A year ago, Red Sox fans were anxiously awaiting word on whether Jim Rice would FINALLY be elected to the Hall of Fame. Thankfully, he was. Now, we wait for word on the newly elected members of the Hall. To me, there are three clear-cut choices for Cooperstown, whether or not the baseball writers in all their wisdom choose to see it that way. They are:
Jack Morris – With his devastating fork ball and Hall-of-Fame porn mustache, Morris was a dominant pitcher throughout the 80s and early 90s. He was THE MAN on World Series championship teams in Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto. (Not to mention he pitched what is arguably the greatest World Series game ever – Game 7, Minnesota-Atlanta.) He may not have the padded stats that mindless Hall voters have think for them, but anyone who followed baseball during that time knows Morris was consistently great and one of the very best pitchers of his day.
Bert Blyleven – Disregarding for a moment what I just said about mindless stats, let me say the most compelling case for Blyleven’s induction is one simple stat: The fifth most strikeouts . . . ever. Blyleven spent his career bouncing between a who’s who of the game’s worst teams . . . teams that made today’s Royals look like the Anaheim Angels. And, for them, Blyleven was great. He didn’t get a ton of wins, and because of that suffered when it came to Cy Young time, but he was great. Understand, strikeouts are not some meaningless stat. Simply, each time a guy strikes out against you, your stuff was too good for that major league hitter. It’s not like wins, where you can muddle by with mediocrity if you are on a good team. Because of a long career on several good teams, Don Sutton got wins and is in the Hall of Fame . . . somehow. He wasn’t half the pitcher Blyleven was.
Roberto Alomar – Arguably the greatest second-baseman to ever play the game. During the 90s, if a team wanted to win, they went out and got Alomar. The Blue Jays, the Orioles, the Indians, all were elite teams in large part because of Alomar. Offensively, for a second-baseman, he was great. Defensively, for a second-baseman, he was incredible. His election should be a slam dunk.
Sure, the Red Sox offense looked pathetic last night. Extremely pathetic. But this was a case of the Sox running into a talented pitcher who was as good as he could be. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team.
The reaction to Game 1 results is always overblown, especially in a short series. When the Sox took Game 1 against the Indians in 1998, fans talked of a sweep. Three games later, the Sox were eliminated. Twice this decade the Twins have taken a Game 1 against the Yankees; both times the Yanks easily won the series.
You can’t help but like the Beckett – Weaver matchup tonight. If the Sox take it, they’ve earned a split and gained home field advantage. Then the Angels have to try to win at Fenway — not easy for them. Of course, should the unthinkable happen, then it WILL be time to panic.
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)
Sing with me now: It’s the mooost wonderful tiiiiime of the year . . .
Welcome to October — a time of year when the leaves change color, the air is crisp, the beer is amber and baseball is at its best. Starting Wednesday, we get to enjoy games carrying the weight of the baseball world from mid-afternoon right on through midnight. Get ready to do nothing but live, breath, drink and eat baseball for the next month.
In the American League, we have our beloved defending world champion Boston Red Sox playing ball along with three soulless franchises. Thankfully, the National League will make for hours of great viewing, with three bigtime franchises in Philly, the Dodgers and the Hated Cubs, plus the new kids on the block, my own favorite National League team (not named the Pirates), the Milwaukee Brewers.
As we gear up to enjoy the playoffs, let’s take a look at what may lie in store in the coming weeks, starting with the American League:
Chicago White Sox/Minnesota Twins Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter which of these teams make it in. They’ll be completely outmatched by the other A.L. teams. Both are good teams. And the Twins are an amazing story this year — contending for the division title in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Ron Gardenhire deserves manager of the year (although Tampa’s Madden will get it). But neither team has the goods to compete with the Angels, Sox or Rays.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays Well, they did not fade. In fact, when they had every opportunity to cave in facing a tough stretch in September, they stepped up. Consider that, then take a look at their talented pitching staff and you’d be a fool not to take them seriously in the playoffs. Sure, they could make a run. I fully expect them to take the Minnesota White Sox in four games, and then face a bruised opponent in whoever takes the difficult Red Sox-Angels series. So that would bode well for Tampa. However, with this team I can’t help but get that feeling that they are like the 2001 Seattle Mariners . . . the 116-win Mariners who wilted in the playoffs. A team – albeit talented team — that overachieved in the regular season and disappointed at crunch time. Expect them to take the opening series, then lose the ALCS in six.
Boston Red Sox and Anaheim Angels This projects to be one explosive opening series. Both of these teams are absolutely stacked. And forget about their October history; these Angels are far better than the 2004 or 2007 versions. The Angels absolutely man-handled the Sox during the regular season. But getting the Halos in the opening series might work to Boston’s advantage. The Angels have essentially been on cruise control since August 1, so there’s always the possibility they could open the series flat. (Remember the highly-favored Tigers who sat a week prior to the 2006 World Series?) Also, the Wednesday/Friday/Sunday schedule for the series’ first three games mean the Sox could throw Beckett and Lester twice should the series go five games. And then there’s The Enigma: Daisuke Matsuzaka, a man who can make an 18-2 record and a sub-3.00 ERA look uglier than anybody else. Still, that’s one heck of a Number Three. Yet over in California, the Angels have an immensely deep rotation with guys like Lackey, Saunders, Santana and Weaver. With Texeira and Hunter they have a lot more thunder in their lineup than in previous years . . . and, oh yeah, that K-Rod guy just saved 60 games. If you think you can pick a winner in this series, good luck to you. But you can bet whoever does take it is the odds-on favorite to win it all.
Thank you, Yankees. Those spunky, loveable Bronx Bombers took another one from the hated Tampa Bay Devil Rays last night, while our own Boston Red Sox stole a victory from the jaws of defeat in a thrilling game against the Baltimore Orioles. That brings the Sox within three games of the Devil Rays (yes, Devil), four back in the loss column, and brings the division crown close to striking distance. Happily, my low-life brother Jason and I were able to score a couple of tickets to next Tuesday’s game against the D Rays in what is shaping up to be an exciting series with the division on the line. Seems that last winter when people were snatching up September tickets against the Yankees, they overlooked the Devil Rays series. Who knew?
Now, before you say winning the division doesn’t matter, that it’s just about getting to the playoffs, let me stop you right there. Sure, historically, you are right. A bunch of wild card teams – the Marlins twice, the dark Angels, even our own beloved Red Sox – have all gone on to win the World Series. And when you take a look at how the Sox are built and how the team has been playing, you have to feel good about their chances in Soxtober. But check out the possible playoff scenarios, and there is a HUGE benefit for the Sox should they win the division.
If the Red Sox are the wildcard team, they end up with the California Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles just south of Oregon and north of Mexico, a team that has torched them all season. Sure, October is a season of its own. And, yeah, the Sox have made some deals and are playing like a different team now. Still, a five-game series with the Halos would be a challenge.
Now, contrast that with the Sox winning the division and playing either the White Sox or Twins. We just got a glimpse of the White Sox, and Chicago looked like a team the Red Sox should steamroll in the playoffs. And the thin Twins would likely fare even worse than the South Side Sallies. While the Red Sox should enjoy a rather easy first series, the two talented, evenly-matched clubs of Tampa Bay and Anaheim would likely endure an epic, difficult series. Should either of them have tired arms when they open up the ALCS with a fresh Boston team, that would be a huge advantage for the Sox.
So just because the Sox have virtually locked-up a playoff spot, this is no time to put it in cruise-control. There’s a division crown to take before we set our sights on more valuable hardware.
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.
Okay, for all my wishy-washy semi-pessimistic/optimistic feelings of yesterday’s post, I have to admit today I am completely jacked up for the start of this series with the Yanks. It just feels like now is when the season really starts.
[SHAMELESS PLUG: To make time to watch the game tonight, I’m even putting off all the work I’ve been busy with — updating the premier website for New England Travel & Adventure: SixStates.net. See, I told you shameless.]
For as much as the Red Sox seemed to just be going through the motions this season, here we are with Labor Day Weekend around the corner, and the Sox are firmly entrenched in the playoff race, with really just one team to beat: The Chicago Bay Devil Twins.
On top of that, we are beginning a late season series with the Yankees, facing the rare opportunity of essentially knocking the Yankees not just out of the division race, but out of the playoffs. Sure, anything can happen over the course of a September. (Exhibit A: The 2007 Colorado Rockies; Exhibit B: The 2007 New York Mets.) But if the Sox can take two of three, and go up six in the loss column over the Yanks, New York’s October dreams are all but done.
Let’s not shed any tears about that. I mean, the Yanks haven’t missed the playoffs since 1993. (Check my math, but wasn’t Jacoby Ellsbury like 8 or 9 years old?) So, ’bout time. And, as the icing on the cake, if the Yanks miss the playoffs, I’m giving 3-to-1 odds that Hank Steinbrenner’s head will actually explode — with enough force to leave a small crater. In the first week of October I’ll start giving odds on what kind of knee-jerk overreactions to expect from Hank in the offseason.
But first-things first. We have to win the games.