MLB


Apparently, K-Rod wasn’t the only one who had the right to remain silent, so did the Colorado Rockies hitters yesterday at Citi Field. At a time when the New York Mets desperately needed a quiet, low-key victory, the team’s ace delivered just that.

Johan Santana never gave Mets manager, Jerry Manuel, the chance to take the ball from him and give it to the K-Rod-less bullpen Thursday.  Santana threw 9 shutout innings surrendering just 4 hits in the 4-0 Mets win.  The lefty fanned 10 Rockies, including the first three to start the game.

Now prior to the game yesterday, I thought the Mets should have gotten Ted Turner on the line to ask him if the team could star in a new Tyler Perry commercial showing this season’s highlights and having Jose Reyes at the end go, ‘TBS, very funny.’ 

Or maybe Omar Minaya, Mets General Manager, should have called up Vince McMahon at the WWE and asked Vince to trade K-Rod for the Undertaker.  After all, the Undertaker would fit right in with the dead Mets team playing right now.  Plus I have a weird feeling that if K-Rod were still on the team come September, he would not very much appreciate family members being present at the team’s funeral. (Just a hunch…especially his wife’s side, they’re a crazy bunch)

But these calls unfortunately were not made. (possibly because K-Rod smashed his father-in-law’s head into a telephone pole at Citi Field knocking out the Mets direct line)

But instead the Mets and their FREE K-ROD sign holding fans witnessed a gutsy, dominant pitching performance from #57.

Yes, the Mets are a joke right now and are slightly funnier to watch than ABC’s Rookie Blue, but just because the team is young and can’t buy back-to-back wins, that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate one of the game’s best pitchers. Keep doin your thing Johan, thank you so much for not going to the Yankees.

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Cliff Lee has been one of the best pitchers in the NL since he was traded from Cleveland. Can he do it in the NLCS?

Cliff Lee has been one of the best pitchers in the NL since he was traded from Cleveland. Can he do it in the NLCS?

The National League Championship Series is set to kick off tonight in Los Angeles as the Dodgers and Phillies meet in a rematch of last year’s playoff series.  Last year, the Phillies took care of business en route to their first World Series title in 28 years.  Will it be any different this year?

Catcher
At the outset of these playoffs, it was not a case of which of these two, Russell Martin or Carlos Ruiz, was better.  It was more a question of how much better Martin was than Ruiz.  However, in the NLDS, it was Ruiz who showed up for his team in a way that he usually doesn’t, coming up with key hits in the Phils’ 3-1 victory.  So, the gap has certainly narrowed. Still, Martin has shown a more consistent pattern of success, and there was never enough concern about him to make the Dodgers go out and get Paul Bako.

Advantage: Dodgers

First Baseman
Much like in the American League, this is a very big mismatch.  The Dodgers have a serviceable 1B in James Loney, who disappointed by not really having the breakout season that many were predicting, but still had a very respectable year.  The Phillies counter with the Big Man, Ryan Howard, who continues to rack up stunning power numbers, benefitting greatly from having a powerful lineup around him.  He also got his batting average up to a respectable level this year, making him even more dangerous to pitch to.

Advantage: Phillies

Second Baseman
Chase Utley is hands-down the best second baseman in the Majors today.  Not one other 2B gets it done batting and fielding quite like he does.  On top of that, he is the Phillies’ quiet team leader and a hero in the City of Brotherly Love.  The Dodgers have yet another solid presence at 2B in Ronnie Belliard, who I personally think is one of the more underrated second basemen in the Majors, but he’s not nearly in the same category as Utley.

Advantage: Phillies

Third Baseman
Moving to the left side of the infield makes it a lot tougher to determine who’s superior between these two teams.  The Phillies have Pedro Feliz at the hot corner, who is always solid, but far from spectacular, and isn’t the player you expect to get hurt by if you’re a Dodger fan.  Casey Blake has had a bit of a resurgence since leaving Cleveland for LA, but still is far from a superstar.  That being said, it’s hard to imagine either of these two having a major impact in this series.

Advantage: Push

Shortstop
Another slot in the infield that it’s truly unclear as to who has the advantage, but the difference is that both Jimmy Rollins and Rafael Furcal could have a major impact on this series.  Rollins has the ability to give the Phils a quick start, with his unusual power hitting from the leadoff spot, as well as good speed on the basepaths, and very good defensive skills.  Furcal has been one of the more clutch players for LA down the stretch, along with Andre Ethier, and isn’t a slouch out in the field, either.

Advantage: Push

Outfield
The Dodgers’ outfielders have certainly drawn the most attention this postseason, and that’s not a surprise when you have Manny Ramirez in left field.  The real surprises have been his supporting cast of Ethier and Matt Kemp, who have come up with numerous timely hits and home runs for LA down the stretch, and who both played very well in the sweep of the Cardinals.  The Phillies have a pretty good outfield, though, too, with Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Raul Ibanez, all of whom could have been All-Stars this year in the NL.  The play of these groups in the field, as opposed to at the plate, might be a key to this series.

Advantage: Push

Starting Pitching
This is the separating point between these two teams. I feel it would be a dis-service to take the time and explain this, so I’ll just list the starting rotations for both teams.  For the Dodgers, it’ll be Clayton Kershaw, followed by Phillie outcasts Vincente Padilla and Randy Wolf, and finally either Hiroki Kuroda or Chad Billingsley.  These five have a combined season record of 51-39, and an ERA close to 4.00.  The Phils counter with Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez, and maybe Joe Blanton.  Lee should automatically give them two wins, Pedro has been a huge surprise and has always pitched well in the playoffs, and Hamels and Blanton have been here before and excelled.

Advantage: Phillies

Relief Pitching
Almost the complete opposite of starting pitching, with the Phillies having some major bullpen issues as they sit on the ledge whenever they need to call on Brad Lidge to close out a game.  The Dodgers, meanwhile, might have the best overall group of relievers in the playoffs, which is a huge advantage for the Dodgers if they get into a high-scoring game or an extra innings game with the Phils.  Not to mention, Johnathan Broxton has been lights out all year for Los Angeles.

Advantage: Dodgers

Taking all of these things into account, as well as a few other factors, including the Phillies success on the road and its similar success against left-handed pitchers.  This is why I am taking the Phillies in six.

A-Rod powered the Yankees past Minnesota. Does he have an encore performance for Hollywood?

A-Rod powered the Yankees past Minnesota. Does he have an encore performance for Hollywood?

The American League championship is a battle between East and West as the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim set to do battle starting on Friday night in The Bronx.  Before that, though, let’s take a look at both of these teams head-to-head.

Catcher
The Angels seem to have finally found their long-term solution behind the plate in Mike Napoli, who has really begun to play well on a consistent basis.  He also has a great relationship with an Angels’ pitching staff that might have the most depth of all the remaining teams in the playoffs.  The Yankees, on the other hand, caused some waves by electing to use backup catcher Jose Molina in Game 2 of the ALDS to catch Jorge Posada.  Although, with his series-clinching home run in Game 3, it’s hardly a debate in New York as to who the true starting catcher is.  In the end, it’s always a comfort to have someone who is young behind the plate and can deal with all the pitchers in his battery.

Advantage: Angels

First Baseman
This is much more clear cut than catcher was.  Mark Teixeira had an unbelievable regular season and stands to possibly win the MVP award this year.  Kendry Morales, while he played very well this year, is not the man he is attempting to replace who is, ironically enough, Mark Teixeira.

Advantage: Yankees

Second Baseman
Again, this position is simply a case of having a consistent and solid player against having a platoon system of two sometimes good players.  Robinson Cano had a bounce back year this season, putting himself back in the upper echelons of second basemen in the American League.  Meanwhile, after holding the second base slot for most of the year, Howie Kendrick lost the spot to Maicer Izturis, neither of whom bring the productivity or the talent to their team that Cano does.

Advantage: Yankees

Third Baseman
This is actually a tougher call than I initially thought it would be.  On the one hand, the Yankees have Alex Rodriguez, who, in spite of missing a month of baseball and being under the steroid cloud, still hit for 30 and 100.  On the other hand, the Angels have Chone Figgins, who is a do-it-all kind of player and is usually the key to their offense’s overall success.  At the outset of the playoffs, I would have definitely taken Figgins based off of A-Rod’s lack of postseason success.  However, it looks like he’s shaking those demons and will be a key factor in the ALCS.

Advantage: Yankees

Shortstop
Erick Aybar has been quite a revelation for the Angels this year, and that continued into the playoffs with his .364 average against the Boston Red Sox, which is unreal production from the #9 spot in any team’s lineup.  The Yankees counter with their captain, Derek Jeter, who has proven time and again that he just knows how to win.  He may not always light up the scoreboard, but Jeter finds ways to have an impact that most players don’t.

Advantage: Yankees

Outfield
The Angels have an outfield that is very experienced and very dangerous.  They have Torii Hunter, who is playing hungrier for winning than any other player in the postseason right now, Bobby Abreu, who would love nothing more than to beat his former team and get to the World Series they promised him, and Juan Rivera, who since leaving New York for Los Angeles, has been a thorn in the side of Yankee pitching.  The Yankees have an outfield of Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Nick Swisher, the three of which combined for 4 hits in the ALDS and will face even better pitching and will probably be challenged defensively much more in this series.

Advantage: Angels at all 3 positions.

Starting Pitching
This is where the series will be won and lost.  There is no denying the strength of the front of the Yankee rotation with Sabathia and Burnett.  There is also no denying that the Angels are very deep with Lackey, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and Scott Kazmir.  It’s almost impossible to determine which is going to win out. Either way, expect some pitching duels in the series.

Advantage: Push

Bullpen
The Yankees have continuously touted the new-found strength of their middle relief this season, but it was less than convincing against the Minnesota Twins.  The Angels’ bullpen isn’t heard from all that much, and that’s because their fairly mediocre.  The tipping point is that the Yankees have the greatest closer in postseason history backing their bullpen, while the Angels have Brian Fuentes, who is basically untested in the playoffs in his career.

Advantage: Yankees, just slightly

Prediction: The positional breakdown is fairly even between these two teams as far as I am concerned, and it’s hard to determine because the teams play much different styles of baseball. That’s why it’s going to be those so-called “intangibles” that will win this series. Can the Yankees overcome their lack of postseason success against Los Angeles, or will the Angels work their way past them yet again?  As far as I’m concerned, the Angels and Yankees are the same teams that they were the last time they faced, another time the Yankees were favored against them.  Los Angeles might even be better than they were in 2002 when they won it all, and that’s why I’m taking the Angels in Six.

Torii Hunter's former team was elminated by the Yankees. Will his current team suffer the same fate?

Torii Hunter's former team was elminated by the Yankees. Will his current team suffer the same fate?

For the Angels, the path is a certain and familiar one as they take on the New York Yankees, who broke out the brooms last night with their 4-1 win over the Minnesota Twins.  For the Dodgers it could be just the same, as they watch the Philadelphia Phillies try and wrapup their  series with the Rockies tonight.

The Angels went 5-5 against the Yankees this season in a series of games that neither team was ever really out of, with the exception of the three-game sweep by LA at home just before the All-Star Break.  This has certainly been a trend for the Angels, who own the Yankees when they meet in Anaheim.  This will be a matchup between two teams that are as different in style in terms of play on the field as Hollywood and the South Bronx are in terms of glamor. The Angels will look to get it done the same way they always have against Yankee pitching by finding ways to get on base, and then running wild.  The Yankees know this, but with a defensive liability in at catcher in Jorge Posada, it’s hard to see them slowing down the Angels’ game plan.  The Yankees, on the other hand, will be looking for more of the same from Alex Rodriguez, who powered the Bronx Bombers past Minnesota, shedding his “Can’t get it done in October” moniker for the time being.  This should be a much more heated and contested series than these two teams had in the ALDS, and I fully expect it to go 6 or 7 games.

Assuming that Cliff Lee will pitch the way he did in Game 1 against Colorado, then we can safely say that the Phillies will advance to the NLCS to take on the Dodgers.  Of course, the last time I made this kind of assumption, I said the Twins were done and not making  the playoffs and look what happened there, but this time I’m confident that the Champs will prevail and advance to play Game 1 in Dodger Stadium.  The Dodgers desperately need to avoid getting into a high-scoring affair with the Phillies’ offense, because this plays right into what Philadelphia wants, as it makes it a battle to see which team’s pitching staff blinks first.  The Phillies should have a decided advantage in power and starting pitching, and have to feel like they have the best team remaining in the NL right now with the Cardinals being eliminated.  I struggle to see the Dodgers getting past Philly, but then again, I didn’t see them getting past St. Louis, either.

Joe Torre's L.A. Dodgers are one step closer to the World Series after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday

Joe Torre's L.A. Dodgers are one step closer to the World Series after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday

This was supposed to be a quick exit for Los Angeles.  They weren’t supposed to be able to get to the St. Louis Cardinals’ vaunted pitching staff.  This was supposed to be Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday’s playoff coming out party.  Apparently Joe Torre, Manny Ramirez, and the rest of the LA Dodgers didn’t get the message.

A decisive 5-1 victory in an abnormally quiet Busch Stadium, backed by seven shutout innings from the somewhat unlikely Vincente Padilla left no doubt about the NL West Champions, who all of a sudden look rejuvenated and as good as they did back in April and May when they first were called World Series contenders.

Even though the Cardinals’ bats were held in check to the tune of just six runs in three games, it’s hard to ignore the timely hitting from the Dodgers as a key factor in the sweep.  No player on the field had a bigger impact on the series than Andre Ethier, who has continued his late season tear into October, hitting .500 in the series with two home runs and three RBIs, including the 2-run home run in tonight’s game to make it 3-0 Dodgers in Game 3, and eventually 3-0 in the series for L.A.

Now the Dodgers get to sit and watch the Phillies and Rockies battle it out for the next two games of their series in wintry Denver, and potentially play an all-or-nothing game back in Philadelphia.  Either way, the winner of that series has to go out to Chavez Ravine, where a well-rested, well-managed, and maybe most importantly, a hungry Dodgers team will be lined up and primed for the NLCS.  Both teams bring up some big motivators for the Dodgers, as well.

If it’s the Rockies, the motivation is explicit.  A battle to end all battles of an NLCS against their closest rivals from the NL West.  A team that they beat 14 times in 18 games, and yet, it seemed like down the stretch that a lot more people were watching Colorado than Los Angeles.  It’s a great chance for the Dodgers to reclaim their supremacy on the West Coast, especially if they are to possibly meet the Angels in the World Series.

If it’s the Phillies, you better believe that closer Johnathan Broxton will be fired up.  In last year’s NLCS, it was Broxton who gave up the key home run to pinch hitter Matt Stairs that permanently shifted the series in favor of the defending World Champions.  Most of the members of that 2008 Dodgers team are still around and remember the feeling of getting beaten by the Phillies and will have that to feed off of if they come into Dodger Stadium for the second consecutive year for the NLCS.

Regardless of the result of the other NLDS series, the only thing that is certain at this point is that the Dodgers are not going to go silently, if not by their play, then simply by their surroundings.  Only time will tell if it’ll be a Hollywood ending in Mannywood.

162 games was enough for seven of the eight playoff teams this year.  However, we won’t know the winner of the one-game playoff between Detroit and Minnesota until tomorrow night.  For now, though, we’ll take a look at playoff scenarios for both teams against the Yankees, in addition to the Red Sox-Angels, Phillies-Rockies, and Cardinals-Dodgers series that start on Wednesday or Thursday.

Red Sox-Angels
In a rematch of last year’s ALDS, which the Sox took 3-1 from the AL West Champion Angels, one of the most important things to look at is that not much has changed between either of these two teams.  Both teams still have the same core groups of players, with the exception of Mark Teixeira no longer being in LA of A.  The pitching matchups are essentially the same as last year’s series as well.  I think it can also be said that Boston has upgraded its offense slightly more from last year with the addition of Victor Martinez, while the Angels have lost the aforementioned Teixeira and also have had limited contributions from Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter.  All of this adds up to a return trip to the ALCS for The Nation.

Prediction: Boston in 4.This series is also a rematch from the 2007 NLDS, in which the surging Rockies stunned the NL East champion Phils en route to the World Series.  The Rockies are hot going into the playoffs once again, but this year the Phillies have the combination of offense and good starting pitching to stop Colorado quickly.  Philadelphia looks like they’ll have the advantage in the pitching matchups in every game of this series.  Factor in the Rockies’ struggles to hit away from Coors Field, and I’d be stunned to see a team with the rotation of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ lose in the opening round. Part of me wants the Rockies to go all the way this year because it would be the crowning achievement in Todd Helton’s career, but I just don’t see it happening.

Phillies-Rockies

Prediction: Phillies sweep Rocktober, 3-0.It seems like April and May are years ago and the LA Dodgers are no longer the most dominant team in the National League, but the St. Louis Cardinals have been the NL team of the second half of the season, turning a divisional race into a runaway after the All-Star Break.  The Cardinals might have the top two pitchers in the Senior circuit right now in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, as well as a very good #3 guy in Joel Piniero.  Offensively, I’d be happy to take an offense anchored by Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday over most other teams in the league.  The Dodgers will put up a tough fight, and Manny will be Manny in the playoffs, which is very dangerous for the Cards, but I think St. Louis will pull this series out based on the strength of its pitching.

Cardinals-Dodgers

Prediction: Cards in Five.I’m slightly annoyed that I have to write about three teams instead of two in this series, if only because I have to eat my words with respect to the Minnesota Twins, who have done the improbable and come back from 3 back with 4 to play to force a one-game playoff with the Tigers in the Metrodome.  I won’t lie, I am now rooting for the Homer Hankie waving faithful of Minnesota for two reasons: because it’s the only way to legitimate a one-game playoff when the Twins won the season series 11-7 and also because I would much rather play the Twins than the Tigers because the Twinkies have had no success against the Yankees in the last few years.  Yes, I am letting my bias show right now and no, I do not care.  That being said, it would be disasterous for New York if the Yankees failed to beat either of these teams after going a combined 11-1 against them both during the season and after winning 103 games this year.

Yankees-Twins/Tigers

Roughly 75% of all Philly natives have a crush on Chase Utley, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Apparently, I might, too, as hes #1 on this list.

Roughly 75% of all Philly natives have a crush on Chase Utley, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Apparently, I might, too, as he's #1 on this list.

Now that the playoff picture has pretty much all but taken its final shape, I have taken the liberty of removing any and all Twins or Braves from the remaining lists, so don’t be confused that the list stops at #8 as opposed to #10.  That being said, today we’re looking at the group of second basemen headed into the Divisional Series next week.  This is a group that is a good bit different from the first basemen in that some of these guys are really good, but you’ve never heard of them.  However, there is definitely more of a separation between the second basemen than their first base compadres.

1. Chase Utley, Phillies
I really had to look closely at both him and defending AL MVP Dustin Pedroia to determine which one is actually #1, but in the end it’s hard not to pick Utley because of what he means to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Utley has had another great offensive year as far as second basemen go, hitting .285 with 31 homers and 90 RBIs. He was named the starting 2B for the NL in the All-Star Game and is looking like he will win his 4th consecutive Silver Slugger Award.  He solidifies the middle of the Phils’ lineup with Ryan Howard and is probably the most popular man in the City of Brotherly Love. He also plays a solid defensive game, committing 12 errors in 153 games this season.

2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
I’m probably going to receive several complaints about Pedroia not being #1 on this list, but there are two reasons for that.  First, Pedroia, unlike Utley, is a top of the batting order guy, along with teammate Jacoby Ellsbury and to put a guy who isn’t the focal point of the team ahead of Utley would be just wrong.  Second, his numbers aren’t as good as last year, as he’s hitting .298 with 13 homers and 68 RBIs, all of which are down from the previous year.  However, the number that stands out with Pedroia is 45 strikeouts in 615 at bats this season.  There’s a reason he’s known as a pest by opposing pitchers, and that’s exactly why.  There might not be a player in the league who will fight off more pitches in a two strike count than Pedroia, which makes him extremely valuable in a situation where Boston needs to advance a runner or get a runner in.  He’s also one of the best defensive second basemen in the league.  The 2008 Gold Glove Award winner, Pedroia has committed only 6 errors in 150 games for the Sox this year.

3. Robinson Cano, Yankees
After a down year in 2008, Cano has had a pretty big comeback year, as he is amongst the AL leaders in batting average, hitting .322 and also has 202 hits on the year, including a career-high 25 home runs.  Cano has been a frustrating player for Yankees fans, at times, however, as he has a tendency to get a little to flashy with the glove, which has caused him to make 12 errors in 158 games this year.  Cano also has the luxury of hitting in a lineup behind guys like A-Rod and Mark Teixeira, which is a solid explanation for the jump in his numbers in ’09.

4. Placido Polanco, Tigers
Polanco is one of the most underrated second basemen in the MLB every year.  Much like Dustin Pedroia, Polanco is extremely difficult to strike out, which he has only done 43 times in 599 at bats this season, making him in the very widely recognized stat category of at bats per strikeout for the third-consecutive year in the AL.  Polanco is also looking like the favorite to win his second career Gold Glove, as he has been stellar defensively all year, committing only 2 errors in 147 games for the Tigers.

5. Orlando Hudson, Dodgers
Hudson left the Arizona Diamondbacks after the 2008 season and was a player that was on a lot of teams’ wish list.  However, he didn’t sign until late in the free agent signing period with the LA Dodgers, but it hasn’t caused him to miss a beat in 2009.  The ’09 All-Star selection is having his best offensive season since ’06, which was his first year in Arizona, hitting .285, and is also just short of career highs in just about every major stat category.  The O-Dog also continues to play the position about as good as anyone in the Majors, committing only eight errors in 146 games, which puts him in position to be a candidate for his 4th career Gold Glove.

6. Howie Kendrick/Maicer Izturis, Angels
These two have spent the year splitting time at second base for the Halos, and their numbers are almost exactly the same.  Both are hitting right around .300 and lack power, but get on base a lot, which fits in nicely with Mike Scioscia’s overall strategy at the plate.  They have only committed 6 errors combined at 2B this year, as well, which would place them second in the AL behind Polanco if this were one player instead of two.

7. Skip Schumaker, Cardinals
Schumaker originally came up and looked like a super utility player for the Cards to hold onto.  However, Skip showed that he can hit in ’08 and has continued that through this season, hitting .303, which is important considering there are times when he bats in front of the pitcher, which explains his total lack of run production for the year with only 35 RBIs.  The permanency of him at second took a little while for him to adjust to defensively, as well, which explains his 9 errors in just 130 games at the position this year.

8. Clint Barmes, Rockies
Barmes looked like he was going to be the Next Big Thing after a great campaign in 2005.  However, after a disappointing ’06 and then a freak accident in the beginning of 2007, Barmes fell way off of everybody’s radar.  Now he’s working his way back at second base, rather than shortstop and has improved his power numbers, which is the norm for anyone on the Rockies, with career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (76).  However, he is still only hitting .246 on the year for a team that could use a few more contact hitters in its lineup.  He’s also committed 12 errors in 136 games at the position, making him one of the weaker second basemen going into the playoffs.

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