Experience Matters in October Baseball

    One hundred years, seemed too good to be true. One hundred wins, seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, for fans of the Cubs and Angels, the rounded digits designating years from a championship and a franchise-record wins in a season, respectively, were too good to be true. So, while the Chicago and Los Angeles of Anaheim in fans recover from their teams upset losses, the MLB playoffs are now left without the two best regular season teams, as well as arguably the playoff’s best pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewer’s CC Sabathia and the team that had the momentum from two one-game playoff wins in the Chicago White Sox. As Dane Cook constipatedly reminded us last year, there is only one October and so relying on what you did during that one August or one September or one tequila-fueled night in July can only take you so far.

    TAMPA BAY RAYS vs. BOSTON RED SOX

    Even with the Yankees out of the playoffs, the East Coast biased media gets their wish with an all AL East showdown. The Rays don’t have the same aura of the Red Sox traditional rival, but they do have the best young line-up in baseball and play with more speed and energy than the Bronx Bombers were ever able to show. Joe Maddon, having learned baseball from Angels skipper Mike Scioscia and learned coaching eye-wear from Little Giants coach Rick Moranis, has been able to mold the pieces of this team quickly enough to improve 31 games from last season. Maddon never shied away from placing a heavy load on rookie third basemen Evan Longoria and was quick to both discipline and defend outfielder BJ Upton. The Rays underdog attitudes, despite being the AL East champions and having won the season series against the Red Sox, has won numerous admirers for a team most baseball fans hadn’t thought about since Wade Boggs was sweating through his moustache.

    In four short years, the Boston Red Sox have gone from being the team most were pulling for to a team that is just slightly less annoying than Frank Caliendo. It says a lot to the talents of Theo Epstein that he has been able to change the Red Sox so dramatically from the group of self-proclaimed idiots that won in 2004 and have them poised to possibly become the first back-to-back World Series winners since the Yankees. Almost motivated by a group-held-belief that they’re better off without Manny Ramirez (which they’re not), the Red Sox are no longer led by the swift bats of Big Papi and Manny in the middle of the order. Rather, its Jacoby Ellsbury and fabricated-MVP candidate Dustin Pedroia leading things off. Overall, this team does not match up with either the 2004 or 2007 incarnations, particularly when having to drag around the players formerly known as Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek.

    In the end, the Red Sox won’t have to face the former versions of themselves, but the current version of the Rays. Tampa Bay will try to use their depth and the best home-field advantage in baseball this season (57-24) in what has developed into an increasingly difficult field to patrol. Unfortunately, they are also relying on a staff ace in Scott Kazmir that has not gone more than six innings since July. The Red Sox pitching staff, with Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Josh Beckett starting and Jonathan Papelbon serving as the necessary lock-down closer, provides them their greatest advantage, even if Beckett is not the same dominant force as in past postseasons.
    Joe Goes With: Red Sox in 7

    PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES vs. LOS ANGELES DODGERS

    With stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins in the infield, as well as the solid Jayson Werth, Pat Burrell, and speedy Shane Victorino in the outfield, the Phillies should have the best offense in baseball. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Pedro Feliz might be just sucky enough to screw everything up. Rollins was the MVP last season, Utley looked like an MVP for the first-half of this season, Ryan Howard led the league in home runs and Jayson Werth should never have to split time again after the his recent success. The Phillies, particularly Rollins, simply need to avoid another one of the slumps that plagued them during the season, and probably should just allow Philadelphia fans to continue their fair-weather ways. Having passed the Mets by for the NL East crown for the second year in a row, the Phillies now look like they have a better sense of what to do once they get to the postseason, particularly with Cole Hamels’ curveball breaking like Super Cr3w.

    The Los Angeles Yankees have been able to collect such a stable group of talent that future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux spends most of his time on the bench watching Juan Pierre count his money and listening to Nomar Garciaparra talk about how his first name is actually his father’s name, but backwards. Joe Torre again got the most out of his team without ever seeming to care and has guys like Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Matt Kemp in the middle of the line-up, each poised for a great game at any moment. Derek Lowe continues to play solidly, Chad Billingsly is perhaps the most underrated pitcher in baseball, and Torre just needs to avoid making Takashi Saito his Mariano Rivera, thinking David Ortiz switched teams every time Ryan Howard comes to the plate, or trying to send Jeff Kent out to DH.

    Ultimately this series, just like the second-half of the Dodgers’ season, will rely on one mammoth of a man: Manny Ramirez. Rafael Furcal has been great since returning from injury and carried the team at the start of the season, but Ramirez has changed the entire Dodgers dynamic. He’s crazier than OJ trying to get back his memorabilia, but in a good homeless-guy-who-comes-to-dance-at-your-party kind of way. The Phillies are forced to rely on Jamie “Holy Shit He’s 46” Moyer, either the good Brett Myers or the crappy Brett Myers, and a closer in Brad Lidge who has already been lit up in tough championship series situations. With one move the Red Sox gave the Dodgers their season back and changed the chemistry of their own team. Now it looks like that move might lead to one awkward reunion in the World Series.
    Joe Goes With: Dodgers in 6.

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