Friday, October 28, 2005

NL fever -- hope it's not contagious

The newest question in baseball is "does the National League suck"? For 2005, the answer is yes (82-80 Padres in the playoffs, weak Braves, no-hit Astros, etc.). In general, it is too soon to tell.

Nonetheless, this season produced a dubious first: the first time two different teams from the same league swept the World Series in consecutive seasons. Even worse, the two NL losers have been the best teams in the NL for the past two seasons -- as demonstrated by their tilts in the NLCS.

But there's more: the NL has not only lost six of the last 8 WS, four have been sweeps. Sure, the '98 Padres were overmatched by the '98 Yankees (everyone was -- the Yanks stomped the 106-win Braves during the regular season, prompting Chipper Jones to note his team's "butt-whipping"); but the other three were a bit much. The '99 Yanks featuring the worst seasons for Clemens and Pettitte drubbing the 103-win best-record-in-baseball Braves; the '04 RedSawx humiliating the 105-win Cardinals in games 2-4 after a tough game 1 win; the '05 ChiSax swatting Clemens and Oswalt -- these results are outliers, or seemingly should be.

I have a hard time explaining it. I do think that if NL teams do not have Cy Young caliber pitching (contra 2001 Diamondbacks), they have trouble with AL lineups (just look at what the Angels did to the Giants in '02). Conversely, AL pitchers have less trouble with NL lineups because their pitchers get breathers in comparison to top AL lineups -- either a pitcher if the game is in the NL park, or a bench stiff pushed into a DH role. The NL does not and cannot have a bunch of David Ortizes on their teams because everyone needs to play the field in order to hit. Thus, the AL pitchers get a reprieve by facing the Padres instead of the Indians, or the Mess instead of the A-Rodian Mariners or even the Cards instead of the Yankees.

So yeah, right now the NL sucks. And the AL is going to be as good or better next year when the Yanks have healthy pitchers, the Chisax look for their first 100-win season, the Twins have a healthy Torii Hunter or star whom they received for him, the A's are a year more mature, the Orioles have Leo Mazzone, the B'Jays add talent (reportedly, they're buyers in the offseason), etc. In other words, the NL may have begun a down cycle when Curt Schilling took the mound in game 2 of the 2004 WS.

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