• Rickt: I am the biggest Cal Jr fan around but one of my good friends played minor l...

1. Finally a World Series that I actually want to watch

So it’s Rockies vs. Red Sox. It’s nice to have the first truly compelling World Series matchup in, well, in a long, long time. I mean, does it get any better? It’s the best squad money and human ingenuity can devise, versus God’s own team.

For so many years now, the World Series has seen an seemingly unstoppable AL juggernaut take on some random, mediocre NL team which happened to rise to the top of an inferior league. Oh sure, once in a while the NL team gets a few breaks and manages to win the World Series, but we all understand this to have been just luck, and there is never really much doubt which team was actually the better squad.

Your game 1 starters - who will win?

Certainly, there have been a few compelling finishes, especially the 2001 matchup between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks when Luis Gonzalez managed to beat superpowered playoff ninja Mariano Rivera with a walkoff, jam-shot, bloop single in the bottom of the ninth inning of game seven. But as Derek Jeter said later, if the Yankees and the D-Backs replayed that inning 100 times, the Yankees would have won 99 of them.

The problem is that the National League has just been so weak for so many years. Even when an NL champ like the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals has won a major-league best 105 games, you knew in the back of your mind that they did it playing against the weakest division in baseball, and that the Red Sox had proven that they were actually the best team in baseball by winning 98 games in the AL East and beating the Yankees.

But now, for the first time in recent, or even not-so-recent, memory, we have a World Series matchup where we are not really sure who has the better chance to win. Sure, on paper the Red Sox seem to have better players, but the Rockies have some serious mojo going with their current streak. I don’t care what anyone says, if you win 21 out of 22 games, and those games were all baseball games, you are one of the best teams ever.

And this most recent streak actually has the effect of blinding us to just how good this team really is. After a lousy 10-16 April, the Rockies had the best record in the National League the rest of the way. They led the national league in virtually all hitting categories. The tallied the highest team fielding percentage in the history of baseball. And maybe most impressive of all, despite pitching half their games at Coors field, they posted the best ERA in the National League since the All-Star break.

Not to mention that the Rockies crushed the Red Sox in a head-to-head showdown at Fenway back in June, outscoring them 20-5 in a three-game series.

But the Red Sox have some mojo of their own, having just come back from a 3-1 deficit in dominating fashion (7-1, 12-2, and 11-2), and en route battering two of the best pitchers in the American League – C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona – to the tune of 23 runs in 16 1/3 innings pitched. Not to mention that the Sox have two of the greatest hitters in the history of playoffs in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, whether you chose to go by stats or just by watching with your own two eyes.

It’s sure going to be fun watching those two hit in Coors Field. And it’s going to be a blast finding out what miracles God is going to pull out of his sleeve next on behalf of His Chosen Men In Purple.

2. All is well with the Universe: JD Drew and Julio Lugo have remembered that they suck

It was nice to see J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo returning to their normal selves after a cosmos-rattling game in which Drew hit a clutch, two-out grand slam and Lugo had a timely two run double.

This time, Drew came up in an almost identical situation, once again finding himself at bat with the bases loaded in the first inning, and happily, grounded into an inning-ending double play. Likewise, Lugo made an inexcusable error on an easy pop-up, giving the Indians a golden chance to tie up the game in the 7th.

But in any case, these are good omens for Red Sox fans. After a momentary collision with a parallel universe in which Drew and Lugo actually do helpful things in crucial situations, the universe is all back to normal now and the Sox can go back to being the team which compiled the best record in baseball, despite Drew posting a VORP of 15.1 (less than 2 points higher than Jacoby Ellsbury’s 13.6 in more than 400 additional at-bats), and Lugo actually posting a negative VORP of -1.3.

3. By my count, he still had another 162 pitches left

Inscrutible!Fans of Daisuke Matsuzaka have to be really encouraged by his performance after a lackluster outing in game 3. Although his final line of 5 innings pitched doesn’t look that great, with the entire Boston pitching staff available to go with the exception of an injured Tim Wakefield, there was no reason to keep him in longer than 5.

If you are Terry Francona and you have the option of effectively shortening the game to those 5 innings by pitching Okajima and Papelbon for the last 4, you’d be crazy not to go to the bullpen early (although I have to say, I was aghast when Francona sent Okajima out to start a third inning after he barely escaped the 7th – there is no universe in which that was a good idea).

Most encouraging about Matsuzaka’s performance was that a guy whose only two real weaknesses this past year were walks and home runs, did not allow a single walk or home run to one of the best offenses in the game with its back to the wall. Not to mention that Matsuzaka did not allow a baserunner for the first 3 innings, and he only made 88 pitches in the five frames he threw.

The word is that Matsuzaka spent pretty much every waking minute since his previous start studying videotape, working on mechanics, and pondering how he could do better if there was a game seven. But then again, in this stereotyped world we live in, could we possibly expect any less than absolute hardcore-ness from an inscrutible Japanese like Matsuzaka? After all, Japanese people never panic, get tired, or die.

But the real point is, Matsuzaka showed that he can and will make adjustments, and that bodes well for continued improvement as he continues a major league career which is only just beginning.

4. Wherein I eat a small piece of crow

Look at him! He's a tiny little munchkin!Okay, even though it is far too late now, I am totally going to go back on my original pick and just admit that Dustin Pedroia is your AL Rookie of the year. In a previous post, I tried to argue that Matsuzaka was more valuable to the Red Sox, but I think it is clear to all after this last series that the little man is worth more a lot more to the Red Sox right now than Dice-K.

Pedroia is the spark-plug which keeps the massive semi that is the Red Sox offense humming. With his combo of miniscule strike zone and his surprising power, he both gets on base and drives in runs from the leadoff spot, and is a crucial bridge to the heart of the lineup across the wasteland that is the bottom of the Red Sox order.

On a night when David Ortiz somehow went 0-5 (is this God already starting to worry about his beloved Rockies?), Pedroia stepped in with a 3-5, 5 RBI performance which preserved tomorrow for the Red Sox.

Plus you gotta love that All-Star caliber bat flip he did on his back-breaking 2-run home run in the bottom of the 7th.

5. In defense of Joel Skinner

Everyone is ripping Indians third base coach Joel Skinner for putting the breaks on Kenny Lofton as he rounded third on a single to leftfield by Gutierrez in the seventh inning. The presumption is that Lofton would have scored easily and Skinner cost the Indians a crucial chance to tie the game up and shift momentum. The AP article just flat out says “Joel Skinner mistakenly held up speedy Kenny Lofton as he rounded the bag.”

But I have to go against the crowd on this one and defend Skinner a bit. Do I think Lofton would have scored? Yes, probably. But Skinner had a split second to make that decision. If you watch the replay, Skinner was waving Lofton home until the exact moment the ball hit the wall and rocketed off it into shallow left field, right at Manny Ramirez.

Now the call looked bad in hindsight because Manny was just lazily jogging in, assuming Lofton would score, and would have had no chance to throw him out. But Skinner wasn’t watching Manny – he was watching the ball. And any number of outfielders not named Manuel Ramirez would have been charging in at full speed, and would have had a very good chance to throw out Lofton when that ball came at them.

But most importantly of all, there was only one out. With Lofton at third, he whould have been able to score easily on a fly ball. If anyone deserves blame for the Indians not scoring that inning, it is Casey Blake, who swung at Hideki Okajima’s very next pitch and foolishly tried to pull a breaking ball that was down and away, grounding into an inning-ending double play.

5 1/2. The first of many?

The Indians fell just short this time around, and showed some inexperience, especially in getting blown out in these last three games, two of them under the hot lights of the pressure-cooker that is Fenway Park. But they have a bright future, and they will get their shots at revenge. Both of these teams, which tied for the best record in baseball this season with 96 wins each, will be returning almost entirely intact next year, and have most of their core players locked up for 2 years or even more.

Baseball is a fickle game, and there are never guarantees, but I think it’s a fairly safe bet that these two squads will be in the thick of it for several years to come.

I for one am looking forward to watching the likes of Grady Sizemore, Dustin Pedroia, Fausto Carmona, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Francisco Gutierrez, Rafael Bentencourt, and Josh Beckett, as they continue to battle it out for the AL crown in the coming seasons.

30 Responses to “Five or more thoughts after last night’s game”

  1. Nick Kapur says:

    Sarah, this is the second time you’ve suggested that the Indians are going to be losing a lot of key players to free agency!

    But that is simply not true at all!

    Quite the opposite, in fact.

    Out of 25 guys, the Indians only have 3 true free agents – Kenny Lofton, Trot Nixon, and Chris Gomez.

    Lofton was a 2 month rental, Nixon is an aging 4th outfielder who has almost nothing left, and Gomez was a non-entity.

    Even if the Indians sign nobody at all (although of course they will), these three guys could be easily replaced from within.

    Byrd and Borowski have team options at very reasonable prices, so they can be kept, and if they are let go, it’s only because the Indians *want* to let them go!

    And besides, Borowski was only the 5th best player in that ‘pen this year and Byrd might be facing a suspension, so the Indians might actually want to just let them walk.

    But all in all, the Indians really only have to lose 2(!) guys out of 25. That’s amazingly few, and probably means the Indians have the least work cut out for them this offseason of any team.

    Mark Shapiro has really done an amazing job.

  2. Sarah Green says:

    Nick, I know Shapiro has done an amazing job on his core players. But he needs to pay attention this offseason to the “role player” guys. October is where depth counts.

    Other UmpBumpers, offline, Nick has been bashing my brain in with the utterly amazing, ridiculously talented, unspeakably orgasmic players that the Indians have coming up in their farm system. Plus, he’s shown me a much more comprehensive website for tracking player contracts than the hodgepodge of sources I was using before. So, uncle. I give in! Yes, the Indians are going into winter already in good shape for next year. Nonetheless, they just wasted a year of C.C. Sabathia’s prime. They’ll never get it back. And 2008 is currently the last year on his contract. It’s not like C.C. Sabathias just grow on trees. So I think my point about “they need to win now” still holds, only doubly so for next year.

  3. Nick Kapur says:

    Alejandro, the White Sox played way above their heads by any and all statistical measures in 2005, when they essentially captured lightning in a bottle, so we knew they were due for a decline and were pretty much a one-year wonder.

    I don’t deny that the Tigers are good, but the Indians are really set up for the long haul in a really brilliant way. Almost everyone except C.C. is signed at rock-bottom prices for years to come.

    The Twinkies are pretty much out of it in the near term, in my estimation. Both Santana and Nathan are free agents after next season, and they’ll need a few years to develop Garza and Co.

  4. Sarah Green says:

    Oh, and plus, I submit that if Nixon gets more playing time in this series, there’s a chance that the Indians are going to the World Series this morning. Gutierrez hit .207 in the postseason, while Nixon hit .455. But despite giving Nixon a couple of starts, Eric Wedge pretty much stuck with the floundering Gutierrez, who had 29 at-bats verus Nixon’s 11. So yeah, maybe he’s old. Maybe he has nothing left. But maybe he could have been the difference-maker in this ALCS.

  5. Nick Kapur says:

    Hehe, well maybe, although the Indians were outscored by the Red Sox 40-8 in four games the Red Sox won.

    Trot would have needed to have added between 7 and 11 runs all by his lonesome in one of those four games, depending on which one you imagine he would have won for the Tribe, in order to have been a difference-maker.

  6. Hmm, we need a post dissecting management choices in this series. Did Wedge leave Betancourt in too long, or was he already finished? Did Wedge’s choice of “doing what we done all season” (which looked brilliant after Byrd’s start) lead to his lineup woes later in the series? Did Francona’s willingness to play with his lineup contribute to the success (see Article 1: Kielty vs. Sabathia. Article 2: Crisp as Defensive Replacement to Center, leading to his and Ellsbury’s Web Gems)?Should Okajima have been finished after the seventh?

    Also, the most infuriating commentary of the series was the repeated statement that Paps never had a six-out save. While technically correct, he pitched 2 shutout innings in Game 2. It’s not like his arm falls off after 5 outs.

    @Sarah

    The Indians didn’t exactly waste a year of Sabathia’s prime, as he didn’t exactly do much to help himself out either. His two starts in the ALCS were simply not good. Had he made Beckett-like starts and lost, then I would say the year was wasted.

  7. Sarah Green says:

    Rich, they wasted him all season long. The reason he’s going to win the Cy Young this year, somewhat tragically in hindsight, is that he blew Beckett away in terms of innings pitched. He had what, 5 complete games? (I am too lazy to look this up, but I think it was five.) But in the postseason, he just looked finished. Done. Like he had nothing left. Beckett just barely met the 200 innings mark during the regular season and has been not only lighting up the radar guns (they must be off, because I swear Josh Beckett doesn’t hit 97/98, much less that one reported pitch of 101 mph) but doing so with surgical precision.

    Now, I’ve gone on the record many a time saying that I’d like to see more complete games and that I think all this anxiety over pitch-counts is stupid. But watching and comparing the performances of Sabathia and Beckett this season and this postseason has made me seriously reconsider my own beliefs.

    And Nick, come on. You’re just being silly! With all the many moments in this series when the game could have gone either way (and you yourself admit that the final score of last night’s game does not accurately reflect how close it was) I think it’s obvious that a timely hit by Nixon could have provided the necessary spark to keep innings alive and momentum going. He had gone 2-for-3 just the night before!

  8. Alejandro Leal says:

    Nick

    One-year-wonders??!!! I don’t think winning 96 games (like they did in 2006) is systematic of a fluke. Yes, the White Sox were able to put it together in 2005, something they haven’t been able to replicate any other year since 2001 (when the Williams reign began), but you have to take into account that the division became the best in baseball in a manner of two or three years.

    That said, I’m not excusing the team’s poor play this year.

    Oh and I will ask my main man Phil Rogers to further debunk your one-year-wonder theory. How about I pull a 2006 article, titled Williams has (Chi)Sox loaded for years to come, in which, as you may imagine, the point is made that the Sox can and will contend for years to come.

    The only prospect mentioned in that article that isn’t with the White Sox today is Brandon McCarthy, and well all know how well his season fared in Texas.

    Coincidentally, that same article can serve as a talking point to argue that the Indians will not be back in the ALCS next year.

    (In the court of law, isn’t that against the rules? Using one argument to show guilt, but then using the same argument to show innocence in another tort?)

  9. Nick Kapur says:

    I really don’t want to harsh on the White Sox too much, Alejandro. They definitely had a good team in 2005, but it is also true that they had a lot of players put up career years all at once, and they also outperformed their win-expectancy by a large margin, so it was not a surprise that they didn’t do as well the next season, despite returning the team intact (although it’s pretty hard to win a World Series under any circumstances!).

    But I am also not sold on the White Sox as a perennial contender in the next few years ahead. I think they are on the edge – ie in the 85 win range. Which means if things break right they can win 93 or something and make the dance, but when things break wrong, like they did this year, they’ll be back in the 70s.

    The White Sox do have some good prospects, but they also have a lot of holes to fill – bullpen, second base, outfield, rotation. Meanwhile, the established players are aging and Garland and Thome are going to be free agents after next season.

  10. Nick Kapur says:

    If I were Kenny Williams I actually probably would have blown up this aging team, trading Dye, Buehrle, Thome, and Garland for everything I could get. But I understand how it can be hard to part with aging but beloved veterans, especially the ones who brought home a World Series title.

    Also, that article you cited was written 2 years ago, right after the White Sox had just won the World Series, so naturally everything looked rosy back then to a Chicago-based writer like Phil Rogers.

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