Thursday, October 15, 2009

ALCS & NLCS Previews

Before getting to the baseball playoffs, a moment of silence for Captain Lou Albano, who passed away yesterday. In addition to being an actual wrestler back in the day, he became more famous for the Hawaian shirts, crazy hair and rubber bands in his beard. And who can forget that he played the father in Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" video? Takes me back to when wrestling seemed like a mainstream sport when I was growing up. Watching some of the greats from the 80's and 90's, before Vince McMahon made it into all about too much violence and production and less about the wrestling.

ALCS – Angles at Yankees

So the easy pick in this series is to take the Yankees. They have the big payroll, they steamrolled the Twins, have the big name pitching, solid bullpen, home field advantage, and are the favorites to win the World Series. But let’s not dismiss this Angels team so fast (like I did in the first round, picking the Sox to knock them out in 4 games). Let’s break this down John Madden-style………

“Now there’s a team that’s better than the Twins. See, they won more games than the Twins, and even though Brett Favre is now in Minnesota, the Angels are better than the Twins.”

If the Twins had come up with a couple of clutch hits and maybe gotten the correct call on that Joe Mauer liner in game 3, it would have been competitive. Now those are huge if’s and it’s like saying if OJ hadn’t (allegedly) stabbed those people he would have continued jumping luggage for Hertz and making Naked Gun movies. But the bottom line is that the Twins did not play well after being extremely hot down the stretch to steal that playoff spot. And the Angels are a better team than the Twins, not just because of their better record. They have better pitching, more speed, and a great manager in Mike Scioscia. The Yankees swept all 10 games they played against the Twins this year (playoffs included), and split their 10 games with the Angels.

“Now, now, what we have is a big guy in Sabbathia, who can just, BOOM! Zip that ball in there and dominate the game. I mean, he’d be good competition for me at an all-you-can-eat buffet.”

CC will always have a special place in my heart for carrying the Brewers to the playoffs last year, and he followed it up with a tremendous year in the Bronx, possibly winning the Cy Young award going 19-8. Yet, he was 0-2 with an ERA over 6 against the Angles this year, and he’ll be starting game 1 in NY when the weather is supposed to be brutal – possibly rain and definitely cold. CC is a California guy, and I still believe that he wanted to sign with the Angels last off season, but had to take the mammoth amount of money being thrown at him by the Steinbrenners. So I’m not convinced that he will be lights out in the first game, and if he’s not, the Angels have a chance to build some momentum and put some pressure on the Yanks. And we know how A-Rod feels about pressure.

“Brett Favre is great under pressure and there’s a guy that can just play football, because he’s a football player. If he were a baseball player, then he would, you know, be a baseball player. AJ Burnett is no Brett Favre because he doesn’t even have the same initials and then……..and then………….there you go.”

AJ Burnett has never been a big game pitcher and in fact has shied away from attention or big games historically. Keith Law of ESPN (formerly a Blue Jays front office guy) claimed that Burnett would rather spend time in the training room than on the mound. Add that to the fact that he needs to have his personal catcher in Benji Molina (at least I think it’s Benji. It’s one of those Molina brothers), and the drama that results with the Yankees biggest diva, Jorge Posada. Poor little Jorge is angry that he doesn’t get to start every game at catcher, but the Angels are going to run and it’s going to much harder with Molina behind the plate than if Posada’s noodle arm is back there lobbing rainbows down to second and allowing passed balls regularly. If the Angels get to Sabbathia in game 1, the pressure will be on Burnett, which is not a good thing for him.

The Yankees are talking about going with a 3-man rotation, and the Yankees should probably be the most confident in their 3rd starter, Andy Pettite. If the weather holds out, there is a chance that the Yankees could go with a 3 man rotation, giving Sabbathia 3 starts in the 7 game series. If the weather doesn’t work out, then they have to make a decision between throwing Chad Gaudin or taking Joba out of the bullpen.

The Yankees do have the big bats in Texeira and Rodriguez to carry them if the starting pitching falters and their bullpen has been tremendous with Joba back where he belongs, Phil Hughes and the ageless Marianano Rivera. But the Yankees will have to also contain Vlad Guerrero, who despite having a subpar (for him) regular season, hit over .400 against the Yankees, and Torii Hunter, who has a knack for the big moment.

And I haven’t even mentioned the huge edge the Angels have in coaching with Mike Scioscia over Joe Girardi. Not only has Scioscia owned New York as a manager of the Angels, when he played for the Dodgers he was a thorn in the side of the Big Apple – knocking the Mets out of the NLCS in 1988, and being a part of the 1978 Dodger team that defeated the Yankees. And also add the extra motivation to win to honor their fallen teammate Nick Adenhart, and you have a well-coached and motivated team of destiny.

Bottom Line: The Angels are going to give the Yankees all they can handle and more. It should be an extremely entertaining series that will give the New York media multiple moments to flip out and turn on their home team like they always do. Prediction: Angels in 7


NLCS – Phillies at Dodgers

The Dodgers get a chance to avenge last season’s NLCS loss to the eventual champion Phillies. The Phillies get a chance to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke and win back-to-back titles. In what should be a good matchup on the field and also adds off-the field stories if the Dodgers win with Joe Torre getting a chance to go back to face the Yankees in their new stadium, or the potential of an all LA/Anaheim series. Reminds me of the scene in Swingers:

“Hey man, you're not from here, alright. You don't know how it is. I grew up in L.A.”
“Whatever, man…”
“….It’s not like you grew up in Compton, Sue, with bullets whizzing by your head...”
“People get car-jacked.”
“Who would ever carjack your f—kin K-Car?”

So let’s break this series down Drew Rosenhaus-style………..

“Next Question.”

The Phillies starting pitching has the two big names in Cliff Lee and Cole Hammels, while the Dodgers throw a young stud in Clayton Kershaw and then follow it up with Vincente Padilla, Hideki Kuroda coming back from injury and Randy Wolf. As a side note, didn’t the Rangers cut Padilla after he got swine flu? And now he’s pitching in the NLCS? Seems like the swine flu actually worked out well for him. But like I pointed out the other day, Hammels struggled all year, finishing 10-11 and got hit hard in game 2 against the Rockies. He will be starting in game 1, and it’s a night game, so he won’t have that excuse to lean on if he gets shelled again. Cliff Lee was lights out against the Rockies, proving that his lack of big-game experience would not be a factor. Kershaw, Wolf and Padilla were solid against the Cards, besting Cy Young favorites Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Having lefties in Kershaw and Wolf seems like the best chance to neutralize Utley, Howard and Ibanez. Overall, it seems like a wash.
“Next Question.”

The Phillies hit more HR than any team in the league – by a wide margin – hitting more than 220 with the next closest team being the Rockies being below 190. Manny cruised down the stretch, but is always dangerous in clutch situations. Adam Eithier appears to be a legitimate stud, and James Loney and Casey Blake provide reliable protection in the line-up. For the Phils, it’s all about Ryan Howard, who came up with clutch hits against the Rockies and is proving to be a more reliable hitter (for more than just HR) than even Chase Utley. Howard has gotten timely support from Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez, which makes the Phillies lineup dangerous almost from top to bottom. Slight edge to the Phillies.

“Next Question.”

The Phillies were among the top defensive teams in the league during the regular season, but played uncharacteristically poor against the Rockies. Manny is always a defensive liability, yet manages to unleash a laser whenever he needs it. Neither team is exceptionally poor on defense, so I’ll call it a wash again.

“Next Question.”

Joe Torre has more playoff wins than any manager in history, and would love to get another one before the Yankees do. While the knock on him has always been that he was a caretaker for well-paid, veteran-led teams, this Dodger team is young and the team follows their manager’s calm and collected demeanor. Charlie Manuel earned his stripes with last season’s title run, but against the Phillies got away with a few questionable decisions – starting Cliff Lee in game 1 when he had never started a playoff game, pitching Cole Hammels in game 2 during the day knowing he had struggled mightily in day games, and burning Joe Blanton and JA Happ in game 2. Luckily for Manuel, the weather in Denver postponed game 3, which allowed him to come back with JA Happ, but it could have been dicey if that game would have had to be played on Saturday night. Advantage: Dodgers, heavily.

“Next Question.”

The Dodgers bullpen has been solid, with the mid-season acquisition of George Sherrill setting up for the fireballer Jonathan Broxton. Against the Cards in game 3, I didn’t see him throw a pitch under 98. The Dodgers had the lowest bullpen ERA in the league during the regular season, and show no slowing down. The Phillies bullpen is a mess because you never know what you’re going to get with Brad Lidge. Yes, he was effective against the Rockies, but has a team ever won the World Series while removing their closer during the season, only to give him the job back right before the playoffs? Advantage: Dodgers

Bottom Line: In another what should also be a closely contested series, the Dodgers pitching is more reliable than the Phillies, because I’m basing it on what I’ve seen of Cole Hammels this year, not his reputation from last year. And when you factor in a better and more versatile bench that will factor into close late inning moments, and a better bullpen, I see the Dodgers getting their revenge from next year and moving on to their first World Series since 1988. Dodgers in 6 games.

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