Thursday, October 30, 2008

Watched: Game 5 of the World Series

The rain delay/game suspension was an odd twist to the World Series that took away some of the momentum and excitement of the event. The final three and a half innings of Game 5 were exciting, though, and it was fun to watch.

I couldn't have been more wrong about the way this series turned out. Jaime Moyer and Joe Blanton more than held their own and the Rays offense never really woke up in this series. Congratulations to the Phillies. If you had told me before the season started that the Phillies would win the World Series, I think I would have accepted that. They have built a solid team from top to bottom, and although I still think that their starting pitching is a little shallow, they certainly went into the season as one of a handful of favorites.

The Rays, on the other hand, were a bit of a surprise. A lot of people thought that they would be a much improved team, but most thought they were still a year or so away from really contending. Despite their loss, they should be positioned to be a contender for the foreseeable future - but how they handle their pre-free agency position players will be interesting to watch.

On another note, I love it when a World Series ends with a strikeout, as it did last night. Sure, a walk-off homer is more dramatic, but there is something classic about the strikeout-catcher/pitcher bearhug-team dogpile on the pitching mound. I don't have any particular fondness for the Phillies, but I enjoyed watching them celebrate last night. Fox (who deservedly gets a lot of flack for its coverage) did a great job of replaying the strikeout/initial celebration from every conceivable angle: from the CF camera, from the dugout camera, focused on Howard, focused on Utley, focused on the owner's box, focused on the players in the dugout, etc. I thought that was very well done - particularly that neither Joe Buck or Tim McCarver were pontificating over the replays.

Again, congrats to the Phillies and their fans.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Watched: 10/23/08 World Series Game Two

It almost seems like the World Series is unfolding like the first couple of rounds of a boxing match. The teams are feeling each other out and looking for weaknesses. We've had pretty solid pitching and sloppiness in the other facets of the game. They have been two entertaining games to watch, but I think we are still waiting for the compelling storyline to emerge. Perhaps a change in venue will help.

I think both teams can take away positives from the two games in Florida. The Phillies have to be happy that they were able to split the first two on the road and swing home field advantage in their favor. All they need to do is hold serve at home and the World Series is theirs. On the other hand, the Rays have to feel like they are in good shape mainly because they have faced the Phillies best two pitchers and came away with a split. As I said yesterday, the Phillies starting pitching quality really drops off after Cole Hamels, but even moreso after Hamels and Myers. Blanton is just a little better than league average and while Moyer's story is great, he is far from a shutdown pitcher at this point.

My prediction is that the Rays win two of the next three (probably losing Game 5 to Hamels) and then head back to Florida with a 3-2 series lead. Then the Phillies will come up big in Game 6, but the Rays will win it all in Game 7.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Watched: World Series Game One

It was a great game - a well pitched battle between two young lefthanders. Both Scott Kazmir and Cole Hamels looked great and both bullpens were fired up and throwing smoke.

Here's the thing, though, Cole Hamels is by far the Phillies best pitcher while Scott Kazmir, while an excellent young pitcher, is only one of several good young pitchers with the Rays. I think the pitching matchups from here on out heavily favor the Rays. So, while it was a disappointing start for the Rays, I think the advantage is still theirs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Today the Cardinals announced that they would not be exercising the team option on Mark Mulder for next year. This was a no-brainer, as the team would have owed him $11M for 2009 and he hasn't been healthy since sometime in 2005.

The trade for Mulder was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. He never produced for St. Louis and Danny Haren, half of what they gave up for Mulder, became a bona fide top-of-the-rotation starter for Oakland and Arizona and will probably get some Cy Young votes this year. The other player involved in the trade, Daric Barton, struggled this season when given Oakland's starting job at first base, but he is still only 22 years old and has a promising future.

The coda to this story is that there has been a lot of talk on blogs and in the St. Louis paper about the Cardinals perhaps making a similar trade this offseason for the Padres Jake Peavy. The proposed trade would have top prospect Colby Rasmus going to San Diego along with two young pitching prospects. There is no saying whether such a trade would turn out to be as big of a disaster as the Mulder trade, but it seems unlikely that the Cardinals will pay the price necessary to get Peavy with the risk that it could blow up in their face. Again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Watched: 10/19/08 Game 7 Rays vs. Red Sox

What a fantastic game. Matt Garza was fired up from the start, pumping fastballs up there at 94-95 mph. When Pedroia jumped on one in the first inning for a homer, I thought the Red Sox were going to finish off their comeback from being down three games to one. But Garza didn't allow another hit until the seventh inning.

Garza's curveball (which actually looked a bit slurvy to me) was his putaway pitch as he typically got ahead throwing fastballs past the hitters and finished them off by dropping in the curve. When Wheeler relieved Garza I was again afraid that the Red Sox were going to stage another comeback, but rookie phenom David Price emphatically slammed the door shut. He looked like the #1 overall pick last night and I would be surprised if Tampa doesn't use him as their closer the rest of the way.

A lot of writers are talking about how the World Series will get crappy t.v. ratings, but I'm really looking forward to the matchup. The Rays seem to have the advantage in starting pitching, but the Phillies lineup is just about as deep as the Rays. It should be interesting. My pick: Rays in 7.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

2008 Playoffs

Ok, so I'm a terrible blogger - sue me. It has been exactly two weeks since I last posted, but don't think that this is an apology and a promise to start posting more regularly. It isn't. I have come to realize that there is far too much going on in my life to have decent posts on a daily basis, so I am going to revert to posting whenever I attend a game, watch a particularly interesting game or have a post idea that particularly interests me. It may be three times a week, once a week or once a month. I apologize for the inconsistency, but that's life. If you don't want to visit the blog every day just to see if something new is posted, send me an email (roarke49 at hotmail dot com) and I will send out a notice whenever I post something new.

So, the playoffs start today (really they started a couple of days ago with the White Sox make up game and the tie-breaker game). Even if your favorite team is not involved, there is a reason to watch each of these series. Playoff baseball is usually very intense and every pitch takes on more meaning. Here are your reasons to watch each series, a breakdown of who should win and who I would like to win.

Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies

I picked the Brewers from the beginning of the season, believing that Ben Sheets would have a Cy Young caliber season and lead the team to the promised land. Sheets did pitch well, but got injured and now will miss the playoffs. No matter, the team picked up CC Sabathia and he led them to the playoffs. This is a fun team to watch with young sluggers like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart (whose second half swoon cost me in my wager) and savvy veterans like Mike Cameron and Ray Durham.

The Phillies are also a fun team with a balanced combination of speed (Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino) and power (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell). They also have Cole Hamels as their ace pitcher to match up with Sabathia.

One weak point of both teams is starting pitching depth as Philly will send out Brett Myers (who re-discovered himself after being sent to the minors this season), Joe Blanton and Jaime Moyer while the Brewers have Yovani Gallardo (making his first start in a couple months today), Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush. In the bullpen the Phillies have the advantage, with Brad Lidge being one of the best closers in the game. The Brewers try and get by with Salomon Torres.

I'm going to give the edge to the Phillies because of I like their pitching staff better, but as a fan I'm pulling for the Brewers to win the series because I like their youngsters.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs

A lot of people are pulling for the Chicago Cubs because they have a chance to win for the first time in 100 years, but, beyond my St. Louis bias against the Cubs, there is a very valid reason to be interested in the Cubs losing this series: think about the Red Sox - ok, got 'em in your head? You don't like them very much do you? Their fans are smug, they seem to get an inordinate amount of attention in the media and they spend almost as much as the Yankees do on their payroll. Well, the 2008 Cubs are a lot like the 2004 Red Sox. Both teams inflated their payroll in order to overcome a decades-long World Series drought and both teams became the media darling during the season. The world will be a better place if the Cubs don't replicate the Red Sox success of 2004.

On paper the Cubs match up well against the Dodgers. The Cubs have Zambrano, Dempster, Harden and Lilly as starters who are quite a bit more fearsome than the Dodgers starters: Lowe, Billingsly, Kuroda, Maddux. The Cubs also have a balanced offense built around Alfonso Soriano, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. They are surrounded by veterans like Mark DeRosa, Jim Edmonds and Kosuke Fukudome and youngsters like probable ROY Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot.

The Dodgers hopes rely on the hot bats of Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier and solid performances from Russell Martin, Matt Kemp and James Loney. One wild card is the health of Rafael Furcal, who will be playing for the first time in a long time (and trying to earn himself a pile of cash in free agency). Healthy and motivated, Furcal could be a huge difference maker in this series.

I think the Cubs will probably win the series - they just have an edge in talent, especially their pitching staff (and I didn't even talk about Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol in their bullpen), that will be difficult for the Dodgers to overcome. Of course, I will be rooting for the Dodgers to beat the snot out of the Cubs at every turn.

Anaheim Angels vs. Boston Red Sox

Despite what I wrote above about the Red Sox, they are becoming more likeable. How can you not root for cancer survivor Jon Lester? How can you not like the shrewd trade of Manny Ramirez (and other spare parts) for Jason Bay? [ok, Manny has been great for LA, but in the long run the Red Sox did very well for themselves in getting Bay to replace Manny. He's maybe 75% of Manny offensively, but he's a lot better defensively and from a money standpoint they are getting much more value per dollar with Bay than with Manny] While the Red Sox could not pull out the division title, they are very dangerous as a Wild Card team. They have excellent pitching with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester and hopefully a healthy Josh Beckett. They have a good bullpen with Jonathon Papelbon closing out games. And they have a solid lineup with sparkplug Dustin Pedroia, Big Papi, Bay, Ellsbury, Youkilis and a hopefully healthy JD Drew and Mike Lowell.

The Angels have been on cruise control this season, blowing away the AL West. They grabbed Torii Hunter in the offseason and Mark Teixeira during the season to go with Vladimir Guerrero and they have the strongest pitching staff in baseball with John Lackey, Jared Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Jon Garland starting and K-Rod closing games.

This should be a very interesting series and I think it may hinge on the health of several Boston players, most notably Josh Beckett. If Beckett can pitch and Lowell and Drew are at full strength, I think the Red Sox have a chance. Otherwise the Angels pitching will be too strong for them. I'm picking the Angels to win and that's who I'm rooting for, as well (yeah, yeah I know what I said about Lester and Bay, their fans are still too obnoxious to every root for that team).

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox bring out conflicting feelings in me. On one hand I can't stand Ozzie Guillen's arrogant attitude (and his managing decisions are very Tony Pena-esque - just with better talent to employ). But on the other hand, it is difficult for me to root against good guys like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Jim Thome trying to get their first World Series ring. The White Sox have a big hole in their lineup due to the injury to their team MVP, Carlos Quentin (.288/.394/.571 with 36HR in the 130 games before he broke his wrist) and Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko will have to step up to fill the void (the team went 11-14 in September after Quentin went down).

The Rays are one of the most exciting young teams in the majors with talented players like BJ Upton and Carl Crawford, who can do everything on the field and veteran Carlos Pena who crushes the ball. They also have a very talented pitching staff with James Shields, Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza leading the staff. Possibly the two best players on the team, however, are rookies that started the season in the minor leagues. Third baseman Evan Longoria is a power-hitting, gold glove caliber fielding stud that will be in MVP discussions for years to come (and should win the ROY this year) and LHP David Price was the first pick overall in 2007 and has the chance to dominate the league.

I like the Rays offense in this series, but the White Sox pitching (Burle, Vazquez, Danks, and Floyd starting and Jenks closing). I usually take the pitching over the hitting, but I think the White Sox are really going to miss Quentin in this series and the Rays will take it. I really can't say who I'll root for because I like the Rays young players, but I would like to see Griffey and Thome get their rings. Tough.