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.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Backe-ing to the Playoffs

  • Well, the Astros really did anything but that, and their win yesterday was no exception. It was just that when everyone – or at least I’m assuming nearly everyone – heard that Roger Clemens wouldn’t be making his scheduled start yesterday against the Rockies, suspicion immediately arose that the Astros were really just saving Clemens for Game One of the NLDS or for the one-game playoff that was still a possibility at the time against the Giants. On the surface, this immediate reaction seemed to make sense, but as soon as it was revealed that Clemens was in the training room attached to an IV, suspicions about his health turned into genuine concern for his well being.

    After the performance that the Astros received from Backe, it may have turned out to be the best thing for the Astros that Clemens was unable to perform yesterday. Now the ‘Stros will be able to start Clemens in either game one or game two of their matchup with the Braves.

  • Predictions – like I mentioned last week, I’m not going to put myself out on a limb and make any predictions about which team will emerge as their league’s champion or as the World Series winner. You could make a good claim for why each of the teams that’s in the playoffs will win the whole thing just as you could make a good case for why each team that’s left in the mix will likely fall by the wayside.

    Further complicating matters is that three of the last four World Series participants, including the last two champions, were Wild Card entries into the playoffs. The Angels (after defeating the NL Wild Card Giants) and the Marlins both won crowns after finishing in second place during the regular season. Some have suspected that this is the case because Wild Card winners are often peaking at the right time, while other teams (possibly this year’s Cardinals or Yankees) have essentially coasted through the schedule for most of the last few months. The thinking goes that the Wild Card teams are likely hot and have played in a bunch of meaningful late season games, while the runaway division winners have been resting their stars and giving experience to role players and rookies and that it’s hard to turn it back up to the pace that the Wild Card winners are playing at. It seems like a logical argument, and if there’s much merit to it, you’d have to make the Astros your National League favorite. They have the history of the last two National League World Series berths coming from the wild card berth, plus a 20 – 7 September record and an 18-game home winning streak backing them up as they enter the playoffs.

    Still though, I’m not saying that I think the Astros are going to win it, but I think they’ll make a run. I’d probably do better picking names out of a hat at this point. I also enjoyed ESPN’s Bill Simmons’ comment about his beloved Red Sox: “If the Red Sox can’t win it this year with Jesus playing centerfield, I’m going to have to give up all hope that they’ll ever win the World Series in my lifetime.” He was, of course, referring to Johnny Damon’s ragged appearance.

  • How were my preseason predictions? At the outset of the year, I picked the Red Sox, White Sox, and Angels to win their division and the A’s as my American League Wild Card. In the National League I took the Phillies, Astros, and Padres as division champs and the Marlins as the Wild Card. So, I ended up getting 3 of 8 of those teams right. Some of them were big misses.

    I didn’t see the Cardinals putting the season together that they did. I also clearly over-estimated the Phillies (and violated my since created rule of picking the Braves to win their division every year until they finally don’t). I was wrong about the Marlins and Padres, but both teams stayed in the race until the end. My misses with the White Sox and Yankees were decisions made with the heart and not with my head – I was hoping to see the White Sox in it and the Yankees not, but that’s just not something that happens very often. And since my projections were so brutal overall, I will take a second to pat myself on the back for picking the Devil Rays to finish in 4th place. This year is the first in their existence that they did not finish in the cellar. I don’t think a lot of people saw that coming – or that the Rays would be a legitimate playoff contender as late as June, like they were.

    Back in April I picked the Angels to win the World Series over the Marlins. At this point I could still get half of that right, but I’m not putting any money on it. I will be cheering for the Angels though – for those of you who care about such things. I’m very happy for the team, their new owner, Arte Moreno, and for Vladimir Guerrero. The bright spotlight and the big stage of the playoffs should help to acquaint fans with Guerrero, who is really one of the game’s biggest stars.

  • Speaking of never picking against the Braves, there was a story (on the cover no less) of the Atlanta Journal Constitutional yesterday about the new generation of Braves fans who have never experienced a losing season, or anything less than a division crown. This is something mind-boggling to think about. Yes, all the time we hear about how the Braves have been to the post-season every year it’s been played since 1991. For those of us who are adults, that sounds like a long time, but it may be hard to put perspective on it. As the article pointed out, if you think about it from a child’s perspective, that means there are little boys and girls who are now in 8th grade in Atlanta who know no other kind of Braves season other than ones that end in division crowns. You’d also have to think that most of the high schoolers in metro-Atlanta don’t remember the pre-1991 losing seasons, and it’s still likely a majority of college-age folks from Atlanta who only remember the Braves as winners. That’s a streak. It will be interesting to see what type of fans these folks grow up to be. They’ll sure be used to winning. It will be interesting to see how they handle it if the Braves ever fail to win the division title.

  • As you might have guessed, since I was reading the Atlanta newspaper this weekend, I was in Atlanta. I made the trip to the Dirty South for the Canes football game against Georgia Tech. While my trip (although it lasted only about twenty-four hours in total) deserves much more of a review than this, it was a great time and a good game. While the Hurricanes lost star left tackle Eric Winston (ranked by Scouts Inc going into the weekend as the #3 draft prospect in the entire nation – behind teammate Antrel Rolle and someone else), the Canes offense looked better than normal for much of the game and the Canes defense looked like its usual stout self.

    Canes fans were largely disappointed by the performance of redshirt freshman quarterback Kyle Wright. After enrolling at UM in the Spring of 2003, expectations for Wright were high. He entered college with the Gatorade High School America award – meaning that Wright was deemed a better high school player than Chris Leak and everyone else in the country that year. Thus, the expectations were enormously high for Wright at Miami. He entered with a better pedigree than Ken Dorsey or anyone else in recent memory, and when Brock Berlin continued to struggle, everyone clamored for Wright. Saturday’s game was Wright’s second where he saw live action, and as he did against Louisiana Tech, he struggled. I’m not sure what to make of it – it’s almost as if the line plays worse when Wright plays than when Berlin plays. I don’t think it’s that though – Wright must be giving the snap count away with some quirky movement before the snap or via a poor cadence or something similar. He seems to be on a pace for the highest percentage of sacks per dropback – and it isn’t because he’s taking too long to find an open receiver. He just doesn’t have enough time to even get back and survey the field.

    Hopefully in the next week and a half that the Canes have to prepare for Louisville, they’ll diagnose the issue with Wright and find a left tackle to fill the huge void left by Winston’s injury. Otherwise, and unless Berlin continues to play better, like he did on Saturday against Georgia Tech, it could be a long second half of the season.There was one interesting article in the Atlanta paper on Saturday, where they talked about the special teams issues for the game. The author of the article (sorry, can’t find a link) wrote – in jest, I think – that the Yellow Jackets should consider just taking a knee or going for it on fourth down instead of risking punting the ball to the Hurricanes or attempting a field goal. The author mentioned that not only has Miami returned two punts for touchdowns, blocked another for a TD, and blocked a field goal this year, but that much of Tech’s special teams players are relative newcomers – most notably their long snapper. While Tech didn’t simply take a knee at any point in the game, they did seem to be happy to settle for 25-yard punts out of bounds rather than risk the prospects of a punt being returned to the end zone.

    Overall it was a ho-hum 27-3 win. The offense looked decent overall and spectacular at times. The defense was a little bit better. Special teams for the Canes were also solid, but had few opportunities to be spectacular (Georgia Tech even knocked one of their two kick-offs out of bounds in order to eliminate the possibility of a return). The Canes next game, on October 14th against undefeated Louisville, might be the biggest test of the season to date.

  • As expected, the Cubs collapsed in September and will be watching the playoffs on television. It’s interesting that the Red Sox rise coincided with Nomar Garciaparra leaving their clubhouse and heading to the North Side of Chicago, where the Cubs collapse began when Nomar moved in. What will be even more interesting is to see what impact – negatively – that he had on two franchises – apparently – this year does on his free agent marketability. The latest rumor that I heard was that the Cubs would go after former Expos and current Red Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera this off-season. What a trip that would be for Cabrera – going from Baseball Siberia to the American and National League capitals for baseball reverence.


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