Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Nation On The Brink

Spent the weekend in Boston. Didn't catch any of the games in person, but the atmosphere around Fenway (and the whole town) was electric. We waited in line for four hours on Friday for tickets (behind people who had been there since 6 in the morning) and were about 30-50 spots in line away from getting to see the game; Saturday, we got in line at about 8am (for an afternoon game), saw how many people had camped out, and gave up. Watched most of the game at Copperfield's, just around the corner from Fenway. The crowd was pretty lifeless, as it was already 5-2 Yanks when we got there. The crowd woke up for Manny's homer, but that was it. Tough game all around.

Without going on any longer, I'll just say that it's a great atmosphere to be in, a town in the middle of a pennant race. Boston fans are especially diehard, but everywhere you looked you saw jerseys, t-shirts, caps. At least one out of every four people I saw was wearing Red Sox paraphenelia of some sort. One person who wasn't was notable Red Sox fan and author Stephen King, who we spotted in the theatre district after Saturday's game while we were looking for a place to eat. He was wearing a Harvard sweatshirt, in his defense. (One other thing only I would notice; we saw Mr. King leaving Subway with dinner, then he stopped at 7-11, where he bought a bottle of pop - he passed us as we were waiting outside a restaurant. I couldn't help but wonder why he didn't just get the combo from Subway. Did they not have his preferred drink there? Did he say no to the combo, then have a change of heart on his way to the convenience store? Hopefully he'll answer this if he ever writes another Red Sox book). And no, dear reader, I'm not a stalker fan. I've only read one of his books, aside from Faithful. Now had I seen Bill Simmons on the street, all bets would be off.

One final note: not getting to see the games live was the second biggest disappointment. The first was not being able to find the guys who sell the "Jeter Sucks ARod" shirts. I wasn't counting on the former, but I was on the latter.

That's the abridged version of my trip to Boston. Now on to playoff predictions, which I meant to have up yesterday before the games started. I haven't changed them, despite some of the results yesterday:

American League

Chicago White Sox vs Boston Red Sox
The White Sox have rebounded somewhat since their August-early September slide, which if nothing else showed how valuable Scott Podsednik is to this club. I'm not sure they can outhit the Red Sox (yes, I know they won Game 1 14-2, but I stand by this comment) over the series, so their starting pitching has to hold up, assuming Boston's is adequate (again, I saw Clement pitch yesterday).
The White Sox probably have the edge on paper, especially with a four-deep rotation and a more versatile offense, while the Red Sox have an up and down rotation, shaky bullpen (except Papelbon) and an offense that can bash, but do little else. But here's the thing about Boston; they seem to have absolute confidence that they'll come out on top, and nothing can shake it. I don't know why. Maybe it's the fact that they wiped out a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS, maybe it's the fact that Papi always delivers when they need a big hit (knock on wood), but they always seem to have the confidence that they'll pull through when they need to. They lost the division to the Yanks, but won the games they needed to squeeze in as the Wild Card. They remind me of the slacker genius we all knew in College, the one who would start an essay the night before it was due and get an A, or who would crack the textbook for the first time two days before the exam and pull out one of the best grades in the class. They seem to feel absolutely no pressure until they're backed into a corner, but they feel they can deliver no matter what.

So given that, I'm picking the Red Sox in five. They'll win the final 3 after dropping Games 1 and 2 to Chicago. One of the games at Fenway will go into extras, and Boston's season will surely be saved by a heroic performance by Papelbon (who will hold the fort for something like 3 1/3 innnings while the offense rallies), with Papi blooping a single to score Alex Cora in the 13th inning. Game 5 will be a Sox blowout, and Ozzie Guillen will be ejected in the 5th inning when his head explodes while arguing with an umpire.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs New York Yankees of the Bronx
Anaheim's offense is too suspect, with age (Finley) and injuries (Anderson, Vladdy, and Erstad have been hurt this year) slowing them down, while New York's offense has rounded into form. Both teams have solid rotations, and a powerful 1-2 combo in the bullpen (Shields-KRod and Gordon-Rivera), leaving middle relief as the potential Achilles heel for both teams. I hate to say this, but I like the look of the Yankees now that they're starting rotation has come together. Had Cleveland made the playoffs, I would have found them to be the most complete team in the AL field (and I would have picked them to win the World Series), but in their absence, I have to go with the Yanks.

New York wins in 4 to set up the rubber match in the Yanks-Sox playoff rivalry.

National League

St. Louis Cardinals vs San Diego Padres
St. Louis, despite missing All-Star 3B Scott Rolen, looks to be a better club than the one that won the NL last year, largely because their rotation is stronger with a healthy Chris Carpenter and the addition of Mark Mulder. The Padres have a nice young club, but are fodder here.

Cardinals sweep.

Atlanta Braves vs Houston Astros
Houston seems to be the popular pick, and I can't disagree. They have the solid foundation of a championship club with a sick three-headed monster at the front of the rotation (Clemens-Oswalt-Pettitte) and a lights out closer (Lidge). Throw in some solid D and timely hitting, and they have all the pieces necessary to make it the World Series.

Atlanta has a nice club, but outside of the Joneses, lacks experience in the batting order. Still, I'm amazed this club made the playoffs; either John Schuerholz is the best GM in the business, or he has some sort of Faustian agreement worked out whereby the Braves make the playoffs every year (ensuring his genius reputation), but never advance far.

I'm going with Houston in 4. Look for some clutch hits from Lance Berkman.

The League Championship Series

New York Yankees vs Boston Red Sox
I don't want to even touch this one, but all I'll say is that the 2005 Sox look much more like the 2003 version than the 2004 version (especially the pitching staff). Draw your own conclusions.

LCS MVP - Robinson Cano

St. Louis Cardinals vs Houston Astros
Both teams improved their pitching staffs over last year, while the hitting is questionable in Houston's case. I think the pitching of Houston overpowers St. Louis' bats, giving the Astros a win in 7 hard fought games.

LCS MVP - Andy Pettitte

World Series

New York Yankees vs Houston Astros
I can't pick the Yanks, I just can't. Houston will get just enough hitting to complement their strong pitching, and New York fans will look on in horror as ex-Yanks Clemens and Pettitte stifle their old teammates.

Astros in 6

World Series MVP - Lance Berkman

A few final baseball notes:

• The Tigers hired Jim Leyland as their manager, after John McGraw and Connie Mack respectfully declined the position. If the Tigers can match Leyland's age in wins, they should be in good shape, otherwise it will be more of the same mediocrity in the Motor City.
**EDIT** Apparently Jim Leyland is only 60 years old, which is news to me. I could have sworn he was about 87, or at the very least, as old as Jack McKeon. Crazy.

• Andruw Jones should be the NL MVP, no questions asked. And Papi gets my vote for the AL.

• I won my fantasy baseball league this year, giving me my first fantasy championship (they say the first is always the sweetest). I rallied from last place in early summer, went on a tear in the second half to finish in 5th, and eked out three playoff wins, including a semi-final win over Avi, the regular season leader. This more than makes up for the fact that my football team is off to a terrible start.


At 1:26 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Here are my own quick predictions. I would do longer ones, but I am scared by my own answers.

White Sox over Red Sox, 3-1
Yankees over Angels, 3-0

Cardinals over Padres, 3-0
Astros over Braves, 3-2

Yankees over White Sox, 4-2
Astros over Cardinals, 4-3

Yankees over Astros, 4-2

I hate myself.

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Julio Franco is officially listed as 47 years old. He is a Dominican, though, which means he is likely closer to 60 than he is to 50.


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