Monday, October 02, 2006


Time to take a break from all the football coverage (I'm starting to envision everything covered in pigskin) to give my preview of the Major League Baseball Playoffs. I'm doing this despite the fact that my beloved Sawx are not involved in the postseason this year.

I know, it's a shock to me too.
But nevertheless, the show must go on and us impartial writers must cover it. Even if it sucks out loud that my team isn't in it.


Detroit (95-67) vs. New York (97-65)
Did anyone get the name of that truck? That's what Detroit manager Smokey Jim Leyland and his Tiger team must be saying today after the Minnesota Twins ran them down and trampled them like roadkill in the second half of the season. While the Twinks ripped off a 72-37 stretch from June 1st until the final day, Detroit slumped so badly in the last 2 months (24-32) that the Motion Picture Association felt sorry for them. The Tigers' lead in the Central was 5.5 games on Sep. 1st, but after they choked all 3 games in the final weekend series at home to the Royals they blew the division crown and had to settle for the Wild Card and a trip to the Bronx. Yippee.
Game 1 (TUE 8P, FOX) features new Stankee ace Chien Mieng Wang (19-6, 3.63) against Tiger southpaw Nate Robertson (13-13, 3.84.) Both are inexperienced playoff-wise, although Wang did have one start in last year's ALDS. But this year Wang has been dominant with his hard sinker that induces plenty of ground balls and his 11-3 record at the Stadium made him a logical pick to start the opener over Mousse-ina and Achy Braky Unit.
But this series is going to come down to experience. New York has plenty of it, along with craploads of talent, and the Tigers, aside from a few vets like Pudge-less Rodriguez and Cameraman Kenny Rogers, are new to the dance. I look for the 2006 version of Murderer's Row (Sheff's back, ERod batting 6th & Cano 9th?!-c'mon) to bludgeon the still-shell shocked Tiger staff into submission, and by the end of the 3rd game Leyland will be smoking so many Camel unfiltereds you'll think he's promoting "Thank You For Smoking."
MY PICK: Stanks in 3

Oakland (93-69) vs. Minnesota (96-66)
How appropriate is this series? Hmm, what should we call it? How 'bout 'The Small Market Bowl' or 'Moneyball meets the Metrodomers'? No? I know, let's label it the 'Limited Budget & Team Cohesiveness Winning Template.' Because that's the strategy that got these 2 "small market" clubs into the postseason. Neither team spends a ton of money (OAK: $62.3 million, MIN: $ 63.8 mil), packs in a ton of fans (the A's have decided to keep their upper deck closed for the playoffs, therefore limiting ticket sales to 36,000. Imagine this happening in Boston. I know, impossible), or has a lot of public support nationwide. Perhaps because one team plays on the West Coast, or Mordor, media-wise and the other plays in, well, Minnesota; there is no Twins Nation that I know of. But the funny thing is that these two teams play great baseball, have exciting players both at the plate and on the mound, and this will probably be the most entertaining of the 4 series.
The Game 1 (TUE 1P EST, ESPN) matchup, Oakland's Barry Zito (16-10, 3.83) vs. Johan Cy-tana (19-6, 2.77, 245 Ks) is one to set the DVR for if you are unfortunate enough to have to work. Zito bounced back this year after 3 subpar seasons following his 2002 Cy Young award-winning campaign, and he has one of the filthiest curves in the game. He's a big game pitcher who can overpower hitters with that yakker, and he'll have his hands full with AL batting champ Joe Mauer (.347) and MVP candidate Justin Morneau (.321, 34HRs, 130RBI.) But on the other side you have 2004 Cy winner Santana, who is just plain filthy all the time and can overpower hitters with a variety of pitches. He'll have to face Oakland's potent duo of Frank Thomas, who after hitting 39 homers with 114 RBI earned back his nickname Big Hurt, and surprise slugger 1B Nick Swisher (35 & 95). But this series won't be decided after Game 1. If the Twins still had Rookie of the Year candidate Francisco Liriano to go in Game 2, it might have been over by then. But as it stands, this one should go the distance. And it should be a ton fun.
MY PICK: Twins in 5


St. Louis (83-78) vs. San Diego (88-74)
Thanks to a Tigers-esque gag job in the final month of the season (11-17), especially the last half when they lost 7 in a row and went 4-10, the Cards now get to start the playoffs in beautiful San Diego. Not a lot of red out there, just plenty of sandy browns, bright oranges and cool yellows, you know, laid-back San Diego, man. In other words night & day from the rabid red Cardinal Crazies in the Nation's heartland, where it looked like for most of the second half that St. Louis would open their title run. Padre fans can get pretty fired up, too, but not to the intensity level of Cards fans in the new Busch. And only when they run out of fish tacos at PETCO.
So St. Louis will have to get past the fact that they blew home field and played horrid baseball down the stretch and just do what they do best: rely on Albert Pujols to win every game for them. Cause let's face it, Cardinal nation, that's all you got. Edmonds is breaking down more than the Mid East peace talks, Scott Rolen is one play away from a torn chest muscle or some other grisly injury, and your pitching staff after Game 1 (TUE, 4P, ESPN) starter Chris Carpenter is thinner than Nicole Ritchie.
The Birds can take some comfort in the fact that Phat Albert just took Padre lights-out reliever Cla Meredith deep for a 3-run bomb that ended their 7 game skid last Wednesday. But the Pads come into this one riding high after finishing on a 10-3 run and winning the West on the last day of the season, and they are going to ride those good vibrations right into the NLCS. Plus the Padres are Red Sox West, NoCal version (Roberts, Embree, Bellie, Walker,Williamson, Meredith, Bard, El Seanez!); San Diego will stay classy.
MY PICK: Padres in 4

LA Dodgers (88-74 vs.NY Mets (97-65)

The Dodgers went on a thrill-ride in the final week 1/2 of the season, finishing 10-1 including a couple of memorable, walk-off wins. Derek Lowe (16-8) won 2 of those games, valuable playoff chip Greg Maddux won 2 also, and even Devil Ray castoff Mark Hendrikson got a victory during the streak. That win was in a wild 19-11 affair at Coors last Thursday, when rookie 1B James Loney slugged 9RBI subbing for Comeback Player of the Year shoo-in Nomar Garciaparra. That game came just 10 days after an even crazier LA victory, 11-10 over Pittsburgh. In that one the Dodgers belted 4 consecutive homers in the 9th inning to tie the game, and then after allowing a run in the top of the 10th, Nomah finished it with a walk-off 2-run job in the bottom of the inning. To put it mildly, even though they had to settle for the Wild Card on the final day, the Dodgers are one team that is very happy to be here.
Then you have the Metropolitans. They have been striken with more bad news than Anna Nicole Smith lately. First they learned that fragile ace Petey Martinez would miss the postseason, then half of next season, with a torn rotator cuff an injured calf. And next, well that's about it. But that's about as bad as it gets for a team that is paying Petey a boatload of money specifically to be their front of the rotation pitcher for a playoff series. Oops. Now the Mets will have to rely on Tom Glavine (15-7), Orlando Hernandez, Steve Traschel and John Maine. Wow. To contrast the Dodgers will have Lowe, Maddux (15 wins again), and madman Brad Penny (16-9.) Advantage Dodgers.
The Mets clinched so long ago I think Mel Gibson was still in demand and Tom Cruise had a studio contract. That fact always comes back to haunt in the pressure-cooker that is the post season. Without their conquering hero to fall back on, a lot will be expected of Glavine and those young Met stud hitters, David Wright and Jose Rich Man's Carl Crawford Reyes. But the Dodgers have been playing in a postseason atmosphere for nearly a month, and they are loaded playoff veterans (Lowe, Maddux, Nomah, Lofton, Furcal, Kent and even manager Sling Blade Little-well, discount that last one) and they are primed for upsetting the overpaid & overrated fat cats from the Big Apple. Plus the Dodgers are the Red Sox West, SoCal edition. Go Blue!
MY PICK: Dodgers in 5

Let the drama begin.

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