TIM: Well, John, another baseball season has come to an end and, as is custom, the ritualistic falling of snow in late October in the northeast has commenced the off-season. As we look back on the World Series, I believe you owe me several units of Cassandran kudos.
JOHN S: Yeah, I believe you are due several Cassandra units. After all, I recall a few conversations we had throughout the season:
March 27: “You know, John, I don’t think Lance Berkman is done. He’s going to have a big year in St. Louis.”
May 13: “The Red Sox may have rebounded from that slow start, but you have to question their ability to perform in months with 30 days…”
May 28: “Pay attention to Nelson Cruz”
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Cardinals vs. Rangers
Well, just like Tim and John S always predicted (don’t bother looking it up), the 2011 season comes down to the Rangers and Cardinals. Will Tony La Russa prove his genius? Will a starting pitcher reach the seventh inning? Will Joe Buck emote? All that and predictions are discussed….
John S: Man, can you believe Jonathan Lucroy didn’t win NLCS MVP?! And can you believe someone almost as unlikely–David Freese–DID? You know, I usually hate the discussions that media outlets have every year that the Yankees/Phillies/Red Sox miss the World Series, where they make jokes about how angry FOX must be. But this World Series DOES seem conspicuously lacking in star power. At least last year the Rangers had Cliff Lee–the closest this year’s team has to such a star is Josh Hamilton, who had a disappointing season. The Cardinals, of course, have Albert Pujols, but after him their biggest star is Tony La Russa, who seems to wear out his welcome more and more every year. But while my instinct is to say that these two teams are mediocre, the evidence doesn’t really support me. The Rangers were better this year than they were in 2010, and even the Cards won 90 games, which is more the 2006 championship team won. Perhaps I should be more excited for this World Series… Am I off base about the lack of compelling personalities in this matchup?
TIM: No, I cannot believe Jonathan Lucroy didn’t win NLCS MVP. His .294 average in the six games was bested by only four Brewers, and like the four best Brewers in Randy Wolf, Jerry Hairston, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Ryan Braun. It was practically half of what Freese hit! I hate these traditionalist writers who always vote for the guy with the ..500+ average on the winning team. Continue reading »
We’re a full weekend into the baseball season, and NPI still hasn’t previewed the most important league! Don’t fret, though, John S is here to break it all down for you, and to make sure you don’t get fooled by Baltimore’s 3-0 start.
1. Oakland Athletics
2. Texas Rangers
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4. Seattle Mariners
So you’re on the A’s bandwagon? Yeah, and I’m not even going to pretend like I got on it particularly early. I was really just looking for someone to pick over the Rangers.
Why do you feel the need to mess with Texas? Well, I was early on the Rangers bandwagon, picking them to win the West at the beginning of 2010, so it’s not like I’m anti-Texas. This year, though, the defending AL champs are both overrated and underrated. They are underrated because people have inevitably focused on the loss of Cliff Lee this off-season; but while losing Lee is obviously big, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the Rangers were in first before trading for Lee last season, and that they likely would have won the division even without his acquisition (Lee was actually pretty mediocre for Texas in the regular season). Continue reading »
Just put him on...
Alas, the Yankees have lost the ALCS. There are many things you can blame for this sad reality, most notably the fact that the Rangers pitched and hit better than the Yankees throughout the series. But one thing that certainly didn’t help matters was the absurd number of intentional walks issued at the behest of Joe Girardi.
Two of the series’ key turning points were centered on intentional walks. First, in Game 4, with A.J. Burnett pitching as well as anyone could have expected and the Yankees leading 3-2, Vlad Guerrero led off the sixth with a single. Nelson Cruz replaced him at first on a fielder’s choice, and then, in a smart baserunning play, went to second on a deep fly ball to center. This move was so smart because it left Girardi with something that, apparently, managers do not know what to do with: a base open.
You hear things like this all the time in baseball: “Well, you have a base open here, so you can pitch around him,” or “You may as well walk him with a base open.” Here is a quick note for managers: YOU WANT YOUR BASES TO BE OPEN. That is a good thing. It means you have fewer runners on base and, thus, fewer runners at risk of scoring. And yet having a runner a second base and not first for some reason makes managers think about this differently, as if there were no substantive difference between having two runners on and having only one.
Because I’m sure that, had Cruz not taken second, Girardi would not have done what he did,* which is intentionally walk David Murphy.** Continue reading »
New York Yankees (95-67) at Texas Rangers (90-72)
Fresh off the franchise’s first playoff series win, the Rangers take on the Yankees, who once again swept the Twins in the first round. Oddly, the Yankees’ sweep of the Twins may have been a closer—or at least more exciting—series than the Rangers-Rays five-gamer. The Yankees came from behind in each of the first two games (with Mariano Rivera of course saving both) before finishing the Twins off at home. The Rangers and Rays, meanwhile, played only one close game in five—a Game 3 win for the Rays. Two great starts from Cliff Lee and another from C.J. Wilson (combined for 2 ER in 22.1 IP) were enough to put the Rangers in their first ever ALCS. Continue reading »
Texas Rangers (90-72) at Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)
Two teams that missed the playoffs last year face off in a series where, amazingly, the Rays are the “Goliath” in a David vs. Goliath matchup. The Rangers are in the playoffs for the first time since 1999, have only one playoff win in their franchise’s history, and have never appeared in a League Championship Series, let alone a World Series. Meanwhile, the Rays won the pennant just two years ago with more or less the same roster that they have now, and finished this year with the best record in the AL.
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“It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being.”
“Youth is like having a big plate of candy. Sentimentalists think they want to be in the pure, simple state they were in before they ate the candy. They don’t. They just want the fun of eating it all over again. The matron doesn’t want her girlhood—she wants to repeat the honeymoon. I don’t want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise
I’m pretty sure, now that I think about it, that it was the first time I had ever seen Michael Vick play, in that comeback in Morgantown. Up until 1999, Virginia Tech had been, at least to me, a banal Top 25 team, in that class with Clemson and Auburn and Georgia Tech — teams that were always ranked, that always played some good games, always played January bowl games, but never mattered in the title race. Vick, of course, changed that at Virginia Tech, and by the time I laid eyes on him, the Hokies were already No. 3 in the polls.
It was that run down the sidelines during the final drive that arrested my attention. It was so sudden and so graceful — so easy for Vick to transform the dynamic of that final minute from “Virginia Tech still needs a bunch of yards in a short amount of time” to “Oh, they’re in field-goal range now. They’re going to win.”
It was Will Hunting easy for Michael Vick to turn upfield on that play, and what seems so innocuous to us now wasn’t then. Quarterbacks didn’t do that. They weren’t that fast and elusive and graceful.*
*And if they were, they were doing it at a lower level of college football. This is my Steve McNair acknowledgment.
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Now that Tim has started breaking down the archaic, stuck-in-the-19th century National League, it’s time for John S to focus on the American League, where our lineups actually go nine-deep and pitchers aren’t forced to pretend to know how to hit. As Tim did, we’ll being in the West.
The AL West is the most wide-open division in the American League, and probably in all of baseball this year. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won the division easily last year, as we’ve become accustomed to: They’ve won it five of the last six years. But the Angels lost their ace, John Lackey, their leadoff hitter, Chone Figgins, and their slugger, Vlad Guerrero, to free agency, and only really replaced Guerrero (by adding World Series MVP Hideki Matsui). Add in the fact that Guerrero and Figgins went to division rivals, and that every other team in the division made a significant addition to their rotation, and the Angels seem particularly vulnerable this year. Continue reading »