Thursday, October 07, 2004

What A Winning Team Needs

Playoff baseball is different than regular baseball. This is where we determine the individual character of all the players in Major League Baseball. The playoffs take a special kind of person, one that can't be found easily in baseball. Most general managers spend the offseason concerned primarily with figuring out what players to acquire to bolster the team in the regular season, but those few GM's who earn their keep always keep an eye towards acquiring those players with the right moral character to succeed. When you're dealing with the playoffs, you can just throw all of that OPS nonsense out the window because the playoffs are about great players making great plays, not exploiting the weaknesses of the Diamondbacks and Royals.

So who will win in this year's playoffs? Well, an easier way to figure that out is to just look at who can't win.

The Astros will be a chic pick, but they don't have a chance. Let's not forget, folks, that this team has been a perennial bridesmaid and has proven time and again it can't get it done when it counts. This isn't a very well-constructed playoff team, either: every player is either a youngster or a veteran. Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, and Craig Biggio are probably getting a little too long in the tooth, and none of them have managed to win a World Series save Clemens, who was only able to pilfer a ring through Steinbrenner's divine intervention. Youngsters Carlos Beltran, Morgan Ensberg, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt haven't proven they can get it done in the playoffs, and that's not likely to change soon. This is also a team with too many questions in the bullpen with the absence of proven closer Billy Wagner, and it's been a long, long time since any team made its mark in October without a dominant bullpen. Veteran leaders like Brad Ausmus and Jose Vizcaino might help keep the Astros close, but Houston just doesn't have what it takes.

The Dodgers had a fine season, but they have no proven winners. Their nucleus of young players-- Eric Gagne, Adrian Beltre, Cesar Izturis, and Odalis Perez-- might cut it in July or August, but this group needs a few more years of playoff experience before they can get going. What's more is that the only Dodger with playoff experience is Jeff Weaver, who has an ERA over 4 and single-handedly brought the World Championship to South Florida last season with his extra-innings gopher ball; not the kind of playoff experience this team needs. The only other Champion the Dodgers have had is Juan Encarnacion-- whoops, he's gone, and he probably took LA's playoff chances with him. Moreover, the Dodgers have major character issues with Milton Bradley that will prove far too distracting for the team to succeed. Factor in their decision to trade away their only veteran leaders in Guillermo Mota and Paul Lo Duca, and you've got a team with no veteran leaders, no experience, no chemistry, and too many character issues to make it out of the first round.

The Red Sox have once again set out to torture their masochistic fan base with a great set-up for another colossal fizzle out. Newsflash: Keith Foulke can't throw a decent fastball, Pedro Martinez has lost his magic and has been proven incapable of leading a team in October, and there are too many egos in that clubhouse for playoff-caliber chemistry. Babe Ruth was a mean guy, and he's still extracting his vengeance on the franchise 120 years later.

The Twins are a hot pick, but they've once again gutted their team of all its veteran leadership, trading popular veterans Eric Milton and Doug Mientkiewicz and showing extreme reluctance to give the ball to Terry Mulholland when it counts. Sure, Johan Santana and Joe Nathan have put up gawdy ERA's and win-loss totals this season, but if I'd told you that the Twins would be relying on them in the 2004 playoffs last October, you'd be sprinting to Vegas to bet on every other team in baseball while trying to stifle your vomit. Remember, this team started two players who spent most of the season in the minor leagues in game one of the division series.

Another team a lot of people are banking on is St. Louis, but I would advise against optimism in the Midwest. Albert Pujols has hit only .213 in the playoffs before this season and Scott Rolen has only played two playoff games in his career. They have a rotation full of castoffs and only one starter who's won a World Series in Tony Womack. If you'd like to throw away your savings betting on a team led by Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan, I might have a few bridges lying around I could sell you.

The Angels are a compelling pick, full of excellent veterans like Troy Percival, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, and Darin Erstad. But this team is way too dependant on young players. Chone Figgins is a legitimate MVP candidate, but after him all I see are names that look like Melrose Place characters: Dallas McPherson, Casey Kotchman, Scot Shields, and Jose Guillen. Anyone will tell you that this team is being carried on the fragile back of Vladimir Guerrero; shouldn't those same people also point out that the Impaler has never won a World Championship or even a playoff game?

The Braves are also in the playoffs. Deja vu all over again. I have been adamant about this for years, and Atlanta cares too little about its suffering fans to do anything: Bobby Cox and John Schuerholtz know an awful lot about beating up on ne'er-do-wells in Shea Stadium and Olympic Stadium from April to August, but they couldn't tell a playoff baseball team from a hole in the ground. Please, people, J.D. Drew is your answer? Yeah, right. Oh, how about Jaret Wright, who started crucial game seven of the 1997 World Series... for the team that lost. Uh-huh. I would tell Braves fans not to get their hopes up, but they probably haven't.

The Yankees seem like a logical pick. After all, they win the World Series almost every year. But that was then, and this is now. Why don't you tell me how a team with no good left-handed pitchers is going to do in the playoffs? Better yet, how about one whose 3-4 hitters are newly acquired Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield-- you know, one of the worst clutch hitters in baseball this season and the guy with the career .238 average in the playoffs? Sorry, but if this team pulls it out we probably know that the Apocalypse isn't far off.

Look, every year a bunch of teams think they have what it takes to win in the playoffs. But with few exceptions, they don't. This isn't rocket science; there are clear formulas for what it takes to win a World Series, and none of the teams above seem to have figured them out. Any of these teams would be lucky to make it past the first round, and don't expect to see more than one or two of them in the LCS. History shows teams entering the postseason with the same hubris every year, and they're always slaughtered by the fates. I've been picking eight teams to lose in the playoffs each of the last ten years, and guess what? A whopping seventy of those teams couldn't get the job done, which means I've been right nearly 90% of the time. This isn't rocket science, and until owners start hiring general managers that know how to win in the playoffs they're teams are certain to fail.

Carlos Beltran won't get it done in the postseason.

Predictions have a way of humbling you, don't they?
I guess my tongue was planted a little too firmly in my cheek on this post. Satire is more fun for me but more confusing for my readers.
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