to say they're going to win it all, or even the first round. But their flaws are not as obvious or exploitable as those of other playoff teams.

National League

1) Los Angeles Dodgers---

'Cause yesterday's got nothing for me
Old pictures that I'll always see
Time just fades the pages
In my book of memories
"Yesterdays" by Guns N' Roses

Overview: Joe Torre and Manny Ramirez grab all of the headlines and play prominently in the dream World Series scenarios of fans and media alike, but the past glory of Torre and Ramirez aren't going to help a Dodger team that staggered to the finish line. Perhaps no top-seeded team in any sport has held that top seed with as tenuous a grasp as the Dodgers hang onto the number one seed in the 2009 NL playoffs. When Randy Wolf is slated to start game one of the playoffs for you, you know things aren't going real well.

What Could Go Right: The young core of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney continues its ascension to the upper echelon of young talent with another strong postseason outing. The bullpen is pretty good, probably the best of the NL playoff field, and more than capable of shutting down a game in which the Dodgers have a late lead.

What Could Go Wrong: Manny Ramirez' final numbers look alright, but look at his pre and post suspension splits... .355 vs. 255, 9 home runs in 36 games vs. 10 in 68, only two more runs scored after his suspension than before in 32 games more. Not good. Since the Manny got to the Dodgers, they go as he goes, and he hasn't gone much of anywhere lately. Randy Wolf starting game one, Chad Billingsley being so bad that Vicente Padilla gets talked about potentially getting a start... these are not good scenarios for the Dodgers.

Bottom Line: Sometimes a team will slide down the stretch and turn it on in the playoffs and make a run (see: 2005 White Sox). I don't think this is one of them, not with their starting pitching in the state it's in.

2) Philadelphia Phillies---

I need somebody
Not just anybody
You know I need someone
"Help" by the Beatles

Overview: On paper, the 2008 world champs might be the best team in baseball. A bruising lineup, deep bullpen, and perfect closer were augmented with a more steady producer in left with Raul Ibanez, and the 2008 AL Cy Young winner in Cliff Lee. However, as Kenny Mayne was fond of saying, games aren't played on paper, they're played inside of television sets. The lineup remained great, Raul became an instant hit in Philadelphia, Cliff Lee was a great pickup, but the bullpen completely fell apart. Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero, Clay Condrey and Scott Eyre all missed significant time to injury (and in Romero's case, suspension too), while Brad Lidge went from the best closer's season ever to one of the worst, blowing 11 saves in 42 chances. Ryan Madson remained dominant in a setup role, but was about 50-50 as the closer, and even a few more potential contenders to the throne (Chan Ho Park, Brett Myers) were felled by injury. The Phillies bullpen situation remains the single biggest question in the postseason, and could ensure another Phillies world title, or cause an early exit.

What Could Go Right: Lee and Cole Hamels lock down the first two games of each series, followed by a steady stream of quality starters in Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ and/or Pedro Martinez. The lineup pounds teams and makes it easy to front run the starting pitchers. The starters are economical with their pitches to limit bullpen innings. Madson is the only reliever the Phils have to use. Lidge shakes off the regular season, and buyoed by a clean slate, pitches decent enough to close consistently.

What Could Go Wrong: Chase Utley continues to struggle in the playoffs. The regulars remain worn down from all the at-bats in the regular season. The injury bug continues to bite... And, of course, the back end of the bullpen, no matter who it is, explodes.

Bottom Line: If you give me the Phillies pitching numbers in save situations in this year's playoffs, I'll tell you how far they went. Sometimes baseball is a very simple game. Analyzing the Phillies' chances in 2009 is one such time.

3) St. Louis Cardinals---

I'ma do the things that I want to do
I ain't got a thing to prove to you
I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans
Excuse my manners if I make a scene
I ain't gonna wear the clothes that you like
I'm fine and dandy with the me inside
One look in the mirror and I'm tickled pink
I don't give a hoot about what you think
"Pork and Beans" by Weezer

Overview: Tony LaRussa has spent a long time managing in the Major Leagues, doing things his own way. Some people like him, some can't stand him, but no one can argue with the success he's had. Joined by his reliable deputy, pitching coach Dave Duncan, the Cardinals are perenially in the hunt for the National League pennant, and this year, like many others, the Cards are getting seemingly miraculous seasons out of players found on the scrap heap. Players like Ryan Franklin, Joel Piniero, Joe Thurston and Skip Schumacher. I'd call it luck, except LaRussa's teams always come up with these guys. But make no mistake: the Cardinals are dependent on four guys. Four. Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Whatever the Cards get out of these four will be what they get out of this playoff run.

What Could Go Right: Wainwright and Carpenter win two games a series, and Holliday and Pujols keep tearing the cover off the ball.

What Could Go Wrong: What's listed above doesn't happen.

Bottom Line: Barring a huge playoff outing from a guy like Brendan Ryan or Rick Ankiel or Jason Motte, the Cardinals fortunes really do ride on their big four. Other teams know it too, and are likely to try to make Schumacher and Mark DeRosa and Yadier Molina, etc try to make the difference.

4) Colorado Rockies---

Into the flood again
Same old trip it was back then
"Would?" by Alice in Chains

Overview: The Rockies enter the playoffs as the Wild Card team taking on the Phillies for the second time in three years, looking to use a hot September as a springboard into the postseason. This year's edition is an apparent amalgamation of themselves from 2007 and the Marlins of 2003. In 2007, the Rockies won 14 of their last 15 regular season games to snag the NL Wild Card, then captured seven straight playoff games to advance to the World Series. This year, the Rockies won 18 games in September to leap over the Giants for the NL Wild Card, and played to within the final weekend of catching the Dodgers for the NL West title. The '03 Marlins started out 16-22 and fired manager Jeff Torborg, replacing him Jack McKeon. McKeon then guided the Marlins to a 75-49 record the rest of the way, winning the NL Wild Card, and eventually, the World Series. This year's Rockies started 18-28, fired manager Clint Hurdle, and under the guidance of Jim Tracy, have gone 74-42 and have taken the NL Wild Card. How much further the parrallels extend remains to be seen. But you don't go 74-42 over any stretch if you're not a very good team.

What Could Go Right: The Rocks continue to ride the wave of momentum that has carried them into the playoffs. They've clearly shown that they're the type of team that plays it's best in the second half when the games matter the most.

What Could Go Wrong: The Rockies struggle against left-handed pitching, and the Phillies are likely to trot out three lefties in the first round. The loss of Jorge de la Rosa could leave a void they can't easily fill. Middle relief gets pounded by better lineups in the playoffs than they face all year in the NL West. Jason Marquis remembers that he's Jason Marquis.

Bottom Line: The Rockies are a tough out, but they're pitching is probably playing over its head. However, they are playing better entering the playoffs than the other three NL playoff entrants. But as the saying goes, momemtum is tomorrow's starting pitcher, which probably equalizes that factor. The Rockies are good enough to win a round or two, but aren't as good as the Phillies or Cardinals, so if they do it will most likely be because they're opponent played poorly. Which could very well happen.

AL Predictions:
ALDS: Yankees over Twins (3-0), Red Sox over Angels (3-1)
ALCS: Red Sox over Yankees (4-2)
ALCS MVP: Jason Bay

NL Predictions:
NLDS: Cardinals over Dodgers (3-1)
I don't predict games or series that my teams are in, so I'm not picking anything NL wise unless or until the Phillies are eliminated