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MLB - Divisional Series Previews

By Peter Friberg
Wednesday, October 2nd, 2002
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St. Louis vs. Arizona

This is an interesting matchup made a bit more so by Luis Gonzalez's injury and his lack of availability for the playoffs. Were Gonzalez in the D-Backs' lineup, I would give the clear edge to them. I feel their hitting, behind the 1-2 Cy Young combo of Curt Schilling and The Unit, would propel them to at least the NLCS.

The D-Backs and Cardinals do rank 1-2 in the NL in runs scored, so it's obvious both teams have the offenses to win it all, but with Gonzo gone, it may be enough for the Cardinals to win the divisional series. That being said, I still have to give the edge to the Diamondbacks. With Schilling and Johnson pitching in games 1, 2, 4, and 5, I just don't see the Cardinals beating one of the two more than once.

Arizona wins it in five.

(Game 1 footnote): Schilling has been off since August and I noticed yesterday that both he and Johnson had already thrown over 250 innings each this year. Over the last two years (including the 2001 postseason) Johnson has pitched 551.0 innings and Schilling has pitched 564.1. Those two may be a bit fatigued. I want to stand by my "ARI in 5" prediction on principle (made before the series started). But at this point, smart money should go the other way -- and it may be over quick.

San Francisco vs. Atlanta

The Giants remind me of the Braves of the last few years. Pretty good pitching, a solid closer (John Rocker never really blew too many saves until 2000), no depth, and a weak hitting bottom half of the lineup. With the rest available to pitchers in the postseason, Atlanta starters only need to make it through five or seven innings.

Two things will decide this series (and it's the same for both teams); will their leadoff hitters (Kenny Lofton for the G-Men, and Rafael Furcal for the Braves) get on base? And can the bottom of the order get some hits? The Giants have the best hitter in baseball, Barry Bonds, and Jeff Kent, and if the other guys don't hit, Atlanta will pitch around those two and make quick work of the Giants. Likewise, if Giants can get around Gary Sheffield and Chipper Jones (and if Andruw Jones is chasing pitches this week), the rest of the Braves lineup is woefully thin.

Due to the pitching and bench depth, Atlanta wins it in five.

(Game 1 footnote): Game 1 is in progress as I am about to submit this. San Francisco has taken an 8-2 lead. I still think Atlanta should be able to overcome this first-game loss (assuming the Braves don't come back) and win in five. But the Braves need to hit, and in this first game, the weak half the Giants lineup is coming through. As I previously said, that will be a big key; which team's lower half will get the big hits?

Minnesota vs. Oakland

Oakland's starting threesome of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito should be enough to get the A's out of the first round. But mix in one MVP candidate shortstop, one power-hitting Gold Glove third baseman, and a list of solid offensive contributors, and you have one of the best teams in the playoffs.

The Twins do have a chance. They have the best bullpen in the AL. If through creative managing, clutch hitting, and/or a bit of luck, the Twins can get a split in Oakland, the Metrodome plays unlike any other park in baseball and could provide the proper environment for an upset.

The Twins also have a solid bench, if Ron Gardenhire uses it properly and creates advantages for his team, he may get Arte Howe to bite and try to counter. This is Gardenhire's ace in the hole. Howe doesn't tend to be a brilliant tactician. That all being said -- Howe shouldn't have to be. His team is good enough.

Due to everything: the A's sweep.

(Game 1 footnote): This was written before Game 1 -- so I'm already wrong. That being said, Oakland may be in trouble. The way the Twins beat the A's reminds me of the way Cincy handled (and swept) Oakland in the 1990 World Series (despite Oakland being the better team). With the two Oakland lefties coming up, they should be okay. I just have this feeling...

Anaheim vs. New York

The Angels' pitching staff doesn't get the press that Oakland's does, but it's been almost as good, and is composed of a much better bullpen. This bullpen could be enough, if properly used (see Game 1) to give New York some fits and give Anaheim a chance. Beyond that, I just don't see how Anaheim's scrappy offense can scrape enough runs together to thwart the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees hitters led the league in HR (this is supposed to be a preview) and got four more in their win on Tuesday night.

New York's pitching has been quite mediocre this year and their bullpen isn't as good as it has been in recent years; which is to say it's been very good, not exceptional this year. The advantage won't matter, the Anaheim bats aren't good enough.

Anaheim may already be through, but I do expect them to get one win.

The Yankees in 4.

I want to make a comment based on something I've noticed. I'm repeating something I heard or read (but don't know who to attribute it to) so it's not completely original thinking, but I do want to give you further examples:

Players win games; managers lose them.

* Art Howe didn't pinch-run Jeremy Giambi (with Eric Byrnes on the bench) and Derek Jeter made the shovel pass play.

* Mike Scoscia didn't bring in Troy Percival and Jason Giambi singled home the game-tying run, and Bernie Williams hit a three-run homer.

* Art Howe chose to pitch Ted Lilly from the bullpen (where he hadn't pitched much lately) rather than using what got them there (keeping players in familiar roles) and Jaques Jones hit a two-run double.

* Bobby Cox (with a woefully weak lineup and facing a right-hander) leaves Vinny Castilla at 3B and Keith Lockhart at 2B instead of starting Marcus Giles at 3B and Mark DeRosa at 2B and using Castilla and Lockhart as defensive replacements. He also had the right-handed (and weaker-hitting) Julio Franco start instead of the left-handed Matt Franco.

There are just four examples of managers not putting their teams in the best position to win. I'm sure you can think of many others.

The players still need to make the plays, but the managers need to put them in a position to win. The Yankees consistently win in part (yes) because of their revenue advantages, but also (in no small part) to the choices Joe Torre makes on the field.

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