Stealing Signals: Round One Is Done

Kind of playing catch-up, since I didn’t recap the weekend’s games….

Rays keep moving on, beating the White Sox in 4 – At least the South Side saved some amount of face by taking one game at home, but watching B.J. Upton jack homers in his first two at bats was a sign that Tampa had so much more in that team to move on. It wound up being an easy 6-2 win, and another tack to an improbable story. I am officially on the Rays’ bandwagon for the rest of the playoffs, despite being an NL guy — because I loathe both teams involved in the NLCS.

Red Sox put the Angels away, 3 games to 1 – While the first two games in Anaheim were ultimately anti-climactic, games 3 and 4 gave us moments actually worthy of baseball’s post-season: the Halos pulling one out in extras, even going to Jered Weaver to do it, and Jed Lowrie’s bottom of the 9th heroics for the Sox to end the series now rather than go back to Southern California.  So, we have both league leaders in wins (more on the Cubs later in this entry) eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  Baseball’s playoffs are not as capricious as pro football or college basketball (“one game and you’re out” is always much more subject to the whim of whatever team comes in hotter), but the Angels’ faltering again could be a symptom of its lousy division — although considering how they beat teams great and lousy across the AL, that may be too simplistic.

Phillies take out the Brew Crew on Sunday – I turned Game 4 off on Sunday after Pat Burrell hit his three-run job off Jeff Suppan, and I suppose we all knew the ending was going to come for Milwaukee in this series at some point, because, sadly, CC Sabathia does not have a bionic left arm.  The Phillies are set up well to try and compete for a World Series championship: plenty of mashers and htiters in that line-up, enough good starting pitching, a decent bullpen, etc.

The Dodgers make a mockery of the Cubs – I’ve written before that these Dodgers reek of 2006 Cardinals, except this team probalby hits a bit better than they did (Albert Pujols notwithstanding; I remember that series being more about good pitching and timely hits rather than offensive assaults.)   The Dodgers feel like one of those unlikely post-season teams that are supposed to go deep; they’re playing with a line-up that hadn’t playing together until the Division Series: it was a combination of injuries (Rafael Furcal), trades (Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake), old age (Blake DeWitt, who shifted from third to second base to replace the aging and bitchy Jeff Kent), and Joe Torre finally giving up on Ned Colletti’s mistakes (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and James Loney all not having to cede time to Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, and Nomar Garciaparra.) That line-up and the Bums’ starting pitching laid waste to the Cubs’, whom, outside of Derrek Lee, appeared to give an effort that would make Little Leaguers ashamed. I have two Cub fans for co-workers, and there is something about that kind of abject failure that inspires streams of swearing usually reserved for those suffering from Tourette’s.

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Stealing Signals: Behind The 8-Ball

Dodgers 10, Cubs 3 – Four errors, a bases-loaded double by Russell Martin, another homer from Manny Ramirez, and seven two-out RBIs have Los Angeels one win away from their first playoff series win since 1988.  Two of the four errors came in a five-run second inning against Carlos Zambrano; they were by the usually steady Mark DeRosa and Derrek Lee. Now, they face a hell of task trying to crawl back in with the series headed to Chavez Ravine.

Phillies 5, Brewers 2 – It looks like both NL Central teams may be saying so long to the playoffs sooner than later. Eventually, running on CC Sabathia’s arm was going to produce a problem, and when Shane Victorino took Sabathia out for a grand slam in the second. Brett Myers gave up two runs and two hits in seven innings.

Rays 6, White Sox 4 – Evan Longoria is a fucking beast. Three pitches in his first two at-bats = two homers off Javier VazquezJames Shields threw 6.1 innings, gave up three runs (all on a homer to Dewayne Wise) and the bullpen kept the Pale Hose mostly in check. Carlos Pena left early with an eye injury, not serious — he’ll be back for Game 2 on Friday.

Stealing Signals: Bashing At Wrigley

Dodgers 7, Cubs 2 – Six of the seven Bums runs came off the longball: James Loney’s 5th inning grand slam, Manny Ramirez’s 7th inning solo shot, and Russell Martin added a third blast for another run in the 9th. Wait a minute: the offensively challenged (or so we thought) Dodgers are the ones beating up on Ryan Dempster and the Cubs bullpen? Someone completely flipped this script on us (read: Ramirez.)

Red Sox 4, Angels 1 – The other SoCal team in the playoffs didn’t handle it as well, losing another playoff game to Boston thanks to a go-ahead home run from Jason BayJon Lester handed it off to Justin Masterson, who got out of a jam in the 8th thanks to a bone-headed base-running error by Vladimir Guerrero.

Phillies 3, Brewers 1 – The Cole Hamels Show: 8 innings, 9 strikeoutts, two hits, first 14 retired.  Milwaukee was probably happy to see Brad Lidge in the 9th, but he got out of a jam for the save.

Ill-Advised MLB Divison Series Predictions

So, now that we’ve locked up that last AL playoff spot thanks to a Jim Thome home-run in the bottom of the 7th in what was a fucking epic pitching duel between John Danks and Nick Blackburn, it’s worth taking a quick look at the Division Series.

Red Sox vs. Angels – In previous years, I would have said that Boston is moving on in four or five games. NOt this time. My objection has less to do with any offensive factor missing since Manny Ramirez has been traded than it does with the questionable status of Josh Beckett — he’s set to start Game 3 right now, and is probably the one to go for Game 5 even though the preview says Daisuke Matsuzaka would start a Game 5. Nothing but impressed with Jon Lester, but until proven in the playoffs, he ain’t Beckett. In a battle where both offenses can be very productive, this is a bulllpen matter — and I like the guys the Angels use to get the ball to Francisco Rodriguez better than I like the guys that Boston uses to get to Jonathan Papelbon.  Halos in 4.

White Sox vs. Rays – Whether John Danks and Gavin Floyd can do it in the playoffs has yet to be seen; starting a series with Javier Vazquez does not inspire confidence against the general good work that Tampa’s starting staff has done.  Another concern: not sure how Chicago will hit outside the bandbox that is Not-Comiskey (or U.S. Cellular Field, whatever) in the playoffs. Tampa in 4.

Brewers vs. Phillies – Never count the bats of guys like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder out, and it was enought o see the Brew Crew battle back to get into the Wild Card slot with plenty of help from a failing Mets team.  However, unless CC Sabathia could be run out to start every game, the rest of the Brewers’ staff will be run down by having to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell every game (although Burrell is suffering a slight injury.)  Phillies in 4 games.

Dodgers vs. Cubs – It’s not that I don’t think the Dodgers’ rotation has some good pitchers in it; it’s that outside of Derek Lowe and Greg Maddux, we’re not dealing with anyone particularly experienced in the playoffs. You could say the same about Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly, who were there only for a short time last year.  However, the Cubs are much better and more consistent offensively, and while this isn’t a sweep to me, Manny Ramirez alone can’t bring enough playoff swagger to beat a better team. Cubs in 4.

Stealing Signals: The End

Marlins 4, Mets 2 – I actually think a loss like last year’s (where Tom Glavine got walloped) would have been easier to take rather than watching Scott Schoeneweis and Luis Ayala give up two solo home runs to the Marlins in the eighth inning; today was the inevitable confirmation of the sinking ship tha the Metros’ bullpen had been all year.  Billy Wagner was able to keep it afloat some nights, but the bullpen is what ultimately cost Willie Randolph his job.  I’m not quite sure how Omar Minaya got a four-year extension as general manager (I would have gone with two), but he needs to scrap this bullpen and start over, because Jerry Manuel had one hand tied behind his back with the detritus in it. Yes, Mets fans can and should also place a bit of blame on both Jose Reyes and David Wright for not hitting well at points down the stretch (Carlos Delgado had been damn near superhuman and Carlos Beltran at least looked like he was putting in max effort and his two run homer kept the team in the game), but there is plenty to build on if we can get rid of the cans of gasoline when CitiField opens.

Brewers 3, Cubs 1 – Somehow, this is the way it was supposed to be for Milwaukee. Bringing out CC Sabathia once again on short rest results in a four-hit complete game, topped off with an 8th inning home-run by Ryan Braun.  Brewers fans are so starved for post-season baseball; they’ve not gone to the playoffs since the year I was born. In that time, they’ve had Hall of Famers finish out their careers, switch leagues, and had to learn how to win with a very young team.  They’ll probably be whipped by the Phillies in 4 games, but at least they got there.

White Sox 5, Indians 1 – Mark Buehrle will not let the South Siders go quietly. Facing a must win situation, he threw seven great innings and got four double plays turned behind him.  Paul Konerko homered for the fourth time in the last three games, and the ChiSox offense benefitted when likely Cy Young winner Cliff Lee was scratched.

Twins 6, Royals 0 – And Minnesota will sit and wait, a half-game up, as the White Sox host Detroit tomorrow.  Scott Baker threw seven shutout innings, bolstered by a two-run single from Delmon Young and a two-run triple from Joe Mauer.

Stealing Signals: Best In The West

Padres 7, Dodgers 5 – The result in this game really didn’t matter. I mention this score first because pictures of Manny Ramirez getting a beer bukakke are always funny, and really, the Dodgers wouldn’t be anywhere close to this without him. Depending on the Wild Card Winner, the Dodgers will head to either Chicago or Philadelphia for the Division Series.

Cardinals 12, Diamondbacks 3 – And Arizona allowed L.A. to have the awkward celebration of a divison title after a loss (but fitting considering the NL West’s mediocrity this year) by giving up four RBIs to Albert Pujols, homers to Pujols and Ryan Ludwick, and three hits to Felipe Lopez. Unless the Phillies’ Ryan Howard strikes out six times in the last few games, Mark Reynolds will hold a unique position: leading the league in both errors (35) and strikeouts (201) for a season.

Twins 7, White Sox 6 – Coming back from four runs down, Minnesota got the game into extra innings and Alexi Casilla drove in the game-winner in the 10th inning with a single to complete the sweep of the ChiSox.  Minny hosts Kansas City for the last three, and Chicago will host Cleveland.

Red Sox 6, Indians 1 – Jon Lester looks ready to go for the playoffs, throwing six no-hit innings on his way to a demolition of Cleveland. Essentially, the Sox have to win their next three and have Tampa lose its next three to get the AL East crown.

Tigers 7, Rays 4 – Scott Kazmir got shelled, giving up four lead-off solo home runs, from which Tampa really never recovered.  The Rays will finish up in Detroit, with the division title on the line.

Mets 7, Cubs 6 – A walk-off RBI single from Carlos Beltran holds the Mets in place in the Wild Card, moves them up to a game behind the Phillies, and keeps them from falling apart for now.

Brewers 5, Pirates 1 – The best of several walk-off finishes: Ryan Braun goes Operation Grandslam off of reliever Jesse Chavez.

Stealing Signals: Finding New Ways To Lose

Cubs 9, Mets 6 – When you get a four-run lead courtesy of a Carlos Delgado grand slam off Carlos Zambrano, it would help if you didn’t blow it. But the Mets did, and left seven runners on base in the late innings, losing to the North Siders and falling into a tie for the Wild Card.

Braves 10, Phillies 4 – The worst part of this is that the Phils aren’t solid either, begging the Mets to come back into the NL East race, as Brett Myers got knocked around early.

Brewers 4, Pirates 2 – CC Sabathia strikes out 11 over seven innings to bring the Brew Crew back to the verge o fhte playoffs.

Rays 11, Orioles 6 – Tampa comes back from a 6-run deficit to make it a four-game sweep of Baltimore, but they couldn’t clinch the AL East yet because….

Red Sox 5, Indians 4 – Boston opened up a 4-0 lead, let the Indians back in, and pulled it out to stay close to the Rays.

Twins 3, White Sox 2 – The AL Central margin is now a half game, as Minnesota has taken the first two from the South Siders.  Nick Blackburn bested Mark Buehrle, even though he had to struggle through five innings.

Dodgers 12, Padres 4 – L.A.’s clinched a tie for the NL West at the very least, with both Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra homering. Ramirez, Garciaparra, Angel Berroa, and James Loney each drove in two runs.

Cardinals 4, Diamondbacks 2 – Thanks to St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright pitching out of two bases-loaded jams, Arizona is in “lose again and you’re done” situation.