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October 12, 2004

Prospectus Matchups

Playoff Potpourri

by Jim Baker

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With so much great baseball, who can focus on any one topic?

  • Astros manager Phil Garner gambled his two best pitchers on three days' rest each and got away with it. But what if he had arranged some sort of pitchers' committee for Game Four and held Roger Clemens out for Game Five? Would the result have been the same? Probably.

    Now, having used both Clemens and Roy Oswalt in closing out the Braves, Garner faces the prospect of meeting the Cardinals with the back of his patched-up rotation. What if he does something radical in Game Two, like set up his bullpen to pitch the entire game? Would that be so incredibly outlandish? Yes, it would, but why not do it anyway? Everybody knows his starting corps is strung out and/or wasted. This wouldn't be a case of a manager getting edgy just for the sake of it (like Joe McCarthy's decision to start Denny Galehouse in the one-game American League tiebreaker of 1948), this would be done out of necessity.

  • It's about time for my semi-annual Free Jason Lane plea. Somebody give this guy a full-time job, please! He turns 28 in December and it sure would be nice if got the shot he very much deserves before he wakes up one morning in his early thirties with 500 career at bats and a 900 OPS.

  • Here's a plea for the Braves to return John Smoltz to the starting rotation in 2005. I was kind of hoping they might do it in time for Game Five, but that was a bit premature. I would have to say it's easier for Leo Mazzone to develop one closer than it is to piece together a starting rotation of five men.

    Speaking of closers, last week I speculated that Mazzone/Bobby Cox's use of Smoltz and Phil Garner's use of Brad Lidge as firemen, as opposed to closers, in Game Two might be the start of a revolution. Reader Andrew France rightfully pointed out: "Shouldn't 'So, has the revolution started?' read 'So, has the counter-revolution started?' This is merely a return to '70s-style closing, not a truly revolutionary concept."

    Very true, Andrew. Good point. The closer-by-rote has become so entrenched in the game and in our minds, it's light years past the original revolution, hence my neglect of the word "counter."

  • I wasn't rooting against the Braves in the Divisional Series, but, after hearing part of Game Two on the radio, I began to wonder how many more Atlanta games I could stomach. At one point, they played that fake-o, Hollywood cartoon Indian 10-note rally theme of theirs something like 25 times without break. I am not exaggerating. (OK, I may be getting the count wrong, but it is not for purposes of exaggeration.) That damn thing got old back before Jane Fonda got wrinkles on her wrinkles. Making the playoffs every year is nice, but have we, the baseball fans of the world, really deserved 14 years of that damn snippet? I think not. If only for not having to endure that bit of business anymore am I happy to see the Braves excised from the playoffs.

  • That "ploinking" sound you heard during the Divisional Series was Scott Boras' drool hitting the floor after every at-bat by his client, Carlos Beltran.

  • According to several unreliable sources, Yankee and Red Sox fans have reached a general agreement to refrain from "untoward language" and "socially unacceptable verbal posturing" during the upcoming American League Championship Series. Roving bands of self-appointed "Etiquette Security Watchdogs" will patrol the stands at both Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, issuing fines to those who curse excessively and create an "atmosphere of discord."

  • One thing about this year's League Championship Series: they involve the best representation of scoring teams since the advent of three-division play. The Red Sox and Yankees finished one-two in the American League in scoring while the Cardinals finished first in the National. The Astros came in sixth. If you add up the placements, you get nine, seven places ahead of the next-best season, 1995, with 16. Even taking the Rockies out of the standings doesn't get the other years anywhere near this particular gang of four. Here are how the LCS teams of this era rate in terms of combined league rank in scoring:

    • 2004: 9 - The first time in this era that the two highest finishers from each league make it
    • 1995: 16 - Reds, Indians, Mariners show well. Braves come in ninth
    • 1998: 18 - Yanks only number one team of era to go all the way. Braves come in third this time, Padres' eighth-place dooms showing
    • 2002: 18 - Giants and Cards finish two-three, but Twins' ninth-place dooms quartet
    • 1997: 20 - World Champion Marlins finish eighth
    • 2000: 21 - Worst best showing of era as both Cards and Ms finish fourth
    • 2003: 21 - Nice A.L. effort by Boston and New York undercut by eighth and ninth by Fish & Game.
    • 2001: 22 - D'backs, Yanks and Mariners are game, but Braves finish 13th
    • 1999: 23 - Mets and Braves were five-six. Yanks were third but Sox ninth!
    • 1996: 23 - World Champ Yanks finished ninth in league

  • With the Red Sox getting deeper into another postseason, can we get one thing straight about Bill Buckner? It is this: he had lost the 1986 World Series for that team long before he let the ball go through his legs in Game Six. In fact, they made it to the World Series in spite of Buckner. In the hard-fought American League Championship Series, Buckner came to the plate with men on base 16 times and got all of three hits. He batted with 27 runners on base and managed to score just three of them.

    Sound bad? The World Series was worse. He came to the plate with 29 men on base and put just one of them across the plate. (I didn't count a 30th because he was hit by a pitch before getting a chance to make an out.) What always seems to be forgotten about the infamous Game Six is that had Buckner come through in any of the following situations, there never would have been a tenth inning in which he would become infamous:

    • First inning: Runner on first, one out. Flew out to center
    • Second inning: First and second, two outs. Flew out to right
    • Fifth inning: Runner on first, one out. Flew out to right
    • Seventh inning: Runner on first, none out. Grounded out to second (runner did move up!)
    • Eighth inning: Bases loaded, two outs, score tied 3-3. Flew out to center

    A double on any of those occasions would have iced the game. A single in the second or eighth would have won the Series for the Sox. A walk at any time would have at least done something. Buckner came to the plate 62 times in that postseason and did not draw a single walk. (In fact, in his postseason career, he didn't draw a walk in 101 plate appearances. Is that a record of some sort?) So, in total, that's 56 men on and only four of them driven home. I have no idea if that's the worst performance in the history of October baseball, but it's got to be, doesn't it? Of course, he made up for it with his rangy defense in the field.

    The 1986 loss to the Mets had nothing to do with curses and fate and all that crap and everything to do with a manager enthralled by a vetchrin player with 102 RBI. Wade Boggs reached base 304 times that year (not counting homers). Just about anybody could have gotten 102 RBI with that kind of action as an entrée.

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