The Tenth Inning – Week 23 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
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With the playoffs nearly upon us, it’s time to take a deep look at the contenders in each league. With the AL nearly set, we’ll start there this week, allowing the Rockies and Giants to sort some things out in the NL before we tackle each of the top four next week. So here we go – the four current playoff teams, broken down piece by piece.
New York Yankees
Rotation – Losing Wang hurts the depth, but with a top two of Sabathia and Burnett, this team still has some punch. The issue is the inability of C.C. to pitch well in any of the postseason trips he’s made, though it might be made easier on him this year as opposed to ’08 with Milwaukee, as he won’t be pitching on three days rest at any point in the regular season. If Pettitte can pitch like he has always done in the postseason, the Joba becomes a non-factor.
Bullpen – Rivera’s health is crucial, as he will likely be called on to get multiple inning saves. The set-up situation is sketchy, with Phil Hughes as the only truly reliable option. If Girardi selects the 8-day series in the first round as opposed to the 7-day series, the Joba will not be needed to make a start and can be used in relief, which would certainly help to keep him fresh and keep some of the other relievers off of the mound in big, late-game situations.
Intangibles – Having Derek Jeter on the field is huge, but it’s somewhat overshadowed by the elephant that follows A-Rod around. Rodriguez has never played in a World Series, and every team he’s been on has failed to meet expectations. With the best record and homefield throughout the playoffs in the Yankees corner, anything short of title 27 is a failure, and it will fall on his shoulders if he doesn’t play well. The other issue is Girardi, who will be managing in the postseason for the first time.
Los Angeles Angels
Rotation – John Lackey continues to lead the rotation and the addition of Scott Kazmir is big, but more pressure will fall to Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders this season, the likely third and fourth starters. They will need to pitch deep into games in order to take pressure off of a sometimes shaky bullpen, entering the playoffs without Francisco Rodriguez for the first time since prior to the World Series. The odd man out is Ervin Santana, who has a 5.52 ERA is 20 starts this season.
Bullpen – As mentioned, the bullpen is shaky, with no K-Rod and virtually nothing all season from Scot Shields. Brian Fuentes has not been as dominant in the closers’ role as K-Rod or his predecessor, Troy Percival, but they have gotten solid years from Darren Oliver and Jason Bulger. This is a team built for tight, low-scoring games, meaning the bullpen will be expected to get the final 6-9 outs against offenses like the Yankees and Red Sox, certainly no easy task by any means.
Intangibles – Mike Scioscia knows how to win, and the Angels have been very good on the road, tying the Yankees for the best road record in the AL at 42-30 thus far. They will likely draw the Red Sox unless the Rangers can catch Boston in the Wild Card, and they have had horrible luck with Boston in the postseason. On the flip side, they’re the one team the Yankees simply do not want to play – LA has owned NY in the postseason during Scioscia’s tenure.
Rotation – Obviously any team with Justin Verlander at the top of the rotation will feel at least comfortable, if not confident, heading into a road series in LA or NY. Plus, he and Nate Robertson were members of the Tigers team that beat the Yankees back in the ’06 LDS. Add a stellar season from Edwin Jackson to the mix – another pitcher with postseason experience – and this could be as good a rotation as any of the other AL teams. They would have no problem with playing the Yankees in the extra-day series and not needing a fourth starter.
Bullpen – It seems like a recurring theme, but the Tigers, too, have bullpen concerns, though they might be the most stable of any postseason team. If Zumaya can remain healthy and pitch as he’s capable of pitching, Detroit will have possibly the hardest thrower in the AL, with Papelbon maybe the lone exception. Add him to Brandon Lyon and Bobby Seay setting up Fernando Rodney, and this team has four quality relievers, something not a lot of other contenders can say.
Intangibles – Jim Leyland has won many games and been in a few postseasons, but he’s never won a World Series. He has more experience than Girardi, but pales to Scioscia and Francona. The team also has a number of players who have made a World Series, but only Cabrera and Jarrod Washburn have actually won one. Sometimes, though, the greenest team can be the better team under pressure.
Boston Red Sox
Rotation – Boston has used just about everyone to start a game for them this season, and still only have Lester and Beckett as reliable postseason options. They’re hoping Matsuzaka and Wakefield can recover from their injuries and pitch well enough in September to earn the 3 and 4 spots as they were expected to in the preseason, but if not the options are somewhat scarce. Clay Buchholz and Junichi Tazawa are the other likely options, not exactly threatening to any of the other contenders.
Bullpen – What Boston lacks in a rotation, they make up for in the bullpen. Papelbon keys the back end, but with set up guys like Hideki Okajimi, Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, and Manny Delcarmen, the Red Sox can still feel comfortable in winning games, even if they get only 5 innings from the back end of their rotation.
Intangibles – This is still very similar to the team that won the 2007 World Series, but without Manny and a potent Ortiz, this team is not nearly what they were offensively. The clutch hitting from Lowell, Pedroia, and Drew will need to re-emerge, and another good postseason from Jason Bay would help as well. Francona knows what buttons to push, but he falls just a little short in matching up in a head game with Leyland or Scioscia.
Last week’s answer: Aside from Jim Thome, the other players with 500+ homeruns to be traded mid-season are Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., and Manny Ramirez – all last season.
2009 Playoff “Dead List”
This week, watch for…
Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper
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