Sunday, October 08, 2006

Short notes

Well, so far I'm 0-for-3. I picked the Twins, Yankees, Dodgers, and Padres to win the Division Series. Well, three of those teams have already lost (two of them got swept) and the Padres are down two games to one. What happened?
Well, the A's just out-played the Twins. I knew coming in that these two teams were evenly matched; I figured that the Series would last four or five games no matter who won. So I was wrong. The A's got their offense and pitched quite well; the Twins did not and suffered for it.
The main reason for celebration is that the A's victory is the end of the Moneyball curse. The Moneyball-era A's made the playoffs in 2001, 2002, and 2003, and lost each time in the ALDS. Twice they coughed up a 2-0 series lead. Everyone, of course, blamed it on their style of play. While this had some merit (playoff games are low-scoring, and so it helps to have a good closer and power pitchers), it was mostly bogus rationalization by grumpy old-school baseball men with an agenda. The Moneyball debate has since all but died down; most teams have incorporated stats to go along with their traditional scouting, which is the ideal way to do things. But there are still those -- mostly scouts and, unfortunately, TV announcers -- who insist on debunking Billy Beane. Well, nuts to you, because the A's have finally won a playoff series -- their first win since the 1990 ALCS. Many commentators are writing that it's because the A's have changed to a "pitching and defense" team. And while this is somewhat true, it's not such an easy cause-and-effect. (Nowhere but in baseball will you find such absurd rationalizations for cause and effect. In no other field will a legitimate reporter have the audacity write that someone has improved their performance because they're not washing their socks). As Keith Law points out, the A's stole zero bases in the series and laid down zero sacrifice bunts. Compare that to the other series, where everyone thinks the "Givin' Away Outs Festival" has started. The A's are a pitching and defense team, but they're still smart -- and they're still ahead of the game. Moneyball wasn't about OBP and defense -- it was about intelligence. "When everyone else zigs, we have to zag." So says Billy Beane, who could quite possibly be hoisting a World Championship trophy in a couple weeks.
The Tigers beat the Yankees. Everyone says that good pitching beats good hitting in the postseason. Well, it did in this case. And while that sentiment is generally true, you need look no further than the Atlanta Braves to shoot that theory to hell. The next time Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan start blathering on about "pitching and smallball" winning in the postseason, show them a picture of Bobby Cox and maybe that will shut them up. Somebody has to (and props to Seth MacFarlane and Family Guy for backing me up about McCarver).
As for the Dodgers, they just got whipped. They executed poorly, Grady Little made a series of old-school blunders, and their pitchers just didn't show up.
What else is going on out there?
  • The Marlins fired Joe Girardi. If Girardi wins Manager of the Year (which he will), he will join Davey Johnson as the only managers to be fired after the season that won them the award. (Bobby Cox left the Blue Jays voluntarily after 1985, as far as I know, to rejoin the Braves). I think everyone is a little hasty in automatically condemning the move. If it's simply impossible for the manager to get along with upper management, then there's no point in keeping him on; the team just can't function like that. If you've ever had a boss you despised or had an employee you thought was awful, you'll be able to relate. That said, I think we can all agree that Mr. Loria is not your average owner. While Girardi has always been respected for his class and leadership, Loria is widely considered to be scum among scum. It was Loria, not Girardi, who made an ass of himself by loudly baiting the umpires. Girardi, knowing that the umps were not above taking it out on the Marlin players, asked Loria to be quiet. It's a real stretch to call that insubordination.
    In what must be an effort by management to discredit Girardi, sources have revealed some of Girardi's suggestions from Spring Training, most of which were outlandish and silly. While Girardi may have made these questionable calls in March, he's shown no sign of that incompetence during the regular season.
    This is just another garden-variety, baseball conflict of personalities. And don't underestimate Loria's desire to ruin the Marlins and move them. Girardi was like Lou Brown in the Major League movie, shooting that theory to hell by turning the rookies and cast-offs into contenders. Loria may not look like Rachel Phelps, but I think he is, at least in secret.
  • The Rangers fired Buck Showalter. Now, if tradition holds, the Rangers will win the World Series. After all, the Yankees fired Buck in 1995 and won the Series in 1996. The Diamondbacks fired him in 2000 and won it all in 2001. Unfortunately, the Rangers are about 8 good pitchers away from carrying on the tradition. This is the story of Buck's career: he's done a fine job of building teams, but usually gets the shaft before they reap the rewards. Stat-heads have always been kind to Buck, who's known to favor the numbers more than his colleagues. But he's also reputed to be a bit c0ld, and that's been the reason for his ouster most times. While I still think Showalter deserves another chance, he is going to have to stick with some team eventually, or else we'll stop giving him the benefit of the doubt.
  • Other managers who have said goodbye: Washington's Frank Robinson, San Francisco's Felipe Alou, and Chicago's Dusty Baker. Baker was fired for all-too-obvious reasons I've mentioned before. It's possible that some moron will take a flier on him, but it's just as likely that Dusty will spend next year watching the MLB on TV. Robinson was forced out in a slightly gentler style, due mainly to his age and the fact that management just didn't have confidence in him. He got a pleasant send-off, and this is probably the last we'll see of him on-field. Ditto for Alou, as his departure was also due to his advancing age. The circumstances are so muddy that I don't know how much of it was Alou quitting and how much of it was him being asked to quit. Either way, he's gone, and someone else will have to take over the Giants in the off-season. And if there's a disappointing tragedy waiting to happen in 2007, the Giants are the #1 contenders, with Barry Bonds at the center of it all, as usual.
  • I've never really been a fan of any of the ads that the MLB runs. But I have to admit how much I love the Tommy Lasorda commercials for the postseason. Bully for MLB, and let's hope they go back to that ad agency.
  • DHL has bought another award: the "MLB Delivery Man of the Year Award." After the tremendous apathy that greeted the Hometown Heroes . . .zzzzzz . . . oh, excuse me. But DHL decided to "sponsor" an award for the "best season as a relief pitcher."
    Now, since 1976, Rolaids has sponsored the award for best relief season, the "Rolaids Relief Man Award." I don't know if, perhaps, their contract has expired, or if the majors just decided to render them obsolete with another award in the exact same category. Regardless, DHL is working hard to make it into the hearts and minds of every baseball fan so that we can . . . um . . . mail stuff. Hey, did you know that DHL once shipped a tiger? It's true! A friend of mine used to work for them. They did it just to show off to FedEx and UPS. Well, who's laughing now? No, seriously . . .
  • The Trevor Hoffman Project was ill-timed. Not only are the playoffs going on, but the end of the year is traditionally my big-time stat-crunching session, as I record everything from the regular season and get ready to render my decision on MVPs and Cy Youngs. So my next entry will be the end-of-the-year awards blog. The THP will have to wait, unfortunately.
  • As far as the ALCS goes . . . I ain't predicting nothing. Not until my track record improves. If the Padres can mount a big comeback and beat the Cardinals, at least I'll be 1-for-4. Until then, I'm not sticking my neck out.

And they're off . . .

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