I was watching a brawl and a baseball game broke out
Well, that was interesting, huh?
Pedro Martinez throws one way up and way in on Karim Garcia in the bottom of the fourth inning. The ball actually hit his bat, but it was called a hit by pitch, and Garcia was given first base. Garcia took exception, and rightfully so, and some words were exchanged.
Alfonso Soriano then hit into a double-play, at which point Garcia took out Todd Walker with a hard slide at second base. Walker and Garcia got into it a little bit and then, once again there were some words exchanged by Garcia, Pedro, and both benches.
Manny Ramirez led off the next inning and Roger Clemens' 1-2 pitch was somewhat up and somewhat in, although nowhere near a "purpose pitch" in my opinion, and certainly nowhere near as up and as in as Pedro's pitch to Garcia was. Still, Ramirez took exception to it, and walked out towards Clemens while shouting at him.
And then all hell broke loose. Both dugouts emptied, and there was a whole lot of pushing and shoving.
The camera then focused in on Pedro, who was standing very near Boston's dugout. Pedro began walking very slowly towards the action, at which point you can see him focus in on someone in the distance, off camera. Pedro then says something in that person's direction and then you see Pedro start to back up, with his hands up.
And then, amazingly, you see that person in the distance enter the picture...and it is Don Zimmer!
Zimmer proceeds to charge at Pedro, with his hands raised. As Zimmer makes contact with him, Pedro steps off to the side, and shoves Zimmer away from him, forcing Zimmer to the ground.
Now, let's be perfectly clear. Don Zimmer is a 72 year old man who has had a ton of physical problems. There is absolutely zero defensible reason for Pedro Martinez to initiate a physical confrontation with him.
Now, let's also be perfectly clear about something else. Pedro Martinez did not initiate anything with Zimmer. Don Zimmer came charging at Martinez, with his fists raised. There is no person in their right mind who, in that exact situation, would not attempt to defend themselves, whether it is a 22 year old man attacking you or a 72 year old man. And, to Pedro's credit, he did not attempt to defend himself by punching Zimmer or kicking Zimmer, he simply shoved him out of the way. In my view, Pedro Martinez initially even attempted to avoid contact with Zimmer, but he couldn't.
I suspect Pedro Martinez is going to be ripped apart in the media for "going after a 72 year old man" but anyone who thinks he did anything of that sort is kidding themselves. Don Zimmer went after Pedro Martinez, plain and simple.
You may say Pedro should have realized it was Zimmer and reacted differently, but what should he have done? Stood there while Zimmer punched him in the face? Run from Zimmer? I'd say, considering the circumstances, shoving someone charging at you out of the way is pretty damn mild.
If a 72 year old man with health problems doesn't want to risk injury, he should certainly never attempt to attack someone in the middle of a shoving match between two baseball teams.
It is absolutely wrong for a young athlete to attack an elderly person in any way, but that elderly person forfeits their right to remain untouched when they are the one doing the instigating.
Say what you want about Pedro Martinez throwing at Karim Garcia or about Pedro Martinez yelling and pointing at New York's bench. Personally, I think Pedro was in the wrong in both of those instances. But if you think what Pedro Martinez "did" to Don Zimmer is wrong, you are completely incorrect.
For all Pedro knew, the whole Yankee team might be trying to hurt him during the shoving match. He doesn't know if someone is going to come up from behind and hit him or if someone is going to charge at him from the side. He sees someone in a Yankee uniform running at him with intent to hurt him and he defends himself, plain and simple.
Don Zimmer has plenty of reason to be upset about Pedro throwing at one of his players and he is perfectly welcome to do something about it. But when you make the decision to charge at someone with your arms raised, you then take the risk of being shoved to the ground. Being old doesn't give you free license to try to hurt people without risk of that person hurting you in return, and having two replaced knees and a metal plate in your head doesn't make you free from blame when you attack a player on the other team.
Don Zimmer should have been thrown out of the game. He is the only person who took the level of conflict beyond the "on-field" stuff that is often seen in baseball. In fact, in looking at the replay, Zimmer actually landed a slap to the side of Martinez's shoulder/face. Zimmer is lucky Pedro didn't grab him and punch him in the face, or throw him to the ground and jump on top of him. I think it took quite a bit of restraint by Pedro to simply push him to the side and to the ground. I don't know that I would have done so little in the face of someone charging at me in what was a very tense and emotional situation.
Pedro Martinez is very wrong for throwing at Karim Garcia. Manny Ramirez was, in my opinion, wrong for charging the mound on Roger Clemens. But what happened after that, the thing that is going to get all of the media attention and the thing that is going to be used to put down Pedro Martinez is completely the fault of Don Zimmer. And I don't care if he is 72 years old or 172 years old, you lose the right to use your age as an excuse when you physically attack someone on the other team.
Thanks for stopping by over the weekend. Make sure to check by Monday, when I'll almost certainly be discussing what looks like a very interesting Game Four of this series.
First things first, Bret Boone is a great baseball announcer. On Wednesday night, about four innings into Game One of the ALCS, I told everyone in the Baseball Primer chat room I was in that I thought Boone was doing a great job. I was mocked and called several very unkind names.
But I held strong to my opinion, despite the criticism, and even wrote on this blog about how well I thought Boone did in his first taste of announcing. Well, Boone was back in the booth for Game Two of the ALCS last night and I thought he was awesome.
He was interesting, he was insightful, he added a ton of humor to the broadcast and, most of all, he got into arguments with Tim McCarver in just about every inning. McCarver would say one of his random cliches and Boone would immediately chime in with his disagreement. They would then argue about it for the next minute or so, after which time McCarver would say something like "well, I guess I was wrong." I heard him say something similar to that about 15 times last night, which is about 100 times fewer than he should have said, but still an improvement.
I even heard McCarver questioning his stupid remarks as he was saying them, simply because, for once, someone was in the booth who was willing to do something other than just go along with whatever crap came out of his mouth. It was a real treat listening to Bret Boone during last night's game and it was even better listening to McCarver, as Boone hassled him.
I'll say this for McCarver, he showed a sense of humor about himself that I didn't expect. McCarver and Boone were talking about fans heckling them while they were coming into the stadium before the game and McCarver said someone asked him what color he was going to dye his hair next year.
You may remember I made a snide comment about McCarver's horrendous, bright orange dye-job in yesterday's blog entry. I figured McCarver's hair was pretty much off-limits for discussion, but he showed a decent sense of humor by actually bringing it up himself.
The actual game last night was one of the worst of the post-season thus far, but that says more about how awesome the other games have been, because last night's game was certainly decent.
Boston has one of the best offensive teams in recent memory, but they also have quite a few holes in the lineup when a good lefty is on the mound. Bench strength, specifically finding a couple of right-handed platoon-mates for Ortiz and Nixon, should be a priority for Theo Epstein and company this off-season.
I suspect Red Sox fans are not too happy about last night's game, especially after the optimism the Game One win no doubt created, but taking one out of two in New York to start the series is a big accomplishment. They should feel good about the first two games, especially now that they are heading home for three in Fenway, with Pedro going on Saturday.
Since I have surprisingly little to say about last night's game, I want to discuss a really good article I read on BaseballProspectus.com yesterday.
I thought Towers' responses were incredibly thoughtful and intelligent and I was extremely impressed by the honestly and bluntness he showed. He didn't dance around questions or speak in double-talk, he answered everything directly and actually gave insight into the organization's thoughts and plans.
Asked about acquiring a new catcher this off-season, Towers said:
"I'll say that we're looking at two or three guys on other clubs, two AL guys, one NL guy. All three play for three of the eight playoff clubs."
When is the last time you heard a GM be that specific while answering a question like that?
Of course, upon reading that I immediately started wondering who the three catchers are that he is talking about? I think one is definitely Twins' catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The other name that immediately came to mind was Marlins' backup catcher Ramon Castro. I'm not really sure who the third guy he is talking about could be, especially since Towers discussed and sort of dismissed Benito Santiago earlier in the interview and hinted that the acquisition would be a trade, thus ruling out Ivan Rodriguez, who will be a free agent.
As a Twins' fan, I'm not sure what they should do with Pierzynski. He is one of the best and most durable catchers in baseball and he is still very young, much younger than I think most people would guess. Go ahead, take a guess for how old A.J. Pierzynski is...
He's 26. See what I mean? On the other hand, the Twins are in a position where they are going to have a bit of a payroll-crunch in the next couple years and they have the best catching prospect in baseball waiting in the wings. At some point in the near future, Joe Mauer is going to be ready to play and when that time comes, Pierzynski's services will no longer be needed.
The question is whether you trade him now, when you can get the most value in return for him while also saving money, or if you hang onto him and wait to make a move until Mauer is ready to step in and replace him. If you deal him now, you'll get a better return, but you'll also create a hole at catcher that Mauer likely isn't quite able to fill yet, meaning Matthew LeCroy could become the starter. If you wait to deal him, you get to move Mauer along at his own pace and you get to keep Pierzynski on the team, but you also have to pay him and run the risk of not being able to cash him in for as much value down the road.
It's a tough call and I'm not sure what I think they should do. Once the playoffs finish up, I'm sure I will think about this situation and the other major decisions the Twins need to make this off-season, so you'll have to wait for my official thoughts until then.
"MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins left-handed pitcher Johan Santana is scheduled to have minor elbow surgery next week to remove a bone chip."
Uh oh. In my opinion, there is no minor elbow surgery for a young starting pitcher. Twins' GM Terry Ryan was quoted as saying the bone chips had no impact on Santana's pitching, but I seriously question that statement based on his final start of the year. He got knocked around by the Yankees and his fastball barely topped 90 MPH the entire game. Needless to say I am a little concerned about The Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog.
Here's hoping Johan's elbow is just fine and it simply needs a little "cleaning out." If I have to read the words "Johan Santana" and "Tommy John surgery" in the same sentence at some point in the near future, I think I might just cry.
That's all for today. Oh, and by the way, you may want to check back here over the weekend, because I think I might post a rare weekend entry at some point. The Vikings have a bye, the Twins are done, and the Gophers play tonight, so my weekend sports schedule is pretty empty. Well, there are these two baseball playoff series going on, I guess, so maybe I'll write about those...
I am willing to bet that no one, in the history of mankind, ever worked the "Last" button on their remote control as brilliantly as I did last night. I was bouncing back and forth between games, avoiding every commercial, switching channels between pitches. I was in "The Zone" and the remote control is still smoking. I think it might have to go on the 15-day DL.
I'm not a big fan of having two playoff games on at the exact same time, especially when they are the only two games being played that day, but I will say that it was sort of fun, and albeit a little tiring, to keep bouncing back and forth. Personally, I would prefer one afternoon game and one night game, but FOX didn't bother to ask my opinion.
Before I get to my thoughts on last night's games, I want to give you my thoughts on the broadcasts of last night's games...
Adding Bret Boone and Al Leiter to the broadcast teams is, in my opinion, a very good idea. I have long wondered why more active players weren't involved in broadcasts, either when they are injured or when their team is out of the picture.
During Mike Piazza's long stint on the DL this year, he did several Mets games on the MSG network and I thought he was excellent. Leiter hasn't impressed me all that much in the two games he's done for FOX so far, but he's still ten times better than Steve Lyons. And I thought Bret Boone was excellent last night, particularly after the first couple innings, when he warmed up a little bit.
Tim McCarver is 62 years old, he hasn't played major league baseball in 23 years and he is a very poor analyst. I would take a similarly poor active player over him every day of the week, and Boone could have a full frontal-lobotomy and not be as bad as McCarver.
Unlike McCarver, Boone was able to talk about how the game is played currently, telling the audience that batters admiring homers or pitchers pumping their fists after strikeouts are no longer big deals. Meanwhile, McCarver is still stuck in the 60s, maintaining the opinion that everything someone does after hitting a homer that doesn't involve putting your head down and sprinting around the bases is uncalled for and "showing up" the other team.
I thought Boone was much more clever and humorous in his very first experience on national television than McCarver has ever been and I thought Boone and Joe Buck had a much more entertaining banter and chemistry than Buck and McCarver have, and those two have worked together for years. I don't know whether that has to do with Boone being an active player or Boone being much closer to Buck's age or McCarver simply being a bad announcer, but I enjoyed having Bret Boone in the booth for last night's game, I hope he stays in for the rest of the series, and I would much prefer him over McCarver.
I often find that the "color man" or "analyst" on a broadcast will annoy me tremendously. I think it has to do with the fact that most analysts are at the point that they are simply repeating tired cliches while exaggerating the abilities and character of players and managers that they are fond of.
Getting some younger guys who are still playing the game into the booth is a great idea, if only because of the possibility that they might actually have some new things to say that they haven't already said 500 times. Maybe Bret Boone or Al Leiter has some actual insight about a player on one of these teams, which would certainly be better than hearing Steve Lyons tell me someone is a "clutch player" or a "down and dirty guy" or some other such cliched nonsense for the 10th time that inning.
Instead of listening to McCarver go on and on about what a "bandbox" Yankee Stadium is, there is the possibility that Bret Boone could actually tell us what it is like hitting in Yankee Stadium as it is currently configured or he could share with us what he thinks about the stadium and if his approach at the plate changes at all there. McCarver just repeats the same stuff about Yankee Stadium and the Yankees that he has been repeating for the last five post-seasons, and it wasn't even good stuff five years ago.
With all that said, it was rather disturbing seeing Bret Boone's blonde highlights and Tim McCarver's bright orange dye-job on the screen at the same time during the pre-game introductions. I won't say anything about Joe Buck's hair, because he's probably sort of sensitive about it, but the three of them were definitely "interesting" to look at.
Okay, enough about the announcers, let's talk about the games...
Before last night, I was thinking to myself just how amazingly entertaining this post-season has been so far. It seemed like just about every single game went right down to the wire, with several thrilling extra-inning games. Of course, right after I starting thinking about that, the Cubs went out and blew the Marlins out of the water.
Mark Prior definitely didn't have his "A-game" last night, but he picked a pretty great time to be simply good and not spectacular. The Cubs handed him a 2-0 lead after the first inning and it was an 11-0 laugher by the end of the fifth. Prior gave up a couple of solo shots to Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera in the top of the sixth inning, but he was pretty much just going through the motions at that point.
Dusty Baker has always been very willing to ride his starting pitchers deep into games while letting them rack up huge pitch-counts, and he has certainly done so with his young trio of starters this season. Because of that, I guess I shouldn't have been shocked when Mark Prior, a 23 year old pitcher who has thrown an average of 127 pitches in his last 7 starts, came out to pitch the seventh inning of an 11-2 game, having already topped 90 pitches.
I know the Marlins have had some amazing comebacks this year and I realize a playoff game is a little different than a regular season game, but there is absolutely no reason to let your best pitcher throw extra pitches in a blowout like that, particularly when that pitcher is one of the best young hurlers in baseball and especially when he has been ridden very hard down the stretch and into the playoffs.
And then do you know what happened? Mark Prior came out for the 8th inning too! Already over 100 pitches in a 12-2 game, Dusty Baker felt it necessary to make his 23 year old ace throw even more pitches. The first two batters of the inning reached base and Prior was then yanked from the game. So, not only did he throw a total of 116 pitches in a game that was over in the fifth inning, he did so and then was yanked from a game after struggling, which is obviously something no pitcher likes.
If Dusty Baker pulls Prior after 5 innings, with the score 11-0 Cubs, Prior ends the night throwing just 73 pitches. At worst, that gives him a nice break from the heavy-workload he's had over the last several months. At best, it means he might be able to start on short-rest later in the series, if needed.
Instead, Baker let Prior throw another 43 pitches, during which time Prior gave up 2 homers, a single and a walk, before getting yanked in the 8th inning. Prior left the mound shaking his head, which is exactly what I was doing too.
I am desperately hoping that Mark Prior is just a special pitcher who can avoid any serious injuries, despite whatever massive pitch-counts he accumulates, but if his arm becomes completely detached from his body on a pitch at some point during the next couple years or simply explodes, no one should be surprised. Well, no one except for Dusty Baker, of course.
By the way, I am not really a big Sammy Sosa fan or anything, but I was incredibly happy that he has homered in back-to-back games, just because it means the idiot announcers will have to shut up about Sosa "never hitting a home run in the playoffs." Sammy had a grand-total of 11 post-season at bats before this year, yet I heard about his zero post-season homers in every single game, before he shut everyone up with his 2-run shot to tie the game the other night. After his homer last night, Sosa now has 2 career post-season homers in 35 at bats, or one every 17.5 ABs. For his regular season career, he has a homer every 14.0 at bats.
Anyone who makes judgments on a great player based on a handful of games and then acts as if those judgments are important on the broadcast of a nationally televised baseball game should be made to write "I am an idiot who doesn't realize the importance of sample-sizes" on a chalk-board 1,000 times, while someone slaps them on the head with a ruler.
A .300 hitter does not hit .300 for every single 5-game or 20-at bat stretch during their entire career. And a power hitter doesn't evenly distribute his homers. Great hitters go hitless for 12 at bats, great sluggers go homerless for 5 games, great fielders make two errors in the same series. Did I mention most baseball announcers annoy me?
In fact, now that you mention it (okay, so I mentioned it), my first-round predictions were pretty damn good too. I got three of the four series correct, including amazingly predicting the correct amount of games in all three. Red Sox in five, Yankees in four, Cubs in five - you heard all of those here first.
Of course, my "Giants in four" prediction wasn't so great, although I did manage to get the amount of games right in that series too!
I got a lot of emails yesterday telling me I was crazy for picking the Red Sox over the Yankees, but I think Boston is now in a great position after their Game One win. They are up 1-0, they have taken homefield advantage, and they did so with their third-best starting pitcher on the mound.
Now, "all" they have to do is win three of the next six games, two of which will be started by Pedro Martinez and two of which will be started by Derek Lowe.
Of course, the Twins fan in me wants to remind everyone that the Yankees lost Game One of the ALDS too, and that didn't work out too badly for them. Tonight's game could be an entirely different story, with Andy Pettitte on the mound for New York. Several of the Boston's hitters - David Ortiz, Trot Nixon, Todd Walker - do significantly worse against left-handed pitching, and they don't really have any good bench options to sub in for them (for example: Damian Jackson will probably be playing 2B tonight instead of Walker).
Team W L Win% RS RA Pyth% EqA DEF
New York 101 61 .623 877 716 .600 .280 .6977
Boston 95 67 .586 961 809 .586 .287 .7005
Offense RS/G AVG OBP SLG HR 2B BB SO
New York 5.41 .271 .356 .453 230 304 684 1042
Boston 5.94 .289 .360 .491 238 371 620 943
RA/G AVG OBP SLG HR 2B BB SO
New York 4.41 .266 .313 .408 145 323 375 1119
Boston 4.99 .263 .325 .414 153 327 488 1141
As a lifelong Minnesota Twins fan, I obviously wanted very badly for the Twins to defeat the New York Yankees in the first-round. As a sabermetrically inclined baseball fan or a "stathead" or whatever you want to call a guy who thinks on-base percentages are more important than stolen bases and RBIs, I found part of me hoping the Oakland A's would win their matchup with the Boston Red Sox, simply so Billy Beane could finally get out of the first-round of the playoffs.
But let's face it, this is the matchup almost everyone wants to see and, despite my Twinsfandom and my respect for Beane and the A's, I am willing to say that this is, in fact, the best possible matchup in the American League.
If Oakland was completely healthy, I believe they are just as strong and perhaps stronger than the Red Sox, but they aren't. Mark Mulder missed the end of the season and all of the playoffs with a hip injury and Tim Hudson apparently thought he was part of the cast of "Road House II" last week and hurt his pitching arm enough that he had to leave his Game Four start after just 9 pitches. The A's are the walking-wounded at this point, so if anyone was going to challenge the Yankees in the ALCS, it was going to be the Red Sox.
In my opinion, Boston-New York is the best rivalry in all of baseball. There are some other good ones of course (Detroit-Tampa Bay springs immediately to mind), but none match the intensity and emotion of Red Sox-Yankees and none have the same history.
As a Minnesotan with absolutely zero allegiances to either Boston or New York, I will be cheering for the Boston Red Sox in this series. And really, unless you are a Yankee fan, I don't see how you could possibly not root for Boston.
The Yankees are like a winning-machine, producing division titles and World Series championships at assembly-line paces. Meanwhile, for the most part, the Boston Red Sox have played second-fiddle to them for the better part of the last century. They've been a very successful franchise for large stretches at a time, but they have always been the lovable losers, as opposed to New York's "Evil Empire" of winning.
And who among us doesn't root for the underdog? These two teams may be essentially equal in talent, but there is no doubt who the favorites in this series are. I think all this talk about a "curse" is about as close to complete bulls--- as something can get, but the fact is that the Red Sox haven't won a whole lot since 1918, and the Yankees are going for their 27th World Series title this year. As the great Ric Flair said so many times, "If you want to be The Man, you've got to beat The Man."
Of course, this isn't your typical underdog situation. It's not exactly a case of a school bully picking on some scrawny, helpless kid. It's more like the school bully picking on a slightly smaller and slightly less hated school bully. Like if David took a vacation and Goliath fought Goliath's little brother. It's like a fight between the Crips and the Bloods, except one is wearing pinstripes and the other hasn't won a World Series since 1918.
Sure, Boston has a $100 million-dollar payroll and sure, they won 95 games this year, but the Yankees have a $160 million-dollar payroll and they won 101 games. And sure, the Red Sox have typically been one of the better teams in the American League, but the Yankees have been even better.
As far as I can tell, the pitching-matchups for the series look like this:
Game One Yankee Stadium Tim Wakefield Mike Mussina
Game Two Yankee Stadium Derek Lowe Andy Pettitte
Game Three Fenway Park Pedro Martinez Roger Clemens
Game Four Fenway Park John Burkett David Wells
Game Five Fenway Park Tim Wakefield Mike Mussina
Game Six Yankee Stadium Derek Lowe Andy Pettitte
Game Seven Yankee Stadium Pedro Martinez Roger Clemens
If that is the way it actually happens, fate could not have drawn it up any better.
Obviously the Red Sox would like to start Pedro Martinez in Game One, but that's not an option. Being able to start him in Game Three, at Fenway, and then in a potential Game Seven is not a bad thing either. And the thought of a Boston-New York Game Seven, in Yankee Stadium, pitting Pedro Martinez against Roger Clemens is making me nervous just thinking about it. That first Pedro-Clemens matchup at Fenway in Game Three might be mildly entertaining as well.
Aside from any games Pedro ends up starting, New York has a significant edge in starting pitching. Derek Lowe had a decent year and seems to be pitching very well right now, so the two Lowe-Andy Pettitte matchups look fairly even, but the Yankees have a huge edge in the Tim Wakefield-Mike Mussina matchups, as well as the Game Four matchup of John Burkett and David Wells.
I was incredibly impressed by New York's starting pitching against the Twins. Of course, dominating Minnesota's lineup is a whole lot easier than doing the same against the Red Sox, who have the best offense in all of baseball and perhaps one of the best of all-time. That said, the Red Sox hitting looked anything but dominant against Oakland.
I think a huge factor in this series will be the bullpens. Boston's bullpen has taken a lot of heat all year long and, despite their adding a bunch of quality arms at mid-season, their relief pitching situation is far from perfect. Their closer for most of the year, Byung-Hyun Kim, pitched in one game against Oakland, lost his job and the confidence of his manager, and now appears to be out for the ALCS with a "shoulder injury."
Scott Williamson struggled after coming over from Cincinnati, but pitched well in the ALDS. He pitched in all five games, doing extremely well in the first four, before falling apart when asked to close out Game Five. Mike Timlin has probably been Boston's most consistent reliever all season and he did very well against Oakland. He will be called on to be Boston's other right-handed "ace" reliever, along with Williamson, doing the job Kim was supposed to fill.
Beyond Timlin and Williamson, they have Alan Embree, who should be good for a couple of left-handed batters per game. Aside those three guys, Boston really doesn't have anyone else they appear comfortable trusting in any sort of a close game. And you can only count on Derek Lowe coming in to save the bullpen so many times before his arm simply explodes.
Meanwhile, the Yankees, as always, have Mariano Rivera available to shut things down from the 8th inning on. Rivera looked absolutely unhittable against the Twins and everyone knows about his post-season track-record. The rest of the bullpen isn't as impressive or reliable as in year's past, but it's still not a bad group. Joe Torre can mix and match Jeff Nelson, Gabe White, Felix Heredia and Jose Contreras, although I don't know that I would feel any more comfortable with that group than I would with the Timlin/Embree/Williamson trio.
At some point, the Red Sox are going to have to rely on someone other than Timlin, Embree, Williamson and Derek Lowe to get some outs after a starter leaves the game, and whether or not the guys at the back of the bullpen can get the job done may end up meaning the difference in this series.
I really think these teams are about as evenly matched as two teams can be, and the unbelievable emotion and intensity that will be involved in all of these games should make this one of the most exciting post-season series in recent memory.
If the Red Sox can take one of the first two games in Yankee Stadium, I think they will be in a great position to win this thing. I don't like John Burkett's chances of shutting down New York in Game Four, but the Red Sox should have a good shot at winning the other two games in Fenway.
If they can take one in Yankee Stadium and 2/3 in Fenway, they would head back to New York up 3-2, with Derek Lowe going against Andy Pettitte in Game Six. Even if they lose both at Yankee Stadium or lose 2/3 in Fenway, they should still be able to head back to New York, meaning Derek Lowe versus Andy Pettitte in Game Six is looking like a huge matchup either way. In fact, both Lowe-Pettitte matchups will be huge in this series.
The interesting thing is that both of those matchups will take place in Yankee Stadium, and Derek Lowe has been a completely different pitcher at Fenway and away from Fenway this season.
Fenway 115.0 3.21
Road 88.1 6.11
Lowe's ERA was also significantly better at home last year.
While I don't doubt that there is something about Fenway - tall infield grass, the Green Monster, etc. - that Lowe uses to his advantage, I think the real issue with him is whether the game is played on grass or turf. Lowe is one of the most extreme ground ball pitchers in baseball, so having tall grass in the infield as opposed to fast turf can make a huge difference. And, sure enough, check out these splits:
Grass 182.0 3.86
Turf 21.1 9.70
There are obviously some sample-size issues with those numbers, but I think it's still very significant. Last year, Lowe's ERA was 51% higher on turf than on grass and, in 2000-2002 combined, he had a 3.15 ERA on grass and a 5.74 ERA on turf.
So, while Lowe's overall road numbers are awful this year, I think the real issue is the playing surface, and Yankee Stadium has grass on the infield, just like Fenway. Lowe is Boston's second-best pitcher right now and he has pitched very well (and often) in the post-season. Whether or not he can continue to do well is going to be a huge factor in this series. He needs to win at least one of his two starts against Pettitte, and if he is able to give them a couple of innings out of the bullpen between starts, that would also help ease the pressure on Boston's bullpen quite a bit.
To win this thing, the Red Sox need Derek Lowe to come up big, they need their bullpen to be at least reasonably reliable, and their offense needs to dominate like they did during the season.
For the Yankees, I don't think they will have much trouble scoring runs against non-Pedro pitching, so they simply need to play solid defense and rely on their veteran starters and Mariano Rivera to get the job done against a very dangerous Boston offensive-attack.
Personally, I am hoping that this series goes the full seven games. Not only would that mean seven great games to watch, it would also mean the chance to see Pedro and Clemens pitch the deciding game, in Yankee Stadium, with a trip to the World Series on the line. It just doesn't get any better than that.
Throughout the 162-game season, there was little doubt who the best two teams in the National League were. The Atlanta Braves won 101 games and the NL East division, while the San Francisco Giants won 100 games and the NL West.
Then the playoffs came, the two best teams lost, and now we're looking at a National League Championship Series between the Florida Marlins and the Chicago Cubs.
Of course, looking at season-long records can sometimes be a little deceiving. For one thing, the Florida Marlins fired their manager midway through the year and added one of their best pitchers a month into the season. For the Cubs, their offense has gone through quite a few changes since early in the season.
While the Marlins won just 91 games this season and the Cubs won just 88 - far cries from the 101 and 100 wins from the teams they beat in the NLDS - a look at each team's second-half record reveals slightly more dominance:
W L Win%
Florida Marlins 42 25 .627
Chicago Cubs 41 27 .603
Taking it a step further, the Florida Marlins went 75-49 (.605) under Jack McKeon, after starting the season 16-22 (.421) under Jeff Torborg.
For comparison, the Braves went 40-29 (.580) in the second-half and the Giants went 43-24 (.642). When you isolate the second-half performances of the four National League playoff teams, the gaps between them essentially disappear and it becomes a little less shocking to think that the Cubs and Marlins will be playing for a trip to the World Series.
So, while the two teams in the NLCS may not be the "best" two teams in the National League, they are pretty damn good, especially if you are of the belief that the current caliber of each team is more properly reflected in their second-half records.
With all due respect to the Atlanta Braves, the San Francisco Giants and especially Barry Lamar Bonds, this NLCS is going to be plenty exciting and interesting without their presence. I know I am ecstatic about having the opportunity to watch Mark Prior and Kerry Wood pitch a few more times, and I think the Florida Marlins have proven, both during the season and so far in the playoffs, that they are capable of some mildly entertaining games.
Let's forget about the Braves and the Giants and focus on the matchup at hand, because it's a good one. In looking at the numbers, the Marlins and the Cubs seem to be very evenly matched.
Beyond their overall and second-half win-totals, the two teams also have very similar numbers. The Marlins ranked 8th in the National League in runs scored, while the Cubs ranked 9th. The Cubs ranked 4th in the NL in runs allowed, while the Marlins ranked 6th.
They are even quite similar when you look more in-depth at their offenses. Both teams have primarily right-handed lineups and both offenses were much better this season against left-handed pitching.
AVG OBP SLG
vs Right .254 .317 .412
vs Left .276 .343 .429
That's a team-wide increase of 22 points of batting average, 26 points of on-base percentage and 17 points of slugging percentage when lefties are on the mound.
Sometimes team-totals can be misleading, particularly for a team like the Cubs, who have made several changes in their lineup during the season. Of the guys Dusty Baker currently has at his disposal, he has the option of putting the following six bats in the lineup against lefties:
vs LHP AVG OBP SLG
Sammy Sosa .333 .440 .571
Eric Karros .366 .441 .545
Moises Alou .346 .399 .567
Mark Grudzielanek .360 .444 .470
Ramon Martinez .346 .391 .494
Aramis Ramirez .285 .322 .562
Meanwhile, Florida's everyday lineup features one left-handed hitter, one switch-hitter, and six right-handed hitters. Their top bench-player (whichever one of Miguel Cabrera, Mike Lowell and Jeff Conine doesn't start) is also right-handed. As you might expect from an offense with all those righties, they have been much better against left-handed pitching this season:
AVG OBP SLG
vs Right .258 .325 .406
vs Left .292 .357 .469
That's a very large gap, much bigger than Chicago's. Using (OBP x 1.7) + SLG as the measure, the Marlins were about 12% better offensively against left-handed pitching.
For this series at least, the Cubs seem to be at an advantage in this area. Their starting rotation includes four right-handed pitchers, while Florida's includes two righties and two lefties. So, while the Cubs will get a chance to tee-off against left-handed starters multiple times during the series, the only left-handed pitching the Marlins will see will be from Chicago's bullpen.
Florida's lineup simply doesn't look very powerful when you isolate their performances against right-handed pitching:
vs RHP AVG OBP SLG
CF Juan Pierre .303 .368 .377
2B Luis Castillo .312 .377 .357
C Ivan Rodriguez .274 .340 .444
1B Derrek Lee .256 .358 .486
3B Miguel Cabrera .247 .310 .429
RF Juan Encarnacion .270 .309 .456
LF Jeff Conine .281 .329 .471
SS Alex Gonzalez .251 .307 .429
3B Mike Lowell .271 .346 .484
There are some good on-base percentages at the top of that lineup, but there isn't a whole lot of power anywhere, and it is certainly not a group that is going to strike fear in guys like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. No one slugs over .500 and no one has an on-base percentage above .380. 5 of the 9 starters have a slugging percentage below .450 and 4 of the 9 have an OBP below .330.
If the Cubs had a left-handed starter, it would be a whole different story and you'd be looking at some pretty impressive numbers. Ivan Rodriguez hit .376/.460/.573 against lefties. Mike Lowell hit .295/.363/.688. Derrek Lee hit .333/.462/.600. Miguel Cabrera hit .364/.397/.655. Even Alex Gonzalez and Luis Castillo managed to slug .496 and .494 against lefties, respectively.
The Marlins faced just one left-handed starter in the NLDS - Kirk Rueter in Game Three. They scored 2 runs against him in the first inning, but none after that. He left after 5 innings pitched, having allowed just those 2 runs, courtesy of an Ivan Rodriguez homer.
Against right-handed pitching, the Marlins did pretty well against San Francisco. They were shutout by one of the best right-handed pitchers in baseball, Jason Schmidt, in Game One. But then they did very well against both Sidney Ponson and Jerome Williams in Game Two and Game Four, scoring a combined 7 runs against them in 7 innings.
Overall for the series, they hit .262/.336/.341 in 138 plate appearances against right-handed pitching and .200/.273/.500 in 22 plate appearances against lefties. Of course, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are a lot closer to Jason Schmidt than they are Ponson or Williams, so I think Florida's offense could be in trouble.
Chicago's offense has a lot of problems and Florida has a very solid and deep pitching-staff. In the end though, I think Chicago's starting pitching is simply too strong, just as I predicted it would be too much for the Atlanta Braves to handle in the first-round.
At this moment I am not 100% sure how Chicago's rotation will work out for the NLCS, other than Zambrano is definitely starting Game One. Their threesome of Prior, Wood and Zambrano is so strong (and so right-handed) that it probably doesn't even matter how you arrange them. Even Chicago #4 starter Matt Clement, who held right-handed hitters to a combined .209/.283/.322 this season, looks like a decent bet to be very effective against the Marlins' lineup.
This has the looks of a very evenly matched and potentially low-scoring series, and I like Chicago's chances of scratching and clawing their way to enough runs to win better than I like Florida's chances of roughing up Chicago's pitching-staff.
I think the Chicago Cubs are simply one of those unique teams that is much better built for the post-season than they are the regular season. They no longer have to worry about starting Shawn Estes every fifth game and they don't have to rely on the bottom of their bullpen to get outs anymore.
Instead, they can lean entirely on Prior, Wood and Zambrano, with a little Clement thrown in, and they can shorten the bullpen enough so that they are counting on only a few guys, most notably their very capable bullpen trio of Mike Remlinger, Kyle Farnsworth and Joe Borowski. Even their offensive problems are less of an issue in the post-season, because they don't need to score as many runs to win when Prior and Wood are tossing gems.
After they came into Yankee Stadium and took Game One on Tuesday afternoon, there was a feeling of pleasant surprise, accompanied by thoughts of "maybe we can do this after all."
Then they dropped a very winnable Game Two on Thursday night and a sense of disappointment set in, but the knowledge that winning one of the two games in Yankee Stadium was the goal from the outset helped to sooth that pain.
The Minnesota Twins left New York with homefield advantage and a lot of optimism. Then the weekend came and washed it all away.
The Twins' bats remained silent, the Yankees got some timely hits on Saturday, and Johan Santana imploded on Sunday. Now it's Monday and Minnesota's season is over, just like that.
To say I am surprised would be a lie. After all, I predicted "Yankees in four" and that is exactly what happened. The way the Yankees won the series in four games was more than a little surprising, however.
I envisioned the Yankees bashing the Twins into submission, hitting homers in bunches on their way to a series victory. That never really happened at all. The Yankees hit a total of only 2 home runs in the entire series, they slugged just .384 as a team, and they scored a modest 16 runs in four games.
While the majority of the credit in any series should be given to the winning team, one of the biggest factors in this particular series was the fact that Minnesota's offense, from the first pitch of Game One until the last pitch of Game Four, was completely non-existent. How much of that "credit" goes to New York's pitching is up for discussion, of course.
The Twins got some help from New York's defense in Game One and they were able to scratch and claw their way to 3 runs but, as I said last week, that game could very easily have been won by the Yankees by a score of 1-0.
Minnesota then scored 1 run in Game Two, 1 run in Game Three and 1 run in Game Four. That means, for the entire four-game series, they scored a total of 6 runs, 2 of which were gifts from Bernie Williams.
There were some other things that the Twins did poorly and quite a few things the Yankees did well, but if a team is only going to score six runs in four games against the New York Yankees, they aren't going to win anyway, so what's the difference?
H AB AVG BB SO R
Game One 8 31 .258 3 7 3
Game Two 4 32 .125 3 11 1
Game Three 5 32 .156 1 9 1
Game Four 9 36 .250 0 6 1
TOTAL 26 131 .198 9 33 6
The Twins generally got very good pitching in this series, from the starters and particularly the relievers, and their defense was also very good for the most part. But you simply don't have a chance to advance to the next round when you hit .198 and score six runs in four games.
They drew a total of 9 non-intentional walks in the four games, which isn't such a horrible walk rate considering the Twins don't walk that much and New York pitchers don't walk people at all. But if you aren't going to get on base via walks, you better get a lot of hits, and the Twins simply could never get sustained rallies going.
One of the major issues I raised in my preview of this series was the fact that Minnesota's offense seemed very similar to the Anaheim offensive-attack that destroyed the Yankees in last year's playoffs.
"It would seem like the Twins are a good bet to exploit New York's defense in much the same way Anaheim did last season.
Except for one thing - the Twins don't put the ball in play nearly as often as the Angels did. And that is, after all, the real reason why Anaheim's offense was so well suited for dismantling New York's defense.
Yes, the Twins don't have much home run power and yes, they hit lots of singles, doubles and triples. But they also strike out quite a bit. While the Angels had over 100 fewer strikeouts than any other team in the American League last season, the Twins had the 6th-most strikeouts in the AL. On a per-game basis, the 2003 Twins struck out 28% more often than the 2002 Angels did.
Basically, it doesn't seem as though the Twins are as well suited for exploiting New York's poor defense as last year's Anaheim team was. Because of that, I wouldn't expect the Twins to be able to simply bash the Yankees into submission like the Angels did."
While the Angels struck out just 18 times in their four games with the Yankees last October, the Twins whiffed 33 times this year. That is a difference of 15 "balls in play" and, with the way New York plays defense, that could have meant an additional 5 or 6 hits for the Twins. Depending on when and where those hits took place, that could certainly have made a huge difference in Game Two and Game Three.
The Twins left a total of 28 runners stranded on base during the four games and left a combined 13 men in scoring position at the end of innings. There were several instances in both Game Two and Game Three where one bloop single or one double in the gap could have scored several runs for the Twins, which would have changed the complexion of the game and the entire series.
My favorite whipping-boy, Luis Rivas, did plenty of damage in the series. He went 0-13 in the four games, with 4 strikeouts and 0 walks. Even worse, he often found himself at the plate with men on base. As I documented in last Friday's entry, Rivas went 0-4 with 2 strikeouts in Game Two, leaving a total of 5 runners stranded on base, including two in scoring position. He made the final out of an inning three times. Rivas went 0-7 with 3 strikeouts with men on base during the series.
Luis Rivas was certainly not the only member of Minnesota's lineup that was horrible in the series and it is unfair to blame him for all their problems offensively, but his ineptitude was magnified by the fact that he batted #2 in the lineup, right behind Shannon Stewart, who was one of only two Twins (along with Torii Hunter) to have a good series offensively.
Stewart hit .400/.471/.533 in the series, getting on base a total of eight times in the four games. He found himself in scoring position on multiple occasions and each and every time, Luis Rivas failed to do something productive. I'm sure it was extremely frustrating to watch for any Twins fan, but I found it particularly maddening, considering the fair amount of Rivas-bashing I have been involved in on this blog.
Of course, in the interest of fairness and accuracy, I have ripped Rivas here a lot and he was certainly horrible, but "The Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog" didn't have a particularly wonderful series either.
Johan Santana got the Game One start and was cruising along through four innings, when he came down with a severe cramp in his hamstring and had to exit the game. The Twins were amazingly able to hold on and win, thanks to a great effort by the bullpen.
They weren't quite as fortunate yesterday. Santana got the starting assignment in Game Four and, just as he did in Game One, he cruised through the Yankee lineup the first time around.
Santana struck out Alfonso Soriano leading off the game, allowed a single to Derek Jeter, and then set down 9 Yankees in a row. Through 3 1/3 innings, he had thrown just 33 pitches while allowing just that one single to Soriano, and he appeared ready to engage in a pitcher's duel with Yankees' starter David Wells.
And then the wheels came flying off. After Santana struck out Jeter leading off the top of the 4th, here is what happened:
At that point it was 4-0 New York and Santana's day was officially over. Juan Rincon relieved him and immediately gave up a 2-run single to Soriano, making it 6-0 Yankees.
To say that I didn't think Johan "had it" yesterday obviously seems very easy to say after the fact, but you'll just have to trust me when I say I was thinking that even in the first three innings, when he was doing very well.
In fact, I took a few notes (as I usually do) during Santana's nearly flawless first three innings, included among them...
Fastball velocity seems down. Only 87-89, instead of 92-94.
Fastball still coming in at 87-89. Breaking stuff and changeup look good, but something isn't right.
During that horrendous fourth inning, Santana's fastball was once again far below his normal velocity. I noted that it was 87 MPH in Bernie Williams' at bat and that the ball Hideki Matsui hit for a ground rule double was an 88 MPH fastball. Santana's first pitch to Aaron Boone, who made the lone out in the middle of all the damage, was a fastball clocked at just 86 MPH.
Strangely enough, in pitching to Nick Johnson (which turned out to be Santana's last batter of the game), Johan threw four straight fastballs, which registered at 91, 92, 92 and 92 MPH. The last of those was a 92 MPH fastball right down the heart of the plate on a 1-2 count, which Johnson smoked into right-center.
I give Johan credit for attempting to go out there and win the game, despite obviously not being 100% healthy. I also give him a ton of credit for somehow being able to buzz through New York's lineup for the first 11 batters of the game, despite a fastball that rarely reached 90 MPH. Of course, the bottom line is that, injury or not, he didn't get the job done in an immensely important game, and for that he doesn't deserve any credit at all.
The better team won this series and I expected them to do so, but it still hurts. Even the most pessimistic/realistic fan in the world holds out hope in the back of their mind that they could be wrong, that their team could beat the odds and do the impossible. Sometimes (Marlins, Cubs) those fans are pleasantly surprised and sometimes they aren't.
I would say "we'll get 'em next year" but I'm really not quite sure what next year will hold for the Minnesota Twins. They seem to me to be in a transition phase, in the unique position of having the pieces in place to rebuild the core of the team with younger players without dropping out of contention. That means a lot of tough decisions need to be made, so it will certainly be an interesting off-season in Minnesota. Of course, thoughts of that can and will wait for another day.
For now, enjoy the final game of the first-round, and make sure to stop by tomorrow for my preview of the NLCS.
"I simply refuse to go against Pedro [in Game Five], whether he ends up pitching against Barry Zito on short-rest, Tim Hudson on full-rest or Walter Johnson on rest-in-peace. Pedro is still Pedro and I'll only believe he loses a deciding game when I see it, and even then I will be skeptical."