Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Tonight the National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals & New York Mets gets underway, although many people will not realize it unless they are from one of the competing cities or watch on their computer. That's because the geniuses at FOX decided to relegate the game to puny corporate offspring FX, a cable channel usually located in the remote outreaches of the 100-channel spectrum, like the high 70's.
But the series should be exciting and action-packed enough for an FX-style broadcast due to the fact that both the Cardinals and Mets have only 1 quality starting pitcher. And the problem for St. Louis is that theirs may not be able to start until Game 3 in St. Louis.
Let's break this potential slugfest down.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Mets
Game 1, Wednesday 8PM FOX/FX (no 'O')

Jeff Weaver (8-14, 5.76; 1-0, 0.00 NLDS)
Tom Glavine (15-7, 3.82; 1-0, 0.00 NLDS)

The Cardinals start out at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to starting pitching. Although both clubs have lost potential playoff trump cards (Mets: Petey & El Duque; St.L: Mark Muldah) to season-ending injuries, the Cardinals cannot even use their one remaining ace, 2005 (and probable 2006) Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter until Game 3. That's due to the fact that the Padres forced a Game 4 in the NLDS and St. Louis was forced to start Carpenter in that game; he won it, by the way, as he did Game 1.
So that means Angel outcast Jeff Dream Weaver will take the hill for the Redbirds in Game 1 in Queens. Yikes. Don't be fooled by Weaver's terrific outing in Game 2 against San Diego (5 innings of 2-hit ball for the win)- this guy sucks. He was hailed for having the proverbial "electric stuff" when he first came into the league with Detroit in 1999; that stuff has amounted to an 86-101 career record and a 4.58 ERA. This season he was booted from the Angels in favor of his younger (and better) brother Jered after Jeff posted a 3-10 record with a 6.29 ERA. Nice.
On the other hand the Mets counter with their one healthy ace, veteran lefty Tom Glavine, who has 13 career postseason victories, the latest a 6 inning, 4-hit gem in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. But after Tommy G. the Mets staff is shaky, with steady but unspectacular vet Steve Traschel, (15-8), unproven rookie John Maine(6-5), and potential horror show Oliver Perez (3-11, 6.65.)
The Cards have a decent second banana like Traschel, Jeff Suppan(12-7), but with St. Louis turning to the dreaded "To Be Announced" for Game 4's starter, things aren't good, especially if Weaver bombs in Game 1- which he should.
The Mets enjoy a decided advantage in the bullpen. Hard throwing closer Billy Wagner has lost some gas but can still be unhittable-when he isn't allowing game-winning bombs. New York also has a plethora of set-up men (Bradford, Hernandez, Heilman, Feliciano) to plow through Cardinal hitters en route to Wagner. St. Louis has lost closer Jason Isringhausen for the season, so young Adam Wainwright has filled the role; although he has performed admirably the postseason is no place for rookie closers. I'll take Wagner & his spaghetti arm any day.

The result of that pitching quagmire should be plenty of runs. The question is, which teams' boppers are going to shine the brightest?
The Cards lineup is pretty much down to Phat Albert and the Junkyard Gang. That's because 3rd baseman Scott Rolen confessed to Tony LaRussa that his shoulder is basically falling off- I think T-Bag from Prison Break is going to find a vet to re-attach it- and flashy & potent OF Jim Edmonds has a variety of ailments including post-concussion syndrome, back & leg issues. I give New York hurlers the same advice I gave to San Diego's- pitch around Albert. How can you go wrong? You've got 1 guy in the lineup that can beat you, why pitch to him in any situation? None on no outs, 2 on 1 out, 1 on 2 outs-doesn't matter-PUT HIM ON.
The Mets meanwhile have a deadly lineup that can kill you in a variety of ways: speed (Reyes, 64 steals, 17 triples), power (Delgado-38 HRs,100 RBIs), pure talent (Wright), determination (LoDuca) or a freakish combination of all of the above(Beltran.) Needless to say it's a pitcher's nightmare to face a lineup like that. The Mets were 3rd in the NL in runs, 4th in home runs & 3rd in slugging percentage, and 1st in steals, by 18, thanks to Reyes (did I mention he is fast?)

As for the intangibles & managers, LaRussa is a postseason fixture having led the Bash Brothers A's to 3 consecutive World Series, winning it all in 1989. His Cards are no strangers to the playoffs, either, having made it 7 times in his 11 seasons in St. Louis. On the other side Willie Randolph is in just his 2nd season as Mets skipper. He carries a lot of postseason experience with him as a Stankee player & then coach for 11 years, but this is his first dance as a head coach, so the edge clearly goes to the grizzled, analytical LaRussa.
The Cards were cruising to another Central Division crown when suddenly they couldn't buy a win down the stretch, Houston was hotter that Texas asphalt, and they literally backed in to the title when the Astros lost on the final Saturday of the season. Although they looked good vs. San Diego, the Mets are a much more potent team than the Fathers.

The Mets were also on cruise control, never seriously challenged for the East title en route to winning a NL high 97 games, then swept through the Dodgers like Taco Bell through the gastro-intestinal system. They will also enjoy a thorough home field advantage; with the Stanks eliminated in the first round (I just love repeating that) the entire New York population will be able to pretend they are Mets fans through & through, like Billy Crystal does every year.
But the pressure is all on the Mets. Even though the Cards are growing tired of falling short of their goal, there is no pressure on them because they are huge underdogs, and no one in St. Louis is going to rip them if they lose. Not those true Redbird-blooded Americans from the Heartland. Meanwhile, falter in New York now and Torre & the Stanks will be off the back pages ASAP, no matter the injury situation. It's too late to turn back now, Mets- win it all or incur the wrath of an already rankled NY populace.

There it is, scientific evidence of what will go down in this years NLCS. In a nutshell, the Mets should annihilate Jeff I crumble in the Big Apple Weaver in Game 1 tonight, they could win or lose Game 2, depending on which crafty vet prevails, lose Game 3 to Carpenter, then rip off 2 or 3 straight to defeat Phat Albert & the Gang. Maybe next season they will get this guy some healthy supporting players. ManRam is available.


No comments: