In Part I, John S and Tim exhaustively and inconclusively dissected the Yankees and Phillies’ respective lineups. In the much-anticipated (and admittedly more concise) Part II, it’s time for the pitching staff and predictions–detailed predictions.
LEE V. SABATHIA
TIM: Everyone knows Mets fans are devastated about this series. But what about Indians fans having to watch this?
And do you expect CC to ever give up TWO runs in a playoff game?
JOHN: It’s probably especially rough for Indians fans given the trajectory of each of their careers. Both Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia were always guys who had tons of potential who couldn’t stay consistent. Then each of them put it together for a Cy Young year….and was promptly traded to a playoff team.
My confidence in CC at this point is reaching a point I’ve never reached with a starter. This is odd, given that as late as July I was wondering if he was worth the money. I’m kind of hoping for a rainout betwen Games 3 and 4, so Sabathia can pitch 3 times this series (although I guess they’d just ditch the off-day if that happened). I cannot conceive of losing a game he starts in the playoffs, despite his shaky history against Philly in the postseason. I’m adamantly for going with a 3-man rotation, something I’d always thought was a bad idea when other teams considered it.
Phillies fans, however, probably have similar confidence in Cliff Lee. I’m a little worried about Lee, despite his bad numbers vs. NYY in his career. Those are mostly from pre-2008, so it was really a different pitcher. But I know you think he’s a pretty weak ace, right?
TIM: I never said he was a “weak” ace. I did need to see some validation this year from him, and I have. The thing about Cliff Lee is that nothing he does looks very impressive. He doesn’t blow anything by anyone, he doesn’t make hitters look silly very often, and his stuff doesn’t jump off the TV screen. He’s just a very good pitcher…that I think is going to have one bad start in this series. I think he and Sabathia each have one good and one bad start, but Sabathia will be better in both (assuming they match up twice). Continue reading
After about as many off-days as game days, we’re finally down to two teams in Major League Baseball: the last dynasty against a team hoping to build one. It’s Yankees-Phillies in what many expect to be the most exciting World Series since 2001.
Resident Yankee fan John S. and Phillie hater Tim break it down.
LEADOFF: ROLLINS V. JETER
TIM: So, John, make the case to me that Derek Jeter is not only a better leadoff hitter than Jimmy Rollins (which he is), but that he’s the best leadoff hitter the Yankees have had during this 15-year run. Am I forgetting somebody better?
JOHN: As for why he’s better than Rollins, do I need to say more than that Rollins OBP this year was .296? That’s 110 points less than Jeter’s. As for in the last 15-years of the Yankees, that’s similarly obvious. NY has basically had 3 lead-off hitters since then: Chuck Knoblauch, Alfonso Soriano and Johnny Damon. Knoblauch was good his first 2 years, but never as good as Jeter’s been this year. Soriano was always miscast in the leadoff role, and Damon’s best years were in Boston. Jeter wasn’t actually new to the leadoff spot this year, as many people thought him to be; he did it for pretty much all of 2005, and he’d done it over 400 times in his career before 2009.
Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees
The Yankees and Angels were the two best teams in the AL during the regular season, and both are looking particularly impressive right now. They are each coming off sweeps in the ALDS (in which they each came back once against the other team’s dominant closer down two in the ninth). These teams have met in the playoffs twice already this decade, with Los Angeles bumping New York in the ALDS in 2002 and 2005. In 2009, the two teams split the 10 regular season games they played against each other, but the Yankees, and their fans, certainly remember when the Angels swept them in the last series before the All-Star break, when the Yankees were at their hottest. New York was better in the regular season, but expect the teams to be pretty evenly matched in the ALCS. Continue reading
Boston Red Sox (95-67) at Los Angeles Angels (97-65)
In 2004 and 2007, the Boston Red Sox swept the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS en route to winning the World Series. I really hope that doesn’t happen again. People always make a big deal about Red Sox “having the Angels’ number” in the postseason. But the truth is that those teams were different from these teams: The Angels didn’t have Kendry Morales, Torii Hunter or Scott Kazmir, and Boston didn’t have Victor Martinez, Jason Bay or a steroidless David Ortiz. This series will actually probably come down to some marquee pitching matchups: Lester v. Lackey, Beckett v. Weaver.
It’s hard to believe, but the Angels more or less experienced no drop-off offensively when Mark Teixeira left last off-season. Kendry Morales, combined with the frugal but wise acquisition of Bobby Abreu, have actually made the 1-5 hitters in this lineup (Figgins-Abreu-Hunter-Guerrero-Morales) very scary.
The Red Sox lineup is harder to gauge: Jason Bay seemed like an MVP candidate for the first three months of the season, then cooled off dramatically, then picked it up a bit in September. David Ortiz had an atrocious first half, but has taken out the old syringe hitting stick and quietly become a power hitter again. Victor Martinez has been a great addition for them, but it puts them in an odd position of having to bench Jason Varitek (shouldn’t be that hard, but he’s the sentimental favorite and captain) or Mike Lowell. Continue reading
St. Louis Cardinals (91-71) at
Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67)
About four months ago, when LA held about a 15-game lead in the NL West, my only Dodgers’ fan friend asked me to assess their playoff chances. My response? “Who’s your Game 1 starter? Exactly. What you did to the Cubs last year will happen to you.” The Dodgers are built for the regular season with a deep lineup and egalitarian rotation. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have played tremendously since acquiring Matt Holliday in July, have the league’s two best pitchers in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and the best hitter of the last four decades in Albert Pujols. St. Louis has been better than Los Angeles for some time, and that will be borne out rather quickly, I think, in this series.
The Dodgers’ lineup, like their pitching staff, is deep but not highlighted by any one star. And that includes Manny Ramirez, who has hit .290 with a pedestrian 19 home runs. Guys like Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Matt Kemp are dangerous but unproven, and I wouldn’t feel particularly comfortable counting on them. Russell Martin has had, by all accounts, a horrendous season. There’s very little difference between the Dodgers’ fifth hitter and their eighth hitter, which is both a good and bad thing.
The Cardinals have Albert Pujols. (Fine, some more: Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa give the lineup more depth than it had when Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, and Colby Rasmus were protecting Pujols. Obvs. And Tony LaRussa stopped batting his pitcher eighth in late July. Sigh.)
Minnesota Twins (87-76) at
New York Yankees (103-59)
(RIDICULOUSLY BIASED) OVERVIEW
The Yankees are the best team in the AL, but they’re taking on the Twins, who just completed one of the most incredible comebacks to win a division (down three with four to play). Fortunately for them, that makes them hot. Unfortunately for them, that makes them spent. I can definitely foresee an’03 Yankees World Series type situation, where the Twins feel as if they’ve already won their crown just by getting this far. Plus, the division race has left their rotation a little out of whack, forcing them to use rookie pitcher Brian Duensing in Game 1.
As I insisted repeatedly earlier this week, the Yankees have the best lineup in baseball. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are the best three-four hitters in the league, but the lineup is also deep with seven guys who have over 20 home runs. A lot of that, of course, is due to the new Yankee Stadium, but a lot of it is also great production from guys like Nick Swisher, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano.
The Twins, on the other hand, have Joe Mauer, the best hitter in the league in 2009, but not much beyond that. Justin Morneau is hurt. Their second best hitter now is Jason Kubel who, though he did have an impressive season in ’09, is not going to strike fear into a lot of pitchers’ hearts. And the fact the Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert and Jose Morales are all getting significant numbers of at-bats is not all that intimidating. Continue reading
Colorado Rockies (92-70) at
Philadelphia Phillies (93-69)
The (sigh) defending champion Phillies open with a rematch of the 2007 Division Series, when a red-hot Rockies squad swept them out of the playoffs with surprising ease. To me, this is the most intriguing division series and has a chance to be one of the best we’ve ever seen. These are the two best offenses in the league (the Phillies led the NL in runs; the Rockies were second. The Rockies led the NL in OPS; the Phillies were second), and each team boasts a deep rotation. I think these are the two best teams in the National League, and that this series goes five games.
As mentioned like three sentences ago, these are the two best offenses in the league. Everybody knows about Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Ibanez for Philadekphia; they might be less aware of how important Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino are to the Phillies’ offense. Werth had 36 home runs this season. Jayson Werth!
Colorado, meanwhile, is spearheaded by Troy Tulowitzki, who you could make a strong case deserves to finish second in the NL MVP race behind Albert Pujols. Tulowitzki has made the leap this season and is, in my book, the second-best shortstop at the plate in the NL (behind Hanley Ramirez) and probably the best all-around shortstop in the game right now when you take into account his Gold Glove fielding. Todd Helton has bounced back to his usual .325 form, and the top of the Rockies’ order is formidable now that Carlos Gonzalez has found his swing the last two months.
Let me set the scene for you: It’s the Division Series, and a team that’s 15 games better than the team it’s playing has just been eliminated in four days. Some people notice.
Let me reset the scene for you: It’s the Division Series, and a team that’s 15 games better than the team it’s playing has just survived quite the scare in a taut seven-game series that drew national attention.
We must face a simple truth, sports fans: Baseball’s playoff system is broken. In this, the Fifteenth Year of the Wild Card, it is time to finally discuss change.
The main flaw with Major League Baseball’s postseason is its reliance on Chip Caray as its announcer. Pierre kids…maybe.
The main flaw with Major League Baseball’s postseason is that the regular season’s best team rarely if ever wins the World Series anymore. My evidence: The team with the best record in the regular season has won the World Series just twice since the inception of the Wild Card in 1995. Those two teams are the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 games and are the second-best regular-season team in American League history, and the 2007 Red Sox, who won 96 games. I’m tempted to exclude the ’07 Red Sox from this “Best Team” discussion because their 96 wins not only tied them with another team (the politically incorrect Indians) but also marked the fewest wins by a league leader since at least 1978, and that includes the strike-shortened, 144-game 1995 season.*
*But not the strike-shortened 1994 and 1981 seasons, where winning 96 games would have been a remarkable achievement in each case.