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 05, 2004

Playoff Predictions

I can’t resist. Here are my playoff predictions. After each round I’ll come back and adjust my picks – assuming of course that I’m off on a series or two. In the interest of time, I’ll be brief. In the order of when the series begin (teams with home-field advantage listed second)…

Dodgers vs. Cardinals – Cardinals in four games
The Cardinals lineup is just too deep and the Dodgers starting pitching is just too shaky. Paul DePodesta realized this during the summer, but an injury to Brad Penny and an inability to land Randy Johnson from the Diamondbacks prevented him from filling this gap.

Red Sox vs. Angels – Angels in five games
Most people are discounting the Angels because they know the Red Sox better. This can hardly be helped. It’s as if the Red Sox and Yankees are the only two teams in the baseball universe at times. The Angels have put things together of late and this may be the first time all year that the team is close to healthy.

In 2002 the world was introduced to Garrett Anderson and David Eckstein. They’re both still major parts of this team in 2004, but this year the world will be formally introduced to Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins.

Twins vs. Yankees – Twins in four games
Most everyone is saying that the Twins must win tonight’s first game, otherwise they have no hope of winning. Everyone’s getting on the Johan Santana train, as well they should. However, it seems that folks haven’t realized that Brad Radke, the Twins number two starter, has easily been the third best starter in the American League this year – if not the second best. Sure, there’s a drop-off between the Twins number one starter and their number two, but Radke may be having a better year this year than the Red Sox’s ace – Curt Schilling. Don’t be surprised if the Twins lose tonight and still come back to win this series.

Yes, it’s true that the Yankees have essentially owned the Twins in recent years – winning twenty of the last twenty-three ballgames between the two clubs, but that’s simply history. What’s in the past is in the past. We’ll all start to see that tonight.

Astros vs. Braves – Astros in four games
It’s hard not to compare the Astros to last year’s Marlins. For much of the season they were left for dead. Both teams fired their manager mid-way through the year. However, it’s probably fair to say that all around, the Astros are a better ballclub than the 2003 Marlins – or at least they’re more experienced and better known.

There’s veteran leadership from Biggio, Bagwell, and Clemens, young superstars in Oswalt, Berkman, and Beltran, an ace in the bullpen in Brad Lidge. This is a very good ballclub. Plus, they’re playing dominating baseball of late. They’ve been in pressure packed games everyday at the end of the season.

On the one hand, it’s fortunate for the Braves that they were not in that position. The Braves essentially were able to coast through the last two months of the season, as there never was a real threat to their stranglehold on the division lead. Now the question will be if they can turn it up a notch and play at the level the Astros have for the last month or two. I doubt they’ll be able to do it. These aren’t the Braves you remember folks. That’s Jaret Wright taking the hill to start game one of the LDS – not Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, or Tom Glavine.

(Side note: Depending on how these series turn out, you can almost count on a rant about how the 2-2-1 format of the best of five (let alone the 2-3-2 format of the last two rounds) series doesn’t really give either team a home field advantage and how the short series is conducive to letting the better team win. I think I’d even prefer if the playoffs were set up College World Series-style, with a double elimination tournament for the AL and NL to determine a champion, followed by a best-of –seven series between the two league champions. You could host it at a neutral site each year, with multiple games each day between the AL combatants and the NL combatants. Then when the league champions had been decided we could revert back to the traditional World Series format. It would never happen, but it’s fun (at least for me) to think about.)

NLCS: Astros over Cardinals in six games
Hosting games three, four, and five is a big advantage in this series – in my mind – for Houston. If they’re able to take one of the first two games from the Cardinals in St. Louis, they should be able to win two of three more back at home. Then they’ll just need another split in St. Louis to advance to their first World Series of all-time.

Much like with the Braves, the Cardinals have been on cruise control for some time – actually, they’ve been here for even longer than the Braves, as I think the Cards clinched the division title on April 15th. Sure, the Cards played at a high level for the entire season, but the Astros are just clicking on all cylinders right now, and as we’ve seen in the past few post-seasons, particularly with the Wild Card Marlins and Angels the past two years winning it all, it’s hard to pick against the hot team.

ALCS: Angels over Twins in seven games
Flip a coin here. I really don’t know. In my mind, the Angels, like the Astros are charmed. Going into last weekend, or for sure the weekend before, the Angels were on the outside looking in at this whole playoff party. Now that they’ve been invited to the dance, I’m not exactly sure how anyone’s going to get them to leave.

Sure, Santana and Radke have dominated for the Twins this year. Hackers like Guerrero simply don’t care. It’s see-ball, hit-ball for many of these Angels and that just may work. Plus, the Angels are getting strong outings of late from their starters and their bullpen is not only lights out but deep.

World Series: Angels over Astros in seven
Flip a coin here again. I’m just making a guess to make a guess. You could replace these two teams with any of the other six and I’d probably call it a seven game series at this point anyway. The American League has home field advantage again this year, so I suppose in a seven game set you have to give it to the AL (but I still think the 2-3-2 home formate is not favorable to the team with the first and last two home games – if anything the team with the middle three home games may have an edge).

Star who emerges: Chone Figgins – Anaheim Angels. He’s the perfect player for post-season television story lines. He’s not the best player on the field at any given time, but he’s a jack-of-all-trades and that sort of thing will go over well on FOX.

We’re likely to learn a lot more about Vladimir Guerrero and Johan Santana anyway. Figgins is more likely to pop into America’s consciousness this year like David Eckstein did two years ago.

Star who fails: Jeff Kent – Houston Astros. Personally, I have a hard time cheering for a baseball player who openly admits to not being a fan of the game. Sure, you’re probably not as big of a fan of the game as I am, but at least be respectful of the game, it’s records, and the stars that have come before you. They’ve all laid the path for you to make a pretty nice living for yourself. Granted, Kent isn’t the most likely goat of the playoffs, but I’m hoping that he is.


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