Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Let the Playoffs begin!

With the baseball playoffs here, The Monk has a few items to cover. You may have expected that. Unfortunately for my stomach flutters, but perhaps fortunately for my blood pressure, the Yanks start their series tomorrow. Then again, there's a blood pressure raising occurrence that's ticking me off daily, which I'll discuss below.

First, some facts and predictions. In the NLDS, The Monk likes . . . no one. Each of the teams has some massive flaw. Then again, every observer thought only one NL team capable of winning the World Series last year . . . and it wasn't the Cards.

The real oddity is that perhaps the two best teams are playing each other: the Rox and Phils. Based on their Pythagorean W-L numbers (basically a runs scored/runs allowed equation of RS*RS/(RS*RS)+(RA*RA)), the Rox are the NL's best team, and the Phils are #2. I think the Rox pitching is deeper (yeah, you read that right) and they have an extensive group of solid relievers; the Phils are only strong at closer. Each team has a mammoth banger (Holliday/Howard), a superstar in the middle infield (Tulowitzki/Rollins and Utley) and solid secondary sluggers (Helton and Atkins, Burrell and Rowand). The question becomes whether the Phils get spooked by pitching in Denver. If so, Rox in 4; if not, Rox in a riotous 5.

The Cubs-Snakes series is interesting because the Cubs have potentially the best top three starters of any NL team (Zambrano-Lilly-Hill) but big Z has been an enigma all year (13 starts of 4+ ER for the ace?). The Cubs have some power (Lee, Sori, Ramirez), the Snakes have superior balance (nine players with 10+ HR), and the Snakes have a better bullpen. This should be interesting, but I think the Snakes can win in 5.

The RedSux-Angels series is regrettable in a way -- this time the Yanks could whack the Angels badly and will not play them. LAA is missing its centerfielder (Matthews), starting RF (Guerrero can only DH), has weakness in its vaunted bullpen (Shields has been awful since the All-Star Game) and is really a bit ragged right now. The Angels also cannot handle the RedSux (4-6 this year, Lackey is awful in Bastin), period. This series is the most likely candidate for a sweep. The Redhos will wrap up in 4.

Some notes and a rant:

(1) Since 1995, teams that won game 1 of the NLDS are 21-3 in the series; teams that won game 1 of the ALDS are 11-13 and only 4-13 in series that were not sweeps. The Yanks are 5-0 in the ALDS after losing game 1; only 2-5 after winning game 1 and 0-5 in non-sweeps.

(2) The 2006 LDS round tied with 1998 and 1996 for fewest first-round games between all teams -- 14. None went the full five games.

(3) Arizona's 90 wins are the lowest total for any team with the best-record-in-a-league since the advent of the 162-game schedule in 1961 (courtesy Jon Heyman, and no the 1981 season doesn't count). Even before the 162-game schedule, only 6 pennant winners ever won fewer than 90 during the World Series era (excluding 1918, when WWI shortened the season to <130 games).

(4) Playoff experience means zip. Ask the RedSawx how their playoff experience in 2004 helped them when they were swept out of the playoffs in 2005, or the Yanks from 2002 or 2006 who bonked against callow teams, or even the Yanks from 2000 who barely scraped by a bunch of playoff neophytes from Oakland. What an overstated, misleading concept.

Here's the rant: I'm sick of the ESPN Yankee-hating. Unless the prognosticator picked the Indians to win it all, or at least the AL, in the beginning of the year (Buster Olney, who admits this explains his pick), there is no logic to explain picking the Indians over the Yanks in the ALDS, as seven of the 10 ESPN talking heads did. Not only did the Yanks win the season series 6-0, but four games were complete beatings and in a fifth the Yanks rallied with a six-run ninth off the Indians' closer. I understand fully that the Yanks didn't face Sabathia (Indians at bats v. Wang this year? ZERO) and that Sabathia/Carmona is probably the best one-two starting punch in the league. I also understand that the Indians have the two Raffys in their set-up relief group (who should be offset by the one Joba). But to claim that this means the Indians are the better team or should win after completely failing to do so in the regular season is illogical . . . just like Steve Phillips claiming the Ms would win the wild card when the Yanks had caught them with 45 games to go.

I am mentally prepared for the Yanks to bonk -- they did so last year against the Tigers after dominating that team in the regular season and the Indians are only slightly more experienced in the playoffs than that Tiger team; and the Yanks have had more than their share of issues in recent playoffs (bad managing and no hitting v. RedSawx; crappy fielding against Angels; getting whupped v. Tigers). I do think that the 2007 team is different from the 2004-06 teams. Reasons are simple: Andy Pettitte's competitive fire and that of Clemens; Joba in the 'pen; the crazy kids who helped revive the team all year; and a more at-ease A-Rod.

Talk and bandwidth are cheap. Tomorrow, Friday, Sunday and perhaps Monday and Wednesday, we'll find out if I'm right.

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