Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thinking about baseball


My trip down here to Tobacco Road, to the Research Triangle, provided me with a lot of thinking time.

Approximately 13 hours alone in my Honda Civic. As good as my Journey CD is, I couldn't listen to it 44 consecutive times. I had to put on my thinking cap.

And while baseball isn't more than an afterthought in this basketball-crazy environment, it consumed my mind for much of the trip.

Here are a few thoughts as we prepare for the league championship series:

Only in New York
So it is very likely Joe Torre will not be back as Yankees manager next year after 12 extremely successful years. The Boss said during New York's series with Cleveland that anything short of a series win would probably mean the end of Torre's tenure.

Crazy, I thought -- only-in-New-York crazy.

Let's see... Torre's Yankees have never missed the playoffs and won four World Series. Of course, it's a what-have-ya-done-for-me-lately society, but any other team in the majors would be happy with making the playoffs every year (not to mention winning the division every year except this year).

Poor Joe.

On a related side note, I recently finished watching "The Bronx is Burning," ESPN's original show about the flamboyant 1977 Yankees. The show, which received rave reviews, portrayed an inexorable George Steinbrenner constantly on the brink of firing quirky manager Billy Martin.

Martin barely held onto his job and went on to lead the Yanks to an improbably
world championship that year and the next. But The Boss wasconstantly breathing down his neck, questioning every personnel decision he made.

So maybe Torre didn't have it that bad after all. He's the longest-tenured
Yankees manager since Casey Stengel held the job from 1949 through 1960.

And Stengel didn't have to deal with a certain Boss running the show.

A good start for the Tigers
The Detroit Tigers got their very important off-season running in the right
direction this week by picking up the $13 million option on catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

Is "Pudge" worth $13 million at this stage in his career? No way. But name five catchers in the game better than Pudge right now -- especially defensively and calling games.

Tough task, isn't it?

The reason keeping Pudge was the right decision is because his replacement would undoubtedly be a downgrade. Detroit wants to win now. It's not building for the
future. It's got the pieces to repeat that magical run of a year ago, and Pudge (even with his putrid OBP of .294 this season) is one of the pieces.

The most telling number that demonstrates his importance to the Tigers is that the team's pitching staff's ERA was 1.00 lower with Rodriguez catching compared to Mike Rabelo catching.

The Tigers still have plenty of work to do before pitchers and catchers report. The most pressing issue now becomes finding an All Star-caliber shortstop to replace Carlos Guillen, who's moving to first base.

Atlanta's Edgar Renteria seems like a good bet if Detroit can pull off a trade with the Braves. And then there's Alex Rodriguez, or "A-Rod."

Many Tigers fans are quick to rule out trying to sign the soon-to-be American League MVP, but before they shun the idea, they should consider who exactly they're shunning.

Forget his playoff numbers. During the regular season, A-Rod is the best player in baseball -- hands down. If owner Mike Ilitch is willing to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars, the Tigers should pursue A-Rod, who is expected to opt out of his current Yankees contract.

You just never know what might happen.

There's still baseball
Because of how quickly the first round series were completed, we've experienced this three-day window devoid of games and filled with speculation. Fortunately, this period is almost over.

Colorado-Arizona begins Thursday and Cleveland-Boston commences Friday.

Have the playoffs lost a little spice with the quick exits of the Yankees and Cubs? Sure, they have. But these two series appear very competitive (then again, I would have said the same about the first-round matchups).

As is usually the case in October, pitching ruled the first round. The Rockies shut down the Phillies' high-octane lineup and the Indians pitchers were able to limit the
damage caused by the Yankees. So forget the bats for a moment -- these two series will be decided by pitching.

Which is why I'll take the Diamondbacks and Indians in two series that stretch six or seven games.

While no one will argue that Colorado has more punch in its lineup than Arizona, the D'Backs -- led by Brandon Webb -- have the pitchers to quiet the Rockies bats (even at Coors Field).

Cleveland and Boston's top two starters are a wash, but I like Cleveland's Nos. 3 and 4 guys over Boston's, and the Indians' middle relief has proven more steady of late.

So I'll take Arizona in 6 and Cleveland in 7.

Giving the D'Backs a chance to win two World Series in seven years (while the Yanks have none during that period) and the Indians an opportunity to win their first championship since 1948.

Yes, minus the Yanks and Cubs, there are still myriad storylines left in October.


Sportsattitude said...

Just speaking on a national, casual fan level, I think the disappointment in not seeing the Yanks play the Sox one more time, as well as the Cubs getting run in well as not knowing a damn thing about Arizona and well as the most exciting thing in any of the first round series was seeing bugs attack sending many to concentrate on football full-time a tad earlier than usual.
I think Cleveland will scrap their way to a couple of wins and extend Boston, but the Sox will prevail in six. As for the other series, Colorado is on such a roll I like them in six as well. Can you believe the D-Backs can't sell out their ballpark for these games?

Jake Lloyd said...

That's pretty sad about the D'Backs. If I could snag a free flight, I'd go. The Rockies are definitely on a roll. I just think it might be crash-and-burn for them kind of like what happened to Golden State in the NBA playoffs. We shall see.

There's no doubt that the casual fan wanted Yankees-Red Sox and the Cubs to move on. But this should still be some pretty good baseball.

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