Baseball Armageddon begins again Tuesday night in the greatest venue in the greatest city at the home of the greatest team in baseball as the RedSux go to the Stadium for the ALCS against the Yankees. And this time most of the so-called experts will pick the RedSawx to win. BFD. Most of them (albeit a bare majority) picked the Twins to beat the Yanks. Here's a keeper from ESPN's Jim (I write stupid opinions and get paid for it) Caple on the Twins-Yankees series after game 1 (scroll down if you click here):
The Yankees are done. Sure, they rallied from a Game 1 loss to Santana and the Twins last year but the big difference is this time they don't have Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Wells waiting. And if you want to second-guess anyone, how about Steinbrenner for trading for a player they didn't need (no matter how good A-Rod is) while letting three-fifths of his rotation walk.
Nice call Jim. It's that level of prognosticating we've come to expect from the stiffs on ESPN. Too bad you never noted that the Yanks were 4-0 in previous ALDS when they'd lost game 1 (now 5-0) and 2-3 when they'd won game 1. Dope.
As for baseball in general this weekend, some observations:
(1) Jose Lima is a good big ballpark pitcher. He would be perfect for the Mariners. And his home/road splits are ridiculous: 10-1, sub-3.00 ERA at home, 4-4 and 5.56 ERA on the road (including yesterday's masterpiece). That's why the Dodgers pitch him at home. Without home-field advantage, the Dodgers couldn't pitch Lima twice in LA and his road numbers are so awful, they'd have been stupid to start him in games 1 or 2. That's the disadvantage of relying on Lima. The Dodgers needed more than Lima's heart, they needed some heart and skill from Odalis Perez. Instead, Perez honked twice. I'd touted Perez for the Yanks, now I'd take him off their list. They'd be way better off with Oliver Perez, but the Pirates wouldn't trade him. As for the Dodgers, all those underwhelming starting pitchers (Perez, Weaver, Lima, Ishii, Nomo) were no match for St. Louis on paper and, even though they kept Pujols and Rolen quiet, were no match for St. Louis on the field.
(2) The Twins, Astros, and Dodgers really screwed themselves into corners by going to three-man rotations. In the Dodgers' case it is defensible: Ishii has been awful, Penny is hurt, Alvarez had been better out of the 'pen, Perez only threw about 60 pitches in game 1. But today's pitchers are not trained to pitch on three days' rest, hence the 11-29 team record (7-20 for the pitchers themselves) and high ERA for starters working on short rest since the 1999 playoffs. [Note that the radar readings are irrelevant, Larry Rothschild, the Cubs pitching coach, says location control is worse on three days' rest but velocity is about normal -- fat 93 mph fastballs are usually turned into souveniers]. And it sends a bad message to the team to rely that heavily on an ace (or in LA's case, an "ace") on short rest because it shows a lack of faith in anyone else.
The Astros have no excuse. Yes, they lost Wade Miller and Andy Pettitte but they still had Tim Redding and Pete Munro available to start and go 5 innings, just as they used Clemens. They also had a 2-1 series lead. So instead of pitching a first-ballot Hall of Famer on full rest Monday night if they lost game 4, they chose to use him on short rest despite Clemens' complete failure in 2000 (four years younger and still the Rocket) to provide the Yanks a clincher at home against Oakland (an 11-1 loss). Clemens pitched fairly well Sunday (5 IP, 2 ER) but short rest and his battle with the flu earlier in the week (75% rest and 80% health means about 60% of the pitcher's effectiveness, right?) meant early removal -- instead of stretching him to 6 or 7 innings, the Astros gave him the hook and were burned the very next inning by a game-tying three-run bomb off reliever #1 of the trade-weakened Houston 'pen. Later, the Astros lost. Now they're setting up another starter to go on three days' rest. Why not pitch Munro or Redding? Not only would Clemens go after four days, Oswalt would be a go for game 1 of the NLCS if the Astros make it. Now they'll be stuck putting Brandon Backe on the hump if he's not hitting golf balls with his buddies after Monday night.
The Twins could claim they wanted to give themselves the best chance to beat the Yanks -- down 2-1, use the best two starters they had even if it's on short rest. But Santana is no Schilling. Big Curt went 7 innings or more in his two starts on three days' rest in the '01 World Series; Santana was winded after 5. So what was the point? After that, the Yanks had 12 outs to tie the game against the Twins' 'pen, which they did. So if the Twins had won, their 'pen would have been nearly shot for game 5 with another three-day-rest starter on the hill (who had been knocked around in game 2). What's the other option? How about Kyle Lohse and a panoply of relievers if he gets in trouble, then the Twins could start Santana on full rest in game 5 and not have to worry. Think Lohse was a sure bet to get beat? Two words: Bob Walk. That's the journeyman the '92 Pirates pulled out of their collective ear and who pitched a beaut against the Braves with his team facing elimination. That's not an isolated incident -- lots of random stiffs have taken the hill with their teams facing season-ending defeat and performed well: Jim Rooker in the '79 WS, Moose Haas in the '82 ALCS, Jim Stuper (against Don Sutton) in the '82 WS, Chad Ogea (against a healthy Kevin Brown) in the '97 WS. And note also that the Yanks saw fit to start Javy Vazquez -- master of the two-strike hanging breaking ball. As for Gardenhire going to Rincon in the 8th -- that was fine because Rincon was his 8th-inning guy all year, but he should have switched when Rincon allowed the hit to Bernie that made it a 5-2 game. Oh yeah, he was saving Nathan for a one-inning stint because big Joe flipped 50+ pitches three nights before -- that was the gamble that did not pay off.
(3) Peter Gammons called the incessant left-right switching of pitchers to get a lefty-lefty/righty-righty matchup "creeping LaRussaism" after the way Tony LaRussa used his bullpen on the '88-'90 A's. That phenomenon bit the Angels in their collective arse Friday when Scioscia went to Kiefer Sutherland's lookalike Jarrod Washburn to pitch to David Ortiz Friday night. Yeah, Wash had good numbers against lefties, Ortiz dropped off against lefties, blah blah blah. But Wash is a homerun pitcher, Frankie ("K-Rod") Rodriguez (whom Wash replaced) is not and the Sawx only had a runner on first with two out. Ortiz is also a reverse-from-norm hitter -- he likes the ball up and in or low and away and the natural trajectory for a lefty pitcher is to put the ball low and away from lefty hitters. Scioscia said he worried about wearing out K-Rod, but he had been out there for 38 pitches after heaving 44 two days earlier. What's another 3-5 tosses against Ortiz? And why was Percival on the pine for the whole series? The same Scioscia who was a genius in 2002 turned into a moron this year.
Later tonight or tomorrow, look for The Monk's ALCS preview.