04 October 2004

2004 PostSeason Picks

AL Division Series:

AL Wild Card winner Boston will play Anaheim in one of the Division Series matchups, probably the toughest to pick. Boston has a heck of a team: a great offense, significantly improved defense, a solid bullpen and potentially great starting pitching. I say 'potentially' because Pedro Martinez was only 2-4 with a 4.95 ERA in September. He lost twice to New York, who are, after all, his Daddy, but also twice to Tampa Bay, an unforgiveable offense, especially condisering how little of it the D-Rays have. If that Pedro shows up to face the Angels, the Red Sox are going back to Bean town Red-Faced, because they can't win. Curt Schilling can't pitch every day. A suddenly healthy and scary Anaheim team will chew them up and spit them out.

With the Yankees facing Minnesota, having home-field advantage, and frankly most other advantages as well, I can't imaging that this series can come out any way other than the a Yankee victory. The Yanks are 17-2 against Minnesota in regular season play since 2002, 20-3 if you include last year's Division Series. A 20-3 record won Roger Clemens a sixth Cy Young Award a few years ago, that's how good the Yanks have been against Minnesota in these three seasons. I know, I know, that wasn't always against Johan Santana, who will probably get to pitch twice in this series, and has been all but unbeatable for the past four months. Believe me, as a Yankee fan, nobody's more scared of Santana than I am, but like Schilling, he can't pitch every day. All they have to do is get a run or two out of him, and work his pitch count high enough that they can get into the bullpen, and the Yanks can win one of those. And that's all they'll need.

Anaheim in four.
Yankees in Five.

NL Division Series:

The Houston Astros are primed to finally end their drought of postseason victories. They've gone 54-36 since the trade for Carlos Beltran, including 47-26 since the All-Star Break and an astonishing 23-7 in September/October. There is no hotter team in the playoffs, for whatever that's worth, and they'll have their best pitchers available to start against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday and Thursday, with Roger Clemens likely to return from his stomach virus just fine and Roy Oswalt to follow him. Atlanta's pretty good too. You don't usually win your division by ten games if you're not, but the Astros should prevail.

The Dodgers just barely eeked out a division title over a two-man show in San Francisco. They've got a great bullpen and a good offense, much better than last season, but still not great. Their starting pitching, despite the advantage Chavez Ravine offers, is not particularly scary, and probably won't let the team hang in there for long against the best offense in the National League. Rolen, Pujols and Edmonds are or were all viable MVP candidates at some point this season, and will likely eliminate the Dodgers from the race in pretty short order.

Houston in four.
St. Louis in four.

AL Championship Series:

Assuming that the Angels and Yankees do in fact win the ALDS, as I have suggested, this is a tough matchup. Anaheim's offense is only decent overall, ranking 7th in the 14-team American League, but they've played better of late, especially since getting back some of the talent that wallowed on the DL most of the season. Still, if they go through with their decision to keep Jose Guillen suspended for the post-season, they'll have a hard time beating the Yankees, whose offense is much better, and much less prone to triking out than the team the Angels beat en-route to their 2002 World Series Championship. New York's chances hinge upon Kevin Brown and/or Orlando Hernandez being healthy and effective, and perhaps on Javier Vazquez pitching like he did in Montreal, or even like he did before the 2004 All-Star break (10-5, 3.56) rather than after (4-5, 6.92). Don't bet on the latter, but expet the Yankees to escape by the skin of their teeth.

Yankees in Seven.

NL Championship Series:

Though the Cardinals' offense and pitching strength allowed them to cruise to a 13-game lead in their division and win it handily, I have a hard time seeing them as an all-time great. They've got solid starting pitching, with five guys who have at least 11 wins and 180 innings to their credit, but you don't need five starters in the playoffs, and none of those who will pitch has an ERA much under 4.00. They've got a great bullpen, and a great offense, but Houston is one of the few teams that found a way to beat them this year, going 10-8 in the regular season, and they'll do it again.

Houston in Six.

World Series:

As I'm looking at it now, this matchup seems really improbable. Nevertheless, should the Astros face the Yankees in the World Series, this is how it will turn out:

Game One: Mussina vs. Clemens at Yankee Stadium
Mussina continues Sept-Ober dominance and Rocket gets a revisitation by his stomach virus, and has to leave after three innings, trailing, 6-0, to get an IV to rehydrate himself. Mussina goes seven strong innings and Flash and Mo close it out. Yanks up, 1-0.

Game Two: Roy Oswalt vs. Jon Leiber at Yankee Stadium
Leiber's six-inning, nine strikeout performance is wasted on an error by Miguel Cairo and an implosion by the bullpen. Oswalt goes the distance, Houston wins, 4-0. Series tied, 1-1.

Game Three: El Duque vs. Brandon Backe at the JuiceBox in Houston
El Duque's shoulder flares up again, and he leaves in the third trailing 2-0, but Kevin Brown pitches six solid innings of relief for the win. Backe and the Bullpen blow the lead and it becomes a laugher, 10-4, in which Brad Lidge never gets a chance. Yanks up, 2-1.

Game Four: Mussina vs. Carlos Hernandez at the JuiceBox in Houston
Hernandez is a late replacement for Clemens who's either still got a stomach virus or has converted to Islam and therefore can't pitch because it's Ramadan. Nobody's exactly sure. Hernandez doesn't disappoint. Well, he disappoints the Houston fans, giving up six runs in four innings before Scrap Iron tosses him on the scrap heap. Moose shines for eight innings and Torre adds insult to injury by letting Tanyon Sturtze pitch the last inning. Left-handed. Yanks up, 3-1.

Game Five: Oswalt vs. Leiber at the JuiceBox in Houston
With their backs against the wall, the Astros again turn to their true ace, Brad Ausmus. Just kididng. Roy Oswalt goes the distance again, shutting out New York's vaunted offense, and Leiber doesn't pitch nearly as well on the road as he had at home. Javier Vazquez comes in for long-relief in the fifth and the ThreeBees all homer of him in the same inning to win it for Houston, 8-1 and send the Series back to New York. Yanks up, 3-2.

Game Six: Brown vs. Backe at Yankee Stadium
With 35-going-on-60 year old Orlando Hernandez still nursing a stiff shoulder, Brown gets the nod and pitches well, but doesn't have the stamina and leaves after five and change. The Yankee bullpen blows another lead, and Houston's offense puts on another fireworks display against the likes of Sturtze, Paul Quantrill and Javier Vazquez, who despite the best efforts of the Yankee coaching staff, escaped from the hotel room in which they locked him in Houston and got a flight back to New York in time for the game. Houston wins, evening the Series at three games apiece.

Game Seven: Mussina vs. Clemens at Yankee Stadium
Roger Clemens converts to Judaism because somebody points out that they don't have any more holidays until December, at which point Roger will either be retiring or signing a one-year deal with the Cubs. Or both.

Clemens takes the mound in the top of the first to a hail of boos and batteries, but the crowd cheers up quickly. Rocket's best efforts are spoiled when Brad Ausmus is accosted in the clubhouse by Mike Piazza (6'3", 215 lbs), who gags him, stuffs him into a locker, and somehow squeezes into Ausmus' (5'11", 190) uniform, entering the game in disguise. Piazza gives the signs away to Clemens' former teammates, who tee-off on him for half an inning before Phil Garner comes out to yank his starter, who's down, 5-0. Piazza, as Ausmus, pats Clemens on the butt REALLY hard on his way out, causing Clemens to wonder, but Piazza hides his face and nobody knows the better until after the game.

In a surprise move, with nobody of much starting pitching prowess left on his roster, Garner calls in 58-year old Larry Dierker, a one-time 20-game winner for the Astros, albeit in 1969, reasoning that this gives him two 20-game winners and besides, he's still younger than El Duque. Dierker breaks out a knuckleball and keeps the Yankees in check, allowing one run in two innings and change.

Another surprise move sees Roy Oswalt come out of the bullpen to pitch four more shutout innings on one day of rest to keep New York from scoring any more and Brad Lidge makes his first World Series appearance, striking out the side in the bottom of the eighth. This is, in fact, really an accomplishment, as suddenly not-sure-handed "Brad Ausmus" drops three third strikes, allowing each of the runners to reach first base, but K-Lidge strikes everyone out, becoming the first pitcher in World Series history to amass six strikeouts in one inning.

The damage had been done, though, and Garner's creative bullpen antics fall by the wayside as the Yankees win their 27th World Championship. Brad Ausmus escapes from the locker into which Piazza had stuffed him after the top of the first, and tells his tale to anyone who will listen, but to no avail. Garner issues an official protest of the game, but the Commisioner's office figures that the two solo homers Piazza hit as Ausmus, with his catcher's mask on, more than compensate for the first-inning ruse that got Clemens yanked. Bud Selig has already handed the Commissioner's trophy to George Steinbrenner, and once he sees how ugly the thing is, Garner drops his appeal.

Jim Gray corners Mike Piazza in the parking lot and asks him repeatedly why he won't admit, just admit it now, here on national television, once and for all, c'mon, why don't you just admit that you're gay. Piazza decks him, since he was standing in the way of his path to his car, a pink Cadillac with maroon shag interior. Chad Curtis says he talked to his teammates and they're boycotting Jim Gray, but then someone realizes that Curtis hasn't played for the Yankees since 1999, or for any major league team since 2001. The embarassed network quickly cuts back to the victory celebration on the field, just in time to show Kevin Brown riding a police horse around the staduim in a victory lap, and then promptly falling off and reinjuring his non-pitching hand. George Steinbrenner immediately announces that horseback riding is expressly prohibited by Brown's contract, and that they'll release him before spring, but try to re-sign him at a lower rate, maybe $14 million.

Roy Oswalt becomes only the second player in history to win a postseason MVP award playing for the losing team, going 2-0 with 22 scoreless innings.

Steinbrenner files an immediate protest.

The Fans. C'mon,wouldn't it be interesting if it happened like that?

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