The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

NLCS Position Analysis

Well now I suppose I need something to back up my claims of the Marlins winning this thing in six games. Let’s do the traditional position-by-position rundown…

Catcher – Big Edge to the Marlins
Ivan Rodriguez was positively on fire in the NLDS against the Giants. Behind the plate and at bat he set the tone for the team. The Marlins will need Pudge’s hot bat to hold up through this series if the Fish expect to score many runs against the Cubs big bats.

The Cubs Damian Miller is probably a nice guy, but he’s also the Phil Jackson of major league catchers. Phil’s won a lot of NBA titles, but coincidentally he’s been surrounded by guys like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal when the magic happened. Damian Miller is much the same way. Not many of you probably had followed Miller’s inglorious career (lifetime OBA of .329) before he was on the receiving end of Randy Johnson’s fastball. Catching staffs that include Curt Schilling, Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior doesn’t hurt your image either.

Infield – Slight edge to the Marlins
The Marlins are solid defensively. Heck, they’ll even tell you that they might be the best defensive unit of all time and McKeon has gone on record as saying that all four guys are legit Gold Glovers this year. Florida will need to count on offense from the corner men – Derrick Lee at first and either Miguel Cabrera or Mike Lowell at third – in order to get some runs. A resurgence by Alex Gonzalez at the plate (remember how hot he was at the start of the year) would be a huge bonus, but I’m not counting on it. Luis Castillo, almost assuredly, can be counted on for solid defense and offense, although he will probably have fewer stolen bases than many of you expect.

Aramis Ramirez played well in the NLDS against the Braves (can the Pirates still really be called the Pirates after what they allowed to happen around the trade deadline? Shouldn’t they be renamed the Pirateds or something?). Eric Karros provides some leadership and surprisingly to me at least, power in the NLDS.

Outfield – Push
These two clubs have very different outfields – with the strengths of the Marlins being speed and defense and the Cubs being power. The Marlins are solid defensively - particularly with Jeff Conine’s solid play of late, but the Fish do not offer the same power that the Cubs do (not that many clubs do. Juan Pierre is probably the key to this series. When JP gets on base, good things happen for the Fish. When he doesn’t, it’s usually a long night. Juan Encarnacion could be someone who surprises in this series. Encarnacion (recipient of the famous 4-3-2-Juan cheer at home) has a powerful bat and a powerful arm, although he didn’t show much of either against the Giants.

The Cubs outfield is of course led by Sammy Sosa, who although he struggled in the NLDS is always a threat to change the course of a game with one swing. His presence in the batter’s box and ability to change the game is exceeded by Bonds. Moises Alou, who should have won the 1997 World Series MVP for the Marlins, is no slouch either and he brings with a track record of playoff success. Kenny Lofton, in centerfield, is also a solid ballplayer, although not quite the speed with some pop combination that he once was. Kenny has also played for nearly every team in the league it seems like now, so he’s a probably a good guy to ask if you’re looking for a restaurant review. I believe this is the fourth team that Kenny has made the playoffs with (Indians, Braves, and Giants previously). Lofton has to be the only athlete to play in the NCAA Final Four (Arizona) and with four different major league baseball franchises in the playoffs.

Starting Pitching – Slight Edge to the Cubs
Both teams will have question marks going into this series as the staffs are young and relatively untested, particularly in post-season play. The edge here goes to the Cubs as they have two legitimate aces in Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, while the Marlins have four aces in waiting. Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis, and Mark Redman are probably number two starters on most teams, at best, and some of them may be having career years this year. But, that’s what great post-season runs are made of.

Bullpens – Toss-up
One name for each club will give it’s fans heartburn and the opponents fans hope – Looper for the Fish and Alfonseca with the Cubs. Braden Looper was the Marlins closer all year and had an amazingly solid campaign. However, he faltered late in the year and it doesn’t appear that he has recovered. Maybe he was overused during the regular season, but the NLCS is no time to work out the kinks. Marlin fans are aware as anyone how “exciting” an Antonio Alfonseca inning can be. Sometimes you need to borrow Antonio’s six-fingered hand to tally the baserunners he surrenders.

A solid performance or a meltdown by either club’s bullpen could be the pivotal factor in this series.

Bench – Push
Neither bench really excites me – except that the Marlins will have a legit starter in Mike Lowell or Miguel Cabrera available off the bench each night.

Manager – Slight edge to the Cubs
Both managers are experienced, but Dusty Baker has more post-season experience than the Marlins’ Jack McKeon, as amazingly, in 50 years in baseball, Trader Jack has never experienced the post-season until this year. However, I think that speaks more to how difficult it was to make the postseason (i.e. straight to the World Series – one team per league) back in Jack’s day compared to today when eight teams per year make it. Weren’t there only eight teams in all of organized ball when Jack started?

Intangibles – Push
Cub fans will argue this to death I’m sure. The Curse of Billy Goat, no World Series wins since 1945. But the Marlins have Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera as key contributors. These guys were questionable to be key contributors for the Albuquerque Isotopes playoff run this year (both started the year in AA not AAA), let alone the big league club’s. And Jack McKeon seemingly has pushed all of the right buttons since coming aboard in May. This team is even picking up other team’s castoffs mid-year (Chad Fox) and turning them into studs.

The intangibles are only a push here because it seems to be so strong for both clubs.


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