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NLCS: Rox relying on defense
Defense wins championships.
This saying regularly gets tossed around in football and basketball circles, but I've never heard it uttered anywhere near the diamond. If the Rockies keep rolling through the playoffs, though, baseball could be the new home for one of American sports' age-old adages.
In Colorado's Game 2 win, the Rockies' outstanding defensive effort was impossible to ignore. Yes, second baseman Kaz Matsui made a throwing error in the bottom of the ninth, but the miscue didn't end up costing Colorado because Arizona's Stephen Drew mistakenly wandered off second base. It was almost as if Drew gave the Rockies a mulligan as a reward for the defensive clinic they put on all night.
Colorado set a major-league record for highest team fielding percentage during the regular season (.98925), committing just 68 errors over 163 games. The team's fantastic glove work was on full display during Colorado's 3-2 win on Friday night, with -- surprise, surprise -- Troy Tulowitzki leading the charge. I mentioned Tulo's bazooka arm in yesterday's entry, but this kid's no one-trick pony. The 23-year-old -- who led all major league shortstops in fielding percentage (.987) during the regular season and has a chance to become the first rookie shortstop ever to win the Gold Glove -- also boasts extremely soft hands and plus range. Tulowitzki made his presence felt right off the bat last night. In the bottom of the first, Drew smacked a ground ball into the hole, but Tulowitzki tracked it down and winged the ball across his body to barely nab Drew at first base. As the game when on, Tulo made a pair of sparkling plays on softly hit ground balls and did a spectacular job in blocking Chris Young's hand on a failed steal attempt.
Tulowitzki wasn't the only Colorado player making defensive contributions. Third baseman Garrett Atkins robbed Eric Byrnes of a double down the line in the third, Todd Helton made a great back-handed stab in the sixth and Yorvit Torrealba was a brick wall behind the plate all night long. Center fielder Willy Taveras outdid everyone, though, making the defensive play of the night in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs and the speedy Byrnes on first, Arizona first baseman Tony Clark smashed a line drive deep into right-center field, but Taveras got a great jump and snagged the ball with a breathtaking dive to end the inning.
The Rockies don't just make the plays they're supposed to; they play an aggressive team defense that swings momentum and demoralizes the opposition.
Colorado now holds a commanding 2-0 lead heading home to Denver. Having finished the regular season tied for the NL lead in home wins (51), the Rockies will look to close out this series before it shifts back to Phoenix. If Colorado does advance the World Series, they won't be the only team with a dynamite defense. Boston and Cleveland ranked second and third, respectively, in AL fielding percentage during the regular season.
- Up In The Rockies says the media is completely overlooking Colorado's fabulous run.
- The Rocky Mountain News gives some much-deserved props to Colorado manager Clint Hurdle.
- Don't expect spring weather in Game 3 on Sunday night. A developing storm system in over the Southwest could even bring snow to Denver.
- East Valley Tribune's Scott Bordow poses a legitimate question: Are the D-backs finally acting their age?
- As Dan Bickley reports, Arizona's offense is completely leaving D-backs pitching out to dry.
- After Thursday night's shenanigans, the Arizona Republic reports that Diamondbacks fans were on their best behavior.
ALCS: Manny & Papi Show
If you believe anything I wrote yesterday, Josh Beckett is your 2007 American League Cy Young. Congrats, Josh.
But as the game fell far short of the expected pitchers’ duel -- hello, 10 runs, 12 hits and 8 walks for the Sox -- Boston’s Dominican Duo again stole the show. The two did not record an out. In 10 plate appearances, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez reached base 10 times: four hits, five walks, one hit by pitch, three RBIs, four runs.
For the postseason, Papi is now batting a robust .778 -- .778! – while Manny, by contrast, is batting a “paltry” .500. What a slacker, right? So scared did C.C. Sabathia seem of Manny that in his bases-loaded walk, Sabathia threw six pitches nowhere near the strike zone. Manny, seemingly still smitten with the stardom from his walkoff HR against the Angels in ALDS Game 2, at first appeared overanxious, hacking wildly and missing two balls to fall behind 0-2.
Then Manny became normal Manny, the cold, calculated, patient killer with a baseball bat, and worked a walk. As FOX flashed multiple reminders of Manny’s track record of grand slams, second only to Lou Gehrig all-time, Sabathia seemed to be watching the broadcast, that’s how worried he seemed.
The Sox are locked in better than they have been all season. That makes it more curious that Dustin Pedroia made a sacrifice bunt in the third inning with Kevin Youkilis and the big boppers following them. Wait, did I mention that Manny and Papi didn’t make an out all game? It could be a very short series, though very long for the Indians ...
As always, Manny and Papi keyed the offense, writes Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe.
Let’s not forget, though, that Beckett did pitch very well, save a fastball left up to Travis Hafner.
Meanwhile, maybe Sabathia isn’t an ace. It wasn’t his finest outing.
Labels: Indians-Red Sox
NLDS: Huge Mountain to Climb
Truth be told, Thursday night's NLCS opener could not have gone much worse for Arizona. While it was only one game in a seven-game series, the 5-1 defeat did far more than just take away the Diamondbacks' home-field advantage; it instantly erased all the momentum Arizona gained during an impressive first-round sweep of Chicago.
Entering this series, it was obvious the Diamondbacks' fate was tied to Brandon Webb's right arm. And when manager Bob Melvin decided to employ a four-man rotation throughout the entire series -- meaning Webb would only make two starts -- Game 1 took on epic importance. Arizona needed a dominant effort from last year's Cy Young winner. But the Rockies proved to be Webb's kryptonite once again, scoring four runs on seven hits. (Granted, these hits were all singles, and most of them bloopers, but they got the job done.) Now the Diamondbacks face the unenviable task of winning four of the next six games while only pitching their ace once. And considering Webb's '07 line against the Rockies (7 GS, 1-3, 5.80 ERA), even that one remaining Webb start looks a bit grim.
While Webb's struggles against Colorado persisted, Jeff Francis continued his dominance of Arizona. Scattering seven hits and one run over 6 2/3 innings, the SI cover boy improved his career mark to 8-2 against Arizona (and 5-0 at Chase Field). Francis didn't overpower the Diamondbacks, but after a shaky first inning, he got every big out. During its sweep of the Cubs, Arizona flourished in clutch-hitting situations. That wasn't the case on Thursday night. Stephen Drew, who starred in the division series, hitting .500 with two home runs, had two big opportunities to get Arizona back in the game and fell short on both occasions. In the bottom of the fifth, Arizona mounted a two-out rally and put runners on first and second base, but Drew ended the inning by swinging through a hittable fastball for a strikeout. Then in the controversial seventh inning—in which Justin Upton was called for interference, giving Colorado a much-needed double play—Drew came to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs. The second-year shortstop failed to capitalize once again, flying out to right field on reliever Jeremy Affeldt's first offering.
This Diamondbacks have overachieved all season long, making a magical run to the NLCS, but they stumbled mightily Thursday night. Now it's up to Game 2 starter Doug Davis to get Cinderella back on her feet.
ALCS: Six Appeal
If only postseason pitching factored into the Cy Young race, tonight's ALCS Game 1 would be a one-game playoff of sorts. We know how exciting Rockies-Padres was last week, so we can only hope for the same with Josh Beckett vs. C.C. Sabathia in tonight’s opener.
With Red Sox manager Terry Francona juggling his rotation—switching Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka in Games 2 and 3 – we have a unique situation in which there is no pitching favorite in any game of this series (in this writer’s opinion, anyway). Beckett, whom I think will edge out Sabathia for the Cy Young, has the cachet of a 20-win season (he went 20-7), a 3.27 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 200.2 innings while cutting down his homers allowed from 36 last season to 17. Sabathia, meanwhile, was 19-7, with a 3.21 ERA and 209 Ks in 241 innings, and he finished third in Cleveland’s first RBI Baseball tournament.
In Game 2 we have Cleveland's second ace, Fausto Carmona, extensively profiled in Fungoes all season including here and here, a Cy Young contender too, pitching against Schilling, who has quite literally lost (a few miles per hour on) his fastball but is also the winningest pitcher in postseason history. And Schilling showed he can still turn it on in his seven-inning, no-run gem in the decisive game of the ALDS against the Angels.
In Game 3 we have two highly inconsistent pitchers in Jake Westbrook and Dice-K. At times, both have looked spectacular; at others they’ve been horrible.
In Game 4 it’s Tim Wakefield, who’s likely baseball’s best No. 4 starter – when he’s healthy. But his back and shoulder have been ailing, so much that he was left off the ALDS roster altogether. Paul Byrd is at the mercy of batted balls, never a great thing in October. The standard in “pitching to contact,” the Indians righty struck out just 88 batters in 192.1 innings.
The bullpens, overall, are pretty equal too. The Indians have a better 7-8 inning punch with the Rafaels, Perez and Betancourt, while the Sox have the comparable Hideki Okajima but lack that other great setup man (nice try, Eric Gagne). The Sox do have Mike Timlin and Manny Delcarmen who have pitched well of late.
Making up for those deficiencies is Boston’s HUGE advantage at the back of the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon just won the DHL Delivery Man of the Year award. Joe Borowski, admittedly led the American League in saves, but did so with an historically bad 5.07 ERA. If at any point David Ortiz bats against Borowski in the ninth inning, will the umpires bother with the formality of making JoeBo pitch, or will they just tally the runs on the scoreboard?
With such comparable staffs, the series should come down to the lineups, where Boston had the better offense in the regular season (867 runs, to Cleveland’s 811). The Sox kept it up in the ALDS, with the joint hot spell from both Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
Boston takes this one in six.
Labels: Indians-Red Sox
LCS Staff Picks
Tom VerducciRockies over D'backs in 5
The Diamondbacks seem unbeatable when Brandon Webb is on the mound: 11-3 since way back in July, including the only time somebody beat Colorado in the last eon. But Arizona BETTER not lose when Webb is on the mound, especially at home in Game 1. The Rockies could inflict a huge blow if they beat the Arizona ace. The rest of the D-Back rotation is spotty. The Rockies are just too balanced offensively, too good defensively and too darn hot in general to pick against.
Red Sox over Indians in 6
The best team over the 162-game season is playing at a peak level. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are healthy and hot. Enough said. But also, Josh Beckett has a confidence about him (and the top-shelf stuff) that cannot be dismissed, and Curt Schilling, who's always bloody good in October, gets two starts at Fenway if the Sox need them; he's 27-8 as a starter with Boston at home. The Indians won't go quietly, not like the Angels did. This team has a toughness about it. Expect close games, but I expect they'll fall the Red Sox's way.
Jon HeymanDiamondbacks over Rockies in 7
The Rockies are red-hot, but I wouldn't dare abandon my team now (I picked Arizona on Opening Day). Besides, they are pretty darned good at winning the close ones.
Indians over Red Sox in 7
Finally, I am a believer. Their one-two punch (Sabathia and Carmona) beats Boston's (Manny and Papi).
John DonovanRockies over D'backs in 6
As much fun as it is trying to figure out the Diamondbacks -- decent power, good attitude, really good bullpen -- the NLCS all comes down to sinkerballer Brandon Webb. Without him acing the Rocks two (maybe three) times, the D'backs are little more than Colorado with a shabbier defense and a much lamer lineup. Can Webb do it alone? No, he can't, and I simply don't have enough faith in the rest of the rotation to pick up his slack. It's been fun, Arizona. (Click here for Donovan's position-by-position analysis of the NLCS.)
Indians over Red Sox in 7
Like everyone else, I love the Indians' C.C. Sabathia-Fausto Carmona hammer, used beautifully in their win over the Yanks. Boston's Josh Beckett is a much more formidable ace than the Yanks had, though, and if Curt Schilling pitches like he did last time out, the Sox's 1-2 is every bit the equal of Cleveland's. This points to at least a couple of games being decided by the bullpen, and I still wonder about Boston's. I have no qualms about Cleveland's.
Jacob LuftRockies over D'backs in 7
There isn't much letup in the Rockies' lineup. D'backs starter Livan Hernandez worked in and out of trouble against the Cubs, but he won't be able to get away this time. Both teams have solid bullpens but Colorado's is a touch nastier.
Indians over Red Sox in 6
Both teams are stacked. This is the de facto World Series right here. I like the Indians because they are young, talented and hungry. They didn't throw away any at-bats against the Yankees. Everybody in the lineup stuck with the scouting report and made the pitchers work. When you get everybody on the same page like that, you're dangerous. (Click here for Luft's position-by-position analysis of the ALCS.)
Albert ChenIndians over Red Sox in 7
Cleveland's big bats make up for its shaky defense, but the series will be won by C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona and the two Rafaels (Betancourt and Perez) out of the 'pen.
D-Backs over Rockies in 7
Arizona hitters need to be more patient at the plate and Brandon Webb probably needs to win at least two starts in the series. But I believe in the Baby 'Backs and Arizona's outstanding bullpen.
Gennaro FiliceRockies over D'backs in 6
Arizona has an edge in the pitching department, but it's not a huge one. On the other hand, Colorado is far superior offensively and boasts the best defense in baseball. D-backs faithful can't be too happy with Bob Melvin's decision to go with a four-man rotation.
Red Sox over Indians in 7
It's impossible to ignore Josh Beckett's career stats in the postseason (1.74 ERA with three shutouts in six starts). Boston's ace will add at least two more wins to that resume in this series. Still waiting on that Joe Borowski postseason meltdown ...
Jon WeismanRockies over Diamondbacks in 6
These two teams are evenly matched -- that they finished a half-game apart in the NL West is no accident -- yet if the quick-and-dirty Division Series are a trend, one could emerge as clearly superior. Hard to know which one it will be. The Rockies have a strong offense, lovely defense and underrated pitching staff, but they don't have a starting pitcher the caliber of Brandon Webb -- nor do they have a pitching/hitting threat like Micah Owings. Luck could be as big a factor as anything in this matchup. I'll gamble that the Rockies can get to Webb in one of his starts and swing the advantage their way, but the main thing here is for people to realize this series could be a lot of fun to watch.
Red Sox over Indians in 7
What great starting pitching we should see, led by C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona for Cleveland and Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling for Boston. Although the Red Sox appear to have an advantage at closer, the Indians' middle relief shouldn't be dismissed. And shoot, it's sure hard to complain about either of these teams' offenses. I'm a little more confident in the rest of the Red Sox starting rotation than I am in Cleveland's, and with a potential seventh game in Boston, I'm going to swallow my hunch that this is Cleveland's year and tilt this one toward the Sox.
Ben ReiterRockies over D'backs in 6
So I managed the A-Rod October special on my first round picks: 0 for 4. So what? Like anybody batted 1.000? (Well, Jon Weisman did. Weisman, get on the Vegas Express. Pronto). In any event, I was in Philly for the first two games of the Rockies' demolition of the Phillies, and I'm not betting against them. I think Brandon Webb could win a couple, but I don't see Doug Davis (and his hideous 1.59 WHIP) or Livan Hernandez holding down Colorado's offense -– although the latter did post a 1.93 ERA at Coors Field this year and, being Cuban, appears to know something about humidors.
Indians over Red Sox in 7
I've been picking against the Sox all year. During spring training I picked them to miss the playoffs (whoops). Then I picked them to Angels in the ALDS (yikes). So I want to reverse the curse, as it were – but then I see that C.C. and Fausto yielded a single earned run to the Sox in 15 innings this season, and that they'll be on the hill a combined four times in this series. If that doesn't stop the Sox, then the mutant insects that Cleveland's groundskeepers have been breeding to feast on the neck of Jonathan Papelbon certainly will.
Alex BelthRed Sox over Indians in 6
These are clearly the two best teams in the league, probably the majors. The Indians have their two best pitchers, C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, lined up to pitch 4 of the 7 games. It would make sense to use Sabathia three times, but who knows if that is going to happen considering that Eric Wedge was intent on using Paul Byrd in Game 4 of the ALDS? Byrd and the Indians escaped disaster against the Yankees. Don't count on that happening again. And book Joe Borowski delivering at least one horrible outing for the Indians. It should be a good series, but the Sox have the better fielding and hitting.
Diamondbacks over Rockies in 5
Yeah, the Rockies are the hottest team at the moment. Why wouldn't they continue to roll against the Diamondbacks who, on paper, are overmatched once again? Because Arizona has simply found a way to win in spite of it's flaws. Plus, they've got Brandon Webb. He'll notch two wins and the D-Backs will finally subdue the Rocks.
Cliff CorcoranRed Sox over Indians in 5
The Red Sox stomped the Angels in the ALDS by a combined score of 19-4. Among the players who had health and/or fatigue issues entering the postseason, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon combined for 3 2/3 scoreless innings, Kevin Youkilis slugged .583, and Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz hit .375/.615/1.125 and .714/.846/1.571, respectively. Sure, Daisuke Matsuzaka continued to struggle, and Tim Wakefield, who will be Boston's No. 4 starter in the ALCS, sat out first round with back trouble, but the Indians pitchers they'll face, Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd (who's ERA this year was more than two runs higher at Jacobs Field, where he'll start Game 4, than on the road) are no more reliable. With Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling rolling, their big guns healthy in the 'pen and at the plate, the Sox should be able to compensate for the weak back end of their rotation.
Rockies over D'backs in 6
These teams are both making thrilling and improbable runs on the strength of young talent that's maturing at the right time. They're also division rivals who have already faced each other 18 times this season (with the Rockies holding a slight 10-8 advantage). The only game the Rockies have lost since Sept. 15 was a matchup of Brandon Webb and Jeff Francis on the final Friday of the regular season, but that was Webb's only victory against Colorado in six starts as he posted a 5.77 ERA against the Rockies in the regular season. Webb's struggles against Colorado tip the balance for me. Much as I liked Arizona's pitching matchups in the Cubs series, I dislike them here, particularly with Micah Owings, whom I believe is the D'backs second-best starter, only getting the ball once (in Game 4) while Ubaldo Jimenez moves up to Game 2 for Colorado, which sets him up to pitch the clincher in Game 6.
NLCS: Top five storylines
Featuring a pair of small-market franchises with minimal team history, the NLCS is definitely playing second fiddle to its American League counterpart when it comes to national interest. But it would be foolish for any baseball fan to overlook this matchup of NL West counterparts. Here are five key storylines to watch in the battle for NL supremacy:
1. Youth is served. The biggest back story of this LCS is the young, homegrown talent on each ballclub. The Diamondbacks start three rookies (CF Chris Young, RF Justin Upton and 3B Mark Reynolds) and boast four other regulars (SS Stephen Drew, 1B Conor Jackson, C Chris Snyder, OF Jeff Salazar) who have yet to turn 27. Arizona's Game 4 starter -- rookie Micah Owings -- just earned the full car-rental privileges of a 25-year-old a few weeks back. Colorado counters with a rookie shortstop (22-year-old Troy Tulowitzki), two rookie starting pitchers (21-year-old Franklin Morales and 23-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez) and a 24-year-old closer (Manny Corpas). You may as well get familiar with these two squads now, because with this many talented young'ins, neither team seems like a flash-in-the-pan winner.
2. A tangled Webb. According to most national prognosticators, this series will ultimately be decided by D-backs ace Brandon Webb, and that's not necessarily a good thing for Arizona. Yes, Webb handed the Rockies the only loss in their past 18 games, but in his five other starts against Colorado this season, Webb went 0-3 with a 6.47 ERA. Even if Webb is his dominant self, his contribution will be limited to two games. Arizona manager Bob Melvin has decided to use a four-man rotation, eliminating the possibility of a third start in the series for last year's Cy Young winner.
3. Fast Willy's return. The Rockies have been on a well-documented tear for the last month, and they've done so without the services of a key cog: leadoff hitter Willy Taveras, who has been battling a strained quad. Colorado activated Taveras for the NLCS. During the regular season, the speedy center fielder provided solid defense and hit .320 with a team-leading 33 steals. Taveras' return to the top of the order will most likely push Kaz Matsui to second and Tulowitzki down to No. 7. Have fun with that lineup, D-backs pitchers.
4. Melvin's magic touch. Forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but Melvin has simply pushed all the right buttons this season. No manager in all of baseball had a bigger influence on his team this season. The D-backs skipper produced the National League's best record (90-72) with an inexperienced team. Funny to think that Melvin was Arizona's second choice behind Wally Backman.
5. Rock solid defense. Colorado's offense gets all the attention, but the team's defense is actually far more impressive. The Rockies set a major-league record for highest fielding percentage in a season (.98925). Air-tight defense like this is made for playoff baseball.
ALDS: Indians' 'pen the difference
In the 2001 ALDS, the Oakland A's quickly jumped ahead of the Yankees 2-0 on the strength of fine starting performances from their aces, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson. After the Yankees won Game 3 -- the Derek Jeter Flip game -- the A's decided to pitch Corey Lidle in Game 4 instead of Mulder. The Yankees pounded Lidle and then got to Mulder early in Game 5. By the time Hudson came in for relief, the damage had been done and the Yankees went on to win the series.
Eric Wedge was in a similar Game 4 predicament but he never wavered in going with Paul Byrd.
"I came to the press conference last night, and they asked me two questions." said Byrd when Game 4 was over. "The first one was, do you think he should have gone with C.C. [Sabathia], and the second one was, if they would have gone with C.C., how would you have felt. And I waited for question three, and there wasn't one, so I walked out of here feeling like a loser." Byrd laughed. "I told my wife, hey, I think I'm a pretty heavy underdog."
Byrd was far from brilliant -- allowing 2 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks over 5 innings -- but he kept the Yankees at bay and got the win.
"He controlled the game," said Wedge when it was over. "He was aggressive, he worked ahead. Defensively, we made a few big plays. But I just liked the way he composed himself. I liked his rhythm and tempo."
I questioned Wedge's move to go with Byrd before last night's game, but the Indians got exactly what they had hoped for. Wedge comes out smelling like a rose because now he's got his rotation set exactly as he wants it for the ALCS against the Red Sox. C.C. Sabathia will start Game 1 on Friday night in Boston, followed by Fausto Carmona. Sabathia could conceivably pitch three times in the series, though considering how Wedge mapped-out the first series, he'll likely only pitch twice.
Sabathia is 0-1 against the Red Sox this season, though he only allowed 1 run over 7 innings; Carmona is 1-0, throwing 8 scoreless innings. Overall, the Indians were 2-5 vs Boston.
Beyond the starters, however, it was Cleveland's bullpen -- led by Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt -- who were the key factor in beating the Yankees.
"They're very impressive," said Joe Torre after the game. "They have great balance out of that bullpen. They've got some young kids that are going to give the Red Sox some problems, because they can switch back and forth, and they're very aggressive, and they throw hard. And, again, they're not afraid to throw strikes."
Perez pitched gave up a run on three hits (1 walk and six strikeouts) over six innings. Betancourt, the best reliever on the team (and one of the very best in the league), only pitched a total of two innings, both scoreless. The bullpen's streak of 10 scoreless innings in the ALDS was snapped by Alex Rodriguez's solo home run off of Perez in the seventh last night.
Joe Torre is not the only face who may not be in pinstripes next spring. Roger Clemens is probably finished. Who knows if Andy Pettitte will return? Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera are free agents. And then there is Alex Rodriguez.
Things won't be the same in the Bronx without Torre.
After the game, I caught up with Steven Goldman from Baseball Prospectus and YES.com.
Q: Why was Joe Torre successful as a Yankee manager? Goldman: He was in a position, much like Casey Stengel before him, where this was bonus time. He was playing with the house's money. He had managed the Mets at the worst moment in their history and didn't get anywhere, managed the Braves and had some success but was ultimately let go in a way that was probably a little embittering. He had the long stint in broadcasting where it didn't seem like he'd ever come back. He then got one of the best jobs in baseball in St. Louis, but he had the double-handicap of following a legend in Whitey Herzog and picking up this great franchise at a moment where it was in transition and ownership wasn't too invested in making anything happen. The Yankees job really came out of left field, so in a lot of ways the pressure was off of him, outside of his own ambition. A lot of people would feel desperate in that situation, but I think that like Casey he was freed by it. The other thing is that he seems to have really paid attention to what happened in New York under George Steinbrenner, and seemed to understand that if he rose to Steinbrenner's bait in public he would lose, that he would diffuse rather than exacerbate the Boss's rages. No one before him really seemed to get that. And unlike a lot of George's other managers, he was likeable. No doubt in private he could be more of a hardass, but I think that time in media was really helpful to him. He was likeable, he won, and he didn't get into bar fights or take George on and so he really disarmed the old man. He became bigger than the Boss, and that maybe one underappreciated reason that Steinbrenner receded like he did – rumors of ill health aside, he had finally met his match. It's not a coincidence that he emerged the other day, when Torre was finally in a weak position.
Q: Why did he put up with so much crap from George? Goldman: For the reasons I outlined above. I think he liked the job, liked being Joe Torre of the New York Yankees, and he understood what he had to put up with to keep the job. I don't think he put up with crap as much as let it roll off of him.
Q: Where does his legacy stand in Yankee history? Goldman: Well, obviously he's up there. We can fault his tactical management all day long, and I have, but at the end of the day he came in and got the team focused on winning and never let George subvert that. Earlier today, I heard a radio host talking about how George was brilliantly motivating his team by threatening Torre this week. My question was, "When did that work?" I always go back to 1985, when he called Dave Winfield "Mr. May" and ripped half the team and they went on an eight- or nine-game losing streak. I also think we can overrate the tactical thing. He was better than many, worse than some, but I'm not sure who those "some" are. If there's a John McGraw-level strategist working today, who is it? Mike Scioscia? He hasn't won like Torre has won. As far as historical Yankees managers go, I'd probably take Casey and Joe McCarthy first. I have a hard time getting a bead on Miller Huggins, but I suspect Torre was more relatable. You'd certainly take him over Bucky Harris, Ralph Houk, Showalter, or Billy.
Q: Is it the right move to get a new man and move on? Goldman: Not if it's punitive, you know, for losing the series. You move on if there's a better man. I don't know that another manager would have gotten more out of this team than Torre did. I think they kind of screwed up the postseason rotation, but I think he had to have had help there. I also suspect that most other managers wouldn't have done what needed to be done, which was bypass Clemens and take a flier on Hughes. That takes a lot of guts, and if it doesn't work out you're more screwed with the public than if you made the conventional choice. Look, one of the things we always got on Joe for was sentimentality. There shouldn't be any. But there shouldn't be pointless hostility either. You do what will improve the team, period. If someone else is going to get the Yankees to another championship, fine, but you had better be sure.
ALDS: Angels-Red Sox Day 5
Every Little League had one. He was the 12-year-old kid that was just a little bigger than everyone else, and he hit a ton. Everyone would always joke about his birth certificate.
No one could get him out, and he'd post positively absurd numbers like -- just picking some numbers out of a hat -- a .714 batting average and an .846 on-base percentage. He'd slug 1.571 and be good for two home runs in a three-game series.
Oh wait, that wasn't some overgrown prepubescent kid terrorizing Williamsport, Pa. That was David Ortiz.
Ortiz and Manny Ramirez strode to home plate 26 times in Boston's three-game sweep of Los Angeles, and they proceeded to first base on 19 of those occasions. Though, again, it's worth noting how slowly Ramirez made that trek the two times he launched the baseball more than 450 feet. It just wasn't fair for the Angels.
Now in that same Little League, there'd be that one team who was much too undisciplined. All the guys would be up there hacking at everything, and they were talented enough as athletes, that it would sometimes work. But, man, when they struggled, it got ugly.
That, all-too-obviously, was the Angels in this series. Manny and Papi alone walked four more times (11) than all the Angels combined (7). Los Angeles batted .192, scored just four runs in two innings (and scoring off Eric Gagne is almost an obligation) and had just 25 total bases, matching the sum of just Boston's 3-4-5 hitters.
It was thorough domination.
In defense of the Angels, they never gave up. Well, until the wheels fell off in seven-run eighth inning in which exactly nothing went their way. But, really, the Angels left it all on field in Game 2. Josh Beckett, the next great postseason starter, was untouchable in Game 1 and Curt Schilling, the current standard in great postseason pitching, was brilliant in Game 3. That's right, the man who has the best winning percentage (9-2, .818) among all pitchers with 10 playoff decisions, pitched Game 3 of this series. Game 3!
Even with Dice-K's mediocre effort in Game 2, the Sox starters sported a cool 0.53 ERA in the series.
This Red Sox team is built to go even deeper in the postseason. Beyond those three starters, they have Tim Wakefield, who's arguably the best No. 4 starter in the majors. Their bullpen, which was largely conserved this series, has great eighth- and ninth-inning relievers in Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon, and "good enough" guys to get there, with Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez and Mike Timlin available.
The offense has the aforementioned big Dominican boppers in Manny and Papi, solid protection for them in Mike Lowell and hitters like J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis that can score runs anywhere in the lineup. Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo add long-lacking speed, and Jacoby Ellsbury is the perfect pinch runner/defensive replacement candidate.
Now the Sox have until Friday night to unwind at home and prepare for the winner of Yankees-Indians. In 2004, the Sox secretly craved the Yankees to end talk of all that curse nonsense. This year? Let's listen to Boston CEO Larry Lucchino:
"I really don't care one whit who it is, as long as we're there. That surprises me a little because in the past I've always felt you had to go through Yankee Stadium to validate your quest. I don't feel that way this year.
"Maybe it's a function of us being tested the way we've been the last few years -- we've had a lot of intense experiences with them -- but the train doesn't have to drive through the Bronx in order for us to get to the promised land."
Translation: Let's go, Tribe!
Labels: Angels-Red Sox
ALDS: Wedge hedges his bets
Last night, after the Yankees won Game 3 of the ALDS, Paul Byrd was the final player brought into the interview room to speak with the assembled media. Only the vast majority of the press left the room to work on their stories, leaving just one reporter to ask questions to the genial Byrd (who bares an almost uncanny resemblance to Kelsey Grammer), tonight's Game 4 starter for Cleveland.
Byrd was asked if he felt like he had anything to prove after being asked to start in place of C.C. Sabathia, one of the Indians' two "big guns."
Byrd smiled and said, "I'm kind of like a little gun." But there was no edge to his voice, and he quickly added that he was kidding. "I think Wedgie went with some matchups." Byrd said he would have been fine if Sabathia had gotten the call.
Still, he continued, "I'm excited that he gave me the ball. I've got a little extra rest. I feel good, arm feels good. I'm looking forward [to it]. Great fans here. Just overall great place to play."
Are the Indians making the correct move here? Sabathia has not pitched on three days rest all season. He's made 27 starts on 4 days rest (2.97 ERA), just three starts on five days of rest (4.05), and only four starts on six or more days of rest (4.33). Even though Sabathia threw a lot of pitches last Thursday in Game 1 and has only started on three days rest once in his career, wouldn't he give the Tribe a better chance than a veteran control pitcher like Byrd, who is facing a Yankee offense that is finally feeling confident?
After all, Fausto Carmona would be available to pitch on normal rest if the series moved back to Cleveland on Wednesday. Byrd actually pitched better this season the more rest he had, ending the season with 15 wins. But his ERA (4.59) was higher than league average (4.42), and while they would never admit to it publicly, you'd have to imagine that the Yankees would rather take their chances against Byrd than Sabathia.
For Wedge, there was never a question about who to pitch tonight. "We're going to move forward just as we had planned," he told reporters. "We knew we were going to need four starters if it went that far here in the series. And that's where we are at."
Bud Shaw thinks that in refusing to panic, Wedge is making the correct call.
Wedge was accused over over-managing in Game 1 by not only using Rafael Perez for two innings (a move that did not have a negative impact Perez's effectiveness in Game Two), and, even more to the point, pitching Rafael Betancourt in a blowout. Now though, Wedge has opened himself up to criticism by not going for the jugular.
If Byrd and the Indians win tonight, Wedge will come out smelling like a rose, of course, with Sabathia and Carmona lined up perfectly to face the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. If they lose, the Yankees will be alive with a chance to knock the Indians out, and Wedge will be feeling the heat.
Before the game last night, Joe Torre said that everyone, with the lone exception of Andy Pettitte, was available to pitch. You'd have to imagine the same holds true for tonight. Chien-Ming Wang will start for New York, not Mike Mussina.
"He's a 19-game winner," said Torre, "he's pitched well at the Stadium, and we relied on him so much. Taking nothing away from Moose. Moose hasn't pitched in a while. Certainly I made him aware before the game that we'll decide later who is going to pitch. And he was comfortable with that. I just told him afterwards that it was going to be Wanger and said, fine. So he'll be the one backing up [Wang], as Hughes was today."
Wang made 16 starts at Yankee Stadium this season, going 10-4 with a 2.75 ERA in 111 innings.
Joba Chamberlain, who pitched two innings on Sunday, will be available as well.
Mussina defending Torre to reporters. "We know expectations are high," he said prior to Game 3. "The frustration is out there and there is frustration in here too within our own players, within our own clubhouse. We've had a bulls eye on our back since I got here seven years ago. That's just part of playing with this team. It doesn't change anything."
Was this the last we'll see of Roger Clemens? You would have to think so. Look for Ian Kennedy to replace him on the roster should the Yankees make it to the next round.
There is a feeling that this might finally be the end of the Yankee dynasty. Clemens is a sure-goner, and if New York doesn't win this series, George Steinbrenner has made it clear that Joe Torre will not be asked to return. If Torre is gone, how will that affect the futures of Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, both free agents? Posada, in particular, may consider leaving the Bronx if Torre does not come back.
As the Yankees' young players (Chamberlain, Hughes, Cano, Cabrera) continue to develop, aging veterans like Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and, in particular, Jason Giambi, continue to fade (Giambi is owed a boat-load of money next year, but I wonder if the Yankees won't eat a majority of that and cut ties with him anyway).
Another notable change for the worse at Yankee Stadium last night was the absence of longtime P.A. announcer, dubbed "the voice of God," by Reggie Jackson, Bob Sheppard. Sheppard has laryngitis and hasn't worked in weeks. His presence is most certainly missed.
NLDS: Destiny's Child?
Is Arizona, and not Colorado, the true "Team of Destiny" in this postseason?
It sure felt that way in Saturday evening's NLDS clincher. From the game's very first pitch -- which D-Backs leadoff man Chris Young smacked into the left-field bleachers -- the Diamondbacks appeared to have a charmed air about them. It was there when Eric Byrnes somehow beat out a routine double-play ball, allowing a run to score. It was there when Stephen Drew hit a homer onto Sheffield Avenue one pitch after being hit in the leg (umps didn't catch that one). And it was most definitely there every time Livan Hernandez killed a Cubs rally by inducing a double-play.
Arizona was invincible throughout the three-game series. Every time a pitcher got into a tight jam, he quickly got out of it. Every time a batter needed a big hit, he came through. During the opening round, Arizona players simply did everything that needed to be done to win. And this has been the story all season long.
In recent conversations with friends and colleagues, I've been presented with a common question: "How are the Diamondbacks winning like this?" This is an understandable query. Arizona has anything but a star-studded lineup. From an outsider's perspective, this team looks like a .500 team. But the D-backs just seem to possess that inexplicable "it" -- or what some would describe as unusual luck. During the regular season, Arizona was the first team to possess its league's best record (90-72) and worst batting average (.250) since the 1906 White Sox. This rag-tag group of underappreciated veterans and inexperienced, if highly promising, youngsters has that special something that can't be defeated, it would appear.
There’s only one problem with this theory. The ballclub Arizona will face in the NLCS -- Colorado -- has taken this whole Team of Destiny thing to a new level. The Rockies, who one of the greatest September runs in baseball history just to get into the playoffs, have won 17 of their last 18 games.
This sets up for an extremely interesting NLCS. Nobody in America could have predicted that these two NL West ballclubs would be the last teams standing in the NL. Colorado owns a slight edge (10-8) in the season series, but the D-backs possess home-field advantage.
Which one is the true Team of Destiny? That a question will come up more than a few times in the next four days.
NLDS: Rocktober, Baby
Of the 21 teams that have lost the first two games of a best-of-five series at home, only one ever came back to win the series -- the 2001 New York Yankees, who rallied to beat the Oakland A’s. Make that one out of 22 teams, as the 2007 Phillies joined that list last night by getting swept by the upstart Colorado Rockies.
Proving once and for all that the Coors Field humidor has changed the face of Colorado baseball, Phillies starter Jamie Moyer and Rockies rookie Ubaldo Jimenez were locked in a scoreless duel through four and a half innings last night. With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Rockies catcher and eighth-place hitter Yorvit Torrealba singled off Moyer and was bunted to second by Jimenez. That brought would-be series MVP Kazuo Matsui (there are no official MVPs in the Division Series) to the plate with two outs. Matsui lifted a flare to the left field gap, but left fielder Pat Burrell took a dreadful route to the ball, cutting in too sharply and reaching out and falling to his left as the ball skipped by him to the wall. Torrealba scored and Matsui had a triple. The ball might have dropped in front of Burrell even if he had taken a better route, and Moyer got Troy Tulowitzki to pop out to strand Matsui at third, but with the catcher Torrealba running, there’s a chance that Burrell could have kept the run from scoring, or even thrown Torreabla out at home had he kept the ball in front of him. Instead, the Rockies led 1-0 and needed just nine outs to win the series.
Jimenez had been spectacular up to that point, allowing just a first-inning single to Ryan Howard and a pair of walks, retiring 11 straight at one point, and facing the minimum after the Howard single, thanks to an inning-ending double play in the fifth. One of Jimenez’s weaknesses, however, is an occasional loss of control, and Jimenez’s string of 11 straight retired ended when he walked Carlos Ruiz in the fifth inning. In the top of the sixth, Jimenez started Moyer out 3-0 before pouring in strike one and watching Moyer top what would have been ball four to first base for the first out. Jimenez then walked Jimmy Rollins, who promptly stole second, then walked Chase Utley.
With Rollins’ successful steal of second, Torrealba had failed to throw out 33 of the last 35 men who had attempted to steal on him. Trailing 0-1 with a pair of excellent baserunners on first and second (Rollins had stolen 41 bases in 47 attempts on the season, Utley was nine for ten), Jimenez struggling to find the strike zone, and just one out in the inning, the double steal was in order in the hope of getting Rollins to third so that the game could be tied on a productive out from Burrell. If nothing else, Burrell, who drew 114 walks during the regular season, should have been looking to work the suddenly wild Jimenez into a favorable count and perhaps load the bases for Howard.
As Burrell strode to the plate, Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca visited the mound and Jeremy Affeldt and Ryan Speier began to get loose in the Rockies’ bullpen. Jimenez was officially on the ropes, the Phillies’ season had life.
Jimenez’s first pitch to Burrell, a fastball in on the hands, would have been ball one, but Burrell, perhaps trying too hard to compensate for his misplay in the previous half inning, swung and popped the pitch up to shallow left field. Two outs. Rollins still on second. Jimenez regrouped and got Howard to ground out to end the inning, and, though Shane Victorino would homer on a hanging slider to tie the game in the next inning, the Phillies never appeared as close to a victory as they did in the sixth inning, and the last eight men the Phillies sent to the plate were retired in order by the stellar Colorado bullpen.
The Rockies broke the tie in the eighth with three straight singles off lefty J.C. Romero. Righty pinch-hitter Jeff Baker delivered the decisive blow to score Garrett Atkins with the series-winning run.
Despite being a Rockies fan, Bugs and Cranks’ Mark Townsend also saw Game 3 as a missed opportunity for Philadelphia:
Baker’s heroics were undoubtedly aided by Charlie Manuel’s inexplicable decision to leave his lefty, J.C. Romero, in to pitch to him. There are few things I can tell you for sure about Jeff Baker as a hitter, one of those few things is that he hits 50 points higher against lefties for his career. I’m a firm believer that playing the percentages is overrated. However, that didn’t seem like a good time to challenge them.
The big story in Philadelphia this morning is the failure of the Phillies offense, which was the best in the National League during the regular season, but scored just eight runs in the three-game series and hit a collective .172/.274/.366. Five of the top stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s sports section this morning either reference or are entirely about the Phillies’ offensive failings, though Up in the Rockies’ Tom Stephenson points out that, "the Phillies offense didn’t go completely silent; they hit five homers in the three-game series. The only problem for them was that all five of the homers came with nobody on base, and they accounted for five of the eight runs the Phillies scored in the series."
Ruiz was Philadelphia best hitter in the series, going 3 for 9 with a double and a walk. Howard was the only other Phillie with three hits, but he had three more at-bats than Ruiz, drew no walks, and struck out seven times, going down looking against Manny Corpas in the ninth inning of each game. Ruiz’s double and Rollins’ triple, both of which came in the second inning of Game 2, were the only Philadelphia extra-base hits that came with men on base (in fact, the only other extra-base hits by the Phillies in the entire series were those five solo homers). Those two hits gave the Phillies their only lead of the series, which lasted all of one inning.
The flip side of that is the tremendous performance of the Rockies’ pitching staff, which had a 2.33 ERA and allowed just 16 hits while striking out 26 in 27 innings. While Matsui, who went 5 for 12 with a double, two triples, and a grand slam, was the individual star of the series, the Rockies pitchers are the reason their team will make its first-ever appearance in the National League Championship Series, where they’ll face another young, underrated, largely home-grown team from the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Beer Leaguer’s J. Weitzel is gracious in defeat, and Jonk at The Good Phight is already planning next year’s roster, but I’ll give the final word to Bad Altitude's Mark T.R. Donohue, who was at Coors Field last night, broom in hand, and suggests Gogol Bordello’s "Steart Wearing Purple" as the official theme song of Rocktober.
AL East blog (Monday)
NL West blog (Monday)
AL Central blog (Tuesday)
NL Central blog (Wednesday)
AL West blog (Thursday)
NL East blog (Thursday)
Wild Card (Friday)