Friday, October 06, 2006

MLB: Post Season '06 (I)

First, a few notes on the 2006 baseball regular season:

-August and September were unwatchable.
It could have been the greenies (amphetamines) ban that caused the players to burn out down the stretch (as Tom Glavine and some other players implied), or the fact that there was not a single pitcher (not named Santana) who was worth the “We have to watch this game, this guy is pitching tonight). However,the true reason was the lack of a true pennant race.
In the AL, the A’s clinched the West on Aug 28th when Barry Zito had a perefect game through 8 against the Rangers. The Angels shy closing attempts never got closer than 4 games. In the East the Yankees clinched on Aug 21st after the 5-game massacre at Fenway. The Central had what appeared like three teams fighting for two spots, but it was practically the Twins and the White Sox, and the White Sox self-destructed without a real battle.
The NL (widely referred to as the minors Quadruple-A) had more of a virtual race. The Mets clinched in July. The Phillies had some futile attempts that no one really took seriously (you would think keeping Corey Lidle could have helped?). The Central generated the only true late-season excitement, but the Cardinals held off and avoided the historic collapse while the Astros lost their season finale to Atlanta with their juiced Rocket on the mound. The NL West is still a bunch of 500 teams, who played musical chairs all year and none of them was consistent enough to earn a post season spot. Yet they end up with two representatives!
The 162 games felt like a pennant crawl more than a race.

-The number of really bad teams was tremendous.
So the pitching staffs are diluted and the players are playing their first full season without their enhancing drugs, does that allow for more than half of the league to play uninspired drag ass baseball? From preseason contenders who were never in the picture (Toronto, Cleveland), to early season pretenders who took quick dives (Rangers, Rockies, Brewers and even RedSox), to the surprisingly bad teams (Cubs, Mariners, Orioles, Braves, Nationals), and of course the usual cellar dwellers (Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay). Too many teams to ignore made very few games must sees.

-The short list of the candidates for the performance awards.
There was no 20-game winner for the first time since 1995 (NL win leaders had 16). Of course there was no 60 home runs hitter (not complaianing, just noting, there won't be many 60 HR hitters in the no-steroids era). Very few players raised their performance to a consistent high level. The AL Cy Young is a no competition. Johan Santana (who had an average first half) ended up winning the MLB pitching Triple Crown and carried the Twins down the stretch. There is nobody who deserves the second place (if there were such a thing). There were some good performances in a single game or over a small stretch but not over the whole season. The NL Cy Young should be withheld. It is so bad some analysts are even considering Trevor Hoffman (who had 5 blown saves). Brandon Webb is the only deserving candidate despite the tough August and the minimal impact he had on his team down the stretch. But he has 5 CG, 3 Shutouts and a one hitter.
The NL MVP is Ryan Howard with a slight Albert Pujols competition, while everyone else is way behind. The AL MVP award should be also withheld (or just give it to A-Rod, just like every year that there is no clear cut candidate). Derek Jeter had a career year, Justin Morneau was huge for the Twins late in the year and Frank Thomas is also worth considering. But, it should go to David Ortiz (who went down the drain along with the Sox season) for being robbed last year and for his role during the 2004 title.

-The only closer without a blown one (3 saves minimum):
Mike Gonzalez. Pittsburgh Pirates. 24/24

Enough with the negativity. Here is a snap shot at this year’s World Series contenders, after each team has played two games:

4. Minnesota: Thanks for coming. They were very impressive in clinching the division after they were more than 11 games out of first early in the year. If they still had Francisco Liriano, maybe their situation could have been different. Their only chance against the A’s was to ride Santana in two games, and get away with the non-existent remaining pitching through the set bullpen of the three J’s (Jesse Crain, Juan “Juice” Rincon and Joe Nathan) and the big bats (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, and Hunter) for the rest of the way. They lost Santana’s opener, followed by the second game at home, and they are getting eliminated as we speak.

3. Detroit: Great effort, but really thanks for coming too. They had a terriblr second half, finished with a 5-game losing streak and lost the division on the last day losing to the Royals and burning their ace starter in the extra innings of that game. The only reason they may have a chance against that mighty Yankees line-up is pitching. They had a very good rotation for the regular season, but it is still to be seen if it will be as good for big playoffs games. Kenny Rogers should not be the ace of a seriously contending team. JustinVerlander is the only pitcher they have who has overpowering stuff, and he regressed as his number of innings pitched increased. (He pitched O.K. in the second game, but kept getting in trouble and was hurt by the 4 walks in 5 innings). The bullpen is a point of strength, especially Joel Zumaya who can go more than an inning. Todd Jones can be scary when he comes to close, but he gets the job done. The lineup has power, but is not particularly scary and tends to be free swinging and Home-run dependant. They return to their park1-1, but they are still no match for the evil empire.

2.New York: The organization went nuts to make up for the 5-year title drought. The team is just loaded. At the trading deadline they went and got the best available bat (Bobby Abreu who was great for them) and the best available pitcher (Lidle, whatever). That does not mean they do not have problems. A-Rod still cannot hit in the clutch and it's getting into his head more and more (0-4 with 3 Ks in game 2), they have Gary Sheffield playing first, and of course pitching. Wang and Mussina are good, Randy Johnson is old and hurt, and when Jaret Wright and Lidle are expected to get a post season start, you know the Yankees pitching has some issues. Middle relief is their most talked about weakness. Scott proctor is not that bad, and Kyle Fansworth and Mariano Rivera are game over after the eighth.

1. Oakland: The favorite. Finally the A’s are going at least get past the first round. The team had a sluggish start especially hitting. Against anything Moneyball-ish, the team did not have anyone batting above 300 for the first two months. Of course, in atypical A’s fashion they made their second half run and were second (to the Yankees) in runs scored. In contrast to all other playoffs teams they are loaded with pitching. All their pitchers can be (almost) aces on other teams' staffs. Zito, Rich Harden, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and even Esteban Loaiza can be tremendous on the right day (They show inconsistency at times). The bullpen is also loaded. Kiki calero, Justin Duchscherer, Joe Kennedy. The closer Huston street is scary, but he still gets it done. Frank Thomas led them past the Twins in the first two games, and they should be able to break the 0-9 record in elimination games soon.

4. San Diego: Thanks for coming. You lose the first two at home and your situation is hopeless. The scouting reports ranked their pitching as the best among the NL playoffs teams. In the first game their ace Jake Peavy gave up 5 runs in 5+ and in the second game Fat David Wells gave up 2 in 5 innings, before turning it in to a shutout bullpen. The problem is they have scored 1 run in the first two games combined. Their lineup does not have any feared hitters (Adrian Gonzalez is practically a rookie), and it is the same 500 team that is always bounces out in the first round.

4.(rep) Los Angeles: Thanks for coming. On the bright side they lost their first two on the road. But this assembly of old veterans and young rookies with an assortment of unknown Japanese and rookie pitchers was not going too far anyway. The team has been inconsistent all year. They lose 7 of their first 10 to open the season follow up with 11 wins in 14 games in May. They open the second half with 12 losses in 13 games to finish the year with a seven game winning streak, and then drop two to the Cardinals who backed into the post season! Maybe Greg Maddux can extend their season for one more game, but they have Brad Penny and his ERA than has been exponentially escalating since late august scheduled to pitch the fourth game, and they may have lost their 3 spot hitter Nomar Garciaparra for these two games.

3. St. Louis: So they were on the verge of the biggest collapse in MLB history, (losing a 7 game lead in a week), they have no closer, and their second best pitcher is Jeff Weaver ( strong 5 innings in game 2 though). Still, they are up 2-0 heading back to their new stadium. They still have the experience, the best hitter in baseball, and a manager who likes to play around with his bullpen, and it works. Cris Carpenter is a true ace and Adam Wainwright has the stuff and composure to take the closer role (Jason Isringhausen was a proble all year long anyway). Still starting pitching, middle relief, the age of Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, and the weight of Ronnie Belliard and Yadier Molina is kind of holding them back.

1.New York: The favorite since June. In a really bad NL they are the only team tha has some components to match up against the AL winner. The lineup is as good as any AL lineup with Jose Reyes, at the top, the Carlos-es (Delgado and Beltran) in the middle and even David Wright who mysteriously lost his power swing in the second half (6 Home runs). The loss of Pedro Martinez (problems all year) and the sudden (really more devastating) loss of El Duque left them with practically nothing for starting pitching. Tom Glavine is a post season veteran, but you cannot depend on Steve Trachsel, John Maine and Oliver Perez to win a World Series. However if they can squeeze 5 good innings from any of these guys they have an excellent bullpen with set roles (Mota, Feliciano, Bradford) early, Aaron Heilman leading to the hardest throwing left handed pitcher in the world Billy Wagner.

One Final Note: Reason 62 why no decent self-respecting human being should support or root for the New York Yankees under any circumstances.

The Payrolls of the Playoffs team (April 7th, 2006)

New York Yankees $194,663,079

New York Mets $101,084,963 6

Los Angeles Dodgers $98,447,187

St. Louis Cardinals $88,891,371

Detroit Tigers $82,612,866

San Diego Padres $69,896,141

Minnesota Twins $63,396,006

Oakland Athletics $62,243,079


The one with a Karakian ass said...

Kiss my Karakian ass.

Abu Shreek said...

Excuse me, but i thought you lived in Utah!! With all respect This article is not intended for Karakians nor to Utahnians to read.

Lowfields said...

Well, as an Ammani resident whose years in NY left him an incurable baseball nut, it's great to see someone on Jordan Planet write about the pennant races... it's impossible to keep tabs here without incurring insomnia trying to stay awake at 3.45am.

But I do have to pick a few holes... no NL candidates in the MVP race to rival Howard and Pujols???? How about David Wright, Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes? Consistent power, effective small-ball with decent on-base percentage and a lead-off man with 64 stolen bases who also led in triples (17), meant that the Mets were never topped in an NL East they hadn't won for 15 years. And only post-clinch benching stopped Beltran, Wright and Delgado topping the 130 RBI mark.

And didn't Florida have three CY Young candidates? All of whom could also have wom Rookie of the Year??

Agree about the Yanks, though... always sweet to see them dumped out early. And to Detroit??? Pudge Rodriguez is like a talisman for failing franchises.... why he wasn't the instant replacement for Piazza at Shea I'll never know...

The Mets pitching looks weak, you're right. Although Trachsel is much better thatn everyone thinks, which might prove an effective commodity in the post-season – even if his work is painful at times.

But, sadly, I'm going for the Cards this year....

Abu Shreek said...

Thanks for your follow-up.
As for the Mets I completely agree with the names you mentioned being outstanding, ( and you can make an argument for Carlos Delgado as well). But as you can see they kind of complement each other (and also split the MVP votes). I really think Howard was on a different level in the way he carried the pedestrian Phillies lineup down the stretch and kept them in (virtual) contention. Even Pujols did not bat in the usual loaded lineup.

As for the Florida rotation it honestly confused the hell out of me all year, how could Josh Johnson (excellent and consistent) and Rickey Nolasco (at times) keep pitching like they did . Not to mention the only no hitter of the year by Annibal sanchez (!). But maybe they were playing with house’s money under zero pressure. Johnson is definitely a candidate for rookie of the year but the Cy Young could be a stretch.

I like Pudge, but I thought Detroit overpaid him a little (40 mil for 4 years), especially after he dropped 25 pounds in the same off-season when they banned steroids. But he proved invaluable in handling the Tigers staff, even if his hitting numbers are not as good (especially in the opening series against the yanks). For the Mets, Paul Lo Duca is a very solid option behind the plate (and only at 6.25 mil).

I really cannot see the Cardinals beating the Mets in a seven-game series (the cards starting pitching (aside from carpenter) is not much better than that of the Mets , and the mets have adefinite advantage in the bullpen and the lineup. ( I will try to squeeze out a an ALCS/ NLDS preview after 2-3 games).
Thanks again for your comments.

Lowfields said...

Thanks for the reply... and good points all round. I've always believed that Cy Young has been stacked towards just raw numbers (Gagne, for instance), without ever really taking into account the context of achievement, and the Marlins' rotation desereves to be heralded for keeping a decimated roster from capitualting before the All-Star break... Especially as Dontrel Willis was some way below his stellar best on many starts.

I have a hunch for the Cards because any line-up with Pujols is devastating, and things seem to have been a little too easy for the Mets in the NL East – do they know how to tough out a win with a B-team rotation? They've proven they can win tight games all year, but those have been against teams more inferior than the Cards – and Jeff Weaver is so unpredictable on the mound, it's difficult to know how the Mets' bats will work in Game 1. Have the Cards go that "Cowboy Up" thing going now, having seen off the Padres?

I think you're spot on about the Mets bullpen – and I think if the Mets go all the way (a possibility I'm still clinging to), then it will be because of the quality of long relief. The Yanks haven't had that in recent years, hence they've struggled in games where their starters come under early attack; the D-backs and Angels underscored this in 2001 and 2002.

Heilmann's move to the bullpen looks more inspired every game, Wagner is a very nasty closer, and there's a nice selection lefties. Also, the runs can come from right down the line-up – Jeff Green has been a nice under-the-radar addition – but you wonder whether any side can manage the loss of Pedro and El Duque.

We'll see around 4am tomorrow, I guess!

Abu Shreek said...

That is one of the most confusing things about the awards (some years they go for mere stats some others they factor in the contribution to the team and the team’s record!!). (But I do not think the Gagne award was undeserved, I do not think there was an overpowering starter that year, and it was a nice way to credit his 80 some straight saves.).
I was really rooting for the Marlins to win the wild card all year. At least they got rewarded with (well-deserved /fired) manager of the year, and they have 10 rookie of the year candidates.
As for the NLCS, let’s watch the first three games and see how things shape up, and we will get back to it.
Just for historic accuracy, you meant the addition of Shawn Green (playing that ball off the wall perfectly to assist in throwing TWO ex-teammates Dodgers at the plate alone makes him a valuable addition)

Lowfields said...

Duh! Where the hell did "Jeff" Green come from...!?!?

I must have been thinking about Dodger colleague Jeff Kent... I'm still fretting about that wild Game 3 in the NCLS and his four hits....

Gagne wasn't "undeserved" in the sense that 80 saves is obviously outstanding, but I have a nagging hunch that closers, as a species, are the most overrated players in the game... they come in on the back of 6-plus innings from a starter (100 pitches minimum against fresh batters), then the essential work of relivers and set-up men, who have usually had to inherit runners or other problems, and then because they can sling down nine or ten consecutive fastballs every other game, they're a hero????

No closer should ever get the Cy Young... Armnando flippin' Benitez got 47 saves one year...!

I'll join you for more on another blog...!

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