Saturday, September 22, 2007

Who Would You Rather Face?

So I think we are way past the point of jinxing the season. Not even a Cleveland team could blow this lead. So we can start to look ahead to the playoffs, which are less than two weeks away. We have all heard the storyline by now; the American League team with the best record gets to choose their playoff schedule. Starting on Wednesday October 3rd would give the two teams an extra day off in the series, and with the schedule the way it is, it would allow said teams to use only three starters in the best-of-five series, should they please. The other series begins Thursday the 4th. After Friday night's action, the Indians were in the driver's seat at 91-62, a half game ahead of both the Angels and Boston who stand at 91-63.

There is no team that would like to start on Wednesday more than the Tribe. With two top of the rotation studs in C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona potentially starting four of the five games, they would be extremely tough to beat. As we all know (thanks to the 90's era big bat, average pitching Indians teams), pitching wins championships. The other team this favors is the Angels. Both John Lackey (17-9, 3,13 ERA) and Kelvim Escobar (17-7, 3.46 ERA) are having superb seasons and are power pitchers. Luckily for the Indians, the way things are shaking out, there is no possible way they will meet the Angels in the ALDS.

So this means the Tribe will have to face one of the two teams that has owned them this season - The Yankees or the Red Sox. As of Friday night, The Sox hold a 2.5 game lead in the AL East, but the way they are playing of late, it would surprise nobody if they ended up choking the division away to the smokin hot Yankees, the team with the best record in baseball since the All Star break (45-22). These same Yankees swept six games frpm the Indians this year. Lets assume for argument's sake the Red Sox hang on to win the East. For the Indians to avoid the Yankees in the first round, they would have to finish with the third best record behind both the Angels and the Red Sox. They would meet Boston, but start on the road and not have home field advantage. If they finish first or second, they will face New York and start at the Jake. Follow?

So whom would you rather face? To me, its a no-brainer, The Indians would LOVE to see Boston. While the Red Sox boast Cy Young candidate Josh Beckett (MLB's only 20 game winner) at the top of the rotation and one of the league's premier closer's in Jonathon Papelbon, everything in between on their staff is a giant question mark. They traded for Eric Gagne to pair with Japanese rookie left-hander Hideki Okajima solidify the seventh and eight innings in front of Papelbon. When the trade was made, I wondered aloud if they would ever lose a game where they held a late lead. Well as they say, the best laid plans.....

Here we are in late September and Gagne has been a disaster, giving up runs in seven of his 13 appearances. He cannot spot his once masterful change-up, his unhittable out-pitch. Okajima, who was so brilliant most of the season, has been shut down because of a tired arm. He hasn't been able to get anyone out over the past three weeks, but the Sox expect him to be ready for the playoffs. After Beckett, its anybody's guess what they are going to get out of an inconsistent Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-5 in his last seven starts, walking 23 and giving up 40 hits in 36 IP). Curt Schilling is still Curt Schilling, but does he have any more October magic left after missing a major portion of the season with shoulder pain? 4th starter Tim Wakefield doesn't scare anyone, especially in the colder weather where his knuckle ball doesn't dance the way it does in the heat and humidity of summer.

Their lineup is another story. Manny Ramirez missed his 22nd consecutive game Friday night with an ailing oblique muscle. Some think this is classic Manny, while others think the sub par by Manny standards season is due to the injuries. David Ortiz hasn't been himself all year either with a hamstring injury that hasn't allowed him to get his lift for a big power year. His 32 homers are down from the 54 from he crushed last year. Their spark-plug Kevin Youkilis hasn't played in a week with a sore wrist. This is a banged up squad who is playing probably their worst ball of the year at the wrong time.

The Bronx Bombers on the other hand are steamrolling every team in their way. Alex Rodriguez has having a once in a lifetime season, hitting over .300 with 52 Home Runs and 143 RBI in the face of opt-out talks. Derek Jeter is the most clutch player in baseball. He leads the league with an astounding .445 batting average with runners in scoring position and two out. They are deep, experienced, and peaking at the opportune time. Despite the age at the top of the rotation, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens are as battled tested as they come. Chien-Ming Wang is the Yankees answer to Carmona; a double-play inducing machine. While their bullpen is suspect, it still ends with maybe the best closer of all time in Mariano Rivera, and young fireballer Joba Chamberlain, who has been untouchable since being called up in August. The kid has given up just one earned run in 20.1 innings, striking out 28 and walking six.

The funny thing about all of this is that the Angels want the Yankees - they have had their number in the playoffs over the last five years. The Indians want Boston, as the Yankees seem to have their number. Something tells me this won't happen. In a short series, anything can happen, but give me the struggling team over the streaking team any day of the week.

No comments: