Ill-Advised World Series Prediction

What, you mean you still listen to me on matters of predicting sport, particularly baseball? I’ve been horrifically wrong since the playoffs got started. I think I picked one series right throughout this whole thing.

Given the advantage American League teams have over the representatives from the National League right now, I was always going to choose whatever AL team happened to make it out of the blocks.  The bottom third of Philadelphia’s order makes this easier — you’re looking at either Pedro Feliz or Greg Dobbs in the third-base platoon, then Carlos Ruiz, and the pitcher’s spot in Philly for games 3-5, and this is a team with some decent, but not great candidates, to DH (thinkiing either Dobbs or Matt Stairs).  Tampa has more flexibility and won’t lose as much when they have to go to the pitcher hitting.  Going through B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, and Carl Crawford is no easy task.

As for those pitchers, would you rather take Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, or the combination of Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, and James Shields?  While Philly has an advantage if they take a lead into the 8th and 9th innings with Brad Lidge, their third and fourth starters (Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton) are vulnerable. Hamels should be pitching three games in this series, and if he loses one of them, the Phillies are likely sunk.

Philly has the offensive advantage, but I’m going with the Rays in 6 when their starting pitching wins out.

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Stealing Signals: From The Cellar To A Pennant

(Highlights video from Awful Announcing. Thanks, boss!)

Rays 3, Red Sox 1 – One home run. That’s all Matt Garza allowed to cross the plate. Watching Dustin Pedroia jack it out in the 1st inning made for a nervous moment for myself and anyone else who’d decided to root for this team who had been down so low for the beginning of its existence against the dominant force in the American League for the past couple of seasons.  But then Garza engaged in the one of the more wonderful sights in a make-or-break playoff game with Boston starter Jon Lester: a full-blooded pitchers’ duel.  Evan Longoria doubled in Carlos Pena in the fourth, then Rocco Baldelli singled in Willy Aybar in the sixth.

Garza then kept it up, changing speeds, striking out nine in 7+ innings of work, and he probably would have been allowed to go eight if Jason Bartlett hadn’t gotten a bad hop on an Alex Cora grounder. Then, it became a mix-and-match for Joe Maddon: bringing in Dan Wheeler to pitch to Coco Crisp and Dustin Pedroia (Pedroia flew out); J.P. Howell to get David Ortiz to ground out; Chad Bradford walked Kevin Youkilis. Then, Maddon brought in David Price, who not only got out of the bases loaded threat by striking out J.D. Drew, he then finished the ninth after giving up a walk to Jason Bay.

Now, there are two days before the Phillies come to town, and while there are questions as to whether the Rays could beat the National League champions, from a city desperate for a title, there are no questions as to whether they belong in the top tier any more, and everyone who watched Price deal is waiting for more.

Stealing Signals: Boo!

(Don’t complain about the title, Philly fans. What did you expect from a Mets fan? Besides, this is a more authentic congratulatory title than trying to fake it. Plus, I would have given the Dodgers the same title anyhow.)

Phillies 5, Dodgers 1 – Once again, Philly got the Chad Billingsley early, with Jimmy Rollins hitting a lead-off homer to set the tone early, and three errors in one inning by Rafael Furcal put the Dodgers so far behind that there were no Kirk Gibson-style heroices to whip out on the 20th anniversary of that legendary home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Seires.

(Note: Wasn’t it quaint when the World Series was starting at about this time, back in the day?)

Cole Hamels is establishing himself as Philly’s vrsion of Josh Beckett, a hard-line playoff ace that the team can rely on and has in his three starts — his success has been absolutely disgusting, and he was filthy again tonight, only giving up a home run to Manny Ramirez, which, in the grand scheme of things, is no shame, particularly when no one else is able to touch your pitches.

Now, the Dodgers have to sit back and consider whether or not to re-sign Ramirez (they’re nuts if they don’t; that team is only in the playoffs because of him), while the Phillies get a week to take care of personal business and then head off to the American League city hosting the first two games.

Congratulations, Philadelphia. I hope you get swept.

Stealing Signals: Beantown On The Brink

Rays 13, Red Sox 4 – It started with back-to-back home runs from Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, continued with a two-run jack from Willy Aybar in the 4th, and only got worse from there. To borrow once again from Mike Patrick’s description of the Alabama-Georgia game several weeks back, there was an old-fashioned butt-whipping in Boston last night, and the Red Sox supplied the butt.  If there is any team you would not have counted out in the past down 3 games to 1, it would be the Red Sox, but this is not the year for them to pull something like that out again, unless I’ve completely misjudged the team at this point through four games (which is entirely possible, given my status as severely amateur analyst.)

Josh Beckett isn’t himself; Jon Lester, their next best bet, got battered in Game 3.  Losing Mike Lowell’s reliable bat was tougher than expected; Kevin Youkilis hasn’t hit at the clip in the playoffs that we’ve been getting used to. David Ortiz’s wrist is a problem despite the triple he hit, and let’s be honest, Youk as the clean-up hitter behind Ortiz isn’t a patch on the intimidation that having Manny Ramirez was behind Big Papi.  (This is not to knock Jason Bay — he’s been reliable and done his part.) It’s just that too many pieces are missing from this Red Sox team right now to make that improbable comeback, whether via nagging injury (also include J.D. Drew) or by the slump (Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek — and how much has Varitek slumped when Kevin Cash, who handles Wakefield, looks like a better option both at the plate and behind it?)

Tampa’s youth movement, led by Longoria, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Aybar, and that pitching staff of theirs (repped admirably by Andy Sonnanstine last night) is playing like they know they’ve got house money, free-wheeling, fancy-free, and with so much skill it looks effortless. It’s not hard to pull for this team when all other options stink (I hate both the Dodgers and the Phillies; and I’ve grown kind of tired of Red Sox Nation as a whole, even though I know plenty of very nice and enthsiastic Sox fans), because there are stars there in the making; there are team players there; there’s everything in the Tampa Bay Rays that makes baseball fun to watch.

If any team deserves to succeed and turn around the concept of baseball in Florida, it’s this one.

Stealing Signals: Unlikely Heroes

Phillies 7, Dodgers 5 – Everyone had probably forgotten Matt Stairs existed.  He somehow got traded to Philly after the deadline, clearing waivers from Toronto (and if you only remember him in an Oakland uniform a few years back with Jason Giambi, you’re not the only one.)  But Stairs is the one who helped cap a four-run comeback against the Dodger bullpen. Joe Torre pulled Derek Lowe after 74 pitches, and watched as, eventually, Cory Wade and Jonathan Broxton gave up 2-run homers to Shane Victorino and Stairs in the eighth inning, respectively.  Now, Los Angeles is facing its fate on Wednesday with Cole Hamels waiting his chance to end their season on Wednesday — forced into such a situation because of a lack of a fourth starter in its rotation (a healthy Brad Penny would be nice to have right about now, no?) and an unsteady bullpen without Takashi Saito on hand to close.

Rays 9, Red Sox 1 – I think it would be much better, when B.J. Upton bats, if announcers worked the source for his initials, the nickname “Bossman Junior” into their home run calls for him (Upton’s given name is Melvin Emanuel Upton; “Bossman” was his father’s nickname).  The Bossman struck again, going deep for the 5th time int he playoffs (he only hit 9 all regular season) in the playoffs, and was followed two batters later by Evan Longoria and his fourth palyoff bomb.  The deluge only continued later, as Rocco Baldelli and Carlos Pena added late jacks.  Matt Garza threw six scroless innings to do his part of shutting down the BoSox lineup.

Stealing Signals: This Weekend In Baseball

Phillies up 2-1, but we have a series now: The Dodgers knocked Jamie Moyer around for five runs in the first inning on a series of base hits (Blake DeWitt’s bases-loaded triple being the big one) and hit batters — it got even chippier after that. Russell Martin was hit by pitches twice, and the benches cleared after Hiroki Kuroda buzzed one over Shane Victorino’s head.  Kuroda pitched steadily for the better part of seven innings; a needed tonic after Chad Billingsley stretched the bullpen in Philly on Friday, and the staff gave up eight runs in the Citizens Bank Band Box.  Now, Derek Lowe will line up against Joe Blanton tomorrow, and even on three days rest, he has a bit more advantage in a park more friendly to pitchers than the aforementioned band box.

Red Sox and Rays tied at one a piece: After Daisuke Matsuzaka essentially took it to Tampa in Game One to snatch homefield advantage on Friday, the Rays knocked Josh Beckett for eight runs on Saturday. Scott Kazmir wasn’t having a great day either, and so the score was kept clos, with the game eventually being sent into extra innings on a wild pitch by Tampa reliever Dan Wheeler, who otherwise threw 3.1 great innings of relief for the Rays.  Manny Delcarmen, Justin Masterson, and Jonathan Papelbon did the same great work for the Red Sox, but every Boston fan felt a bit of dread when Mike Timlin walked out for the bottom of the 11th, and you could have written an Easterbrook-like “game over” in your mind after he walked both Dioner Navarro and Ben Zobrist. Replacing Navarro with pinch runner Fernando Perez was the right move, as Jason Bartlett grounded to third as Perez was stealing, keeping them out of the double play and forcing Timlin to walk Akinori IwamuraB.J. Upton hit a ball to shallow right that no one else but Perez would have tagged up adn scroed on — he has home in about nine long, quick strides.

Stealing Signals: What A Difference A Half-Inning Makes

Phillies 3, Dodgers 2 – L.A. got 2 early runs off Cole Hamels and that was it — he struck out eight in seven innings of work. But it was the sixth inning where Philadelphia came back and captured the lead for good on a Rafael Furcal error that allowed Shane Victorino to get to second base. Derek Lowe, whose slider had been very good for most of that evening, got one up to Chase Utley, who sent it into the right field seats of the band box that is Citizens Bank Park. Two hitters later, Pat Burrell took a pitch into left field (probably a fly out in most other places), and that was all Hamels and Brad Lidge needed after that. If the Dodgers want to make a series out of this, they have to go after both Brett Myers this afternoon and Jamie Moyer in L.A for Game 3 — those two can be hit if you are patient; Hamels can’t be touched even when he’s merely very good, never mind on.