27 March 2003

Morgan Than I Can Handle

With apologies to Mike Carminati, I saw this today and couldn't let it go:

Morgan: Teams in mix for Series

As most of you know, Joe Morgan is a great analyst...if you need a laugh. If you're looking for hard core, well founded study and/or prognostication, go to Baseball Prospectus. If you're looking for head-in-the-sand, old-school, pitching-and-defense-win-Championships kinda writing, then Joe's your guy. I'll show you:

Let's take a look at the teams I believe are in the mix for the 2003 World Series (as well as one sleeper from each league). And as we preview this season, let's review how the 2002 champions got there -- because I believe their success will have a bearing on this year's eventual champion.

BoS:Yes, let's. But we know that this is what you believe, Joe. It's your column.

American League
Anaheim Angels
The Angels won the World Series not because of superior talent or dominant pitching or tremendous sluggers. They won because they understood what the word team means. Each player understood that he had a role in the run to the championship.

BoS:Joe, they won because they scored more runs than the Giants did in four of the seven games they played. Pretty simple. They got the runs they needed in the clutch like they did all season long, but such good fortune rarely follows a team two years in a row.

[...blah-blah-pitching-blah...] The other key for the Angels was aggressiveness. They were aggressive at the plate and on the bases, which enabled them to create offense and manufacture runs.

BoS:Ah yes, the old aggressiveness theory. Let's see...the Giants only stole five bases in the series, whereas those aggressive Angels stole...six! That's 20% more! Big factor. Didn't hurt that the Giants' pitching gave up five and a half runs per game and only held onto two of four saves either. Well, it hurt the Giants.

Anaheim's hitters wouldn't let pitchers throw a first-pitch fastball over the plate to get ahead in the count. They were aggressive from the moment they stepped in the batter's box. They also put the ball in play consistently. The '02 Angels had the fewest strikeouts in the majors (805). By contrast, the Cubs had 1,269 to lead the majors.

BoS:By contrast, the Cubs kinda sucked last year, so you're comparing apples and meatballs. The Yankees struck out an AL-leading 1171 times in 2002, en-route to winning an also AL-leading 103 regular season games, By contrast, the 62-100 Kansas City Royals had the second fewest K's, with only 921. I doubt you'd say that we should all hope for our favorite teams to emulate the Royals, so what's your point?

This season, I believe we'll see teams being more aggressive than before -- taking the extra base, going from first to third, putting pressure on the defense to make plays. While many teams may try to copy the 2002 Angels, we'll have to see how many can maintain that team concept for an entire season.

BoS:Yes, Joe, we know it's your column. But you know, aggressiveness on the basepaths only works if you have baserunners on the basepaths. A team that relies as much on batting average to get on base as the Angels did last year is bound to have trouble repeating its own success at scoring runs.

Oakland Athletics
Most people believe the A's are automatic World Series contenders because of their Big Three of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. But I'm still not convinced they have the offensive philosophy to win a championship.

The A's approach emphasizes on-base percentage, which works well during the season when you play inferior teams. But when you get to the postseason and face better pitching, you draw fewer walks and are forced to rely on the home run. This has contributed to Oakland's first-round exit the past three years.

BoS:Joe may have a point here, beside the one at the tip of his duncecap. On the other hand, if you can't win in the regular season, then you don't have a chance to get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

The A's also must deal with the Miguel Tejada contract situation this year. I'm shocked that management would say before the season that they won't sign their star shortstop, who will be a free agent after the season. Usually, you say, "We'll evaluate that in the offseason." There seems to be some faulty logic at work there, and it will affect the A's this season.

BoS:This is very funny: Joe Morgan lecturing you about 'faulty logic' is like Geraldo Rivera lecturing you about 'sensationalism'. Or George Steinbrenner lecturing you about 'fiscal responsibility'. Or Keanu Reeves lecturing you about 'good acting'. Or Burt Reynolds lecturing you about 'hair'. Or...well, you get the picture.

Honorable Mention -- Minnesota Twins
The Twins are also in the World Series mix, but not quite as much as the above teams, in my opinion. Their newfound postseason experience could come in handy. And their style is similar to the Angels.

BoS:Oh, this is your opinion, Joe? I thought you were just reporting prophecies you had gleaned from the Almighty. Thanks for clearing that up. Again.

Sleeper -- Texas Rangers
They have baseball's best player, Alex Rodriguez, and one of these years their pitching and defense could come around. Will this be the season they put it together?


National League
San Francisco Giants
[...blah blah aggressiveness blah...]

This year the Giants have added speed guys -- second baseman Ray Durham and outfielders Marquis Grissom and Jose Cruz Jr. -- while slugging second baseman Jeff Kent departed for the Astros. The Giants want to get more runners on base in front of Bonds. Another big acquisition is third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, who could offer protection for Bonds in the lineup.

BoS:Grissom is going to be a bust. He's got a little speed and power, but won't get on base often enough to be a factor and will lose his job by mid-season.

It will be interesting to see if the Giants can overcome the loss of Kent and Dusty Baker, the best manager in the baseball. It won't be easy.

BoS:Baker's refusal to play guys who know how to hit in spite of their ages or handedness is what lost the World Series. Anyone who calls in Tom Goodwin to pinch-'hit' for Reggie Sanders in a crucial point of the game cannot wear the title "Best Manager in The Baseball", whatever that means.

Atlanta Braves
[ Braves...blah...blah...pitching...blah...weak offense...yadda..yadda] And while their overhauled rotation appears to be weaker, Greg Maddux has said that this could be the best staff the Braves have had. When he says that, you take notice.

BoS:Yeah, and Wayne Campbell once said that monkeys might fly out of his butt, and everybody took notice, but nobody took him seriously.

There will be more of a race this year in the NL East -- remember, last year the Braves won the division by 19 games. But they certainly know how to win, and I expect them to be one of the NL's best teams.

BoS:I know how to win, too: Score more runs than your opponent does on any given day. No secret there. The challenge is actually doing that. An offense that gets really thin after Gary Sheffield and Los Dos Joneses and a pitching staff that gets really thin after, well, Maddux, can know all it wants to about winning. They just won't do it. At least not as often as the Phillies.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Someday, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson won't be the dominant, fearsome duo they are now. But "someday" won't be this year. I believe they'll be as dominant as ever in 2003. The support they get from the rest of the staff and from the lineup will determine whether the D-Backs can win a second World Series in three years.

BoS:There he goes with those silly 'beliefs' again...

Sleeper -- Chicago CubsThe hiring of manager Dusty Baker, the rotation (led by Mark Prior and Kerry Wood), and an offense led by Sammy Sosa make the Cubs an intriguing team to keep an eye on.

BoS:Intriguing? Yes. Competetive? No, not this year.

So these are the favorites. But remember, the Angels went from 41 games out in 2001 to the world championship in 2002. And that can happen again -- other teams have similar potential this season.

BoS:Joe, you've been reading Jayson Stark's columns again, haven't you? The 2001 Angels won 75 games, and only finished 41 games out of first place because the Seattle Mariners happened to win 116 that year. Technically, this can happen, as there were two teams who finished 41 or more games out of first place in their divisions: The Devil Rays (48 behind the Yankees) and the Brewers (41 behind the Cardinals). But anybody who thinks that either of those two teams can make the playoffs, let alone win the World Series, must be "really stupid" ... if you get my drift.

But they must commit to a total team effort for it to happen. So keep this in mind on Opening Day: More than just the big-market teams have a chance to win.

BoS: You really believe that, Joe? Well, I guess he's not all wrong. Except that the total team effort to which the Milwaukee or Tampa teams must commit is kindnapping and brainwashing the Yankees' roster, dressing them up in Brewers' or Devil Rays' uniforms, and marching that team out there 162 times this year. Otherwise, they've got no hope in 2003, and you'll hafta look to some of the at least decent teams (White Sox, Astros, Phillies, Blue Jays) to take some big strides and surprise everyone.

Heck, maybe Joe Morgan himself will take some big strides and surprise everyone ... by making sense in consecutive paragraphs sometime this season.

Nah, probably not.

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