October 7, 2003
Playoff Health Report
League Championship Series
With the Cubs and Marlins, injuries are almost a non-factor. The one significant injury--the broken hand of Mike Lowell--was a non-issue for the Marlins in the Division Series due to the excellent play of rookie Miguel Cabrera as well as prodigal Marlin Jeff Conine, an acquisition that has certainly made Larry Beinfest look good. More of a concern is the fatigue and wear-and-tear from a month that, for both teams, has been nearly all "must-win."
Lowell's broken hand is healed enough to allow him to be spotted in occasionally, but manager Jack McKeon knows that Lowell is still better used at this point in the role of a dangerous bench bat than a spot starter. The pitchers are all healthy, but several--especially Dontrelle Willis--are extended and must be watched for signs of fatigue-induced ineffectiveness. I'm also keeping a close eye on Brad Penny: his velocity was off in his start, and he didn't look great in his relief appearance. Penny's conditioning and recovery are often in question, making his likely Game Two start at Wrigley pivotal. The Marlins will also challenge the Cubs' battery on the paths, but again, fatigue may play a role here. More than one scout has told me that both Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo appear to be about a step slower than they did mid-season. The Marlins have injury concerns, but no real injury problems.
Say what you will about Dusty Baker and his magic toothpick, but the man deserves credit for keeping his bench effective, and people like Moises Alou and the suddenly injury-prone Sammy Sosa in more games than one would expect. Baker also has some paranormal gut instrincts, figuring out the precise astrological conditions, tea leaf patterns, and voodoo doll pin locations necessary to get a pinch hit out of guys like Tom Goodwin.
Eric Karros may have a sore arm and Kyle Farnsworth has a swollen knee, but these are minor concerns. The only concern with any series-changing potential is the workload of the starters and Baker's tendency to allow them to go 130 pitches deep every outing. In Game Five, Baker was questioned for taking Kerry Wood out, but as Joe Sheehan correctly pointed out, the medhead move may have been to take out Wood an inning earlier when he crossed the 100 pitch mark.
Both Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano are deep into the dark woods of unknown workloads, but neither is giving much of a clue that they are any less the dominant pitchers they have been since the All-Star Break. The evidence goes against them in the long term, but so far, there have been no negative signs. Either Baker will need to develop some confidence in his pen or risk having rag-armed youth for the World Series and beyond... if they can get past a young Marlins staff with fewer miles on their arms, that is.
American League: Yankees vs. Red Sox
So much for that Derek Jeter prediction. I figured out where I went wrong--I thought that Jeter would a) be in range to dive for a ball, and b) that the Twins would hit some his way. The Bombers come out of their four game set exactly how they went into it: healthy, but old and slow.
Outside of Alfonso Soriano, the team has almost no speed. Hideki Matsui has tolerable range in left field, and could be a better choice for center than the zombie wearing Bernie Williams' uniform. (C'mon, you could hear his monotonous calls for "brains" on ESPN's mics, couldn't you?) Jason Giambi has apparently caught the aging disease afflicting the rest of the team, something of a baseball progeria. At less than 100%, this team should fail, but while the rest of the position players age poorly, Roger Clemens and David Wells have gone Dorian Grey--their monuments aging in left-center as they defy the ticks of The Boss's Audemars-Piguet.
Mariano Rivera must be used properly, but while that adds to the systemic fragility of the bullpen, Joe Torre has been dealing with that problem for the better part of a decade. They're old, they're slow, and they're bad defensively, but the Yankees are still somehow a team that no one wants to face. The Yankees can only hope that what they saw in June is not what they see in October--two dominant outings from the likes of Wood and Prior. Maybe the pink alien in "Yankee Super-Heroes" will come in to change the game.
There may be no glory in winning with a $100 million payroll, as Michael Lewis said last week on BPR, but I don't think anyone in Red Sox Nation cares as much about glory as they do about beating the Yankees. The Yankees were hoping the A's would pull things out with half their rotation on the shelf, while the Sox head into the ALCS with momentum, energy, and a wrath-of-God offense that Gary Huckabay so richly evoked in his ALDS preview.
Watching the brutal collision between Johnny Damon and Damian Jackson has me wondering why neither player could use the low-tech solution of calling for the ball, or why something more high-tech like headset communicators aren't being implemented (think how fast the game could move if we could eliminate mound conferences). The collision clearly knocked Damon out for perhaps as long as two minutes, much more than what Marcus Giles suffered in his run-in with Mark Prior. Damon's availability is in serious question, making Theo Epstein work hard as he readies his ALCS roster. Damon is likely to be available, but likely will miss at least the first two games in New York, giving the Sox a short bench. I'm also closely watching Jackson. I have absolutely no idea why the Sox sent him back out after clearly being concussed. Post-concussion syndrome is still a possibility for both players.
The Sox starters are also a bit strained. Pedro Martinez has gone deep in two starts while Derek Lowe was taxed as a reliever in two games as well as his start. Byung-Hyun Kim's shoulder continues to be a problem, but his middle finger and Grady Little's thumb will keep that from being a concern, but it may even come to Kim being left off the ALCS roster. The rest of the pen may be spotty, leaving Little to turn once again to Derek Lowe, something that doesn't play as well in a seven game series as it did in the A's series.