Five Cuts: Mother Nature could give Angels a boost over Yankees
The Yanks or Angels could become world champs by playing 11 games in 28 days
Fox asked to start the World Series on a Wednesday, a better night for ratings
Bobby Abreu is a bilingual speaker who offered leadership skills in the clubhouse
1. Even without a rainout, the Yankees or Angels could become world champions by playing 11 games in 28 days without ever being scheduled to play three days in a row. Springsteen would be embarrassed by that schedule, and he just turned 60. That's why if you're a baseball fan, you root for rainouts the next two nights in New York.
For one reason, who wants to see a pennant decided by wind, rain and temperature below 40 degrees? More importantly, a couple of rainouts hopefully would rid the ALCS of this ridiculous schedule of four days off, two days on, one day off, two days on, one day off, one day on, one day off, two days on.
The Yankees, for instance, to their great delight, can use only three starting pitchers for seven games under that schedule while having only one start -- by the already well-rested CC Sabathia -- made without full rest. That schedule is not a true test of a league champion, not unless the league is the Del Boca Vista Senior Canasta League.
It seems a rainout would benefit the Angels, who gladly plan to start four pitchers anyway, and hurt the Yankees, who might actually need a fourth starter -- Chad Gaudin, anyone?
"These playoffs ... even if you have good weather is quite disjointed," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "And there's lot of time in between some games that I think historically has not been there. So the best schedule is to keep it rolling and once you start playing, to keep playing. We'll see what we're confronted with.
"Right now I think our rotation has some nice depth to it. We want to get four guys out there to pitch in the series. Naturally, the quicker you can play those games is advantageous to us to keep going and keep playing with guys that will be rested. But, you know, we'll see."
2. So why does baseball schedule so many off days? It work like this: When Fox asked to start the World Series on a Wednesday -- it didn't want two games scheduled for Saturday, traditionally a low-viewer night -- baseball said, "Sure, whatever you like." But baseball never changed when the regular season ends; it still finishes on a Sunday. So four extra off days had to be dropped into the postseason schedule to push Game 1 of the World Series to a Wednesday. Thus we get this stretched format that baseball people hate.
When I asked Angels GM Tony Reagins if general managers have held discussions on the postseason format -- it was their collective input that helped push instant replay through -- he said, "I'm sure the time is approaching when that will be addressed." When asked to comment on his position, he smiled and said, "I don't have a comment."
3. There is no doubt that Bobby Abreu was a bargain signing for the Angels, costing them just $6 million, including $1 million in bonus money based on plate appearances. But he's also getting widespread credit for preaching the gospel of hitting patience to a lineup with a reputation for hacking early and often in counts. The Angels players themselves go out of their way to say that this is so.
Well, it is true that the Angels saw improvement in pitches seen per plate appearance by Erick Aybar (6 percent), Chone Figgins (3 percent), Macier Izturis (2 percent), Howie Kendrick (11 percent) and Kendry Morales (16 percent). But the biggest difference is the one between Abreu and the man he replaced in the lineup, Garret Anderson (23 percent).
I believe that the greater intangible contribution by Abreu is something that Reagins said was an unexpected bonus: that he is a bilingual speaker who offered leadership skills to every corner of the clubhouse. What Reagins described reminded me, in a quieter version, of the unifying stability that the Red Sox get from David Ortiz.
"He's able to communicate with everyone in the room," Reagins said of Abreu. "He cares about and studies the game as well as anybody. The biggest impact is him just talking baseball. He talks baseball with everybody in the room."
4. The smart signing of Mark Teixeira by the Yankees -- and away from the Red Sox -- tipped the balance of power in the AL East. But the signing of Sabathia is what is tipping the balance of power in the postseason. The Yankees finally have a true ace with the ability to miss bats and pitch deep into games, which had been their biggest October flaw in this five-year World Series "drought" of theirs.
Sabathia struck out eight batters in his Game 1 ALDS start against Minnesota. The Yankees had gone 19 straight postseason games without getting that kind of strikeout performance from their starter, dating to the start by Mike Mussina in Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS. Their record in those 19 games? It was 6-13.
You want the definition of a reliable ace? Since Aug. 2, Sabathia is 10-1 with a 2.44 ERA in 13 starts. The Yankees are 12-1 in those starts, and in every one of those wins Sabathia has pitched at least as far as two outs into the seventh inning. So don't believe the nonsense you will hear if Sabathia does start in this series on three days' rest. The guy is a workhorse.
5. Some random thoughts and observations on NLCS Game 1: Yes, Manny Ramirez sat on a changeup and hit a home run, but he still can't catch up to a decent inside fastball. The Phillies will continue to pound him inside with hard stuff until he proves otherwise. ... Shane Victorino, caught in a rundown, made a smart play trying to run into first baseman James Loney to influence an interference call. The umpires didn't buy it, but he was going to be out anyway, so why not attempt to create contact with Loney when he didn't have the ball? ... Dodgers manager Joe Torre lost his usual postseason aggressive streak and stuck with Clayton Kershaw two batters too long. Kershaw's control left him so badly that he was either going to walk hitters or throw them a cookie, which he did to Ryan Howard, costing two runs. Better to turn to Scott Elbert, whom Torre had warming up. ... Interesting to see Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz give multiple signs even with nobody on base (to guard against stealing signs by way of TV, I guess), but Dodgers catcher Russ Martin doesn't even bother to do so with a runner at first. Potential base stealers at first often peek at the catcher's signs to pick an off-speed pitch on which to run. You could see Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies trying this tactic at first base. Martin, by the way, needs improvement on the fundamentals of blocking pitches. ... I was surprised that Matt Kemp didn't try to swipe second after leading off the last of the ninth with a single off Brad Lidge. The odds were heavily in Kemp's favor. Lidge is so slow to the plate that runners swiped 11 bases in 12 tries against him this year -- and have a 94 percent success rate (29 of 31) against him over the past four years. The stolen base removes the double play possibility and keeps the tying run at the plate. So what does the next batter, Casey Blake, do? Hits into a double play. ... The Phillies remind me of the Yankees in how they treat opposing pitchers: They don't stray from the strike zone. They force pitchers to come into the zone, and when they do, they have home run power to exploit it quickly no matter where they are in the lineup. The Phillies drew seven walks against the Dodgers. In five postseason games they have outwalked their opponents 26-13.
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