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.
Surprisingly enough, Borowski didn't blow it. Oh, he almost did. A little part of me wanted him to just so the announce crew would get shown up right then and there. But Borowski held ony, barely. Jeter popped up a pitch he should have hit well. Abreu homered on a ball low in the zone to make it 6-4. Borowski made some good pitches to A-Rod and actually got him to chase a ball out of the zone on a 2-2 count; A-Rod flew out to deep right. Why A-Rod is chasing a pitcher's pitch from Joe F'n Borowski is beyond me; maybe that's been part of his trouble this postseason. With two out, Jorge Posada came up. Borowski threw him what looked like the exact same pitch Abreu hit over the fence down the right field line. And Posada hit it over the fence down the right field line . . . but just foul. At what point does Mark Shapiro or someone come down to the dugout and violently shake Eric Wedge? Luckily for the Indians, Posada struck out, and Borowski got the 9.00-ERA save.
It should be said that the media is already preparing the goat horns for A-Rod. The ESPN article linked above makes him out as the clear villain, referring to "the latest October vanishing act by Alex Rodriguez, whose bat was quiet until a solo home run in the seventh inning." Leave it to the sports media to marginalize a player who goes 2-for-5 with a home run. Later in the article, talking about the Yankees' free agents, the ESPN article mentions "Jeter will be back, of course. But the hero of postseasons past had just one RBI in the series, hit .176 (3-for-17) and bounced into three double plays."
A note to ESPN staff writers: hopefully you're smart enough to realize the silliness and unfairness of demonizing A-Rod for hitting a home run while dismissing your hero, Derek Jeter, for hitting .176 in the series. Please be willing to raise yourself above the New York tabloids.
For the Indians, this is a great series for them, and it moves them to a very interesting ALCS against Boston. For the Yankees, this was a more dramatic loss than usual, as George Steinbrenner had already issued an ultimatum to Joe Torre to win or be fired. You won't hear me say this often, but I think that Torre's positive effect in the locker room and in the media outweighs his tactical blunders (why the *&%! is Joba Chamberlain pitching when the Yanks are up by 5?!). I don't see a significant tactical advantage gained by firing Torre (although it would certainly be a monetary advantage, as Torre is the highest-paid manager in baseball), so the team would, I think, be at a disadvantage without him. There are some free agents who have hinted that losing Torre would make them less likely to sign with the Yankees, but I don't think that's as significant as it sounds. Players say a lot of things in their walk year, but money almost always talks in the offseason.
And that is the toughest thing the Yankees will face in the offseason; free agency. The club has a lot of young talent coming up through the system to replace the likes of Bobby Abreu, Andy Pettitte, and Roger Clemens. But there's no one around to pick up the slack from Mariano Rivera. Even Rivera himself (who turns 38 this offseason) isn't a grand investment as closer. But an even tougher loss would be Jorge Posada. Posada, 36, isn't a safe investment either, but given the dearth of good-hitting catchers out there, the Yankees would be well-advised to keep Posada anyways. Even if he's not as brilliant as he was this year (338/426/543) who would replace him?
But the worst blow, of course, would be if A-Rod opts out of his contract (which many are discussing as a given). The only real replacement for A-Rod would be a trade for Florida's Miguel Cabrera, and that would come with a steep price in prospects.
On the bright side, however, the Yankees will be losing a huge chunk of salary in the offseason (Rodriguez and Clemens alone made about $50 million this year), which is not only a better move toward financial responsibility, it also gives them more room to maneuver in the marketplace.
So, now that the field is set, what are my predictions for the LCS?
ALCS: Red Sox .vs. Indians
You could call this the de facto World Series, since it's a matchup of the two best teams in baseball. A World Series against Colorado or especially Arizona would be anticlimactic for either of these fine teams. That said, which one is better?
I've got a feeling that the Indians will win. And I really would like them to win their first World Series since the Truman administration. But I just think that the Red Sox have too many advantages to ignore as favorites.
The Indians 1-2 punch of Sabathia and Carmona is fierce, and it's the one part of this matchup that heavily favors the Tribe. Even still, the Red Sox can pitch Josh Beckett three times in the series (Beckett was, on a start-by-start basis, just as good as Sabathia this year) and the other starts will go to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling. Both teams have a good offense, but Boston's is better, with a couple guys better than anyone in the Cleveland lineup. And the Sox have home-field advantage, which throws some more percentage points their way.
My last point is that the Red Sox have Jon Papelbon and the Indians have Joe Borowski. In a short series, the closer's role becomes ever more important, and with Eric Wedge unwilling to alter his usage patterns and put his best relievers in the highest-leverage situations, the Red Sox have a pretty clear advantage. At some point in this series, Borowski is going to trot out in the 9th inning to protect a 1- or 2-run lead and get thoroughly bombed. If you're an Indians fan and see Borowski in the game to face Youkilis-Ortiz-Ramirez, I urge you: turn off the TV before the bloodletting starts. You'll thank me in the end.
Prediction: Red Sox in 7
NLCS: Diamondbacks .vs. Rockies
I can keep predicting the imminent downfall of the Diamondbacks until the cows come home, but it doesn't mean a whole lot in the long run. Yes, the Rockies are a better team, but is that any guarantee that the D-Backs won't back their way into a pennant? Of course not.
While Arizona has the big advantage of starting Brandon Webb, they also have the big dis-advantage of finding somebody else to start those other 4-5 games. Because Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis are ticking time bombs, especially since the Rockies are a better offensive club than the Cubs.
Other than Webb, the only other advantage Arizona has is in the bullpen, although the Rockies' relief staff is pretty good, too, and has done amazingly well recently. I'll take Jose Valverde over Manny Corpas, but it's not a significant advantage.
In short, while I recognize the possibility that the Colorado pitchers will go the way of the Cubs and throw way too many easy fastballs to the D-back hitters, I just can't ignore the fact that the Rockies are the better team. I'll even go so far as to predict that the Rockies will make short work of the Diamondbacks.
Prediction: Rockies in 5
Good luck on the next two days of life without baseball. I'll miss the opening of the NLCS, because I'll be in Louisville to hear this man speak, and I'll miss Friday's ALCS opener rehearsing his play.
I start a new job tomorrow. Wish me luck. :)