Baseball playoff time!
I both love and hate the baseball playoffs. I love the excitement of it. I love how possible upsets are in 5 and 7 game series. I love the way everything is magnified–every out, every hit, every pitch.
I hate the way some geniuses have decided that the best way to crown the champion of a 162 game season, is to have the “best” 8 teams race to 11 wins. The best team hardly ever wins–and win the best teams don’t win most of the time, then there’s no such thing as an upset. There’s just chaos.
I hate the way that I can pay $200 for MLB’s Extra Innings package, providing me any game I want, except on Saturday afternoons (goddamned Fox), and thus I can come from work, kick off my shoes, pop open a beer, and watch have a dozen ballgames until I pass out on the couch and Mrs Thursday tells me to go to bed. That makes me happy. I watch significant portions of about 1,000 games every summer. I love baseball. But what happens in October? TBS and Fox take over, and so my beloved game, in which every team plays 5-7 times per week now only plays 3-4. It’s possible that this year, a team could have more off-days than game-days. As an obsessive viewer, I loathe the bastardized version of competitive baseball.
I watch the playoffs every year. Almost every game (at least, the ones that are on at night, when I’m not at work–thanks a lot, TBS). Predicting the outcomes of the series is, like I said above, a crapshoot. So we shall not be doing that here. We’ll just rank the 8 teams in terms of rooting interest. With the name of the team, we’ll add the usually bloggery spices–ya know, the “why” and “how” bits, and maybe we’ll have something interesting. Certainly, we’ll have something long. I’m turning into Jack Cobra over here lately, but with more spelling errors.
1. Philadelphia Phillies. Was this a surprise to anyone? Of course I’m dying for the Phils to win their next 11 games, in triumphant fashion, getting a weird turnaround in the pitching (2006 Cardinals style), while the offensive juggernaut makes messes out of the like of Jeff Francis, Carlos Zambrano, and CC Sabathia.
Why they will win: One of the best offenses in baseball, with some decent pop on the bench. A stud ace in Cole Hamels, and serviceable 2-4 guys in Kyle Kendrick, Kyle Lohse, and Jamie Moyer. And the bullpen puts games on lockdown from the 7th inning on, with JC Romero, Tom Gordon, and Brett Myers.
Why they won’t: Lineup-wise, it’s a pretty steep dropoff after Jimmy Rollins-Chase Utley-Ryan Howard-Pat Burrell-Aaron Rowand, so if those guys can’t produce, runs will be hard to come by. Likewise, it’s a steep drop from Hamels to the rest of the rotation. The bullpen outside the Big 3 is highly questionable, and it’s possible that the Big 3 has been over-taxed just to make it to the playoffs.
2. Cleveland Indians. Cleveland suffers from a similar existence to Philadelphia. It’s the only city to have suffered more seasons since their last championship than Philadelphia. Then Indians haven’t won a World Series since just after the Civil War. Or just after World War II. Whatever. Plus, as a team, they are filled with exciting players, and as an organization they are remarkably well run. Lots to like.
Why they will win: Two of the three best starters in the American League, this year, lead their rotation: Fausto Carmona, and CC Sabathia. Lineup-wise, they feature Grady Sizemore, one of the best centerfielders in baseball, and Travis Hafner, who is a frighteningly good hitter, and the strongest-looking guy in the Majors.
Why they won’t: Beyond the Rafaels (Perez and Betancourt) there lies one Joe Borowski, who should not be trusted in a close game. Manager Eric Wedge will trust him anyway. The team also boast several ex-Phillies (Jason Michaels, Kenny Lofton, David Dellucci, Aaron Fultz, Paul Byrd), which, probably, works against them. Also, on-going bad karma for cultural jackassedness, regarding the offensive logo and name.
3. Chicago Cubs. The Cubbies haven’t won anything in 99 years. Poor guys. I was in Chicago in 2005, when the White Sox were making their big run. I was staying with a White Sox-family, but I learned something, anyway. Rooting for the Sox, in Chicago, is a sort of minor betrayal. Cubs fans, who are fantastic, incidentally, want desperately for this to happen. As a baseball fan, and an obsessive Phillies fan, I can appreciate their pain, and can get behind their desire to end it.
Why they will win: Red Sox, White Sox end their droughts–time is ripe for the Cubs to complete a trifecta. Excellent, if odd, rotation, despite the presence of Jason Marquis throughout the year. Marquis, of course, isn’t making the postseason roster. Bullpen is filled with solid arms, including Carlos Marmol, who’s plain filthy. Lineup isn’t great, but it can score enough runs to win.
Why they won’t: Tradition. Destiny. Also, at some point, either Steve Trachsel, or Jason Marquis will have to pitch. Those games can also be called “forfeits”.
4. Colorado Rockies. They are the only team on the board who has never won a championship, though, admittedly, the three teams above them have gone significantly longer since their last parades. Todd Helton, who’s had a marvelous career, would get a nice swansong kind of moment, and it would be a huge step for Colorado as a previously frustrated organization. Also, our friend the Extrapolater would be pretty pleased about it.
Why they will win: Like the Phillies, an absolutely stunning lineup, with Helton, Matt Holiday, Troy Tulowitzki (for whom, if the Rockies make the World Series, I shall find a suitable nickname), Brad Hawpe, and Garrett Atkins. Their rotation is pretty good, though not great, led by Jeff Francis, and followed by young, occasionally wild, and absolutely flamethrowing pitchers Franklin Morales, and Ubaldo Jimenez.
Why they won’t: Other than the problem of facing the Phillies Juggernaut in the first round? Highly questionable bullpen. Morales and Jimenez are roughly equally likely to shut a team down as get lit up by one–especially if said team is patient.
5. Boston Red Sox. Seriously. Now, admittedly, there’s a pretty big gap, rooting interest-wise, between 1 and 2, and between 2-4 and 5-8, but so it goes. Why the Sox? They’re the best team in baseball. They’re one of, if not the, best run organization in baseball. Anyday in which Jon Papelbon gets to pitch on my TV, is a good day. Sometimes, just for cosmic balance, the best team really ought to win the World Series. Just sometimes, ya know? I still hope they lose in the first round. Jerks.
Why they will win: Best team in baseball. Good lineup, with David Ortiz (having a fantastic year, which has, remarkably, gone largely unnoticed), Manny Ramirez (sorta), JD Drew (refound his swing), and Dustin Pedroia (Rookie of the Year) as well as Jacoby Ellsbury (great name, great defense, delicious looking Kool-Aid). Great starting pitching with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and maybe even Curt Schilling, and a filthy bullpen, with Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, the short-leashed Eric Gagne, and Mike Timlin paving the road for the scary-good Jon Papelbon.
Why they won’t: Really, the biggest problem the Red Sox have is bad luck. Their starters tend more on the “really good” side, rather than the “unhittable” levels of Sabathia and Carmona. Gagne has been lousy lately. American could not take the impossible smugness from New England, if they were to win.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks. They’re a bunch of over-acheivers, that’s for sure. They were outscored on the season, and still sported the best record in the NL. That, friends, appears to be a significant mismatch of performance and results. Of course, they’re replete with good young players, so it would seem more likely that, next year, their performance would improve and match their results, rather than their results declining to match their performance. That said, they’re young. They’ll have more opportunities. Screw them, too.
Why they will win: Brandon Webb is really, really good. Doug Davis and Livan Hernandez are serviceable. Micah Owings is not only a decent pitcher, but a highly useful pinch hitter. Excellent bullpen. The offense leaves some questionmarks, but they certainly have the ability to put up enough runs to win.
Why they won’t: Livan is about 75 years old, and throw marshmallows that somehow turn into popups. They could start turning into home runs and doubles any moment now. The offense is inconsistent, and could easily put up a lot of zeroes.
7. Los Angelos Angels of Anaheim. I love Vlad. He, to the best of my knowledge, has never won just about anything, and so, if they win, I will be happy for him. But the rest of the team is young, good, and likely to get better. They will have many more opportunities. You can win next year, when I’m still trying to recover from screaming at the Phillies Victory Parade.
Why they will win: Underrated offense. This teams just hits and hits and hits and hits. In fact, they’re a lot of fun to watch. Like baseball in the 1880s, I imagine. Lots of loopers over the heads of middle infielders, and doubles down the baselines. Tons of running. Excellent starting rotation includes Cy Young contenders John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar. Closer is the always nasty K-Rod, Francisco Rodriguez.
Why they won’t: The non-K-Rod part of the bullpen has been suspect all year long. Bad luck (i.e., those little hits end up in the hands of fielders, instead of finding open space) keeps them off the board.
8. New York Yankees. I don’t really have any problems with the Yankees, though their fans, like Red Sox fans, can be… taxing, sometimes. It’s just that, the Yankees won just about every World Series in the late 1990s. As such, I’d like them to take the 2000s off of winning. In 2010, they may win again. I think a decade layoff will temper the fanbase just slightly, right?
Why they will win: Alex Rodriguez–who was already a front runner in the Best Player in Baseball competition–has had an otherworldly year, and shall hit the ball really, really hard in the playoffs. Like, really hard.
Why they won’t: Bad karma and STDs for Derek Jeter. Mike Mussina. The aging of Mariano Rivera–is it possible?
Things I’d Like to See
1. Phillies win everything. If not them, then the Cubs or Indians–someone’s pain needs to end.
2. Alex Rodriguez plays great in playoffs. Derek Jeter (and rest of Yankees) chokes. Yankees win nothing.
3. As many long series as possible. Game 5s, games 7s. Except for the Phillies, who shall sweep everything, all the time.
Things I Don’t Want to See
1. Please not a Cubs-Indians World Series. While compelling, it might be utterly depressing to watch the ecstasy of one franchise’s futility end, while anothers carries on.
2. The Yankees winning. Insufferable.
3. The Red Sox winning. Even worse?
Things to Keep an Eye On
1. Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton. He’s young (just turned 20, I think), has a gorgeous, superfast swing, and can do anything on a baseball field. He hasn’t quite put it all together at the big league level yet, but everything can click for him at anytime, and when it does, he’s the best player on field. Regardless of who else is on the field. Seriously.
2. Hamels, Zambrano, Hill, Sabathia, Carmona, Francis, Matsuzaka, Beckett, Webb, Escobar, Lackey, Pettitte, Clemens, Wang–one nice thing about the playoffs is that almost all of the good pitchers are around.
3. Insane posturing by baseball writers–most baseball writers are reasonbly intelligent guys. They know that one game never, ever makes a series. They will remind of you this, even as they write columns proclaiming the demise of losing teams, of the unstoppable victoriousness of the winners. Don’t believe them. Just enjoy what they have to say.
Enjoy your baseball, everybody!