October 2, 2003

Post-Season Fever

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I cannot rationally describe how excited I am for baseball’s postseason. Just watching the SportsCenter previews and analyses on Tuesday morning made me jump up off the couch and start shadowboxing, emitting all manner of unearthly noises. It’s embarrassing. Granted, my antics have some extra fuel this fall, what with my beloved Red Sox in the mix, but I get like this every year.

I don’t feel like I can avoid writing a playoffs preview column; if I don’t get this out of my system, I’ll have an aneurysm. Since my Yankee-loving housemate won’t listen to reason, I’m left with no alternative but to share my highly-evolved and well-thought-out predictions with you lovely people (and by “people,” I mean the 30 of you who actually read this column. See you guys at crew practice).

Here’s how each Division Series will pan out, unless of course a team I picked to win is in a 2-0 hole by the time you read this, in which case it is important to remember that I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Yankees vs. Twins

I hate the Yankees. That said, New York will beat Minnesota. I know that the Twinkies won Game 1 and that the Homer Hankies from the early 90s are back in full effect, but Yankee Stadium in October is a scary venue for opposing teams. Playing in the House That Steinbrenner Renovated is the only reason that I give the series to New York (and, of course, the Yanks drop Game 1 at home. Jerks).

This Yankees club is not the juggernaut of a few years ago. The recent dynasty is fading, and fast, as evidenced by last year’s exit at the hands of the lighting-in-a-bottle Angels. They still have the star power — Jeter, Giambi, Soriano, Clemens — but they’re missing two key ingredients.

The bullpen that used to be lights-out is now FAR from automatic. Instead of Stanton to Nelson to Mendoza to Rivera, Mel Stottlemeyer is praying that his starters go eight innings. If someone gets knocked out early, Chris Hammond and Jeff Weaver become involved (if Trevor Hoffman gets “Hells Bells” as he runs out to the mound, these guys should get an ice cream truck jingle). Furthermore, Jose Contreras is still a waste of space. None of his victories this year were against quality opponents; all but one of his wins came against sub-.500 teams. The only contender that he faced was the Red Sox, who ran him after three innings. And no, Mariano Rivera is NOT healthy enough to collect two-inning saves for the next month. He’s one of the best ever, but his arm isn’t rubber, it’s 33.

Secondly, the Yankees teams over the past three seasons have lacked the presence of That Guy — that no-name bench player who would come in and single-handedly win a game. When the Yanks were making all those championship runs, it seemed like they’d pick up a Jim Leyritz or two every July and they’d whack a few game-winning PH home runs in October. This year, the big addition to the bench was Drew Henson. If this guy becomes a Yankee hero over then next three weeks, I’ll streak across the Arts Quad naked.

Yanks in 5.

Braves vs. Cubs

There’s just no way that the Braves win this series. Just no way. The Cubs are going to the NLCS.

Everyone is talking about how this year’s Braves team is different than the last 11 consecutive division-winning clubs in that it relies on offensive production rather than pitching. This year, they say, the Braves can score the clutch runs and won’t allow stiffs like Livan Hernandez hang 15 Ks on them, like in 1997.

This is all true. The Braves can hit. But, Chicago can pitch. Even the Yankees would take Wood, Prior, Zambrano, and Clement; the Cubs have four young fireballers who can mow through Gary Sheffield’s famously quick bat. Good pitching beats good hitting, and the advantage goes to the Cubs. What’s more, the Braves no longer have the good pitching to fall back on. Smoltz is buried in the bullpen, Mike Hampton is a better postseason hitter than pitcher, Professor Maddox is ready for a sabbatical, and Russ Ortiz can’t pitch every game. The Cubs have the best pitching, Dusty Baker, and some guy named Sosa.

Cubs in 4.

Giants vs. Marlins

This is the easiest pick of them all. At first glance, however, there’s no reason not to like Florida here. Like the Cubs, the Marlins have a crop of fantastic young power pitchers in D-Train, Beckett, and Penny. Jeff “The Original Marlin” Conine is hitting like Conine the Barbarian for some reason, and Jack McKeon is 72 years young. They seem to be one of those charmed teams, not unlike the 2002 Angels.

But, they don’t have Barry Bonds. The Giants do. Love him or hate him, Bonds is the single greatest weapon in the game, perhaps in it’s history. Period. Is there another hitter in the league who you’d seriously consider walking with the bases loaded and the score tied? After the summer of tragedy that Bonds has had, I’ll be surprised if he makes an out the whole postseason.

Giants in 3.

Athletics vs. Red Sox

This is Billy Beane vs. Moneyball. In that infamous book, Beane preaches the importance of on-base percentage and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) over the standard measures of success, such as raw batting average. The Sox were first in OPS this season, the A’s 21st. So, if he’s right, the Sox should beat Beane’s A’s going away.

However, the numbers aren’t what matter the most here. The A’s will miss Mark Mulder, because Ted Lilly and Rich Harden are not anything special. Tim Hudson and Barry Zito are tough, but they’re not better than Pedro Martinez in the postseason; he’s the key. What Martinez is able to do trumps any numeric measure of success. Pedro is one of those rare players capable of lifting the rest of their team to a higher level. Cleveland fans still remember what he did to the Indians coming out of the bullpen in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS. Martinez will start on three day’s rest (or less out of the pen) for the entire postseason if he must in order to win the Series.

But it may not come to that, because Martinez is not the only hero on this Boston club. There’s something intangible to this group of players that makes me get all tingly inside. You’ve got the castoffs (Kevin Millar and David Ortiz), the superstars (Nomah and Manny Ramirez), the NL surprises (regular season batting champ Bill Mueller and Todd Walker) and the original Dirt Dawgs (Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon). Following the Sox this season, it seemed to me like a different guy stepped up each night and carried the team.

Now, as I’ve said, good pitching beats good hitting. But does good pitching beat great hitting? Not while Trot Nixon is wearing the Jack Morris Memorial Fu-Manchu facial hair. Hit it wicked fah!

Sawx in 4.

Archived article by Per Ostman