The evil genius of the MLBlogosphere got the World Series just about exactly right in his prediction of every aspect the World Series from Joe Maddon’s potential to screw up; to Jamie Moyer’s effectiveness against the Rays; to the importance of using David Price; to the number of games it would take for the Phillies to end this fairy tale. Here’s the link so you can bask in my wonderfulness: World Series Prediction Blog 10/21.
Philadelphia Phillies (92-70); First Place, National League East; defeated Milwaukee Brewers, 3 games to 1 in NLDS; defeated Los Angeles Dodgers, 4 games to 1 in NLCS vs Tampa Bay Rays (97-65); First Place, American League East; defeated Chicago White Sox, 3 games to 1 in ALDS; defeated Boston Red Sox, 4 games to 3 in ALCS
- Keys for the Phillies:
The Phillies haven’t broken much of a sweat in dispatching both the Brewers and Dodgers in the first two rounds of the playoffs. They’ve gotten great, clutch pitching from their starters (except for Jamie Moyer); lights out pitching from their bullpen, especially Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge; clutch hitting from the main bashers in their lineup; and invaluable contributions from heretofore underappreciated or unknown sources like Matt Stairs and Shane Victorino.
With the Rays flying as high as they are, the Phillies have to prove the point early that they’re neither the aging and declining White Sox, nor the injury-riddled Red Sox. The reason that the White Sox and Red Sox weren’t able to stop the Rays was because of the Rays building up leads early in the games, getting good starting pitching and solid bullpen work with their deep and diverse set of arms. The only reason that the Rays didn’t take the Red Sox out in five games (and almost blew the series) was because of the gaffe by their manager Joe Maddon in leaving Grant Balfour in to pitch to David Ortiz.
The Phillies offense is powerful enough that they’re going to be able to score as many runs as the Rays are; the question will be whether their pitching will be able to keep the Rays off the scoreboard. Cole Hamels has developed into an ace, but in game one there’s the possibility that the long layoff between the end of the Dodgers series and the first game of the World Series will leave him too strong, which will affect his control and his ability to change speeds. As badly as Jamie Moyer has pitched in the postseason thus far, he’s the type of pitcher who might give the young Rays fits with his junk and below average fastball. The Brewers and Dodgers were accustomed to facing Moyer; these Rays aren’t. It’s unclear as to whether Moyer is going to start at all in the series and if he does, whether it would be game three or four. The other option, Joe Blanton, has had trouble with the Rays in his career.
If the Phillies keep the Rays off the scoreboard and keep runners off the bases in front of B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena, then it won’t matter if the trio continues hitting the ball out of the park like it’s batting practice. The Phillies pitchers tend to give up a lot of home runs, so the number of runners on base in front of those hitters will be the key to how many runs the Rays score. If the games are close and get into a battle of the bullpens, the Phillies have a lights out closer in Brad Lidge; David Price’s wicked stuff and heroic game seven performance notwithstanding, he’s still an unknown as far as closing games is concerned and the Phillies are notorious for their late inning power displays against any and all bullpens.
One advantage the Phillies are going to have as they play the first two games in Tropicana Field is that they have several legitimate designated hitters on their bench as opposed to many National League representative teams who have to use pinch-hitting specialists or backups as the DH. I still think back to the Mets 2000 World Series matchup with the Yankees and their using Lenny Harris as the DH. Lenny Harris ain’t exactly Edgar Martinez. Neither Greg Dobbs nor Matt Stairs can hit lefties very well, but Chris Coste can and the Rays are only using Scott Kazmir in the opening game and probably the fifth game if necessary, so the other games will see righties starting for the Rays, getting either Dobbs or Stairs those important at bats. The Phillies could also consider using Eric Bruntlett in left field (his numbers against lefties are okay) and DH Pat Burrell to strengthen the outfield defense for that one game.
Charlie Manuel has a quick hook as a manager, but he surprised me in the playoffs by riding his starters deeply into the games; the Phillies bullpen has been so good though, that Manuel can afford to have a quick hook and he has two lefties out there in J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre who’ve done very well. Since the Rays have three lefties in their bullpen, one thing I would seriously consider is breaking up Chase Utley and Ryan Howard from batting back-to-back; such a move would force Rays manager Joe Maddon into repeated pitching changes to exhaust his resources in a tight game. Manuel could bat Burrell between the duo, or he could even move Utley up to bat second and let the hot-hitting Shane Victorino bat third.
This series is going to come down to the starting pitching for the Phillies and if Manuel continues to trust his players rather than make quick and unthinking maneuvers to deplete his bench and bullpen. They’re going to score their runs; it’s just a matter of whether their pitchers hold down the bats of the Rays better than the White Sox and Red Sox did.
- Keys for the Rays:
One would assume that Rays manager Joe Maddon has learned his lesson and won’t mess around with the Phillies more powerful lineup as he did against the Red Sox in game five. This is one of the reasons that the Phillies need to consider breaking up the Howard/Utley combination; if Manuel leaves that as is, the Rays can toss out Trever Miller early; J.P. Howell to set-up and David Price to close; it’s conceivable that the Phillies will have to have their big two hitters facing lefties from the fifth inning onward.
Scott Kazmir was masterful in his game five start, but the Red Sox aren’t the Phillies and despite Howard and Utley batting left-handed, they aren’t clueless against lefties; they’ve had success and all it takes is one swing from Howard to bust things open. After the first game in which the Phillies have a slight, on paper advantage in the pitching matchup, the Rays have a clear advantage after that. James Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine were all somewhere between very good and brilliant in the first two rounds of the playoffs. If those starters can pitch deeply into the games, then they’re going to be in great position if they can hand it over to a dominant force like Price.
Is Maddon going to mix-and-match with his relievers or is he going to use Price as the closer? Dan Wheeler has struggled lately and although he’s done an acceptable job as the closer in his career, he’s not really a closer. I would think it to be a no-brainer that Price get the outs late in games considering that he showed such amazing stuff and the courage to get those outs with the season riding on his shoulders, but Maddon has, at times shown no brains in formulating his own bizarre way of doing things; it’s a possibility that he won’t use Price to close. I can’t fathom a reason for that, but then I couldn’t fathom a reason for his leaving Grant Balfour in to pitch to Ortiz other than he fell asleep at the switch. Balfour—-with his one-pitch repertoire and the Phillies left-handed hitting mashers—-is the type of pitcher that the Phillies are going to murder.
The Rays have proven that they can score plenty of runs; as mentioned before Upton and Longoria don’t seem to be any more bothered by post-season pressure than Price, Kazmir, Garza and the rest of the young Rays. Defense has been one of the unsung hallmarks of the rise of the Rays and shortstop Jason Bartlett’s fielding has had the air of someone trying not to make a mistake; his gaffes could have cost the Rays the ALCS and he has a history of making mistakes in pressure situations because he did the same things with the Twins in 2006. It’s something to keep an eye on.
As long as the Rays don’t suddenly open their eyes and think: My God, we’re in the World Series!!! and play as if they didn’t realize the magnitude of what they’re on the verge of achieving, they can do their jobs and beat the experienced, determined and battle-tested Phillies. They have to make sure to play one moment at a time and their manager can’t afford any costly screw-ups.
- What will happen:
The Phillies have been off since last Wednesday and are bound to be rusty. Hamels will be far too strong for his own good in game one and I’d be concerned that the Rays are going to get runners on base because of a lack of command on the part of Hamels and then Longoria is going to hit one out of the park. The Phillies lineup is going to give Kazmir some trouble because they’re going to make him throw strikes and if he grooves one, any hitter in that lineup is a threat to take him deep. He’s not going to be able to go farther than five or six innings at the most because he’s going to have to throw so many pitches to get to that point.
I’m not sure which manager to trust less. Maddon does bizarre things and Manuel has that notoriously quick hook when one thing goes wrong with his pitchers. Both have those deep bullpens. Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon of the Rays and seem to be discounting how resilient the Phillies have been this year. As with most of the season, scoring runs isn’t the issue; nor is the starting pitching for the Phillies because that lineup can overcome any deficit. Lidge was the key then and he’s the key now. Price has been a starter for his whole career and only had 24 professional games to his credit before the playoffs started; as poised as he is, can he handle being a reliever in this kind of situation? Will his arm be able to rebound two days in a row? And will Maddon use him in that role or will he come up with some new age oddity to use others based on the cosmic forces? I don’t think anyone knows.
I trust Manuel more than Maddon; I think the Phillies veterans have been waiting for this chance for too long to let some young group of loudmouthed, arrogant upstarts take it away from them. The Rays may take game one due to the Phillies rustiness, but after that, the Phillies will find their groove and bash their way through to a surprisingly non-competitive World Series. If the Phillies come out hitting, it’s going to be a four-game sweep. If they don’t, it’s going to be a five game demolition derby to win the title for the Phillies and this is where the Cinderella ride from worst-to-first ends for the Rays.
Prediction: PHILLIES IN FIVE.
I looked at and reviewed the accuracy of my American League preseason predictions a week-and-a-half ago—-Blog, October 11th—-now let’s look at the National League:
- National League East:
Predicted order of finish:
- New York Mets: 94-68
- Philadelphia Phillies: 90-72
- Atlanta Braves: 82-80
- Washington Nationals: 73-89
- Florida Marlins: 64-98
Actual order of finish:
- Philadelphia Phillies: 92-70
- New York Mets: 89-73
- Florida Marlins: 84-77
- Atlanta Braves: 72-90
- Washington Nationals: 59-102
Philadelphia Phillies: Predictions that were good—-Brad Lidge was the key to the Phillies season and without his Cy Young-caliber performance, they wouldn’t have made the playoffs; and Cole Hamels emerging into a star.
Predictions that were bad—-I was pretty accurate across the board other than thinking they were going to finish behind the Mets.
The caveat—-Questioning Lidge’s comeback was obvious.
New York Mets: Predictions that were good—-I suggested a big comeback year from Carlos Delgado; and manager Willie Randolph being in rapid trouble if the team sleepwalked its way through the first half of the season.
Predictions that were bad—-The bullpen was expected to be better than it was in 2007 and they were just as bad, if not worse; I thought that they’d win the division.
The caveat—-Had they fired Randolph after 2007; had Billy Wagner not gotten hurt; had Ryan Church stayed healthy; had Moises Alou provided anything other than laughter at his body’s breakdown; blah, blah, blah…
Florida Marlins: Predictions that were good—-Matt Lindstrom’s fastball allowed him to replace the streaky Kevin Gregg; that some of the Marlins bargain-basement pickups like Jorge Cantu would produce; that their organization is one of baseball’s savviest.
Predictions that were bad—-I expected the Marlins to end up in last place and lose close to 100 games; and that Cameron Maybin would win Rookie of the Year.
The caveat—-I’ve learned my lesson not to underestimate the Marlins ever again.
Atlanta Braves: Predictions that were good—-I expected the Braves to fall from contention and for Mike Hampton to get hurt (that didn’t take a genius to figure out); I questioned whether John Smoltz and Tom Glavine could recapture their past glory and the viability of Matt Diaz as an everyday player.
Predictions that were bad—-I was pretty accurate across the board.
The caveat—-The Braves weren’t as bad as their record indicates; had they stayed healthy, they would have had a win total in the low-80s as expected.
Washington Nationals: Predictions that were good—-Ron Belliard and Dmitri Young were absurd long term contract signings after being scrap-heap pickups; that Lastings Milledge would play well with an everyday job; that Elijah Dukes would cause problems with his behavior (another pick that anyone could have gotten right).
Predictions that were bad—-Manny Acta could repeat the miracle working job he did to win 73 games in 2007. This team was awful across the board.
The caveat—-There is no caveat; they’re rotten with players who don’t know how to act. They need to get rid of Bowden and bring in someone who’s going to clean up the mess from top to bottom.
- National League Central:
Predicted order of finish:
- Cincinnati Reds: 87-75
- Chicago Cubs: 86-76
- Milwaukee Brewers: 82-80
- Houston Astros: 77-85
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 73-89
- St. Louis Cardinals: 72-90
Actual order of finish:
- Chicago Cubs: 97-64
- Milwaukee Brewers: 90-72 (Wild Card Winner)
- Houston Astros: 86-75
- St. Louis Cardinals: 86-76
- Cincinnati Reds: 74-88
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 67-95
Chicago Cubs: Predictions that were good—-Ryan Dempster made a successful return to the starting rotation (although I don’t know who could’ve predicted 17 wins.) That the Cubs season rode on the middle of the diamond and on Kerry Wood.
Predictions that were bad—-I didn’t expect the entire middle of the diamond from catcher to center field to perform as well as they did; nor did I expect Wood to be as good a closer as he was.
The caveat—-I said the season rode on those aspects, but picked wrong on whether they’d get the job done; I didn’t think they would, but they did.
Milwaukee Brewers: Predictions that were good—-Their bullpen was a major problem; and Ned Yost was going to get fired.
Predictions that were bad—-I thought Yost would get fired early in the season; and that they’d contend early, collapse and have a hot streak falling short. They didn’t fall short.
The caveat—-I was relatively accurate.
Houston Astros: Predictions that were good—-They’d hit, hit and hit some more and their pitching would be a problem.
Predictions that were bad—-I expected the Astros to finish slightly under .500 and not contend; and that Wandy Rodriguez would develop into a 15-game winner.
The caveat—-I was on the right track until their blazing hot streak in August and September got them into contention.
St. Louis Cardinals: Predictions that were good—-The organization’s new frugality would cost them any chance at a playoff spot and cause friction between manager Tony La Russa and the front office.
Predictions that were bad—-I had the Cardinals falling to last place despite La Russa’s genius. There were suggestions that they had to get unexpected contributions from unsung players and others like Adam Wainwright and Rick Ankiel would have to produce for them to stay respectable; I didn’t expect them to, but they almost did. And Kyle Lohse signed so late that he didn’t even factor into the equation.
The caveat—-Even if Lohse had been signed earlier, how much could anyone have expected him to help? I underestimated La Russa and Dave Duncan for the last time.
Cincinnati Reds: Predictions that were good—-I jumped the gun on the Reds development by a year, but they were better than their record indicates; Dusty Baker’s teams play hard for him from beginning to end. Francisco Cordero was very good.
Predictions that were bad—-I picked them to win the division and that’s bad enough.
The caveat—-I picked Aaron Harang to win the Cy Young Award and he went 6-17; but if he’d been healthy and pitched as well and as durably as he had in previous years, reversing that record, the Reds would’ve been in contention for the Wild Card.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Predictions that were good—-Jason Bay was having a good comeback year when they traded him; Matt Capps was a solid closer; Matt Morris was a disaster.
Predictions that were bad—-I expected the new Pirates front office/management team to be more competent than the previous one and if their first year is any indication, they may be worse. The whole Pedro Alvarez mess was an embarrassment and the trades they made in dumping Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte—-all useful pieces—-should have yielded better return that what came back.
The caveat—-John Russell did some good things as manager, but he’s not the one picking the players.
- National League West:
Predicted order of finish:
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 95-67
- Arizona Diamondbacks: 91-71 (Wild Card winner)
- Colorado Rockies: 86-76
- San Diego Padres: 79-83
- San Francisco Giants: 73-89
Actual order of finish:
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 84-78
- Arizona Diamondbacks: 82-80
- Colorado Rockies: 74-88
- San Francisco Giants: 72-90
- San Diego Padres: 63-99
Los Angeles Dodgers: Predictions that were good—-Joe Torre would find a way to get the team into the playoffs. Chad Billingsley was ready to take the next step as an established big league starter and more.
Predictions that were bad—-That Andruw Jones would rebound into some semblance of his previous form; that Torre would be able to repair the fissures in the clubhouse smoothly.
The caveat—-The Dodgers team I picked to win the World Series before the season started bore almost no resemblance to the team that made the NLCS. Picking up Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake spurred them forward more than anything I suggested was going to happen.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Predictions that were good—-Dan Haren and Brandon Webb would be aces at the top of the Diamondbacks rotation; that there’s a risk for a step back for such a young team. I questioned Brandon Lyon as the long-term solution as closer.
Predictions that were bad—-That they’d have a solid, all-around bullpen and lineup and would win the Wild Card.
The caveat—-In looking at their roster and mid-season acquisitions, I can’t understand why they weren’t better than they were. This team should have been at least in contention for a playoff spot. I’d make the same pick again if given the chance.
Colorado Rockies: Predictions that were good—-I again suggested the possibility of a step back for young players, especially pitchers; I questioned the wisdom of keeping and using Mark Redman, who was terrible.
Predictions that were bad—-Who could’ve expected a career-long, mediocre starter like Aaron Cook to blossom into an All Star?
The caveat—-The Rockies, in the back of my mind, may have been the product of one hot streak in the midst of a mediocre management team. I put that aside and expected them to win 86 games; my first instinct was right.
San Francisco Giants: Predictions that were good—-I said they weren’t as bad as everyone else said they’d be; Aaron Rowand wasn’t the difference-maker he was paid to be; their starting rotation was quite good and lack of offense and bullpen were the main problems.
Predictions that were bad—-Barry Zito would have a comeback year and win 14-16 games; I questioned Tim Lincecum’s durability and suggested trading him if a power hitting package was coming back.
The caveat—-I was pretty accurate about the Giants.
San Diego Padres: Predictions that were good—-The Padres roster and lineup were terrible and that they’d have a bad year; that Jake Peavy and Chris Young would get hurt and peter out as the season moved along. Adrian Gonzalez is the lone star in that lineup and Bud Black is not a very good manager; the front office is beyond arrogant and doesn’t (aside from Kevin Towers, who’s going along to get along) know what they’re doing. I expected Trevor Hoffman to fall off even further and run out of gas.
Predictions that were bad—-I had them winning 79 games even though I instinctively knew what was going to happen.
The caveat—-I allowed outside influences (some of whom were picking this team to win the World Series) to cloud my judgment to allow them the benefit of the doubt and those 79 wins—-that won’t happen again. Even if their entire roster had stayed healthy throughout the season, they would’ve won, at most, ten more games. They were just awful from top-to-bottom and there’s little hope in sight.
Now’s as good a time as any to look at the predictions I made in my book as to how the season was going to turn out and see where I was right and wrong, where I deserve a pass and where I deserve to be ridiculed.
- American League East:
Predicted order of finish: 1) Boston Red Sox, 97-65; 2) New York Yankees, 91-71(*Wild Card Winner); 3) Toronto Blue Jays, 88-74; 4) Tampa Bay Rays, 76-86; 5) Baltimore Orioles, 62-100.
Actual order of finish: 1) Tampa Bay Rays, 97-65; 2) Boston Red Sox, 95-67 (*Wild Card Winner); 3) New York Yankees, 89-73; 4) Toronto Blue Jays, 86-76; 5) Baltimore Orioles, 68-93.
Tampa Bay Rays: Predictions that were good—-the Rays would drastically improve one and off the field because they dumped the malcontents and troublemakers.
Predictions that were bad—-the Rays would only improve slightly by winning 76 games, would flirt with .500 into the summer and fall out of contention.
The caveat—-I don’t know of anyone who could possibly have thought such a drastic improvement was possible in such a short period of time, talent or not; and their history indicated any positive feelings should be tempered by the reality of that tough division.
Boston Red Sox: Predictions that were good—-Manny’s potential to cause problems because of his contract and force a trade and that 2008 would be Manny’s last year in Boston; Jon Lester becoming a star.
Predictions that were bad—-Julio Lugo not being as bad as he was in 2007.
The caveat—-I was pretty close to the mark with the Red Sox.
New York Yankees: Predictions that were good—-Ian Kennedy falling flat on his face; Joe Girardi chafing the veterans.
Predictions that were bad—-Melky Cabrera becoming a solid, everyday outfielder with some pop; Phil Hughes winning 12 games.
The caveat—-The Yankees had an up-and-down year, but would’ve made the playoffs anyway if the Rays hadn’t improved so fast.
Toronto Blue Jays: Predictions that were good—-Scott Rolen would be continuously hurt and they’d regret ever getting him; J.P. Ricciardi and John Gibbons’s jobs being on the line.
Predictions that were bad—-That Ricciardi would be able to stay free of controversy and that the team would realistically contend.
The caveat—-I had the record close to the mark and their problems close to the mark, but it’s taken out of context; I implied that they would legitimately contend rather than have a hot streak after they were already out of contention, but that’s exactly what they did and they saved Ricciardi’s job because of it.
Baltimore Orioles: Predictions that were good—-that they’d fall to last place in the division, but be better because of the competent management of Andy MacPhail.
Predictions that were bad—-that manager Dave Trembley would be a sacrificial lamb who was being kept on because he was easy to use as a body to manage the team while they rebuild and not have to pay him a lot of money; Trembley did a very good job with a bad team, despite their poor results.
The caveat—-my predicted record of 62-100 was close to their actual record of 68-93, but they weren’t really as bad as I implied they’d be. They played very respectably for the first 3/4 of the season before a lack of talent caught up to them.
- American League Central:
Predicted order of finish: 1) Detroit Tigers, 98-64; 2) Cleveland Indians, 89-73; 3) Kansas City Royals, 81-81; 4) Minnesota Twins, 75-87; 5) Chicago White Sox, 69-93.
Actual order of finish: 1) Chicago White Sox, 89-74; 2) Minnesota Twins, 88-75; 3) Cleveland Indians, 81-81; 4) Kansas City Royals, 75-87; 5) Detroit Tigers, 74-88.
Chicago White Sox: Predictions that were good—-well, their bullpen was better, but it couldn’t have been much worse from 2007 to 2008.
Predictions that were bad—-Carlos Quentin would continue to be injury prone and mediocre; I pretty much got everything about the White Sox wrong.
The caveat—-much like the Rays, positive predictions about the White Sox were few and far between, but they played closer to the team they were in 2005 and 2006 instead of the in-fighting and plain bad team in 2007.
Minnesota Twins: Predictions that were good—-the Twins would stay competitive because of their well-schooled youngsters and solid management team. I had them hanging around .500 if their young pitchers developed, but didn’t expect them to and they did.
Predictions that were bad—-I had them finishing at 75-87 in a rebuilding year and looking to trade closer Joe Nathan; instead they re-signed
Nathan and almost won the division.
The caveat—-with Johan Santana, Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva gone; with Francisco Liriano returning from injury, how could they have been expected to be as good as they were?
Cleveland Indians: Predictions that were good—-Paul Byrd and Joe Borowski would fall back to mediocrity and worse; they’d be hard-pressed to win 96 games again.
Predictions that were bad—-that they’d contend, but fall barely short of a playoff spot.
The caveat—-No one could have predicted that Cliff Lee would win 22 games and be so dominant, or that the Indians would play so poorly that they cleaned out the house of such impending free agents of C.C. Sabathia and Casey Blake.
Kansas City Royals: Predictions that were good—-the Royals would be better overall under new manager Trey Hillman; that Brian Bannister would revert to the pitcher his talent dictates and that’s a journeyman who’s, at best, a back of the rotation starter or long reliever; that Jose Guillen could cause some serious in-house problems.
Predictions that were bad—-Alex Gordon and Mark Teahen could explode into stars; they played okay, but not anywhere near where the Royals need them to be.
The caveat—-they played poorly in mid-season after a decent start and played well toward the end of the season to stay out of the cellar. I had them at .500 and 75-87 isn’t that far away from that goal.
Detroit Tigers: Predictions that were good—-that the bullpen could be a potential problem.
Predictions that were bad—-Justin Verlander as a Cy Young Award winner; Miguel Cabrera as MVP; manager Jim Leyland handling everything inherent with a star-laden clubhouse; that they’d be able to score enough runs to overcome any pitching issues.
The caveat—-how could anyone have expected that roster to fall to 74-88 and last place in the division?
- American League West:
Predicted order of finish: 1) Los Angeles Angels, 96-66; 2) Seattle Mariners, 89-73; 3) Texas Rangers, 79-83; 4) Oakland Athletics, 71-91.
Actual order of finish: 1) Los Angeles Angels, 100-61; 2) Texas Rangers, 79-83; 3) Oakland Athletics, 75-86; 4) Seattle Mariners, 61-101.
Los Angeles Angels: Predictions that were good—-the Angels would have great pitching, great relieving, great management and look to improve the offense at mid-season to make a run for a title (I had them going after Jim Thome).
Predictions that were bad—-the addition of another power bat would possibly lead the Angels to a championship; it didn’t.
The caveat—-I pretty much nailed this one.
Texas Rangers: Predictions that were good—-Josh Hamilton was a good risk if he stayed clean and healthy; David Murphy would be a solid player; their pitching would be their downfall.
Predictions that were bad—-I was pretty close across the board.
The caveat—-the Rangers season could be broken up into fractions; in the first month, they were the worst team in baseball; then they started playing very well and saved the jobs of both manager Ron Washington and GM Jon Daniels; then they fell back into the position that their weak pitching dictated and ended with exactly the predicted record.
Oakland Athletics: Predictions that were good—-that Billy Beane would trade Rich Harden, Joe Blanton and Dan Johnson before the season was over.
Predictions that were bad—-that the Athletics would be one of the worst teams in the American League; that Daric Barton would have a big year.
The caveat—-I predicted that the Athletics would fall to the basement based mostly on Beane’s own statements that his team was going to take its lumps. They ended at 75-86, but they were a contender early in the year and might have stayed around the periphery of the Wild Card race if Beane didn’t clean house at mid-season. They were better than their record.
Seattle Mariners: Predictions that were good—-manager John McLaren was on a short leash and possibly better as a bench coach instead of a manager; Erik Bedard was injury-prone and a jerk with the media and teammates; Richie Sexson officially became Dave Kingman.
Predictions that were bad—-There’s not enough room to go into everything. The Mariners were overrated from the start and I was just as guilty of that as most everyone else. Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva were expected to be major parts of a contending team…aww, forget it. The team was crap and they fell apart completely.
The caveat—-the clubhouse was in shambles; the players acquired via free agent signings and trades didn’t perform at all and players broke into factions of those that were interested in team goals and those that wanted to accumulate stats. No one could have expected that roster to lose 100 games; everything that could go wrong, did.
Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78); First Place, National League West; Defeated Chicago Cubs 3 games to 0 in NLDS vs Philadelphia Phillies (92-70); First Place, National League East; Defeated Milwaukee Brewers 3 games to 1 in NLDS
- Keys for the Dodgers:
The Dodgers have their house in order and are rolling. Taking advantage of a tight, mistake-prone Cubs team whose manager Lou Piniella made a terrible error in judgment starting Ryan Dempster in the first game, the Dodgers jumped on the Cubs early, took away their confidence and their will to win and dominated them from start to finish. The Phillies are not going to be as much of a pushover.
With a fiery, tough Phillies team in front of them, the Dodgers have to get almost identical perfromances from their starting pitching. Derek Lowe is a playoff-tested, soon-to-be free agent who can be counted on to battle his way through no matter what kind of stuff he has; it also helps that he relies on a heavy, sinking fastball that’s hard to lift and knock out of the park; this is an advantage against the Phillies and in Citizens Bank Park. Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda did an above-and-beyond the call of duty job in keeping the Cubs off the scoreboard; the bullpen was led by manager Joe Torre’s new designated guy to pitch every day—-Cory Wade; and Jonathan Broxton has taken over as closer.
The lefties in the Dodgers bullpen were unimportant against the Cubs because the only two lefty bats they had were the veteran Jim Edmonds and Kosuke Fukodome (who Piniella sent off on a lifeboat with his rant after game two and proceeded to cut the line sending Fukudome drifting out to sea). The Phillies are not the Cubs and they have two lefties in Chase Utley and Ryan Howard who will have to be dealt with; that’s going to fall on Joe Beimel, Hong-Chih Kuo (who wasn’t on the NLDS roster due to numbness in his pitching hand, but is expected to be on the NLCS roster—-and he’d better be because they’ll need him), and possibly Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers have their first three starters set up and rested; there’s a question as to whom is going to start game four and the speculation has centered around Kershaw and Greg Maddux. Having watched Joe Torre for pretty much the entirety of his managerial career and how he trusts his veterans in big spots (see how he used David Cone, in the midst of an awful year in 2000, out of the bullpen to retire Mike Piazza in the World Series), he’s not going to start Kershaw over Maddux. Maddux may have a short leash depending on who’s leading in the series in game four, but he’ll start the game.
The Dodgers have to jump out early on the Phillies starters (and it doesn’t even have to be a large rally; two or three runs will do) and make Charlie Manuel go into overmanaging mode and yank a starter far too early due to panic. Manny Ramirez is going to be salivating at the prospect of hitting in Citizens Bank Park. Jeff Kent hit very well (.364) against the Phillies this year, so I would think he’d get a chance to start a couple of games (he’s five for six career against Joe Blanton). The other Dodgers power bats—-Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin, Andre Ethier and Casey Blake—-have to come through if the Phillies consciously decide not to let Manny beat them.
The Dodgers are playing like a different team since the arrivals of Manny and Blake; as long as they get the pitching they’ve been getting from their starters, they’re in great shape to get past the Phillies and go to the World Series. The lefties out of the bullpen may be the key to the whole series.
- Keys for the Phillies:
The Phillies overcame a bit of overmanaging from manager Charlie Manuel as he yanked game three starter Jamie Moyer way too early in a situation that didn’t call for it and overpowered an overmatched an exhausted Brewers team that, at times, looked just happy to have made the playoffs.
That Phillies lineup is going to have to do better than the Cubs did of putting runs up against the Dodgers starters and their balance, power and fearlessness will allow them to do that. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were awful in the NLDS and are both due to start hitting at some point in the NLCS. As I said before the NLDS, Jayson Werth is the unsung key to the Phillies; if he does something good—-hitting a big homer; stealing bases; making great plays defensively—-the Phillies win. Shane Victorino hit that massive grand slam off of C.C. Sabathia and then made an overtly stupid play in trying to break up a double play by bowling over J.J. Hardy in game three and costing his team a run and a potential series-ending rally; lucky for the Phillies it didn’t come back to haunt them.
Cole Hamels is becoming a clutch ace; he throws strikes, works fast and is unmoved by any pressure at all; Brett Myers gutted his way through on the mound and at the plate as he beat Sabathia; Moyer was settling down and working his way through a rough start before Manuel inexplicably yanked him after only allowing two runs when he was due to hit with one runner on base; the bullpen gave up a couple of more runs to seal the game for the Brewers; Joe Blanton was excellent in his game four start.
It seemed that Manuel was looking for a reason to get his bullpen some work in that game three; as if there was something in the back of his mind that said he’d get the likes of Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin in just for the sake of it when he would’ve been better off staying with Moyer. J.C. Romero won’t be a factor at all because the only lefty bat the Dodgers trot out every day is James Loney and Loney hits lefties well enough. Brad Lidge has his footing in the post-season, but as good as he’s been, there’s always that Albert Pujols-moment creeping around in the background and until Lidge leads his team to the World Series, it’s not going to completely go away. Against the Dodgers, Manuel can’t afford any more gaffes.
- What will happen:
The most interesting interplay of the entire series may be between the veteran managers. On one side is Dodgers manager Joe Torre; the sterling resume littered with championships and goodwill throughout baseball; the Frank Sinatra of the baseball set with his big time personality and charm. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is like the grumpy, but goodhearted uncle who’s all frumpy and rumpled, has a giant belly, cusses a blue streak and yells a lot, but is lovable anyway. Torre won’t make a panicky nor a sentimental move in this entire series; he’ll use the relievers he trusts again and again; and try to force Manuel to make unnecessary pitching changes and desperation decisions and Manuel will oblige. As much as the Phillies players like Manuel, they have to know that he’s prone to making mistakes due to the high-pressure of the post-season and because of his notoriously and unnecessarily quick hook.
The Dodgers have a player in Manny Ramirez who’s been carrying the entire team on his shoulders since his arrival and there probably isn’t anyone in baseball who knows Manny better than his former hitting coach in Cleveland—-Manuel. The Phillies are not going to let Manny beat them, so it’s going to come down to what the other bats in the lineup do. Kent is going to play a big part in this series before it’s over. There will be a couple of high-scoring games in this series and the Phillies are notorious for falling behind early and chipping away to come back and win. Utley and Howard won’t be as bad as they were in the NLDS, but will they hit enough and against the Dodgers situational lefties?
The way the Dodgers are rolling and with Torre’s karma working overtime, unless the entire Phillies lineup starts mashing; their pitchers are as good as they were in the NLDS; and Manuel doesn’t make some huge mistake, the Phillies are going to lose. The Dodgers are on a mission, aren’t the same team that only won 84 games and ran hot and cold until the last month of the season and have turned it on to a remarkable degree as evidenced by their whitewashing of the Cubs. They’re also getting their veterans healthy and can throw a superior bench at the Phillies with the likes of Nomar Garciaparra, Kent and Juan Pierre ready to pinch hit. This series will come down to the managers and which team’s pitchers do their jobs better. 2008 is turning into a 1996-style, magical year for Joe Torre and it’s going to result in another trip to the World Series.
Prediction: DODGERS IN SIX.
NLCS MVP: Jonathan Broxton.
- Keys for the White Sox:
Pretty much the entire White Sox team has post-season experience from their title run in 2005 and they must use that to their advantage early in the series to get the Rays to begin doubting themselves. A young team’s confidence can erode early if they’re popped in the mouth as soon as they get out on the field. The White Sox starting pitching is the most important aspect of the series because manager Ozzie Guillen pushes his starters deeply into playoff games rather than relying on the bullpen. He shortens the pitching staff to his six or seven key guys unless he has no other choice but to use someone other than the guys he can trust. The White Sox have proven in 2005 and in this season that their veteran players have no problem handling post-season intensity.
Because of their post-season rush, the White Sox are at a disadvantage in that they have to start the struggling Javier Vazquez in the opening game. Vazquez doesn’t seem to handle pressure well and got shelled in both games of his earlier post-season opportunity with the Yankees. After that, they’ll have Mark Buehrle and, one would assume Gavin Floyd for game three and John Danks for game four. The bullpen will likely be limited to Scott Linebrink, Octavio Dotel and Bobby Jenks in the important spots. I’d be concerned about Dotel’s penchant for giving up homers.
The White Sox may get rejuvenated performances from veterans Ken Griffey, Jr and Jim Thome, both of whom must realize that their windows for winning a World Series are just about shut; this will add a sense of urgency. A.J. Pierzynski will do his best to irritate a young and enthusiastic Rays team and history shows that he’ll be able to do it while adding in a clutch hit or two. Alexei Ramirez must continue his clutch power hitting and Paul Konerko and Nick Swisher will have to overcome their shabby years and make up for the absence of Carlos Quentin. The White Sox have to start hitting.
- Keys for the Rays:
It can go one of two ways for a very young team in their first playoffs: A) they’ll come out relaxed and enjoying themselves and play just as well as they did during the season and blast their way through their opponents without realizing the gravity of what they’re dealing with; or B) they’ll get nervous, not realize the level of intensity that is the playoffs and get bounced out by a veteran team before they realize what happened.
It helps that the Rays have some playoff-tested veterans in their clubhouse in Troy Percival, Dan Wheeler, Chad Bradford and Cliff Floyd. Evan Longoria and James Shields aren’t the types to get nervous, but I’d be concerned about Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza. Kazmir will be pumped up beyond belief, may try and throw too hard, flattening his pitches or worse, injuring himself; Garza is a quirky guy and if things start off badly, he might implode.
The Rays have to make contact in run scoring situations and that could be a problem because their entire lineup strikes out a lot. They’ll be bolstered by the return of Carl Crawford who can wreak havoc from the leadoff position. Manager Joe Maddon has experience as a coach in dealing with the playoffs from his years with the Angels, but it’s different when you’re the man in charge and how he responds to any adversity will be interesting. Will he panic if his starting pitcher gets into trouble and have a quick hook? Or will he give his young pitchers a chance to get settled down and hope that his offense can ovecome any deficits? I have a feeling the Rays are going to have to score a lot of runs to win this series and they should play for big innings and avoid overagressive baserunning gaffes.
- What will happen:
The White Sox will be loose and relaxed now that they’re in the playoffs. Guillen rides his starters deeply into games and the White Sox know how to take advantage of mistakes made by a young team like the Rays. If things start off badly for the Rays, they could rapidly tumble downward and they’ll be gone before they know what happened. Starting Shields in the opening game is a smart move by Maddon; the Rays need to attack Vazquez and put a few runs up early to get themselves relaxed, into the series and allow themselves to believe that they’re really in the playoffs and that they belong.
Even if the White Sox don’t hit, their pitching (after Vazquez) is gutty and pressure-tested. I don’t know if the same can be said about the Rays. If the Rays fall behind, are they going to be able to dig deep down and muster what’s necessary to come back? And I do think the White Sox are going to hit and score runs despite the absence of Quentin. The Rays bullpen is superior to that of the White Sox, but that’s not going to matter much because Guillen doesn’t like using his bullpen all that much in the playoffs anyway. If the Rays don’t have a lead late in games, their bullpen isn’t going to do them much good.
The Rays penchant for striking out and the nervousness that will go along with a first post-season appearance is going to be their undoing; the White Sox have the experience, power and starting pitching to overcome whatever the Rays are throwing at them. If the White Sox get anything out of Vazquez, this series could be over quick, but I wouldn’t expect that. The White Sox experience will carry
them through this series as the Rays youthful inexperience costs them.
Prediction: WHITE SOX IN FIVE.
Boston Red Sox (95-67); First Place, American League East vs Los Angeles Angels (100-62); First Place, American League West
- Keys for the Red Sox:
Josh Beckett is one of the best post-season pitchers in the history of the game, but with his health in question and because he’s unavailable until game three (if then), the Red Sox are going to have to have Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka step into those impossible to fill shoes and pitch competently. If the Red Sox get to game four behind in the series, they’ve got two veterans available in Tim Wakefield and Paul Byrd. Wakefield’s post-season history and knuckleball will probably give him the nod. Wakefield has pitched poorly against the Angels in his career, but a knuckleballer isn’t like a normal pitcher in which his history can be taken at face value; if they’re in an elimination game, whoever the starting pitcher is will be on a short leash from the first pitch.
The Red Sox bullpen is anchored by one of the game’s best closers (better than his counterpart in the Angels bullpen in Francisco Rodriguez), Jonathan Papelbon. The problem will be getting to Papelbon with a lead. The rest of the Red Sox bullpen, especially young Justin Masterson are going to be very important. The situational lefties probably won’t play as much of a factor as they normally would because the majority of the Angels lineup either switch hits or is right-handed. Hideki Okajima received criticism because he didn’t pitch as well as he did in 2007, but he was brilliant that whole year and it was unrealistic to expect him to follow that up identically. For the most part, he pitched well in 2008.
Now we’ll find out the consequences of trading Manny Ramirez away. It had to be done for the good of the organization, and Jason Bay has filled the shoes of Manny adequately and quietly, but there’s no way the Angels are going to let either David Ortiz or Kevin Youkilis beat them before they take a chance and see what Bay does in his first playoff appearance. Bay has never, ever played in games of this importance in his entire career and while he’s played well under all the scrutiny of replacing Manny, the playoffs are a whole different animal in which Manny was a proven clutch player. The return of J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell will certainly help the Red Sox lineup, but this series is going to come down to what Bay does in clutch spots.
- Keys for the Angels:
The Angels have been coasting since early in the season when it was clear that they were the class of the American League West and they knew they were heading to the playoffs. Spending half a season readying oneself for the playoffs has its drawbacks. The Angels could have stood pat, safe in the knowledge that they were in one way or the other; but they instead went for the big prize and got it by dealing for a basher that they desperately needed in Mark Teixeira. Teixeira will be highly motivated to do well in his first post-season experience and undoubtedly knows that Carlos Beltran’s home run binge in 2004 made him a load more money than he would have without it. Teixeira wants to get paid and the best way to do that is to add a world championship to his resume and to play a major part in winning it.
During their current incarnation, the Angels have always been about pitching from top-to-bottom. They have starting pitchers in John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders and Jon Garland who throw strikes, keep the games close and turn things over to a bullpen that is the strength of the team. Once a lead is handed to baseball’s best set-up man in Scot Shields (who does the heavy lifting) and record-setting closer Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez, the game’s basically over. Rodriguez will also be motivated to do well and bolster his own free agency qualifications and, by proxy, his paycheck. An unsung part of the bullpen is the clone of the 2002 version of K-Rod, Jose Arredondo who will likely move up to Shields’s role next season as Shields becomes the closer. Once the Angels get a lead, they’re hard to beat because of this bullpen.
The rest of the lineup, with the unflappable Vladimir Guerrero and veteran Torii Hunter should score runs against a compromised Red Sox starting rotation without Beckett until the third game. Chone Figgins and Howie Kendrick have to get on base in front of the bashers.
- What will happen:
The Red Sox should be alright with the gutty Lester starting the opener, but Daisuke Matsuzaka is going to be a concern in game two despite his gaudy 18-3 record. Matsuzaka had flashes of brilliance this season, but much of his record was accumulated as he pitched five or six innings and turned things over to his bullpen. He also struggled in the playoffs last year. The loss of Beckett for games one and two is a problem for the Red Sox and their offense and bullpen are going to have to come through to counteract that.
I have a problem believing that Bay is going to replace Manny as a threat in the middle of the lineup; as great as Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have been, they’re going to feel Manny’s absence at some point in the series, possibly very early if K-Rod is closing a game and pitching to the spot where Manny once batted to finish the game. Drew and Lowell, both of whom have done great things in the post-season, will help, but are they 100%? Are they 85%? If they’re not at their healthiest, then they may not be able to fill that void at all.
The Angels have always had trouble with the Red Sox, but this year is different. To a man, they’re on a mission to win this year and with the addition of Teixeira and Hunter, they’re not leaving Guerrero standing alone in the lineup to carry the team. The Red Sox won’t be able
to just pitch around Guerrero and force the likes of Garret Anderson to beat them. The Angels play the game the right way with pitching, defense and opportunistic baserunning. If Beckett were healthy, his post-season cachet would be enough to give the Red Sox a better than even shot of winning the series; but he’s not and because of that, the Red Sox are going to lose to a different Angels team than the one they consistently have abused over the years.
Prediction: ANGELS IN FOUR.