Here it is again: the most wonderful time of the year. October playoff baseball is upon us, and our beloved Sox are back in the mix. We almost take that for granted now. But we shouldn’t.
I don’t know why I have such a bad feeling about this series with the Angels. I shouldn’t. The Sox have the edge in almost every aspect of the game, and they man-handled the Angels last month. Still, it’s almost like the Angels are due, which scares me.
Anyway, here are my playoff picks:
Red Sox def. Angels – The Angels will run like crazy, but you can’t steal first. The Sox rotation and bullpen are insanely deep, and their bats are stacked. I’d pick the Sox to sweep, but my heart says in four.
Yankees def. Twins – The Twins have a ton of momentum, but they could sure use Justin Morneau right now. They haven’t won a game in New York since July of 2007, which means they could be due. But I think the Yankees are too much and should sweep them.
Red Sox def. Yankees – Of course. The playoffs usually come down to pitching, and the Sox have a deeper rotation and bullpen. I think they win in six.
Phillies def. Rockies – This is BY FAR the toughest series to call. I went back and forth on this several times. I like the Rockies, and they’ve been so strong in the second half. I also think Ubaldo Jimenez is a great up-and-coming ace. But the Phillies are very well-rounded. Ultimately, I think whoever wins this series wins the National League, and I don’t want to see the Sox and Rockies in the Series again. So I picked the Phils in who knows how many, although I’m leaning toward 4.
Cardinals def. Dodgers – I’m not terribly impressed with either of these teams, and the Dodgers really struggled down the stretch. Cards should win in 4.
Phillies def. Cardinals – I haven’t been a believer in the Cardinals all season, and even though they’ll make it to the NLCS, I still am not a believer. The NL Central was a HORRIBLE division this year. Phils in 5.
Red Sox def. Phillies – Sure, call me a homer. But the fact is the Sox are the most well-rounded team in baseball. And the National League is the junior division. Sox take it in 5 games.
(MVP – Jason Bay)
SI baseball writer Tom Verducci recently wrote an article speculating on what teams in 2009 could be like last year’s Rays — from losers to winners. While I usually like Verducci’s work, this one was a clunker. His picks? The Tigers, A’s, Braves and Orioles.
For three of them, he’s not really going out on a limb. Would anybody be really surprised if the Tigers, Athletics or Braves contended this year? Nobody who follows baseball, even moderately. The Tigers underperformed last year, but they are still stocked with talent. The A’s are always contenders, and were last year until Billy Beane kicked the legs out from under his team and dealt Harden and Blanton. And the Braves are always a possibility, especially now that they’ve revamped their pitching staff. No news here, Tom.
And the Orioles!? To give Verducci credit, he does say they have no shot at making the playoffs in the division. They do have some talent, but I don’t think their pitching can even make them moderately good this year. Maybe I’m missing something.
But there are a lot of longshots — true longshots — that do have a very good chance at contending this season.
Rangers – For years the Rangers have struggled behind the Angels and Athletics, and occassionally the Mariners. Given the AL West is more attainable now that the Angels have taken a step back this winter, the Rangers could make a move. They have the thunder in their offense. But, like always, their pitching is a big question. If they stock up on some bargain pitchers — ala Ben Sheets and Pedro Martinez, they could take the division.
Mariners – Yes, the Mariners were terrible — Holy Terrible — last season. And given they’ve dealt players like JJ Putz, they look like they have no intention of contending this season. But they could end up with maybe the best 1-2 punch in baseball with Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard in their rotation. If those two pitch how they are supposed to, that alone can make anyone a contender, especially in the wide-open AL West. On top of that, they still have Ichiro at the top of the lineup generating runs.
Pirates – A longtime loser who I’ve picked to surprise for years. Eventually, I’ll be right. And it could certainly be this season. More often than not, the reason a team like the Rays come out of nowhere to be a contender is their pitching comes together. Besides last year’s Rays, check out the 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins, the 2005 White Sox, 2006 Tigers and 2007 Rockies. The pitching staff on all these teams suddenly gelled and put together a winner. The Pirates’ front four of Ian Snell, Tom Gorzellany, Paul Maholm and Zack Duke are all young and all have boatloads of talent. Snell and Gorzellany took steps back last season, but could be ready to have big bounce-back years. And with the NL Central rather mediocre, they could pad their record and grab the Wild Card with a finish behind the Cubs. And they have been a team linked to Pedro.
Rockies – Again, its about pitching. And this team has some. Quite frankly, I was shocked they dealt Matt Holliday. This is a good team. They had a bad season last year, with a few guys having off years and injuries. They were a lot like the 2006 Indians. But people forget that after a disasterous first half, they were clawing back into the race by late-August last year. This division is wide open. Tulowitski will be back for a full year. And Ubaldo Jimenez is ready to become one of the best arms in the game. Him along with the talented Jeff Francis (and a resurgent Josh Fogg) could carry this team to a division title. (If they kept Holliday, they’d have it in a walk,.)
Giants – Again, a team with pitching that plays in a weak division. With Linecum, Cain and now Randy Johnson, they have the pitching. If they sign one of the big bats still out there, they can contend.
Marlins – Maybe they can’t be considered losers. They had a good year last year, despite injuries. Still, is anyone really giving them a chance to compete with the Phillies and Mets? Not many, but I am. They have some excellent hitters with guys like Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez. But, like the Pirates, their pitching goes four talented young arms deep. If those arms stay healthy, they will have a deeper, better rotation than either the Phillies or Mets.
Talk about a productive night. Not only did the Red Sox beat the Yankees to knock the Yanks another game back, they also picked up a game on the Devil Rays. Now if we can take one of the next two games, New York will be essentially done, and we can focus our sights on overtaking the Chicago Bay Devil Twins.
Don’t look now, but things are starting to happen out in Denver. And I’m not talking about the Democratic Convention. Those Colorado Rockies might only have a .470 winning percentage, but they are now just six games back in the NL West. Now, when I look around the Major Leagues and see teams six back (ala Yanks six back of the Sox), at this point in the season I say they are done. But I can’t say that about the Rockies. The first reason they are still alive, and most obvious, is what happened to them in September of last season, when they went on a historic run. They might not win 21 of 22 this year, but they might not have to. For the second reason is that they are chasing the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, two of the most mediocre division leaders you’ll ever see. Both teams are struggling to stay at .500. And any team that plays well in September has an excellent shot at making up a lot of ground against them. Finally, the Rockies have been winning. They’ve been putting together a lot of winning streaks lately, and quietly making up ground in the division. This team had a terrible — TERRIBLE — start to the season. But they are getting healthy, guys who struggled early like Ubaldo Jimenez are playing well again, and this team is starting to roll. If the Rockies can pick up just two games by the end of next week (September 6), THEY WILL WIN THE DIVISION. You heard it hear first, folks.
As you may have noticed, I’m trying to promote a little blog you may not have heard about called October Gonzo. It’s a little site that just doesn’t get any respect or publicity, the kind of site I wish MLB and MLBlogs would take some time to promote once in awhile. October Gonzo provides great insight and hard, cutting-edge opinions like ‘the White Sox and Twins are fighting for the division, and it is anybody’s game.’ Or how about this one: ‘the Diamondbacks and Dodgers are still fighting for the division, and this one is far from over.’ Where else are you going to get insight like this? October Gonzo obviously isn’t afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings. He’s not pulling any punches. He’s going to tell you just how it is.
Just recently, a friend and I were talking about what to do about Manny Ramirez. He’s entering the first of his two club option years; he’s getting old; and his production is on the decline. On the surface, for $20 million a year, he isn’t worth it. But, how can you replace him in that lineup? One of the only ways, I said, was to get Matt Holliday.
So, it was kind of exciting to read today that the Sox are considering letting Manny walk and going after Holliday. The problem, though, is my friend disagreed with me, saying Holliday’s stats away from Colorado don’t hold up. And we don’t want another ex-Rockie bust. (Remember Dante Bichette?) Given how good Holliday has been in recent years, I didn’t believe it. So I decided to take a look at his numbers.
Now, first let’s just state the obvious: There is no replacing Manny Ramirez. Manny is one of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history. And he and Papi make up the best 3-4 combo since Gehrig and Ruth. (For those gasping, the stats back it up. But that’s for another blog.) The problem is, at this point even keeping Manny for the next two years isn’t replacing Manny. His production is on the decline, and what you’ll get out of him the next two seasons – while it might be good – won’t be Manny-Ramirez-good. And, for $20 million a season, it is worth looking around, especially with a guy like Matt Holliday possibly available.
However, as it turns out — to my shock and dismay — my friend was right and I was wrr . . . wro . . . .I was misinformed. Last season, Holliday hit .376 at home, but just .301 away. He stroked 25 homers at Coors, but just 11 elsewhere. And his slugging dropped from .722 at home to just .485 away.
None of this bodes well for him joining the Red Sox. First, he’ll be replacing an elite Hall-of-Famer. That’s never a good start. Second, how will fans (and the organization) stomach it if he is putting up numbers like .299-23-108 year after year?
And yet, I think the Sox should grab him.
Since 2003, we’ve been rather spoiled, enjoying a couple of bad dudes in the middle of our lineup who could regularly put up .310-35-120 (or better) year after year. Those guys are hard to come by, and finding two guys like that is even harder. But even without those kind of guys, a team (especially a team run like the Red Sox) can still find ways win.
Chances are we’ll never find an adequate replacement for Manny Ramirez. But even without the crazy power numbers, Holliday can still hit. And just take a look at Mike Lowell if you want to see how a good right-handed hitter can use the wall in Fenway. (And Holliday is a much better hitter than Lowell.) Holliday won’t consistently put up Manny Ramirez numbers. Nobody will. But Matt Holliday will still give us a very productive and potent bat for years to come.