Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Anticlimax

The Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies in 4 games, their second series sweep in past the 4 years. Now the question is what will happen in Boston now that their underdog status is dead and gone. What will replace it? How will the historic behaviors and attitudes of New England sports fans change now that the central narrative of their favorite baseball team has been rendered obsolete?
I think the glory days of Boston fandom (somewhere between 2003 and the present) are over and done. As the Red Sox become the new Yankees, their nationwide fanbase, built upon the David .vs. Goliath myth, will begin to fade. The fire of the core New England fanbase, on the other hand, may subside somewhat, but will not be going away anytime soon. But the Red Sox' national (and international) following may be in jeopardy. As the central narrative of the team changes, the myth/legend that drew so many nationwide fans in the first place will disappear. This may not be the end of the world, but it may be bad news for the team's revenues, which may be cresting after several years of obscene success.
I'm not on the ground in New England to measure the energy of the Red Sox nation firsthand. But I wonder if the truly magical allure of the Red Sox -- which has existed in some form for 50 years, give or take -- has reached its peak. While there is every reason to believe that the Red Sox will be a juggernaut franchise for years to come, I think it's worth noting that in the future, our image of the Red Sox will always be different. And it didn't start when they reversed the curse in 2004 -- it started when they slowly and methodically demolished a lesser team in October. That, my friends, is what the Yankees do, and if the Sox continue to perform like this in October (and there's every reason to believe that they will), they will indeed be the New Yankees.

In other news:

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Reflecting on the Sox' annihilation of the Rockies, here's a very insightful quote from Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan (excerpted from Jayson Stark's column about the game):

"For me, patience is not necessarily walking," said Magadan. "Patience at the plate is waiting for your pitch to hit. And the byproduct of that can be a walk. But a lot of times, you're going to hit in a lot of hitters' counts. These guys have a real good idea of what they're looking for, and they will be stubborn and wait till they get that pitch.
"They're going to make the pitcher throw three tough pitches to get them out. And when you've got to make three quality pitchers to get hitters out, it's tough to grind and get through the lineup. Every guy is seeing five, six, seven, eight pitches. And then boom ... one swing of the bat. It makes it tough."

World Series preview

I know, I know -- it's unfair to send in your World Series predictions after Game 1; especially when Game 1 is an absolute rout. We were following the game during breaks at rehearsal, and at one point, Boston was up 4-1. The cast is mostly rooting for the Rockies, and while I don't have an active rooting interest, I'm backing Boston, since I think they're the better team (more on this later). One of the Colorado fans bet that the Rockies would tie it up in the later innings. I looked right at him and said, "I'll bet that Boston scores 10." They scored 13, actually, and romped to a 13-1 victory.
Jeff Francis took the loss and just judging from the box score, it was a typical Boston dismantling. They worked him to 100 pitches by the 5th inning and got 6 runs off of him. Then they got to knock around the Rockies' bullpen and soften it up for future games. Josh Beckett, on the other hand, gets treated with kid gloves so that he'll be fresh as a daisy in Game 5 -- if there is a Game 5.
Which brings me thus:

Starting Pitching

Friday, October 19, 2007


As some of you may have heard, Joe Torre declined the Yankees' offer of a 1-year deal to return as Yankees manager. The deal, which Torre referred to as an "insult," was for about $5 million, a pretty big pay cut from Torre's estimated $7 million salary in 2007. There were some performances bonuses that could have raised the deal to $8 million, but these were all tied to postseason performance. And there was a possibility of a 2008 option that could vest -- but only if the Yankees won the pennant in 2008. Torre, sensibly, decided not to take a big pay cut and stay in a job his bosses (GM Brian Cashman excepted) don't want him for.

It seems that the Yankees gave Torre such a low-ball offer in an attempt to deflect criticism for his departure. If they had merely fired him, they would be the villains. But if the headline reads, "Torre rejects Yankees' contract offer," then the heat would presumably be on Torre. This kind of thing happens often, where a company doesn't really want to fire someone, so they try to badger them into quitting to save face. Only this particular ploy was unsuccessful. All of the big-time analysts I've heard weigh in on the issue (Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Tim Kurkjian, Tom Verducci) immediately blamed the Yankees and excoriated them for such a shady move. Any attempt to transfer blame from ownership to Joe Torre has failed horribly.

What will the Yankees do next?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Citybeat response

This wasn't the first time I've locked horns with Cincinnati's Citybeat sports columnist Bill Peterson. Peterson's take on baseball is both old-fashioned and over-simplified, but I felt that he outdid himself in this week's edition of the Cincinnati alternative newsweekly. Peterson offered a flawed, skewed, and misleading defense of the Reds' hiring of Dusty Baker. Now, I often disagree with Peterson, but as I said, I think he outdid himself with inaccuracies and oversimplifications in the article linked above. So I sat down (somewhat fuming) and typed out a letter to the editor at Citybeat in response. (I should note that I have had one of my letters published in Citybeat back in 2004. That too was a response to a Peterson column. There, he stated that the only difference between the Reds and the Cardinals -- well on their way to 105 wins -- were a few relief pitchers. I blew a gasket.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Boss has left the building?

  • According to a report in the New York Post, George Steinbrenner has essentially given over day-to-day control of the Yankees to his sons, Hank and Hal. After The Boss went public with his displeasure with Joe Torre, there were some questions raised about the true extent of the Boss' decision-making power in the Yankee hierarchy these days. Those questions gained some legitimacy when the Yankees did in fact lose to the Indians, but it did not result in the immediate firing of Joe Torre. Torre may indeed be on the way out, but both sides are in talks right now, which is not what Steinbrenner indicated would happen.
    If Steinbrenner's days as the true power of the Yankees are over, it will indeed be the end of an era. It wasn't always easy, but Steinbrenner's run as principal owner of the Yankees saw the team reemerge as the most successful franchise in sports. He took home 7 World Championships during his tenure as owner. A lot of the team's success may have come in spite of him (for example, Brian Cashman's emphasis on the team's youth movement), but it must be said that Steinbrenner's agressiveness and his embrace of the free agent market (while most teams were still in denial) were instrumental in reestablishing the Yankees brand. The team is in fine shape and will survive the transfer of power, but it's worth noting what a huge effect Steinbrenner had on the New York sports world and especially on the game of baseball.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

LCS Predictions

With an improbable win over the Yankees, the Indians move on to their first ALCS since 1998. I came into this game highly suspicious of Paul Byrd, but then my predictions haven't been working out lately, anyhow. Byrd wasn't brilliant, but he kept baseball's best offense to 2 runs in 5 innings and got the win. The Indians, meanwhile, knocked out Chein-Ming Wang early and kept on knocking homers.
When I saw Joe Borowski warming up in the bullpen before the 9th, I groaned and said, "Oh, no!" The announcers referenced the last time Borowski pitched at Yankee Stadium, on April 19, when he blew a save in grand fashion and lost the game on an A-Rod walkoff home run. I remember that one vividly; I was there. I like Chip Caray as an announcer, but right on cue, he talked about how important it was to stay with what brought you to the dance, or some other worn cliche. Borowski is "your guy," and if you don't stay with him, you're sending a message to your team. That may be true, but it's also true that Borowski sucks, is a borderline closer, and is the last guy in the Indians bullpen I would send up to face Jeter, Abreu, and A-Rod. The message Wedge should be sending to his team is, "I want to win this game." You'd think that would go without saying, but not in baseball. Keeping a guy in his defined role is what a manager does, even if it's amazingly destructive to the team's chances of winning. Anyone in the Indians clubhouse who thinks that keeping Joe Borowski happy is more important than winning the ALDS should get their head in the game.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Well, that was quick. Both of my picks to win the NLDS were demolished in 3-0 sweeps, as both the Rockies and the Diamondbacks sealed the deal yesterday, going on to the NLCS. For the Rockies, it's the first postseason series win in franchise history (and an impressive one at that), and for the D-Backs it's a pretty impressive return to glory, having missed the playoffs since 2002. It's prety unique for both halves of the LDS to end up as 3-0 sweeps. The only other time that's happened was in the 1996 NLDS (Braves swept Dodgers, Cards swept Padres) and again in the 1997 ALDS (Braves over Astros, Marlins over Giants). It's never happened in the American League, although this year could be the first. I'll wait until later to do my ALCS/NLCS predictions, but if things keep going the way they are, I won't have to wait long.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Short takes

Well, so far, the NLDS is making me look like a complete fool. I picked the Phillies to win, and now the Rockies have taken a 2-0 lead heading into Coors Field. It looks like Colorado will win the first postseason series in franchise history. Here's a trivia question: Name the 2 other MLB teams that have never won a postseason series? (Answer at the bottom).
And out in Arizona, the D-Backs not only won behind Brandon Webb in Game 1(which was understandable), they've taken an 8-4 lead, knocking Ted Lilly out of the game in Game 2. The Cubs at least will be heading back to Wrigley for the next two games, but still you never want to be down 0-2 in a playoff series. And if they do lose Game 2 (which is in the 6th now), they'll be up a creek, because they'll have to beat Brandon Webb again in Game 5 even if they do win both games in Chicago.
I must admit that I'm amazed at the second-guessing that ensued after Lou Pineilla pulled Carlos Zambrano from Game 1. This is just insanity and misplaced anger; baseball fans should learn to accept a loss without finding people to blame (and boy, is Lou getting roasted).
The move didn't work out, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. Zambrano hasn't thrown a lot of pitches, but he is Carlos Freakin' Zambrano; you never know when he's going to lose it and give up some walks and homers (he led the league in bases on balls). Carlos Marmol has been brilliant this year, and he's a guy you can rely on.
I gained a great deal of respect for Lou when I read this snippet of conversation, taken from Rob Neyer's blog:

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Playoff Predictions


Rockies .vs. Phillies
A lot of this comes down to home-field advantage as the Rockies have played and hit much worse away from Coors Field than at home, even accounting for park effects. The Rockies' offense isn't quite as good as Coors Field makes it look, but by the same token, their pitching isn't as bad, either. The Rockies have much better depth both in the bullpen and in the starting rotation, whereas the Phillies' rotation is Cole Hamels and several guys who shouldn't be pitching in a fly-ball park.
Still, I can't get past the home-field advantage and the Cole Hamels advantage. The Phillies have the best offense in the league, and playing three times in their home park with an ace that the Rockies don't have is enough of an edge for me. I predict a lot of offense, but still some close games where the bullpens play a big part. If the Rockies can keep the Phillies' offense quiet, they might be able to pull one out against the likes of Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer.
Prediction: Phillies in 5
Cubs .vs. Diamondbacks

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Rockies 9, Padres 8


I don't know if tonight's one-game playoff will go down as one of the most memorable in history, but it should. The Wild Card isn't glamorous, and neither are the Padres and Rockies, but tonight was an incredibly exciting game for a number of reasons.

I must say that I was in rehearsal this evening and didn't join the game until the 8th inning, when it was tied 6-6. Amazingly enough, it stayed tied into the 13th. Both bullpens did a pretty impressive job of keeping the runs off the board. If Heath Bell is an unlikely hero, Matt Herges is even more unlikely, but he threw 3 scoreless innings none the less.
I knew it couldn't go on forever, and when I saw Jorge Julio stroll to the mound in the 13th, I had the feeling that this might be it. Julio, who was as wild as you'd expect, walked Brian Giles and then fell behind Scott Hairston. He then grooved one to Hairston, who knocked it out of the park, giving the Padres an 8-6 lead. The Colorado faithful went silent, and I figured it was over. (The guy who caught the ball actually doubled 0ver in pain when he did, even though it didn't touch his stomach). Julio gave up a single to Chase Headley and then was removed.