Wednesday, October 07, 2009

2009 Major League Baseball Postseason Preview

What a frigging game on Tuesday night in the Twin Cities! And what a win for the Minnesota twins, one year and one week to the day after falling short 1-0 in a 163rd game play-in to the Chicago White Sox at the end of the 2008 regular season.

If you're a baseball fan but you did not watch the Twins' 6-5 victory in the bottom of the 12th inning against the Detroit Tigers, then you reallllly missed out, and unfortunately watching it now even on DVR will never be the same since you already know how the game ended. What made this game so special is how competitive the two teams were with each other right from the getgo and all the way through 12 hard-fought innings. Here's the way I see it: for a game to truly be considered one of the all-time great baseball games, it pretty much needs to be a walk-off situation, extra innings or something that involves sudden death. There's just been too many amazing games over the vast history of this great sport that have already met that criteria, so you really need to have a bottom of the 9th or extra innings situation in order to really be considered one of the all-time great games. What Tuesday's night play-in game had on top of just 12 innings of seriously non-stop adrenaline-pumping, edge-of-your-seat baseball, was it even featured one of those extremely rare situations where the visiting team scored a run in the top of the 10th inning to take a 5-4 lead, only to see the Twins come back in their last chance in the bottom of the tenth with a leadoff triple on a misplay in left field and ended up scoring exactly one run to re-tie the game and send it into the 11th and beyond. Anytime you see an extra inning tie broken and then extended into further innings, especially one in this kind of a do-or-die playoff situation, you know you're talking history.

This game really had it all, including the team that I have no discomfort saying deserved it more actually emerging victorious in the end. When we look back on the Detroit Tigers' 2009 baseball season, we're going to have a whole lot of questions centered around how all-time great manager Jim Leyland could manage his team into completely Metsing under the weight of leading their division almost wire to wire on the season. After taking over first place in the AL Central on May 10 this spring, the Tigers proceeded to hold on to that lead, unchallenged and untied, right up until the end of the last week of the regular season, where the Tigers faced one more game at home in their series with the second-place Twins, followed by the mathematically and emotionally out-of-it Chicago White Sox at home for three games to end the season, and with four games remaining the Tigers held a 3-game lead. They lost the final game to the Twins to make their lead two games with three to play, and then gave it away and had to settle for a tie with two more losses to Chicago over the weekend in Detroit. In the end, the Tigers went 3-6 in their final 9 games, and 1-4 in their final 5 games, to allow the surging Twins room to wiggle back into the playoff picture, and in my view somebody should have to answer for any kind of a total and complete Metsing like what Leyland presided over this year in Detroit. But so we roll on, with the Twins arriving in New York after 3am Wednesday morning and scheduled to play Game 1 of the ALDS Wednesday in the Bronx.

Which brings me to my predictions for the four playoff series starting this week in baseball. I already pretty much gave my thoughts on the Phillies - Rockies, which begins Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, which is to say that, while obviously the Rockies have the talent to beat the Phils, I don't see how any self-respecting baseball fan can really argue that the Rockies are the better team or that they somehow should win this series. They shouldn't. As I mentioned yesterday, despite the Rockies having some solid talent at starting pitching, including baseball's winningest pitcher since the All-Star Break in Jorge De La Rosa who has gone an amazing 16-3 since June, I simply can't accept any argument that the Rockies' rotation holds a candle to the Phillies' rotation of some combination Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, J. Happ, P-Mart and Joe Blanton. It doesn't. And while the Rockies scored more runs on offense than all but one other team in the National League with what is clearly an imposing lineup, that one team that exceed the Rockies' run production on the year was -- you guessed it -- the Phillies, whose lineup again is that much better than the Rockies' with the likes of former league MVP Jimmy Rollins, former league MVP and huge slugger Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, Jayson Werth, and the list just goes on and on. The Phillies also led the majors in fielding percentage and fewest errors, making them the best defensive team around as well. And, although the Rockies have some experience, having gone to the World Series before losing in the end after their incredible surge late in 2006, the Phillies have now won three straight divisional titles, and are coming off steamrolling everyone in their path in becoming Your 2008 World Champions of Baseball. So in experience, in pitching, in offense and in defense, the Rockies are clearly a very talented team, but the Phillies exceed them in each of those major categories. And the Phillies have home field advantage to boot. Sure, the Rockies have the talent to win this series. But they shouldn't, and I can't understand how I could pick an upset in this spot. Phillies, 3-1.

For my money it is the other National League series that is the most compelling first-round matchup of this year's playoffs. The NL-best Dodgers have home field advantage and will take on the NL Central winning St. Louis Cardinals in what many consider to be a clash of two fairly evenly-matched teams. I know the Dodgers led the NL in wins with 95 on the season, and that included the team missing out on the services of Mr. Clutch Manny Ramirez for almost half the season as it is. But, if there's one thing I have learned about the baseball playoffs over the past several years of paying attention, it is that, in a short series, dominating starting pitching in two or three key starters can be a real bear for an opposing team to overcome. And in this case, that applies well to the Cardinals, who will pitch NL Cy Young candidate Chris Carpenter (17-4, 2.24 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) in Game 1, fellow Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright (19-8, 2.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) in Game 2, and then follow that up in St. Louis with Game 3 starter Joel Pineiro (15-12, 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP). As much respect as I have for Joe Torre -- and I definitely have quite a bit -- as well as for Manny's past post-season prowess and for the Dodgers' win total in general this year, I just don't see the Dodgers' trio of Randy Wolf (11-7, 3.23 ERA, 1.10 WHIP), Clayton Kershaw (8-8, 2.79 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) and Vicente Padilla (12-6, 4.46 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) being able to keep up against Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols and the rest of the Cardinals' scary lineup. Here I have to go with the 3 seed to best the 1 seed in the NL because the pitching in a short series is I think just a bit too much in the Cardinals' favor. St. Louis in 5.

In the American League, the one compelling matchup is the Anaheim Angels as the 2 seed against the third-seeded Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox have absolutely owned the Angels over the past several seasons as these two teams will be meeting for the fourth time in the past six years in the post-season. But something tells me that this team is going to be different. I give the nod in coaching to the Angels' Mike Scoscia, easily one of the best if not most under-appreciated managers in all of baseball, they have the home field advantage as well, and they also produce runs with small-ball style base stealing and moving runners better than probably any team in the American League. The Red Sox might get a slight nod in the starting rotation, but Lester and Beckett have both looked a bit tired late in the season this year and in recent years, and John Lackey, Jered Weaver and Rays castoff Scott Khazmir are a very solid three-man rotation for any team to overcome in a five-game series. I'm expecting a close and hard-fought series with lots of good games from this ALDS matchup, but with Game 5 scheduled for California I have to give the nod to the Angels this time around. Angels in 5.

And then there is the Yankees-Twins. And this one isn't even worth spending time writing much about. The Yankees lineup is like an all-star team, and the pitching easily outclasses anything the Twins have to put up in their defense. Everything about this classic Yankees team is better than the Twins, and to boot Minnesota had to play and then travel very late into the night / early morning the day before this series begins on Wednesday night in New York, depleting their bullpen and tiring everybody out as it is in outlasting divisional rivals the Tigers in 12 long innings on Tuesday evening. I'm gonna just go out on a limb and pick the Yankees in a sweep in this one. Yankees in 3.

I haven't actually looked into the various betting options available for these games, but it's something I might do over the next few hours. Best of luck to anyone betting these games or for anybody whose team is still alive in the hunt to snatch the trophy away from the reigning champions of the world, the Philadelphia Phillies.

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Blogger OhCaptain said...

If you thought the Minnesota/Detroit game was good on TV, you shoulda been there. One of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Simply amazing.

Tonight will be tough, and even if we lose, we got there with more guts and heart then the Yankees will ever have.

Win Twins.

2:32 AM  
Blogger Shrike said...

Ordering an intentional walk to Delmon Young, of all people, is a firing offense.


3:31 AM  
Blogger Wwonka said...

Wow you really think Socia is a better Manager than the guy who has won 2 world series and Managed in probably the 2nd hardest market after New York?

Francona is head and shoulders above Socia as a Manager.

Dealing with DumbAsses like Manny and getting JD Pew to stay on the field is not easy.

7:24 AM  

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