'Bout that time of year where I start looking forward to the playoffs. This will -- unless the Tigers make a hell of a run -- mark the second straight postseason where neither team in the previous year's World Series qualifies for the playoffs (Tigers and Cardinals last year, White Sox and Astros the year before).
The AL races are coming to a close. It's almost certain that we'll see the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels and Indians in the postseason, with only the AL East winner in any real doubt. Boston is choking the division away in true SAWX fashion (although I'm sure they'll take choking the division but getting to hit the reset button a few days later to fourth place), the Yankees and Indians are hot, and the Angels have kind of just been there all year, doing their thing. I'd feel bad for Seattle taking a dump down the stretch if I didn't sort of hate the Mariners.
Last year, I talked about starting pitching winning championships. The Tigers wound up winning the AL, and I had them ranked as my third-best staff among the then-contenders. So I don't know what that says.
A funny joke about the fact that their name is long and stupid
Likely rotation: RH John Lackey (17-9, 3.13), RH Kelvim Escobar (17-7, 3.46), RH Jered Weaver (13-7, 4.01), LH Joe Saunders (8-3, 3.82)
Top-shelf top two in Lackey (still the game's most overlooked ace pitcher) and Escobar (one of the best twos around), and they aren't bad with Weaver and Saunders, either. Saunders has helped to save this rotation after the spectacular mess that has been Bartolo Colon's big fat season and the dump Ervin Santana took.
For my money, this is the foursome I'd want leading my team into the postseason. It's really as simple as that.
Likely Rotation: RH Josh Beckett (19-6, 3.20), RH Curt Schilling (8-8, 3.97), RH Daisuke Matsuzaka (14-12, 4.21), RH Tim Wakefield (16-11, 4.73)
I'd like to start off with the incredible news that Gabe Kapler, who managed for the Red Sox in the minors this year, is ready to return to playing. Says Kapler, "My body is as healthy as it has ever been, and I must take advantage of that." The fact that he was never any good is no deterrent for Gabe. That is kind of admirable.
I think there are a couple of ways you can reason one of their kids into the playoff rotation, but I would assume they'll go with the veterans. Wake could be easily shuffled out, and maybe he will be. Who knows?
Papelbon says that he wants to win the division "probably more than anyone," but I kind of doubt that. I would guess Wakefield and Varitek probably do, since they've been around forever playing bridesmaid at regular season's end. Of the four teams, the Red Sox are playing the worst right now. That probably doesn't bode very well at all.
If I was a Red Sox fan, Beckett is the only guy I'd trust. That also probably doesn't bode very well.
Likely rotation: RH Chien-Ming Wang (18-7, 3.82), LH Andy Pettitte (14-8, 3.79), RH Roger Clemens (6-6, 4.18), RH Mike Mussina (10-10, 5.01)
Yes, they can hit the hell out of the ball, and sure they're playing well. But they can always hit. The Yankees fail in the postseason this decade because their starting pitching lets them down. And as much as Mike Mussina has sucked this year, he is pitching better lately, and I'd bet my last silver dollar that Joe Torre would rather start Mussina than Hughes.
Wang and Pettitte are formidable, but the Yankees lack a shutdown ace. Roger Clemens is a fat old man with a creaky everything who could just as easily leave the game 27 pitches in as give the Yankees six solid at any point. Can Clemens and Moose back up the other two? I think that's too wild of a card, my friends. Yankees lose in the LDS. Again.
Likely rotation: LH C.C. Sabathia (18-7, 3.19), RH Fausto Carmona (17-8, 3.07), RH Paul Byrd (15-6, 4.36), RH Jake Westbrook (5-9, 4.41)
This is kind of old hat here, but let's again examine the New York/Boston bias of ESPN. The other night, the worldwide leader ran a graphic that compared the Cy Young credentials of Beckett and Wang. I want to make note of three pitchers -- on teams that are going to the playoffs -- that far, far surpass Wang, and two of them are Indians. Sabathia and Carmona are a hell of a one-two punch, even when you make sure you go, "Fausto Carmona? Really?" And then there's Lackey. Again, Wang has been a rock for New York, but performance does matter, not sentimentality and who saved whose bacon.
Past Sabathia and Carmona, you get into some trouble. Byrd is a crafty sumbitch and one of those guys that's really easy to root for. On the Major League: Wild Thing Edition DVD, Byrd says he wanted to be Rick Vaughn but identified more with Eddie Harris. The fourth spot is a pickle. I guess it would be Westbrook? This is a team that maybe should stick to three guys.
I think if you look at just the starting pitching, it's very easy to conclude that we're going to see an Indians-Angels ALCS. There are, of course, other factors. But I truly believe starting pitching is far and away the most important thing in a playoff series -- or any 5- or 7-game series, even if they didn't call it "the playoffs."
The Angels will probably have Vlad Guerrero only as their DH, which could hurt. But the Red Sox might not get much from Hideki Okajima, who is complaining of a tired arm.
If I'm picking a lineup, I've got to take New York, but can't ignore Boston. Lineup-wise, Los Angeles and Cleveland are way behind. But you just have to score more than you allow, and they should be solid enough to win. They've done it all year, after all.
It's kind of wide open. Last year, the Tigers stumbled into the postseason, dropped their playoff opener at New York, and then they wrecked up the joint for the rest of the American League playoffs. I don't really know what to expect, and I can't pick a winner right now. But I do like how the playoffs are shaping up, outside of the fact that New York will be there again. (Unlike many of you, I don't hate Boston nearly as much as I do the Yankees. Not even close. I do hate Boston.)
And the National League is a REAL crapshoot. The Mets are dumping out, the Phillies of all damn teams are coming on strong (and the Braves are peeking their heads in, too), I can't figure out the Cubs OR the Brewers, and the NL West has the two best teams in the league. Go Padres or Cubs. People who remember 1984 will be more split on that issue than I am. In 1984, I was more concerned with Sesame Street or the like than I was Ryne Sandberg.
Who you got? You got a team?! Who you got?