The Baseball Report Volume IV Issue 13 - Playoff Preview
October 2, 2000
From The Editor,
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The issue covers the playoffs, so if you are here to read about the Montreal Expos or the Texas Rangers, you will have to wait until next issue.
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The National League Beat by Eric D. Larson
The battle lines for the 2000 National League playoffs are finally set. Still, it seems that the major contenders have yet to assert themselves. At the all-star break this year, a Mets-Braves Championship Series seemed to be the expected match-up. Now, in order to ensure this modern day rivalry is revisited, both teams will have to win on the road.
The Atlanta Braves will not head into the post-season with a great deal of momentum. They clinched the division in the first of a three-game series with the New York Mets, only to follow with two consecutive losses, leaving plenty of unresolved issues between these two teams. In addition, John Rocker and Chipper Jones combined to blow a two run lead in the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies in Sunday's final regular season game. A win would have granted Atlanta home-field advantage in the first series against St. Louis. For now, the Braves will have to defend their league title on the road.
The New York Mets find themselves matched against the team with the best record in the National League, the San Francisco Giants. Only a few months ago, Atlanta and New York were fighting for the Eastern division lead, as well as the best record in the Majors. Now, both teams stand as the statistical underdog in the first round of the post-season.
The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off a season-ending surge and a 4-3 record against the Braves in regular season play. The acquisition of Will Clark and the sensational play of Jim Edmonds and Fernando Vina have vaulted this St. Louis team to serious World Series contention. If they can continue their trend, perhaps they can steal the St. Louis headlines from their gridiron counterparts and de-throne Atlanta. To do so, they will have to beat a team quite accustomed to October games, even if they have to play most of them outside of Turner Field.
The San Francisco Giants were the first team to ensure a seat for October. They may be the most surprising of all four contenders. On paper, they look heavily favored against the Mets, besting them five games in eight chances this year. The last time they enjoyed an extended season was in 1998, in a one-game playoff with the Cubs. This year might produce a different outcome. They face Mike Hampton in the first game on Wednesday, whose career record against San Francisco is a staggering 9-0.
At least two of these teams have post-season stories to rewrite. The Mets would certainly like to avenge their heartbreaking dispatch in the Fall of 1999, fueled further by the off-season remarks of Atlanta closer, John Rocker. The Braves, too, would like to shake their image as World Series doormats, winning the big one only once in the midst of a record number of consecutive post-season appearances.
The Mets-Braves conflict has seemed more of a soap opera than an athletic contest. John Rocker's bashing of New Yorkers and the recent projectile-bottle incident at Shea Stadium has only served to add another confrontational dimension to the games. This seems to be the type of hysteria that Rocker feeds on.
"I've been waiting for this for two months," Rocker said after helping clinch the division last week. "I've got something to throw back, too."
Despite their own rivalries with each other, both teams have an interest in facing the Yankees in the World Series. The Braves want another shot at their inter-league nemesis, while the Mets are pushing to gain the coveted New York dominance in a subway series. Mets pitching may also want to see Roger Clemens step up to plate, after the Bronx pitcher hit Mike Piazza in the face during the regular season.
Despite the current match-ups, the Mets and Braves are primed to face each other. Expectations in the baseball community are high for another go-around, complete with pitch-by-pitch drama, extra inning heroics, and locker room banter, reminiscent of last year's NLCS.
Mike Piazza's response to the hype is simple and diplomatic. "The team that finds its form will win the league."
Rocker managed a more individualistic and combative approach. "I play whoever's our there. I don't mind pitching to them [Mets]." While this possible series brings a certain degree of anticipation and excitement to baseball fans, one must not forget the basic truth. If St. Louis and San Francisco continue their yearly trends, Atlanta and New York will have nothing more for their efforts than another disappointing winter to endure.
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The American League Side by Emily Liner
The American League has been full of surprises this season. The Chicago White Sox exploded and ended with the league's best record (95-67). The Texas Rangers fell to last place in the AL West after winning their division the past three of four years. Of course, the New York Yankees winning the AL East was not much of a surprise, but the closeness of the race between them, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Boston Red Sox was unexpected.
The White Sox have not won a division title since 1993. Led by skipper Jerry Manuel, they unpredictably took the AL Central title away from the Cleveland Indians. They had the majors' twenty-sixth lowest opening day payroll, $31,133,500.
The starting rotation for the Pale Hose will be announced later, but probable pitchers are Mike Sirotka, James Baldwin (May AL Pitcher of the Month), Jim Parque, and the returning Cal Eldred (June AL Pitcher of the Month). Keith Foulke anchors the bullpen. Offensive forces Magglio Ordoņez, Paul Konerko, Carlos Lee, and Frank Thomas, who is looking to win his third MVP Award, power the Sox. However, their shoddy defense (133 errors, well over the league average) will hurt them.
The Yankees clinched the AL East with a record of 87-74. They have not had that many losses since 1993. Joe Torre's Bronx Bombers will head into the playoffs looking to win the World Series a third straight time. They were able to overcome the struggles of David Cone and Chuck Knoblauch, the disabled list visits by Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Knoblauch, Shane Spencer, and the entire starting pitching staff, as well as Ramiro Mendoza's season-ending injuries. The mid-season pickups of Glenallen Hill (August AL Player of the Month), David Justice, Denny Neagle, Luis Sojo, Luis Polonia, Jose Viscaino, and Jose Canseco have helped the team.
Roger Clemens (July AL Pitcher of the Month), Andy Pettitte, and Orlando Hernandez will be the Yankees' first three starters in the playoffs. Mariano Rivera, the 1999 World Series MVP, will continue his closing duties. Roster regulars such as Jeter, Williams, Justice, Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius, and Jorge Posada will provide the runs.
The A's, managed by Art Howe, made a dramatic push at the end of the season to win the AL West with a 91-70 record. It was their first division title in eight years. They have three pitchers with at least fifteen wins, three players with at least one hundred RBIs, and three players with at least one hundred runs. Their first starter will be Gil Heredia, followed by Kevin Appier and twenty game winner Tim Hudson. Jason Isringhausen remains as the closer. Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, MVP contender Jason Giambi, and Rookie of the Year candidate Terrence Long will be in the lineup.
The Seattle Mariners' late slump cost them the AL West title, but they were able to hang on and win the wild card berth. Lou Pinella's team ended their first full season at Safeco Field with a 91-71 record. Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, Mike Cameron, and MVP candidate Alex Rodriguez bolster the offense. Closer Kazuhiro Sasaki is a Rookie of the Year candidate at thirty-two years old. Freddie Garcia will be the first starter. The rest of the rotation will be announced later.
The White Sox have the home field advantage against the Mariners. The first game will be aired on Tuesday, October 3, on ESPN at 4:07pm Eastern time. Wednesday's game will be on ESPN at 1:07pm Eastern time. The third game, on Friday, is to be announced, as well as the following two games, if they are necessary.
The Yankees do not have the home field advantage against the A's. The first game, on Tuesday, will be on NBC at 8:08pm Eastern time. FOX will broadcast Wednesday's game at 8:18pm Eastern time. Friday's game and the next two games, if necessary, are to be announced.
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Identifying the Species by Hollis T. Russell
The Voice From The Stands
Listen up, concentrate on the birdcall of Boston. There it is now, it is as plain as day. That must be the Boston Boo Bird sounding the seasonal refrain of "Wait 'til next year". The Fenway Faithful send this hopeful cry resounding across New England into the heartland of America every year. Some years, 1932 for instance when the beleaguered Bosox won 43 games, the hue and cry begins as early as June. Other years, when the hometown team has a superstar like Rocket Roger to lead them, the plaintiff call is quieted until the final out of the World Series as it was in 1986.
It may seem strange, in this new millennium to use 1932 as a reference point. The Red Sox though have not hung a World Series banner on Fenway Park since 1918, a season shortened by World War I.
The Boston Boo Bird will tell you that the Beantown Nine has won the World Series six times. That would be correct, although two of those Championships occurred while the team was called the Boston Pilgrims, in 1903 and 1904. To give them their due, they also won the World Series in 1912, 1915 and 1916.
Since 1918, with the passing of 82 seasons, "Wait 'til next year" has become as much a battle cry as an excuse. During the 1986 World Series, a television camera focused on a fan flashing a sign that simply said, "Every 62 years, just like clockwork". Unfortunately, once again, it wasn't meant to be. As the ball rolled between Bill Buckner's legs, one could sense the Red Sox Nation raising as one in frustration and screaming the familiar slogan once again.
Yes, there have been other chances, '46 and '67. Don't forget the drama of recently enshrined Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, when he willed his homer to stay fair in '75. The other American League pennants were in '88, '90 and '95. All for naught, the elusive championship ring seems destined for others.
But wait, Pedro will surely have another great year next year. Nomar is coming off another batting championship. Saberhagen and Valentin should be ready to go and it is impossible for Offerman to have 2 bad years in a row. Trot Nixon's injuries have healed and he will be ready to finish what he started in the spring of this year. With the playoff acquisition of Dante Bichette to go along with Carl Everett, the time has come for a loud and deeply resonant, "Wait 'til next year!"
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Playing The Short Hop by Michael Frankel
Some Quick Thoughts
How impressive is A's GM Billy Beane? He built a division winning team with less than $40 million. And Yankees GM Brian Cashman built a team that came thisclose to blowing the division...with over $100 million.
Speaking of the Yankees...so much for Andy Pettitte's outside shot at the CY Young Award. Not only did he miss out on winning twenty games, which alone should take him out of contention, but his own manager does not think he was the Yankees best pitcher this season. Joe Torre tabbed Roger Clemens the game one starter.
All I can do is laugh at the Cleveland Indians. They go out and overpay Chuck Finley with the sole purpose of beating the Yankees, and then they do not even make the playoffs. Reminds me of the Texas Rangers signing John Wetteland...though at least they made it to the Division Series.
All those pitcher deals made in July, and the traded pitcher with the best record after was Rolando Arrojo at 5-2...pitching for a team that did not make the playoffs.
Back to Texas...what happened to Johnny Oates? Didn't he say he would quit if any of his coaches were fired? Wasn't Dick Brosnan fired? So much for loyalty.
And speaking of being fired...you really have to feel for Terry Francona. Sure, he has yet to manage the Phillies to a winning season, and will not get the chance to do so, but, can you really say he had a chance? Sure he had Scott Rolen. Bobby Abreu has emerged. But what else? Schilling has been hurt. The bullpen has been awful, no matter whom it has been. And the rest of the team from Rico Brogna to Lenny Dykstra to Ron Gant has suffered injury after injury.
If you are Alex Rodriguez, do you really want to sign with the Dodgers? They only have Garry Sheffield, Shawn Green, and Kevin Brown...and still cannot win!
As the playoffs start, one cannot help but wonder...will the Mets ever beat the Braves? Will the Cardinals?
Can the Yankees beat the Mariners, and Edgar Martinez?
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