Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Playoffs Primer: Dodgers-Phillies; Cheesecake vs. Cheesesteaks, and Manny vs. McCarver

Here's a dozen randomly cherry-picked items you should be aware of about the National League championship series, which opens tomorrow night.

  1. Manny Ramírez has the Evil Gene, as evidenced by his insistence in acting like he's playing a game.

    Expect Fox Sports, which has the call for the NLCS, to turn this into a morality play on how "That One" can be poised to lead his team to the World Series after what he supposedly did to get banished from Boston.

    Tim McCarver seems to have made that pretty clear with his statement to a Philadelphia reporter, "Every sport, there have been people who have held organizations hostage, whether it be Terrell Owens or Randy Moss or Manny Ramírez."

    Someone, please, explain why he delicately overlooked Roger Clemens. Or Brett Favre.
  2. But it's the Dodgers who fear lefties.

    It's a small, small sample size, but the two teams the Dodgers pitchers fared the worst against during the regular season were the doomed Nye Mets and the Phillies, whose meanest hitters swing from the left side -- Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and the flyin' Hawaiian, Shane Victorino. The Cubs had no such beast, and worst of all, knew they had no such beast.

    L.A.'s only lefty starter is 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw. He is going to be nails some day, but he started the season in Jacksonville. Granted, if you could live in Jacksonville, Florida for any extended period, nothing should ever scare you, even the fairly potent Phils.
  3. OK, enough about the 84 wins.

    The Dodgers, counting the playoffs, are 20-8 since Sept. 1. The Phillies are 20-9. True, as a Jays fans it is teeth-gnashing times ten that over in the National League, a team can catch lightning in a bottle for one month and have a shot at the World Series. Baseball is supposed to measure a gift for dailiness, not reward the slackasses who were C students all year and somehow pulled an A out of their butts on the final pop quiz of the year.

    The Dodgers are analogous to the 2006 Edmonton Oilers -- a team that only had to make the playoffs. Once they arrived, they were dangerious. That might be fine in a hockey, but it's anathema to baseball, the sport of those with more discerning tastes.
  4. The Ex-Cub factor

    In 1987, the Cubs rotation included two second-year pitchers, Jamie Moyer and Greg Maddux, who posted respective 5.10 and 5.61 ERAs and lost 29 of their 47 decisions. Two decades, Moyer is still going strong, while Maddux is more or less delaying his first-ballot Hall of Fame induction.

    It's an old saw in baseball that the team with fewer former Cubbies will win. The Phillies have only two, Moyer and fellow older-than-dirtster Matt Stairs, the ex-Jay. Moyer, who will turn 46 years old a couple weeks after the World Series, apparently wants to pitch until he's 50.

    The Dodgers have three -- Maddux, Nomar Garciaparra and Juan Pierre. The ex-Cub factor was negated in the first round since L.A. played the current Cubs. Dodgers manager Joe Torre also buried the latter two on the bench.
  5. The other 2004 Red Sox hero who's on a big salary drive.

    Right-hander Derek Lowe could potentially starts games 1, 4 and 7 for the Dodgers, and he's a killer in the playoffs. For what it's worth, he's also beaten the Phillies the last two times he faced them.
  6. The pen is mightier

    Like the Rays, the Phillies' bullpen has been underappreciated, even though its 3.19 ERA was second-best in the majors. (Who was No. 1? Why, it was a certain fourth-place team in the AL East that used to employ Pat Gillick.)

    Brad Lidge, as you probably know, has not blown a save all season, which only means he's due to blow one soon. Or not.
  7. The ball always bounces for the team with the brighter manager.

    Speaking as an American League guy, real baseball includes having nine hitters in the lineup, not eight (unless the exception is named McGlovin). The NL has the pinch-hitting, double switches and the pitchers with their .111 batting averages who barely move fast enough to be described as running when they tap out yet another weak grounder to the second baseman. It's kind of like watching two Ivy League schools play football -- for an afternoon, it's kind of cute, but you wouldn't want to watch it for an entire season.

    That being said, having a bench and knowing how to use it is huge in the NL. Joe Torre, by almost all accounts, is always credited with having more on the ball than Phillies manager, Charlie Manuel. Torre's bench includes Garciaparra and Jeff Kent, who can no longer play an effective second base but could still be a factor as a hitter.

    It used to be fashionable to project anti-Yankees resentment toward Torre, but he's shown before that he can flat-out manage.
  8. The ball always bounces for the team with the better catcher.

    L.A.'s Russell Martin is the best his league has to offer, behind the plate and at bat. His counterpart, Carlos Ruiz, does a decent enough job behind the plate, but is such a terrible hitter that it essentially reduces the Phillies to a seven-man batting order (unless foul-ball machine Brett Myers is the starting pitcher).

    Martin is on a tear of late.
  9. The curse of Gillick?

    Phillies GM Pat Gillick gave a generation of Canadian ball fans the gift of enjoying two World Series titles in the '90s. There have been playoff teams in all three of his subsequent stops, but none has managed to win a pennant. Considering what happened to the 1996 Orioles and how the 2001 Seattle Mariners contrived to flame out after a record 116-win season, one has to wonder if someone has a Pat Gillick voodoo doll.
  10. Why the Phillies might win

    They have the big bats, even though none of Howard or Utley did a whole lot in the easy four-game win over the Brewers and Pat Burrell was stymied until the clinching game. They also scored fewer runs than they did in 2007, but no one seems to have noticed.

    The Phillies bullpen is also strong.

    Martin and Andre Ethier, he of the .507 BAbip (batting average on balls in play) since Sept. 1, might be due for a big-time evenout. Let's face it, the Dodgers were also a bit lucky against the Cubs, whose hitters did sweet FA to adjust to how they were pitched.
  11. Why the Dodgers are going to win

    They have the starting pitching-and-defence equation mastered to a greater extent than the Philadelphians. Their manager has been here before and last but not least, Manny Ramírez seems to be owning the moment.

    The Phillies' combo of power and good-enough pitching works over the Long Season. Beyond Game 1 starter Cole Hamels, though, they're largely a bunch of soft tossers, which is a deal-breaker in the playoffs, when games more often turn on one big inning.

    Howard was held in check by the Brewers and Chase Utley quite possibly is playing hurt, much like Robbie Alomar did during the Jays' 1992 run. Shorn of their two big boppers, the Phillies can be had.

    Notwithstanding that an 84-win team should not be in the playoffs to begin with, there is reason to like the Dodgers. Besides, after McCarver's remarks about Manny, he deseves another Deion Sanders treatment during the locker-room celebration.

    Prediction: L.A. in seven.
  12. Does either of these teams stand a chance in the World Series against the AL East winner?

    Only insofar as post-season baseball is pretty random. Consider this The 2008 NLCS: The Race To Avoid Being The Team Which Has Their Ass Handed To Them In The Fall Classic.
Elsewhere ...
  • Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava is interviewing for the top job with the Seattle Mariners.
  • Canada's own Rich Harden will be back with the Cubs next season.

1 comment:

Mikey said...

Does that mean that there was no 'real baseball' before 1973?

Next Sager and his AL loving cronies are going to start demanding that we lower the mound again to help the Jays generate more offense.

Dodgers in 7.