Saturday, October 11, 2003

Tapped out

I know I promised to write about my trip to Yankee Stadium for Thursday's playoff game, but I got caught up with some other things to do before today's game and now I'm just drained. Between not getting much sleep lately, very long car rides on consecutive days and back-to-back Red Sox losses, I'm about out of energy.

So, I'll just say that I had a good time on the trip. Yankee Stadium is something to behold during the playoffs. As intense as the two regular season New York-Boston games I went to at Yankee Stadium this year were, Thursday's game was an all together different animal.

I met some very nice Yankees fans and, of course, I met some absolute jerks. I wore my Boston hat and my Red Sox road jersey, but I didn't really get taunted until after the Yankees had won the game.

Now, I'm just going to try to enjoy the rest of the sporting day -- game four of the NLCS and a few interesting college football games -- and hope that John Burkett can pull off something magical and/or the Red Sox hitters can pound David Wells into submission tomorrow.

Who knows, maybe Wells will take the Tim Hudson approach to preparing for a playoff start at Fenwar Park. Actually, now that I think about it, I might tell my players they're not allowed to leave the hotel tonight if I were Joe Torre. As there are in every big city, there are a lot of stupid people in Boston and they're going to be ticked off after everything that happened today. I wouldn't want to think about what might happen if some drunk idiots spotted a couple of Yankees players.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Fantasy football

Here's the link to my fantasy football column for this week:

Fantasy football: Scrambing for a receiver? Don't pass on K.C.'s Hall

I'll have my post about my trip to Yankee Stadium up tomorrow. I have to work right now and then I'll need to pass out because I'm dead tired. Enjoy tonight's NLCS game three. It should be a good one.

Thursday, October 09, 2003


After nine straight days of tension-filled post-season baseball, Wednesday night was the least dramatic chapter of this year's playoffs.

In Chicago, the Cubs even the series at a game a piece thanks to a nice performance from Mark Prior (7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) and an offensive barrage that featured home runs from Alex Gonzalez (2), Sammy Sosa and Aramis Ramirez. The Cubs now have an excellent shot at going up 2-1 in the series with Kerry Wood on the mound for game three in Florida.

In New York, the Red Sox took the first game of their series against the Yankees with a workmanlike 5-2 victory. The game saw some nice pitching from Tim Wakefield (6 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 2 K), some nice hitting from the Red Sox (home runs from Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Todd Walker), some poor pitching from Mike Mussina (two walks in 5.2 innings and just a 64-40 strike-ball ratio), some poor defense from the Yankees middle infielders (no errors, but I counted at least three hits that maybe should have been outs) and both bullpens doing pretty much what bullpens are supposed to do.

Since I was five years old during the playoffs in 1986, this is just the second time I've ever seen seen the Red Sox win the first game of a playoff series. I must say it feels nice, and I hope this time goes better than last time (the 1998 ALDS against Cleveland). If the Red Sox can take game two from the Yankees with Derek Lowe facing Andy Pettitte, they will be in very good shape heading back to Fenway Park up 2-0 with Pedro Martinez on the mound for game three. As it is, they've already taken home field advantage away from the Yankees, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to sleep. I need to wake up in less than five hours to make the drive down to the Big Apple so that Rob and I are in the Bronx in time to take our seats in Yankee Stadium for game two of the ALCS. I'm not sure when, but I'll definitely have a post of my experiences at my first-ever playoff game after I get back.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

ALCS Preview

Aside from fans of the Athletics and Twins and people who hate the East Coast, this is the matchup the baseball world was hoping for. They got it, and it should be great. These two teams met in a playoff series for the first time four years ago and it wasn't pretty. The Red Sox were clearly the inferior team, they made 10 errors in five games, they got some bad bounces and they got no love from the umpires. This time around should be much better. The Red Sox and Yankees are about as evenly matched as they've ever been and I'll be shocked if the series doesn't go at least six games.

The Red Sox led the AL with 5.93 runs scored per game in the regular season, while the Yankees ranked third with 5.38 runs scored per game. On the other side of the ledger, the Yankees ranked fourth in the AL with 4.42 runs allowed per game while the Red Sox were eighth with 4.99 runs allowed per game.

So, let's take a look at those lineups and see how they stack up.

C - These are probably the two best catchers in the AL. They're both switch-hitters with power who are very highly regarded by all of the people around them. The only thing I dislike about either catcher is that Jorge Posada never blocks home plate on a close play there. He always comes up above the plate to receive the throw, and then he tries a sweep tag on the runner. But that's just one, fairly little, thing. Both of these catchers are exceedingly good.

Jason Varitek hit .273/.351/.512 (.863) in the regular season and an even better .286/.375/.714 (1.089) in the ALDS. He started Boston's rally in game five and he was there to capitalize on every Oakland mistake in game three.

Posada hit .281/.405/.518 (.922) in the regular season, but slumped to .176/.176/.235 (.412) in the ALDS. August and September were Posada's best two months this season, so he's probably not worn down from the season. It's more likely that he just had a bad four games against the Twins.

Bob Ryan wrote in the Boston Globe today that Varitek is Mr. Red Sox, but the Yankees do have a slight advantage here, at least based on the regular season. Posada does have a history of struggling in the post-season though (he's hit .222/.335/.370 in 189 playoff at-bats including this year), so maybe the Red Sox will get the better of this matchup (not that I think past post-season performance is indicative of future post-season performance).

1B - Both first basemen have been instrumental to their team's success on offense this year, but both are also struggling mightily at the moment.

Nick Johnson hit .284/.422/.472 (.894) in the regular season, but just .077/.294/.154 (.448) in the ALDS. He went 0-for-17 with just one walk in the last five games of the regular season, and that slump seems to have carried over to the playoffs as he only had one hit despite reaching base in each game in the series against Minnesota.

Kevin Millar hit .276/.348/.472 (.820) in the regular season, but just .238/.304/.238 (.542) in the ALDS. He hit just .251/.331/.421 (.752) after the All-Star break, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better in October.

Both players are decent on defense, both are capable of being good on offense and both are in a big funk at the plate right now, so I guess this position is about even. I'll give the Red Sox a slight advantage, however, because Millar has at least shown some ability to put the ball into play with authority recently. Johnson has just one hit in 30 at-bats in his last nine games.

2B - If you're trying to teach your son to become a good defensive second baseman, do not under any circumstances allow him to watch this series. It could get very, very ugly. Fortunately, both players are capable of hitting a little bit.

Todd Walker hit .283/.333/.428 (.760) in the regular season and amazingly hit .313/.353/.875 (1.228) in the ALDS. I wouldn't expect that hot hitting to necessarily continue, however, as his only hit after his stellar first game was his home run in game four.

Alfonso Soriano hit .290/.338/.525 (863) in the regular season and .368/.368/.421 (.789) in the ALDS. I wouldn't be surprised to see his walkless tendencies extend to the ALCS, but don't expect his powerless tendencies to do so as well.

The Yankees definitely have a significant advantage here, but I can't decide just how big an advantage it is. Soriano hits lefties (.312/.379/.565 in 138 at-bats this year, .298/.354/.523 in 369 at-bats before this year) much better than he hits righties (.285/.327/.515 in 544 at-bats this year, .285/.319/.502 in 1583 at-bats before this year) and he won't be facing a single left-handed pitcher in this series. On the other hand, Walker can't hit lefties to save his life (.234/.282/.373 against them in 158 at-bats this year, .259/.296/.382 against them in 424 at-bats the three previous seasons), and the Yankees have two of them in the starting rotation. Walker might not start all of the games in which the Yankees use a lefty, but Damian Jackson's presence in the lineup certainly won't narrow the gap on Soriano.

3B - Both teams traded away their original starting third basemen to give the job to somebody else. The move worked out beautifully for the Red Sox and not so well for the Yankees.

Bill Mueller had a career year by hitting .326/.398/.540 (.938) in the regular season, but slumped to .105/.227/.158 (.385) in the ALDS. He was only 10-for-41 with three walks, a double and no homers in his final 13 games, so he may be tiring from playing mre games than he had since 2000 or it may just be a random slump. He did hit the Yankees very well (.347/.420/.569) in the regular season, so maybe he'll snap out of it against them in the playoffs.

Aaron Boone hit .267/.327/.453 (.780) this season, but he was much worse with the Yankees (.254/.302/.418 in 54 games) than he was with the Reds (.273/.339/.469 in 106 games). He continued to struggle with the Yankees in the ALDS, hitting .200/.200/.267 (.467).

Boone is probably a better defensive player than Mueller, but Mueller was a much better offensive player in the regular season and I see no reason to believe he won't be in this series as well. I'll give the Red Sox the advantage here.

SS - This is certainly the most glamorous positional matchup in the series. As Thom Loverro writes in today's Washington Post, these two shortstops are always linked.

Nomar Garciaparra hit .301/.345/.524 in the regular season and a quiet .300/.391/.350 (.741) in the ALDS. His terrible September (.170/.248/.351) prevented him from getting serious consideration for the AL MVP award, but at least he rediscovered his hitting stroke, if not all of his power, for the playoffs.

Derek Jeter hit .324/.393/.450 (.844) in the regular season and got even better in the ALDS, hitting .429/.556/.643 (.1.198) against the Twins. The only positive the Red Sox pitchers have against him is that he hits lefties (.370/.442/.500 in 100 at-bats this year, .337/.415/.499 in 347 at-bats the previous three years) much better than he hits righties (.312/.380/.437 in 382 at-bats this year, .302/.371/.438 in 1393 at-bats the previous three years) and, like Soriano, he won't be facing any lefties in this series. Of course, that didn't stop Jeter from hitting .394/.474/.515 (.989) against the Red Sox this year.

I'll give the Red Sox a slight advantage here because Garciaparra's edge on defense makes up for the slight edge Jeter appears to have on offense right now. Plus, if Garciaparra hits like he's capable of hitting then he'll be at least Jeter's equal offensively. One thing's for sure, it'll be interesting to see how they do in an LCS when they're both completely healthy (remember that Garciaparra had that wrist injury in the '99 LCS).

LF - This is definitely Boston's biggest advantage. Neither player is anything special on defense, whereas Boston's left fielder is a great hitter in America and New York's left fielder was a great hitter in Japan.

Manny Ramirez hit .325/.427/.587 (1.014) in the regular season, but just .200/.304/.350 (.654) in the ALDS. However, he showed without a doubt in game five that he is still a fearsome hitter.

Hideki Matsui hit .287/.353/.435 (.788) in the regular season and .267/.353/.533 (.886) in the ALDS. His performance this season was about what I expected of him -- good enough to play left field in the major leagues, but not any better than a bunch of guys the Yankees could have gotten much more cheaply. Since money isn't really an issue for the Yankees, it doesn't really matter that they're paying $6 million for basically an average left fielder.

As I said, Boston has a huge advantage here. Ramirez is a perennial MVP candidate while Matsui is decidedly average, although he does do all the "little things" well. In all seriousness, his fundamentals are much, much better than those of Ramirez, but he's not even in the same hemisphere as Ramirez offensively.

CF - This position is muddled by the injury to Johnny Damon. It looks like he will miss at least the first two games of the series, and some reports say he'll be out at least a week. He's on the ALCS roster, so the Red Sox clearly expect him to be ready to play at some point. Until that point, however, Gabe Kapler will play center field. Also, Jackson will be the only defensive replacement available for center as Adrian Brown was left off the ALCS roster.

Damon hit .273/.345/.405 (.750) in the regular season and .316/.409/.579 (.988) in the ALDS and is an excellent defensive center fielder despite his poor throwing arm. Kapler hit .291/.349/.449 (.798) with the Red Sox in the regular season, but didn't have a hit in nine at-bats in the ALDS. I'm not real sure how good Kapler is defensively in center, but he's certainly significantly worse than Damon.

For the Yankees, Bernie Williams hit .263/.367/.411 (.778) in the regular season, but got hot and hit .400/.444/.533 (.978) in the ALDS. He's also lost a few steps and is now probably a liability in center field rather than an asset defensively.

If Damon were healthy, I'd give the Red Sox a slight advantage here. Since he's not, I'll give the Yankees a slight advantage. Obviously, it will be very good for the Red Sox if Damon can return at full strength very quickly.

RF - Based on the ALDS, it looks as though Juan Rivera will get the bulk of the playing time here for the Yankees. That's good for the Red Sox, because they only have right-handed starters and Rivera doesn't hit righties well (.236/.282/.390 in 123 at-bats this year, .246/.288/.382 in 199 at-bats before this year).

In 260 at-bats in the regular season, Rivera hit .266/.304/.468 (.773), but that's only because he absolutely destroys left-handed pitching. In the ALDS, he hit .333/.385/.333 (.718). The three players who could potentially replace Rivera in right field (David Dellucci, Karim Garcia and Ruben Sierra) combined for just two at-bats in the ALDS against the Twins.

For the Red Sox, Trot Nixon hit .306/.396/.578 (.975) in the regular season and .200/.273/.500 (.773) in the ALDS. Damon's injury also affects right field for Boston, because it means Nixon will have to start against a lefty if Kapler is playing in center. Nixon hit just .219/.296/.375 (.671) in 96 at-bats against lefties this year (.221/.303/.341 in 317 at-bats the previous three years), but he will probably have to start against a lefty at least once in this series.

Still, the Red Sox have a pretty decent advantage here. That advantage will get even more pronounced if Damon gets healthy and allows Kapler to spell Nixon against lefties.

DH - Both teams received a great deal of offense from their DH in the regular season and not much offense from their DH in the ALDS.

Jason Giambi had an "off" year that saw him hit .250/.412/.527 (.939) in the regular season before slumping to .250/.333/.375 (.708) in the ALDS. It's pretty clear that his hitting is suffering from his season-long injuries, but he's still got a great eye and he still has dangerous power.

David Ortiz had a career year that saw him hit .288/.369/.592 (.961) in the regular season before slumping to .095/.174/.143 (.317) in the ALDS, although he did come through with the winning double in game two. Ortiz destroyed the Yankees pitching staff in the regular season (.327/.383/.745 in 55 at-bats) and it will be interesting to see if he can snap out of his slump and do so again in this series.

I'd give the Yankees a slight advantage here, because Giambi has a better pedigree as a hitter and because Ortiz slumped so badly in the ALDS. But either hitter could certainly get red hot for the ALCS.

The Red Sox have a definite advantage in the starting lineups, as they have the better offense and probably the better defense. Also, it's worth noting that the Red Sox can reasonably expect to start a rally at any point because they don't have any real weak spots in the lineup from top to bottom. For the Yankees, however, it would be surprising if the bottom of the order (Boone and Rivera) get things started because they're not very good hitters.

As far as the benches go, there's not much to talk about. The Red Sox are a bit thin on the bench because of Damon's injury and the Yankees are a bit thin on the bench because they don't have any really good backups.

Now, how about those starting pitchers?

Game one is an interesting matchup. Mike Mussina has been the ace of New York's pitching staff ever since he signed in the Bronx, but he hasn't been treated that way in the playoffs as he didn't start until game three in the division series each of the last two post-seasons. This year, he started the first game of the ALDS and will start the first game of the ALCS. For the Red Sox, Tim Wakefield will start game one after being left off the ALCS roster four years ago in the first ALCS matchup of these two teams.

Mussina had a 3.40 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 195 strikeouts, 40 walks and 21 homers allowed in 214.2 innings in the regular season. He allowed three runs (all earned, but not really deserved) on seven hits and three walks with six strikeouts in seven innings in the ALDS. Until his last start of the season when he got bombed by the White Sox, he was a candidate (although definitely not a favorite) for the AL Cy Young award.

Wakefield had 4.09 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 169 strikeouts, 71 walks and 23 homers allowed in 202.1 innings. He allowed five runs (three earned) on six hits and three walks with seven strikeouts in six innings in his ALDS start.

The Yankees certainly have the advantage here, but Wakefield did have a 2.01 ERA in September, so it might not be as big an advantage as you would think it is.

Game two will pit Andy Pettitte against Derek Lowe.

Pettitte had a 4.02 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 180 strikeouts, 50 walks and 21 homers allowed in 208.1 innings in the regular season. He allowed one run on four hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts in seven innings in the ALDS.

Lowe had a 4.47 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 110 strikeouts, 72 walks and 17 homers allowed in 203.1 innings. He allowed one unearned run on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in seven innings in his ALDS start.

I think these two pitchers are pretty evenly matched, but I'll give the Yankees a slight edge because Lowe may be a little tired after pitching three times in the ALDS and the Red Sox weren't as good against lefties as they were against righties this year. You might think the Yankees would have a big edge because Lowe's been so much better at home than on the road this year, but most of his road struggles were due to 21.1 terrible innings on turf (9.70 ERA).

Game three is a rematch of 1999's third game -- Pedro Martinez against Roger Clemens at Fenway Park. Only this time it's the Rocket's final start at Fenway (and possibly the final start of his career, who knows?).

Martinez had a 2.22 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 206 strikeouts, 47 walks and seven homers allowed in 186.2 innings in the regular season. He allowed six runs on 13 hits and five walks with nine strikeouts in 14 innings in the ALDS.

Clemens had a 3.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 190 strikeouts, 58 walks and 24 homers allowed in 211.2 innings in the regular season. He allowed one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts in seven innings in the ALDS.

I know Martinez wasn't his best in the ALDS and Clemens was, but I've still got to give the Red Sox a significant edge here. Until I see indisputable evidence to the contrary, there's still no pitcher I'd rather have on the mound for a big game than Martinez.

Game four looks like the biggest mismatch, as David Wells takes on John Burkett.

Wells had a 4.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 101 strikeouts, 20 walks and 24 homers allowed in 213 innings in the regular season. He allowed one run on eight hits and no walks with five strikeouts in 7.2 innings in the ALDS.

Burkett had a 5.15 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 107 strikeouts, 47 walks and 20 homers allowed in 181.2 innings in the regular season. He allowed four runs (thanks to Grady Little's slow hook) on nine hits and two walks with one strikeout in 5.1 innings in the ALDS. He's occassionally capable of cobbling together a nice start, but he's always a train wreck waiting to happen.

As I said, the Yankees have a very big advantage here. Wells isn't a great pitcher, but he doesn't beat himself and he almost always give you a lot of innings. Burkett gets hit hard almost always from the very first pitch and never goes real deep into games.

In the bullpen, the only difference between the two teams is Mariano Rivera. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, that's a very big difference.

In fact, if you took away Rivera and whoever you think Boston's best reliever is, I'd much rather have the rest of Boston's bullpen than the rest of New York's bullpen. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, you can't do that.

There are really only two positives here for the Red Sox. First, while their bullpen was a source of constant frustration in the regular season, it allowed just two runs (both in the first game) in 16.1 innings in the ALDS, which is prett damn good (1.10 ERA, 0.92 WHIP). Second, the Yankees won't be able to rely almost exclusively on Rivera like they did in the ALDS, and the rest of their bullpen is very suspect.

Still, because of Rivera you have to give the Yankees a big advantage here. He allowed 16 hits and three walks to the Red Sox in 10 innings this year, but that was the regular season and he might be the best post-season pitcher of all-time, reliever or otherwise. He's allowed only eight earned runs in 84 innings (0.86 ERA) including this year's ALDS.

So, now that we've gotten through all of that, it's time for my official prediction. I know some of you will think this is just because I'm a Red Sox fan, but I think the Red Sox will win in seven games. I don't see any reason why they can't split the first two in Yankee Stadium and then win two of the next four, leaving things up to Martinez against Clemens in Yankee Stadium for a trip to the World Series. And like I said early, there's no pitcher I'd rather have on the mound in a big game than Martinez.

Note - These playoffs just keep getting better and better, don't they? That was one hell of a game the Cubs and Marlins played last night and although that wasn't the way I expected the Marlins to win game one of the series, I'll take credit for saying that they would.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

NLCS Preview

Everybody still breathing after that amazing first round of the playoffs? Good, now it's time for the second round. The NLCS starts tonight and the ALCS starts tomorrow night. I'm going to preview the NLCS right now, and I'll do the ALCS tomorrow. Unfortunately, I'm a little pressed for time at the moment, so I'm not going to provide links for the players today.

During the regular season, the Florida Marlins ranked eighth in the NL with 4.64 runs scored per game while the Cubs were ninth with 4.47 runs scored per game. On the pitching and defense side, the Cubs ranked fourth with 4.22 runs allowed per game while the Marlins were sixth with 4.27 runs allowed per game. As you can see by those numbers, these two teams are very evenly matched.

The big advantage the Cubs have in the playoffs is that there was a big dropoff in talent from their top four starting pitchers to their fifth starters, while Florida's top five starters were all above average. Since the fifth starter isn't a big factor, if he's a factor at all, in the playoffs, that works for the Cubs better than the Marlins.

Now, let's see how those lineups stack up.

C - Ivan Rodriguez hit .297/.369/.474 (.843) in the regular season and .353/.450/.588 (1.038) in the NLDS. He's one of Florida's best hitters and he's generally regarded as very good defensively.

Damian Miller, on the other hand, hit just .233/.310/.369 (.680) in the regular season and slumped to .091/.231/.182 (.413) in the NLDS. You wouldn't think he can't be as bad in the NLCS as he was in the NLDS, but he really is a horrible hitter. Defensively, he's probably at least above average.

This is very clearly a big advantage for the Marlins. Even though he hits lefties much better than he hits righties and the Cubs only have righty starters, Rodriguez is still a better player to have than Miller.

1B - Eric Karros hit .286/.340/.446 (.786) in the regular season and then broke out by hitting .375/.375/.750 (1.125) in the NLDS. That performance probably ensures that he'll see the bulk of the action in the NLCS, even against righties, which may work to Florida's advantage since Randall Simon (.752 OPS) is a better hitter against righties than Karros (.683 OPS).

For the Marlins, I've said it before and I'll probably say it again, but I think Derrek Lee is one of the most underrated players in baseball. He hit .271/.379/.508 (.888) in the regular season, but hit just .250/.368/.313 (.681) in the NLDS. However, even when he's not hitting, like in the NLDS, Lee can still be valuable to his team by getting on base. He's also a fabulous defensive first baseman.

Unless Karros continues to hit home runs at a Barry Bonds-like rate, the Marlins should have a sizeable advantage here.

2B - Mark Grudzielanek overachieved in the regular season by hitting .314/.366/.416 (.782) and he underachieved in the NLDS by hitting .150/.261/.150 (.411). Maybe he'll find some happy medium in the NLCS.

Luis Castillo is one of the biggest parts of Florida's offense at the top of the lineup. He hit .314/.381/.397 (.778) in the regular season and .294/.400/.471 (.871) in the NLDS.

Castillo's regular season OPS may not be as high as Grudzienalek's, but he's the more valuable player on offense because he gets on base more often. Since both players are pretty good defensively, the Marlins have a slight advantage here.

3B - Aramis Ramirez hit .272/.324/.465 (.788) in the regular season and .278/.350/.500 (.850) in the NLDS. He's a good hitter, but he can be a bit of a free swinger and go into slumps at times.

Miguel Cabrera hit .268/.325/.468 (.793) in the regular season and .286/.333/.429 (.762) in the NLDS. He's also a free swinger who can get hot and cold depending on whether or not he's making good contact.

These two are pretty similar both defensively and offensively, so which player has a better series will probably depend on the pitching. Since the Cubs have a lot of strikeout pitchers, I'd give them the advantage as Cabrera will probably not make contact as often as he needs to to be successful.

SS - Alex Gonzalez is the better player here. What's that? Both shortstops are named Alex Gonzalez? Oh.

Chicago's Gonzalez hit .228/.295/.409 (.704) in the regular season and .250/.357/.500 (.857) in the NLDS.

Florida's Gonzalez hit .256/.313/.443 (.756) in the regular season and a putrid .063/.118/.063 (.180) in the NLDS.

They're pretty similar defensively, and offensively neither of them get on base much but Florida's Gonzalez has a bit more power. I'd say this is even as far as talent goes, but Chicago's Gonazalez will probably have a better series because I don't see Florida's Gonzalez doing much with the Chicago pitchers.

LF - Moises Alou hit .280/.357/.462 (819) in the regular season and .500/.524/.550 (1.074) in the NLDS. If he keeps hitting like that for the rest of the playoffs, he will be worth the big contract they gave him before last season.

Jeff Conine hit .282/.338/.459 (.797) in the regular season and .267/.353/.267 (.620) in the playoffs.

Conine's a nice hitter to have around, but Alou's the better offensive player and neither one of them's anything to write home about defensively. The Cubs have the advantage here.

CF - Kenny Lofton hit .296/.352/.450 (.801) in the regular season and .286/.348/.333 (.681) in the NLDS.

Juan Pierre hit .305/.362/.373 (.734) in the regular season and .263/.300/.316 (.616).

Both players hit around .300 and get on base at a decent clip, but Lofton had a little power and Pierre doesn't have any. Defensively, they're probably both above average, but I'm not 100-percent sure. I'll give the Cubs the edge here, but it's not a big one.

RF - Sammy Sosa hit .279/.358/.553 (.911) in the regular season and .188/.409/.250 (.659) in the NLDS.

Juan Encarnacion hit .270/.313/.446 (.756) in the regular season and .133/.235/.333 (.569) in the NLDS.

Sosa's clearly a better hitter than Encarnacion, but even when neither of them are hitting (like in the NLDS), Sosa's a better offensive player because he walks. The Cubs win this position no matter what, and could win it by a lot if Sosa hits like Sosa.

The Marlins probably have a better overall lineup, but just slightly. And if Sosa starts hitting like he's really capable of hitting, that advantage could disappear entirely.

On the bench, the Marlins probably have the better top pinch-hitter in Mike Lowell over Simon, but neither team really has a great bench.

The starting pitching obviously favors the Cubs, but let's break it down by game.

Game one is Carlos Zambrano against Josh Beckett. Zambrano had a 3.11 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 168 strikeouts, 94 walks and nine homers allowed in 214 innings in the regular season and Beckett had a 3.04 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 152 strikeouts, 56 walks and nine homers allowed in 142 innings in the regular season.

Both pitchers are a little wild, but Beckett strikes out more guys and Zambrano allows slightly fewer homers (neither pitcher allows many balls to leave the yard). Zambrano allowed three runs on 11 hits and no walks with four strikeouts in 5.2 innings in his NLDS start while Beckett allowed one run on two hits and five walks with nine strikeouts in seven innings in his. I'll give the Marlins a definite advantage here.

Game two will be Mark Prior against Brad Penny. Penny (4.13 ERA, 1.28 WHIP in the regular season) is a nice pitcher, but Prior (2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIIP in the regular season) is a ridiculously good pitcher. Prior allowed one run on two hits and four walks with seven strikeouts in nine innings in the NLDS and Penny allowed four runs on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts in 5.2 innings in the NLDS. This is a no contest, huge advantage for the Cubs.

Game three is Kerry Wood vs. Mark Redman. Again, Redman (3.59 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) is a nice pitcher, but Wood (3.20 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) showed in the NLDS that he can be ridiculously good. Wood allowed three runs on seven hits and seven walks with 18 strikeouts in 15.1 in two NLDS starts and Redman allowed two runs on seven hits and three walks with four strikeouts in six innings in his NLDS start. Big advantage for the Cubs.

In the games pitched by Prior and Wood, the advantage isn't just how good they are, it's also how deep they are capable of pitching into games. Prior threw a complete game in the NLDS and Wood would have thrown one if a lot of the idiots out there had had their way (Dusty Baker was absolutely right to take Wood out with a three-run lead after he had thrown 117 pitches).

Game four is Matt Clement against Dontrelle Willis. Clement had a 4.11 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 171 strikeouts, 79 walks and 22 homers allowed in 201.2 innings in the regular season and Willis had a 3.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 142 strikeouts, 58 walks and 13 homers allowed in 160.2 innings in the regular season, and neither of them was particularly good in the NLDS.

This looks like a definite advantage for the Marlins, but Willis slowed considerably after a very hot start and Clement showed during the regular season that he's capable of throwing a gem any time he goes out. He's also capable of stinking up the joint. I'll call this even since we don't know how tired Willis is and we don't know which Clement will show up.

The bullpens are pretty even. Both were excellent in the NLDS, both have a very good closer, and both have a couple of reliable setup men.

My official prediction is that the Cubs will win in six games. I think the Marlins will win both games in which Beckett faces Zambrano (like tonight) and I think the Cubs will win the other four (Prior over Penny twice, Wood over Redman and Clement over Willis). I think the worst that could happen to the Cubs is that Willis beats Clement in which case Chicago has Wood going in game seven and should still win the series.

Party like it's 1999

Just before 8:30 p.m. on the West Coast Monday night, the Boston Red Sox became the first franchise to twice come back from losing the first two games in the division series to win the next three and advance to the League Championship Series. At the same time, the Oakland Athletics became the first franchise to twice fall apart after winning the first two games in the division series and lose the next three to head into the offseason.

I don't know what it was like to be an A's fan in 2001, but I do know what it was like to be a Red Sox fan in 1999. How did this series compare to that series? I'm glad you asked.

Both series began just the way you would like them to -- with each team's ace toeing the rubber. Pedro Martinez against Indians ace Bartolo Colon in 1999 and Martinez against A's ace Tim Hudson this year.

The games were similar in many ways, but different in many others. In 1999, Pedro breezed through the first four innings with three hits and no runs allowed. Then, a bad back forced him out of the game before he had even pitched long enough to qualify for the win.

This year, Pedro flew through the first two innings before the A's touched him up for three runs in the third.

Back in 1999, Nomar Garciaparra had staked Pedro to a 2-0 lead before the fragile ace had to leave. Garciaparra, playing in his first game in eight days thanks to a bruised tendon in his right wrist that everybody in New England would know a lot more about all too soon, hit a solo homer in the second and doubled and scored on Mike Stanley's single in the fourth.

This year, Todd Walker gave the Red Sox an early 1-0 lead on a solo homer off Hudson in the first before Pedro let the A's jump ahead. Pedro would then settle down and pitch four more scoreless innings, by which point the Red Sox offense had regained his lead for him.

Jason Varitek's solo homer in the fifth brought Boston within a run, and Walker gave the Red Sox a 4-3 lead with his second homer of the game in the seventh inning, this time off left-handed reliever Ricardo Rincon.

So, both times the Red Sox had the lead when Pedro left the ball game. In 1999, the Red Sox turned to Derek Lowe to protect that lead, and he was brilling while allowing just one hit in four innings. Unfortunately, he also lost.

The only hit Lowe allowed was a monster home run to Jim Thome in the sixth that followed a John Valentin error that allowed Manny Ramirez to reach base safely. Ramirez would reach base without getting a hit again leading off the ninth inning when Lowe plunked him in the back. Travis Fryman later singled off Rich Garces with the bases loaded and one out to tag Lowe with the loss.

This year, the Red Sox turned to several people to protect Pedro's lead. First, Mike Timlin came in to pitch a scoreless eighth inning. The Red Sox then turned things over to embattled closer Byung-Hyun Kim, who calmly got the first out in the ninth before walking a batter and hitting another batter to put the winning run on with one out. Kim recovered to strike out Mark Ellis, but that was the end of his night.

Left-handed reliever Alan Embree came in to face left-handed hitter Erubiel Durazo with the game on the line. Durazo won the battle with a single to tie the game and force extra innings.

Just as the 1999 Red Sox were unable to get anything going on offense against Colon and Paul Shuey after the Indians tied the game, the 2003 Red Sox were unable to get anything going on offense against Chad Bradford, Keith Foulke or Rich Harden after the A's tied the game.

Scott Williamson pitched a scoreless 10th for this year's Red Sox before Lowe was called on to once again try and help the Red Sox win game one of an ALDS.

Again Lowe allowed just one hit, but it was just as big (in importance if not in distance) as the one he allowed four years ago. After a walk, two groundouts and then two more walks, Lowe was facing Ramon Hernandez with the bases loaded and two outs.

In the surprise of all surprises, Hernandez dropped down a perfect bunt and the winning run scored while the Red Sox tried to figure out what had just happened. For the second straight playoff appearance, Lowe was Boston's game one loser.

After losing the first game of each series in heartbreaking fashion after wasting a start by Pedro, the Red Sox were unable to even put up a fight in game two of either series.

In 1999, Charles Nagy toyed with the Red Sox for seven innings, allowing just one run. Meanwhile, a botched double play by Red Sox second baseman Jose Offerman opened the floodgates for a six-run third inning as the Indians routed the Red Sox 11-1.

This year, Barry Zito and his wonderful curveball toyed with the Red Sox for seven innings, allowing just one run while striking out nine. Meanwhile, an error by Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker helped the A's score five runs in the second inning of a 5-1 victory. In fairness to Walker, the Red Sox had already allowed three runs when he made his error, while the 1999 Red Sox had a 1-0 lead when Offerman erred.

So, twice I went into the postseason full of hope, and twice I watched disappointedly as the Red Sox dropped their first two games before flying home to try and bounce back in Fenway Park. The strangest part? I was unable to watch and see whether or not my beloved Red Sox would win either third game.

In 1999, I had a trip to Philadelphia the day of the third game that I couldn't miss. This year, I had a wedding to go and the reception started at 6 p.m. with the game starting at 7:30 p.m.

In 1999, I found a pay phone in Philly and called my mom in Springfield, Mass. to ask how the Red Sox were doing as three other Red Sox fans huddled around me and the phone. We learned that the Red Sox were losing 1-0, but that Cleveland starting pitcher Dave Burba had left after four innings of shutout ball with a strained forearm.

We would later learn that the Red Sox won the game 9-3 thanks to home runs from John Valentin and Brian Daubach and a quality start from Ramon Martinez.

Saturday, one of the groomsmen at the wedding told me at one point that he had heard that the Red Sox were leading 1-0 in the fourth or fifth inning. That was all I heard of the game until one of my friends, Todd, called me not long before midnight to tell me that was one of the best endings to a game he had ever seen. I told him I hadn't been able to watch it and he told me that Doug Mirabelli hit a two-run walkoff home run in the 11th inning to win the game for the Red Sox.

I would later learn that it was Trot Nixon who hit the home run, with Mirabelli scoring ahead of him, and that the A's had cost themselves an almost certain shot at sweeping the series thanks to some bad defense and some horrendous baserunning (some people think the A's should have won that game even with their baserunning and defensive mistakes, but that's simply not the case. They were not screwed out of a win by the umpires).

I would also later learn that Lowe had allowed just one run in 8.1 innings after having made the gradual and very strange transformation from setup man (1999) to elite closer (2000) to inept closer (2001) to Cy Young caliber starter (2002) to inconsistent starter (2003).

So, the Red Sox had battled off an elimination game in each series and, though they were still certainly the underdogs with a 2-1 deficit, they had life. And I, after a one-game hiatus each year, was able to watch those new lives.

In the game fours, Boston's opponents both brought their ace game one starters back on three days rest while the Red Sox saved Pedro both times out of necessity. In 1999 he still had the bad back and this year he had thrown 130 pitches in game one.

So it was up to Kent Mercker to beat Colon and John Burkett to beat Hudson. Except that's not really what happened either year.

Neither Colon nor Mercker were able to escape the second inning in 1999, but the Red Sox got the better of the exchange, leading 7-2 after two. They continued to bash the Indians pitching staff into submission, winning 23-7 to even the series at two games apiece with one of the most fun games I have ever had the pleasure of watching.

This year, Hudson pitched a scoreless first inning, but had to leave before the second inning due to injury. Burkett worked his way out of a bases loaded and nobody out jam in the second with just one run scoring, and the Red Sox were able to take a 2-1 lead thanks to Johnny Damon's two-run homer off Steve Sparks.

Burkett worked his way in and out of trouble for a few more innings and the Red Sox still led 2-1 going into the top of the sixth. That's when Grady Little tried to get greedy. He let Burkett pitch to the first batter, who singled. He let Burkett pitch to the next batter, who Burkett got out on a hard liner to third base. He let Burkett pitch to the third batter, who tripled to tie the game at 2-2. Finally, he let Burkett pitch to Jermaine Dye, who homered to give Oakland a 4-2 lead.

Burkett's night over 1-4 batters too late, Tim Wakefield and Williamson combined to finish the game without any more Oakland runs scoring. The question was whether or not even that would be good enough to let the Boston offense rally.

Todd Walker cut the deficit in half immediately, hitting his third homer of the series and his second off Ricardo Rincon in the bottom of the sixth, but the Red Sox went quietly in the seventh.

Then, the A's brought in Foulke yet again to try and get a long save starting in the eighth. Damon grounded out and Nomar doubled off the wall. Walker flied out to center and Ramirez singled into left field, but too hard to score Nomar with the tying run.

That brought up David Ortiz, who had been hitless in the series thus far. Cookie Monster drove a 3-2 pitch to deep right field, where Dye might have been able to catch it and certainly should have been able to field it cleanly enough to prevent Ramirez from scoring. He did neither, and the Red Sox had a 5-4 lead that turned into a 5-4 win when Williamson slammed the door shut.

So, twice the Red Sox lost the first two games of their division series, twice they came back to Fenway Park to even the series at two games apiece, and twice they headed back out onto the road one win away from a date with the New York Yankees in the ALCS. There were two differences between 1999 and 2003 going into game five.

First, this year the Red Sox knew they had Pedro on the hill for the fifth and deciding game whereas the following quotes were being made about Pedro in 1999:

Team doctor Arthur Pappas said it was "possible but not probable" that Martinez would be available tonight.

Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said it was "unrealistic."

"I just don't think it's wise to start him," manager Jimy Williams said. "I don't know if he can pitch at all, to be very honest."

Second, in 1999, I was able to watch the fifth game with my suitemates, two of whom were (and still are) Red Sox fans and one of whom was (and still is) an Indians fan. This year, I had to work on the night the all-important game was being played.

The 1999 game was a seesaw affair from the beginning, with the Sox taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the first and falling behind 3-2 in the bottom of the inning. The Indians extended their lead to 5-2 in the second, but the Red Sox took a 7-5 lead in the third thanks to a Troy O'Leary grand slam following an intentional walk to Nomar. However, the Indians jumped back ahead 8-7 in the bottom of the third before the Red Sox tied it at eight runs apiece in the top of the fourth.

And that's when the game ended.

Obviously it didn't really end there, but that's when Pedro came in and you just had a feeling (or at least my suitemates -- even the Indians fan -- and I did) that the Indians were done.

Pedro didn't allow the Indians to score -- or even get a hit -- for the next six innings and the Red Sox got all the offense they'd need when the Indians intentionally walked Nomar again and O'Leary homered again, this time a three-run shot.

I remember the two Red Sox fans and myself jumping on the furniture and running around the suite while the Indians fan sunk deeper and deeper into his chair. The three of us too young to remember 1986 firsthand with any sort of clarity, this was the first time we had experienced the Red Sox winning a postseason series. And that was my happiest day as a baseball fan. Until Monday.

Monday, as I said, I had to work. Luckily, I work in the sports department at the newspaper in Rochester, NY and we always have the two TVs there tuned to sporting events. So, I was able to watch the game while I worked.

At first it looked like Pedro and Zito might match zeroes all night as both looked very sharp, but Pedro cracked first, allowing a run in the fourth on a walk and a double.

Zito was not only brilliant through the first five innings, allowing just two hits and no runs, he was also efficient, throwing just 62 pitches. In the top of the sixth, however, Varitek reached him for a solo homer to tie the game at 1-1 and I gave my first fist pump and yelp of joy of the night.

Then, it looked like Zito started to tire quickly, walking Damon and hitting Walker with a Nomar foul pop up mixed in. Up came Ramirez and I know this sounds like a load of bull, but I just felt like he was going to go deep. He went very deep, tagging a 2-2 pitch well into the left field stands to give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead.

I felt comfortable at that point, but Boston didn't make it easy. Pedro gave a run back in the sixth and, after a gruesome collision between Damon and Damian Jackson in the seventh, he quickly gave another run back in the eighth. Alan Embree and Timlin finished the eighth for Pedro, so the Red Sox went to the bottom of the ninth with a 4-3 lead.

Williamson, who had been so good (and maybe overused) in the first four games, walked the first four batters he faced. So, the pitcher who had pitched in games one, three and five in 1999 came in to pitch for his third time in this series after already appearing in games one and three.

Hernandez immediately bunted the runners over to second and third with one out, so Lowe had to get the next two outs very carefully to preserve the win.

Adam Melhuse took Lowe's first pitch for a ball and then fouled off the next one. He took another ball before another foul evened the count at 2-2. Then Lowe delivered a nasty pitch that started inside and then darted back over the corner of the plate at the last moment for a called strike three.

Chris Singleton came up next and took the first two pitches for balls. He then took ball three high, but it was called a strike and he fouled off the next pitch to even the count at 2-2. With the A's one strike away from elimination, Lowe delievered two more balls to load the bases with two outs for Terrence Long.

You may remember that Lowe intentionally walked Long in game one, but he didn't want to. If I need to get an Oakland hitter out in a tough spot and I got to choose which hitter it was, I'm pretty sure I'd pick Long.

Anyway, Lowe's first pitch to Long was right down the middle for a called strike. The next pitch was a ball, and Long fouled off the next pitch to fall behind 1-2. Then, another absolutely nasty pitch from Lowe that snuck over the corner for a called third strike to put the Red Sox in the ALCS.

In 1999, I was very happy, but I could believe what was happening. The Red Sox just pounded their way past the Indians and into the ALCS. This year, I'm very happy, but I can't believe what happened. The Red Sox did some good things to advance their cause, but they got a lot of help from the A's.

Before the playoffs started, Larry Mahnken told me that he was taping this year's playoff games and that I could get copies off him if I wanted them. Well, Larry, if you taped the Boston-Oakland games, I'd definitely like to get copies off you. I'm definitely going to need to see all of that again.

For now, however, I'm exceedingly happy that the Red Sox are in the ALCS. And I'm ecstatic that I have a ticket to game two of the ALCS, which will be the first playoff game I will have attended in person in my life.

I picked the Red Sox to beat the A's in five games and the Yankees to beat the Twins in four games in my ALDS previews, so this is what I expected to happen. However, I definitely knew that there was a good chance that the ticket I have for game two of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium would not have included the Red Sox. And I also knew there was some chance that the Yankees would not make the ALCS and I wouldn't have a ticket to game two.

So, I'm thrilled that everything worked out just the way I wanted it to, and I've got one explanation for why it did -- my authentic Nomar jersey.

My girfriend, Stacy, bought me my authentic Nomar jersey for Valentine's day and I kept it safe and clean in my closet for many months. Finally, on Friday, Sept. 3, I took it out and wore it for the first time. The reason being the Red Sox were playing the first game of a crucial three-game series against the New York Yankees.

The Red Sox won that game, and then I put the jersey away for awhile again. Sunday, I wore it while watching the Red Sox eke out a dramatic victory in game four of the ALDS. Monday, I wore it for the third time, and for the third time, the Red Sox won.

Coincidence? Probably. But there are some things I'm superstitious about, and you can bet I'll be wearing that jersey if the Red Sox are facing elimination against the Yankees.

Monday, October 06, 2003

NLDS recaps

Wow, I know a lot of people picked the Cubs to knock the Braves out of the playoffs, but how many people really thought both underdogs would win and we'd have a Chicago vs. Florida NLCS? Technically, I was wrong with both of my predictions in the NL, but fundamentally I feel good about one of them.

When I discussed the San Francisco vs. Florida series, I said the following to conclude the post:

"For my prediction, I'll go with the Giants in five games. I thought long and hard about picking the Marlins because I think this series is a lot closer than most people seem to think, but in the end I think Schmidt and Bonds will be able to make the difference for the Giants."

Well, the Giants dominated the Marlins in game one, and I believe they likely would have done so again in game five. However, in between, the Marlins won a shootout in California and two crazy games in Florida. Game two saw the Marlins take a quick 2-0 lead, only to have the Giants tie things up in the sixth. San Francisco then took a 3-2 lead in the top of the 11th, but the Marlins rallied for two runs with two outs to win the game in the bottom of the frame. In game three, Florida jumped out to a 5-1 lead before the Giants came back to tie the game in, you guessed it, the sixth inning. Florida then took a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the eighth thanks to a close play at home plate in which the ball got dislodged and rolled away. The Giants almost came back in the top of the ninth, but the Marlins won thanks to a close play at home plate in which the ball did not get dislodged.

When talking about the starting lineups of the two teams before the series, I said the following:

"The Giants obviously win left field by a lot, and they probably win right field by a little, but there's not another position where I'd say they definitely have the edge, or even another position where I could say they're definitely even with the Marlins."

Well, the Giants did have an advantage in left field, where Barry Bonds "hit" .222/.588/.333 (.921) for the Giants thanks mostly to eight walks while Jeff Conine hit just .267/.353/.267 (.620).

However, the Giants also had a significant advantage at third base, where Edgardo Alfonzo hit .529/.556/.764 (1.320) while protecting Bonds. Florida's third baseman, Miguel Cabrera (even though he didn't start all four games), hit .286/.375/.429 (.804) with all of his damage coming when he went 4-for-5 in game four.

Unfortunately for the Giants, their other seven offensive spots (including the pitchers) were pretty much black holes. The Marlins, on the other hand, had Ivan Rodriguez hitting .353/.450/.588 (1.038) and Luis Castillo hitting .294/.400/.471 (.871). They also got some surprising offense from their pitchers (.571/.571/.857), especially Dontrelle Willis and his 3-for-3 with a triple performance in game four.

Of course, Florida didn't actually hit much better than San Francisco did. The Marlins hit .253/.327/.363 (.690) while the Giants hit .235/.341/.301 (.642). The two teams had about the same number of at-bats with runners on base and with runners in scoring position, and the Giants hit slightly better in those two situations than the Marlins did.

No, probably the biggest reason the Marlins outscored the Giants 20-16 in the series is that San Francisco committed seven errors to Florida's two. The Giants scored one unearned run in the series while the Marlins scored five of them. There's your four-run difference right there.

Pitching-wise, I said that the Giants had the advantage in games one and five, and that turned out to be a no-brainer. Jason Schmidt was brilliant while pitching a complete game shutout in game one, allowing just three hits while striking out five. Florida's starter, Josh Beckett, had a very nice game one himself, allowing a run on two hits and five walks with nine strikeouts in seven innings, but the Giants had to feel good about the matchup of Schmidt vs. Beckett going into game five. Unfortunately for them, they weren't able to force a game five.

For game two, I thought the pitching matchup was about even, and it certainly turned out that way as Sidney Ponson and Brad Penny each allowed four runs and neither of them was able to go six innings. The difference in the game is that the Marlins got to the Giants bullpen better than the Giants got to the Marlins bullpen.

Talking about those bullpens before the series, I said the following:

"The Giants have a definite edge in the bullpen, although the Marlins do have two or three very dependable relievers, which is sometimes all you need in a playoff series."

Overall, the Marlins relievers had a 2.13 ERA in 12.2 innings while the Giants relievers had a 3.45 ERA in 15.2 innings. While I said that the Marlins have two or three relievers they can rely on, they ended up getting great performances from four of their bullpen guys. For the Giants, however, only Matt Herges was really lights out from the bullpen. In fact, San Francisco's relievers only allowed six earned runs, but they also allowed five unearned runs as the Giants defense made their jobs harder.

I thought the Marlins had starting pitcher advantage in game three, but it turned out to be just a one-inning advantage. Mark Redman and Kirk Rueter each allowed two runs, but Redman lasted six innings and Rueter could only go five. However, the bullpens for both teams were brilliant in this game until the fateful 11th inning.

In game four, it was a matchup of rookies and San Francisco's (Jerome Williams) lasted just two innings and allowed three innings. Fortunately for the Giants, they were able to come back later against Florida's (Willis). However, the Marlins got the better of the rest of the game and that was that.

I can't take credit for getting the series right because I picked the Giants to win and they didn't win, but I am pleased that I wrote that I thought this series was a lot closer than most other people did. The Giants were basically just a two-man team going into the playoffs and those two played fine in this series. A couple other guys stepped up in the series, but a lot of guys stepped down for them, and they came up short in two close games. Had they been able to luck their way to a win in one of those games, they probably would have won the series. But most people didn't even think it would come down to luck and I'm happy to say that I did.

And now that I'm done taking as much credit as possible for that series, it's time to talk about the series I really screwed up on. Actually, I only really messed up on one thing in the series between the Braves and Cubs.

I had a feeling the Braves would have a tough time against Mark Prior and they definitely did as he pitched a complete game, allowing one run on two hits and four walks with seven strikeouts.

Where I messed up was thinking that the Braves would be able to get some runs on the board against Kerry Wood. Wood started two games, allowing three runs on seven hits and seven walks with 18 strikeouts in 15.1 innings for a 1.76 ERA. If MVP awards were given out in the division series, Wood would have gotten the award for this series. He was much better than I thought he would be.

I thought the Braves starting pitchers would be at least decent since the Cubs offense wasn't very good, but it didn't really work out that way. Greg Maddux did have a nice, albeit short, outing with two runs allowed in six innings, but Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton weren't very good. In their four starts, they allowed 12 runs in 23.1 innings for a 4.63 ERA. Basically, they were good enough to beat Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement, who combined to allow seven runs in 10.1 innings for a 6.10 ERA, but they weren't nearly good enough to beat Wood.

Offensively, each team only had one really good hitter. Moises Alou hit .500/.524/.550 (1.074) for the Cubs while Marcus Giles hit .357/.412/.571 (.983) for the Braves. Eric Karros provided some surprising pop and Aramis Ramirez did about the same thing he did during the regular season for the Cubs, while Gary Sheffield and Andruw Jones did almost nothing for the Braves.

In the end, however, defense once again probably played as big a role in the series as the difference between the two offenses did. Atlanta committed six errors while Chicago did not make any. The Cubs outscored the Braves 19-15 in the series and scored one unearned run while the Braves obviously didn't score any.

So, that's about how we ended up with Marlins against Cubs in the NLCS. None of the four teams really tore things up offensively, but the Cubs and Marlins pitched better and played better defense. If the second round in the NL is anything like the first round, it should be pretty darn exciting.