Rocking Around the Clock

The Rockies are going to the World Series.  Who’d have thunk it?

21 out of 22.  Two different double-digit winning streaks.  The first team ever two sweep the LDS and LCS.  A team that should vote Trevor Hoffman a playoff share, because the last two of his seven blown saves kept them alive and going.

It was typical Rockies last night as well.  Clint Hurdle seems to be in the zone as well as his players, because he sent up a pinch hitter in the fourth inning.  Sure enough, Seth Smith hits a weak little popup.  However, because this is the Magical Rockie Tour, that ball carries just out of range of everyone chasing it but stays fair, letting the go-ahead run score.  An error, a hit, and a big home run by Matt Holliday and it was all over but the shouting.

The Rockies will have a sizable following in the Series.  It seems to me that a lot of casual fans root for the underdog, the good story.  If Boston is their opponent, most anyone that’s not a part of Red Sox Nation will be donning purple.  It’d be different, perhaps, if 2004 hadn’t happened or that the Sox weren’t becoming viewed in some quarters as the successor to the “Evil Empire” tag the Yankees have.  (Really, can a team be an empire if they’ve only gone to the Series twice in seven years?  And had post-season futility the rest of the time?)  If Cleveland wins, the storyline of them trying to win their first series in 58 years (the second-longest streak active, behind the Cubbies’ now 99) will win them some fans as well.

The Rockies have eight days off, which may stunt their momentum somewhat.  Then again, this is a man that has gotten few predictions right in this postseason, so don’t take my word for it.

Good to see the Indians take a 2-1 lead.  You know Fox is happy about it, meaning that there is a good likelihood of a long series.  (How ticked is TBS?  Their first year doing playoff baseball and they get one game over the minimum.  That’ll bring in the revenue.)  The Indians really needed that win.  You know you are going to run into Beckett again, and that’s likely a loss (though a Sabathia/Beckett rematch in Cleveland might go the Indians way).  I wonder if the Indians breathe huge signs of relief if they can get past the two-headed monster of Ortiz and Ramirez.  The rest of the Sox lineup can hurt you, but don’t have that impending doom about them that those guys have.

Game 4 tonight probably turns on how Wakefield’s knuckler is going.  If it’s on, the Sox have a good chance.  If not, it could be a high scoring game.

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Rockies Continue Roll

The Rockies roll continued last night.  I wasn’t able to see much of it, and I know blogs like Purple Row and AZ Snake Pit will cover it way more throughly and intelligently than I would ever dream of, since their teams are involved.  That, of course, doesn’t stop me for making ill-informed comments.  I am a blogger, after all.

The Rockies’ run of 18-1 (counting their perfect 4-0 postseason record) has to be one of the most amazing and incredible baseball streaks of all time.  I mean, you have the miracle Boston Braves of 1914, but they started their run around July 4th.  While still extremely impressive, it wasn’t the time crunch, everyday-is-an-elimination-day that this Rockies run is.  If the Rockies had lost just once more in that 15 games span in the regular season, they’d have had a nice 13-2 stretch (12-2 if they lost before the playoff game with the Padres) and still been sitting at home right now.  That’s what’s hard to believe–how good they’ve been with the pressure on.

Honestly, I expected them to lose the NLCS.  I mean, baseball is a game of runs, and the runs tend to even out over time.  The Rockies had been so good for so long, it was about time for the balancing.  With Brandon Webb on the mound, I figured they would get down 1-0 in the series and things would start unraveling from there.  I still expected seven games, but for Arizona to move on.  The only thing bugging me about the D-Backs was their season-long run differential, with them being outscored by their opponents.

Webb was the only pitcher to beat the Rockies in the last 19 games, as you’ve heard by now, I’m sure.  Of course, as Jayson Stark says in his column today, that was the abberration, as the Rockies seem to own Webb like few teams do.  Most everyone struggles against that dominant sinker.  The Rockies aren’t everyone.

So now the Rockies have a one game lead, home field advantage back, and the knowledge that they can still beat the D-Backs ace, who they will see at least once more.  Right now, it’s hard to go against the Purple Monster.

Game 2 of that series follows Game 1 of the ALCS tonight.  Sabathia vs. Beckett should be a heck of a game.  Go Indians!

Stress Free October

Thank you, Arizona!

It was great to start the stress-free playoffs this weekend. With Arizona sweeping the Cubs out of the way (look at what all that off-season spending did for them–three more wins than the ’06 Cardinals and a first round exit. Spending money isn’t the panacea some Cardinal fans think it is.), I could enjoy the finale of the Colorado/Philadelphia series without wondering which team could beat the Cubs. That was a thrilling game, and the Rockies are on a serious roll. That roll has to come to an end sometime, but hopefully not terribly soon, as it is VEB’s adopted team for the post-season.

It was nice to watch the AL yesterday as well. I didn’t see much of the Sox sweep, but their win really had my house rooting for the Indians last night. Of course, the wife would have been anyway, but we were both intrigued by the possibility of four sweeps in the first round, which would have been a record. Unfortunately, it didn’t come to pass, but I did some digging on the number of playoff games.

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The Rise of the Small Markets

Arizona.  Colorado.  Cleveland.  Heck, even Los Angeles.  Do you think, perhaps, that there are some television executives waking up screaming in the night?

If TV really ruled the game, to the extent it would like to, we’d see Yankees/Red Sox in one LCS and Philadelphia/Chicago in the other.  Then a Cubs/Yankees World Series.

Right now, we’re on pace for Arizona/Colorado and Cleveland/Boston (depending on who wins tonight).   That NLCS would be terrible for those East Coasters, unless they started the games at terrible times for the home teams.  (That’s not out of the realm of possibility, of course.)

But at least the TV people would still have Boston alive, a big market East Coast team.  Just imagine, though, if LA would win that, knock off Cleveland and we’d have another all-Western World Series, like there was in 2002.  I’m betting ratings would be way down and there’d be a little less discussion of the games.

I don’t want to come across as one of those ranting “East Coast Bias!” types.  It does exist, to a degree, but not to the levels some fans want to take it.  It’s human nature to want your routines, and since a bunch of the media is on the East Coast, that’s what they’ll cover.  For them to stay up late and throw a kink into their normal days and nights, it’s not going to make them happy.  Which means, for the rest of us, we are cheering awfully hard for such an outcome.

And I am one Arizona win away from my first stress-free October since the turn of the century.  The Cardinals always cause me angst, because as the pressure mounts, the less I can take it.  I’m flipping channels, trying to not think about wasted chances, the comeback of the other team, etc.  Then, the one year the Cards weren’t in the playoffs, the Cubs went deep into October, causing the same level of dread in the other direction.  Thank goodness for Bartman, Alex Gonzalez and, well, the Cubs being the Cubs.

If Arizona can just win tomorrow, I can watch the rest of the playoffs with no deep-seated rooting interest.  My wife likes the Indians (and it’s always enjoyable when the spouse gets into the games) but it’s nothing to the level of the Cardinals.  And that should make for a fun month.

In Cardinal news, they picked up the option on Jason Isringhausen.  Really a no-brainer move, as there was no obvious replacement in system (Chris Perez isn’t ready for that role yet) and the option was pretty reasonable when you look at the market.  Glad to see Izzy get another  year–2006 was rough for him, so it was good to see see that it was mainly the hip and he was back on his game last season.

The Void

I once read a quote, which I can’t find right now, that went something like this:

“There are only two seasons, baseball season and the void.”

The void is now upon us, after Isringhausen made it interesting, as he usually does, but got the final out and preserved the victory, like he usually does. And with that final out, the 2007 season came to an end.

It’s not going to be a season fondly remembered by fans years from now, but it was baseball. One thing I’d forgotten until it was mentioned this weekend was just how good the pitching looked in spring training. The team ERA was around 3 or so, just amazing for the spring. Which proves that spring training stats aren’t worth the web page they are published on.

A season with so much promise ended on opening night, for all intents and purposes. When Carpenter had a rough outing and came up lame soon after, we should have realized what we were in for. Injuries with the Cardinals are never simple things, where the player is back soon and all is forgotten. Injuries with the Cardinals drag out, start to look better, then get worse. I personally don’t buy into the “Carpenter on the mound by late July” talk going around. If he’s there by September, like Mulder this year, I’ll call it a surprise.

Then the pitching fell apart, Hancock died, everyone that wore Cardinal red came down with some sort of injury, and through all of that, they hung in there.

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Swept to the Edge

And the roller-coaster that is the Cardinals season heads back downhill again.  A sweep at the hands of the Diamondbacks puts the Cardinals really on the brink of irrelevancy in the NL Central race.  With Milwaukee’s win, they drop to three games back (just two behind the Cubs).  So, if nothing else, we can rejoice that the Cubs aren’t in first anymore.

VEB has the description of the last weekend better than I could ever put it.  It was nice to see the Cards try to rally in the ninth yesterday, but I’m not sure that gives them any momentum going into today’s game.  A successful rally, well, that’s a different story.

Though I would like to suggest something fairly radical.  Let’s let some extraneous position player start the games and put all the pitchers in the bullpen.  Apparently, if you pitch out of the Cardinal bullpen, you pitch much better than you do if you start.  Great to see Kip Wells getting outs yesterday.

And that brings us to today’s game, which I think is a must-win for the Cardinals.  Milwaukee goes to Pittsburgh tonight, but their win or loss isn’t that important.  I mean, a loss would be great for the Cardinals, but it’s a toss up on whether they will lose or not.

But to force the action, to stay close, the Cards have to win, especially since it’s a game against the Cubs, who they are also trailing and they get 4 times this weekend.  Get within one of them win a win, take care of business in Cincinnati, and see what happens in St. Louis starting Friday.  If they can have a 7-2 week, this would be a great time to have it.  Even 6-3 this week should keep them solidly in contention with three games with the Brewers still on the schedule.

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So Close

Going into the game, you know that the Cubs are getting beat and the Brewers are getting pounded. First place is there for the taking, if you can just win. To not get it done is frustrating, but at least no ground is lost.

And you have to give the Cards credit. A lot of times in that situation, they’ve come out and just laid a total egg, getting routed. Last night, they took a lead on Brandon Webb, which is hard enough to do, before Wainwright just wasn’t able to hold it. If Miles doesn’t stumble trying to get the double play, maybe it’s different, but Chris Young was running and it was a high chopper, so I’m not sure they’d have been able to get it anyway.

The biggest question in the game, in my mind, was LaRussa sending up Branyan in the eighth with runners on the corners and one out. Branyan is a Three True Outcomes type of guy (walk, strikeout, home run–outcomes that have nothing to do with the fielders), which can be good in certain situations. If the Cards had been down by two or more, he’s a good fit there. You need the long ball possibility and one run might not be enough. In this situation, though, his propensity to strike out hurts you much more than his potential power. All you need is a sac fly to the outfield, though a hit would be nice as well.

Seems to me that you send up either Ludwick, if you want to retain the power possibility, or Brendan Ryan in that slot. Ryan would have to come into the game anyway to play third, plus he’s more likely to put the ball in play and should have enough speed to stay out of the double play. I think that’s where I’d have gone, but I’m sure TLR had his reasons. The man has managed a game before, as you know.

More on l’affaire Ankiel and today’s game after the jump.

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