Two managers managing, two deviations from the standard, and the mixed results.
Prior to Monday night's Game Four of the National League Championship Series, I noted the contrast between the two teams when it came to deviating from standard closer usage. Dodgers manager Joe Torre has shown a penchant for calling upon his closer in the eighth inning when the situation merits it, a tendency that dates back to the days of Mariano Rivera putting championship rings on his fingers, while Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has stuck to a strict ninth-inning usage plan this year. The two teams deviated from the script in Game Four, with results that may have turned the series decisively in the Phillies' favor.
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The Phils went up the escape hatch and sent LA down the rabbit hole, while the Red Sox shoved the Rays toward the wall.
I just want to remake the point that these League Championship Series have the potential to be the most interesting and entertaining post-season series we've seen in a long time. Even though one of the matchups is at 2-0 already, it's provided one close game, and another that gives us plenty to talk about.
The NLCS features two evenly-matched clubs, but how the managers line up their rotations could make all the difference.
The Phillies claimed their second NL East title in as many years by embarking on a 13-3 tear to end the season, once again storming past a shell-shocked Mets club. They made short work of the Brewers in the Division Series, and come into the Championship Series with arguably the most potent lineup of any of the four remaining teams along with the top starting pitcher in Cole Hamels.
A more evenly matched series than it may appear at first glance, and one whose outcome may be decided in the trenches.
Is this "the year" for the loyal legions of Cubs fans? Disappointment comes a little more frequently in Wrigleyville the last two decades. It used to be that just mentioning years like "1969" or "1984"—without providing a single detail—could cause a confidently well-perched fan in your nearest hoodie to tumble from his stool in despair. That's no longer the case, not when we get to muck through the messier details of what hurt worst lately, the humiliatingly quick exits in 1989, 1998, and 2007, or the more elaborately agonizing NLCS loss in 2003, or their more infamous losses involving black cats or Leo Durocher or Gatorade-soaked gloves or Steve Garvey. Whatever the self-reinforcing certainty in circulation in the city that this year will be different, the Cubs come into the postseason with a team that makes for a study in contrasts when it comes to its assets: a broad and deep collection of hitters to attack the other team's pitchers with, balanced against a stars-and-scrubs pitching staff that runs perhaps no more than six men deep before you start getting into trouble.
Joe Girardi has a new stable of young hurlers placed in his care, the Mariners switch over to "win now," and rumors and rumblings from around the game.
It is never easy replacing a legend, and make no mistake, that is what Joe Girardi is doing. Girardi is entering his first season as manager of the New York Yankees, taking over for Joe Torre. In winning four World Series in 12 seasons, Torre was beloved by everyone except George Steinbrenner and his sons for his calm demeanor and soothing manner, which brought a sense of an inner peace to the franchise that never sleeps. "Joe Torre for me was a father figure," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada reflected. "He's a great man and we're going to miss him dearly."
Time for the Bill James-style test now that the Joe Torre era is over in New York.
In 1984, looking to find a way to characterize managers beyond the then-meager statistical record, Bill James introduced the "manager in a box" questionnaire. Assuming one answers the questions accurately, James's list of questions remains a good way of making visible those aspects of a manager's background and habits that he may not carry on his sleeve, but nonetheless influence the way games in his charge play out.
Can the Indians take the Bombers, or will baseball's best offense rock on?
A repeat of a matchup which produced some thrilling postseason baseball back in 1997 and 1998, this Divisional Series matches the American League's two hottest teams since the All-Star break, two teams that didn't earn their postseason berths until putting together a finishing kick that separated them from the rest of the pack. For the Indians, this marks a return to glory, their first division title since 2001 after a run in which they'd made the playoffs six years out of seven. For the Yankees, though their nine-year run atop the AL East came to an end, this marks their 13th straight postseason appearance, a streak that predates Joe Torre.
Let it ride, and the Yankees will learn that things are about to get better.
The slow start has caused the New York media to party like it's 1989, generating stories about George Steinbrenner's displeasure, and feeding rumors of Joe Torre's imminent firing in favor of Don Mattingly or Larry Bowa. Despite having had one manager in 11-plus seasons, and only two in the last 16, there seems to be an assumption that Steinbrenner, clearly in his dotage, is still General Von Steingrabber of the 1980s, irrational and emotional, and prone to firing managers on the same schedule he gets his car taken in for a tuneup.