Monday, September 29, 2008

Baseball Playoffs: Fearless Predictions

In yesterday's Boston Globe Bob Ryan had a wonderful column remembering John Updike's New Yorker essay "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," one of the finest pieces of writing about baseball or anything else. The playoffs start this week with lots of compelling storylines: Is the the year the Cubs finally break through, rewarding their fans like the Red Sox and White Sox have rewarded theirs in recent years? Will the Tampa Rays' carriage turn into a pumpkin, or are they for real? Can the Red Sox repeat, establishing a legitimate claim to the first dynasty of the twenty-first century? And a Cubs-Red Sox World Series: great matchup or the greatest matchup?

I'm thrilled with how the Red Sox are heading into the postseason. They did not have a dominant year, but they still emerged with one of the four best records in baseball and are poised for another deep postseason run. They have the pitching, especially to master the short five-game series, when they will only need to rely on a three-man rotation, with Beckett, Dice-K, and Lester to take the hill. The Sox struggled against the Angels and Rays this year more than I would like to see but that will not matter one bit in the postseason. The lineup is reasonably balanced, and is led less by Big Papi than by MVP candidates Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. Terry Francona is as well equipped for this stage of the season as anay manager in baseball, and to my mind handled the last two weeks of the season just about perfectly, as he did last year. The Angels are talented. They have a deep lineup and they play small ball, but they do not work deep into counts, which may favor the Red Sox starters. They will rely on their starting pitching to bridge the way to their excellent relievers, so the key for the Red Sox will be to get to the starters early to disrupt Mike Scoscia's preferred pitching usage and to get whacks at the middle relievers. The Angels want to shorten the game by getting to K-Rod. The Sox have to avoid K-Rod getting into that situation. They thus need to work pitch counts, be patient, score early, and avoid a traditional Red Sox bugaboo even for good teams: leaving men on base. The Angels may have been the best team in the regular season, but the Red Sox have been their nightmare in the playoffs. I expect that to continue. Sox in four.

As for the other matchups:

Tampa has a huge advantage inasmuch as the AL Central has yet to be decided, with the White Sox having to make up a missed game against Detroit today and if they win, then facing a one-game playoff against the Twins. That has to favor the Rays who will continue their run for another week. No matter who they play, Rays in five.

The Cubs have been the best team in the National league by a long way. The Dodgers won the worst division in baseball only in the last week. This should be a mismatch. It won't be. The post-Manny Dodgers have been very good. Joe Torre knows how to manage in the postseason. On paper this should not be close. In reality, it will take the Cubs five games to pull this one out (and part of me wants to predict the Dodgers).

The fight for the final spot in the postseason represented a war of attrition. The Mets did their now-traditional vanishing act (New York Baseball Fever: Catch It!) thus allowing the Brewers to slink into the playoffs like a drunk trying not to wake his spouse as he stumbles into things on the way to the bedroom. The Phillies did not exactly seize the east until late. Nonetheless the Phils will take this largely because the Brewers won't know how. Phillies in five.

The Cubs will beat the Phillies in 6 for the NLCS, the Sox will beat the Rays in five for the ALCS, and the Red Sox, playing the role of hissable bullies and enemies to karma, will break the hearts of Cub fans yet again in six games split between Fenway Park and Wrigley that will cause an outbreak of purple prose across the land. Go Sox!!!


Jaime said...

Jaime is looking for someone to drive to LA with him on Saturday. I promise a comfortable backseat right outside of Chavez Ravine and three square meals of Tommy's Burgers.

Anonymous said...