October 5, 2005

Examining This Season's MLB Playoffs

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The playoffs just started yesterday. One day of games. That’s it. There’s still a lot more baseball to play, and a lot of things to talk about.

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I know about yesterday, but why – before the playoffs even began – were the experts discounting both the Yankees and Boston? Most of ESPN’s commentators have chosen the Angels, Houston, or the Cardinals to win it all. Peter Gammons predicted that both the Red Sox and the Yankees will lose in the first round.

Sure, yesterday may have helped along his argument. Okay. But, the Red Sox are still a strong team, and one game doesn’t change that.

And the Yankees have the best offense in America. Not that much has changed from last year. As for pitching? Randy Johnson has looked great recently (6-0 since Aug. 26). Curt Schilling will be his old self again. The Red Sox pitching staff is better than most people say it is (Boston did win a lot of games this year).

The Yankees and the Red Sox are still the teams everyone should worry about. * * * *

It’s dumb to argue about the A.L. MVP this year. Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz have almost identical stats. The Yankees and the Red Sox are both in the playoffs, and they finished with the same record. I don’t know how anyone can say that one player deserves the award more than the other. Try to make a coherent argument – ignoring the fact that you’re either a Yankees fan or a Boston fan.

You could say that A-Rod helps out on defense, and that his work at third base makes the difference. Maybe. Or, you could say Ortiz is the best clutch hitter in baseball (like everyone does). Whatever. Either one could win the MVP, and no one should be upset about the decision.

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Houston has become the cool choice to win the World Series. The Astros’ pitching is so overwhelming – or so they say – that Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt will make up for a lack of great hitting.

This argument makes some sense. But – at least in Clemens’ case – it’s kind of self-defeating. After all, wasn’t a lack of run support the big problem for Clemens this year? Isn’t that why he only went 13-8 – despite a 1.87 ERA?

Houston will be facing Atlanta in the division series. No one seems to talk about the Braves. Atlanta has a great team this year, and I really think the Braves are the darkhorse of the postseason. Or, at least the darkhorse of the division series.

They have a balanced offense, and John Smoltz and Tim Hudson should not be overlooked. Atlanta is also very good at Turner Field, where the Braves have put up the second-best home record in the league (after Boston, and tied with the Yankees).

They haven’t been playing so well of late (29-28 since early August). But we’re in the playoffs now. Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur will be back in form. And don’t forget about righty Jorge Sosa, who has very quietly earned himself a 13-3 record.

For each of the past three years, Atlanta has lost in the first round of the playoffs. If they can keep Houston off the scoreboard – and get just a few timely runs off the Big Three – Atlanta will have a good chance to break out of that first round.

Houston’s pitchers are great, but they’re not invincible. Just don’t ask any “expert” to agree with me.

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I like the San Diego Padres, and I’d love to see them beat St. Louis. Actually, I’d love to see them win just one game. Or, at least take a lead into the ninth.

They probably won’t do any of these things, but I’d love to see it. Obviously, it’s tough to win games when your team’s next two starters (Pedro Astacio, Woody Williams) both have losing records.

Yet, stranger things have happened. The Padres had a nice late-game rally in yesterday’s 8-5 loss. Maybe they can get the Cardinals off their game a little, and take a win or two in the series.

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Talking about the N.L. West, you have to feel bad for the Dodgers. They didn’t make the playoffs after playing in the worst division in baseball. They finished 71-91, after starting the year 12-2.

But there’s more. Because now, when people talk about the L.A. team in the playoffs, they mean the Angels.

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Why were there so many bad pitchers in baseball this year? You would have thought this would be the year of the pitcher. After all, the MLB is now testing for steroids.

But really, how do you pick a Cy Young winner in the A.L.? There’s not that much talent around. So, I’d have to choose closer Mariano Rivera.

Yeah, Johan Santana had a great 2.87 ERA and Bartolo Colón did win 21 games (and lost eight, by the way). But Rivera was consistently strong throughout the year, and the Yankees are absolutely not in the playoffs without him.

Ted Nyman is a Sun Staff Writer. Fast Times will appear every other Wednesday this semester.

Archived article by Ted Nyman